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The Museum of Extraordinary Things: Review

Updated on June 17, 2015
The Museum of Extraordinary Things
The Museum of Extraordinary Things | Source

The Museum of Extraordinary Things - an extraordinary book

I imagine that many people, when reviewing a book, employ the "I couldn't-put-it-down" phrase. I doubt they always mean it. But in this case ...

Based on real (and horrific) events, this novel, which is set in New York in 1911, starts with a tragic fire and ends with another, both of which really happened within a couple of months of each other in the growing city.

Fire, freak shows and foul play

As we begin our journey through New York in the early twentieth century, we first meet Coralie. Eighteen years old in 1911, she lives with her strict and rather mysterious father who is the owner of The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

She grew up with bearded ladies, human skeletons, butterfly girls, fire-eaters and other 'freaks' who were exhibited by her father. Motherless, she was cared for by a formerly beautiful woman whose face had been destroyed by an acid attack.

And Coralie considers herself to be a freak. Born with webbed fingers, she has been trained by her father to be an almost supernaturally good swimmer who can remain underwater for hours and takes her place in the museum as the living mermaid.

The Triangle Fire

Eddie, known as Ezekiel when he was growing up in poverty with his widowed Russian-Jewish father, is a young photographer who we meet early in the book as he photographs the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. We live his horror as he watches trapped immigrant garment workers, mostly young girls, leap to their deaths onto the Manhattan streets. (A real event in history).


Eddie is in the woods one night when Coralie first sees him. She has, under her father's instructions and surveillance, been taking moonlight marathon swimming sessions in the river. Her father is developing the legend of the Hudson River Mystery with Coralie at its centre.

Her life and that of Eddie's begin to come together when he is approached by a man whose daughter disappeared in the Triangle fire. Reluctantly, Eddie agrees to search for the girl. One night, when swimming to enhance the legend of the monster that lurks in the Hudson River, Coralie discovers the body of a young woman.

No-one else except Coralie, her father and his carriage driver know about the beautiful corpse (or do they?)


The museum is failing due to the proximity of Dreamland, the huge Coney Island attraction that draws the crowds who ignore the fading museum full of freaks and manufactured curiosities.

Coralie's father sees the corpse as a way to revive his failing fortunes.

As he loads the corpse into the carriage, he tells Coralie that she has discovered the Hudson Monster. Coralie says 'but she's just woman'.

Her father replies 'when I've finished with her, she'll be far more.'

The novel culminates during another true-life event; the horrific destruction by fire of the Dreamland attraction.

I recommend this book to you very highly.

Also recommended

This book about the Triangle Fire is fascinating

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
Reading about it in The Museum of Extraordinary Things was my first introduction to the true story of the Triangle Fire. It's described so vividly that I needed to know more. Young immigrant girls working in the clothing industry were treated incredibly badly. The fire, and the deaths, were largely caused by lack of facilities and safety standards in the ten-story building.
I have this on my wishlist and will be reviewing it soon. This too is a novel set in the same time period. I have always found places of pleasure to have a decidedly spooky edge. That's because nothing is quite as it seems. In fact, this is part of the reason for Dreamland being completely destroyed by fire - the structures we made of cheap but gaudy - and very flammable materials.

More about the Triangle fire

This event was a truly horrific one and was mentioned in the book above.

It deserved its own article which you can read using the link below.

Learn about the Triangle fire

In the image on the right you see officers standing by helplessly as female factory workers - some as young as fourteen - jump to their deaths from the burning building.

See images of Dreamland and the Triangle fire

Click thumbnail to view full-size

© 2014 Jackie Jackson


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