Seattle's Harriet Baskas Uncovers Hidden Treasures

Oct 2, 2013

Seattle travel writer Harriet Baskas stumbled onto her quest for hidden treasures. More than 20 years ago, Baskas was visiting small museums in the Pacific Northwest. She was interested in the collections they had on display, but the curators she met were just as interested in what they had in the back rooms: treasures they couldn't, or wouldn't, show the public.

These hidden treasures run the gamut from a tiny flea circus, to a wallet made of human skin, to statues inadvertently carved from material that contains arsenic.
They fall into three categories: the gruesome, the winsome and the questionable.

For Baskas, these hidden treasures run the gamut from a tiny flea circus, to a wallet made of human skin, to statues inadvertently carved from material that contains arsenic. The writer has chronicled some of her finds for NPR. Her new book "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You" includes dozens of oddities Baskas has discovered since she began her quest for artifacts and stories.

Roughly, they fall into three categories: the gruesome, the winsome and the questionable. That last category covers part of the behind-the-scenes collection at Seattle's Experience Music Project. According to Baskas, the EMP has dozens of articles of clothing purported to have been worn by great rock musicians, including Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. EMP curators can't confirm the provenance of that clothing, but Baskas says they keep it around. Just in case.