These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional

Larry Holzwarth - August 5, 2021

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
Barbed wire is celebrated at the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in La Crosse, Kansas. Wikimedia

7. A museum presenting the history of barbed wire

Who knew collecting barbed wire is a wide-spread hobby, particularly in the American West? The City of Lacrosse, Kansas, calls itself the “Barbed Wire Capital of the World”. It is home to the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, which houses more than 2,000 types of barbed wire and associated paraphernalia. It also champions the role of barbed wire in the settlement of the American West, hosts and participates in swap meets held by private collectors of barbed wire, and houses the Antique Barbed Wire Society. Exhibits trace the development of barbed wire, its manufacture, and the techniques required by those who needed to mend fences. There are also exhibits which explain the importance of barbed wire (sometimes called bobbed wire) in settling the west, and the problems it both solved and to some extent caused.

Barbed wire secured the homesteads of settlers from free ranging cattle and bison, which led to territorial disputes with the cattle barons. It also secured the railroad right of ways from trespassing animals. It became an item often stolen, as it was easier to steal it from the railroads, since it couldn’t be differentiated one from another. That led to manufacturers developing different designs and shapes of the wound wires, called winners. So many different designs and patterns came into existence that the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum displays over 2,100 samples for barbed wire fans to enthuse over. The Antique Barbed Wire Society, housed in the museum, claims it is the only international society dedicated to barbed wire in the world. Somehow, one is not particularly surprised.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
Humans and dinosaurs lived side-by-side according to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Christian Science Monitor

8. A museum dedicated to creationism

The Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Kentucky, exists to allow “families to experience earth history as God has revealed it in the Bible.” In its displays, dioramas, and other exhibits, it depicts dinosaurs interacting with humans. It presents claims that the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, and that the entire fossil record is younger than that. It offers several activities designed for children, including interactive exhibits, a petting zoo, informational videos, and educational programs. All are based on literal interpretations of the Bible. The Creation Museum presents the Bible as the one true source of factual history regarding the earth and those who populate it. It reinforces this view through a sister facility, Ark Encounter, not far away in the small town of Williamstown, Kentucky. The latter identifies itself as a theme park, rather than a museum.

The Creation Museum disputes all geology, cosmology, modern biology, and any form of science or history which differs from that presented in the Biblical account. Instead, it presents the Biblical account as true science and supports the assertion through its displays and supporting materials. It describes itself on its webpage as a “Christian evangelist outreach of Answers in Genesis, as is our sister attraction, Ark Encounter”. Both depict a young earth (6,000 years old), deny the scientific consensus the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, and present dinosaurs interacting with humans. One of the first displays encountered in the Creation Museum is a diorama in which two children are at play, unmolested by a nearby dinosaur. It also argues against the scientific belief that birds descended from dinosaurs, pointing out that Utahraptors had no feathers.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
An unmanned underwater vehicle known as Robot Fish Charlie. from the CIA Museum. CIA

9. The Central Intelligence Agency runs a museum in Virginia

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operates its own museum, located at the CIA facilities in Langley, Virginia, near Washington DC. Its extensive collections include artifacts from its predecessor, the Office for Strategic Services (OSS) which operated during World War II. They include specialized clothing, weapons, documents, specialized tools, and assorted gear associated with espionage. Within the collections are a miniaturized Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, with the size and appearance of a dragonfly, an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle designed to resemble a catfish, and an Al Qaeda training manual. An AK-47 assault rifle taken from the Pakistani compound where Osama Bin Laden was killed is within the collections. So are World War II escape maps printed on silk, created to aid airmen in evading the enemy during an escape. The silk ensured they would not rustle when consulted, as paper would.

Both the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation maintain similar museums of their own within their headquarters. All three work with other museums, including Presidential libraries, to support exhibits which depict intelligence and law enforcement during their respective administrations. They share one thing in common, which makes them strange. None of the three museums, despite containing galleries and displays (the CIA Museum has three galleries) are open to the public. Though all of the materials are declassified, they are displayed within classified facilities. However, the ultra-secretive National Security Agency (NSA) operates a museum n Annapolis Junction, Maryland, which is open to the public. The National Cryptologic Museum is focused on codes, ciphers, and information collecting with exhibits of artifacts going back to the American Revolutionary War.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
One might not expect works from Picasso in a museum dedicated to bread, but it’s there. Wikimedia

10. A museum dedicated to bread, though it contains no bread

In Ulm, in the German State of Baden-Wurttemburg, one can find the European Bread Museum, a facility celebrating humanity’s 6,000-year history of making bread. Over 6,000 books, 16.000 artifacts, and breadmaking equipment and tools fill its galleries. Its website claims that “Those who take a closer look at bread see our society with sharpened eyes”. Yet there is no bread to see in the Bread Museum. The museums extensive art collection, which includes works by Pablo Picasso, offers depictions of bread, farming, harvesting, milling, and baking. According to the museum’s website, “Art makes it possible to view the broad subject of bread and food from surprising perspectives”. One such perspective is that bread is representative of all food, and the need to ensure sufficient supplies and distribution of food globally.

