By Rebecca Sloan

To see wacky memorabilia, cruise through this museum

The Canton Classic Car Museum boasts 45 rare automobiles.

CANTON — When I announced to my friend we were going to a car museum, she didn’t say anything, but I could read her mind.

“Cars?” she might have scoffed. “I couldn’t care less about cars.”

That’s when I could have informed her that the Canton Classic Car Museum has more than just cars, and you don’t have to be an auto enthusiast to enjoy a visit.

But I kept my mouth closed.

I’d let her find out for herself what the museum had to offer.

After arriving at the corner of Market Avenue and Sixth Street in downtown Canton and stepping inside the museum, which is housed in a sprawling 1900 building that was once a Ford dealership, it didn’t take long for my friend to marvel at something curious that didn’t have four wheels or chrome.

It was a life-sized cardboard cut-out of a hula dancer holding a tray of fruit and drinks. What made it so interesting was the fact that its motorized grass skirt swished back and forth as if it were really dancing.

We’d never seen anything like it, and we both snickered. It was totally tacky and totally shabby chic.

“That’s exactly what I need in my kitchen,” I remarked wryly.

As we advanced through the museum, we found plenty of other tidbits to chuckle about.

Nestled among the numerous automobiles that gleamed beneath the chandeliers were some of the most unusual and comical items we’d ever seen.

A statue of Elvis in his underwear, a kangaroo wearing boxing gloves, an Ex-lax thermometer and a portrait of Franklin Roosevelt made on a typewriter.

There were cardboard cutouts of George Bush and Bill Clinton posed next to Miss Piggy, and a weird little doll made of stuffed pantyhose posed in front of a Lincoln.

There were gas station memorabilia, antique toys and vintage signage galore. In fact, if you dig vintage commercial signage, you’ll be in seventh heaven as you stroll through this place.

Along the way you’ll laugh, gawk and marvel at the many oddities.

Probably the most bizarre thing at the museum is a life-size mannequin painted black with a black lampshade instead of a head.

“That’s exactly what I need for my living room,” my friend decided, and then we laughed again.

Florence Belden — an avid collector with a sense of humor — is responsible for the wildly wacky memorabilia at the Canton Classic Car Museum.

Florence’s late husband, Marshall Belden Sr., established the Canton Classic Car Museum in 1978 to display his many antique automobiles.

Today the museum boasts 45 rare cars, and director Char Laut-zenheiser says people from all over the world come to visit.

“We’ve had people from England, Australia, Japan, Romania and Russia,” she said. “There’s something here for everyone — something to make any age smile. So many people see our cars and say, ‘I had a car like this once!’”

Of course, plenty of other people see the cars at the museum and declare: “That’s my dream car! I want to get one just like it!”

And there are plenty of dream cars from every era to salivate over.

Packards, Lincolns, Cadillacs, Auburns, Cords, Pierce-Arrows and Marmons represent 1930s luxury. Many of these cars boast V-12 and V-16 engines and have beautiful upholstered interiors.

A 1937 Cord, Model 812 convertible, is one of the museum’s show-stealers and Lautzenheiser’s personal favorite.

“This car is very rare and was very high-tech for 1937,” Lautzenheiser said. “It was the lowest, sleekest and speediest auto made during the decade.”

The 1937 Cord sports hideaway headlights, a supercharged V-8 engine, electro-hydraulic transmission and can go 125 miles per hour, which was really fast in the 1930s.

Brass era automobiles — cars from the early 1900s — include a 1901 curved dash Oldsmobile Surrey, a 1904 St. Louis Standard Runabout and a 1911 Ford Model-T with a mother-in-law seat.

“A mother-in-law seat is a single seat in the back of the vehicle with no roof or sides,” Lautzenheiser said with a laugh.

“It’s out in the open with no seat belt, and if you sat back here you’d get soaking wet and you’d probably fall out if you hit a really big bump.”

Cars from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s represent an era of prosperity and optimism.

Cruising was a favorite pastime, and muscle cars dominated the highways.

Illustrating this feel-good era are a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air convertible, a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird and a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible with a body so long it seems to stretch around the block.

The Cadillac has the classic pointed taillights that seem to epitomize 1950s autos.

“The taillights were actually designed to look like rockets,” Lautzenheiser explained. “There was a big rocket ship craze going on in the United States at this time.”

The museum also has some very interesting specialty cars.

A 1937 Studebaker President bullet proof police car has window glass more than an inch thick and was used by the Canton police department for 59 years. Each window also has a closeable Tommy gun porthole.

Two 1937 Packard funeral cars are also on display. One is a hearse with a custom-carved mahogany wood body, and the other is a car used to haul flowers to the cemetery during funerals. It resembles an El Camino.

Two of Neil Zurcher’s “One Tank Trip” cars are also on display at the museum. One is a 1957 BMW Isetta, and the other is a 1959 Nash Metropolitan.

Perhaps the most interesting of the specialty cars is a 1962 Amphicar that also floats.

“People would drive off the peer and go fishing in this car,” Lautzenheiser said.

The Amphicar never really caught on, though.

“It wasn’t really very good as a car or a boat. There were design issues. If you opened the doors, you were sunk,” Lautzenheiser said with a laugh.

Lautzenheiser, who has been the museum’s director for 22 years, said her love affair with cars began at a tender age.

“My dad was into cars, and I would go to shows with him,” she said. “Other girls were playing with dolls. I was playing with cars.”

Lautzenheiser loves automobiles so much she even named her two children — Cole and Chase — after cars.

During a museum tour, she provides visitors with interesting facts on all of the museums autos as well as those curious items of memorabilia.

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