When you think about the word “museum,” certain images might come to mind: ancient artifacts encased in glass. Fancy art displays. Pristine, white walls. Certainly not a collection of ventriloquist dummies that look like presidents, or a room full of rocks that vaguely resemble faces.
As it turns out, while esteemed art and history museums have a reputation for all things prim and proper, there’s a hidden world full of oddball institutions inspired by people’s wacky passions and weird dreams. As you’re about to witness, these small but mighty specialty museums come in all shapes and sizes. From many a strange collection or offbeat hobby, niche museums are born, all thanks to a little bit of charisma and plenty of square footage.
The Troll Hole Museum
Location: Alliance, Ohio
Specialty: The world’s largest collection of Troll Dolls and memorabilia, with over 25,000 troll-related items.
Troll Dolls took the toy market by storm in the 1960s, and again in the 21st century with the DreamWorks Trolls films. The Troll Hole Museum houses over 25,000 troll products in a total of 14 rooms. Exhibits include Trolls in Cinema, a replica of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Stadium (populated by Troll Doll football players, cheerleaders, and fans), and the Troll Hall of Fame, where you can see various athletes, musicians, and celebs in troll-form.
The Museum of Bad Art
Location: Somerville, Massachusetts
Specialty: Displaying artwork that’s “too bad to be ignored.”
Also known as MOBA, the Museum of Bad Art is a collection of 700 artworks and counting, all with one thing in common: the artists all tried really, really hard, but none of them could quite make a masterpiece. Curators of the museum note that the collection celebrates artists who tried their best, and how their gallery displays and appreciates art that no one else does.
The Idaho Potato Museum
Location: Blackfoot, Idaho
Specialty: The history and cultivation of potatoes in Idaho, the nation’s leading potato producer.
If your state crop is potatoes, then you can bet there’s a themed museum about it. Exhibits and displays include the largest potato chip ever made, a sizable collection of potato mashers, and a photo op with a cutout of Marilyn Monroe in her famous potato sack dress.
The Museum of Broken Relationships
Location: Zagreb, Croatia & Los Angeles, California
Specialty: Sharing objects and stories related to heartbreak.
Often, sharing can help the healing process, which is why the Museum of Broken Relationships offers a global outlet for the brokenhearted: anonymously display mementos of your pain and heartache with the world. Contributions are always welcome, and artifacts on display can range from a wedding dress stuffed into a pickle jar to an ax used to chop up an ex’s furniture.
The Plumbing Museum
Location: Watertown, Massachusetts
Specialty: The history of the plumbing industry, from pipes and tools to antique tubs and toilets.
Keeping in mind the plumbing trade also includes how faucets and tubs work, thankfully this museum isn’t just about toilets. Exhibits include the evolution of plumbing systems, diagrams of various plumbing technologies, the occasional funny bathroom sign, and plenty of toilets, sinks, and tubs.
The SPAM Museum
Location: Austin, Minnesota
Specialty: A 14,000 square foot shrine dedicated to the cubed canned meat, Spam.
Love it or hate it, Spam is iconic. At the Spam museum, SPAMbassadors give guided tours on the history of the Hormel company (headquartered a few miles away) and the origin of Spam. Guests can see how Spam is made, find out how many Spam cans tall they are, and sample some of Spam’s 13 different flavors.
Leila’s Hair Museum
Location: Independence, Missouri
Specialty: A large collection of antique hair art.
With some pieces dating as far back as the 17th century, every inch of Leila’s Hair Museum displays the once-popular hobby of making art from human hair. Hair art was especially common during Victorian times before flash photography was invented, as those in mourning could preserve memories of lost loved ones by keeping locks of hair as a memento. The museum displays over 2,000 pieces of hair art, ranging from brooches, bracelets, and rings to hair wreaths like the ones pictured above.
Chinsekikan, The Hall of Curious Rocks
Location: Chichibu, Japan
Specialty: Over 1,700 rocks that look like faces.
Two hours northwest of Tokyo lies a museum full of rocks that just so happen to look like people’s faces. Stones in the collection exhibit a wide range of expressions, from gasping and grimacing to smiling or looking confused. A few rocks in the collection are considered celebrity look-alikes, bearing the resemblances of Elvis, E.T., and others.
