Take a drive to visit seven of the Midwest’s most quirky, road-trip-worthy museums
Words by Gracie Piper
Elementary school field trips are a rite of passage, but your local history museum doesn’t hold a candle to these seven lesser-known gems scattered across the Midwest. From exhibits displaying Oprah’s favorite mustard to a collection of floral designs made entirely of human hair, these museums highlight everything that’s great about the Midwest: our creativity, ingenuity and questionable hair choices.
The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library may be the knee-jerk response when thinking about museums in Independence, Missouri. But retired hairdresser Leila Cohoon brings something else to mind. Cohoon created a museum to display works of art made from her favorite medium: human hair. Leila’s Hair Museum is—thankfully—the only museum to feature artwork made of hair in the entire world.
“I started the museum when I had too many [boxes of hair art] under the bed and in the closet, and I couldn’t hide them from my husband anymore,” Cohoon said. “I opened up a museum to show them to the public.”
The museum displays her growing collection of more than 2,750 pieces of intricate art, from Victorian hair wreaths to jewelry made of woven strands. Don’t miss the thrilling locks of Michael Jackson’s hair as you comb over exhibits in this Midwestern treasure.
1333 S. Noland Rd.
Independence, MO 64055
Sure, there is a portion of Kansas that would love it if a tornado took them to a far away, magical land—like Minnesota or maybe Illinois. For the rest, though, tornados either mean your average spring Tuesday or The Wizard of Oz. So the fact that there’s a museum dedicated to all things Oz in Kansas isn’t a shock. That it’s packed with over 2,000 artifacts related to Frank L. Baum’s book and the 1939 classic film: a bit more surprising. The prize of the collection: the hand-jeweled, Swarovski crystal-coated, ruby slippers created to commemorate the film’s 50th anniversary—tornado-spawning properties not included.
511 Lincoln St.
Wamego, KS 66547
It’s time for the all skate. Lincoln, Nebraska, is home to the National Museum of Roller Skating, which boasts the world’s largest collection of historic roller skates. The collection’s prized pieces are a pair of skates that date back to 1819 and a 1956, gas-powered creation that can roll up to 40 miles per hour. Let the good times roll.
4730 South St.
Lincoln, NE 68506
Ham it up in Austin, Minnesota, at the museum dedicated to America’s favorite pre-cooked, canned meat: SPAM. In 2001, SPAM’s producer Hormel rebranded their food museum to solely feature the iconic canned ham and pork shoulder mixture. “The SPAM Museum has encapsulated an indelible part of Austin’s history,” Vic Wylde said. “It celebrates the accomplishments of one of the most successful people to ever live in Austin and highlights the things that he had to do to build an empire in an out-of-the-way corner of Minnesota.” Today, visitors to the 14,000-square foot museum can indulge themselves in the the history of the packaging and production of SPAM, and maybe pick up a 12-can SPAM variety pack on their way out. Yep, SPAM has 12 flavors – including chorizo, a perfect addition for taco night.
101 3rd Ave NE
Austin, MN 55912
In 1986, Barry Levensen was an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Wisconsin with a passion for collecting his favorite condiment: mustard. His collection turned into a career when he curated the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. “I became obsessed with mustards, saw my collection growing, found that people were interested in this unusual collection and decided to open it to the public in 1992,” Levensen said. Levensen and his mustard museum have been featured on Oprah and now boast over 5,900 jars of mustard from around the world. This museum is a must(ard) see.
7477 Hubbard Ave.
Middleton, WI 53562
A little goes a long way—especially at the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana. In 1991, the museum was opened by three Indiana artisans with a love for all things little. According to their website, the curators wanted a space to display and preserve antique dollhouse scenes so “collections of quality miniature room setting, houses and individual pieces would not be lost to future generations.” The museum is home to 1-inch to 1-foot and half-an-inch to 1-foot-scale dollhouses and scenes complete with their own tiny pieces of artwork, furniture and dishes—because bigger isn’t always better.
111 E. Main St.
Carmel, IN 46032
In 1969, the Pathological Department of the former Indiana Central State Hospital was transformed into the Indiana Medical History Museum. In a facility where turn-of-the-century physicians once researched the causes of mental illness, museum visitors can now walk through laboratories, an autopsy room and a records room. You’ll lose your mind while perusing the museum’s collection of 20th century medical equipment and brain specimens.
3045 W. Vermont St.
Indianapolis, IN 46222