Nothing is as terrifying as a trip to the Musée Mécanique |

Nothing is as terrifying as a trip to the Musée Mécanique

Jane Stebbins

Parents who think letting their kids listen to Megadeath or Anthrax will turn them into a serial killer or a politician need no longer worry.I know this because I have visited San Francisco’s Musée Mécanique, known by the locals as the Mechanical Museum because there aren’t very many French speakers in the City by the Bay. If this place didn’t traumatize the kids of our grandparents era, nothing Yanni and Blunt Force Trauma can do ever will.A friend of mine insisted my brother, Andy, and I visit this museum despite my hesitation that we would be watching gears spin and wheels roll and engines rumble and just how exciting could that really be? She finally convinced us to go because the price was right: free.The Mechanical Museum features all the mechanical toys and whirligigs that ever showed up at a county fair, arcade, carnival or house of horrors in the middle of last century.There is a huge carnival, complete with men fighting in a boxing ring, a dog jumping through a hoop, cooks flinging hash at Harry’s Hash House and an array of carnival rides. Lots of jerky movements and tinny music. Cute enough.There are loads of different models of Wurlitzers and one-man bands whose gears bring sticks down to bang on tambourines and piano strings, thump on drums and blow penny whistles.Many are interactive.

Andy got involved in a baseball game in which the pitcher leaned back, waited for a metal ball to be deposited in a giant metal scoop that doubled as his mitt, then tossed the ball at the batter. The batter swings … and he’s out.An arm-wrestler promised to beat anyone who dared try. My friend encouraged Andy to take on the challenge as a welterweight. The machine just about threw Andy in the bay.Grandma and many gypsies are there to tell your future. Mine told me to stop hanging out in children’s playgrounds.All pretty innocuous, I thought. And fairly entertaining for the kids who became our grandparents.But then we found ourselves deeper in the bowels of the Musée Mécanique on Pier 45. And that’s when life got a little scary.We plunked 50 cents into Laughing Sal, and she started rocking back and forth, all eight feet of her, laughing maniacally. Her eyes turned in her head, her pudgy hands slapped her thick thighs. All the while she laughed and laughed. She has been terrifying children for more than 60 years.Then there is Blowing in the Wind. It features a broken-down Conestoga wagon, complete with a vulture on the ground picking at the bones of one of the less fortunate Go West Young Men, which we agreed would be a great name for a band in the Homesteading days.

My friend plunked in a quarter and the wind began to blow, ruffling the tattered canvas of the wagon.”That’s all it does?” she said. “Blow air?!”Must have been the year the fan was invented.We saw four executions: two hangings and two guillotines. You put your coins in, the clock ticks down to midnight, the double-doors open and the guillotine falls! Off with your head! If this didn’t traumatize our grandparents-who-were-kids-at-the-time, I didn’t know what would.Oh, was I to learn.There was “Can Sally do the Can-Can?” “What does the Belly Dancer do on her Day Off?”We should have never plunked in our quarters.

Sally’s head was affixed to the roof of the box in which she was quartered, and with the drop of a coin, she began having what can only be defined as a grand mal seizure. As a former EMT, I found this very disturbing.That was until my brother found the Opium Den.A quarter got the people in the den moving very, very slowly to a large hookah in the middle of the room. They took turns taking puffs while a snake hissed at them from the corner.I was a bit taken aback. These were games our grandparents encouraged our parents to play at the carnival!All of a sudden, I’m not so worried about my daughter listening to the latest death thrasher heavy metal CD that’s come out on the market. She can listen to anything she wants.Jane Stebbins writes a Wednesday column. She can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or

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