The Vent Haven Museum
Location: Fort Mitchell, Kentucky
Specialty: A collection of over 900 ventriloquist dummies from more than 20 countries.
One man’s ventriloquist puppet collection eventually turned into the only museum dedicated to the art of ventriloquism. The museum collection includes vintage posters and playbills of ventriloquist acts, puppets that look like US presidents, and many other pieces of ventriloquist memorabilia.
The British Lawnmower Museum
Location: Southport, United Kingdom
Specialty: One of the world’s leading authorities on vintage lawnmowers, with an extensive collection of Victorian and Edwardian models.
If you’re interested in antique garden machinery, look no further than the British Lawnmower Museum. On display are some of the most expensive lawnmowers in the world, and exhibits including Lawnmower Racing (yes, that is a sport), and Lawnmowers of the Rich and Famous, with a few models previously belonging to the likes of Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and Queen lead guitarist Brian May.
The Museum of Death
Location: Los Angeles, California and New Orleans, Louisiana
While possessing both a creepy interior and exterior, the museum’s motivation claims to be “to make people happy to be alive.” It has the world’s largest collection of artwork by serial killers, in addition to serial killer memorabilia, coroner tools, taxidermied pets, and other objects relating to death and dying. The museum is intended for mature audiences, with children strongly recommended not to attend and warnings on the museum website that people have fainted on-site.
The Bunny Museum
Location: Altadena, California
Specialty: All things bunny, with 43,000 rabbit-related items and counting.
Claiming to be the “hoppiest place in the world,” the Bunny Museum holds the world record for owning the most rabbit-related items. Exhibits included nine original Rose Parade float bunnies and countless displays of bunny-based art, toys, and antiques. Children are welcome, but the museum website notes that they aren’t the target audience. The Chamber of Hop Horrors exhibit is for ages 13 and up, with displays on the abuse of bunnies throughout history and bunnies in horror films.
Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum
Location: The Colony, Texas
Specialty: Over 1,400 art pieces made from toilet seats.
Tucked away in a Dallas suburb is the life’s work of one Barney Smith. For decades, the late artist and master plumber had been decorating old toilet seats in everything from PEZ dispensers and marbles to Star Wars action figures. The museum is currently located in the Truck Yard, a beer garden and food truck park.
The International Banana Museum
Location: Mecca, California
Specialty: Over 25,000 banana-themed items, from lamps and figurines to wall art.
Full of banana memorabilia, the banana museum holds a Guinness World Record for the largest museum devoted to a single fruit. The banana bar offers plenty of tasty banana treats, and the museum is full of fruity and monkey puns that might make you go – you guessed it – bananas!
The Neon Museum
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Specialty: A collection of restored neon signs from Vegas.
Not to be confused with Chicago’s Neon and Light Museum, The Neon Museum in Las Vegas houses neon signs from the 1930s to the present. Iconic signs from old casinos and other businesses are displayed in the museum’s Neon Boneyard, stretching over two acres and with tours available day and night.
The International Cryptozoology Museum
Location: Portland, Maine
Specialty: Exploring the mystery surrounding Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and other legendary creatures.
A museum dedicated to cryptids (mythical creatures that might or might not exist) is a bit questionable, yet wildly entertaining if you abandon some skepticism. Among its replicas of jackalopes and random bits of evidence hoping to prove the existence of creatures such as Mothman and mermaids, the museum claims to display hair samples of the Abominable Snowman.
The Jell-O Gallery Museum
Location: LeRoy, New York
Specialty: The history of Jell-O.
Jell-O was invented in LeRoy, New York, in 1897, and since then, the town has dedicated a whole museum to the wiggly, jiggly dessert. Among the museum’s attractions are a wall of antique Jell-O molds and various displays of Jell-O-themed toys, spoons, and other collectibles.
The Chaffee Barbershop Museum
Location: Fort Smith, Arizona
Specialty: A historic barbershop-turned-museum where Elvis had his hair cut.
In 1958, Elvis put his music career on hold to serve in the U.S. Army. Per military regulations, the singer’s famous pompadour haircut had to go, and was famously buzzed off at the barbershop on base at Fort Smith. The event is considered one of the most famous haircuts in history, and the barbershop has been fully restored to its former 1950s glory so visitors can learn more about The King and the fateful clipping.
The Devil’s Rope Museum
Location: McLean, Texas
Specialty: Displays one of the largest collections of barbed wire in the world.
