After a very brief existence, this museum closed in… 2020? Ish?
At least I’m pretty sure it’s closed. I’ve reached out to David Mirto, the owner, funder, collector, teacher, and showman responsible for this place through a variety of means a number of times over the course of three years and never received any confirmation one way or another.
I did go to the Webster bank building where it was housed in the basement. I parked and looked at the building’s directory and did not see this museum listed in 2023. Which is a bummer. I love “weird” and random little basement museums no matter what the theme, but this one actually appeals to me beyond another CTMQ checked box.
I can only assume Mirto still has all the artifacts and “stuff” somewhere, so maybe it’ll magically reappear somewhere someday. Maybe publishing this entirely useless page on the heralded pages of CTMQ will prompt him to reach out. We can only hope.
Of course, not having visited and not knowing anything about Dave Mirto, I will turn to a Waterbury Republican-American article about the place and call it a day.
Thirty-seven-year-old David Mirto of Waterbury was born at the wrong time.
Mirto, a high school teacher and adjunct college professor, belongs in the era of carnival sideshows and vaudeville acts. Sporting a vest and fedora and clutching a wooden cane with mysterious etchings, Mirto offered a tour one day last week of Mirtollucci & Sons, an oddities museum he opened in the basement of a Webster Bank in Southington.
The majority of the spectacular specimens – brains in jars, Ouija boards, ancient tonics for various ailments, Big Foot’s teeth – are located inside an old vault. When giving hourlong tours – which are by appointment and cost $25 – Mirto assumes his alter ego, Professor Hezekiah Mirtollucci. Mirtollucci is an homage to his father’s last name and his late mother’s maiden name. “Hezekiah” was a name bestowed by him as a joke by magician Todd Robbins, the Guinness Book of World Records holder for swallowing light bulbs.
A magician since the age of 10, Mirto is passionate about the bizarre. Mirtollucci & Sons is the only oddities museum in Connecticut and to find something similar, one would have to travel to a Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, which is a chain, Mirto points out.
“The museum really hails back to the sideshow acts that were seen around the country when that was the primary method of entertainment,” he said.
His Professor Mirtollucci, who holds advanced degrees in zoology, cryptozoology, psychology, parapsychology, education and all around flim-flammery, travels the world collecting rare and extraordinary antiquities. Indeed, the actual Mirto possesses two master’s degrees (business administration and education) and is working on a doctorate in instructional leadership.
At Post University in Waterbury, Mirto teaches computer; at New Milford High, he teaches accounting and other business courses. The parallels between teaching high school kids and performing magic are hard to ignore.
“It’s about audience management, about making them look where I want them to look,” he said. “But I love my career as a teacher.”
Mirto developed an interest in magic from watching David Copperfield and Mark Wilson specials on TV as a boy. The youngest of eight, he was further influenced when his father took him to see the Cole Bros. Circus.
“They had a sideshow and I remember going in to see the exhibits, and also the fire eaters. I was just flabbergasted by what they could do,” said Mirto, who later became a fire eater and a talented silk artist.
He started teaching himself magic and his parents encouraged him as it was a way to get him to pick up more books.
“I think it was the sense of wonder and the whole suspension of disbelief that got me. It’s about going along for a ride and seeing what will happen, and magic truly is an art form, a performance art. It’s very labor intensive, to learn the mechanics of an act and the performance and the structuring parts,” he said.
When he was 10, an uncle of Mirtos with a few tricks up his sleeve took him under his wing. The uncle, former city planner Tony Mirto of Waterbury, introduced him to other magicians. Jim Sisti, a professional magician from Beacon Falls, remembers being impressed by Mirto.
“He immediately had an affinity, a great attitude and an eagerness to learn,” Sisti said. “He was really serious about laying down a foundation and he is firmly grounded in the classics of magic. He has great chops as a sleight-of-hand performer, especially with cards, he can hold his own in pretty fast company. Dave is very industrious with a diverse set of skills.”
At 11, Mirto became the youngest member ever inducted into the Society of American Magicians. He worked his way through Western Connecticut State University doing magic acts on the weekends. He went on to obtain an MBA and worked “run-of-the-mill” cubicle jobs. Coming from a long line of civil servants, Mirto said he was unfulfilled. So he returned to school to obtain his master’s in education.
“I never plan on leaving the high school classroom. I got into work with a smile everyday,” said Mirto, who is the kind of guy who functions fine on four hours of sleep a night and crafts elaborate wooden blade boxes and other magician tools in his spare time.
He had been looking for space to rent where he could work on his dissertation, and also store his growing collection of oddities. When he saw the office below the bank – complete with a large vault – he thought of the museum. To add mystique, he built a wall that slides away to reveal the vault door. For his tours, he drinks from a tiny jar of memory-erasing potion before entering the vault, because he can’t trust himself to keep the combination secret.
Inside is more than 150 items – from a North American scorpion chipmunk to a scarlet ray machine with various attachments to fix baldness and tooth pain – arranged on shelves he built himself. Buddhist prayer bells hang from the ceiling and tapestries drape the walls and cover glass jars full of grotesque sights, such as a shrunken head appropriated from a dime-store museum of P.T. Barnum’s in New York City that burned to the ground in 1865.
A section is devoted to “cure alls,” which are, “the finest medicines in the world, made from glacial water and are lead-filtered to cure everything from rheumatism to headaches to gout,” Mirto said, in character as Professor Mirtollucci. “If you’re looking for love, we can help you. If you are looking to leave love, we can help you, too.”
A visit cost a cool $25, but I’d have happily paid it, as you are getting a show here. I hope it somehow still exists in some form and that I can check it out and meet Dave Mirto, who seems to be one of the more interesting Connecticutians around.