9 oddball American museums
Tuesday, June 06, 2017
America loves its museums. There are more than 35,000 of them scattered across the U.S., and they range from opulent and influential to obscure and offbeat.
It is the latter category that most intrigues us — those wacky, oddball institutions housing collections that could only be described as weird — but we find them delightful. Here are nine of our favorite such museums.
1. International Cryptozoology Museum, Portland, Maine
Bigfoot or Sasquatch may reside in the Pacific Northwest, but the place to get to know him best is this offbeat museum in Portland, Maine. It is the only institution of its kind that specializes in cryptids — creatures like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman — that are rumored but not proven to exist.
Founded in 2003 and recently expanded, the museum now houses more than 10,000 specimens, artifacts, films and fuzzy photographs that attempt to explain the unexplainable.
2. Trash Museum, Hartford, Connecticut
Here's a not-to-be-missed opportunity to walk through a towering temple constructed entirely of garbage. In addition to its impressive Trash Temple, the museum features a variety of other architectural feats composed of garbage gathered from city landfills, including an arch (L'arc de garbage) and a lighthouse.
Aside from just gawking at this craziness, visitors can learn about going green. The museum is largely filled with exhibits about recycling and Connecticut's innovative trash-to-energy plant.
3. Stoogeum, Ambler, Pennsylvania
If you are of a certain age, you'll surely recall the head-bonking antics of Larry, Moe and Curly — the inimitable Three Stooges — the American vaudeville and comedy team active from the 1920s through the 1960s. The slapstick trio appeared on stage, in movies and on TV during their remarkably long career.
Ambler, located 25 miles north of Philadelphia, is home to the Stoogeum, a 10,000-square-foot museum featuring 3,500 pieces of memorabilia, including costumes, stage props, movie posters and film clips that trace the careers of the Three Stooges. For certain, you'll leave the place going "nyuk, nyuk, nyuk."
4. American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland
What exactly is visionary art? According to directors of this unusual and entertaining museum, it's like love — you know it when you see it. More specifically, it is defined as art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision.
This spacious three-level, 67,000-square-foot museum in Baltimore's Federal Hill neighborhood displays more than 4,000 objects of intuitive art, including paintings, sculptures, mosaics, robots made from recycled materials and clothing hand-crocheted by a patient in a local mental institution. Visitors have described the exhibits here as "quirky," "mind-boggling" and "totally riveting."
5. Winchester Museum, Edgefield, South Carolina
This one is a real hoot — or a gobble — as the case may be. Housed in the headquarters of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Winchester is the only museum in the world dedicated to the restoration, management and hunting of the wild turkey. Visitors can follow the amazing comeback story of America's largest native game bird — a creature that has recovered from the brink of extinction over the last 50 years to a current population in the millions.
The 7,200-square-foot museum incorporates many new interactive exhibits including animated storytellers who talk about the history of the wild turkey and 3-D dioramas depicting the five wild turkey subspecies in their natural habitats. Guests can also take a virtual ride in a retired Forest Service helicopter and play a laser hunting game.
6. New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana
Contrary to its popular nickname, the Big Easy wasn't such an easy place to live in the early 1800s.
Amputation saws, bloodletting instruments and voodoo potions are among the key displays in this museum of the macabre, housed in a French Quarter townhouse where the nation's first licensed pharmacist once operated an apothecary. It offers a fascinating introduction to the history of early medicine — going back to the days of arsenic pills, opium extracts and mercury injections.
7. National Hobo Museum, Britt, Iowa
Dedicated to preserving the legacy of America's rail-riding hoboes, this museum is housed in the old Chief Movie Theatre in Britt, a small town about 20 miles southwest of Forest City, Iowa.
The museum was funded by money willed from an anonymous hobo. Displays include actual hobo garments and other possessions, a mockup of a hobo camp complete with a fire pit, and archives of things created by hoboes, including art, music and photos. Come during the National Hobo Convention in August and meet some real hoboes.
8. Tinkertown Museum, Sandia Park, New Mexico
Constructed using more than 50,000 glass bottles and other recyclable materials, this whimsical folk art museum is situated on the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, 20 miles northeast of Albuquerque. Reminiscent of a carnival funhouse, this rambling 22-room museum showcases the genius and creativity of its founder, the late painter and wood carver Ross Ward.
It took Ward more than 40 years to build, collect and stock his museum with an enchanting assortment of wacky western memorabilia. Most fascinating are the hand-carved animated miniature scenes — a raucous little western town and a circus where diminutive performers challenge tigers while trapeze artists defy gravity and the Fat Lady fans herself.
Now in its 34th season, Tinkertown is open from March through October.
9. Spark Museum of Electrical Invention, Bellingham, Washington
The spirit of Nikola Tesla, the late Serbian-American inventor of alternating current, still snaps and crackles at this excellent museum tucked away near Bellingham's waterfront. It is an unusual institution but one that is far more educational than wacky as it fascinates visitors with a treasure trove of hands-on interactive exhibits of vintage electrical devices that span four centuries of scientific achievement.
Well displayed and backed by informative placards are hundreds of unique artifacts from the earliest days of electricity, including magnets, Leyden jars, Edison light bulbs, vacuum tubes and more than 800 radio sets. Archives here include books and scientific papers by such authors as Newton, Galileo, Hertz, Volta, Tesla, Marconi and Faraday.
Go on Saturday or Sunday afternoon for the Megazapper Electrical Show featuring one of the largest Tesla coils ("lightning machines") in the nation. The device produces dazzling nine-foot bolts of lightning.
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