Tuesday, November 15, 2011

5 of the best quirky and unusual museums in the U.S.

A good museum can inspire, educate, and keep weary travelers dry and toasty-warm on rainy days. Unfortunately, even the best museums can also overwhelm with impenetrable sizes, high admissions, and endless crowds. That’s why many smart travelers steer clear of major museums and seek out for smaller galleries. The following is a quirky collection of 5 of the best small, unusual, and underrated museums in the United States.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum – Alexandria, Virginia
Entering this tiny museum is like traveling back in time; after operating for generations as a family-owned pharmacy, the shop suddenly closed during the 1940s Depression. It has since been meticulously restored and preserved, with original wooden shelving, antiquated signage, and assortments of glass jars and beakers that haven’t been touched in decades. Local volunteers conduct short but informative tours, regaling visitors with tales of colonial-era “medicine”, such as bloodletting. A particularly gruesome procedure, it was thought to cure a number of illnesses and was famously favored by George Washington.

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza – Dallas, Texas
For American history buffs and conspiracy theorists alike, the Sixth Floor Museum might prove to be morbidly irresistible. The museum is devoted to the life and death (but mostly the death) of President John F. Kennedy. The exhibits begin innocently enough. An audio tour guides visitors through a generic pathway of informative panels and video clips, describing JFK’s childhood, rise to political fame, election to president, and first years in office. Suddenly, though, the narrative becomes very specific about the President’s 1963 visit to Texas, the events taking place on the morning of November 22, and his motorcade ride through the streets of Dallas.

The Center for Wooden Boats – Seattle, Washington
Where else could you take a museum’s historic artifacts out onto the water for a pleasure cruise? The CWB, as it’s informally known, is dedicated to maritime preservation, but they aren’t interested in merely restoring historic vessels to put on display (although the center does house a small, more traditional boating museum). Rather, they hold workshops, community outreach programs, and free Sunday sails, all intended to get people out on the water. Their mission passing down the love and knowledge of small craft sailing.

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel – Memphis, Tennessee
There’s little arguing that this museum is well worth a somber and reflective visit. This is not a place for housing attractive works of art or flashy multimedia displays. There are educational panels tracing the narrative of the civil rights movement, from the pre-Civil War days to the Birmingham public transport strike sparked by Rosa Parks, but they are simple text-and-photo panels. The chills come upon entering the portion of the museum encased in Room 306, where King was staying on April 4, 1968, the day of his assassination on the motel balcony.

Cable Car Museum – San Francisco, California
For those who really want to appreciate the mechanical marvel and historical significance of these old-fashioned trolleys, the Cable Car Museum should not be missed. First and foremost, the building is home to the working powerhouse of the entire cable car system. In addition to the requisite historic plaques and photographs, visitors to the Cable Car Museum are invited to watch the inner workings of the transportation system. Gigantic, noisy engines and wheels power the cables pulling the cars up and down the streets of San Francisco.

When is the last time you visited a museum?

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