When you think about the word “museum,” certain images might come to mind: ancient artifacts encased in glass. Fancy art displays. Pristine, white walls. Certainly not a collection of ventriloquist dummies that look like presidents, or a room full of rocks that vaguely resemble faces.
As it turns out, while esteemed art and history museums have a reputation for all things prim and proper, there’s a hidden world full of oddball institutions inspired by people’s wacky passions and weird dreams. As you’re about to witness, these small but mighty specialty museums come in all shapes and sizes. From many a strange collection or offbeat hobby, niche museums are born, all thanks to a little bit of charisma and plenty of square footage.
The Troll Hole Museum
Location: Alliance, Ohio
Specialty: The world’s largest collection of Troll Dolls and memorabilia, with over 25,000 troll-related items.
Troll Dolls took the toy market by storm in the 1960s, and again in the 21st century with the DreamWorks Trolls films. The Troll Hole Museum houses over 25,000 troll products in a total of 14 rooms. Exhibits include Trolls in Cinema, a replica of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Stadium (populated by Troll Doll football players, cheerleaders, and fans), and the Troll Hall of Fame, where you can see various athletes, musicians, and celebs in troll-form.
The Museum of Bad Art
Location: Somerville, Massachusetts
Specialty: Displaying artwork that’s “too bad to be ignored.”
Also known as MOBA, the Museum of Bad Art is a collection of 700 artworks and counting, all with one thing in common: the artists all tried really, really hard, but none of them could quite make a masterpiece. Curators of the museum note that the collection celebrates artists who tried their best, and how their gallery displays and appreciates art that no one else does.
The Idaho Potato Museum
Location: Blackfoot, Idaho
Specialty: The history and cultivation of potatoes in Idaho, the nation’s leading potato producer.
If your state crop is potatoes, then you can bet there’s a themed museum about it. Exhibits and displays include the largest potato chip ever made, a sizable collection of potato mashers, and a photo op with a cutout of Marilyn Monroe in her famous potato sack dress.
The Museum of Broken Relationships
Location: Zagreb, Croatia & Los Angeles, California
Specialty: Sharing objects and stories related to heartbreak.
Often, sharing can help the healing process, which is why the Museum of Broken Relationships offers a global outlet for the brokenhearted: anonymously display mementos of your pain and heartache with the world. Contributions are always welcome, and artifacts on display can range from a wedding dress stuffed into a pickle jar to an ax used to chop up an ex’s furniture.
The Plumbing Museum
Location: Watertown, Massachusetts
Specialty: The history of the plumbing industry, from pipes and tools to antique tubs and toilets.
Keeping in mind the plumbing trade also includes how faucets and tubs work, thankfully this museum isn’t just about toilets. Exhibits include the evolution of plumbing systems, diagrams of various plumbing technologies, the occasional funny bathroom sign, and plenty of toilets, sinks, and tubs.
The SPAM Museum
Location: Austin, Minnesota
Specialty: A 14,000 square foot shrine dedicated to the cubed canned meat, Spam.
Love it or hate it, Spam is iconic. At the Spam museum, SPAMbassadors give guided tours on the history of the Hormel company (headquartered a few miles away) and the origin of Spam. Guests can see how Spam is made, find out how many Spam cans tall they are, and sample some of Spam’s 13 different flavors.
Leila’s Hair Museum
Location: Independence, Missouri
Specialty: A large collection of antique hair art.
With some pieces dating as far back as the 17th century, every inch of Leila’s Hair Museum displays the once-popular hobby of making art from human hair. Hair art was especially common during Victorian times before flash photography was invented, as those in mourning could preserve memories of lost loved ones by keeping locks of hair as a memento. The museum displays over 2,000 pieces of hair art, ranging from brooches, bracelets, and rings to hair wreaths like the ones pictured above.
Chinsekikan, The Hall of Curious Rocks
Location: Chichibu, Japan
Specialty: Over 1,700 rocks that look like faces.
Two hours northwest of Tokyo lies a museum full of rocks that just so happen to look like people’s faces. Stones in the collection exhibit a wide range of expressions, from gasping and grimacing to smiling or looking confused. A few rocks in the collection are considered celebrity look-alikes, bearing the resemblances of Elvis, E.T., and others.
The Vent Haven Museum
Location: Fort Mitchell, Kentucky
Specialty: A collection of over 900 ventriloquist dummies from more than 20 countries.
One man’s ventriloquist puppet collection eventually turned into the only museum dedicated to the art of ventriloquism. The museum collection includes vintage posters and playbills of ventriloquist acts, puppets that look like US presidents, and many other pieces of ventriloquist memorabilia.
The National Mustard Museum
Location: Middleton, Wisconsin
Specialty: Over 5,500 mustards on display, with hundreds available for tasting.
If you love this condiment, this museum was made for you and your tastebuds. The thousands of mustard jars on display come from all 50 states and over 70 countries, with various brown and yellow mustard-related objects also decorating the space. Over 800 items are available in the gift shop, and guests can sample mustard flavors ranging from blue cheese to tequila to wasabi at the museum’s tasting bar.