Adventures of an Information Addict


Karyn Gerhard is a senior editor at Alpha Books and an information addict looking for an adventure. This blog documents her explorations into of all those dusty corners of human culture that no one has bothered to clean in years.

Today’s Obsession: Weird Museums!

A number of years ago I was visiting a friend in Minneapolis. Having never been there before, I made the rounds of all of the big museums—the Walker, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the like. They were all great, but while wandering around we found the best of all—The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices. This little place, tucked in a cramped space below street level in downtown Minneapolis, was jaw-droppingly bizarre and wonderful. The work of collector Bob McCoy, it had some of the strangest medical quackery ever created, with fabulous names like The MacGregor Rejuvenator and The Relaxacisor. We got our heads examined by The Psycograph (an antique phrenology machine) and read up on Doctor Bell’s Electro Appliance for Men. (It’s worn around the waist—I’ll just leave it at that.) It was truly one of the best—and weirdest—collections I’ve ever seen. *

That visit was the beginning of my bizarre museum mania. Any place where people have gathered some kind of collection, I’d go. I started scouring the country, looking for those odd little places (bonus points if they had a gift shop!), and wow, did I find some doozies.

Let’s start with the museums dedicated to food. It’s no surprise that people can become fanatic about certain foods, but some of these places are just off the charts.

Okay, enough of that—there are at least 200 more food museums, and we don’t have all day. Let’s move on to the gems in America’s Heartland (and a few beyond). The Midwest is an absolute treasure trove of strange museums and attractions. From tractors to prisons, it’s all out there.

You say sideshows and carnival attractions are your thing? Here, for your edification, are a few attractions that would make P.T. Barnum’s head swivel.

One last museum, from the religion arena:

In Mansfield, Ohio, sitting across the street from the old Ohio state prison, where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed, is the wondrously quirky Living Bible Museum. I admit, I really just wanted to go because at the time I was collecting tacky religious memorabilia and desperately wanted a t-shirt from this place. I dragged my mom and my sister to it, telling them that we were just going to run through the museum and hit the gift shop—but oh, no. The only way to get through museum, which is actually a series of tableaux from the bible created with store mannequins, is to be escorted by a guide. So the three of us—the only three people in the entire museum, mind you—had to stand there in utter reverence, while our solemn guide pressed a button and lit up each scene, biting our lips to keep from giggling at the wise men decked out in Dolly Parton wigs and the booming “voice of god” recorded narration. It went on forever—there must have been at least 70 of those damned tableaux. I seriously thought my sister was going to kill me.

It’s been years since that fateful day (I did get the t-shirt, by the way, as well as a cool viewfinder with the three wise men), and now they’ve expanded to include a dinner theater and a museum of Christian Martyrs!

I think it’s time for another trip.

Sadly the museum closed after the death of Mr. McCoy. You can still find the pieces online, though, and the actual devices are housed at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

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