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.
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,
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,
The Secret Museum's photos and text are released under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 license.
You may copy, distribute, display, and perform the Secret Museum for
non-commercial purposes provided you attribute your work as derived from
this source. You can download the entire Secret Museum as a 229MB bzip2'd