I can’t believe it took me this long to visit the Musée Mécanique. From the outside, it’s an old warehouse in the middle of Fisherman’s Wharf. Step inside, and you enter a collection of mechanical oddities: puppets dance for quarters, animatronic dolls tell fortunes, and disembodied metal hands wrestle human ones.
To the modern eye, most of the old arcade amusements are underwhelming. Perhaps our forebears were more easily entertained. But the museum’s miniature carnivals and lifelike automatons nevertheless retain an odd charm, which begs the question: were they always creepy, or does time bestow a sheen of creepiness?
This has easily become one of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco. It’s true, some of the games haven’t aged well, and I had to hype myself up to walk past a few (I’m thinking particularly of a very narrow cul-de-sac of animatronic dolls at the end of which was a jolly Tim Kaine-esque drunkard who would take a swig of beer at your behest – and quarters). It actually reminds me of the toy museum in Edinburgh, where I walked into a room and found displays of disintegrating teddy bears and porcelain dolls pressing in on the narrow walkway where I stood. But in the end I’m still a sucker for old creepy things, even if my amygdala haven’t quite caught up.