10 Unusual Museums Full of Things You'd Never Expect
By : Sarah January
I don't know about you, but for me museums are very interesting and fascinating places. To some they can be repetitive or even boring. I have always found them to be anything but. Usually seen as houses of higher knowledge containing artifacts of culture dating back to antiquity, what if I told you there are museums out there that cover everything from ice cream to superheroes? Yes, it's true and there are places all across the world like these that you can visit. Below is a list of 10 museums full of cool and unusual things that you should consider adding to your bucket list.
Disney Family Museum, San Francisco
Though many associate the Disney brand with the southern California sunshine, The Walt Disney Family Museum is actually located in beautiful San Francisco. Originally a series of rotating exhibits, the museum was founded in 2007 by Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller. The museum now has a permanent home in the Presidio, a former military base, in a hall named for its founder. Dedicated in memory of Walt Disney, this institution covers just about everything you could possibly want to know about the Disney family and their empire. There are ten different galleries that walk you through the life and times of the revered cartoonist who revolutionized the entertainment industry. The museum also hosts rotating exhibits and Mickey Mouse: From Walt To The World is currently on display until January 2020. If you love yourself some Disney movies like I do, you should check out this monument to the man (and his family) behind the magic.
Mutter Museum, Philadelphia
*This museum is not for the faint of heart!*
For those of you who enjoy medical history and seeing things that will blow your mind, look no further than the Mutter Museum. As part of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, this institution pays homage to the practice of medicine, while entertaining the public with specimens that tend to be of an unbelievable nature. Founded in 1863 with a donation from Dr. Thomas Mutter, the museum collection has grown significantly in the last 150 years. Permanent exhibits include exploration of the advances in spinal surgery, The Soap Lady, and even has parts of Albert Einstein’s brain. The collections that the museum possesses do get a little more gruesome in nature though, including their wet specimens, like the conjoined twins that were found in a closet at a medical school before they were donated. You can also examine many antique and vintage medical kits including embalming kits and Civil War era medical tools used on soldiers in the battlefield. If these are the kind of things you find fascinating, add the Mutter Museum to your Philadelphia list! Fun fact- you can actually donate your unusual medical specimens, tools or books to the museum to this day. Just check out their donation policies on their website for instructions.
The Met, New York City
Many of my friends are obsessed with the Met Gala that happens every year. I had to clue them in to the real reason behind the whole event, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, specifically the Costume Institute. Located in New York and founded in 1937, the collection contains over 33,000 outfits, costumes and pieces of fashion history. Due to the fragile nature of the museum’s collection, not all of it can be on display at the same time. They utilize rotating exhibits though their permanent collection includes actual pieces and photographs that are a part of the evolution of fashion. Dresses, suits, armor, and everything in between, can be found here and they span the centuries and continents. Some of the most popular exhibits featured here have been The World of Balenciaga, Vanity Fair, Chanel, Charles James-Beyond Fashion, and culminating in Heavenly Bodies-Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, which saw over 1.6 million visitors. No matter when you choose to visit, there are two “Fashion in Art” tours that are available. There is also a self guided audio tour entitled "Costume: The Art of Dress" narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker.
Museum of Ice Cream, San Francisco
Ice cream is my favorite treat during the summer. For any of you who feel the same, the Museum of Ice Cream is a place you will want to check out. A new comer to the museum scene, it was founded in 2016 and is located on Grant Avenue in San Francisco. Founder Maryellis Bunn was inspired to create this super fun and interactive museum by a childhood dream she had of jumping into a pool of sprinkles. This museum utilizes rotating exhibits and the theme “Summer Camp” is currently on display through September. Interactions with the exhibits is an important part of this institution’s mission so that makes it a great place to take the kids. In addition to the bright, fun, and sweet experiences you will have while visiting, you can also purchase some of the yummy goodness to take home with you. MOIC has its own brand of ice cream! Consisting of seven unique flavors, there is one out there to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth.
Museum of Toilets, New Delhi
With many things in life, we often don’t appreciate them until they’re gone. This is especially present in first world countries where we generally have access to things like food, electricity, and running water. There is a museum in New Delhi, India that is dedicated to something many of us take for granted: the toilet. Formally known as Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, this establishment is dedicated to the history of hygiene and sanitation, but also has a deeper mission. According to their website ‘over half of the population of India (more than 500 million people), does not have a toilet in their home.’ The museum’s founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, not only recognized this as a problem, but was determined to fix India’s sanitation problems. This museum is helping to educate the public about the importance of toilets and proper sanitation which in turn is leading to change. Inside the museum itself you will find examples of toilets that are thousands of years old, as well as chamber pots and elaborate toilet seats used by emperors and royalty. By bringing his country’s attention to the history of sanitation, Dr. Pathak is paving the way for a brighter, cleaner, and safer future for the people of India.
