Humans, like cats, are naturally curious creatures. Fortunately, the world is full of museums to explore, presenting a vast assortment of interests and themes. Here’s a list of some of the quirkier destinations to stimulate the senses.
10. Big Mac Museum
Anyone growing up in the 1970s will undoubtedly remember McDonald’s ubiquitous jingle, “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame-seed bun” — only to suffer from an annoying earworm for decades to come. But for those who still can’t get enough of the iconic burger, there’s the Big Mac Museum in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
As legend has it, Jim Delligatti, a franchisee who opened Western Pennsylvania’s first McDonald’s restaurant, wanted to create a new menu item to satisfy the appetites of hungry steelworkers in the area. He then introduced the double-decker in 1967 with a hefty price tag of just 45 cents — twice the cost of a cheeseburger at the time. Delligatti’s idea would become a smash hit and went nationwide at all McDonald’s locations.
Original names for the offering included “Aristocrat” and “Blue Ribbon Burger” until Esther Glickstein Rose, a 21-year-old advertising secretary at the company’s corporate office in Chicago, struck gold with the “Big Mac.” Today, visitors making their pilgrimage to the fast-food shrine can learn all about the brand’s history while enjoying hordes of memorabilia, including the world’s largest (plastic) Big Mac.
9. Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments
Ironboot. Scourge. Frocks of Penance. No, these aren’t heavy metal bands taking the stage this Summer at an outdoor music festival, but rather the names of devices found at the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments in Prague.
Housed inside a small building next to the Charles Bridge, the exhibition includes more than 80 methods used by the courts of Europe to inflict horrific pain and suffering. Several graphic illustrations and descriptive captions augment the presentation, providing guests with a disturbing glimpse of life during the Middle Ages while leisurely killing time in the former Bohemian capital.
8. Trundle Manor
The city of Pittsburgh boasts of an impressive array of first-rate attractions, such as the Carnegie Museum of Art, Science Center, and Warhol Museum. Still, without question, the award for Western Pennsylvania’s oddest destination goes to Trundle Manor. Located in the Swissvale borough of Allegheny County, Trundle Manor is the home of Mr. Arm and Velda von Minx. The goth-meets-steampunk style residence is touted as, “The most unusual tourist trap in the world meets the most bizarre private collection on public display.”
The house features a death ray mounted on the ceiling of their kitchen, numerous taxidermy hybrid animals, miniature carvings of famous figures (including a person mooning the queen of England), and a singing tumor in a jar. Guests are required to make a donation in exchange for the tour, which can be in the form of cash, booze, or a new oddity to add to the existing pile.
7. Barbed Wire Museum
Set deep in the heartland of America, Kansas is best known for its agriculture, destructive tornadoes, and the fictional home of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. The flat, land-locked state is also home to the Barbed Wire Museum, showcasing more than 2,000 types of fencing material types.
Barbed wire was first patented in 1874 and helped define the nation’s frontier borders in the untamed, wild west. Additionally, its ultimate tensile strength would play a crucial role during World War I as an effective deterrent against enemy tanks. And every year (except 2021 due to COVID-19), collectors from across the country gather in La Crosse, Kansas to buy, sell, and swap memorabilia at the Barbed Wire Festival.
6. Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
There’s a scene from the seminal comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where an unruly mob falsely accuses a woman of being a witch. Although the farce plays out with typical Python-esque dark humor, medieval superstitions were no laughing matter — a grim reality on full display at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.
Located in the quaint seaport village of Boscastle in Cornwall, England, the museum opened in 1960 and now features the world’s biggest collection of objects related to witchcraft and the occult. The museum also contains exhibits devoted to the witch trials from the early modern period, when an estimated 50,000 people were burned at the stake, most of whom were women.
5. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Inside the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, a large empty frame hangs prominently on a second-floor room wall. The void serves as a glaring reminder of the biggest unsolved art heist in modern history — a theft in which 13 masterpieces worth $500 million, including Rembrandt’s only seascape, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
The museum houses the rare possessions of Isabella Stewart Gardner, a wealthy philanthropist, and patron of the arts. Her vision of celebrating art in all forms is scattered throughout the five-story historic building, featuring a wide range of works ranging from Roman antiquities to Renaissance artists such as Titian, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Botticelli.
But despite the priceless treasures on display, the museum is equally renowned for what’s not there. In the wee hours of the morning on March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as police officers managed to pull off the stunning caper after tying up a pair of dimwitted security guards. Countless theories abound regarding the whereabouts of the artifacts — and Netflix recently released a four-part documentary about the theft, This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist.
4. Museum of Death
Museums often serve to inspire, stimulate and celebrate the joys of life through artistic expression. However, the Museum of Death takes a different approach and instead showcases the Big Adios — and lots of it.
With locations in both Los Angeles and New Orleans, visitors can view memorabilia and artifacts related to dying, such as antique funeral objects, photos from crime scenes, coroner’s instruments, and an extensive collection of art by serial killers. Notable exhibits include a recreation of the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide replete with the original beds as well as rooms paying homage to Charles Manson and the gruesome Black Dahlia murder.
3. The Mütter Museum
Thomas Mutter, a renowned Philadelphia physician, specialized in the surgical repair of human deformities and pioneered procedures to treat burn victims. His vast stockpile of specimens and medical equipment would later form the basis of the Mutter Museum.
First opened in 1863, the museum now consists of over 20,000 artifacts, well-preserved inside The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the oldest private medical society in the United States. Among the medical oddities, highlights include a vertebra of John Wilkes Booth, slides of cells from Albert Einstein’s brain, the livers and plaster cast of Chang and Eng (the original “Siamese Twins”), and the infamous “Soap Lady.”
2. Phallological Museum
Iceland is known as the “Land of Fire and Ice,” where active volcanoes and glaciers co-exist to form a bizarre landscape like no other. Fittingly, the Nordic (you’ll appreciate the pun later) country hosts the world’s only museum, which contains phallic specimens belonging to all the mammals indigenous to a single nation.
Visitors to the Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavík will discover more than 300 penises and penile parts of creatures such as polar bears, seals, reindeers, and even a 3-foot willy from a blue whale. So whether you refer to the male anatomy as a John Thomas, one-eyed trouser snake, tallywhacker, giggle stick, winkle, or hooded bandit — a hodgepodge of various shapes and sizes can be found in this truly unique Mecca for members.
1. Museum of Broken Relationships
In their classic hit song, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” the Bee Gees explore the pain and sorrow associated with love gone awry. But for those looking for a cathartic alternative to sad songs, look no further than the Museum of Broken Relationships.
According to its website, the collection “is a physical and virtual public space created with the sole purpose of treasuring and sharing your heartbreak stories and symbolic possessions. It is a museum about you, about us, about the ways we love and lose.” Two Croatian artists came up with the concept, who, after breaking up, joked that they should create a museum to honor their relationship.
The global crowd-sourced project now has two permanent outposts in Zagreb and Los Angeles. One of the more notable items donated is an ax (“therapy instrument”) once used to smash the furniture of a cheating partner.