We got to a lot of weird places in 2017. Presenting my top 10 from the year.
We’re back to the ‘slow travel’ lifestyle after capping off a road trip through the US and Canada, and spent the rest of 2017 in Europe. WIthout further ado…
#10 – Wolf’s Museum of Mystery – St. Augustine, FL
This attraction is not recommended for kids. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG-13 for blood, gore, gruesome scenes, dismembered body parts, and so on.
This ‘museum of mystery’ is one part shop, one part museum. Opened in a two-story Victorian house in 2003, the cost of admission can be applied towards any purchase. The first floor is about as crammed as it can be with stuff from floor to ceiling — more than two people in any one room can get to feeling like a bit much. There are some vague themes happening as well, but this is more noticeable on the second floor in the first room, a gory look at Lizzie Borden’s bloody bedroom.
Being a storefront means the exact exhibits can change from day to day, but it’s a fair bet to say you’ll find bloody things, skulls from multiple species, objects themed around serial killers, aliens, curious taxidermy, Nazi-related stuff, and ample room for a horror movie screening. Resist the temptation to startle your significant other or traveling partner unless you’re prepared for the consequences!
Name: Wolf’s Museum of Mystery
Address: 46 Charlotte Street, St. Augustine, FL, 32084 (GPS: )
Hours: 2pm-10pm daily
Admission: $5 (usable as credit towards purchase)
Phone: (904) 342-8377
#9 – the Museum of Romanian Records – Bucharest, Romania
While this museum is officially only open by reservation, we got in thanks to a blogger friend well before the place is likely to open to the public in 2018. This modern museum holds the world’s largest collections of irons, trivets (AKA those things used to protect surfaces from hot stuff), and corkscrews. Over 35,000 irons and over 30,000 corkscrews are inside, each of which is a Guinness World Record. It’s a multiple-floor endeavor, and a great way to play that old game ‘what’s different?’ amongst the myriad exhibits.
Name: Museum of Romanian Records
Address: 25-27 Parfumului, Bucharest, Romania (GPS: 44.428699, 26.116725)
Hours: Officially open by reservation only from 10am-3:30pm everyday as of now
#8 – the Tour of Communism, Bucharest – Bucharest, Romania
I’ve already written about this excellent tour, but it makes the cut here because of the many offbeat sites it takes you to. Along with the Jewish tour offered by the same company, it’s a great way to learn about the troubles brought on during the Communist era, and the still-lingering legacy of those times. There’s plenty of insight into the spectacular buildings of today’s Bucharest, even as they sit next to empty fields and areas that look like a war zone. these three-hour tours start at 2:30pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays (do check the calendar for yourself, obviously!).
Name: the Tour of Communism
Address: Start at the bell tower near the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral (Pangarul Catedralei Patriarhale), Aleea Dealul Mitropoliei 19, Bucharest, Romania (GPS: 44.425352, 26.099742)
Hours: Tours start at 2:30pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays
Admission: 15 €
More info at http://tourofcommunism.com.
#7 – the Kitsch Museum – Bucharest, Romania
Romania has a surprisingly long history of ‘kitsch’, which we’ll define as garish, tacky, or of poor taste for the sake of argument. Some symbols of a faux-luxurious living are on display, and the museum is neatly organized into mainstay categories of Romanian life. The church, Communism, and other facets of life are on display, but in an off-the-record kind of way. The ‘wooden language’ politicians use is on display, and some videos break up the displays. You’ll still see (and hear) a fair bit of kitsch around Bucharest, but hopefully this museum will help you make sense of it… or at least give you something to laugh at without worrying about offending anyone. Be sure to check out the mural on the upper-level ceiling for a laugh.
#6 – the Holmes Medical Museum – Foley, AL, USA
Read that label carefully and imagine actually taking something like that. This medical museum, along with the Mobile Medical Museum in Mobile, AL, is a great collection of the horrors of yesteryear’s medicine. Room #5, AKA the room of quackery, was my favorite. It’s surprisingly extensive, and complete with nurse’s quarters, offices, a former x-ray room (now eye and ear and dental equipment), and the restored Doctor’s Office of Dr. Sibbey Holmes and Dr. W.L. Holmes. There’s also an exam room, a kitchen, and surgical sterilization room, all as it would have appeared during the mid-20th century.
