Although most museums offer a reverent atmosphere to view treasured relics, it doesn’t necessarily have to work that way. Since the dictionary definition of a museum is rather broad — a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited — the word itself is open to interpretation. With that in mind, here are three unique U.S museums which definitely stretch the traditional definition to the limit
National Mustard Museum
7477 Hubbard Avenue
Founded by Barry Levenson, a former Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General, the National Mustard Museum began on what Levenson describes as an impulse shopping trip after his beloved Boston Red Sox went down in defeat. According to the one-time litigator, the mustard “spoke to him” in a Field of Dreams way on this auspicious trip to the market, and he responded by purchasing 15 jars of America’s favorite condiment.
Six months later Levenson spied a unopened mustard jar on a room service tray in a Washington DC hotel hallway. After a brief internal debate on whether the jar was legally fair game — after all her was an attorney — he scooped it up and carried it in his pocket while he argued the finer points of the Fourth Amendment before the US Supreme Court. Justice Anton Scalia and four of his compatriots agreed with Levenson’s arguments and ruled in favor of the state. Levenson considered the jar of mustard his lucky charm; and as the always gregarious barrister tells it, that moment marked the true beginning of the National Mustard Museum.
That was back in 1987, and today the museum boasts over 6,100 jars of mustard from 19 nations and every state in the union. And although there’s a large gift shop and tasting room upstairs, the museum itself operates independently as a non-profit organization. Truly, it’s more than just a few jars of mustard, and definitely worth a visit.
Accessible parking is located just outside the front door, with level access through the automatic door, and plenty of room to navigate a wheelchair around the gift shop. There’s elevator access down to the well-curated museum, and equally good pathway access around the exhibits. Accessible restrooms are also located downstairs.
Besides the enormous international mustard collection, the museum features recipes, vintage advertisements, Shakespearean citations of mustard, and of course a small exhibit dedicated to horseradish — mustard’s spicy cousin. Round it out with Levenson’s original “lucky charm” from the room service tray, and the world’s only mustard vending machine, and you have a comprehensive — if not eclectic — overview of the condiment. And don’t forget to have your photo taken with the French’s Mustard mascot on your way out, before tasting a few of the more unusual mustard varieties upstairs.
National Buffalo Museum
500 17th Street SE
Next up, the National Buffalo Museum, which is located a few miles off Interstate 94 in rural North Dakota. This quirky museum offers a comprehensive look at this massive mammal that was almost hunted to extinction in North America. To find this gem, take exit 257 and head north to 17 Street SW, then follow the signs to Frontier Village. If you hit the giant buffalo statue, turn around as you’ve passed the museum.
Accessible parking is available in front of the museum, with ramp access to the front door. Inside there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around the exhibits, and barrier-free access to the theater where a movie offers a good buffalo primer. The exhibits include everything from a 10,000-year old buffalo skull, to a large collection of sculptures and paintings, and even a tipi made of buffalo skin. There’s also a kids area which has puzzles, books, toys and even a stuffed buffalo. Top it off with an entire room filled with weapons used to hunt buffalo, and you have a little something for everybody at this offbeat museum.
There’s also level access out to the back deck, where you can usually spot the museum’s buffalo herd; and if you’d like to take a lunch break there are a few picnic tables in a level area in front of the museum.
Don’t miss the exhibit about White Cloud — a rare albino buffalo — and the storyboard that details the history of the nearby giant buffalo statue. And if you didn’t see it before, plan to make a stop at the statue on your way back to the interstate. Not only is it a good photo op, but it’s also another vantage point to get a look at the buffalo herd.
Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum
6019 Chambersburg Road
Last but not least, don’t miss Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum on your next Pennsylvania road trip. This unusual little museum started out many moons ago, with an elephant-themed wedding gift to Ed Gotwalt; and as he freely admits, “Things kind of got out of hand from there.” Today the collection has grown to over 12,000 elephant figures, which are lovingly displayed in his granddaughter’s old-time candy shop in rural Pennsylvania. Is it more than a little kitsch? Indeed. Is it worth a stop on the way to Gettysburg? Absolutely.
Located just off Highway 30 W, the museum offers an accessible parking place on a cement pad near the front door; however it’s easy to miss and most folks have to circle back through the gravel parking lot to locate it. From there it’s just a short ten-foot walk to the ramped front entrance. Inside, there’s plenty of room to navigate a wheelchair through the candy store, and over to the museum proper.
There’s ramp access to the display area, which is literally lined with elephants. From the large wicker model at the entrance, to ceramic, metal, glass and stuffed incarnations; the museum boasts more inanimate pachyderms than most folks have seen in a lifetime. Notable artifacts include an elephant hair dryer, a Dumbo riding model (a photo op for youngsters), and an unusual sculpture of a head with elephants protruding from the top. Add in the requisite Jim Beam collector bottles, a few elephant clocks and even a lamp, and you have a pretty comprehensive collection. Although it’s easy to zip through the exhibits, take some time to explore the museum to find the hidden gems that lurk within.
The candy shop is worth a visit too, as it’s filled with lots of sweets from yesteryear, and includes a large selection of mix-and-match wrapped goodies. Add in a Jelly Belly self-service bar, and an odd selection of edible insects and you’ll find something for just about everyone on your gift list. And don’t forget to sample the home-made fudge — the selection is impressive and the quality is second-to-none.
Outside, the garden is dotted with statues and fountains however the stepping-stone walkways present a challenge for most wheelers and slow walkers. That said, Mr. Ed’s is most definitely worth a visit for the inside exhibits alone.
American International Rattlesnake Museum
Glore Psychiatric Museum
International UFO Museum and Research Center