unusual museums

Celebrate the strange on Obscura Day

Whether you’re home or on the road this weekend, check to see if an Obscura Day event is taking place nearby.


If there’s room in your travel plans for activities ranging from a guided tour of the world’s second largest particle accelerator to a behind-the-scenes tour of Alcatraz, then Obscura Day, on Saturday, April 28, is for you.     

Organized by Atlas Obscura, a website co-founders Dylan Thuras and Joshua Foer call a “collaborative compendium of amazing places that aren’t found in your average guidebook,” Obscura Day is a celebration of offbeat expeditions and behind-the-scenes tours at more than 100 cities in the U.S. and around the world. Ticket prices for events vary and many are already sold out.

“For our third annual Obscura Day, institutions, tour guides and individuals are going to lead tours, walks and adventures and show off spaces and parts of collections that people don’t normally get to see,” said Thuras, who recently returned from his honeymoon in Southeast Asia. (“I promised my wife it would be a ‘normal’ trip, but we couldn’t resist,” said Thuras. “We found a wonderful museum of taxidermy in Hanoi and an enchanting museum with cool medical specimens in Bangkok.”)

On Obscura Day, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Thuras plans to attend several events, including a tour of abandoned beach areas on Staten Island and a visit to Columbia University’s Rutherford Observatory. Also in New York, an urban foraging tour of Central Park will show participants how to identify edible plants and herbs.

Elsewhere, this year’s Obscura Day events include everything from a tour of the Fermilab particle accelerator in Batavia, Ill., to an expedition to Japan’s largest stone-carved Buddha and the 1,553 stone-carved monks of Nihon-ji. “They’re in a beautiful, crumbling ruin in a forest and you need to take a train and a boat and a bus just to get there,” said Thuras.

The worldwide schedule of Obscura Day events “will help raise awareness of some of the lesser known attractions and wonders around the world,” said Doug Kirby, publisher of the website RoadsideAmerica.com.

In San Francisco, Annetta Black, senior editor of the Atlas Obscura and vice-president of the Atlas Obscura Society, will be leading Bay Area events that include a tour of the USS Iowa, a WWII battleship leaving soon to become a museum near Los Angeles, and an evening salon talk at the Long Now Museum, where the discussion will focus on the importance of planning beyond our own lifetimes. There will also be an after-dark tour exploring the off-limits areas of Alcatraz.

(Photo: Neil Girling / Courtesy Atlas Obscura)

The Museum of Human Disease in Kensington, Australia, is returning as an Obscura Day participant, and this year it has added a workshop on human tissue preservation. Participants will get to preserve a pig’s heart in a hands-on demonstration.

“I just don’t think anyone else is really offering that kind of opportunity, which makes me very happy,” said Black, who sums up Obscura Day as a great way to “build curiosity about the places we live, which leads to cultural engagement and an interest in local history.”

Obscura Day is “really just fun field trips for adults,” said Thuras, “that will make you realize that the unusual sometimes comes in an unusual package.”

This story first appeared on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin

Love the layover: more offbeat museums

In a previous post, I told you about some of the offbeat museums I included in my Bizarre Museums slide-show for Bing Travel.

That list included Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Mo., the Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Ma., and the Plumbing Museum in Watertown, Ma.  The Cockroach Hall of Fame, in Plano, Tx. was also on that list. It’s where more than two dozen costumed and preserved award-winning cockroaches are on display, including the bejeweled, piano-playing Liberoachi.

Liberoachi plays on forever at the Cockroach Hall of Fame

Here are few more unusual museums from the story:

If this museum could talk, it would slur its words.

In Bardstown, Ky., the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History traces American whiskey history back to the 1700s with displays of liquor memorabilia ranging from moonshine stills and antique bottles to Abraham Lincoln’s liquor license and the hatchet used by temperance crusader Carrie Nation.

Vacuum or Lamp? Both!

They suck — and that’s why several dozen antique, vintage and just plain wacky suction-producing cleaning devices are displayed at the Vacuum Museum inside Stark’s Vacuums in Portland, Ore. Some of the most unusual models offered time-saving conveniences. Our favorites: vacuum cleaners that double as hair dryers, neck vibrators, lamps or footstools, for those quick clean-ups in the den.

Giant Shoe Museum in Seattle

Giant shoes: not just for clowns

Compact and coin-operated, the Giant Shoe Museum displays about 20 giant shoes dating from the 1890s to the 1950s. A feature of Old Seattle Paperworks in the Pike Place Market in Seattle, the oversized footwear includes The Colossus, a 5-foot-long black leather wingtip from the 1920s, and a shoe worn by Robert Wadlow, once the world’s tallest man.

Want to see more unusual museums? See the Museum Monday post here on StuckatTheAirport.com and check out the full story with 14 Bizarre Museums – on Bing Travel.