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9 Quirky Museums Across the U.S.
Admire wacky collections showcasing everything from a Bigfoot replica to banana-inspired memorabilia.
Discover unusual exhibits with whimsical and peculiar artifacts.
While museums displaying art and science abound, so do lesser-known institutions showcasing offbeat collections and peculiar objects. Take the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, the International Banana Museum in Mecca, California, or the Pizza Brain Museum in Philadelphia. Maybe you'd prefer exploring Boston's Museum Of Bad Art or, if you're an aficionado of barbed wire, the Devil's Rope Museum in McLean, Texas, or the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in La Crosse, Kansas, which has hosted an Antique Barbed Wire Festival for more than 50 years. To pique your interest, here some unusual museums across the country that are well worth a visit.
Corrected on Aug. 30, 2017: A previous version of this story misstated the name of the International Banana Museum.
International Banana Museum
The International Banana Museum has more than 20,000 items of bananabilia, such as a banana-shaped robot, golf putter, record player and, of course, slippers. The Guinness World Records terms it the "largest collection of banana-related memorabilia." Banana-esque curiosities even include a slot machine. Plus, the museum has edible offerings such as banana soda and smoothies that can be enjoyed while sitting on a monkey bar stool. What's more, you can buy costumes. According to the museum's owner and collector Fred Garbutt, the "International Banana Museum is the most appealing place that you'll ever go totally bananas in."
Hall of Flame Fire Museum
The Hall of Flame in Phoenix is America's only museum dedicated exclusively to fighting wildfires that destroy several million acres each year, says executive director Peter Molloy. It displays more than 90 restored pieces of equipment dating from 1875 to 1969. One of the most poignant pieces in the collection is a truck that transported the Prescott Fire Department's Granite Mountain Hotshots to a wildfire that killed 19 of the 20-member firefighting team in 2013. Honor them and thousands of others whose names are inscribed in the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes, killed in the line of duty. The museum is located in Papago Park, next to the Phoenix Zoo and Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
International UFO Museum and Research Center
Roswell, New Mexico
The perfect place to observe the 70th anniversary of the much-debated 1947 flying saucer crash in Roswell is its International UFO Museum and Research Center. This museum offers a close encounter with the controversial and contested paranormal event, as well as information about the government's alleged cover-up. UFOs, extraterrestrial creatures, mysterious crop circles and alleged alien abductions are not just identified, but they are also researched at this center. The museum's fun movie memorabilia includes Gort, the 8-foot-tall fictional humanoid robot from the 1951 classic sci-fi flick "The Day the Earth Stood Still."
The American Museum of the House Cat
Sylva, North Carolina
"If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat," Mark Twain once famously wrote. Now, a man in North Carolina has crossed his Catman2 Shelter with a museum concept to form the newly opened American Museum of the House Cat. Harold Sims, a retired college biology professor, displays more than 5,000 artifacts in what he terms the world's only museum devoted exclusively to house cats. His collection includes an Egyptian cat mummy circa 330 B.C., when ancient Egyptians worshipped cats as gods, plus a petrified kitty recovered from a 16th-century English chimney. Don't miss the 1958 Bad Cats pinball machine.
This unusual medical history museum, operated by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, dates back to 1863 and displays anatomical specimens in its original 19th-century building. It's the only place where pieces of Albert Einstein's brain are on permanent public display. Its official tagline is "Disturbingly Informative," with a collection including the conjoined liver of Chang and Eng Bunker (the original "Siamese twins," born in Siam), former President Grover Cleveland's jaw tumor and a human "giant megacolon," about 30 inches in diameter. The Mütter's medicinal plant garden was the idea of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a co-signer of the Declaration of Independence and co-founder of this 1787 physicians' organization.
Pizza Brain's Museum of Pizza Culture
The world's first museum devoted entirely to pizza and its culture is located, ironically, in Philadelphia, better known for cheesesteak. The Pizza Brain Museum has the world's largest collection of pizza-related items, with more than 560 pieces, according to Guinness World Records. You can eat pizza while surrounded by pizza-carrying figures, from Homer Simpson to Spider Man, along with vinyl records such as "Pizzas and Bongos" by the Irving Fields Trio, books and toys. "We believe in the power of pizza to bring people together," says the cafe-museum's website.
National Lighthouse Museum
Staten Island, New York
This museum provides an illustrated history of lighthouses from its 2015 opening back through the first recorded one, Pharos in Alexandria, Egypt, around 280 B.C. The National Lighthouse Museum site on Staten Island's north shore has its own intriguing history. In 1799, it housed the New York Marine Hospital, "The Quarantine," where ill immigrants were held. After several epidemics in the 1850s, rioters burned all 20 buildings. In 1862, the U.S. Lighthouse Service built a major depot there. Today, its museum sponsors boat tours of lighthouses along the East River on Sept. 16 and along the Hudson River on Oct. 14. Enjoy its annual maritime arts and crafts festival on Sept. 23.
Museum Of Bad Art
"Art too bad to be ignored" is the slogan for the Museum Of Bad Art – or MOBA. And its concept has caught on, with more than 700 pieces in three galleries at the Somerville Theatre, Brookline Interactive Group and New England Wildlife Center. The museum celebrates "works in which something has gone wrong in a way that results in compelling art. Maybe a talented artist tried something new, or an artist's exuberance and emotion may just outstrip any artistic skill," says a MOBA spokesperson. Artists can submit their original worst art. And if it's too bad – even for MOBA – it may do some good for charity in the museum's occasional auctions.
International Cryptozoology Museum
The International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland is one of the world's few museums dedicated to hidden ("crypto") or unknown animals (think: the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot). An 8.5-foot-tall Bigfoot replica graces the museum, a filming site for Animal Planet's series "Finding Bigfoot." These legendary creatures – known as cryptids – are represented by about 10,000 items, including hair and fecal samples and footprint casts. The museum gives equal time to animals once thought to be extinct but found to exist after all, like the giant panda. The museum's mascot is the coelacanth, a blue fish believed to be extinct for 65 million years, until it was found in 1938 swimming in the Indian Ocean.
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