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Quack House

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Hair falling out? Sex drive lagging? Need to replace a missing limb? Then stay away from Minneapolis, especially from Bob McCoy’s roomful of medical devices that claim to cure almost every imaginable human ailment. They won’t help at all. “They don’t work,” says McCoy.

But they are fun to look at, which is why up to 100 visitors a day come to the one-room Museum of Questionable Medical Devices that McCoy, 74, operates in a Mississippi-riverfront office complex. There they can gaze at the phrenology machine (which analyzes personality by reading bumps on the skull), the vibrating chair (which claims to keep folks regular by shaking them up) and the Spectro-Chrome (to enjoy its many benefits, says McCoy, one must sit “in front of the light, facing north, under certain moon phases, in the dark and in the nude”).

McCoy, whose wife, Margaret, 63, sometimes helps out as a tour guide, started his monument to medical mountebankery in 1984, when a friend gave him the phrenology machine. The former soap salesman added to his collection over the years, buying or borrowing a range of machines from the 1790s to the present. McCoy takes great pleasure in demonstrating the futility of using something like the white, helmetlike appliance guaranteed to stimulate hair growth. Placing it on his head, he waits expectantly. “I think I feel a little more hair,” he says with a grin. “What do you think?” Amusing as McCoy’s 245 devices may be, his museum has a serious purpose. “I want people to know there are quacks out there,” says McCoy, “people who prey on our gullibility.”