The museum is housed in a former grain and salt storehouse, built during the Renaissance. The building itself is a registered cultural landmark, and it has been home to the Bread Museum since 1991. Its steeply pitched roof features numerous tiers of windows. Occasionally, the buildings upper floors are opened, allowing visitors to enjoy views of Ulm and the Danube River upon which the city is sited. The museum is an art museum on one side, and covers technology, nutrition, and history on the other. Its website states “The two halves complement each other”. Like bread and butter, one may think. So, a visitor to the museum may come away with a greater appreciation of the importance of bread in human history, but no bread itself. Fortunately, there are bakeries and shops nearby to alleviate their hunger.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
This image of a Jersey Devil appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper in 1909. Wikimedia

11. Portland, Maine offers two very different strange museums

Visitors to Portland, Maine, may amuse themselves by touring two very different museums. The first, the International Cryptozoology Museum, presents “many rare and unique pieces of remarkable evidence”. Evidence of what, one may ask? Well, they present “fecal matter” from a Yeti, also known as an Abominable Snowman. Their exhibit is from “a young Yeti”, collected in 1959. They also have samples of hair, not only from Abominable Snowmen, but also from Sasquatch, Yowie (an Australian version of Bigfoot), and over 10,000 like items and displays. Exhibits which feature the Jersey Devil and the Montauk Monster have been displayed. The latter is a still unidentified large animal which washed ashore in Montauk, Long Island in 2008. It is generally believed to have been the partially decomposed body of a large raccoon.

The other Portland adventure is decidedly less frightful. Crossing Casco Bay to Peaks Island one may visit the Umbrella Cover Museum. They won’t find umbrellas. Just the sheaths in which some people store their umbrellas when their service is not required. Founded by the unusually named Nancy 3 Hoffman, the museum’s collection of umbrella covers exceeds 2,000. Its smallest umbrella cover is less than three inches long, fashioned as an accessory for Barbie dolls. The museum offers guided tours, accompanied with accordion music performed by its founder. The museum uses the song Just Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella as its official theme song. Its mission statement, found on its website, states, “The Umbrella Cover Museum is dedicated to the appreciation of the mundane in everyday life.” Portland, Maine, appears to be an interesting place to visit.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
Colgate Beef Lasagna holds a cherished spot sat the Museum of Failure. Pinterest

12. A museum dedicated to failure

Ever heard of Colgate Beef Lasagna? Yes, that Colgate, famous for manufacturing toothpaste and other toiletries. How about a blend of Diet Coke and coffee, marketed as Coca-Cola Blak? Most people of a certain age remember the Sony Betamax. All of these, and other failed products, are on display at the Museum of Failure. Perhaps the most famous of them all, the notorious Coke II, is honored in the museum, though it was a failure virtually everywhere else. Originally a touring exhibition which originated in Sweden, a permanent site opened in Los Angeles in 2017. Some exhibits are of a more whimsical nature, such as the “My Friend Cayla” talking doll and Harley Davidson Cologne. Others are based on historical events and products. The Ford Edsel proved to be an epic failure when released, though today, it is a highly collectible automobile.

Among the more epic failures displayed in the museum is the massive warship Vasa. Built by King Gustavus Adolphus to strengthen the Swedish Navy in the early 17th century, Vasa was an early warship built with multiple gundecks. They carried 64 cannons. Most were of bronze. Dangerously top heavy and unstable in trials, the ship nonetheless was ordered to proceed to sea to engage the Polish fleet. In August, 1628, Vasa put to sea on its maiden voyage. While still in sight from shore, while firing a salute to Stockholm, the ship heeled in a gust of wind. Water flowed through the open gunports and the vessel sank rapidly. A large crowd of Swedish citizens and foreign dignitaries witnessed the failure. Raised in 1961, the ship’s timbers proved to be remarkably well-preserved. Vasa today serves as a museum itself, celebrity Sweden’s history as a Great Power in the 17th century.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
The Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik has over 200 specimens of male sex organs. ThomasWF via Wikimedia

13. A museum dedicated to the male sex organ

The Icelandic Phallological Museum’s website states it is “probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all of the various types of mammal found in a single country”. It claims to contain over two hundred taken from “…almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland”. That includes over seventeen species of whales, 36 from seals and walruses and 115 specimens from various land animals. Yes, that includes four from homo sapiens, donated as gifts. The first such gift came from a 95-year old man, post-mortem of course. The museum’s collection began in 1974, with a pizzle, a whip fashioned from a bull penis. It exists, in its own words, “for individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion.”

