World’s Strangest Museums: From Bananas to Bones to Magic

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Best unusual museums - "Thing Blue," an exhibit at Museo Subacuatico de Arte near Cancun, Mexico. Photo by Jason de Caires Taylor
“Thing Blue,” an exhibit at Museo Subacuatico de Arte near Cancun, Mexico. Photo by Jason de Caires Taylor

Question:  What do staplers, candles and earrings have in common?

Answer: They’re among the items on display at a wacky and wonderful museum in California which claims that it has the largest collection in the world devoted to a single fruit.

Best Unusual Museums

The International Banana Museum is one of many unusual museums around the globe where you can check out exhibits that range from the quirky to the unique, and from serious to hilarious.

For starters, the Banana Museum touts itself with a pun, proclaiming itself to be “The most aPEELing destination on the planet.” Among more than 20,000 items are bananas made of glass, plastic, stone, metal, alabaster, wood and even jade. The list of articles shaped like, decorated with or reminiscent of bananas is long and, at times, surprising. It includes compasses and cookie jars, socks and squirt guns, dishes and dolls.

There’s also a Banana Bar that serves – surprise! – banana shakes, ice cream floats and other treats.

An exhibit at the National Mustard Museum. Photo by National Mustard Museum
An exhibit at the National Mustard Museum. Photo by National Mustard Museum

Quirky Museums

Speaking of flavors, have you ever tasted mustard enhanced with chocolate, blue cheese or tequila? If not, you’ve probably never been to the National Mustard Museum at Middleton, Wisconsin.

Visitors are introduced to some 5,400 mustard from all 50 U.S. states and more than 70 countries.  They learn about uses of mustard as medicine, and have the opportunity to sample hundreds of mustard at a tasting bar.

Staff members sing “Roll out the Mustard” and recite passages from Shakespeare which refer to the “King of Condiments.” No wonder the museum is listed on the National Registry of Hysterical Places.

These are but two examples of unusual museums in the United States that attract visitors seeking something different. Other countries around the world also have their own out-of-the-ordinary offerings.

For example, folks in England who like to delve into the occult may scare up some fun at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall.  There they can explore the history of magical practices from ancient times to the present. Images on a pewter goblet recall legends of a goddess-like figure who was a magical enchantress and megalomaniacal witch.

Among the rather gruesome contents of a Haitian “magical box” are a dried toad and rabbit’s head, and a figure with a bird’s skull which is bound human hair.  Among occasional events offered at the museum are plays, magic walks and, of course, special Halloween events.

The Dog Collar Museum. Flickr/ Red Morris
The Dog Collar Museum. Flickr/ Red Morris

It takes no magic to figure out what’s on display at the Dog Collar Museum housed in a castle in Kent, England. The canine neck wear spans five centuries from Medieval to Victorian times.

Thick iron collars covered with sharp spikes were used during the 15th-to-17th centuries when Europe’s forests teemed with dangerous predators that were happy to rip out the throat of any hunting dog that entered their territory. They contrast with delicate, ornate canine neck wear made of silver, fine leather and velvet, sometimes decorated with the coat of arms of royal owners.

A sense of humor prompted the engraving on an 18th-century brass collar which states: “I am Mr. Pratt’s dog. Whose dog are you?”

Animals in a different form grace the somewhat creepy Museum of Osteology, which brings to life (pun intended) the branch of anatomy which deals with bones.  The museum branch in Oklahoma is home to nearly 300 skeletons that range in size from tiny mice to a 40-foot-long humpback whale.

A sister museum in Florida is aptly named Skeletons: Animals Unveiled. The residents of that establishment strike imaginative poses in eerily lifelike dioramas.

Much smaller life forms are under the microscope (so to speak) at the Meguro Parasitological Museum in Tokyo. In addition to operating as a research and educational facility, that establishment maintains a collection of some 60,000 parasite specimens, some of which are on public display. The themes of the exhibits are the diversity of parasites and parasites that affect humans, including those which can be transmitted from animals.

Visitors with a true penchant for parasites may wish to stop by the gift shop to browse among T-shirts, cloth shopping bags, magnets and other items decorated with – you guessed it! – images of parasites.

An exhibit at the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. Photo by the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets
An exhibit at the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. Photo by the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets

From parasites to potties seems like a natural progression so next we’ll visit the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi, India.  It details the evolution of toilets from 2,500 BC to the present. Exhibits include ornately carved and painted urinals and commodes, and introduce viewers to gold and silver toilet pots that were used by the Roman emperors and a very early flush pot which was devised in 1596 by a courtier of Queen Elizabeth I.

In a nod to gentility, the collection displays poems related to toilets and their use. Furthermore, this museum is not mere flush-in-the-pan. It makes the rather grandiose claim that among its objectives are providing information to researchers, manufacturers and sanitation policy makers.

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