International Museum of Cryptozoology, Portland
If you have an interest in legends, mythology, or the things that go bump in the night, the International Museum of Cryptozoology would be the place to go. Cryptozoology is defined as the study of hidden or unknown animals and there is only one museum in the world dedicated to this. The museum is home to countless models, pictures, and specimens said to be of or a part of these mythical creatures. Founded in 2003 by Loren Coleman, the institution has moved locations a few times because of the ever growing collection, but is now located on Thompson’s Road in Portland, Maine. Over the years Coleman has collected a ton of information and some would say proof of some of these animals’ existence. Though the museum holds models, photos, and samples from animals such as a thylacine, the Jersey Devil, and the FeeJee Mermaid, the one creature everyone comes there to see, Big Foot. There are multiple samples of hair and casts of footprints said to be from the mysterious ape man that humans have been trying to catch for centuries. Within those walls you will learn more about mythical creatures than you ever thought possible. Who knows… you might even walk out a believer!
Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle
My favorite Halloween movie of all time is Hocus Pocus. The Sanderson Sisters and all of the hilarious ‘evil’ shenanigans they get caught up in is both endearing and entertaining. Unfortunately, the history behind the practice of witchcraft and magic is not always so fun or joyous. In a small village in Cornwall, UK, there is an institution that is dedicated to the study and the history of all things witchcraft, magic and the occult. The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is the largest museum of its kind dedicated to this subject. Witchcraft is defined as the practice of magical skills and abilities and is an integral part of the Wiccan religion. This museum explores these practices from ancient times to the modern day and includes items from different time periods and cultures. From voodoo dolls to ouija boards, and items that belonged to people such as Aleister Crowley, the infamous British occultist, you can find almost anything within these walls. Currently on display is an exhibit entitled Betwixt and Between
Isobel Gowdie, the Witch of Auldearn, which tells the story of the trial of the Scottish witch. If you are looking to learn more about the extensive history of witchcraft, and maybe even experience a little bit of magic in the process, this is a place you should add to your travel bucket list.
International Spy Museum, Washington D.C.
Espionage is something that has been a part of society dating back millenia. In our nation’s capital, there is now an institution that both explores and honors the role that spying has played in international relations. Founded in 2002, this institution is privately funded and sees around half a million visitors every year. The exhibits fall into multiple categories and explores everything, from the role of spies in times of military conflict and their impact, to some of the tools and technology used by these spies during their missions. There are even exhibits featuring celebrity spies such as Josephine Baker and Julia Child. The museum’s newest addition is an interactive exhibit called Operation Spy that is a simulation of a spy mission that allows you to test your espionage skills. So for those of you that are curious about some of the secrets of the government’s past, or have a love for conspiracy theories, this place may provide you with some of the answers you seek.
Hall of Heroes Super Hero Museum, Elkhart
Any Marvel or DC fans out there? If so, the next place on this list will make you do the happy dance as it is completely dedicated to the history of superheroes. This museum is home to the largest collection of superhero memorabilia in the United States. This massive collection includes comic books, art, collectibles, games, and videos that revolve around the superhero universe. Some of the rarest comics in the world call this place home, including Captain America #1 and Amazing Fantasies #15, which is Spiderman’s debut. Oh yeah...and it is signed by the legendary comic genius himself, Stan Lee! As comics and superheroes have become a money making juggernaut in Hollywood in the last decade, this museum is the place where you can see some of the props from these blockbuster movies. The original shield from Captain America- The First Avenger, the Hell Cycle from Ghost Rider, and even the Shelby Cobra from Iron Man can all be found here. For those of us (Me! Me! Me!) who have a love for comics and superheroes, this place is as close to perfect as you can get.
The Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester
Arguably the coolest museum on this list is the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. This museum is dedicated to toys and play. Seriously. Founded in 1968 by Margaret Woodbury Strong, it began with her extensive collection of toys and dolls. The exhibits have expanded greatly over the last fifty years and now includes video and computer games as well. They have their permanent collections broken down by toy, from airplanes to yo-yos. They are even separated by toy company including Fisher Price and Beanie Baby. There are collections of board games from multiple companies and a collection dedicated to the iconic Barbie who revolutionized the world of dolls. This museum currently has multiple exhibits on display, including Women in Games and America at Play. There are more toys and books in this building than anyone could probably ever hope to get through in a lifetime, but I would love to try. Toys and play are an important part of society that seems to have been forgotten in 2019, but with a museum like this around it will be impossible to forget completely.
To the average joe, museums might often seem rather boring or repetitive. The museums on this list were specifically chosen because they are nothing of the sort. I love these kinds of places because they reach across interests, hobbies, religion, and disciplines to connect to all kinds of people. From magic, to toys, to mythical creatures, there are a ton of really great and interesting institutions out in the world that contain some pretty cool things. This list is just the tip of the iceberg but I know these suggestions will help get you started on your next museum adventure.
Sarah is a California girl who has a slight obsession with all things historical in nature or travel related. In addition to her love of history and culture, she has a passion for health and fitness and is also a hardcore bibliophile with an ever growing book collection. Since finishing her Master’s Degree in 2015, she has become a teacher who is growing her career as a writer. When she isn’t teaching or honing her writing skills, you can find her with her nose in a new book, binge watching Supernatural, or planning her next getaway to the beach. If you want to talk about writing, books, history, travel, Disney movies, puppies...or anything in between, feel free to connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and IG. ❤