I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Art, science, and history are stock-in-trade for the world’s museums. Visitors flock to such places as the Louvre in Paris, The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, and the Smithsonian in Washington. Too stuffy? Perhaps, the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin is more to your taste.
There’s the Cupnoodles Museum in Ikeda, Japan. Its logo is preceded by three exclamation points !!!, so we can surely expect some excitement here. The CUPNOODLES Drama Theatre has “Anecdotes of inspiration that lead to the invention of the world’s first cup-type instant noodles, CUPNOODLES and its manufacturing process, etc., are introduced using powerful, large-screen visual images.” Sounds breathtaking.
Austin, Minnesota is home to the Spam Museum. It’s operated by the creators of what is occasionally called a food, Hormel. As befits a product that has given its name to endless streams of useless and unwanted messages, entrance is free. There are guides called Spambassadors who offer tiny morsels on a toothpick names Spamples.
The Idaho Potato Museum is right where you’d expect it to be. Among the amazing things you’ll find there are the world’s biggest potato chip and a spud signed by Vice President Dan Quayle, who famously corrected a schoolboy who spelled potato properly. A person could wile away minutes in such a place.
Naturally, if you were thinking of opening an International Banana Museum you’d put it in a place were bananas don’t grow. Of course you would. So, there it is in the desert country of Mecca, California. It boasts more than 25,000 “banana-related items and pictures.” And, the same punsters who were unwisely let loose on the Spam Museum have been at work here telling that “After your eyes have ‘split’ over our ‘appeeling’ atmosphere, stop by our banana bar, and order a ‘bunch’ of tasty treats . . .”
Museums of the Absurd
Museums usually exhibit real things, even if they are a bit bonkers at times, but the Museum of Cryptozoology, in Portland, Maine, showcases items that have never existed and that never will exist.
Cryptozoology is a pseudo science that studies mythical beasts such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Among the wackadoodle nonsense on display is the family tree of Santa Claus and crude models of a seven-foot tall mothman and a mermaid.
Travel writer Lauren Juliff visited the museum and found the experience to be a gigglefest, however “Cryptid fans swirled around us, whispering of Bigfoot sightings and comparing their favourite story of the Dover Demon . . . I felt like an outsider in a tribe full of—um, I’ll be polite here—gullible people.”
And, while we are in this neck of the woods, “The Creation Museum shows why God’s infallible Word, rather than man’s faulty assumptions, is the place to begin if we want to make sense of our world.”
There are lots of dioramas of humans frolicking with dinosaurs at the Petersburg, Kentucky location.
As an added bonus, there’s the recreation of Noah’s Ark 45 minutes away, whose dimensions are informed by the Book of Genesis. Among the attractions here is a zip line, although it’s not entirely clear from a cursory reading of Genesis that Noah had such a contraption.
There is an actual Museum of the Absurd; it’s in Modena, Italy, but from its website it’s hard to tease out any meaningful information about what might be found inside. Exhibition rooms are titled “The Absurd as a metaphor for Existence” and “The Absurd as a neo-baroque game.” And then, there’s something “that bears witness to the need, during the neo-avant-garde period (from the 1850s onwards) to shatter the academic distinctions between the arts, thus generating actual sculptures made of words.”
It all sounds a bit absurd, which is probably the point.
The jolly people who run The Museum of Death offer two locations, Los Angeles and New Orleans. It’s not as if those two cities are so devoid of attractions that they had to devote space to this morbid topic. But apparently, the LA site was so popular they opened a second in NOLA.
There is a ghoulish caricature of a skull at the entrance to the Los Angeles museum that draws visitors in to exhibit sections labelled Suicide Hall and Carnage Corner. The creators claim the exhibition is a serious attempt to educate people about death but it has a decided whiff of gross-out about it.
The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia is much more scientific, but it’s still not for the squeamish. Operated by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, it is a vast collection of medical specimens that first opened its doors in 1858.
