8 US museums you might not know about
Monday, July 20, 2020
America loves its museums. There are more than 35,000 of them scattered across the country, and while many are temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can look forward to their reopening soon.
The nation’s museums range from opulent and influential to obscure and offbeat. It is the latter category that most intrigues us — those unusual, lesser-known institutions that curate the unexpected. Here are eight such museums.
American Windmill Museum, Lubbock, Texas
Windy West Texas is the perfect place to display the world’s largest collection of historic windmills. There are more than 160 fully restored windmills spread out over 28 acres, and they serve to demonstrate the function, importance and history of windmills for water collection across the American West.
More than 100 of the windmills stand inside a giant 30,000-square-foot building and another 60 are displayed on the grounds outside. The museum’s largest wind machine is a 660KW Vestas wind turbine with a 154-foot diameter wheel and stands on a 165-foot-tall tower.
American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, New York City
Man’s best friend is well represented at this museum, home to one of the largest collections of canine-related art in the world. Relocated from St. Louis, Missouri, in late 2018, the museum’s new Park Avenue home in midtown Manhattan provides far greater exposure for the collection that consists of paintings and bronze and ceramic sculptures, artifacts, dynamic exhibits and occasional real-life interactions with famous canines.
On display is artwork by renowned artists, including Edwin Landseer, Maud Earl and Arthur Wardle. Exhibits feature dogs in films, war dogs, dogs of presidents and dogs in exploration.
Cannabition, Las Vegas
Vegas’ newest museum — and the first marijuana museum anywhere that we know about — is a veritable wonderland of weed for visiting potheads. Currently undergoing a move from its original Fremont Street location to Planet 13, a popular marijuana dispensary situated just off the Strip, the museum is slated to reopen on Dec. 1, 2020.
With plenty of visuals aimed at encouraging selfies — such as the world’s largest bong, lifesize faux marijuana buds and a pool full of foam weed nuggets — it is an enthusiastic booster of recreational pot. There are some educational exhibits, including a model cannabis-growing facility, but the museum isn’t exactly the Smithsonian of marijuana. Although recreational pot is legal in Nevada, visitors can’t light up at Cannabition — but regulations are expected to be relaxed in the future.
www.cannabition.com, 702-815-1313 (for Planet 13)
Delta Flight Museum, Atlanta
Flyers with time to kill at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport should spend their layover at this excellent museum housing a century’s worth of aviation history. The headline attraction here is the museum’s flight simulator — the only full-motion simulator in the U.S. that’s available to the public. Most novice pilots will crash land their 737 — but you’ll hear an occasional whoop of joy when someone brings the jet down safely.
Housed in two World War II-era hangars (a short taxi or Uber ride from the airport), the museum offers a number of planes to explore, ranging from a Huff-Daland crop duster to the first 747-400 that Boeing ever built. A guided tour even takes visitors out onto one of the 747’s wings — an experience that always elicits lots of oohs and aahs. Memorabilia on display includes a collection of flight attendant uniforms, pre-flight checklists, books and photos capturing Delta’s 95 years of service.
Museum of Death, New Orleans
No getting around it — this is one macabre attraction. It is a spin-off from a Los Angeles museum of the same name — and for those with a fascination with death, it checks all the boxes. At the NOLA site, which sits a block from Bourbon Street at 227 Dauphine Street, galleries are filled with antique embalming tools, artifacts and letters once belonging to serial killers, taxidermy instruments, an assortment of human bones and skulls and body bags.
Also on display is the euthanasia device invented by Dr. Jack Kevorkian (the famous “Dr. Death”) and a collection of Manson Family memorabilia. It’s creepy, but as curator Scott Healy says, “The museum isn’t about sensationalizing death. It’s meant to probe both our obsessions and discomforts with death.”
Underwater Museum of Art, South Walton, Florida
Hardly your ordinary museum, UMA is a fascinating subaquatic exhibition that’s home to some incredible sculptures, presented in an ever-changing environment of marine wildlife. America’s first underwater museum is located off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park and it displays seven sculptures, including a giant skull by artist Vince Tatum and an octopus by Allison Wickey — the mastermind behind the museum.
UMA is a project of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, who assures us that sculptures are fashioned from environmentally sustainable materials — no plastics, toxins or other pollutants allowed. The museum is located about a mile offshore at a depth of 58 feet, so visitors need to pick up the coordinates from the state park visitor center and dive to the site.
Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington, D.C.
It may be one of the least visited of the famous Smithsonian museums in the nation’s capital, but it’s fascinating nonetheless — and for stamp collectors of all ages, it is an absolute must.
Opened in 1993, it showcases the largest and most comprehensive collection of stamps and philatelic material in the world, including postal stationery, mailboxes, meters and delivery vehicles — including airplanes from the early days of airmail. Heavy on history, the museum’s virtual exhibitions offer a stirring look at America’s postal history from Colonial times to the present.
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Money Museum, Chicago
Money is certainly one of the most vital elements in our lives and here is a museum that helps explain how and why that is. Exhibits range from rare and historical U.S. currency to the challenges of printing money and detecting counterfeit attempts. Among the artifacts are treasures like a well-preserved Pine Tree Shilling from Colonial times and bank notes from both sides of the Civil War.
There’s a special exhibit about Alexander Hamilton, who helped create America’s financial system and who has enjoyed a posthumous return to prominence, thanks to the hit Broadway show named for him. While the museum is all about money, admission is free (valid government-issued ID required for adults age 18 and over).
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