Last Updated on May 3, 2022 by Jim Ferri
By Dave G. Houser
America loves its museums. In fact, there are more than 35,000 of them scattered across the country. While many temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many have reopened.
The nation’s museums range from opulent and influential to obscure and offbeat. It is the latter category that most intrigues us — those unusual museums, lesser-known institutions that curate the unexpected. Here are eight such museums.
American Windmill Museum, Lubbock, Texas
Windy West Texas is the perfect place for this unusual museum to display the world’s largest collection of historic windmills. There are more than 160 fully restored windmills spread over 28 acres at the American Windmill Museum. They serve to demonstrate the function, importance, and history of windmills for water collection across the American West.
You’ll find more than 100 windmills inside a giant 30,000-square-foot building. An additional 60 are displayed on the grounds outside. The museum’s largest wind machine is a 660KW Vestas wind turbine with a 154-foot diameter wheel and stands on a 165-foot-tall tower.
American Windmill Museum
1701 Canyon Lake Drive
Lubbock, TX 79403
American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, New York City
As you’d expect, man’s best friend is well represented at the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, home to one of the largest collections of canine-related art in the world. Relocated from St. Louis, Missouri in late 2018, the museum’s new Park Avenue home in Manhattan provides far greater exposure. The collection consists of paintings and bronze and ceramic sculptures, artifacts, dynamic exhibits and occasional real-life interactions with famous canines.
On display is artwork by renowned artists, including Edwin Landseer, Maud Earl and Arthur Wardle. Exhibits feature dogs in films, war dogs, dogs of presidents and dogs in exploration.
American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog
101 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10178
Tel: (212) 696-8360
Cannabition, Las Vegas, a Very Unusual Museum
Vegas’ newest, although not the city’s most unusual museum, is the first marijuana museum anywhere that we know about. Cannabition is a veritable wonderland of weed for visiting potheads. Currently undergoing a move from its original Fremont Street location to Planet 13, a popular marijuana dispensary situated just off the Strip, the museum is slated to reopen on Dec. 1, 2020.
With plenty of visuals aimed at encouraging selfies — such as the world’s largest bong, lifesize faux marijuana buds and a pool full of foam weed nuggets — it is an enthusiastic booster of recreational pot. There are some educational exhibits, including a model cannabis-growing facility, but the museum isn’t exactly the Smithsonian of marijuana. Although recreational pot is legal in Nevada, visitors can’t light up at Cannabition — but regulations are expected to be relaxed in the future.
Planet 13 Las Vegas
2548 W Desert Inn Road
Las Vegas, NV, 89109
Delta Flight Museum, Atlanta
Flyers with time to kill at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport should spend their layover at this excellent unusual museum housing a century’s worth of aviation history. The headline attraction at the Delta Flight Museum is the museum’s flight simulator — the only full-motion simulator in the U.S. that’s available to the public. Most novice pilots will crash land their 737 — but you’ll hear an occasional whoop of joy when someone brings the jet down safely.
Housed in two World War II-era hangars (only a short taxi or Uber ride from the airport), Delta’s museum offers a number of planes to explore, ranging from a Huff-Daland crop duster to the first 747-400 that Boeing ever built. Furthermore, a guided tour even takes visitors out onto one of the 747’s wings — an experience that always elicits lots of oohs and aahs. Memorabilia on display includes a collection of flight attendant uniforms, pre-flight checklists, books and photos capturing Delta’s 95 years of service.
Delta Flight Museum
1060 Delta Boulevard
Building B, Department 914
Atlanta, GA 30354-1989
Tel: (404) 715-7886
A Very Unusual Museum: the Museum of Death, New Orleans
All things considered — the Museum of Death is one macabre attraction. This unusual museum is a spin-off from a Los Angeles museum of the same name — and for those with a fascination with death, it checks all the boxes. At the NOLA site, which sits a block from Bourbon Street at 227 Dauphine Street, galleries are filled with antique embalming tools, artifacts and letters once belonging to serial killers, taxidermy instruments, an assortment of human bones and skulls and body bags.
Also on display is the euthanasia device invented by Dr. Jack Kevorkian (the famous “Dr. Death”) and a collection of Manson Family memorabilia. It’s creepy, but as curator Scott Healy says, “The museum isn’t about sensationalizing death. It’s meant to probe both our obsessions and discomforts with death.”
Museum of Death
227 Dauphine Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
The Unusual Underwater Museum of Art, South Walton, Florida
Undoubtedly, this is hardly your ordinary museum. The Underwater Museum of Art is a fascinating subaquatic exhibition that’s home to some incredible sculptures, presented in an ever-changing environment of marine wildlife. America’s first underwater museum is located off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park and it displays seven sculptures, including a giant skull by artist Vince Tatum and an octopus by Allison Wickey — the mastermind behind this unusual museum.
UMA is a project of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, who assures us that sculptures are fashioned from environmentally sustainable materials — no plastics, toxins or other pollutants allowed. The museum is located about a mile offshore at a depth of 58 feet, so visitors need to pick up the coordinates from the state park visitor center and dive to the site.
Underwater Museum of Art
105 Hogtown Bayou Lane
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549
Tel: (850) 622-5970
Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington, DC
It may be one of the least visited of the famous Smithsonian museums in the nation’s capital, but the Postal Museum is fascinating nonetheless — and for stamp collectors of all ages, it’s an absolute must.
Opened in 1993, it showcases the largest and most comprehensive collection of stamps and philatelic material in the world, including postal stationery, mailboxes, meters and delivery vehicles — including airplanes from the early days of airmail. Although it’s heavy on history, the museum’s virtual exhibitions offer a stirring look at America’s postal history from Colonial times to the present.
National Postal Museum
2 Massachusetts Ave., N.E.
Washington, DC 20002
Tel: (202) 633-5555
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Money Museum, Chicago
First and foremost, money is certainly one of the most vital elements in our lives. The Money Museum in Chicago helps explain how and why that is. Exhibits in this unusual museum range from rare and historical U.S. currency to the challenges of printing money and detecting counterfeit attempts. Among the artifacts are treasures like a well-preserved Pine Tree Shilling from Colonial times and bank notes from both sides of the Civil War.
There’s also a special exhibit about Alexander Hamilton, who helped create America’s financial system and who has enjoyed a posthumous return to prominence, thanks to the hit Broadway show named for him. While the museum is all about money, admission is free (valid government-issued ID required for adults age 18 and over).
The Money Museum
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
230 S. LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60604