Name: Holmes Medical Museum
Address: 111 W Laurel Ave, Foley, AL 36535, USA (GPS: 30.406264, -87.684320)
Hours: 10am-2pm Monday-Saturday.
Phone: 1 251-970-1818
#5 – the Typhlological Museum – Zagreb, Croatia
Designed to be experienced by the blind rather than simply seen by the sighted, this is a great example of how to make museums as accessible to everyone as possible. Everything in the museum within reaching distance can be touched or felt, and of course there’s plenty of Braille to go around. There’s also some interesting pre-cursors to the iconic six-dot system, such as these knots, and a completely dark room to amble around. This dark room is easily the highlight for most sighted people, since most of us are unaccustomed to losing one of our primary senses. Feel, hear, and sniff your way through.
Name: Typhlological Museum (Tiflološki muzej)
Address: Draškovićeva ul. 80, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia (GPS: 45.806180, 15.983836)
Directions: The closest tram station is Branimirova, and trams 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, and 15 all stop here. Head up the side street (Draškovićeva), and walk about 80 meters (260 feet). Look for the yellow door handle, then take the stairs or elevator two levels up.
Hours: 10am-5pm Monday-Friday (until 8pm on Thursday); from July 1st to August 31st: 10am-4pm Monday-Friday (until 8pm on Thursday)
Admission: 20 kuna
Phone: +385 01 4811 102
#4 – the American Toby Jug Museum – Evanston, IL
You win points if you’ve ever heard of a ‘Toby Jug’. This style of jug has been both decorative and functional, but in more recent times it’s been just decorative. The style actually pre-dates the American revolution, with the earliest examples dating from 1760 to 1770. From there, the collection is organized chronologically by potter, with Sir Toby Philpot, a legendary 18th century drinker, giving the distinctive style a name.
While still collectible and made in limited editions, it’s the sort of thing that’s not really collectible for value, but for their intricate beauty. This is a classic example of a One Weird Globe sort of destination: a large collection of an oddball, obscure, or weird thing. (What’s weird, you ask? Step over here and learn more.)
Pro-tip: there’s metered parking along Chicago Avenue, but head behind Chicago Avenue for free parking along the alleyway directly behind the museum.
Name: American Toby Jug Museum
Address: 910 Chicago Ave, Evanston, IL 60202, USA (GPS: 42.034716, -87.679784)
Hours: Wednesday-Friday 10am-5pm, 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month 10am-5pm.
Phone: 1 877-862-9687
#3 – the Key Underwood Coon Dog Cemetery – Cherokee, AL
This is another place that’s already been written about, so for this post I’ll borrow from my previous post:
Started in 1937 by Key Underwood to honor his coon dog Troop, the story goes that today’s cemetery was yesterday’s hunting camp area. You’re several miles from the nearest state road, and miles more from what might be called civilization. In any case, Troop was laid to rest here on Labor Day 1937 with a hand-chiseled gravestone, a rock from a nearby chimney.
From handmade to professionally carved, the gravestones here run the gamut, and each raccoon-hunting dog has met some fairly strict guidelines to be laid to rest here. It’s a uniquely Alabaman sort of place, and easily, one of the weirdest places we’ve been to ever.
Name: Coon Dog Cemetery
Address: 4945 Coondog Cemetery Rd, Cherokee, AL 35616 (GPS: 34.630052, -87.966840)
Directions: From Alabama state road 247, turn onto Coondog Cemetery Rd. and drive for about 5 miles. This is a semi-paved road with no lines and lots of hills, so drive slowly. It’s about 45 minutes southwest of Florence, Alabama.
Hours: daylight hours (no artifical lights around)
Phone: (256) 412-5970
#2 – