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The lowly (but versatile) potato now has its own museum

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Seven blocks from the United States Capitol building in Washington, where members of Congress have handled many hot potatoes over the years, sits the Potato Museum. To be quite literal about it, the Potato Museum is as much a collection as a museum, occupying an ever-growing proportion of the home of founder-curator E. Thomas Hughes.

Somewhere between a collector's hobby and a budding institution (it is open by appointment only), this assemblage of whimsy, memorabilia, fancy, lore, and hard-core fact may be the first and only place of its kind -- a continuing public homage to that most common and taken-for-granted of foods, Solanum tuberosum, the potato.

``We're serious but not solemn about potatoes here,'' Mr. Hughes maintains. ``The potato has lots of eyes, but no mouth. That's where I come in.''

In existence since 1975, the museum, which opened in Washington in 1983, now has more than 2,000 items, of which 250 are displayed: a potato-powered clock; jewelry and toys made out of or resembling potatoes; menus; planting and cultivating tools and kitchen implements; potato poems, songs, stories, and jokes; a 1828 New Hampshire ``Wanted'' poster describing a scoundrel who had swiped a potato still; a three-legged Irish potato pot from which pre-famine-era families, huddled in hovels, ate boiled potatoes three to five times a day; press clippings; potato starch and potato fabric softener; potato money; and an early potato cookbook, dated 1664, called ``How to Produce Potato Cheese Cakes -- England's Happiness Increased,'' by John Forster.

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