From the world’s oldest ham to corvettes crushed in a sinkhole, some of the greatest wonders of our museums are available 24/7 through online webcams. Sure, unfiltered watching has its dangers, as shown by the recent queasiness induced by a couple of eagles feeding a cat to their fuzzy chicks, all live on camera (?). But webcams can also make you a witness as a statue of Lenin comes down in Ukraine, or offer the vantage point of 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s skeleton as he watches over University College London.
Here are 10 museum webcams that you can tune in to anytime, anywhere, and watch over like a benevolent Big Brother.
Ham Cam on the World’s Oldest Ham (Isle of Wight County Museum)
Did you know that there is an anointed “world’s oldest ham,” and it is in Smithfield, Virginia? The town is famed for its cured ham, and likely strikes terror in both hog and heifer, a fact that is celebrated at the Isle of Wight County Museum. Among the museum’s exhibitions on local history and historic fossils, is a glass case containing a cured ham that dates to 1902. It was unintentionally forgotten in a packing house’s rafters, until noticed by ham purveyor P.D. Gwaltney Jr. Sensing a prime marketing opportunity, he made the ham his “pet,” complete with a brass collar, and took it on the road as an oddity. Through the online Ham Cam, you can still keep an eye on the action of this withered hunk of meat. Maybe you will spy a pig poltergeist in the night? Probably not, but it’s one of the more curious live streams you can keep open in your tabs.
Crushed Corvettes on the Skydome (National Corvette Museum)
Back in 2014, the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky suddenly soared to media attention beyond car aficionados when a huge sinkhole swallowed eight Corvettes in its Skydome. The hole has since been repaired, but you can see some of the carnage in the Skydome webcam. The museum has so many webcams you can almost tour the whole place digitally, including one trained on the Corvette Cave In! The Skydome Sinkhole Experience exhibition. The mangled cars, though, are the most interesting, as people stop to gawk, as if startled by some relic of a future apocalypse, and gaze through a glass window in the ground to spy on that portal of doom.
Paranormal Objects (Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and Occult)
The nomadic Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and Occult rotates its supposedly cursed and haunted curios on its live feed, where viewers around the world can monitor them for unusual activity. Sure, the “Idol of Nightmares” (or “Billy”) may just be an unmoored ethnographic artifact, yet along with the haunted dolls, scrying mirror, Ouija board planchette, and other preternatural pieces, it’s a webcam that serves up a weekly helping of the odd, always joined with a charming dry erase board tallying the “common phenomena” for each object.
Figment, aka Andy Warhol’s Grave (The Andy Warhol Museum)
The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh honored their late hometown hero’s August 6, 2013 birthday by launching a webcam at Warhol’s grave. As of 2016, you can still tune in anytime to see the final resting place of Warhol, with Campbell’s soup cans and other tributes regularly left at his tombstone in St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery. The webcam includes sound, so you can hear birds chirping and voices of visitors walking along the mowed grass. The Figment project, named for a Warhol quote that he’d prefer an epitaph that read “figment” rather than his name (he didn’t get his wish), also includes at webcam at Pittsburgh’s St. John Chrysontom Byzantine Catholic Church.
USS Monitor Conservation (The Mariners Museum)
The wreck of the USS Monitor, an ironclad steamship constructed for the Union Navy in the American Civil War, was discovered in 1973. Since then, the innovative vessel has been the subject of conservation, and you can watch some of the USS Monitor Center’s work at the Mariner’s Museum, in Newport News, Virginia, through three webcams. They update their images every 12 seconds, and basically are showing metal objects submerged in tanks, so it’s not exactly riveting, although conservators do sometimes appear. Above is a still from electrolysis work on the 120-ton revolving gun turret. Each webcam focuses on a different part of the ship, including the 20-ton engine and steam condenser. If you don’t see much happening, be patient; conservation for the turret is estimated to go on for 15 years before it goes on view in the museum, and 20 years for the engine.
Grand Cascade Fountain (Peterhof Palace)
When Peter the Great was imagining his ideal palace, it included a colossal fountain based on one commissioned by Louis XIV at Château de Marly. The French castle is now destroyed, but the hydraulic fountain in Saint Petersburg, Russia, still blasts incredible torrents of water, using a clever combination of pressure guided by the tiered levels of the fountain. A webcam on the Grand Cascade at Peterhof Palace shows the Baroque fountain in all its gaudy glory to the world, including during its quiet evening hours. Part of the joy of these webcams is seeing the after-hours life of cultural sites, when the people are gone and the place is left to its slumbers.
Louise Bourgeois Spider Cam (National Gallery of Canada)
Every 10 seconds, the webcam watching Louise Bourgeois’s “Maman” (1999) sculpture at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, refreshes with a new image. Visitors walk beneath the giant spider or pose for big group photographs, and throughout the day the metal arachnid’s shadow shifts like a rather ominous sundial.
Elvis’s Front Door (Graceland)
The late Elvis Presley’s Memphis home is now a museum to his musical memory, and a webcam at Graceland watches all the visitors who pass through his front door. It’s not exactly the most thrilling view (wouldn’t it be more fun to watch visitors try on jumpsuits for souvenir photographs?), but maybe you can keep an eye on the shades guarding the second floor. The level has always been off-limits to visitors, and is where the “King” died, so build your own conspiracy theory as the digital procession of tourist vans fills your screen.
Japanese Garden Cam (Adachi Museum of Art)
The Adachi Museum of Art in Yasugi, Japan, showcases the art collection of businessman Zenko Adachi, but many visitors come as much for the beautiful garden as the paintings and ceramics. Adachi planted small pine trees and unique rocks to create an incredible scene of sloping hills and sandy ground. He once stated that “the garden is also a picture,” treating it like a living work of art. There’s a webcam constantly showing his garden, providing a peaceful online space to zone out, although keep in mind the time zone difference, or all you’ll be greeted with is a dark vista.
The World’s Oldest Manatee (South Florida Museum)
On July 23 the South Florida Museum in Bradenton celebrated the 68th birthday of their most famed resident: Snooty the manatee. Injured by a motorboat propeller at a young age and raised in aquariums ever since, Snooty is the oldest known manatee in captivity, and thus highly likely the world’s oldest manatee. On the Snooty Cam, you can watch the 1,100-pound Snooty bob around with his fellow manatees Icecube and Sarasolo, while excited visitors watch from behind the glass. However, they’re only online 8am to 5pm, presumably to respect the manatees’ beauty sleep.