The World's Strangest Museums
Bunnies, bunnies everywhere, and in all forms: stuffed, ceramic, painted—even a few real ones. Not only does the onslaught of bunny paraphernalia in Pasadena, California’s aptly named Bunny Museum overwhelm the senses, but the 23,000-item collection has grown so large as to require relocation to a larger space. In fact, so passionate are owners Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski about bunnies that their hare-filled shrine isn’t just a museum—it’s also their home.
While the Bunny Museum may very well be a one-of-a-kind museum, it most certainly isn’t the only place showcasing items that are, well, a bit out there. People’s fascination with the strange, the quirky, and the perverse has inspired an array of outlandish museums that dot the globe.
Of course, strange is a relative term. What seems odd to one person is perfectly normal to another. You may think it’s a bit odd for an entire three-level museum to be dedicated solely to the noodle dish that sustains college students, but to many of Japan’s residents, the Ramen Museum celebrates an important addition to their everyday cuisine. (To the rest of us, it’s a good reminder that traditionally, this dish is not prepared with a seasonings packet and hot pot.)
But many of the world’s quirky museums are projects driven by a singular vision and agenda, which is often to increase the appreciation of something very specific. At the Velveteria, a museum in the East Burnside district of Portland, Ore., that something is velvet paintings—and its owners have collected more than 1,000 of them. Meanwhile, the Museum of Bad Art, in Dedham, Mass., eagerly promotes art that no one would ever find in New York’s Metropolitan: many of their pieces were acquired by rummaging through the trash. In fact, when one artist learned his painting on was display there, he called the museum to boast that “he had far worse at his studio.”
Other museums showcase macabre exhibitions, like the Torture Museum in Amsterdam, which has an impressive collection of medieval panic-inducing devices, like the Skull Cracker.
Another appealing factor of these off-the-beaten-path spots is the admission fee, or lack thereof. Admission at Amsterdam’s Torture Museum is just $7, and that’s on the high side: getting into many of these won’t cost you a dime.
Whatever the topic, and whatever the appeal, these oddball establishments have been drawing in visitors of all ages and backgrounds for years. Times and tastes change and particular museums come and go, but as long as people maintain their affinities for the unusual, strange museums will always be around.
The Bunny Museum
The Museum: If Monty Python’s killer Rabbit of Caerbannog freaked you out, you may want to steer clear of this museum. What started as a simple Valentine’s Day gift—a plush bunny holding an “I Love You This Much” banner—in 1993 exploded into a collection of some 23,000 bunnies—stuffed, ceramic, plastic, and more. Husband-and-wife duo Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski have spent the last 15 years collecting bunny paraphernalia; they converted their Pasadena home into a museum of quirky collectibles, urging curious travelers to “hop on over” to peruse their unique collection.
The Exhibits: The most recognizable item of the collection may be the Elvis “Parsley,” a water pitcher shaped like a bunny dressed as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. But the strangest exhibit of this museum is definitely “The Garden of Broken Dreams,” a graveyard of broken bunny artifacts. Says a sign: “No broken bunny is thrown away, just planted to grow again!”
Shinyokohama Raumen Museum
The Museum: Ramen noodles have been a staple in the Japanese diet since 1958, when the instant version was introduced. Since then, its popularity has exploded—Japan now has some 200,000 ramen restaurants. Naturally, the best way to pay homage to this prolific noodle was to create a three-floor museum showcasing the dish’s seemingly countless variations.
The Exhibits: The two underground levels of the museum are a re-creation of Tokyo’s Shitamachi neighborhood, circa 1958—the year of the Ramen. But it’s not just for viewing—eight restaurants here offer the chance to sample different takes on the classic dish (opt for the smaller portion so you can sample several flavors). On your way out, stop by the souvenir shop to pick up a package of the museum’s original chocolate ramen—cocoa-flavored fried ramen with chocolate sauce.
Museum of Toilets
The Museum: Who knew that toilet artifacts date back to 2500 B.C.?This museum displays those primitive relics and details the evolution of toilets across the globe. But the museum’s not just for laughs: founder Dr. Bindeswar Pathak’s mission is to highlight the still-present health issues from improper sewage drainage—namely those in India, where he says two-thirds of the country is without proper plumbing.
