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Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California
Photograph: Courtesy Computer History MuseumComputer History Museum, Mountain View, California

The weirdest museums in the US

Indulge your weirdness with the quirkiest collections we could find, showcasing the obscure and eclectic

Written by
Lauren Mack
Contributors
Ed Cunningham
&
Sophie Dickinson
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While history, science and art museums are popular attractions coast to coast, museums of the obscure draw out the quirky among us, who are willing to travel far and wide for unique collections. Thanfully, there are dozens of wacky, wonderful and weird museums in the US. Some are dedicated to single subjects with a cult-like following– like the SPAM Museum or the Roswell UFO Museum & Research Center – others recreate nostalgic places from the past (the Waffle House Museum in Decatur, Georgia is a complete replica of the original restaurant). Others are just random and fun: the International Banana Museum in Mecca, California features a collection of 25,000 banana artifacts. From food to flying saucers to funerals, these are 10 weirdest museums in the US. 

RECOMMENDED: The best weird and alternative museums around the world

Weirdest museums in the US

It is fitting 'the potato capital of the world' would have a spud-tacular museum. The Idaho Potato Museum pays homage to all things po-ta-to. Located in the former Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot, the 5,500-square-foot museum features exhibits on the root veggie's history, the growing and harvesting process, the industry, and nutrition. Artifacts include one of the largest collections of potato mashers in the world and the largest potato crisp ever made. Visitors can do experiments in the Potato Lab and enjoy a freshly baked potato in the museum's cafe.

Get a taste of nostalgia with an illuminating tour of the Neon Museum, home to 250 historic Las Vegas signs. Founded in 1996, the 2.25-acre museum's visitors' center is housed inside the former La Concha Motel lobby and includes a light projection exhibit and retro neon signs that once adorned the Las Vegas Strip. Guides lead visitors on a walk back in time along Neon Bonevard to see the iconic signs. The museum has also restored nine vintage signs, including the Silver Slipper and Benny Binion’s Horseshoe, which have been installed throughout Vegas. 

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Go undercover at the International Spy Museum, the only public museum in the country dedicated to espionage. The two-story museum features 17 permanent interactive exhibits plus pop-up exhibits exploring the history and craft of life as a spy. Visitors arrive at a briefing center and are issued a cover identity and challenged to stay undercover and gather intel. Along the way, visitors crack codes and can crawl through an air duct to spy on others before participating in a debrief that evaluates their espionage abilities.

Home to the country's largest collection of historical funeral service items like caskets, coffins, and hearses, the National Museum of Funeral History has 17 permanent exhibits that include the history of embalming, the history of cremation, and the history of mourning photography. The 30,500-square-foot museum showcases exhibits that explore funeral culture from around the world and from ancient Egypt to today. The 9/11 & Fallen Heroes exhibit has two urns containing ashes and debris remnants from Ground Zero, and the Presidential Funerals exhibit includes the hearse used during the funerals of President Ronald Reagan and President Gerald R. Ford.

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The National Mustard Museum exhibits the world's largest miscellany of mustards and mustard memorabilia. Founded in 1992 by Barry Levenson, the National Mustard Museum boasts a collection of 6,090 mustards from 70 countries. Visitors can learn about mustard history and view artifacts like antique tins, mustard pots, and vintage advertisements. The museum hosts the annual world-wide Mustard Competition and National Mustard Day street festival. Admission to the condiment museum is free.

Located in a converted movie theater, the Roswell UFO Museum & Research Center is dedicated to all things UFOs, particularly the 1947 Roswell UFO incident (the crash of a flying saucer that the U.S. military claims was just a weather balloon). The pet-friendly museum includes written, audio, and visual materials and art related to the history of UFO events. Exhibits include a spinning UFO with aliens and an outdoor 'Roswell Believes' mural.

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A fan of Hormel Foods Corporation's pink block of canned meat? A visit to the SPAM Museum provides entertaining exhibits, including a timeline and memorabilia, about the iconic luncheon meat made of pork, salt, water, sugar, sodium nitrate, and modified potato starch that is famously packed in a rectangular navy-blue can. Visitors can take a free guided or self-guided tour through the museum and stop to see how tall they are in SPAM cans.

The mission of the Computer History Museum is to 'decode technology—the computing past, digital present, and future impact on humanity.' Exhibits tell the story of software and delve into the history of the internet, networking, and mobile technologies. The Silicon Valley museum's collection includes oral histories and computing artifacts like source code, machines, lab notebooks, and business plans. The museum's Exponential Center explores the growth of iconic companies and the legacy and future of entrepreneurship and innovation.

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Located in the downtown Miami art district of Wynwood, famous for its Wynwood Walls and Wynwood Doors, the Museum of Graffiti is the first museum dedicated to graffiti art. The indoor and outdoor exhibits include the work of graffiti artists from around the world. The collection includes 11 outdoor murals, a fine art gallery, and artist and thematic exhibits. The museum also offers graffiti classes, kids graffiti drawing classes, and a gift shop.

Ever looked at something arty-farty in a gallery (no doubt with accompanying spiel printed on the wall) and thought: What’s so special about that? I could do that. In fact, I could do better. Well, the American Visionary Art Museum is for you. Grounded in the idea that not all great artists go to art school, this is a museum dedicated to self-taught artistry, and the result is some of the most inspirational art you’ll ever see.

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No one really knows why the Museum of Jurassic Technology has ‘Jurassic’ in the name, because no one really knows much about it at all. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. Throughout its narrow, dimly lit halls, you’ll find cabinets of curiosities, containing everything from mini models of Napoleon and Daffy Duck to oil portraits of the Soviet space program dogs. It’s rather baffling and chaotic – but all the more wonderful for it.

Cryptozoology does not have anything to do with blockchain – though we’re sure someone out there is working on a cryptocurrency museum. It actually concerns the study of ‘hidden or unknown animals’ (read: made-up beasts), and the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland is the only gallery in the world dedicated to it. Giving you the chance to learn all you need to know about bigfoot, mermaids and Santa Claus, it’s a marvellous (and ever-so-slightly ridiculous) collection.

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NOTE The gallaery is currently closed and according to the website, it's not known when or where it will reopen. However, the art is online at the museum's Facebook page

What initially started as a small museum in the basement of a private home in Boston in 1993 has grown into a larger museum in the basement of the Somerville Theater, a retro movie theater in Davis Square. The collection inside the Museum of Bad Art includes over 700 art pieces from artists, amateurs, and anonymous creators includes donated pieces, artwork purchased in thrift stores, and art gifted to the museum by the artists themselves. The museum is free and displays about 25 works at a time.

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