Open Market on Panama Beach Hindu Cremation: Scene at the Burning Ghats, Calcutta Bare Feet and Red-Hot Cinders at a Festival in Madras Hindu Devotee Prostrating Himself Before a Shrine of the Sacred Cobra A "Blackfellow" and His Family Settled Down to Farming Life At the Hospice of the Great St. Bernard Hausa Woman Trader
Young Maids of Italy in the Old Town of Tripoli The Secret Museum of Mankind A Good Type of Bolivian Indian
Low-Caste Indians' Pathetic Indifference to Comfort Portable Restaurant Equipped Even to the Fire
My Lady's Dress in Korea Spinsters Married and Single
Somali Housewife of Aden Smoking the Weed that Soothes Aspirants for Bardic Honours: Modern Observance of an Archaic Festival in Medieval Surroundings Woman Devil-Worshipper of Mount Ararat Sightless Eyes that Claim to Foresee the Future Indian Bucks Dressed for the Dance in Darien Olive-Skinned Eve of a Terrestrial Eden Chief Mourners Watching the Burning of the Funeral Pyre

Cannibals. Fakirs. Crime and punishment. Rituals. Slaves, cults and customs. Warriors and weapons. Equestrians and equilibrists. Musicians and mendicants. Dance, dress, undress and body modification. Structures, conveyances, beasts, and more breasts than you can shake a stick at! This is The Secret Museum of Mankind.

July, 1942 Keen ad for The Secret Museum of Mankind

Published in 1935, the Secret Museum is a mystery book. It has no author or credits, no copyright, no date, no page numbers, no index. Published by "Manhattan House" and sold by "Metro Publications", both of New York, its "Five Volumes in One" was pure hype: it had never been released in any other form.

Advertised as "World's Greatest Collection of Strange & Secret Photographs" and marketed mainly to overheated adolescents (see the 1942 Keen ad, left), it consists of nothing but photos and captions with no further exposition. This was not a book published to educate (despite appearing on some public library's shelves), but to titillate (literally)— it's emphasis was on the female form ("Female Beauty Round the World") and fashion, and it featured as many National-Geographic-style native breasts as possible. But anything lurid, weird, or just plain unusual is fair game. This was a book to gawk at by flashlight under the bedcovers.

The Secret Museum is organized into five "albums" (America, Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania), but within those areas it's a jumble with no order, laid out to fit as many photos as possible per page. Strangely, there isn't a single photo from the United States— it skips from Mexico north to Canada as if nothing were in between.

The photos themselves range in quality from fair to atrocious, with almost all being bad or very bad. Grainy, damaged, and either too-low or too-high contrast, they appear to have been copied from scratchy, abused tomes such as Hammerton's Peoples of All Nations (1922), Johnston and Guest's The World of To-Day (1907) and others, without attribution.

The tone of the commentary is dated, and uniformly racist in the extreme, often hilariously so. It reads like the patter of a carnival sideshow barker, from a time when the world was divided between "modern" Europeans and "savages". The photos were taken from the 1890s through the early 1930s, with period commentary to match. This was the era of eugenics ("the self-direction of human evolution") before it acquired a terminal taint thanks to Nazi Germany.

The assumption is that this was a get-rich-quick scheme: copy "1,000" (actually 994) photos and captions verbatim from various sources with no credit, print them badly on cheap paper, sell thousands of copies for $1.98, make a bundle, then take the money and run. Yet, it was still for sale in 1942, seven years after first being released. Why wasn't it shut down by the parties who were infringed? Were they involved? It's a mystery.

Presented here is the Secret Museum in its entirety, all 564 pages scanned and transcribed— nothing is omitted or censored. However, I've cleaned up the images somewhat, paginated, added thumbnail galleries, an index, and a copy of a 1942 magazine ad. Treat it as entertainment instead of education (don't take it seriously and don't believe a word it says!), adjust for the blatant racial bias of the time, and enjoy.

The Secret Museum's photos and text are public domain. The eBook as a whole and this cover page are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 license. You can download the entire Secret Museum eBook as a 229MB bzip2'd tarball here.

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