He’s not lost in the museum, but living in it!


Denny Daniel and his cat, Tristan, in his living room / dining room. Photos by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER | The Museum of Interesting Things — an endlessly intriguing collection of outdated gadgets and objects — has existed for a while in Denny Daniel’s head. Currently, it exists in his one-bedroom apartment in the Village. He moved into his “con-op” — “It’s a co-op with condo rules,” he explained — about 13 years ago. Over time, he has filled the place — and that means “filled” — with objects from a world gone by.

“I started collecting things that made me happy,” he said. Some of those things include an Edison mimeograph, 500-year-old Bible scrolls, 3D VHS movies, wacky toys, eight-track players, a math textbook from 1799, stereo cameras, a Zoetrope pre-film animation device from the 1800s, a hearing aid made with a conch shell, and a key piece of the Enigma encryption machine.

He owns close to 5,000 objects now. Many of them are in storage, but enough reside in his home to cover just about every available surface. There’s not a piece of furniture that doesn’t have something pretty cool on it.

And if he rolls over in bed, there’s a chance he’ll knock over the barrel organ — also known as a hurdy-gurdy. There’s no monkey to go with it, but there is his lovely rescue cat Tristan, who unbelievably never touches any of the objects.

Daniel certainly wasn’t collecting just because he needed to keep busy. For a five-year stretch, he was going to school (N.Y.U., S.V.A., F.I.T. or The New School), working two jobs (the Statue of Liberty and Kinko’s), playing in a band (Sofia Run), working on MTV music videos and independent films, and surviving on less than two hours of sleep per night. Additional nap time was usually found on the subway.


Some more of Daniel’s collection, with a photo of his mother peeking through.

On one notable subway ride home — when he happened to be traveling with a couple of garbage bags filled with whatever — he awoke with a sandwich on his chest, having been mistakenly pegged for homeless.

Once Daniel had amassed enough gizmos and gadgets, he took his show on the road. Starting with his grade-school alma mater, the Solomon Schechter School, in Queens, he brought the tradition of “show and tell” to a new level, and his interactive presentation was a hit.

“I always let kids touch the objects, but I couldn’t believe how many kids jumped up to touch a slide calculator,” he marveled.

The press — those who had reluctantly shown up — ended up putting the photos on the front page. giving the M.O.I.T. its first major media coverage.

Kids are especially important to Daniel.

“I want the museum to empower kids and cause a positive attitude,” he said. “Letting them handle the pieces is part of that.”

Schools are not his only outlet for sharing what he calls his “traveling interactive demonstration / exhibition of antiques and inventions.” He hosts a monthly themed event, usually on Sunday evening, which he calls “The Secret Speakeasy.” It’s at a venue owned by his family — a.k.a. “The Loft At Prince St.” He also shows up at various street fairs, libraries, museums, Comic Con and the Maker Faire.

Denny Daniel with an enormous telescope in his bedroom.

Denny Daniel with an enormous telescope in his bedroom.

He’s been booked as far away as Reno, Nevada (the Discovery Museum), and Oklahoma (a steampunk festival). But, more recently, he has been giving private showings in his apartment. By appointment only, (very) small groups can come to his home and have a look at the Moviola that was used to edit “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” view films in an arcade Mutoscope or listen to an Edison cylinder (the precursor to vinyl records).

If you’re lucky, Daniel will get his temperamental Mighty Tiny Record Player to work. It plays 2-inch records and fits in the palm of your hand. Think of it as the world’s first iPod. But it doesn’t always like to perform.

“Anderson Cooper was late for his gig at CNN because he was fascinated by it,” he recalled. “He wouldn’t leave until it played.”

The only problem with visiting the endlessly enthusiastic Denny Daniel is that one doesn’t want to leave — and he doesn’t want you to go until you’ve participated in his traditional ritual. Guests are invited to choose from a pile of unopened, unlabeled boxes, which contain his latest acquisitions. Then, he films you opening your choice. Oddly enough, Daniel explains, “About 80 percent of the people open up something related to their profession.”

This photographer / writer did not disappoint, as he found himself holding a beautiful, rare wooden photo-slide viewer made by the Dufaycolor company.

There are some things that he has missed out on acquiring — the Geiger counter that was made by A.C. Gilbert (a leading “learning toy” manufacturer) and those outtakes from the original “King Kong” film, to name two.

Then there’s the budget issue that sometimes hampers the possibility of new purchases. But near the top of his wish list is finding a media outlet — TV or publication — that would give him a regular feature to spotlight his collection. At the apex of that list, however, is the thing that he wants most — a physical space (other than his jam-packed apartment) to house the museum, which is really all about the history of ideas.

But how is he going to feel when that happens? When the kitchen table has finally been cleared, the floor is no longer an obstacle course and there’s room on the bed for more than him and his cat?

“It will be a little sad,” he mused. “I’ll miss some things. But the apartment will finally have space — which will be nice.”

For more information, visit www.museumthings.org .

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