ATLANTA — Museums are great places to find culture and learn about the past. Yet, they can be about so much more.
What about the humorous and the oddball stories that make this country so great? There’s no reason going to a museum has to feel like a stodgy experience. Seriously, who says going to a museum shouldn’t be fun as well as educational?
Well, there’s good news. With these 10 museums you have to see to believe, the educational and fun aspects are rolled into one.
1. Museum of Funeral History
Houston, Texas: Admittedly, this might seem a bit morbid at first. Since 1992, this 35,000-square-foot National Museum of Funeral History has aimed to educate visitors about funerals and how caring for the dead has changed over time.
The museum features a wide array of caskets and hearses, which one might expect to see at a funeral museum. But, the well-researched exhibits go much deeper, ranging from a look at the history of embalming to the mourning customs of the 19th century to papal funeral ceremonies, including a Popemobile. (Photo: A Yee / Flickr)
2. Elberton Granite Museum
Elberton, Georgia: To honor Elberton as the “Granite Capital of the World,” the Elberton Granite Museum opened in 1981. While there are the requisite tools, photographs and artifacts on display, it’s a seven-foot-tall granite statue tucked away in a backroom of the museum that illustrates a lighter side of granite.
Dutchy, as the statue is affectionately named, was erected in 1898 as a monument to Confederate soldiers and the Civil War. But, after about two years, residents thought the statue looked too much like a Pennsylvania Dutchman and decided one night to tear him down. In 1982, he was found buried nearby, and after a quick pass through a local car wash, Dutchy was put on permanent display at the museum. (Photo: neonpoisoning.blogspot.com)
3. National Atomic Testing Museum
Las Vegas, Nevada: Most tellings of Las Vegas’ history focus on the mob, casinos or the evolution of the neon sign. But, the area has an interesting connection to nuclear testing and the development of atomic bombs, and since March 2005, the National Atomic Testing Museum has focused its attention on a more ominous bit of Sin City’s history.
The nearby Nevada Test Site (now officially renamed the Nevada National Security Site) served as a testing site for nuclear devices starting in 1951. For visitors of Vegas who are not focused on glitz and glamour, the museum offers a dose of unexpected history on a subject that has been controversial and debated for seven decades. (Photo: Paul Huber / Flickr)
4. Early Television Museum
Hilliard, Ohio: The 4,200-square-foot Early Television Museum boasts more than 150 television sets, including mechanical sets from the 1920s and American and British equipment from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Many are in working order and offer an interesting look into more recent history.
After selling his cable business a little more than a decade ago, Steve McCoy started collecting early television receivers. The museum provides an interesting window into the past and will be particularly fascinating to those who didn’t realize there was a time when shows appeared on television sets, not smart phones. (Photo: Creative Commons)
5. The Birdcage Theater Museum
Tombstone, Arizona: The Birdcage Theater was once described as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” And, walking into this old theater, which to this day remains riddled with bullet holes, is tantamount to taking a step back in time.
When the establishment shuttered in 1889, its doors were sealed until 1934 when new owners opened the edifice and found time stood still inside the building. One of the more interesting artifacts in the assuredly haunted building is the original poker table that once hosted a game that lasted for more than eight years, five months and three days; it’s said Doc Holliday (the legendary dentist) and Adolphus Busch (who created some beer or something) were among the famous people to participate in the game. (Photo: J. Stephen Conn / Flickr)
6. Beer Can House
Houston: When John Milkovisch decided to put aluminum siding on his house, he turned to a byproduct of his beer-drinking hobby as a source for material. That’s right, folks. Beer cans. From the late 1960s until he died in 1988, the retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad covered his house at 222 Malone Street with crushed beer cans.
The Beer Can House opened in 2008 as a folk art museum and is an instantly recognizable Texas landmark. “They say every man should leave something to be remembered by. At least I accomplished that goal,” reads one Milkovisch quote painted on an interior wall. That pretty much sums it up. (Photo: Flickr)
7. International Towing & Recovery Museum
Chattanooga, Tennessee: Mechanic Ernest Holmes is credited with inventing the tow truck in 1916 in Chattanooga, Tenn., and today those trucks are indispensable emergency vehicles throughout the world. So, it makes sense the International Towing & Recovery Museum would open here in September 1995.
Over its 20-year history, the museum has amassed a collection that includes antique and modern tow trucks and related toys. Outside the museum is the Wall of the Fallen memorial, which includes the names of towers killed in the line of duty. (Photo: S. A. / Flickr)
8. Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute
Waco, Texas: The Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute in downtown Waco is dedicated to telling not just the story of Dr Pepper, but the story of the entire soft drink industry.
Charles Alderton developed a unique combination of flavors in 1885 in Dr. Wade Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store. The soft drink — which, according to legend, Morrison named after the father of a girl he once loved — quickly became known as a “Waco.” The rest, as they say, is history. (Photo: Lance and Erin / Flickr)
9. Hall of Flame
Phoenix, Arizona: Passing fire trucks routinely mesmerize boys and girls, sirens blaring as they heads to save they day. As commonplace as they are today, it’s hard to imagine a world without them.
The Hall of Flame is home to a staggering 90 restored pieces of firefighting equipment, the oldest of which dates to 1725. In addition to the trucks, the museum also features a gallery dedicated to fighting wildfires. It’s really no surprise firefighters from near and far make a pilgrimage to see the museum’s one-of-a-kind collection. (Photo: Sam Alex / Flickr)
10. Harlan Sanders Cafe and Museum
Corbin, Kentucky: Col. Harlan Sanders played a pivotal role in the evolution of fast food dining, but before KFC was a staple of modern cuisine, Sanders owned the Harland Sanders Café along U.S. Route 25 in Corbin. By the late 1930s, Sanders was well known for his culinary offerings, and by 1940 he opened a motel-restaurant complex here.
With the coming of Interstate 75, Sanders sold his cafe and started selling franchises for KFC. The Harlan Sanders Cafe and Museum opened in 1990 to preserve Sanders’ legacy and features the kitchen where the colonel created his famous fried chicken. (Photo: J. Stephen Conn / Flickr)