It's a fair bet you've never seen anything quite like the Bayernhof Museum, a private home open to visitors since 2004.
The stone mansion that sits high above Sharpsburg is barely 25 years old. But its former resident, local businessman Charles B. Brown III, was an avid collector and consummate host, and had the resources to build a 22-room house to his precise and quirky specifications. Upon his death in 1999, Brown's will directed that his collections be maintained, and his house opened for the enjoyment and edification of the public.
Brown was deeply enamored of Germany (the house's name means "Bavarian Hall"), and he filled his home with related kitschy knickknacks -- innumerable beer steins, paintings, figurines, even the eight-plate collector's series depicting scenes from The Sound of Music. But his tastes were open to other styles, including conquistador, hunting lodge, '70s suburban and whatever struck his fancy. Tour guide and curator Tony Marisco notes wryly that Brown "bought what he liked."
Brown's other love was mechanical musical instruments: The house contains 150, from tiny wind-up record players to ornate wooden cabinets that play two violins and accompanying piano. One of the more sublime pieces is a birdcage in which four small stuffed songbirds flutter and warble in lifelike fashion.
Marisco is also the longtime restorer of these mechanical instruments. More than a dozen are played during the tour, and today's music-lovers should take note that these machines -- many coin-operated -- once represented the cutting edge in reproduced music for the public.
The Bayernhof's rooms, while mostly themed to purpose -- formal dining room, ladies' guest bedroom -- can be overwhelming. Your eyes dart everywhere -- is that a slot machine? Another RCA dog? A gnome behind the door? But Marisco has a soothing, avuncular style, and the two-and-half-hour tour, sprinkled with his anecdotes about "Chuck," pass agreeably. And there's always another jaw-dropper through the next doorway.
Almost any aspect of the tour is worth the price of admission: the expansive views across the Allegheny; the rare mechanical musical instruments; the density of accumulated stuff; the kitchens that drew gasps from the tour group; the secret passageways; and the residual warmth of a man who built his house to serve as his co-host. Brown -- who, according to Marisco, loved taking astounded visitors through his dream house and showing off his treasures -- has left a singular and thoroughly enjoyable legacy.
Bayernhof Museum. 225 St. Charles Place, O'Hara Township. Tours daily, by appointment. $10. 412-782-4231 or www.bayernhofmuseum.com