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Museums hold Twitter showdown to find world's creepiest object


A zombie blowfish, a hideous mermaid and a lucky charm made out of a dead man’s finger are all competing to be crowned the creepiest exhibits in the world after an archaeological museum in the north of England challenged curators during the lockdown to showcase their most sinister object.

Since its closure due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Yorkshire Museum in York has launched a weekly #curatorbattle on social media to challenge museums and visitors to put forward objects related to a particular theme.

On Friday, the museum kicked off last week’s informal competition with a picture of a hair bun from the burial of a Roman woman in the third or fourth century, with the hair clips still in place. It has been engaged with online more than 220,000 times, with museums from Germany, France, Canada and the USA responding.

The National Museums of Scotland responded with a Germolene-pink “mermaid” with oogly eyes and rotting teeth.

News of the battle soon crossed the Atlantic, with the museums on Prince Edward Island, Canada, submitting their entry: a cursed children’s toy they claimed to have found hidden inside the walls of a 155-year-old mansion: “We call it ‘Wheelie’ - and it MOVES ON ITS OWN: Staff put it in one place and find it in another spot later on …”

In Germany, the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) played a strong card with a terrifying beaked plague mask from between 1650 and 1750.

Oxford’s Ashmolean thought it could do better, submitting a carved pendant with a dead man’s face on one side and a decaying skull with worms and other creatures on the reverse from southern Germany.

Also in Oxford, the Pitt Rivers museum offered up a “sheep’s heart stuck with pins and nails, to be worn like a necklace for breaking evil spells”.

Back in York, the city’s Castle Museum was feeling confident: “STEP ASIDE ALL. These are hand-made models of figures playing cards and of gold miners hauling gold nuggets to the surface. BUT the figures are made from crab’s legs and claws … Typical Victorians, they loved weird/creepy stuff. #CreepiestObject”

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds felt it could outdo its Yorkshire cousin, offering up a gruesome iron mask it believes is part of a “scold’s bridle” - an iron muzzle designed for public humiliation.

On the Yorkshire coast, the team looking after the Clarke Charm Collection in Scarborough offered a human finger bone used by a gambler to bring good luck and a dead man’s tooth used to hang around a baby’s neck “to prevent convulsions brought on by teething”.

Then East Sussex’s Bexhill Museum decided to get in on the act with this bloated “zombie blowfish”:

In Scotland, the head of applied conservation at Historic Environment Scotland proffered this grotesque piece of whimsy: a man’s distorted face, painted on a whale’s ear drum.

Millicent Carroll at York Museums Trust said: “The curator battle has been gradually building as more and more museums and the general public look at our Twitter feed every Friday to see what theme we’re going to pitch. Last week’s ‘Best Egg’ had replies from the Hermitage in Russia and the American Museum of National History, but the creepiest object has taken it to another level.

“It is great for us and other museums to be able to still share our collections with the public when our doors are closed - we just hope we haven’t given anyone any nightmares!”