Your first time at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum is an experience like no other. After driving through a bland shopping center off a busy road in Farmington Hills, a circus-like sign signals you’re in the right place. Then you walk into sensory overload.
On a recent Tuesday morning, I met John Pullum, one of Marvin’s first employees from when it opened 30 years ago. The space was originally Tally Hall, one of the nation’s first food courts. Marvin Yagoda, a pharmacist by trade and collector of all things weird, was offered a space when Tally Hall closed. Pullum said when Marvin opened his museum, he could stand at the food counter in the middle of the shop and see the visitors coming in. Soon, the view was obstructed by pinball machines, animatronics, and just...curiosities.
The museum, which is free and open 365 days a year, has only closed for six days during its entire 30-year run. One of those days was for Marvin’s funeral in early 2017.
Pullum reflects on Marvin’s presence now missing from the museum, saying that Marvin would give handfuls of quarters to kids so they could play with the machines. He loved to talk to anyone who would come in, and Pullum said because of his eccentric collection and personality, Marvin’s funeral was a lot like the movie Big Fish, with characters from all walks of life.
When people visit the museum, no matter their age, they stare in wonder at all the games, posters, and objects that span the storefront. Marvin wanted to share his excitement for magic and wonder with the world, and that energy carries on today.
One of the most notable objects includes PT Barnum’s replica Cardiff Giant, which was won in an auction—Marvin beat Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The Cardiff Giant sits near the ladies restroom.
The older automatons are a big hit with visitors. Marvin encased the hand-cranked relics from the early 1900s so visitors can see how they work. Early toys like it and newer, flashier video games are all represented here. Visitors can also see large, slightly terrifying animatronic animals from older event venues.
It’s hard to believe this magical world exists, tucked away behind a Bed, Bath, and Beyond and a California Pizza Kitchen. Perhaps the instinct when you first walk in is to just look, but soon it turns into a place of play. Change machines beckon, and hours can be spent shooting hoops, making a deal or no deal, getting your fortune, or watching an animatronic “County Health Inspector” regurgitate in a machine. Maybe you’ll be dazzled by the myriad vintage posters that line the ceiling and walls, or the toy airplanes that float around the museum. Whatever you’re drawn to, it’s what Marvin would have wanted. It’s a free place to be a kid again.