Written by Amber Matheson, Photograph by Izabella Viktoria
After you’ve ridden an elevator to the basement, stumbled through a maze of hallways and passed through a clanging, banging boiler room, you’ll tumble out onto a loading dock, and that’s when you know you’re about to see the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s coolest hidden treasures. Call me a nerd, but my backstagepass trips to area museums were some of the most interesting things I did during my summer vacation. The museums I visited keep the majority of their collections in archives, and getting to them is half the fun. The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s collection is squirreled away in the bowels of the building behind secret doors, and the Crawford keeps its overflow in a warehouse way out in Macedonia. Luckily, I found some friends on the inside.
Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum Volunteer car junkies and artifacts galore pack the restoration center. A 1925 Rollin touring sedan was on the hydraulic lift (director Allan Unrein’s goal is to get every piece in the collection running). The archives also contain items such as carousel horses (at right) from Euclid Beach Park, circa 1910, and the Curtis Flying Boat (above), an old rum-running gem. It requires both a pilot’s and a captain’s license.
Pro Football Hall of Fame Behind the sleek displays lies a modest storage room and a massive archive of papers (including the first coaching contract — $2 a week, plus a jersey). This mask, nestled among dozens of old helmets and pre-helmet-era attempts at safety, is one of the last memories of the Cleveland Skeletons, a football team that detailed its gear with glow-in-the-dark paint to intimidate opponents.
Cleveland Museum of Natural History This moose waits patiently in storage. During my tour of the coldroom (it’s kept between 45 and 55 degrees to preserve the integrity of the animals’ skin), registrar Carole Camillo points out a snow leopard from the Cleveland Zoo and the museum’s first mount, two animals locked in battle (from the 1920s). “This museum had expeditions in the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s,” she explains when we reach a wall covered in animal pelts. But the shelves containing birds of prey, including an adorable, fuzzy-wuzzy baby bald eagle, seem most fascinating.