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The World's Weirdest Museums

Winchester Mystery House: San Jose, California
Heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, Sarah Winchester kept up construction on her 160-room, 40-bedroom mansion for 38 consecutive years, an obsession that lasted until the widow's death at age 82. Was Sarah Winchester haunted by the ghosts of those killed by her husband's rifles? How could she placate the apparitions? According to a popular story, Winchester consulted a soothsayer who told her that those killed by guns (an always growing number) would be appeased if they were provided with shelter -- thus the constant construction.

The sprawling Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is reminiscent of an Escher drawing, with stairs that lead to the ceiling, doors that open to blank walls, and endless oddly shaped additions -- all built out of Winchester's determination to expand the building in any manner, at any cost. The result is a glimpse into the mind of an obsessive woman, with the drive and bankroll to fulfill her compulsion.

Ironically, though the house is no longer growing, it does seem that said bankroll still is -- admission for the mansion tour is $30 (with discounts for seniors and kids).

The Mutter Museum: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
mutter museum philadelphia skeletonsStaring open-mouthed at a stranger's physical oddities is usually considered rather rude, but at the Mutter Museum, unabashed staring is encouraged -- nay, demanded. How could you avert your gaze from a corpse that somehow turned into soap?

The Philadelphia museum exhibits some 20,000 objects showcasing human health anomalies of spine-tingling variety. With unblinking eyes, you can peruse the display of 2,000 objects removed from people's throats or put your face up against the glass to see President Grover Cleveland's cancerous jaw growth. And don't miss the skeleton of a woman long accustomed to wearing a corset; the suffocating apparatus slowly altered the bone structure of her ribcage, all in the name of culturally defined beauty. (You'll never complain about underwire again!) But these odd offerings are no mere gimcrack. Collectively they seem to communicate a message of medical progress.

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Glore Psychiatric Museum: St. Joseph, Missouri
About an hour's drive from Kansas City, the Glore Psychiatric Museum documents the history of "State Lunatic Asylum No. 2." (Now known as the Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, the institution lives on in a facility across the street.) The museum's holdings are contained in the building once used as the admitting ward and clinic for patients.

Some of the devices used to treat the insane are reminiscent of a torture museum -- like a tranquilizer chair and blood-letting blades. And in a clear attempt to one-up the Mutter Museum, Glore showcases 1,446 objects of digestive intrigue -- paper clips, nails, safety pins, buttons -- removed from one patient's stomach and intestines in 1929 (she died on the operating table). The second floor of the building displays art created by the inmates. To get a look inside the museum, check out the following video from InsiderPerks.com:

Sulabh International Museum of Toilets: New Delhi, India
"Unlike body functions like dance, drama and songs, defecation is considered very lowly." So begins a 1995 paper written by Dr. Bindeswar Pathak, the founder of this New Delhi museum as well as the Sulabh International Social Service Organization. And with 600 to 900 million people in India (as of 1995) practicing "open defecation, the subject of [the] toilet is as important if not more than other social challenges like literacy, poverty, education and employment."

Sulabh International Museum of ToiletsOstensibly part of a sanitation crusade, the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets follows the toilet's historical pipeline from 3000 B.C. to the present. What began as a hole in the ground -- and remains a hole in the ground in some parts of the world -- has come a long way in terms of design, comfort and plumbing. The museum offers fun facts (Louis XIV purportedly used to relieve himself while holding court), examinations of toilet customs from around the world, and arts and literature (from poems to painstakingly crafted chamber pots).

Despite the museum's clear element of humor, we should note that the founder has done quite a bit of social good, providing affordable toilets for thousands in India.

Further Afield
Looking for a few more odd museums to supplement your upcoming travel? Check out these other options:

  • The Paris Sewer Museum is located under the Left Bank. Visitors get a guided tour of a portion of the impressive system that outlines the history of the rat-infested place (the inspiration for Les Miserables). It's parallel to the Seine, so after you emerge from from the city's underbelly, you can bask in the beauty of its famous river.

  • Houston's National Museum of Funeral History respectfully sets out to "preserve the rich heritage of the funeral industry." A casket factory exhibit, information on the art of embalming, and various hearses round out the dignified display. There's also a funeral school on the premises.

  • If you've got a phobia of dolls or dummies, you may want to steer clear of the Vent Haven Museum in Kentucky, with its impressive (if slightly creepy) collection of ventriloquist dummies. The museum hosts a yearly convention at which several hundred ventriloquists, amateur and professional, come together to celebrate their unique craft. Tours of the museum must be scheduled ahead of time.

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    --written by Dan Askin

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