The museum opened in Reykjavik in 1997, moved for a time to the whale watching village of Husavik in 2004, and returned to Reykjavik in 2011. At that time, the number of visitors pursuing knowledge in the science of phallology reached 12,000 annually. In addition to the physical specimens, the museum features artifacts, and “…about 350 artistic oddments and practical utensils related to the museum’s chosen theme.” The museum defines phallology as “an ancient science which, until recent years received very little attention in Iceland, except as a borderline field of study…” The Icelandic Phallological Museum charges admission based on the age of the visitor. It should be noted its website states children under 13 enter free in the company of parents. By the way the size of specimens ranges from two millimeters (hamster) to 1.7 meters (5′ 6″, sperm whale).

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
Bozo’s Circus, a 1968 production of Chicago’s WGN Television. Wikimedia

14. A museum dedicated to clowns

Coulrophobia (coal-row-fo-bee-uh) is the fear of clowns, which often affects people in circuses, parades, and some Italian restaurants. The condition is enough widespread to generate the formation of support groups online and in-person for people with a deep-seated fear of clowns. Such unfortunates would be wise to stay away from the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center, located in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Since 1989, the Hall of Fame has inducted members, with the first class of inductees including Red Skelton and Emmett Kelly, among others. The organization also grants a Lifetime Achievement Award. Among its recipients are included Willard Scott, longtime weatherman on The Today Show. Scott earlier portrayed both Bozo the Clown, and Ronald McDonald. The Clown Prince of Basketball, Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters, is another such honoree.

The Hall of Fame has a history, tied somewhat inevitably to the circus. It originated in Delevan, Wisconsin, in 1987, the first home of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. It later moved to Milwaukee, and in 1997 it closed, its artifacts placed in storage. Resurrected, it moved to a small building in Baraboo. It maintains a website, which is mostly a blog, with advertisements for clown-related products. It is located within walking distance of Baraboo’s Circus World Museum, though they are not affiliated. The museum recognizes Pinto Colvig as the first to portray Bozo the Clown, not Larry Harmon, as is commonly believed. Colvig first played Bozo in 1946 on records and in 1949 on television. Harmon purchased the rights to the character in 1956. Since then, Bozo has been played by numerous clowns and actors, both nationally and at the local level.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
Massachusetts’ Museum of Bad Art has occupied several sites over they years. Pinterest

15. A museum dedicated to bad art

The appropriately named Museum of Bad Art is, as of August 2021, closed to the public. However, it retains its website. It began in the basement of a Boston, Massachusetts, home. From there it moved to a community center in Dedham, and has also occupied a public access television station in Brookline, the lobby of the New England Wildlife Center in South Weymouth, and finally the basement of the Somerville Theatre, Somerville, Massachusetts. According to its website public access to the gallery depends on where and when the museum, which calls itself MoBA, may reopen. The museum boasts, if that is the correct word, a collection of over 700 examples of notably bad art. It originated with a single painting, culled from trash in Boston.

When open, the entire collection is not on display, but roughly two dozen, more or less, paintings are shown with an accompanying written interpretation. The interpretation is intended to act as “helping the public grasp many of the complexities inherent in the works”. The Museum of Bad Art offers virtual tours and curator talks to organizations including community centers, senior centers, businesses, and other museums. MoBA claims to be the “world’s first and foremost museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art”. However, according to its Facebook page it is “searching for gallery space in the Boston area”. Over its more than two-decade history it has amassed a sizable collection, some of which can be admired or despised online until it reopens. One can’t help but wonder what the financial value of its collection may be.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
The past, present, and future of toilets are subjects studied at the International Museum of Toilets in Delhi, India. india.com

16. A museum dedicated to the history of the toilet

In 1970, Sulabh International formed in India to improve the sanitation and hygiene systems and practices of the people. A non-profit supported by more than 50,000 volunteers, Sulabh International has created innovations in waste management, waste storage and removal, and other improvements to sanitation. It operates public facilities, sometimes called Sulabh Complexes, which provide toilet, bathing, and laundry facilities. They are resorted to by nearly 10 million per day. Their work is internationally recognized and lauded. In 2007 the organization announced the creation of a toilet which breaks down human waste into recoverable biogas and fertilizer. So, it is really no surprise that an International Museum of Toilets, located in Delhi, India, is operated by Sulabh International for the education of the public.

