Curious Collections

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

America's weird museums

by Laura Hayes

Curious Collections

The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices
Minneapolis, Minn.

This "Quackery Hall of Fame" may very well be the world's largest collection of the strange gadgets people have invented to cure themselves when science and common sense have failed. While many of the more than 250 devices are the product of turn-of-the-century quackery, you'll probably recognize some from late-night television ads.

The devices range from the harmless, if foolish, to the outright dangerous: the spectro-chrome, which claimed to cure any ailment by the application of colored light; magnetic pain patches; the Battle Creek Vibratory Chair (what better treatment for a "nervous disorder" than to be strapped into a wildy shaking chair?); and my personal favorite, the Revigator—a crock lined with radioactive ore for making "energetic" water.

Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia
Burlingame, Calif.

The Pez candy was created by Austrian Eduard Haas in 1927, as a mint for adults trying to quit smoking (Pez is the abbreviation of peppermint in German: PfeffErminZ). Character heads were added to Pez dispensers in 1952. Currently there are hundreds of different models (there is some disagreement on the total).

Pez-lover Gary Doss has most of them, ordered in neat rows in his Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia. Rarities in his collection include a 1952 Mickey Mouse (possibly the first character head), Mary Poppins, a 1963 astronaut, and one of only ten make-a-face Pez dispensers (these Mr. Potato Head-like dispensers were recalled and crushed because the small parts posed a choking hazard). Doss keeps another Pez rarity off the shelf—a counterfeit Hitler dispenser, one of 50 or so hand-painted and sold by mail until Pez lawyers cracked down.

Barbed Wire
Devil's Rope Museum, McLean, Tex.
Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, Lacrosse, Kans.

Barbed wire tamed the West—this is the premise of the Devil's Rope Musuem of McLean, Tex. Its numerous exhibits detail every aspect of barbed wire: there are thousands of wire samples; tools and devices used in fence construction; a barbed-wire making demonstration; and a "warwire" exhibit of vicious military entanglement wire.

In keeping with the theme of barbed wire conquering the West, the musuem also has extensive exhibits on ranching history, the evolution of the cowboy, and branding. If that weren't enough there is also a collection of art crafted from antique barbed wire.

The Kansas Barbed Wire Musuem boasts 2,100 samples of more than 700 varieties of barbed wire and one of the largest collections of fencing tools in the world. Like the Devil's Rope Museum it also has a warwire exhibit. The neatest object on display, however, is a huge ravens' nest constructed almost entirely of barbed wire.

Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum
Farmington Hills, Mich.

Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum is a wonderland packed with animatronic dummies, model airplanes, video games, pinball machines, and kiddie rides. The video games all work, and range from classics of the early 80s to current favorites.

The real reason to visit Marvin's, though, is a fabulous collection of coin-operated oddities. These each have a card noting their origins and they all work. For a mere quarter you can have the Polynesian-clad monkeys in the "Bimbo Box" play you a tune, get a fortune from the oldest gypsy fortune-telling machine (early 1900s), look through the only coin-op microscope (ca 1917), or set into motion "Harvest Time"—a farm scene hand-carved by "The Butcher of Alcatraz" (who earned his title by killing an Iowa farm family). But whatever you do, save a quarter for the medieval torture scene... because no one expects the coin-op Spanish Inquisition!

More Museums

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