Museum Madness
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Circus World and Other Weird Museums Across America and Beyond

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Museum Madness
muttermuseum/Facebook

Museum Madness

Certain things spring to mind for most people when the word "museum" is mentioned: large collections of fine art, skeletal dinosaur remains, historical artifacts, and the like. But the museums on this list are not those. These museums represent fascinations with the weird, the macabre, the, well, random. That doesn't mean, however, they're not worth a visit — many of these museums receive high marks from reviewers. Here are 26 museums around the country and world that are more eccentric than academic, ranging from food fascination to preserved body parts.

Related: 87 Weird Tourist Attractions Across America

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum | Gatlinburg, Tennessee
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Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum | Gatlinburg, Tennessee

If paying $3 to see a bunch of salt and pepper sets in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, will spark joy in your heart, who are we to judge you? In fact, we might even join you. At this museum, you'll find shakers disguised as all manner of animals, insects, astronauts, foods, and even the King and Queen of Nepal. Honestly, the exhibit seems charming, and enthusiastic TripAdvisor users give it 4.5 stars.

Devil's Rope Barbed Wire Museum | McLean, Texas
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Devil's Rope Barbed Wire Museum | McLean, Texas

A little museum housed on Route 66 in McLean, Texas, Devil's Rope exists as a "tribute to barbed wire" and fencing tools. The museum's website offers little in the way of more info, but it does announce the Devil's Rope Museum's 29th Annual Reunion and Wildcat Swap Meet on April 3-4 this year, just in case you've always wanted to hang with a bunch of barbed wire enthusiasts.

Related: Route 66: Then and Now

Leila's Hair Museum | Detroit
Leila's Hair Museum/Facebook

Leila's Hair Museum | Detroit

Here's one you shouldn't brush aside too easily. This Detroit museum says it's the only hair museum in the world (it's not, but read on) and its collection, put together by owner Leila Cohoon, includes more than 600 hair "wreaths" and over 2,000 pieces of jewelry made from human hair — both art forms thought to have originated in the Victorian era. For some, the massive amount of human hair housed in this museum might elicit a shudder or two; others say the museum's tours are informative and that the exhibits themselves are unique and fascinating.

Mascot Hall of Fame | Whiting, Indiana
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Mascot Hall of Fame | Whiting, Indiana

If you prefer your museums more of the warm, fuzzy, and extremely animated variety, the Mascot Hall of Fame has got you covered. Based in Whiting, Indiana, this is actually a really cute and well-designed little museum to take kids to. They can shoot a T-shirt cannon, participate in a Build-a-Bear workshop, build and design mascots, audition to be a mascot, and meet mascots like the museum's very own Reggie the Purple Party Dude with his hot pink fur and french-fry hair.

National Museum of Funeral History | Houston
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National Museum of Funeral History | Houston

In this Houston museum, you can wander through 15 permanent exhibits with six-feet-under focus. That covers caskets, coffins, and cremation; hearses through history; the deaths and funerals of presidents, popes, celebrities, and more; embalming; mourning; and different cultures' funeral practices. It sounds depressing and more than a little macabre, but those who've visited regularly give it five stars and call it a "hidden gem."

International Cryptozoology Museum | Portland, Maine
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International Cryptozoology Museum | Portland, Maine

Cryptozoology is a fancy word — a fancy word for mythical creatures that have little to no basis in reality. That's what is on exhibit here in Portland, Maine. Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman, something called a Tatzelwurm, and more are all represented here. If you want to pay $10 to go check all that out, who are we to say it's a waste of money? Certain reviewers, however, will tell you exactly that.

Matchstick Marvels | Gladbrook, Iowa
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Matchstick Marvels | Gladbrook, Iowa

So you built the Millennium Falcon out of Legos, and you're feeling pretty proud? Well, here comes artist Pat Acton to humble you, because he took nearly a million matchsticks and created a model of the aforementioned Star Wars starship. Matchstick Marvels is filled with that work of ingenuity and plenty more. Acton used matchsticks to make a two-headed dragon, an International Space Station replica, Hogwarts castle, aircraft carrier, and more. It's a pretty eclectic collection, and those who've seen it are very enthusiastic about it, with one Google review exclaiming: "BLOWN AWAY! Soo much detail, so big! So impossible! It's awe-inspiring!"

Museum of the Weird | Austin, Texas
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Museum of the Weird | Austin, Texas

No surprise that a city plastered with bumper stickers imploring folks to "Keep Austin Weird" would also have a museum representing all things weird, too. Opened in 2007, this museum is filled with "rare, one-of-a-kind — and in some ways priceless — artifacts." Translation? Shrunken heads, Fiji mermaids, suits of armor, taxidermied mutant farm animals, and, at the end of the tour, a very popular "sideshow" involving a guy and his "adorable" three-legged dog, which sounds worth the price of the $12 admission alone.

Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Desert Art Museum | Joshua Tree, California
Noah Purifoy Foundation

Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Desert Art Museum | Joshua Tree, California

Ah, a breath of fresh air — literally. This free outdoor museum in Joshua Tree, California houses much of the life's work of late African-American artist Noah Purifoy. The collection, spread over 10 acres, is created entirely out of junk and found materials, a practice Purifoy took up after the 1965 Watts Rebellion in Los Angeles, when he constructed a sculpture made out of the uprising's charred debris. Purifoy moved to the desert and lived out the last 15 years of his life on the land this museum sits on, creating an "otherworldly environment (that) is one of California’s great art historical wonders."

National Mustard Museum | Middleton, Wisconsin
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National Mustard Museum | Middleton, Wisconsin

Is mustard memorabilia your jam? Then this Wisconsin museum will probably cut the mustard for you. It features more than 6,000 versions of America's not-favorite condiment (sorry, that's Sriracha, apparently) from all 50 states and more than 70 countries, as well as moments in mustard history like antique tins, vintage ads, and more. After taking in all that golden-hued goodness, you can visit the museum store where you can shop for not only mustard and other food products but also T-shirts, shot glasses, and other novelty items.

International Banana Museum | Mecca, California
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International Banana Museum | Mecca, California

Not to be outdone in the museums-dedicated-to-yellow-foods department is this Mecca, California-based museum. It features more than 25,000 banana-related items, which is admittedly perplexing, as well as a Banana Bar where patrons can order "tasty treats" that feature … well, we don't have to tell you, do we? If that all sounds a bit ripe in the rip-off department, know that admission is only $1, and reviewers seem to love it, with many alluding to the friendliness of the couple who run it, as well as their unexpected delight in the items on display.

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

If you like your museums with a heavy dose of pharmaceutical history, this one will satisfy you with exhibits on bloodletting, surgical instruments, questionable medical practices, hand-blown apothecary bottles filled with crude drugs, medicinal herbs, “gris-gris” potions used by Voodoo practitioners, and rare patent medicines. It sounds fascinating, and even more so when you realize that the museum is housed in America's first licensed pharmacist Louis Dufilho's early 19th-century apothecary, which has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Related: 26 Best Cheap Or Free Things To Do In New Orleans

Vent Haven Museum | Fort Mitchell, Kentucky
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Vent Haven Museum | Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

Not enough nightmares in your life? Vent Haven to the rescue. If you're interested in staring into the vacant, haunting eyes of more than 900 dummies from three centuries, this Fort Mitchell, Kentucky museum can accommodate. It bills itself as the world's "only museum dedicated to ventriloquism," and its collection includes photos, posters, playbills, recordings, and more. Snark aside, it does seem like those who visit love it — it has a 4.7 rating on Google and near-unanimous five-star reviews on TripAdvisor.

Spam Museum | Austin, Minnesota
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Spam Museum | Austin, Minnesota

Did you know that Spam is more than 80 years old? Did you know that Gracie Allen, Dwight Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher, and the members of Monty Python were all fans? Do you know how many ingredients there are in it? You can find out all this and more at the surprisingly slick and popular — and free — Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. There, a Spambassador will take you on a 30-minute guided tour that fans say is surprisingly awesome, fun, and "goes way beyond canned meat."

The Mütter Museum | Philadelphia
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The Mütter Museum | Philadelphia

One of the current exhibits featured on the Mütter's website declares that "spit spreads death," so there's your first clue that this place is not your average museum-like glimpse into science. Based in Philadelphia, the Mütter displays massive, "beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments in a 19th-century 'cabinet museum' setting." Some of its prized collection pieces include sections of Einstein's brain (worth the price of admission alone, we think), one of John Wilkes Booth's vertebra, and President Grover Cleveland's jaw tumor. With thousands of pieces in its collection, this museum is sure to have quite a few things to fascinate (and repulse) you.

Circus World Museum | Baraboo, Wisconsin
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Circus World Museum | Baraboo, Wisconsin

Actually a museum complex — there are six buildings to visit — the Wisconsin Historical Society-run Circus World has exhibits and artifacts devoted to circus history, but also hosts live circus performances in the summer, and there are also smaller exhibits that represent Wild West shows and carnivals. And just in case you require a little circus name-dropping to pique your interest, Circus World's history is rooted in Ringling Bros. fame. In fact, part of the land the museum is on is still owned by the Ringlings, and some of the buildings on the campus were part of the original Ringling Bros. setup.

The Ernest Warther Museum & Gardens | Dover, Ohio
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The Ernest Warther Museum & Gardens | Dover, Ohio

This lovely little museum in Dover, Ohio, is strange if only for its unique and varied collection of items, which include the late artist and inventor Ernest Warther's 60-something intricate model train carvings; his wife Frieda's elaborate gardens and 73,00-piece mounted button collection, many displayed as art pieces she created; and a huge number of American Indian arrowheads and other artifacts. Wrote one Google reviewer of Warther's work: "The intricacy of the carvings is positively astounding, and it is amazing to think of the time and effort that was expended to create these true works of art."

