Categorized | Take a Trip

Unusual museums abound in the U.S.

Mustard Museum - medicine

Photo: The Mustard Museum represents one of the nation’s more interesting museums.




By Victor Block

The United States Capitol impresses those who see it with its stately demeanor and decorative detail. The classical columns and imposing dome are known around the world. Some viewers have to remind themselves that the structure they’re admiring is only 12 feet long, and is made of thousands of ordinary matchsticks.

Scale models of other famous icons, including the Wright Brothers Flyer and space shuttle Challenger, are fashioned from the same material. These lifelike replicas share space at the Matchstick Marvels museum in Gladbrook, Iowa, where dozens of wooden sculptures made of millions of matchsticks and gallons of glue are on display.

This is one of numerous small collections throughout the country that are focused upon unusual, often unique, themes. While people interested in a particular topic visit below-the-radar establishments, their off-beat appeal also attracts others seeking to learn or, in some cases, just enjoy a few laughs.

The Matchstick Marvels grew out of a hobby. After constructing models for his own enjoyment, founder Pat Acton decided to share his creations. Today, along with those at the mini-museum, they’re on display at Ripley’s Believe It or Not locations around the world. For more information about the Matchstick Marvels museum, call 641-473-2410 or log onto

Museum of Miniatures

Museum of Miniatures

Another exhibit of things small awaits visitors to the Museum of Miniatures in Tucson, Ariz. It displays more than 300 tiny houses, “room boxes”—models of individual rooms—and other miniscule objects.

The exhibits are organized into three galleries. The History and Antiques area, which reflects time periods from the past, includes a doll house dating from about 1775.

Exploring the World focuses on miniatures from France, Germany, Japan and other countries. The Enchanted Realm is a magical space filled with woodland creatures, fairies, witches and other fanciful inhabitants. For more information, call 520-881-0606 or log onto

Big Rigs

If miniscule isn’t your thing, check out the Mack Trucks Historical Museum in Allentown, Pa. That’s where vintage Mack Trucks are restored, preserved and displayed.

Up to 30 vehicles are typically on view. A prized possession is a 1905 Mack Bus, said to be the oldest operational Mack in existence. For more information, call 610-351-8999 or log onto

Puzzling over what staplers, candles and earrings have in common? They’re among items at the International Banana Museum in Mecca, Calif. Self-proclaimed as “The most a-peel-ing destination on the planet,” this is the largest collection in the world devoted to a single fruit.

The list of articles shaped like, decorated with or reminiscent of bananas is long and, at times, surprising. It includes compasses and cookie jars, socks and squirt guns, dishes and dolls.

A Banana Bar serves banana shakes, ice cream floats and other treats. For more information call 619-840-1429 or log onto

Mustard Museum - tins

The Mustard Museum

Speaking of flavors, have you tasted mustard enhanced with chocolate, blue cheese or tequila? If not, you’ve probably never been to the National Mustard Museum at Middleton, Wis.

Visitors are introduced to some 5,400 mustards from all 50 states and more than 70 countries. They learn about uses of mustard as medicine, and have the opportunity to sample hundreds of mustards at a tasting bar.

Staff members sing “Roll out the Mustard” and recite passages from Shakespeare which refer to the “King of Condiments.” No wonder the museum is listed on the National Registry of Hysterical Places. For more information, call 800-438-6878 or log onto

A 10,000-year-old prehistoric elk and a record 1,056-pound black marlin are among wildlife that welcomes people to the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum in San Antonio, Texas. The tavern has doubled as a showplace for animal exhibits for 135 years.

Its split personality was born when travelers short on cash exchanged horns and antlers for liquid refreshment. Later exotic wildlife was added to the display, which now includes more than 520 species of animals and fish from around the world. For more information call 210-247-4000 or log onto

Skeletal Displays

Animals in a different form grace the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City. It’s home to nearly 300 skeletons ranging in size from tiny mice to a 40-foot-long humpback whale.

Osteology - Man, ape, etc.

Osteology – Man, ape, etc.

A sister museum called Skeletons: Animals Unveiled opened recently in Orlando, Fla. Its resident remains strike imaginative poses in lifelike dioramas. More information is available at 405-814-0006 and (Oklahoma) and 407-203-6999 or (Orlando).

Turning bad into good, one establishment brags that it’s the only museum “dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art.” The stated goal of the Museum of Bad Art in Boston is “to bring the worst of art to the widest of audiences.”

Each piece in the collection is presented with an appropriate description. For example, the Blue Mushroom Man has toadstools “sprouting out of the top of his head,” while the aptly named Woman Riding Crustacean depicts “a blow-up doll riding a giant lobster.”

If this appeals to your artistic fancy, call 781-444-6757 or log onto for more information.



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