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12 More of the U.S.A.'s Most Unusual & Interesting Museums

Visiting museums is one of the nation's favorite pastimes, with over half a billion people (at least 865 million, according to the American Association of Museums (AAM)) checking them out each year.

In our last article, we described 12 of the most interesting and unusual U.S. museums out there -- like the American Hop Museum, Seashore Trolley Museum, and Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center. But it was so hard to narrow it down -- there are an estimated 17,500 museums in the United States, after all -- that we decided to feature 12 more, and here they are.

A Shaker cupboard circa 1840 at the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

1. Hancock Shaker Village
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

This living history museum has 20 historic buildings set on 1,200 acres of farm, field, meadow and woodland, dedicated to educating the public about Shaker life. There are 22,2000 objects on display, including Shaker furniture, crafts and household items, along with the only Shaker Round Stone Barn.

Visitors can explore a working farm and restoration of an 1860 Shaker waterpower system, and kids can take a lesson with a Shaker "schoolteacher."

2. HealthSpace Cleveland
Cleveland, Ohio

The first museum of its kind dedicated to "improving community health, preventing disease and promoting wellness through education and creative partnerships." There are many hands-on, interactive exhibits, well-equipped labs and numerous learning theatres devoted to teaching health education in an entertaining way.

They also have a distance-learning program that has reached over 45,000 students in 25 states and three foreign countries.

3. Spam Museum
Austin, Minnesota

The 16,500 square-foot SPAM Museum opened in September 2001. There are a variety of interactive and educational games, fun exhibits, and video presentations devoted to the SPAM family of products.

4. Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary
McKinney, Texas

The center includes a 25,000 square foot science museum, a 289-acre wildlife sanctuary, with tall grass prairie, bottomland hardwood, and limestone escarpment, a native plant garden and nature trails for hiking.

The museum has exhibits on Texas' venomous snakes, rocks, minerals and fossils, seashells and marine life, North Texas ecosystems and more. There is also a "Living Lab" where children can explore actual specimens.

Exhibits being renovated include a walk-through wetland diorama, a cave with geology displays and a children's fossil dig, and a marine room.

5. Gilcrease Museum
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Gilcrease Museum is home to the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of American art. There is also a one-of-a-kind collection of Native American art and artifacts and a hands-on exhibit dedicated to the art, culture and history of Mexico. Among the over 360,000 items at the museum is an impressive collection of historical manuscripts, and there is an emphasis on the discovery, expansion and settlement of North America, along with the Western frontier and American Indians.

Gilcrease also has unique, historically themed gardens that span 23 acres. The grounds reflect gardening styles and techniques from five American West time periods including Pre-Columbian, Pioneer, Colonial, Victorian and Rock.

San Francisco, California

Zeum is a non-profit multimedia arts and technology museum where families can explore animation, digital technology, electronic media, and traditional and non-traditional materials. Use of creativity, innovation and the imagination is encouraged as kids of all ages create their own high-quality stories, movies, performances, music, art and more.

A 3/4" scale model of a five-ring circus at the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Visitors can create a clay animation piece, create and star in their own music video, experiment with digital art and more.

7. Barnum Museum
Bridgeport, Connecticut

The museum is committed to the preservation and interpretation of Bridgeport's industrial and social history, and also depicts the extraordinary life of P.T. Barnum, creator of "The Greatest Show on Earth."

Among their vast collection is a 1,000 square foot, 3/4"scale model of a five-ring circus -- considered to be one of the most spectacular carved circus models in the country -- an Egyptian mummy named Pa-Ib that is over 2,500 years old, and Baby Bridgeport, a 6'8" 700-pound mounted elephant -- the second to be born in captivity.

8. Buffalo Bill Historical Center

The Buffalo Bill Historical Center -- five museums in all -- calls itself the "voice of the American West" and is regarded as America's finest western museum. It focuses on these five areas:

  • The Buffalo Bill Museum: Examines the personal and public lives of W.F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

  • The Whitney Gallery of Western Art: Presents an outstanding collection of masterworks of the American West including paintings, sculptures and prints.

  • The Plains Indian Museum: Features one of the country's largest and finest collections of Plains Indian art and artifacts. Includes artifacts from the Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Blackfeet, Sioux, Gros Ventre, Shoshone and Pawnee.

  • The Cody Firearms Museum: Contains the world's most comprehensive assemblage of American arms, as well as European arms dating to the 16th century.

  • The Draper Museum of Natural History: Integrates the humanities with natural sciences to interpret the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and adjacent intermountain basins.

9. Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum
Rantoul, Illinois

Prince Aly Khan's Rolls Royce at the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver, Colorado.

Chanute Aerospace Museum, located in the former Chanute Air Force Base, is the largest aerospace museum in Illinois, and is home to over 30 aircraft on display.

The Chanute Air Museum collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets aviation and aerospace artifacts. Special emphasis is directed to the life and accomplishments of Octave Chanute, Chanute Field/Chanute Air Force Base and its technical training programs, the history of Illinois aviation, and the community of Rantoul, Illinois.

10. Forney Museum of Transportation
Denver, Colorado

The Forney Transportation Museum is a one-of-a-kind collection of over 500 exhibits relating to historical transportation.

It began with antique cars, but has expanded to include vehicles of all kinds including buggies, bicycles, motorcycles and other rare and exotic vehicles.

11. The Lace Museum
Sunnyvale, California

The Lace Museum is a non-profit organization and one of only two museums devoted solely to lace in the western part of the United States. The museum showcases an extensive collection of lace and lace tools, lace examples, books and other materials covering the history of lace. The Lace Museum also provides on-going lace-making classes with experienced instructors.

12. The Pacific Tsunami Museum
Hilo, Hawaii

The Pacific Tsunami Museum features a series of in-house exhibits that interpret the tsunami phenomena, the Pacific Tsunami Warning system, the history of tsunamis in the Pacific Basin, tsunamis of the future, myths and legends about tsunamis, and public safety measures for tsunami disasters.

It also provides a living monument to those who have lost their lives in past tsunamis by combining scientific information with actual testimony from oral histories. The museum is intended to become the Worldwide Center for Tsunami Research to foster national and international tsunami research.

Recommended Reading

12 of the U.S.A.'s Most Unusual & Interesting Museums

The 5 Great National Parks Almost No One Knows About


American Association of Museums

Museums in the USA

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