As the school year winds down, and vacation time begins for students across the country, a great way to spend the newly gained free time is to go to a museum. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, there are more than 35,000 museums in America.
There are the more famous, popularized ones, like the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonians, to more odd — but still enjoyable — ones. Here are some of the many unique museums to go visit during your summer break.
1. The SPAM Museum – Austin, Minnesota
SPAM: Sizzle Pork and MMM. That’s right, the popular canned meat is also the subject of its own museum, founded in 1991 by the Hormel Food Corporation.
The museum features several different exhibits, including many interactive games, videos and activities for visitors. One exhibit is the World Market exhibit, which features SPAM recipes and advertisement campaigns from around the world.
The museum also features a World War II-themed exhibit where visitors can learn all about Spam’s rise to fame as a staple food for troops during the war. Visitors can also “work” on a Spam assembly line in the Spam Brand 101 exhibit.
The gift shop also features hundreds of Spam-themed goodies to pick up. Be sure to get a free “Spample” of the canned meat from one of the museum’s “Spambassadors.”
2. Leila’s Hair Museum – Independence, Missouri
Founded by a former hairdresser named Leila Cohoon, the Hair Museum was founded to feature art and jewelry made out of human hair. The first piece was purchased for the collection in 1956 and has grown to around 2,600 hundred pieces.
The museum itself opened in the 1980’s to showcase all the pieces Cohoon has collected. Eventually, the hair art collection grew so large that it had to be relocated in 2005. Currently, it is the only museum dedicated to hair art.
Among the pieces includes a brooch with a strand of hair enclosed in a crystal case that was made in 1680. It was a family heirloom and was sold to the museum by the last of the family line so that the brooch could be “admired” by everyone.
Hair art was actually very popular during the Victorian era, and Leila’s Hair Museum gives modern-day Americans the chance to learn all about this unique art style.
3. National Mustard Museum – Middleton, Wisconsin
Mustard: a popular condiment for hot dogs and hamburgers, and also the subject of its own museum.
In October 1986, founder and curator of the National Mustard Museum Barry Levenson purchased the first jar of mustard for the museum.
Since then, the National Mustard Museum has grown to almost 6,000 different mustards from each of the 50 states and 70 countries. The museum also features a collection of antique mustard pots and vintage advertisements for the popular condiment.
Be sure to visit the tasting bar which features 800 different mustards to sample and purchase, including chocolate, blue cheese, and wasabi flavored mustards.
4. Mütter Museum – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Created to showcase the history of medicine, the Mütter Museum features several exhibitions as well as medical instruments, models and anatomical specimens in the expansive museum.
Exhibits include the Jackson Collection, featuring more than 2,000 foreign bodies collected by Dr. Chevalier Jackson from inside his patients; an exhibit dedicated to spinal surgery, where visitors can learn about the history of spinal injury treatments and how innovations in spinal surgery and helping patients; and a collection of human skulls from anatomist Joseph Hyrtl.
Hyrtl’s research studied skulls from the Caucasus region, in order to prove that there were as many differences in European skulls as in other racial groups. He sought to counter the claims of those who tied intelligence to the racial differences in skull size.
Visitors can also check out the museum’s collection of medical tools, ranging from tiny suture needles to an Iron Lung machine to the first obstetrics forceps that were invented in the 17th century.
For anyone interested in medicine, this is certainly a museum to check out.
5. International Cryptozoology Museum – Portland, Maine
Cryptozoologists study “evidence” pertaining to unproved creatures, like the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot. The International Cryptozoology Museum opened in 2009 to display models of, and evidence pertaining to, the existence of these legendary creatures.
Located in the museum are purported hair samples from Abominable Snowmen and Bigfoot, as well as a fecal sample taken from a Yeti. The museum also features life-sized models of the Crookston Bigfoot, P.T. Barnum’s FeeJee Mermaid and the only full-sized model of a coelacanth specimen, a rare type of fish. Overall, there are more than 10,000 pieces of evidence to support theories of the existence of cryptids.
For anyone who was obsessed with finding Bigfoot as a kid, this is the museum for you.
6. International Banana Museum – Mecca, California
Perhaps my favorite on the list, the International Banana Museum features 20,000 items all themed around the bright yellow fruit. Such items are made from a variety of things ranging from stone to paper mache and even jade. There are banana body creams, lip balms, pins, art, jewelry and even a banana-shaped record player.
The best part of the International Banana Museum might be the banana-themed food and beverages you can purchase. Among the food, you can get are such treats like chocolate-covered bananas, banana splits, banana flavored ice cream and four different flavors of banana soda.
Although the banana itself might not be unique, an entire museum dedicated to the fruit definitely is.