Today, people tend to associate the word “museum” with a stodgy assortment of paintings, sculpture, dinosaurs or historic artifacts. However, strictly speaking, a museum is defined as “a building or place where works of art, scientific specimens or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed.” And in playing upon on the idea of “one man’s trash” being “another man’s treasure,” there are many unique items that are considered valuable to the people who collect them. Hence, America is filled with museums with far-flung subjects and unique inventory. Here are some of our favorites, listed alphabetically.
- Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum (San Antonio) – If ever there was a place whose name was the perfect description for what could be found inside, this is it. Smith (now age 95), a retired plumber, has decorated more than 1,200 toilet seats over the course of 50 years, and has put them on display in his garage. Smith conducts tours by appointment, showing off his creations – part found object assemblage, part collage, part hand lettering and drawing. Some are tributes to historical or newsworthy events, others recall the locales Smith traveled to with his late wife, still others are indicative of the artist – everything from his patriotism to his eye surgery. He’s even got a $1,000,000 seat – covered with shredded bills from the Federal Reserve Bank.
- Busted Wrench Garage (Biloxi) – Founded in 2008 by John Hans, a life-long motor vehicle enthusiast, the BWG – located just up the road a piece in Gulfport – shares an opportunity to see rare, exotic, and one-of-a-kind motor vehicles. Classic cars, motorcycles, boats, and bicycles are displayed in a 6,000 square foot exhibit hall with no admission charge. Additionally, the BWG has an automotive gift shop to satisfy the desires of fellow car-buffs to buy nostalgic signs, branded clothing, die-casts, glassware, and various collectibles.
- Eight Track Museum (Dallas) — Music aficionados will recall that, before there were MP3 players, people listened to music on compact disc. And before that, there were compact cassettes. And before that, there were long-playing records. But for a brief time in the middle of that soundscape – roughly 1965 through the end of the 1970s – one of the most popular recording formats was the 8-track tape. While today it has become an icon of obsolescence, it was a great commercial success and paved the way for all sorts of innovations in portable listening. In the Deep Ellum section of Dallas, you can take yourself back to that groovier time with a trip to the world’s first 8-track museum. Opened by Dallas native Bucks Burnett, the museum is dedicated to preserving the 8-track format, and contains thousands of tapes and reel-to-reel recordings. Chat up Burnett while you’re there to complete the rock n’ roll experience.
- Erotic Heritage Museum (Las Vegas) – A perfect fit for Sin City, the Erotic Heritage Museum (more formally known as the Harry Mohney Erotic Museum) was originally created through a partnership of a preacher and a pornographer with the mission of preserving erotic artifacts, fine art and film. The museum houses more than 24,000 square feet of permanent and featured exhibits designed to preserve wonders of the erotic imagination as depicted through the artistic expression of acts of sex and love. It is dedicated to the belief that sexual pleasure and fun are natural aspects of the human experience, that such pleasure must be made available to all, and that our individual sexuality belongs to each of us.
- Museum of the Weird (Austin) – For a city whose motto is “Keeping it weird,” the fact that it has a museum of the weird isn’t so strange; it would be more weird if it were located anywhere else. Tucked inside the Lucky Lizard curio shop, the museum has an eclectic array of monsters and other freaky stuff, from a stuffed cyclops pig to a frozen caveman. In addition, the place pays tribute to the real people who fostered our fascination with the bizarre, including master showman P.T. Barnum, John Merrick (also known as “The Elephant Man”) and the original “Siamese” twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.
- National Museum of Funeral History (Houston) – An educational experience like no other, offering something for everyone. Discover America’s largest collection of authentic, historical funeral service items. Learn about caskets and coffins, hearses through history, plus the funerals of Presidents, Popes, celebrities and more while you witness the cultural heritage of the funeral service industry and its time-honored tradition of compassion. Since 1992, the Museum (pictured above) has been enlightening visitors on one of man’s oldest cultural rituals, and celebrating the heritage of the funeral services industry.
- National Mustard Museum (Madison) – With more than 5,676 mustards from all 50 states and more than 70 countries, this collection of Mustard History is a sight to behold. From the exquisite Gibbons Collection of mustard pots to antique tins & jars and vintage advertisements, the National Mustard Museum (actually located in nearby Middleton) is truly a shining temple to the “King of Condiments.” This improbable museum, one of Wisconsin’s most popular attractions, has been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Jeopardy!” and “To Tell the Truth.”
- Neon Museum (Las Vegas) – With lights so bright they can be seen from space, the Las Vegas strip is truly a testament to the power of the neon bulb. But what happens to those exquisite signs when the mega-hotel/casinos close down or change names? They go to the Neon Museum, an organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs for educational, historic, arts and cultural enrichment. The facility includes the Neon Boneyard Gallery, which houses additional rescued signs and is available for weddings, special events, photo shoots and educational programs.
- Pharmacy Museum (New Orleans) – Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an historic building within the Vieux Carre Historic District, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum showcases its extensive collection and provides interpretive educational programs to present and preserve the rich history of pharmacy and healthcare in Louisiana, past and present.
- Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (Gatlinburg) – The world’s only museum dedicated to salt and pepper shakers, with more than 20,000 sets from around the world, in addition to a huge pepper mill collection. One of the main purposes of the museum is to show the changes in a society that can be found in its salt shakers. As you walk through the museum, you can see the changes from ancient times to the 1500s, 1800s, 1920s, 1940s, 1960s… all the way to the present day.
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