LONDON - Like something out of an early "Toy Story," the kittens cluster rigidly around a table laden with tea and cakes, while nearby two rakish squirrels smoke their pipes — watched by a two-headed lamb and conjoined twin piglets.
The owners of Mr. Potter's Museum of Curiosities, a Victorian collection of stuffed animals in whimsical poses, said Tuesday they have put one of Britain's oddest collections up for sale.
"Victorian taxidermy was very popular once but is not really in favor now," said Kevin Moore, owner of the mid-18th century Jamaica Inn in southwest England, where the 6,000 figures are set out in sentimental — some would say tasteless — tableaux.
Moore said the Jamaica Inn, which inspired Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name, needs more tourist accommodation and, as it already houses a waxwork display illustrating local tales of ghosts and smugglers, the stuffed animals have to go.
The collection is one of the most elaborate surviving examples of the 19th century craze for anthropomorphic displays of stuffed animals. Some of the pieces were lent last year to a major Victorian exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
Moore, who hopes to raise some $3.1 million, says he has had offers from collectors in the United States and Europe.
Does Santa Have A Rap Sheet?
MILWAUKEE — Before Santa can distribute any toys in a downtown mall, chances are some folks have tried to find out if he's been naughty or nice.
The company that manages The Shops of Grand Avenue mall in downtown Milwaukee insist all Santas undergo a criminal background check and drug testing.
"It's just a sign of the times for all businesses that provide services to families and children," said Barbara Sacco, vice president of marketing for Faison & Associates,
Nancy Conley, marketing director at Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa, said background checks and drug screening have become common place when hiring Santas.
"Even the elves are finger-printed and drug-tested," Conley said.
Pre-employ.com specializes in background checks for job applicants. It found that about 70 of 1,000 shopping mall Santa and Santa helper applicants had committed misdemeanors or felonies in the last seven years.
The offenses included indecent exposure, soliciting prostitution and drunken driving.
Santa Plus, of O'Fallon, Mo., scrutinizes the backgrounds of more than 500 Santas it places in 250 malls in 46 states, including Mayfair and Bayshore mall in Glendale.
That goes for Mrs. Claus and Santa's helpers, said Jerry Helton, vice president of marketing at Santa Plus, a division of Eastman Kodak.
Jeb's Mistaken Congratulation
MONTPELIER, Vt. - Two years ago, we didn't know who won the election in Florida. Now, Florida Governor Jeb Bush is having a little trouble figuring out who won in Vermont. Bush has sent a letter of congratulations to "governor-elect" Doug Racine. But Racine lost the race to Republican Jim Douglas. In the mistaken letter, Bush tells Racine that he can look forward to "one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs in America." A spokeswoman for Bush blames the goof on a staff error. She says the real winner has also been congratulated.
Royal Dog Captures A Nation's Heart, Yes She Does!
BANGKOK, Thailand — Thai readers on Tuesday began chasing the tale of a dog that has so captured the king's heart he wrote a book about her.
"The Story of Thongdaeng," by King Bhumibol Adulyadej went on sale Tuesday, and the publisher said the first printing of 100,000 copies was all but sold out in a few hours.
Thongdaeng, which means "copper" — the dog's color — came to public attention last December, when the 74-year-old monarch told the story of the mutt's 1998 adoption, as part of a plea for Thais to treat strays kindly during his annual birthday speech.
Earlier this year shirts bearing the dog's image were sold to raise funds for the king's charitable projects. The shirts became high fashion after the king and members of his family were photographed wearing them. The book's proceeds go to support stray dogs and an animal hospital through the king's Chaipattana Foundation.
Although billed as the tale of a man and his dog, the book also contains lessons about gratitude and honesty.
"Other dogs, even her own children, would show their delight when they meet the king, by jumping onto his lap and licking his face," reads one passage.
"Thongdaeng would never do that. She always stays lower than him. Even when he pulls her up to embrace her, Thongdaeng would quickly crouch on the floor, her ears down in a respectful manner, as if saying 'I dare not; it's not proper.' To show respect and loyalty, she would lick the king's hands heartily and continuously."
X-Rated Rip Off
SANFORD, Fla. - The handcuffs are gone and so are the whips. Not to mention the garter belts and the panties. Police in Sanford, Florida, are trying to solve an X-rated rip off. Someone swiped more than $12,000 worth of lingerie and sex toys from an adult vendor. The crook virtually cleaned out the stock of Sweet Undies, a booth at a local flea market. Owner Marie Abascal says now she has nothing to offer customers hoping for a naughty Christmas.
Nebraska Celebrates Rat Olympics
LINCOLN, Neb. - 2002 is an Olympic year, if you're a rat. Next week, the Rat Olympics return to the Lincoln campus of Nebraska Wesleyan. The rodents will be competing in all sorts of Olympic events like track, weight lifting and long jump. Trainers and their rats will be vying for gold, silver and bronze medals. Psychology Professor Spencer Morrison says training rats is a great way for students to study animal behavior. Morrison adds the spectators will be amazed by the rats' ability and agility. Competition for the big cheese begins a week from Thursday.
Brothel's Future Up For Grabs
RENO, Nev. - The federal government still hasn't decided what to do with the Mustang Ranch.
It's been three years since the government seized the infamous Nevada brothel. The owners and manager had been convicted in a federal fraud and racketeering trial, so the ranch was forfeited.
There was one plan to turn the Mustang Ranch into a real ranch for wild mustangs. That idea was dropped.
And now, the Bureau of Land Management has decided to do some soliciting of its own -- for some suggestions on what to do with the property that was the site of Nevada's first legal bordello.
An agency spokesman says one thing is certain -- there won't be any more prostitution there.
Other than that -- he says the government is keeping an open mind.