This tiny, hidden museum, originally founded in 2006, presents itself as a hybrid between an Automaton Theater and a Cabinet of Curiosities. Tours of the collection are arranged by appointment only - but the exact whereabouts of the museum? That remains a mystery.
Located in the Historical District of Bristol, Rhode Island, Musée Patamécanique gives “tours” that encompass both outdoor and indoor environments within a 6 block area of downtown Bristol. Each tour begins at sunset as a guide greets visitors at a pre-arranged time and location in town. This could be anywhere from one of Bristol’s numerous public parks, to an area along the waterfront, a coffee shop, a restaurant, it always changes.
After introducing himself and welcoming his guests, the “guide” equips his visitors with a set of wireless headphones and a map. He then presses the play button on a wireless transmitter worn by one of the guests. He then departs, leaving his visitors in a state of bewilderment.
This audio the guests are left listening to is actually a tour that leads them to the “secret” location of the indoor exhibition.
Much of the material in Musée Patamécanique has clear ties to Dada and Theater of the Absurd and includes artistic, pseudoscientific, pre-cinematic and unclassified exhibits. Examples of indoor exhibits include a troop of singing animatronic Chipmunks, a Time Machine which the museum claims to be the world’s largest automated Phenakistascope (an early animation machine), an olfactory clock, a chandelier of singing animatronic nightingales, an “Undigestulator” (a device that purportedly reconstitutes digested foods), The Earolin (a 24-inch tall holographic ear that plays the violin), and a machine for capturing the dreams of bumble bees.
Update as of April 2023: The museum is closed through at least summer 2023.
Know Before You Go
25 minutes from Providence, 90 minutes from Boston