Ark Encounter and Creation Museum | Williamstown, Kentucky
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Ark Encounter and Creation Museum | Williamstown, Kentucky

Following biblical dimensions, this destination's creators thought it would be a fine idea to build a massive ark replica in Williamstown, Kentucky, and then charge folks a whopping $45 to $80 to visit said replica as well as the museum. The exhibits are meant to bring biblical history to life, including one that imagines how Noah and his family might have lived, and the site of the ark is mind-boggling. Reviews, however, are mixed: one TripAdvisor user wrote that the "place is great for people 1 to 1,000" — the latter of which seems unlikely, but this is a place based on miracles, we guess — while another called it a "big fat waste of money."

Museum of Bad Art | Somerville, Massachusetts
Museum of Bad Art/Facebook

Museum of Bad Art | Somerville, Massachusetts

Sadly, the MOBA is currently closed for renovations, with little info on when a reopening will occur. But when it does, you might want to visit if you're ever in the Somerville, Massachusetts area. Reviews can be mixed, with some patrons saying it's "not particularly interesting except for the concept," and others saying they laughed until they cried. You probably know which of those two wildly different groups you fall into.

Barbie Expo | Montreal
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Barbie Expo | Montreal

She's a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world — and that world is in downtown Montreal. The free-admission Barbie Expo includes a collection of more than 1,000 unique representations of our favorite body-unrealistic doll, and that includes Barbies dressed by famous fashion designers, movie character Barbies, and celebrity Barbies from many decades (think a Marilyn Monroe to Jennifer Lopez span of time). It's the largest exhibit of Barbie dolls in the world, say its creators.

Hair Museum of Avanos | Cappadocia, Turkey
SummerInTurkey/Facebook

Hair Museum of Avanos | Cappadocia, Turkey

Leila Cohoon’s claim that her Detroit hair museum is the only one in the world overlooks this one, but this rather bizarre little museum in Cappadocia, Turkey just might not be on her (or anyone else’s) radar. This museum, is also filled with human hair, albeit in a less artful way. Every surface in the joint is covered with the snipped locks of its patrons, some with bits of paper with addresses on them. Why the addresses? Apparently each year, local potter Chez Galip (who runs the museum) chooses ten locks of hair and invites these women to an all-expenses-paid week in this beautiful Turkish town, where they can also take part in pottery workshops. To date, Galip has amassed a collection of more than 16,000 locks of hair.

Beijing Tap Water Museum
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Beijing Tap Water Museum | Beijing

If you like water, its impact on human history, and you like, um, taps, this is the museum for you. One patron noted that hiring an English translator for his visit helped the experience immensely. Another noted, "This was in the top tap water museums I've visited. I had a whale of a time." Wait, there are others? (For the record, yes. Taiwan has the "Museum of Drinking Water.")

The Dog Collar Museum | Kent, England
Leeds Castle Foundation

The Dog Collar Museum | Kent, England

The dog has long been man's best friend, and we've been buying our pups collars to adorn and show our adoration for them for a very long time, apparently. At the Dog Collar Museum— housed in the Leeds Castle in Kent, England — you'll find collars from the 15th Century to the Baroque Period and onward on display, with a total collection of more than 130 "rare and valuable" pieces.

Mittelalterlichen Kriminalmuseum | Rothenburg, Germany
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Mittelalterlichen Kriminalmuseum | Rothenburg, Germany

The Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg, Germany, is the stuff of dark humanity to be sure — torture devices, shame punishments, executions, witches, and the like — but it's also a German National Tourist Board award-winning site and visitors use words like "amazing," "a treasure," and "fascinating" to describe it. It's housed on six floors in two buildings, so there's a lot to see — in total, though some pieces are archived, about 50,000 exhibits from over 1,000 years of German and European legal and criminal history.

Beauty Museum exhibition hall
Beauty Museum exhibition hall by Chongkian (CC BY-SA)

Museum of Enduring Beauty | Melaka, Malaysia

The lengths that people in different cultures will go to just to be considered attractive — and that means a lot of different things, from lip plates and foot binding to tattoos and rings that elongate the neck — can be fascinating, and that's the premise behind this Malaysian museum. In the event that unrealistic expectations and self-mutilation are not your thing, there's a People's Museum and Kite Museum in the same building.

ABBA The Museum | Stockholm
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ABBA The Museum | Stockholm

If you've ever wondered how the childhood experiences of Björn, Benny, Frida, and Agnetha led them to become one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of popular music, this is your spot. Find out how the foursome met, check out exact replicas of where they lived and worked, gaze upon their personal belongings, perform with their holograms, and so on. You might even hear the red telephone ring, which means an original band member is on the other line. Mamma mia!