The Unknown Museum was curated by Mickey McGowan in a nondescript Marin County ranch-style house, from 1974 to 1989. For a small donation, you could marvel at the abundance of pop-culture artifacts set in glorious tableau throughout the house. McGowan had a great eye and a highly sensitive hoarding instinct that made the museum a special place--a baby boomer funhouse of delights.
The entrance sign stated: This Is Your Life, and as you walked in, you realized it was true. Everything from your life seemed to be in front of you, sometimes in multiples of hundreds. And you could touch it and reminisce while laughing at the incredible amount of plastic that makes up our modern lives.
These are photos of one of my last trips to the museum--probably in 1985 or '86. That's my friend Joseph in the living room next to the Mr. Potatohead shrine. There was an entire Kennedy-shrine above the fireplace with busts of JFK, calendars, books, icons, and the Camelot-family White House board game featuring Jackie and all the gang.
The "Mom's room" had a little Madonna/whore thing going on at the dressing table. The "boy's room" and "girl's room" were seriously separated by gender-specific items. In the corner of the girl's room lay a life-sized bridal mannequin, tied down to the floor a la Gulliver's Travels and surrounded by a bed of rice and tiny groomsmen--creepy. The boy's room had many science kits, Godzillas and of course, war toys. The hallway was completely encased in smiley-face paraphernalia. The kitchen contained several columns made from metal lunchboxes and I can't remember the bathroom. I'm sure it had one of those crocheted toilet-paper cozies.
In any case: eye-boggling. My photos are hazy because unbeknownst to me, my camera battery was dying that day. It kind of works though. The hazy memories of nostalgia, or something to that effect. The Unknown Museum closed in 1990 to make way for a condominium complex (the story of Northern California development, 90s style). McGowan drove five truckloads of stuff to a warehouse, opened a temporary museum in the early 90s, and then called it a day. But that doesn't mean he gave up on the concept. He still lives in Marin with everything you see here and more. He just lives with it privately.
Joseph found this clip, featuring a segment from "the unknown" MTV when Jefferson Starship offspring, China Kantner, was a VJ and the station still played music videos.
This Is Your Life: The Unknown Museum by Janene Quon (1993--with unfortunate Muzak soundtrack)
- Unknown Museum lives on, privately - Marin Independent Journal
- Mickey McGowen Interview - The Unknown Museum
- Unknown Museum blog entry from Cabinet of Wonders
- XTC visits The Unknown Museum (the Museum outshines Andy Partridge)