The museum, through its displays and artifacts, traces the development and use of toilets throughout the world as far back as 2500 BCE. According to its website, it also holds a “rare collection of beautiful poems”, praising the use of toilets. The history of the toilet and how to use it can be traced chronologically through 5,000 years, by touring the museums three main sections; Ancient, Medieval, and Modern. The website boasts the latter section contains, among other things, “interesting toilet related cartoons” as well as a section with “toilet jokes”. Bidets are also displayed and explained in the museum and its website. The museum draws tourists, students, and the merely curious, as well as dignitaries visiting Delhi, and is entirely supported by the Sulabh organization. For those curious about the history of sanitation and the human practice of relieving the call of nature it is a must see.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
Dolls Charley McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd with their voice and manipulator, Edgar Bergen in 1966. Wikimedia

17. The museum dedicated to dummies

The Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati, calls itself, “The World’s Only Museum Dedicated to Ventriloquism”. As with many of the museums listed here, it began with a personal collection of artifacts, in this case, ventriloquist’s dummies. Interestingly, the collector, William Shakespeare Berger, did not perform as a professional ventriloquist. That did not stop him from serving as the President of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists for many years, as well as the publisher of a monthly magazine called The Oracle. The magazine was widely read by both amateur and professional ventriloquists. Berger arranged for his collection to be supported by a charitable foundation upon his death, which continues to support the Vent Haven Museum, now open to the public, though by appointment only. Curated tours allow the public to learn the history of ventriloquism and its stars.

Nearly 1,000 mute ventriloquist’s dummies stare out of wooden, glass, or plastic eyes at their visitors as the latter learns of their history and that of the art itself. Some of them date back to the late 19th century. Nearly all were donated by their former user, and none are used to display the ventriloquist’s art. By arrangements of the museum’s charter, the dummies are destined to remain voiceless forever, as their “voice” came from the person who donated them. While Lamb Chop (voiced by Shari Lewis) is present, the famed Charlie McCarthy (voiced by Edgar Bergen) is a replica. Some of the dummies may be handled, to allow visitors to see how they were manipulated but the overwhelming majority are off-limits to visitors. The museum also supports an annual Vent Haven International Ventriloquist Convention, with visitors from all over the world.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
A LEGO advertisement in Swedishb and French from the late 20th century, as the toys appeal expanded rapidly. Pinterest

18. A museum dedicated to plastic interlocking bricks

The Lego Group began selling their plastic bricks in 1949. Since then, the Danish company has produced over 600 billion bricks and associated parts. It also expanded into board and video games, films, clothing, and amusement parks. In 2011 LEGO kits (as they are styled) flew in space, assembled by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The official LEGO Museum, operated by the company, is located in Bilund, Denmark, the international company’s headquarters. An interactive museum and educational facility is located in LEGO House. Other LEGO museums exist, some affiliated with the company or its various subsidiaries. But in one small Ohio community, Bellaire (population 4,000), there exists a museum dedicated to LEGO in everything but name. Known as the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum it claims within its collection the largest LEGO construct in the world. It depicts a semi-truck and trailer.

The museum, housed in a former school building, presents statues built by Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOL) and LEGO Users Groups (LUG). The existence of such formalized entities indicates the extent by which LEGO has permeated culture in its 70-odd years of existence. After the museum received certification from Guinness World Records of holding the world’s largest LEGO structure the company forbade the use of its name. Thus, the Toy and Plastic Brick designation for a museum displaying structures entirely from LEGO. As with other museums, the Bellaire facility began with a private collection, and expanded into the collections on display, supported by the enthusiastic LEGO community. The museum covers three floors of a former middle school building, which houses the world’s largest privately held collection of LEGO objects.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
Visitors to the Funeral Museum may amuse themselves by watching the funeral of Franz Joseph (front) as well as view the bill for the funeral of his son, Archduke Ferdinand (second, in same uniform). Wikimedia

19. A museum dedicated to funerals

In Vienna, Austria, visitors may enjoy exploring the Funeral Museum, dedicated to death, funerals, and the funerary arts. Opening in 1967, the museum displayed changes to Viennese funerals and customs over the years. Undertakers’ practices and artifacts, coffins, hearses, pallbearers’ uniforms, and other exhibits sure to create a cheerful mood were prominently displayed. In 1784, Emperor Joseph II ordered the use of reusable coffins. Fitted with a trap door, the coffins allowed the body of the deceased to be dumped into the grave once the mourners had turned away. The emperor believed the device would help conserve wood. The Viennese rebelled against the Imperial conservation edict, and the law remained in effect for just a few months. One reason the Viennese rebelled was the commonly held fear of premature burial. Several methods were adopted to ensure the dead were, in fact, dead.

