How close is Kirksville to Hollywood? Turns out, it’s closer than you might think.

A new motion picture will be released this winter based on an unusual wooden cabinet known as the Dibbuk Box*, currently in the care of Museum of Osteopathic Medicine (MOM) Director Jason Haxton.

Haxton, who fills his free time uncovering new information about historical objects, came across the odd artifact eight years ago when it was in the possession of the roommate of a student gaining on-the-job museum experience at the MOM.

The box is claimed by past owners to have a connection to Jewish mysticism, and strange occurrences and illness allegedly had befallen the box’s previous owners. Haxton’s innate curiosity was piqued. But he never had the opportunity to handle the box until it later was offered for sale on the Internet auction site eBay. Haxton bought the box in 2004 for less than $200. By contrast, the motion picture based on the box cost more than $12 million. Actors involved in the movie include Kyra Sedgwick and Grey’s Anatomy actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Once he had it in his hands, Haxton began exploring the box’s authenticity and cultural meanings. “I didn’t know what it was,” he says. “It wasn’t easily identifiable and was an unusual historical puzzle.”

He began by looking at every component of the box and its contents, tracing its ownership, studying Jewish history and writings, and talking with Jewish scholars and Rabbis. The use of Hebrew writing on the back of the cabinet and on several items within it seemed to point to a Jewish origin. Rabbi Lynn Goldstein of St. Louis assisted Haxton’s research and provided a concluding message for Haxton’s book on the box due out this fall.

“I’m the perfect person to unravel the mystery,” he says, “because this is not of my religious or cultural background. I questioned everything about it.”

What he discovered is that the box was a personal item created by a Jewish person to fulfill a prayer. “Someone had needs, and this was a way to focus energy and come to some level of internal peace,” he says. Not typical of and even shunned by the Jewish faith, Haxton says what can be confirmed is that there is a box, it had a spiritual use, and some have felt it is a nuisance.

“Its enigma is that those who have owned it felt it brought on bad luck and illness,” he says, adding that his hunch is that such illness is psychosomatic, and that the box simply feeds on a person’s fear of the unknown. That said, “There are many strange occurrences that have happened that I cannot explain away,” he says. As a precaution, he’s had the box contained in a special protective wooden ark and has removed it from public contact.

Haxton is writing a book on the Dibbuk Box artifact, which will be published by Truman State University Press and released in October 2011. For more information on the box’s illustrious history, visit www.dibbukbox.com.

Haxton, who collects ancient art, pottery, and textiles, simply says, “I’m fascinated by history and the story objects tell, which is why I take my work with osteopathic history at the museum so seriously. My perspective is we’re just passing through time, and these objects represent time. I don’t own them, I just enjoy them before they go on to the next person.”

The Dibbuk Box movie, directed by Sam Raimi of Spiderman fame, throws the old adage that the truth is stranger than fiction on its proverbial ear, Haxton says.

“The unknown is scary,” he says. “It’s scarier not to know. Having read the film’s script, the only thing the actual box has in common with the upcoming movie is that, well, there’s a wooden box.”

Family folklore, hoax, or web-spawned urban legend, the unknown may create fear, but it also makes one heck of an entertaining story.

*Dybbuk is the more common spelling, meaning “an attachment, a cleaving to something.”