Small, Unusual Museums Yield Big Fun

August 18, 2016  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

By Victor Block

The U.S. capitol impresses those who see it with its stately presence and decorative detail. Its classical columns and imposing dome are known around the world. Some people who have come to see it have had to remind themselves that the structure before them is only 12 feet long and made of thousands of ordinary matchsticks.

Accurate scale models of other famous icons, including the Wright brothers “Flyer” and space shuttle Challenger, are fashioned from the same material. These lifelike replicas share space at the Matchstick Marvels Museum in Gladbrook, Iowa, about 70 miles from Des Moines, where dozens of wooden sculptures made of millions of matchsticks and gallons of glue are on display.

This is one of numerous small collections throughout the country that are focused on unusual, often unique themes. While people interested in a particular topic seek out these below-the-radar establishments, their offbeat appeal also attracts others who want to learn or in some cases to enjoy a few laughs.

Like a number of alternative museums, Matchstick Marvels grew out of a hobby. After constructing models for his own enjoyment, founder Pat Acton decided to share his creations. Today, along with those at the mini-museum, they’re on display at Ripley’s Believe It or Not locations around the world.

Another exhibit of things small awaits visitors to the Museum of Miniatures in Tucson, Arizona. It displays more than 300 tiny houses and “room boxes” – models of individual rooms – as well as other miniscule objects. This establishment grew out of the love of Patricia and Walter Arnell for undersize collectibles.

If miniscule isn’t your thing, check out the Mack Trucks Historical Museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania. That’s where vintage Mack trucks are restored, preserved and displayed. The collection is located in the town where the company headquarters was moved five years after it was founded in 1900.

Today, up to 30 trucks and other vehicles are typically on display. A prized possession is a 1905 Mack bus, said to be the oldest operational Mack in existence.

Food of various kinds is the subject of some specialty museums. Bananas and mustard are among edibles examined and extolled at collections devoted to their attributes.

Question: What do staplers, candles and earrings have in common? They’re among the wide variety of items at the International Banana Museum in Mecca, California. Calling itself “the most a-peeling destination on the planet,” this is the largest collection in the world – more than 20,000 items – devoted to a single fruit.

Speaking of various flavors, have you ever tasted mustard enhanced with chocolate, blue cheese or tequila? If not, you’ve probably never been to the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. Visitors are introduced to some 5,400 mustards from all 50 states and more than 70 countries. They learn about uses of mustard as medicine, discover its popularity in countries around the world and have the opportunity to sample hundreds of mustards at a tasting bar.

A 10,000-year-old prehistoric elk and a record 1,056-pound black marlin are among the zoolike collection of wildlife that welcomes people to the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum in San Antonio, Texas. The tavern has doubled as a showplace for animal exhibits for 135 years. Its split personality was born when travelers without much money in their jeans began exchanging horns and antlers for a bit of liquid refreshment. Later, exotic wildlife was added to the display, which now includes more than 520 species of animals and fish from around the world.

It’s possible to meet animals in a different form at the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City. It’s home to nearly 300 skeletons and includes bones and skulls of animals ranging in size from tiny mice to a 40-foot-long humpback whale. A sister museum called Skeletons: Animals Unveiled opened recently in Orlando, Florida. It houses lifelike dioramas of various animals.

Finally, in a surprising twist of self-promotion, one establishment brags that it is the only museum “dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art.”

The stated goal of the Museum of Bad Art, with three locations in the Boston suburbs, is “to bring the worst of art to the widest of audiences.”


Matchstick Marvels: 641-473-2410 or

Museum of Miniatures: 520-881-0606 or

Mack Trucks Historical Museum: 610- 351-8999 or

International Banana Museum: 619- 840-1429 or

National Mustard Museum: 800- 438-6878 or

Buckhorn Saloon and Museum: 210-247-4000 or

Museum of Osteology: 405-814-0006 or 

Skeletons: Animals Unveiled: 407-203-6999 or 

Museum of Bad Art: 781-444-6757 or 



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