Musee Mechanique

The campiest places in San Francisco, Part 1: The Musee Mechanique

by Adam Miller

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Part one in my series of campy locales in the downtown San Francisco area. The Musee Mechanique is located towards the Western end of Fisherman's Wharf, just behind the Boudin sourdough bread factory.

The museum features dozens of mechanical games, peep shows, nickelodeons, and moving dioramas. Some date from the 19th century while others are as recent as the mid-90s smash hit, Cruisin' U.S.A. The museum is completely hands on and almost every piece of equipment was in full-working order.

There is no admissions fee. Rather, like a modern arcade, patrons must pay a trivial amount (for most items only a dime, some are as expensive as a quarter) to actually use the machines. With just the change in my pocket that I walked in with, I was able to use at least ten machines.

My personal favorites- surprise, surprise- were the old time "peep shows" in which the patron peers through a set of binoculars and then turns a crank which advances several still photographs, producing the illusion of movement.

Here's one featuring legendary cowboy Tom Mix.

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And on the naughtier side…

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Indeed, the pieces in this diorama are actually lazy bums.

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Why does this look like so much fun?

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I came out of the museum wanting to invest in some of these artifact myself. Who wouldn't want to have some of these inventions in their home? Many of these machines represent the cusp of the mechanized entertainment industry. They are the forefathers and mothers to two of America's highest grossing media: film and video games. That said, the beginnings of these media don't strike me as humble, but rather as intricate and finely crafted in their own right.

The Musee Mechanique is a must-see.

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