The museum details the history of devil’s rope (aka barbed wire), from its initial invention to its use on farms and troubling uses during wartime. Exhibits also include 450 different barbed wire patents, displays of varying wire designs and patterns, and various sculptures made from the material.
Location: Gladbrook, Iowa
Specialty: Incredibly detailed architectural models made out of matches.
What do you get when you glue 8.5 million matches together to make 75 replicas of structures such as the Capitol Building, the International Space Station, the Notre Dame Cathedral? If you’re artist Pat Acton, you get pure artwork. Acton started making his painstakingly detailed models in 1977, and today, many of his creations reside in his hometown of Gladbrook.
The Moist Towelette Museum
Location: (East) Lansing, Michigan
Specialty: One man’s collection of over 1,000 unopened moist towelettes from all across the globe.
Small but mighty, this museum dedicated to wet wipes is a unique collection for anyone interested in sanitation. While every towelette is unique in its own way, a few notables in the group include towelettes from the Hard Rock Cafe in Beijing and ones with Star Trek packaging advertising the show’s original run in the 1960s.
The National Museum of Funeral History
Location: Houston, Texas
Specialty: America’s largest collection of funeral service items.
Educating the public on the history of death care, the National Museum of Funeral History features everything from the histories of cremation and embalming, to 19th-century mourning clothes (no one mourned the dead quite like the Victorians), to historical hearses, coffins, and caskets.
The National Museum of Roller Skating
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Specialty: The largest collection of roller skating items in the world.
From figure skating to hockey and roller derbies, the National Museum of Roller Skating houses a wide variety of skates, with some dating back over 200 years, in addition to costumes, video footage, and exhibits such as the evolution of roller skate wheels.
The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with a sister museum in El Castell de Guadalest, Spain
Specialty: A collection of over 20,000 pairs of salt and pepper shakers.
Thousands of pairs of salt and pepper shakers from the 1500s to the present day are organized by style. Common groupings of shaker sets include those that look like food or animals, and those that are nautically or wedding-themed. The museum also houses over 1,500 pepper mills.
The International UFO Museum & Research Center
Location: Roswell, New Mexico
As the self-proclaimed UFO Capital of the World, it’s little surprise that the city of Roswell has a museum dedicated to extraterrestrials. Focusing primarily on the 1947 Area 51 crash that made Roswell famous for supposed alien encounters, the museum has additional otherworldly exhibits, including an alien autopsy and a gift shop full of green Martian gear.
The Apron Museum
Location: Iuka, Mississippi
Specialty: A home for generations of aprons and their stories.
As a collection of thousands of aprons ranging from the American Civil War, to the 1950s era of hostess aprons, to the present day, the apron museum also reflects on how aprons are made, what fabrics are used, and aprons’ various owners, from cooks and blacksmiths to shopkeepers and carpenters.
The Mütter Museum
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Specialty: Medical history and anatomy.
Within The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, this museum has a collection of anatomical specimens (such as real human skulls) in addition to antique medical instruments, wax models, and other medical objects and oddities. It’s slightly creepy but also very educational if you’re interested in the human body and diseases.
The New England Maple Museum
Location: Pittsford, Vermont
Specialty: The history of maple sugaring, or the art of making maple syrup.
In addition to the world’s largest jug of maple syrup, the museum features the history of the maple syrup industry told through handpainted murals. On display are various syrup bottles as well as antique sugaring equipment. Hopefully it goes without saying, but yes, there is a gift shop, and it’s stocked with plenty of syrup and other sugary treats.
The RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum
Location: Elkhart, Indiana
Specialty: A collection of historical recreational vehicles and motor homes.
Housed in a 100,000 square feet facility, the museum showcases the history of the RV and motor home industry, with vintage models from companies such as Airstream and Winnebago on display.
The National Mustard Museum
Location: Middleton, Wisconsin
Specialty: Over 5,500 mustards on display, with hundreds available for tasting.
If you love this condiment, this museum was made for you and your tastebuds. The thousands of mustard jars on display come from all 50 states and over 70 countries, with various brown and yellow mustard-related objects also decorating the space. Over 800 items are available in the gift shop, and guests can sample mustard flavors ranging from blue cheese to tequila to wasabi at the museum’s tasting bar.