Curious Collections

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

America's weird museums

by Laura Hayes

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America is a nation that has always been in love with the eccentric, the lurid, the paranormal, and the just plain weird. It should come as no surprise then, that our country is rich in museums playing to our desire for the strange and titillating.

For your reading and vacationing pleasure, here are but a few of the great panoply of America's weird museums . . .

Arts and Entertainment

The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA)
Dedham, Mass.

"Art too bad to be ignored"

Tired of trying to figure out the difference between "good" and "bad" art? Ever had to stifle a giggle in a gallery? Thankfully, there is a museum where you can trust your judgment and laugh out loud–the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA). What began in a Boston basement as a small collection of a few bad found paintings now fills a gallery and has garnered a national reputation.

MOBA describes its collection as ranging from "the work of talented artists that have gone awry, to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush." Works in this tradition include pointillist masterpiece "Sunday on the Pot with George" and the surrealist "In the Cat's Mouth."

The museum features a rotating selection of the permanent collection. In addition it presents special exhibits and events such as "Fine Wine/Bad Art."

Circus World Museum
Baraboo, Wis.

Wisconsin was once known as the "Mother of Circuses," home or winter quarters to more than 100 traveling circuses. The most famous of these was the Ringling Bros. Circus, founded in Baraboo in 1884. The Circus World Museum preserves this heritage through an impressive collection of circus memorabilia: thousands of posters, photos, films, props (such as clown hammers), and more than 200 brightly painted circus wagons.

Visit between early May and mid-September, when the museum presents live circus acts, parades, circus music concerts, clown shows, animal rides, and presentations on wagon history.

Liberace Museum
Las Vegas, Nev.

The Liberace Museum boasts more sparklies per square inch than a troupe of Vegas showgirls. The museum comprises two buildings. The first displays a jaw-dropping collection of cars and pianos, including a Phantom V Landau Rolls Royce covered with mirror tiles and etched with galloping horses. The second gallery includes costumes and jewelry and the Liberace family gallery. Highlights include the gold lamé jacket that began the extravagant costumes Liberace would later refer to as "an expensive joke."

And did I mention the sparklies? The collections include the world's largest rhinestone, a rhinestone-covered Baldwin grand piano, a 1934 Mercedes Excalibur covered in Austrian rhinestones, and a black diamond mink coat lined in more than 40,000 2 1/2 karat Austrian rhinestones (hand-sewn, of course). If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that good taste can't be bought.

Exotic World
Helendale, Calif.

Almost as sparkly as the Liberace Museum, but somehow more wholesome, is Exotic World of Helendale, Calif. Exotic World is dedicated to the preservation of the golden age of burlesque when exotic dancing included extravagant costumes and playful choreography. It contains a wealth of striptease and exotic dance memorabilia, including posters, photos, and costumes (yes, this includes G-strings) of famous performers such as Blaze Starr and Chesty "Double Agent 73" Morgan. It even has urns containing the ashes of famous late burlesque stars. Exotic World's greatest asset is, however, museum proprietor Dixie Evans, the former "Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque." Not only will she guide you through the collection, she'll show you some moves, let you in on trade secrets, and tell you anecdotes about the performers honored in the collection. Visit during April to catch the annual Miss Exotic World pageant.

The Julia C. Bulette Red Light Museum
Virginia City, Nev.

If you've been on enough family trips to mock Old West towns, you've come to realize that there also has been something missing, something as intrinsic to the Wild-West mythos as high-noon showdowns and steel-eyed lawmen–the brothel. The Julia C. Bulette Red Light Museum fills this void with photographs, dioramas, and other exhibits detailing the life of Ms. Bulette and her Virginia City brothel. The museum also has some interesting, shall we say, artifacts, including a lipstick tube condom case and an antique vibrator. There are also 19th-century medical implements and poison arrows on display. An interesting museum, but maybe you should leave the kids at the "Bucket of Blood Saloon" down the street . . . [Note: Old-West enthusiasts should visit in July for the National Fast Draw Championship.]

More Museums

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