It’s no secret the U.S. boasts a seriously impressive multitude of museums. There are more than 35,000 peppered across the country, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Depending on who you ask, these cultural institutions can get a bad rap for being too boring, stuffy, or outright elitist. But that’s certainly not always the case. There are tons of museums that house weird, wacky, and even wondrous displays that are anything but ordinary.
1. SPAM Museum
Where it is: Austin, MN
Why you should go: Love it or hate it, SPAM is an iconic culinary staple that stands the test of time. Enthusiasts of the canned pork can get their fill at the 14,000-square-foot SPAM Museum. Learn about the product’s strangely fascinating history, witness the brand’s evolution over the decades at the “Can Chronicles” display, and even try your hand at canning some SPAM at a mock assembly line. A team of knowledgeable SPAMbassadors lead tours throughout the museum, and they recently added a virtual component. Best of all, entry is completely free (but you’ll most likely leave with a new stash of SPAM-themed merchandise from the gift shop).
2. The Neon Museum
Where it is: Las Vegas, NV
Why you should go: Sin City simply wouldn’t be the same without the technicolored neon signage illuminating the Las Vegas Strip. But have you ever wondered what happens to those larger-than-life creations after their bulbs burn out beyond repair? Turns out many of them wind up at The Neon Museum. This non-profit organization is dedicated to collecting, preserving, studying, and exhibiting the legendary Las Vegas neon signs recognized around the world. Known as the “Neon Boneyard,” the 2.25-acre campus includes more than 250 retired displays scattered throughout the Main Collection, North Gallery, and Visitors’ Center in addition to the occasional special exhibit.
3. Museum of Clean
Where it is: Pocatello, ID
Why you should go: Fitting for the times, Idaho’s Museum of Clean is a must-see for neat freaks of any age. As the name suggests, this massive 74,000-square-foot attraction is dedicated to all things related to cleanliness. But it’s not just limited to Windex and the art of mopping—the museum also encompasses artwork, conceptual exhibits, interactive displays, and even a three-story playground to get kids excited about cleaning. A fan favorite (and keystone of the museum) is the astonishing vacuum collection, which encompasses nearly 1,000 models and spans more than a century of clean. Plus, you can breathe easy knowing this place is being sanitized around the clock.
4. Vent Haven Museum
Where it is: Fort Michell, KY
Why you should go: While most museums tend to draw a more cerebral crowd, this particular selection was built specifically for dummies…ventriloquist dummies, that is. In fact, this Kentucky curiosity is the world’s only museum solely dedicated to ventriloquy. Visitors can get up close and personal to more than 900 of these notoriously creepy props, with their trigger-operated mouths, heavy-lidded eyeballs, and colorful costumes. The collection officially began in 1910 when William Shakespeare Berger purchased his first figure and it continued to grow over his lifetime. Berger eventually became president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists before his death in 1972. Today, the current museum has expanded to include puppets, photos, scripts, memorabilia, playbills, posters, recordings, and more.
5. Cincinnati Fire Museum
Where it is: Cincinnati, OH
Why you should go: The country’s first professional fire department was established in Cincinnati back in 1853, so it’s fitting the city houses an entire museum dedicated to the honorable occupation. Its mission is twofold: to share and celebrate the history of firefighting and to provide fire-safety educational experiences. Consider it a win-win for everybody. Housed within the former Engine Company #45 Firehouse, the building has also been listed on the National History Registry since 1974. Inside, spectators will find a range of firefighting equipment and artifacts, as well as interpretive exhibits dedicated to the First Volunteers, First Paid Professionals, and the Modern Firefighter. The Safe House exhibit also teaches participants fire prevention tips and the importance of creating an escape plan should a house fire occur.
6. Museum of Bad Art
Where it is: Somerville, MA
Why you should go: Chances are you’ve heard of MoMA, but did you know there’s a MoBA? While most art is considered subjective, the pieces that’ve earned a spot in the Museum of Bad Art are objectively (and hysterically) terrible. According to their tagline, they specialize in “art too bad to be ignored.” Located in the basement of the Somerville Theater, this public gallery features more than 700 questionable works divided into comical themed collections, such as “Poor Traits,” “Oozing My Religion,” and “In the Nood.” Best of all, every piece is accompanied by a brief narrative that attempts to ascertain the original motivation behind these disaster-pieces. Their exhibition space is currently undergoing renovations, and rumor has it they may be relocating entirely, so watch their website for updates in the months ahead.
7. The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
Where it is: Tucson, AZ
Why you should go: Sometimes the smallest masterpieces tell the biggest stories. The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is undeniably odd but mesmerizing. Dedicated to preserving and advancing the art of miniatures, the museum started as a passion project in 1979 by a pair of avid mini collectors. Visitors can peruse more than 500 antique and contemporary dollhouses teeming with every type of miniature object imaginable. They also display an ever-changing lineup of special exhibits, like “In the Eye of a Needle: Micro Miniatures by Flor Carvajal.” See how this form of craftsmanship has evolved over the centuries while appreciating pieces from all over the world.
8. International Museum of Surgical Science
Where it is: Chicago, IL
Why you should go: A division of the International College of Surgeons, the International Museum of Surgical Science serves as North America’s only museum devoted to surgery. Sprawling over 10,000 square feet of public galleries, the attraction explores the complex and convoluted history of this specialized medical field. Thousands of medical devices are on display, from scalpels and operating scissors to modern X-ray machines. There’s also a grand library displaying rare books and manuscripts, as well as contemporary works inspired by the mysteries, failures, and milestones that’ve shaped modern surgical science. It’s captivating, shocking, and even morbid at times—but well worth a visit.
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