How did we watch films at home before Netflix and DVD? And before VHS? Denny Daniel will show you at his Museum of Interesting Things. This “speakeasy museum” pops up weekly at various locations in the city to show how our current-day technology is based on earlier inventions, often going all the way back to the late 19th century. From 1960s solar-powered walkie-talkies to carousel animations and parts of the original World War II Enigma machine, Daniel has collected a wide array of antiques and curiosa.
We went to Soho to check out the museum’s latest installment: the film and cartoon edition. Not every item was equally mind-blowing, but Daniel made sure to do justice to the museum’s name through his energetic demonstrations, which he hopes to one day bring to his own TV show.
Daniel found his vocation as a museum curator about 10 years ago after having worked various jobs in design and film. During the recession he turned away from his 9-to-5 to focus on expanding the antiques collection that he had started during his time in college. “My theory is that most entrepreneurial endeavors start with two things,” he said, “A passion and bad bosses.”
While assembling a century-old Edison cylinder phonograph together with his neighbor’s kid, Daniel realized that making antiques function again can inspire in children both curiosity about the past and future creativity. By having the kids interact with the old stuff, he hopes to “demystify” the workings of our modern-day technology, he said in his TEDx talk. Aiming to reach as many children as possible, he decided to travel to schools, libraries and museums, instead of having a fixed location.
Then, three years ago, he organized the first speakeasy where guests came to him rather than the other way around, as a way to raise money for new acquisitions. People liked it, and ever since, the pop-ups have been a monthly addition to the traveling exhibition, with themes that vary from “Doomsday” (the Space Race and Cold war) to “Victrola A-Go-Go” (the history of music).
The museum has been catering more and more to adult audiences. “I even do events with senior citizens now,” Daniel said, “And the first time I was afraid that they would be like, ‘Son, you don’t have a clue what that is, let me show you,’ but they were as curious as the kids and learned a lot from these inventions that often are older than they are.” To avoid being outsmarted by the old folks, Daniel has befriended a network of museum curators, researchers and librarians that help him figure out the details of the museum’s thousands of objects.
Sunday July 23, the museum will pop up again at 6pm, probably at 177 Prince Street, but keep an eye on the website, because things might change. This time the museum’s theme is “Summer of Love” and it will focus on items from the 1960s and ’70s, with footage of the Beatles’ final public performance (yes, the one on the roof), among other things.