Road Trip: 10 Weird Museums Worth Stopping For
When the weather’s fine and you’re itching to get outside, what better way than a road trip? While national monuments, big-city entertainment, beaches or theme parks may be your ultimate destination, there are often quick stops along the way where you can see something new and break up the travel.
Here are 10 museums that celebrate the unusual, from action figures and funeral history to matchsticks and aprons. If you plan to hit the road with family or friends this year, consider making a detour to one of these archives of the odd — or do your own research to find a niche museum that fits your interests (there’s sure to be one out there).
While they may not be the reason you plan the trip, they could be the best (or most memorable) things you see on your next vacation.
The Museum of Bad ArtLocation: Somerville, Massachusetts (2 miles north of Boston)This just might be the perfect stop for comic relief if your road trip takes you near Boston. Founded in 1993, it exhibits — and celebrates — artwork that is “too bad to ignore,” in the words of co-founder and permanent acting interim executive director Louise Reilly Sacco. “Our curator can’t go past a thrift store without stopping in to see what he can find,” she says. “It’s got to be sincere. If somebody sets out to make something bad, it shows, and it’s just not interesting.”
The Museum of Bad ArtWhat you need to know: The rotating collection is split among three locations, but Somerville Theatre is the primary venue, Sacco says. Admission to the museum, housed in the theater’s basement, is one movie or concert ticket.Exhibit highlight: “Sunday on the Pot With George” is Sacco’s longtime favorite piece in the museum. “It’s pointillist (a painting technique in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image), which I understand is a very difficult thing to master,” she says. “So somebody put all this work and effort into a picture of a man in his tighty whities sitting on a toilet. Why would you do that? But it’s just wonderful.”More information: www.museumofbadart.org
The Mütter MuseumLocation: PhiladelphiaNext stop, Philly! Perhaps more on the serious side, this museum of medical history is part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and seeks to “help the public appreciate the mysteries and beauty of the human body while understanding the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease,” according to its website.Serious, however, doesn’t mean boring. A large collection of “wet specimens” like brains, plus medical instruments, bones and more are on display in a 19th century “cabinet museum” setting.Permanent exhibits include “Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia;” the Hyrtl Skull Collection of 139 human skulls; and “The Soap Lady,” a young woman who died of yellow fever and whose body was exhumed in Philadelphia in 1875 (a rare chemical reaction had caused her flesh to turn into a soap-like substance, according to Philly.com).
The Mütter MuseumWhat you need to know: The Mütter Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission ranges from free to $16, depending on your age and status. Backpacks and luggage are not allowed inside.Exhibit highlight: This is one of only two places in the world where you can look inside the head of one of the most well-known geniuses — Albert Einstein. Sections of Einstein’s brain are part of the museum’s permanent collection.More information: www.muttermuseum.org
Vent Haven MuseumLocation: Fort Mitchell, Kentucky (5 miles south of Cincinnati)Next time you’re on a road trip near northern Kentucky or Cincinnati, plan ahead to stop at this museum dedicated to the art of ventriloquism. It dates back to 1973 and houses more than 800 ventriloquist figures, along with photos, playbills, letters and books, according to its website. “Our tourists are usually travelers who are looking for an off-the-beaten-path type of experience,” says the museum’s curator, Lisa Sweasy. “It is the only museum in the world dedicated to ventriloquism.”And you don’t have to be a ventriloquist to enjoy it. “I am not a ventriloquist and knew very little about it when I first heard of Vent Haven,” Sweasy says. “After 16 years of being associated with the museum, however, I would say I am very interested in its history.”
