There is nothing quite as exciting like stumbling upon an out of the way (and out of the ordinary) attraction during your travels.
And America is well known for her conglomeration of distinct personalities and unique interests and fascinations that have left their mark on the history of our nation.
There are thousands of eccentric museums throughout the country, but these hidden gems will definitely leave you with more than a few wild stories to tell, as well as some very interesting insights on the human experience!
Leave it to Hollywood to have a strange museum or two. The World Famous Museum of Death was started by the Shultz family, who wanted to bring their passion for death to a national audience.
With a second location in New Orleans and an entirely different set of artifacts, the first museum was originally located in a former mortuary in a building once owned by Wyatt Earp.
Here you will find the world’s largest collection of serial killer artwork, crime scene photos like those from the Charles Manson murders, taxidermy, autopsy artifacts, and funeral home “memorabilia.”
The tour is now self-guided, since over the years, many have not made it through all of the exhibits. From churning stomachs to several fainting spells, guests are now able to peruse exhibits at their own leisure — and tolerance level — as they can be quite graphic to say the least.
The museum’s website specifies that this attraction is not suitable for children, but a trip to either one of its locations would certainly make a unique date night experience!
And if you didn’t get enough macabre there, there’s always the National Museum of Funeral History located in Houston, Texas. Since there are only two guarantees in life – taxes and death – we seem to prefer to think about the latter.
This museum boasts the largest collection of artifacts pertaining to funerals and funerary tradition in the U.S. Walk through the historical traditions of mourning loved ones, exploring funeral traditions of everyday Americans — even U.S. presidents and other famous citizens.
In the History of Embalming exhibit, visitors can travel through time and see how bodies were preserved throughout history, from the groundbreaking world of Egyptian mummification, to primitive techniques of the Civil War, up to present day.
And for those wealthy people who are no longer with us, you can visit an exhibit on custom burial chambers, from fancy high-end coffins to a Mercedes and an airliner converted into their owners’ final resting place. After all, you can’t take it with you.
Human beings have memorialized loved ones and famous figures since the beginning of time, but perhaps the most practiced is keeping a lock of hair, which we still do to this day.
Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri takes this to a whole new level as the only museum in the world entirely devoted to the traditions surrounding keepsakes created of hair.
Boasting thousands of artifacts all made from human hair, Leila Cohoon is an expert on the whys and hows of preserving a little piece of a loved one through the folk art of turning hair into jewelry or household decorations.
This practice goes back thousands of years, reaching the height of popularity in America during the Victorian era, when women would spend countless hours weaving hair into keepsakes to remember a loved one.
Leila’s features hundreds of “hair wreaths,” jewelry like brooches, pendants, and earrings, and other art pieces — even memorial paintings using hair that was pulverized into a fine powder.
Other notable pieces in the collection include a brooch containing a lock of Daniel Webster’s hair, as well as the locks of Abraham Lincoln, Elvis, and John F. Kennedy.
Leila aims to preserve the traditions of hair folk art by mastering traditional techniques, and she even offers classes to visitors who would like to take up this unique hobby. Why learn to knit when you can weave human hair?
“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust” is what most of us expect at the end of our life’s journey. But for a chosen few, bodies can be preserved for study and research. The Mutter Museum in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia houses a remarkable collection of specimens preserved for medical research.
The beginning of the collection was donated by Dr. Thomas Mutter in 1858 as an educational resource for fellow physicians and has grown exponentially since then with tens of thousands of specimens now owned by the museum.
A portion of these are on display for the curious — or strange — among us. See the Mutter American Giant, the tallest human skeleton on the continent that stands at a whopping seven-and-a-half feet tall. Or the Hyrtl Skull Collection, which contains hundreds of specimens for your viewing pleasure. You can also peruse hundreds of years’ worth of historic wax models and a visitor favorite, the “wet specimens.”
These organs, brains, and tissues chronical every disease known to man and include some conversation pieces like a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland, tissue taken from the body of John Wilkes Booth, and the shared liver of the famed “Siamese Twins.”
The Mutter also houses the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection and thousands of medical tools and pieces of literature chronicling medical advancements through the years.
Perhaps the most famous artifact in the collection is the brain of Albert Einstein. The Mutter is the only place in the world visitors can view cross-sections of the most famous brain on Earth.
And if you enjoyed Leila’s Hair Museum, you’ll love one of their current exhibits: Woven Strands: The Art of Human Hair Work. A trip to the Mutter promises to be a hair-raising experience!
From the human experience to our quest for the not-so-human, a trip to the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine can’t be beat!
Let’s face it, we’re all fascinated by the fact that we may be sharing the planet with unidentified species. In fact, many scientists and “monster hunters” alike have devoted their lives to cryptozoology, the “study of hidden animals.”
So this museum explores the evidence of unverified species such as Bigfoot, Yetis, and sea creatures like the Loch Ness Monster, aiming to bring credibility to this branch of science with hair samples, models, and castings found through decades of work in the field.
The more than ten thousand artifacts include “actual” hair samples of the Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot and the Yeti. Bigfoot footprint casts and life-sized models have entertained thousands of visitors since the opening of this non-profit museum. But these guys are serious about the science behind their discoveries and seek to educate rather than sensationalize.
The Cryptozoology Museum also houses specimens and models of more scientifically proven species like a pterodactyl, coelacanth, and megamouth shark.
But, never fear, this is not your typical display of fossils and skeletons – you can also view the fecal sample of a Yeti collected on 1959’s “Snowman Expedition,” and even a letter written by the loveable Golden Age actor Jimmy Stewart who described his own experience with the Yeti mystery. Now, who can argue with Jimmy Stewart?
For a deeper look at the human experience and the complexities of our inner selves, a trip to the Parapsychology Museum at Duke University’s Rhine Research Center in North Carolina is a must-see.
The research center continues the studies of J.B. Rhine, a Duke scientist who is credited with coining the term “ESP,” and its various forms like telepathy, Deja-vu, and “mind over matter.” He firmly believed in the human connection and the center continues to delve into the unknown about the complexities of the human mind.
The museum houses a collection of equipment and literature that has been used throughout the seven decades since Rhine began his research. Duke University continues to be a hub for this type of study and offers educational tours and classes for students and anyone interested in this phenomenon.
So next time you’re looking for an adventure to connect with your inner self and witness the depths of the “human experience,” take some time to visit one of these unique museum collections.
Just maybe don’t eat lunch first.