The Exhibits: Ever wondered why it’s called a “throne?” Look for King Louis XIII’s multifunctional throne and you’ll find the answer. To be used during open court sessions, it’s clear the king was not a modest man (and a master of time management).
The Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum
The Museum: You may know him only as the star of Smokey and the Bandit, but residents of Jupiter, Florida, also know him as a generous contributor, establishing a number of theater-centric programs since purchasing a ranch here some 30 years ago. Volunteers run this not-for-profit museum, dedicated to preserving the legacy of “the Bandit.”
The Exhibits: Sure, there are keys to the 10 plus cities he’s received, notes from A-listers like Jack Lemmon and Elizabeth Taylor, and an impressive collection of sports memorabilia, but the pièce de résistance is the sleek black Firebird Trans Am the beer-smuggling Reynolds, a.k.a. Bo “Bandit” Darville, drove in the classic 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit.
Museum of Bad Art
The Museum: The museum known as MOBA will never be mistaken for its acronymically similarly New York cousin, MoMA, or the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Bad Art has procured a collection of nearly 400 pieces, many from the trash, with a mission “to bring the worst of art to the widest of audiences.” Its main gallery, so to speak, is in the basement of the Dedham Community Theatre, in Dedham, Mass., appropriately located outside the men’s restroom.
The Exhibits: One of the museum’s most popular pieces, The Athlete, is a drawing—made entirely with crayons and pencil—of an ancient Olympian in a pink toga and hurtling a discus. One of the more disturbing paintings is that of a young woman staring blankly ahead, holding the bloodless, severed head of a horse (the artist, apparently, had an “inability to deal with the hindquarters.”)
The Museum: During a 1998 reading at the Voodoo Museum in New Orleans, the concept of a museum dedicated to velvet paintings was discussed, and since then, Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin, now museum co-owners, began collecting, opening the Velveteria in 2005. The gallery can display up to 350 paintings, but the entire collection exceeds 1,000 items.
The Exhibits: One of the more notoriously unusual paintings in the collection is the Unicorn Combover which depicts the mane of a unicorn wrapped around the head of a young woman. And the black light room may call to mind college days; as it implies, black light illuminates the paintings.
The Museum: Paris developed its first sewage system around 1200 A.D., when King Philippe Auguste declared all streets be paved, with a drain running along the middle for waste. Today, some 1,300 well-organized miles of tunnels lie under the City of Light, and travelers can explore 1,500 feet of them on foot, via “sidewalks” running along the walls.
The Exhibits: Hold your breath and take the plunge—no, not literally!—to the city’s rather pungent underbelly (some say the stench isn’t as bad as you might imagine). While underground, be on the lookout for the wagon-vanne, a trolley that is essentially a manual flusher, helping to keep the canals clear of, ahem, debris.
The Museum: Established in 1916, this still-working kazoo-manufacturing company not only is the only metal-producing kazoo factory in North America, but it’s still using original equipment installed more than a century ago.
The Exhibits: Check out kazoos in the shape of liquor bottles (made to celebrate the end of prohibition), and stop by the Make Your Own Kazoo station, where even children can operate the metal-stamping equipment.
Leila’s Hair Museum
The Museum: Former hair stylist Leila Cohoon has spent a good deal of her life working with hair. There was the salon work, of course, but she discovered her real passion in an antique store, buying and restoring hair art: wreaths, jewelry, and portraits with real hair glued on. Cohoon began collecting hair art in 1949 as a hobby; pinched for storage space, she opened her museum in 1990.
The Exhibits: Much of the museum consists of 18th-century hair art, like a pair of wreaths crafted from the hair of two sisters whose heads were shaved upon entering a convent. There’s even a bit of Hollywood here: The museum boasts strands of Marilyn Monroe’s hair, as well as a wreath woven from the donated hair of Phyllis Diller.
Museum of Torture
The Museum: Visitors here are transported back 500-plus years, to a time when the governing bodies used extreme methods to inflict pain and/or death on those who had broken the law. The dim lighting adds to the eerie feeling created by the medieval torture and punishment devices.
The Exhibits: What torture museum would be complete without a guillotine?Perhaps more terrifying, though, are “The Inquisition Chair,” covered in spikes and straps, and “The Skull Cracker,” a vice-like tool that delivered what it promised.