Vent Haven MuseumWhat you need to know: Tours run May 1 through Sept. 30 and are by appointment only; call 859-341-0461 or email email@example.com two days in advance. Walking tours typically run 60 to 90 minutes. The admission donation is $10 for adults and $5 for groups of 10 or more, seniors and children under 12.Exhibit highlight: Sweasy’s favorite is a dummy named Stoney Broke.More information: www.venthavenmuseum.com
Super MuseumLocation: Metropolis, IllinoisThis Superman-themed museum can be your pit stop between St. Louis and Nashville. Started by Superman superfan and collector Jim Hambrick, it has more than 50,000 items on display, from toys and collectibles to movie props and costumes, according to Morgan Siebert, owner and curator of the museum. “We get people who have no interest in Superman who come along with a family member or significant other, and that person, just like everyone else, comes out amazed,” Siebert says.There’s plenty to see, she adds, as the museum is organized based on the different portrayals of the Man of Steel and covers his place in TV, film and comic book history.
Super MuseumWhat you need to know: The museum is open seven days a week: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. Admission for everyone over the age of 5 is $5. Each June, the museum and town of Metropolis host the Superman Celebration, which includes exhibits, live music, an amusement park and a Man of Steel costume contest.Exhibit highlights: Siebert says the first item in the museum is always the favorite: a Superman lunchbox with thermos from 1954. It was a birthday gift to 5-year-old Hambrick from his mom, and it’s what first got him interested in Superman. And, of course, you’ll want to have your picture taken standing next to the 15-foot bronze statue of the hero in Superman Square.More information: www.supermuseum.com
Matchstick Marvels MuseumLocation: Gladbrook, IowaWho knew you could see the Notre Dame Cathedral on a road trip through the United States? Artist Patrick Acton created a scale model of the Parisian landmark and many other attractions using nothing but matchsticks, and they’re on display at this museum. It’s no small feat: His model of the U.S. Capitol, for instance, is 12 feet long.“Pat [Acton] always wanted a place to showcase his work,” says museum manager JoAnn Ruopp. “When the city of Gladbrook created a building for a movie theater and city offices, they wanted to include his matchstick works. And thus, Matchstick Marvels was born.”If you can’t make it to Iowa to see these crazy creations, you can find Acton’s work in other locations, including a full model of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! in Baltimore.
Matchstick Marvels MuseumWhat you need to know: The museum, previously named Iowa’s Tourism Attraction of the Year, is open seven days a week April 1 through Nov. 30, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 or free for kids, depending on their age.Exhibit highlight: A two-headed dragon model will be the newest addition to the museum in 2016.More information: www.matchstickmarvels.com
Apron MuseumLocation: Iuka, MississippiIf your travels take you near the Natchez Trace Parkway or southwest Tennessee, consider a stop at the world’s only museum dedicated to aprons. Opened in 2006, the Apron Museum has amassed a collection of more than 3,000 pieces from throughout the United States and around the world.The goal of the museum, according to owner and curator Carolyn Terry, is not only to celebrate the history of this once ever-present piece of clothing, but to also tell the stories behind them. Most pieces in the collection come with a story directly from the person who donated the piece — many of them handwritten.“It’s not what you expect,” Terry says. “You probably think it is just looking at aprons and it’s boring. But it turns into history and fashion really quickly.”
Apron MuseumWhat you need to know: Standard operating hours for the museum are 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, but the owners live close by and are willing to open it to visitors almost anytime by appointment. Call 662-279-2390. Admission is $3 per person.Exhibit highlights: The museum’s collection includes two Civil War-era aprons and aprons from Claudia McGraw, the designer who made them for actress Greta Garbo and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Terry’s favorite: the first aprons that she received as a little girl from her grandmother.More information: www.apronmuseum.com
National Museum of Funeral HistoryLocation: HoustonDon’t be fooled by the name. This museum has a sense of humor, as demonstrated by its motto on its website: “Any day above ground is a good one.” Founded in 1992, it has an exhibit for almost any interest. Celebrate the lives and deaths of celebrities and popes, explore the celebration of Día de los Muertos or gape at fantastical coffins from Ghana.
