Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne - 23 September 2003
Connoisseur of carrots coming to crunch tacos
A reader called to say that friend was coming from England and she wondered whether we'd like to talk to him.
Your first instinct is to politely hem and haw. England is a charming island, and it would be interesting to have such a visitor in your home, you think, but out-of-towners aren't necessarily news, in and of themselves, so you start silently plotting a kind way to tell them to have fun and then hang up.
But the caller continued. The visitor was the founder of the World Carrot Museum. He'd met the caller, city resident Deborah Schwartz, online after she visited his peculiar museum on the Internet. He would be calling on other carrot collectors while in the United States, and he also planned to eat at a Taco Bell in Fort Wayne and visit a Wal-Mart so he could experience the true America.
After giving some thought to this last bit of information, you respond, "Come right over."
Indeed, John Stolarczyk, a retired city administrator from North Yorkshire, is the founder of the World Carrot Museum, a collection at www.carrotmuseum.com that contains more than you would ever need to know about the orange root.
The carrot, for example, is the second-most consumed vegetable after the potato; the average person eats 13 pounds a year; they are more beneficial if cooked, and American Indians used carrot seeds as a contraceptive that apparently worked.
Stolarczyk started the museum in 1995 after learning how to build Web sites as part of his municipal job in England. He chose the carrot as the focus at, the suggestion of his daughter. He discovered that although there is a museum for just about everything on the Web these days - condiment packages, bananas, you name it - there was no carrot Museum.
Some people consider Stolarczyk's efforts silly and a waste of time, to which he responds, "Of course it is. ...Most English people are eccentric. We're all crazy."
But not it seems, as eccentric as some of the fellow carrot lovers that Stolarczyk has visited on his American travels. His journey has taken him to California, where he met a woman with a body full of carrot tattoos; a woman with a collection of carrot pitchers in Scranton, Iowa - a tiny town where the phone book includes nicknames and you find the city by taking the highway out of Des Moines and following the road through the corn until get to Sparky's garage.. There's also a 2,000-item carrot museum in Rhode Island inspired by the wallpaper in the room where it started; and a man in Cleveland who has what has to be the world's largest collection of bags that carrots have come in, 10,000 different sacks with various designs dating to the 1960s.
Thanks to his museum, Stolarczyk ' Has discovered a husband and wife team from Australia who make musical instruments (flutes and that) out of carrots, put on concerts for schools and then eat their instruments at the end of every performance. "And people think I'm crazy," Stolarczyk says.
What has Stolarczyk as fascinated as anything is not the American carrot collectors (there are more weird collectors in US than anywhere) but the US itself, he says.
Americans eat too and do not exercise enough, he says. They will go to on shop in a shopping center and then drive to another store in the same shopping center, even though walking would be much faster. He's amazed at the notion of drive-up ATMs and says that if Wal-Mart opened its doors to. automobiles, people would drive in and shop from their cars. Sounds like a good American idea.
He's mystified that stores use self checkout lines, where you scan your purchases and pay for them. In England, he says, they'd get stolen blind , another American idea.
But we're getting away from the carrot museum, which isn't an altogether bad idea.
It causes you to pause. Americans' go to Britain to see the crown jewels, the Tower of London, medieval cathedrals and ancient castles.
The English come to the United States and go to Taco Bell and Wal-mart and visit carrot collectors.
What a strange society we must seem to outsiders.
Frank Gray has held positions as a reporter and editor at The Journal Gazette since 1982, and has been writing a column on local issues since 1998. His column is published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached at the Board at www.journalgazette.net
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