One was a device which placed a cord in the deceased’s hand. The other end of the cord, which penetrated the coffin and ran above ground, attached to a bell. Should the buried arouse and find themselves buried, they simply rang the bell to summon assistance. In another, well-to-do Viennese had a clause in their will which required a physician to pierce their heart after declaring them dead, just to make sure. All such devices and requirements are presented in the Funeral Museum, making it a decidedly uplifting place to visit. To add to the cheerful atmosphere, several historic funerals may be viewed on monitors, including that of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1916. Funeral dirges and songs play on the audio system. Located in Vienna’s Central Cemetery, visitors may be fortunate enough to espy a modern funeral as they depart the grounds. Truly a joyous place to visit.

These Museums are Delightfully Strange and Unconventional
Instant Ramen is a frequently delivered foodstuf during international emergencies and disasters. US Navy

20. A museum dedicated to Instant Ramen

A Japanese inventor and businessman named Momofuku Ando invented instant ramen noodles, bringing them to market in 1958 via his company, Nissin. Ironically, the product originally earned the reputation of being a luxury item, due to its prohibitive cost. Gradually, production costs lowered, as did the retail price, and instant ramen gained popularity throughout Japan and Southeast Asia, as well as in China. In 1971 Ando took his invention a step further, creating Cup Noodles. The styrofoam cups filled with ramen and desiccated meat and vegetables soared in popularity, fueled in part by the increasing use of microwave ovens. Ramen noodles became the go to meal of the temporarily broke, college dorms, bachelors, and others. They became so popular that in 2000, a poll of Japan labeled instant ramen as the best invention by a Japanese of the 20th century.

To celebrate such a noble achievement, the Japanese opened the Cup Noodles Museum in Osaka, Japan. It is not the only such museum dedicated to instant ramen. Another stands in Yokohama, and the two are affiliated. There is yet another in Hong Kong. The museums present the invention, evolution, and future developments of the world of ramen. Among the displays are a presentation of a joint effort between Nissin and America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration to create a ramen meal eaten in zero-gravity. In 2005 Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi became the first human to dine on ramen in zero gravity, while on a mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Rather than the famous dangling noodles, the space version contains ball shaped noodles, which reach the desired texture at lower than boiling water temperatures. Astronauts eat Space Ram, as it is called, with a fork.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“First Scientific Collections of the Kunstkamera”. Article, Kunstkamera. Online

“Can I Drink the Tap Water in China?” Article, Tappwater.com. April 4, 2019. Online

“Welcome to the British Lawnmower Museum”. Article, Lawnmowerworld.co.uk. Online

“The Dog Collar Museum”. Article, Leeds Castle. Online

“The National Mustard Museum”. Article, Atlas Obscura. Online

“Museum of Beauty”. Article, Atlas Obscura. Online

“Kansas Barbed Wire Museum”. Article and entries, ruschcounty.org. Online

“The Anti-Museum”. Daniel Phelps, National Center for Science Education. February 26, 2016. Online

“CIA Museum”. Article and exhibits, cia.gov. Online

“Museum of Bread Culture”. Entry, Museums.eu. Online

“I went to a cryptozoology museum and everything was ridiculous”. Lauren Juliff, Never Ending Footsteps. May 13, 2021

“Innovation needs failure”. Article, Museum of Failure. Online

“Welcome to the World’s Only Museum Devoted to Penises”. Joseph Stromberg, Smithsonian Magazine. November 12, 2013

“International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center”. Bill Furbee, Bizarre News. Online

“Museum of Bad Art”. Article, Boston Central. Online

“The Museum”. Article, Sulabhtoiletmuseum.org Online

“Inside the World’s Only Museum Dedicated to Ventriloquism”. Jennifer Nalewicki, Smithsonian Magazine. May 2, 2019

“Lego celebrates fifty years of building” Leo Cendrowicz, TIME Magazine. January 28, 2008

“Funeral Museum Vienna”. Article, wien.info. Online

“After Conquering Earth, Instant Noodles Make Space Debut”. Yoshikazu Tsuno, Space Daily. July 27, 2005. Online

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