Before his circus days, PT Barnum created the American Museum in 1842. Showcasing the marvels of nature and art, the museum burned down twice, encouraging its founder to find another outlet for his showmanship. While visiting the Historic Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, IL, I felt an immediate link between the two museums.
Located in an industrial park, the museum is actually easy to miss. The red sign helps; you definitely need to keep your eyes peeled.
Since I wasn’t sure about the photography policy, I don’t have any indoor shots. I’ll share some brochure pictures below.
The actual collection is much vaster than the name implies. You will find automobiles, movie star memorabilia, White House furniture, television show sets and props, fashion, including original Oleg Cassini gowns, and country music memorabilia. You can trace 19th and 20th century social and cultural history in this one space.
The museum is organized as a spiral, which maximizes the display areas and removes the warehouse feel. You begin with gangster cars. Ten feet from one another are John Dillinger’s luxury bank robbing car and Bonnie & Clyde’s sad, small death car. While books describe the gulf between the two sets of Depression-era criminals, seeing their cars resonates more deeply.
For fashionistas or decorative arts aficionados, the displays allow you to closely view the artifacts and to appreciate the craftsmanship involved. I wish the museum would rename itself because the collection is so much broader than the name implies.
Dismissing the museum as a pop culture collection is a mistake. Yes, there are some misspellings on labels, and some of the wax figures are a bit scary. HOWEVER, the collection is impeccably maintained. The space is spotless. I have never been in such a clean, well-maintained museum space. Authentication and donor letters are also displayed along side some of the objects – giving you a behind the scenes peek at how museums acquire objects. Some letters included thank you notes for acquiring and sharing the objects.
Historic Auto Attractions is a fun museum that will appeal to everyone in a family. Fashion and decorative arts historians will also find treasures for their research. Tin sign collectors will enjoy the gift shop. Museum professionals will also find a space that challenges their truisms and believes in sharing its collection with the public.