Visitors can check out a sliver of Albert Einstein’s brain or preserved human fetuses in glass jars. Among the many exhibits are “2,374 inhaled or swallowed foreign bodies that [Philadelphia otolaryngologist] Dr. [Chevalier] Jackson extracted from patients’ throats, esophaguses, and lungs during his almost 75-year-long career.” These include “buttons, pins, nuts, coins, bones, screws, dentures and bridges, small toys, among many other items.”
This museum does not appear to have a zip line.
Museums of Bodily Functions
Of course there’s a Sex Museum; it’s in New York City. However, this is a family-friendly page so we’ll just give a nod to its existence and move on to less salacious topics, such as the National Poo Museum.
If you’ve gotta go, you’ll find this collection of all things excremental in Sandown Bay, on Britain’s Isle of Wight. There’s a mission statement: “Through our unique collection and displays we use quirkiness and family-friendly humour to break through the poo taboo so we can engage, entertain, and inform our visitors.” There’s mention of “exciting interactive displays,” which causes the inquiring mind to do a bit of a wobble.
There is, apparently, no Museum of Urine anywhere in the world, which rather pisses off a lot of people.
In related news, there’s the The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in Delhi, India.
A writer for Atlas Obscura advises us that “Among the unusual toilets in the museum’s collection is a toilet that burns excrement into ash, a toilet disguised as a pile of books and, a replica throne/toilet for French king Louis XIV so he could hear kingly business while doing his kingly business.”
Barney Smith didn’t have a lot of space to display his 1,322 artefacts. San Antonio’s “King of the Commode” exhibited his collection of toilet seats in his garage. Retired plumber Smith died in 2019 at the age of 98 and his family said they would auction off his relics.
Among other museums worth a visit, or not, are:
- The Pencil Museum in Derwent, Cumbria, England;
- The Tap Water Museum in Beijing, China;
- The Hair Museum in Avanos, Turkey;
- The Dog Collar Museum in Kent, England; and,
- The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia.
However, none of these have zip lines.
- The Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik features 215 penises from a variety of species. There are even four donated human examples that cause all manner of disquieting thoughts.
- The Creation Museum got into a little bit of financial difficulty and had to sell some of its artefacts. One item on the auction block was a mastodon skull that was carbon dated to being 40,000 years old. That turned out to be a bit tricky because the museum is founded on the belief that Earth is only 6,000 years old.
- CUPNOODLES Museum.
- The National Poo Museum.
- “Sulabh Museum of Toilets.” Serflac, Atlas Obscura, undated.
- “SPAM Museum.” RoadsideAmerica.com, undated.
- “Barney Smith — Creator of the Toilet Seat Art Museum — Dies at 98.”Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, July 25, 2019.
- Idaho Potato Museum.
- International Banana Museum.
- “I Went to a Cryptozoology Museum and Everything Was Ridiculous.” Lauren Juliff, neverendingfootsteps.com, October 7, 2019.
- “LA’s Museum Of Death Is Graphic, Ghoulish, And Kind Of Gross.” Stephen Cooper, Culture Trip, January 6, 2017.
- “International Clown Hall of Fame.” Longinus Balo Waabooz, Atlas Obscura, undated.
- “Noah’s Ark Theme Park Is Impressive, but its ‘Facts’ don’t Hold Water.” Tom Eblen, Miami Herald, July 16, 2016.
- The Icelandic Phallological Museum.
- The Mütter Museum.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Rupert Taylor
Kalpana Iyer from India on September 24, 2020:
Wow. Did not know there were so many of these peculiar museums. The most weird one I have been to is a museum in Dubai called the Museum of Illusions. Some of the displays in there can make your head spin.
Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on September 23, 2020:
I'd like to visit the Museum of the Absurd, since I enjoy Theater of the Absurd. If you like museums, and you're ever in Pakistan, do visit Lahore Museum. It is surprisingly good.
Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on September 21, 2020:
Louise. There are at least four barbed wire museums in the U.S. Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on September 21, 2020:
There's certainly some strange museums out there lol. I've heard of the pencil museum! I had a friend in Australia that told me there's a Barbed Wire Museum there!
Ankita B on September 21, 2020:
Excellent article. I enjoyed reading about these 12 different museums.