The Cure for the Common Museum
by Elizabeth Pope
Offbeat museums devoted to the celebration of human eccentricity are the perfect antidote to travel fatigue, the droning of tour guides, and visits to high-minded temples of culture. When you are on the road and all else fails, here are a dozen places where you can learn everything you always wanted to know about things you never knew existed.
1. The Mütter Museum of Medical Oddities
Philadelphia , PA
Not for the squeamish. In the nineteenth century, a Philadelphia surgeon collected these strange specimens of disease and trauma to instruct medical students. Among the more than 20,000 objects are gangrenous hands, ulcers, tumors, a human horn, sliced brains, the connected livers of Siamese twins and the skeleton of a woman’s torso compressed by tight corsets. A highlight is the Soap Lady, a real human body decomposed into a perfectly preserved dark waxy substance. “Is that real?” is the most common question at the museum. If it’s floating in a jar, the answer is yes. (Note: visit before lunch.)
2. International Spy Museum
The world’s only museum dedicated to the tradecraft, history and role of espionage will appeal to the James Bond in all of us. The School for Spies exhibit includes more than 200 Cold War gadgets from a KGB lipstick pistol to an overcoat with a button-hold camera and a shoe with a heel transmitter (Attention Agent 99). Test your spy skills by memorizing a cover name, identity and secret mission details then try to get past a skeptical digital border guard. Other exhibits trace the secret history of history from biblical times through the Cold War, including espionage’s latest technological trends.
3. Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia
Just south of San Francisco, this museum was once a computer store until a long-time collector of Pez memorabilia abandoned the high-tech world to indulge his obsession with tiny plastic candy dispensers. In 1952 a German company ---Pez is German for peppermint -- began packaging the tiny mints in cartoon-head dispensers. Every character-head ever made -- more than 550-- is on display at the museum with many for sale on the website. Nostalgic baby boomers bring their kids to see yesterday’s Mickey Mouse Pez, and today’s SpongeBob SquarePants.
4. Liberace Museum
Las Vegas , NV
Wear sunglasses or risk blindness in this shrine to Mr. Showmanship. The flamboyant performer was notorious for rhinestone-encrusted pianos, a Rolls-Royce covered in mirrored tiles and diamond jacket buttons spelling out Liberace. Jaw-droppers include a 150-pound pink turkey feather cape and a King Neptune costume covered in sea shells and pearls. In the gift shop, pick up some CD’s of the “Beer Barrel Polka” or a candelabra for your own baby grand. Look for a giant pink neon piano perched atop a facade of sheet music and swirling piano keys. You can’t miss it.
(Editors: contact Elizabeth to see the rest of the story.)