Spend five minutes watching any American 24-hour news channel and you’ll find that the US is a pretty odd place, and that Americans themselves are an odd batch of characters. But Americans are also an insatiably curious people, with a shared fascination for all that is novel and downright bizarre.
That may be why so many of the country’s museums gather thematically-linked bizarre things together and put them on display. There are hundreds of such museums throughout the country, but these eight museums provide a strange sampling of what the US has to offer.
International UFO Museum & Research Center
Are humans the only self-conscious creatures in the universe? Do slimy green figures regularly visit this planet to abduct and experiment on rural mid-westerners? Such questions and more are explored at the International UFO Museum & Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico.
The center was created by a group of people who question the government’s explanation of what they consider to have been a UFO crash in Roswell in July 1947.
The museum provides an impressive offering of information on all aspects of the UFO phenomena, including information on the Roswell Incident, crop circles, UFO sightings, Area 51, ancient astronauts and alleged alien abductions.
The exhibits are not specifically designed to convince anyone to believe one way or the other, but rather to pose one of the planet’s most important questions: are we really alone in this universe?
For more information, check out: roswellufomuseum.com
The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices
Modern humans usually discover cures for their many ailments through meticulous research and scientific trial and error. But what happens when they invent devices to cure themselves based neither on research nor any practical regard for reality?
Dubbed “The Quackery Hall of Fame” by the Copley Wire Service, the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minnesota houses the world’s largest display of odd contraptions once thought effective in curing ailments of all kinds. Pieces on display include the Prostate Gland Warmer, a Phrenology Machine that determines one’s personality by measuring bumps on the head, a Recto Rotor, a Nose Straightener, a foot-powered breast enlarger and hundreds of other queer devices that will leave you shaking with slightly-terrified laughter.
For more information, check out: museumofquackery.com
The Museum of Bad Art
Some art is just too bad to be ignored. That’s the premise of the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the only museum in the world dedicated to terrible works of art.
The museum’s founder Scott Wilson was inspired to create the collection after rescuing “Lucy in the Field with Flowers” — an inconceivably bad work that is embarrassing and almost dizzying to look at — from a trash heap. From there his idea expanded and eventually culminated in a permanent exhibit of some of humanity’s most offensive attempts at artistic creation.
MOBA describes its collection as ranging from “the work of talented artists that have gone awry, to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush.” There are now more than 400 pieces in the collection, with 40 or so on exhibit at any given time.
There is also an online collection at the museum’s official website: museumofbadart.org
Museum of Burnt Food
After visiting the Museum of Burnt Food in Rockport, MA, you may never look at culinary disasters the same way again. Well, actually, you probably will, but if you are drawn towards the bizarre this impressive collection is certainly worth checking out.
The idea for the museum was born one evening in the late 1980s, when the museum’s founder accidentally burned a small pot of hot apple cider. Since then countless other works have been integrated into the collection. This includes “classic” burnt items, such as toast and blackened bagels, as well as more exploratory works, such as charred lemons, shriveled tangerines, the ashes of a Hot Pockets, a “Thrice Baked Potato”, and the “Why Sure, You Can Bake Quiche in the Microwave”.
For more information, check out: burntfoodmuseum.com
Ever wondered what a human corpse looks like after it has decomposed into a soapy substance called adipocere? Or perhaps you fancy a close-up encounter with President Grover Cleveland’s cancerous jaw growth?
If you are fascinated by human deformities and don’t mind feeling a little icky, look no further than the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The museum is a collection of medical oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models and antique medical equipment that grew out of an 1850s-era collection of instructional exhibits for doctors, designed to communicate a message of medical progress.
The museum houses some 20,000 objects that showcase human health anomalies. This includes a display of more than 2000 objects that have been removed from people’s throats, the deformed skeleton of a woman long accustomed to wearing a corset, a wax model of a woman with a horn growing out of her forehead, an impressive number of preserved human fetal specimens, and much more.
For more information, check out: collegeofphysicians.org/mutter-museum/
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
Begun in 1972 with a starting collection of memorabilia associated with Marie Laveau — the matriarch of New Orleans voodoo — this small museum has been intriguing visitors for four decades.
There are several different branches of Voodoo, but this museum concentrates on the New Orleans variety — an amalgamation of African and European influences that have been mixed into the unique cultural melting pot of New Orleans.
Besides the exhibits on display, the museum also offers psychic readings and has an impressive gift shop that sells a wide range of bizarre products, including chicken feet, snake skins, Voodoo Love potion and Voodoo Coffin Kits.
For more information, check out: voodoomuseum.com
The Trash Museum
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and at the Trash Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, garbage is finally getting the attention it deserves.
The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority has transformed the forgotten stuff people throw away into 6500 square feet of educational fun.
One can tour the “Temple of Trash,” explore an old-fashioned town dump, take a stroll through the Children’s Garbage Museum, inspect a giant compost pile, or marvel at a Trash-o-saurus, which weighs more than a ton. Also on display is a 12-by-36-ft mural depicting the evolution of trash, beginning with people tossing their rubbish into the street and ending with current waste disposal methods: landfills or burning garbage to generate electricity.
More than 27,000 people visit every year to learn about garbage and recycling, and this bizarre museum serves as a good introduction to a commonly ignored aspect of our existence.
Leila’s Hair Museum
Former hairdresser Leila Cohoon’s museum in Independence, Missouri features more than 2000 pieces of antique art created from human hair. Now, that may sound kind of gross, but the museum is probably the only place in the world where you can encounter such a collection.
It includes samples dating back to 1725, when hair jewelry was often used by those wanting to keep a memento of a loved one, before the invention of photography.
Inside you can see how long curly locks and beard and mustache hair have been fashioned into wreaths, rings, bracelets, lockets, paintings and medallions. Leila’s oldest exhibit is a hair brooch dating back to 1680. The weirdest is perhaps the paintings made from the hair of dead babies. There are also exhibits that feature hair from a number of famous people.
For more information, check out: leilashairmuseum.com
- David Jennings