Banana Museum Curator Must Split

By | March 23, 2010

Ken Bannister is going bananas because no one wants his bananas.

Over the past 38 years, Mr. Bannister has collected more than 17,000 banana-themed artifacts. He is the founder of the International Banana Club and Museum in Hesperia, Calif., in the High Desert northeast of Los Angeles.

On Jan. 8, he received a letter from the Hesperia Recreation & Parks District informing him the banana collection must go, because the district wants to bring in new blood to the city-owned space. It will be replaced by artifacts collected by the late John Swisher, a local historian. Mr. Bannister has until the end of the month to pack up his bananas.

“I guess it’s time to split,” he says.

The collection includes a banana golf putter, banana beverages, and a gold-sequined “Michael Jackson banana.” Mr. Bannister organizes the goods into “hard” (brass, lead, wood, plastic banana wares) and “soft” (stuffed bananas, banana beach mats, banana tents). He estimates the effort has cost him over $150,000 over the years.

There are other fruit and vegetable museums. The Carrot Museum in England boasts more than 1,000 items. The National Apple Museum of Biglerville, Pa., has a related Apple Core Band. And the Vidalia Onion Museum in Georgia will open a new 1,500 square-foot space in April. Still, the banana museum holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the “world’s largest collection devoted to any one fruit.”

It all began in 1972, when Mr. Bannister worked as the president of a photo-equipment manufacturing company. As a joke, a secretary handed him 10,000 Chiquita banana stickers to distribute at a manufacturers conference. She received them from her husband, a stevedore, and they were an instant hit at the conference.

Friends started sending in banana merchandise, which quickly crammed Mr. Bannister’s office. Soon thereafter, he opened his museum in Altadena, Calif., where it stayed until it moved 80 miles to its current Hesperia location in 2005. Most of the items are sent in from fans who hear about the collection.

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