More Than Jake: The Free Marsh Museum Celebrates 100 Years | Life



LONG BEACH – For the past 100 years, a family-owned Long Beach business has continued to entertain and impress thousands of visitors every year.

There’s a shrunken head of South America, hundreds of antiques, and dozens of curiosities and curiosities, not to mention Marsh’s Free Museum’s biggest celebrity and attraction – Jake the Alligator Man.

Every visit to the museum, located at 409 Pacific Avenue in Long Beach, reveals something new, according to co-owner Mandy Marsh. Soon, visitors will be able to spot a new totem-style sculpture along the museum’s famous roofline.






The original owner, Wellington William Marsh Sr., pictured, started the business in 1921. Marsh Sr. died in 1979, but tales of his exploits build up his rare and unique collection – often through crafts – still resonate today.




Continuing the tradition

Marsh, 40, is the great-granddaughter of original owner Wellington William Marsh Sr., who started the business in 1921. Marsh Sr. died in 1979, but accounts of his exploits amassing a rare and unique collection – often thanks to trades – still resonate today.

“I’ve never met him, but I hear stories,” Mandy said. “When my grandfather had a restaurant in Grays River, people offered to trade for stuff.”

Marsh Sr. worked for a circus at one point, which may be how he acquired some of the items, including the work of prolific sideshow banner artist Fred Johnson.

Some stories of how the objects were acquired remain elusive, including the story of a shrunken head from South America.

“There was a big business for them in the 1930s, but we were never told how we got it,” Mandy said.






Shrunken head

Some stories of how the items were acquired remain elusive, including the story of a shrunken head from South America believed to have come from a trade. “There was a big business for them in the 1930s, but we were never told how we got it,” Mandy said.




The stars of the show

As for Jake the alligator man, he came from San Francisco in 1964 and cost $ 750, or around $ 6,500 today.

Tourists never forget Jake. Long Beach antique dealer Ray Pryor bought Jake at an auction when Whitney’s Museum in San Francisco, a similar palaver palace, closed in the 1960s, a 2005 study found. Observer article. Wellington Marsh Jr. “didn’t want to pay $ 750 for Jake, but I convinced him,” his wife Marian said. This equates to around $ 6,500 in cash today and has to be one of the best buys of all time, considering the invaluable publicity Jake brings to the free museum.






Jake the alligator man

Jake the Alligator Man remains the museum’s biggest draw.




Sometimes customers offer to buy items directly on the walls and ceiling, including a particularly rare glass float called “The Holy Grail.”

“We were offered $ 40,000 for this,” Mandy said.

The retail aspect of the museum, including everything from taffy to Jake the Alligator Man t-shirts and bumper stickers, now accounts for 65% of revenue, Mandy said, but dedication to preserving the The museum’s original mystique remains the same.

“I think [William Wellington Marsh Sr.] would be happy if it was still in the family and still 100 years later, ”said Mandy.






Glass float

A rare and precious glass float with a hole in the top hangs from the ceiling of the Marsh’s Free Museum. “We were offered $ 40,000 for this,” Mandy said.






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