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Curious New England

The Unconventional Travelers Guide to Eccentric Destinations

Castine is the idyllic New England town: scenic, wealthy, tranquil, and well south of the tourist riffraff on Route 1.  You can't imagine anyone here being anything but polite, peaceful, and serene.  Sot it comes as no surprise to walk into the elegant town museum and find it brimming with world savagery: Paleolithic weapons, stone axes, spears, knives, swords, daggers, Indian shamans, porcupine quill combs, an array of American firearms, and umbilical fetishes.  There's even a seventeenth-century helmet worn by one of Oliver Cromwell's soldiers.  The Hearse House nearby stores vehicles for both summer and winter use.  To be fair, the museum also displays more civilized artifacts, such as decorative arts, native crafts, a collection of rocks and minerals, and some wonderful miniature dioramas with historical themes.  It's all the work of John Howard Wilson, an anthropologist and sugar industry heir who, like many of his nineteenth century peers, felt compelled while abroad to acquire souvenirs reflecting his take on human civilization.  Mr. Wilson died in 1936, leaving this beautiful little museum with the dangers and pleasures of the world within its walls.  Still, you can't help feeling a certain relief when stepping back onto the street, as if waking from a bad dream to discover that you're safe in your own bed.  All the brutality stays locked up tight inside glass cases, where it belongs.  That, in the final analysis, may be just what the Castinians like about the place.

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