National Museum of Funeral HistoryWhat you need to know: The museum is open daily: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from free to $10 depending on your age and whether you’re a veteran or employee of Service Corporation International (the company’s founder also founded the museum).Exhibit highlight: In the exhibit on presidential funerals, you can see the original eternal flame from John F. Kennedy’s grave site in Arlington National Cemetery, as well as an authentic program from the funeral of George Washington and a full-scale recreation of Abraham Lincoln lying in state.More information: www.nmfh.org
The Toy and Action Figure MuseumLocation: Pauls Valley, OklahomaSwing by this museum as you travel around northern Texas, Oklahoma and western Arkansas. Your kids — or your inner child — just might thank you. This museum, founded as an effort to attract more visitors to Pauls Valley’s downtown area, is a cornucopia of cartoon characters, superheroes, dolls and pop culture icons.Visitors will be treated to several exhibits, including a collector’s bedroom that serves as a “Where’s Waldo?” of action figures ranging from Deadpool to KISS dolls to “The Simpsons,” as well as a bat cave, original “Star Wars” toys from the 1970s and a recently added My Little Pony exhibit.The great thing about the museum is the memories it generates, says museum director Erica Block. “Different people find different touchstones on what triggers that nostalgia for them. It’s a great place to spend a couple of hours that is not dry or academic.”
The Toy and Action Figure MuseumWhat you need to know: The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $6 for children and adults, and $4 for seniors or people in groups of 10 or more.Exhibit highlights: Later this year, the museum is adding a Barbie exhibit that Block says will explore the difference between dolls and action figures.More information: www.actionfiguremuseum.com
International Banana MuseumLocation: Mecca, CaliforniaLocated in the Coachella Valley in southern California, this museum — which includes more than 20,000 banana-related items from toys and records to lotions and perfume — has lots of “a-peel.” Visitors can also browse bananas made from nearly every material imaginable — stone, glass, paper, plastic, alabaster, jade and resin.Owner Fred Garbutt says his goal with the museum was to make visitors feel enchanted when they walk in the door. “I wanted them to just go, ‘holy cow.’ I wanted to deliver. I love that,” he says. “It makes me feel good, like my efforts paid off.”
International Banana MuseumWhat you need to know: The museum is open 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday through Monday. Admission is $1 per person.Exhibit highlight: Once you’ve finished browsing all the banana novelty items, treat yourself to something from the banana bar, like a banana shake, a chocolate-covered frozen banana or a banana split.More information: www.internationalbananamuseum.com
Idaho Potato MuseumLocation: Blackfoot, IdahoVisitors traveling to or from Boise, Idaho; Sawtooth National Forest; Yellowstone National Park or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, might find their way to this homage to the iconic Idaho potato.Exhibits at the museum range from educational (a look at antique farm equipment or a history of potato farming technology) to quirky (a display of potato heads and burlap sack clothing).The ultimate goal behind each exhibit, according to museum executive director Tish Dahmen, is to explore and celebrate how Idaho potatoes are different from ones grown in other parts of the country and the world. “The potato is amazing because it can be grown at any altitude or any condition,” she says. “But factoring in Idaho makes it a perfect storm.”“The potato has universal appeal,” she adds, with the pun intended. “Not only do people want to know about their food source and reconnect with it, but they want to have a good time. And the museum is full of fun — with exhibits like the world’s largest potato crisp and the giant potato outside where they can capture the moment for years to come.”
Idaho Potato MuseumWhat you need to know: From October through March, the museum is open 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you visit during April through September, it’s open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is $3 for adults; $2.50 for seniors, and military; and free for children 5 and under.Exhibit highlights: The museum is entering a new phase, according to Dahmen, and will soon open a café serving all things potato, including baked potatoes, french fries, homemade chips and ice cream shaped like potatoes. And of course, you won’t want to go home without having your picture taken in front of the giant Idaho potato that greets you on your way into the museum.More information: www.idahopotatomuseum.com