A Museum of Curiosities In Connecticut

a cow statue in a glass case
Two-Headed Calf

There are all sorts of museums which draw people in.  I can’t say that I am much of an art lover but when I hear about a museum featuring oddities, count me in!

Over the years, I’ve been to a bunch of museums that fit this bill.

Here are a few that I’ve been to and have written about:

During a weekend trip to Connecticut I came across a small museum, more so a room in a National Historic Landmark, the Old State House in Hartford.

Old State House with a clock tower and flags
Connecticut’s Old State House

The Old State House is open to tours and features lots of interesting information and displays about Connecticut’s history. As much as we enjoyed learning about the state this wasn’t really the reason for our visit.

On the third floor of the Old State House is a small museum within the building.

The Museum of Curiosities is a recreation of Joseph Steward’s Hartford Museum Of Paintings and Natural and other Curiosities from the late 1700s.

According to the Old State House website, in 1796 “Mr. Joseph Steward, a noted painter of Connecticut’s social and political leaders, established a museum in the attic of the State House. Mr. Steward displayed his paintings and natural and artificial curiosities“.

a group of stuffed animals from a wall

The Old State House was saved from the wrecking ball and restored in the 1990s. Along with the repairs came a restoration/ recreation of Steward’s Museum of Curiosities.

Most of the items on display are taxidermy showcasing  a wide variety of animals. There is also a large butterfly collection and some of Steward’s original paintings are also present.

To get the museum back in order, many of the specimens were given to the Old State House on loan. Based on historical documentation, they were able to figure out many of the things that would’ve been on display back in the 1700s.

a cougar on a shelf with a display case

Based on an advertisement Steward placed in the Connecticut Courant in 1797, the museum  knew they had to find a “calf with two complete heads”, which was one of the museum’s highlights.

During the restoration a search for this rare specimen was conducted but  there was no two-headed calf to be found.

In 1996, the executive director of the Old State House received a fax from a friend in Michigan. The fax contained an article from a local paper about a two-headed calf being born still-born a few days before on a farm. The Old State House was then able to purchase the calf to display in the curiosities museum, finally adding the important piece to complete the recreation of Steward’s original collection. (Check out the photo at the top of this post.)

The Museum of Curiosities is well worth a visit if you happen to be in the Hartford area. Kim and I enjoyed checking out the odd specimens on display. It also made for a very interesting contrast to the style and feel of the rest of the Old State House.

Check out a few more photos:

a pig in a glass jar
Two-Headed Fetal Pig
a snake wrapped around a basket with snakes heads on it
Albino Snake
a hand in a glass case
Mummified Hand
a shell on a stand
Humongous Lobster Claw

The Museum of Curiosities is located at Connecticut’s Old State House. Guided and self-guided tours are available. Admission costs $6 for adults, $3 for children 6-17, AA members & seniors (65+) and kids age 5 and under are free.

2 thoughts on “A Museum of Curiosities In Connecticut

  1. I worked at the Old State House for fours years. Wrote a play about Mr. Steward’s Museum of Curiosity, after doing some more research. Just wanted to let you know that your blog about the site was very well done and spot on.

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