I first fell in love with automatons when I visited the famous Musée Mécanique in San Francisco. At that time it was housed in a dark, low-ceilinged hall right near the beach, but has since moved to the more tourist-oriented Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a great place to visit; for a few quarters you can see how the technology of the past brought these mechanical figures to life. For a virtual version of this experience, check out these YouTube videos of automatons from museums around the world.
Sausage Automaton: Watch this clip from the Museum of Automatons in La Rochelle, France, to see poor porkers being made into sausages.
Skeleton Automaton: Marvin’s Marvelous Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan is a popular destination in the area; check out the creepy insides of this macabre skeleton.
Silver Swan Automaton: At the Bowes Museum in North East England, this historic silver swan, created in 1773 and mentioned in Mark Twain’s book, The Innocents Abroad, is put into operation twice daily, at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Hookah Bar/Opium Den: One of the more gritty scenes brought to life at the Musée Mécanique in San Francisco, California, this mechanical tableau features tiny figures conducting shady business in an undisclosed location.
Bimbo Box: Also from the MusÃ©e MÃ©canique, these highly entertaining monkeys with maracas perform a great number from West Side Story.
Laughing Sal: Although I find a little bit of Sal goes a long way, many people love her infectious and distinctive laugh. A survivor of the long-gone Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park, Sal is now a permanent fixture at the Musée Mécanique.