Now Museum, Now You Don’t: Strange American Museums

I love checking out the random cool, quirky or confusing museums that I stumble across while traveling. Some are educational, others are laughable, but most all are enjoyable for their own reasons. The next time you pass by a museum, I encourage you to stop in and have a look around. Here are some of the strange American museums that I have visited over the last six or so months, since returning from Mexico:

Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum

Logan, Ohio

The Pencil Sharpener Museum is definitely worth poking your head in, if you should be passing by — and I do mean “poke your head in.” With a total size of about 60 square feet, this is by far the smallest museum I have ever visited. However, it was not my “quickest museum trip” ever (that one is further down on the list).

Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum in Logan, Ohio

Paul Johnson started his collection when he retired in 1988 and eventually amassed over 3,300 different pencil sharpeners in all shapes and sizes. After he passed away in 2010, his widow generously agreed to donate the collection to the Logan visitor’s center. Volunteers went out to her house, took numerous photos to record exactly how each pencil sharpener was arranged, and then used those photos after transporting to precisely re-assemble the pencil sharpeners just as Paul had intended.

The Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum in Logan, Ohio qualifies as one of the strange American museums

As you can see, many look like traditional pencil sharpeners but others are rather unique and much more impressive. Had I been thinking I would have taken better photos of the animal section of sharpeners — many had pencil insertion points at rather questionable places 😉

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Museum of Questionable Medical Devices

St Paul, Minnesota

Arguably the greatest strange American museums of all time. Technically this collection is now merely one exhibit among many at the Science Museum Of Minnesota, although it still retains the same name. Like the pencil sharpener museum, this donated collection was originally the brainchild of one man, Bob McCoy, who also happened to pass away in 2010.

Museum of Questionable Medical Devices is one of the Top 5 Strange American Museums

Spend a few minutes looking at some of the bizarre contraptions and methodology of late 18th and early 19th century will make you really happy to live in such a modern era. But when I started to see items like a breast enlargement machine from the 1950s, well then it began to sink in that “modern” medicine is only as advanced as the day. Just as now we often think how technology was lacking a few years or decades ago, so too we will soon think that about 2013.

Otherwise the rest of the museum is decidedly family oriented and rather run of the mill for a capital city.

What is the wildest museum you’ve been to?

Kansas Barbed Wire Museum

Lacrosse, Kansas

After stopping to get gas at some random town in Kansas last summer I noticed a sign for the barbed wire museum and figured I would check it out. Turns out that barb wire is as un-spectacular as you might think. However I did learn two things: 1) there are more types of barbed wire than current years A.D. and 2) barb wire collecting is actually a valid hobby — but only for residents of Kansas.

I usually love strange American museums, but not the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum -- boring and pointless.
Barb wire collecting is actually a valid hobby — but only for residents of Kansas

I spent more time ogling the crazy pencil sharpeners in the first museum than I did passing through here. However if you have a fascination with ranches or the wild west, this place could be right up your alley.


Memphis, Tennessee

The Home of the King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll turns out to only be popular among senior citizens and kids under ten. Although entertaining, I was left with only one question: what will happen to this place in a decade, as the current baby-boomin’ Elvis-lovin’ generation passes on?

Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee

Regardless, the whole experience shed lots of new light on just how awesome Presley was. But as far as museums are concerned, it is definitely can be a pricey one — they offer different tours based on sights, length, and well, let’s be honest, love of Elvis. If you really love him you’ll buy the most expensive package.

After this trip I now truly appreciate the Paul Simon song Graceland….oh yeah, and Elvis too. Just watch out for those peanut butter and banana sandwiches — which of course is a specialty in the Graceland cafe 😉

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditorium @ Times Square

New York City, New York

Definitely more offbeat than obscure, this “museum” will leave you amazed, intrigued, confused, and most likely even a tiny bit grossed out. While the building exterior may not be as wild as some of the other Ripley’s locations, inside it spans two massive floors and is a great way to kill an hour or two. If you have never toured a Ripley’s museum before, well then you might as well start with what is arguably one of their best.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Odditorium at Times Square definitely falls into the category of strange American museums
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What are your favorite strange American museums?

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

5 thoughts on “Now Museum, Now You Don’t: Strange American Museums”

  1. Well I always try to hit all the weird museums wherever I visit. In Japan there’s the Meguro Parasitological Museum for all your freaky and record-breaking parasite needs, or in Melaka there’s the Museum of Enduring Beauty for all your tooth-filing needs, and then there’s Munich’s Potato Museum which is surprisingly thought-provoking (I’ve written up on all these places at if you want to delve deeper). These niche museums are pretty awesome. Out of your list I think the barbed wire one feels the most odd though the idea of anywhere devoted to the lowly pencil sharpener is pretty out there…

    • The Meguro Parasitological Museum sounds right up my alley, thanks for the tip Chris 😉 Have found much more strange museums in the years since writing this article, but all the really wild and crazy museums are in Asia or Europe, not so much in the USA…..


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