Arab Woman and Half-Breed Children of the Red Sea Coast Strolling Players in a String Duet Consulting the Fortune-Teller at His Humble Seat of Custom Men of a Marauding Naga Tribe in War Trim One of the Most Ancient Monuments in the Western Hemisphere Aged Eastern Ecclesiastic Restful Leisure that Tempers the Hours of Toil
Sikh Priest The Secret Museum of Mankind Fashions in Coiffure Affected by Hova Women
Smiling Mothers and Their Woolly-Headed Brood Low-Caste Indians' Pathetic Indifference to Comfort
quot;Golden Rain" of Dancing Sounds from a Mexican Marimba One of the Difficulties of Driving in Bengal
Three Men of the Large-Footed Tribe Witch-Doctor in His Wizard Panoply Homestead of Conservative Tribe in Bahr-el-Ghazal Stolid Sons and Daughters of Tibet's Far Mountains Head Knocking to the Memorials of the Imperial Ancestors Open-Air Hungarian Mothers' Meeting in Progress Icelandic Milkmaid on Her Morning Round

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
Scan:2♣

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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