The Beat Museum opened in its North Beach location only several months ago, but it already has received major international attention after The New York Times broke the enigmatic story of a man who may have found parts of Sputnik. The story about the Sputnik man, Bob Morgan, also highlighted the role of the museum in discovering him — bringing notoriety to the new Beatnik home.
Over the weekend, the museum bustled with activity, with founder and curator Jerry Cimino, two men who designed the museum’s attention-grabbing posters, two reporters from a Dutch magazine and several British tourists on hand.
The museum occupies the first floor of what was previously Black Oak Books. As a place dedicated to a literary movement, books are one of its main lures. The gift shop, which occupies about a third of the space, sells classics such as Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”as well as biographies, criticism, anthologies and a section of spiritual books that, as Cimino says, the Beats would probably be reading if they were alive. There are also T-shirts, posters, films and CDs related not only to the Beats, but to their time period.
The exhibition space is also filled with a mix of period pieces, such as a typewriter, a tub (yet to be installed), and the “Beat pad,” a re-creation of a writer’s quarters straight from the 1950s. Still, the focus of the museum is its four literary heroes: Ginsberg, Kerouac, Neal Cassady and William Burroughs.
The main exhibit begins with a large photograph from 1944 of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Hal Chase, a friend of Cassady who later introduced him to the group. From this photo, considered a symbol of the Beats’ birth, the exhibit proceeds chronologically through important events — the trip that resulted in Kerouac’s “On the Road,” Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and the subsequent trial of his publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In addition, there are also sections dedicated to each of the Beats, the Beat women and the North Beach jazz scene of the time. In the back, there is a small movie theater for screenings.
Cimino doesn’t seem to lack in diverse memorabilia to fill his 5,000-square-foot museum, which, with its ability to slightly disorient the visitor, seems to capture the spirit of the Beats. Cimino, 53, started the museum in a 500-ssquare-foot space in Monterey three years ago after a long career in business. Then, along with Cassady’s son, John Allen, took it on the road to college campuses and high schools.
“But I knew I had to bring it to Broadway and Columbus,” he says. “I knew it belonged to Broadway and Columbus — this is the center of the universe for the Beats.”
The Beat Museum
Where: 540 Broadway, San Francisco
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; closed Mondays
Contact: (800) 537-6822 or www.kerouac.com