12 Unusual and Eclectic Museums Across the U.S.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a museum is “an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study and display of objects of lasting interest or value.” For most people, this probably means art treasures and historical artifacts. But hundreds of self-appointed curators across the U.S. have come up with their own interpretation of what a museum should be. Here we present some of the most idiosyncratic and fascinating examples of curation that stand alone in their particular field of interest.
FRESH WATER FISHING HALL OF FAME & MUSEUM
Often referred to as the world’s biggest fish, this fiberglass structure of a leaping muskie is the signature symbol of the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin. This shrine to anglers is four and a half stories tall and about half a city block in length but it is just one of the astonishing sights at a rustic complex that includes over 3,000 mounted fish, 1,000 vintage outboard motors and 50,000 historic lures, rods, reels and angling accessories. If you like to fish, can you resist this bait?
SALEM WITCH MUSEUM
More than thirteen large stage sets with life-size figures, eerie lighting, ominous sound effects and dramatic narration define the tone for this popular tourist attraction which brings to life the infamous witch trials of 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. The museum offers a compelling history of the region's historic events as well as a serious examination of the stereotypes and perceptions about witchcraft through the centuries. But the disturbing tableaux featuring victims sentenced to death by hanging or crushed with stones is nightmarish stuff and not for small children.
MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY
Located in Culver City, California, this bizarre exhibition, which is dedicated to the study of the lower Jurassic (huh?), has been puzzling and intriguing visitors for years. Is it a put-on or a serious contemplation of art, natural phenomenon and technology represented by fantastical artifacts and private collections? You’ll see the amazing microminiatures of Hagop Sandaldjian and the scientific inventions of Athanasius Kircher (pictured above) and also learn about the long-extinct European mole, the stink ant of the Cameroons and other mysteries of life. Whether you find the Museum of Jurassic Technology mind-blowing or completely inscrutable, it should prove to be a one-of-a-kind experience.
HERSCHELL CARROUSEL FACTORY MUSEUM
Two fully operational carousels accompanied by authentic band organ music and examples of the beautifully hand-carved, antique horses that were once manufactured by the Allan Herschel Company are the main draws at this family-friendly attraction. Located in North Tonawanda, New York, the museum is in the original factory complex circa 1910 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. If you love vintage amusement park carousels, you’ll be in heaven here and you can even take a workshop on woodcarving or other interactive learning activities.
THE U.S. NATIONAL TICK MUSEUM
It might sound like someone’s idea of a joke but this collection actually belongs to the U.S. National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) and has been housed at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro since 1990. Offering a fascinating array of scientific data and public health information, the facility contains tick specimens from around the world which are from the approximately 860 known species. Thanks to the numerous displays, a timeline that covers the collection’s origins since 1905 and an extensive library on the subject, you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about these nasty, disease-carrying little arachnids.
KANSAS UNDERGROUND SALT MUSEUM
Now officially known as Strataca, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum might not conform to anyone’s idea of a traditional museum but it is a fascinating, multi-purpose attraction that is a collaboration between the Hutchinson, Kansas Historical Society, the Hutchinson Salt Company and Underground Vaults and Storage. You descend 650 feet below the surface in a double-decker transport and are led on a tour (including a 30 minute tram ride) where you will learn about strata, salt dwelling bacteria, the rigors of salt mining and other geological details. Special events at the underground site include a murder mystery dinner theater night, a 5K run, the annual Tour de Salt bike race and paranormal ectoplasm shows.
MARSH’S FREE MUSEUM
This cult favorite located in Long Beach, Washington is a bizarre mashup of carnival sideshow, salt water taffy shop, historical oddities museum and quirky antique store (some of which are for sale). What started out as a tavern in 1935 eventually evolved into the popular roadside attraction we have today which is best known for displaying the mummified body of Jake the Alligator Man. But there is so much more to catch your eye and startle your senses: hundreds of stuffed and mounted animals including a two-headed calf, a mammoth seashell collection, Victorian-era music makers, nickel peep shows, a kiss tester and the largest collection of glass fishing floats in the U.S. And yes, admission is free but you’ll probably want to buy some Jake memorabilia.
THE NATIONAL MUSTARD MUSEUM
There are literally dozens of museums scattered around the country that pay homage on an almost obsessive level to a specific type of food or condiment and include the International Banana Museum (Mecca, Calif.), the Jell-O Gallery Museum (Le Roy, NY), the Spam Museum (Austin, Minn.) and the International Vinegar Museum (Roslyn, SD). But since I love mustard, I chose this museum to highlight. It must be said that curator Barry Levenson has done a spectacular job of amassing the world’s largest collection of prepared mustards in Middleton, Wisconsin with over 5,624 types from all 50 states and more than 70 countries. Naturally, there is an on-site gift shop but also a tasting bar, a theater presentation (The documentary Mustard: The Spice of Nations is featured daily) and assorted mustard memorabilia from the past to the present which even includes art parodies like a mustard version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (below).