Friday, November 07, 2008

The Vanister Museum

Today, the Train arrived in Vanister, my favorite town in the Railway Regions. I think the Train likes the place as well; it seems to stop here more than anywhere else. This is the third time this year.

It's odd how so many towns in the Railway Regions are centered around something larger than they are. In Jijangola, it's the Galleria; in Milldacken, it's the river; in Vanister, it's the Museum.*

Vanister grew up around the Creemer mansion, back before it was a museum. It's one of the town's five oldest buildings and the reason most Train passengers stop in Vanister. The enormous, sprawling building takes up almost a quarter of the entire town with its heaps of wings, turrets, and extensions; it's nearly impossible to find the original mansion in the heart of it all. Like the Galleria in Jijangola, the building is so large that the rooms shift around constantly.

The Vanister Museum was founded - and most of it built - by Henrijohn Ignitius Creemer. (His middle name was something of a family heirloom, handed down from a distant ancestor who happened to be a dragon.) Mister Creemer was one of the first to make his fortune in Milldacken, and it didn't take him long to become a rich and eccentric collector of Stuff. No particular kind of Stuff. Just Stuff. His goal in life was to have one of everything.

He got surprisingly close before he died. As a result, the Museum is quite possibly the largest and most complete collection of Stuff in Hamjamser.

Unfortunately, Mr. Creemer had no interest in any sort of organization. He simply piled things into one room of his mansion until it filled up, then built another. It wasn't exactly messy - everything was neatly stacked, with fragile things carefully wrapped and placed in drawers or airtight containers - but there was no reason or logic to any of it.

Mr. Creemer left his mansion and everything in it to the town when he died, as a museum, under the condition that they would keep and preserve every single thing in it. They agreed gladly; the Creemer mansion had been the main attraction of Vanister for years. The Museum is now the reason most people even know the town exists. Somehow, though, I doubt the first curators really knew what they were getting into. The Museum has teams of cataloguers who have done nothing for a hundred years but look through the piles, sort the things in them, and list them in the Museum's vault of index cards (two million and counting). They still aren't done. Not only are they still listing new things, they're still finding new rooms. There seems to be no end to them.

At first, it was easy to keep track of the rooms; the lobby was in the Grand Foyer, the card catalogue in the old kitchen, the failed flying machines (Mr. Creemer had a special fondness for them) in the ballroom, and so on. Unfortunately, not all the rooms were so distinctive. When they reached the Fifteenth Moderately Small Left-Handed Broom Closet - with no end in sight - the curators decided it was time for a change.

They decided to follow the example of the Lupine Astronomers' Guild on Mount Moler. Their system seemed like a good one. That is why, for the last few decades, anyone who finds a room in the Museum is allowed to name it.

All the curators of the Museum (and there are a lot of them by now) carry rolls of string at all times. When one of them finds a new and unlabeled room, he or she attaches the string to something in it so that it can't get away (the rooms might move around, but the things in them don't... usually) and runs down the central staircase to fetch the Museum's engraver, who grumbles all the way up the stairs and brings a name plate for the room. The curators have gotten quite creative over the years. A lot of them name rooms after themselves, their relatives, their sweethearts, and their favorite authors, of course, but certainly not all of them.

One whole wing (there are over thirty altogether) was first discovered by a lover of mythology from the Golden Desert; she named about a dozen rooms after people and places from Desert stories, and all the following curators have continued the tradition. The wing is full of names like Sham-Tarkazia, Masserath, Karkafel, Masethol and Masaganax, Kim-Raika and Kraf of the Thousand Rubies, Shar-Emishar and Tas-Rampa-Saskireef. The room named for the fabled Fasra Koum is full of enameled vases from Thrass Kaffa, the city of the endless waterfall, each one shining like a hundred jewels in the light from the old arched windows.

There was one curator who named every room he found after himself, much to the annoyance of the rest of the staff. When it was discovered that he had started his own private collection of the Museum's silverware, everyone was only too happy to fire him. That also led to an additional rule that no two rooms could have the same name. (All but one of the rooms named after that particular curator were renamed by public vote, though they were kind enough to leave his name on the biggest one.) That rule, in turn, led to the creation of a second card catalogue to keep track of all the rooms. They have a way of multiplying.

As if there wasn't enough in it already, people from all over the world keep bringing in curiosities they think the Museum might not have. Mr. Creemer's collection includes most of the things that have been invented or discovered since his death. There are two rooms full of prototype gramophones: one for the ones that worked, another (larger) for the ones that didn't.

Of course, the things found in a room generally don't stay in the room, as the curators of the Museum like order more than Henrijohn Creemer did. Once a room is found, its contents are sorted, catalogued, and parceled off to the various rooms and galleries in which they logically belong. The room is then used for whatever needs the space.

Unfortunately, this means that rooms named for their original contents don't necessarily match what ends up in them. The Eggplant room (rumored to have been found filled to the ceiling with ceramic eggplants) currently holds a collection of independent Caroque scrollwork (carved during the Caroque period by a group of carpenters who decided that elaborate decoration didn't have to actually go ON anything). The Chamber of Novelty Pickaxes is lined, floor to ceiling, with neat rows of embroidered buttons. The Rainbow Room holds mourning outfits, the Cacaphonium is full of earmuffs, and the infamous Hall of a Trillion Toilets contains knitting and embroidered samplers.

Some people wonder about Henrijohn Creemer's sense of humor. Others are more concerned about the Museum curators.

*In Samrath Kazi, it was beauty, but that didn't work out so well.

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