It’s not exactly off the beaten path, but if you’ve ever found yourself daydreaming about mason jars filled with beautifully preserved sea crustaceans or had a curious hankering to handle a mess of emus eggs and pirate coins, there’s a dimly lit room on Hunting Ridge Road whispering your name.
Thirteen- year- old ‘curator’ Daniel Dunlow, a student at Chaloner Middle School, says the idea for the Backyard Museum was simple. “It was something fun to do and a way to show off a lot of the stuff I’ve collected.”
The museum began its life as a tree house built for Daniel’s seventh birthday by Dwayne Hunter, an employee who worked for Daniels father at Dunlow Farms. Last year Daniel, along with friend and fellow Chaloner student Sam Nixon, decided to add on to the structure and convert it into a showcase for their various collections of oddball antiques and fossilized curios.
The backyard in question belongs to Daniel’s parents’, Debrah and David, at least one of which played an active role in the tree house remodeling. “I heard a lot of beating and banging,” said Debrah. ” I really didn’t know what was going on until the last minute. It was kind of a secret project between him and his dad.”
The museums small, earthen-floored display room is a tight squeeze, but offers plenty of enticement for a visitor with a taste for the charmingly bizarre. Shelves lined with antique coins, a vase stuffed with sprigs of wooly mammoth hair and the museums main attraction, glass jars filled with leftovers from Daniels after-school dissecting club, give the room a distinct mad scientist appeal. The addition of a trap door in the display room allows visitors to access the roof, where they can relax and drop a few dollars on dinosaur models and science puzzles at the gift shop.
Daniel estimates the remodeling project, which he finished over Easter break, cost approximately $200 dollars, but says with donations and the addition of the gift shop, he’s made at least $80 back since the April 23 grand opening.
Although Daniel never mentions turning a profit at the museum, his mother makes clear that behind the boyish face and shy manners, there’s a keen business sense at work. “He had a mobile lemonade stand last year,” said Debrah with a laugh, “With all the money he’s been making, I’m surprised the city hasn’t shut us down.”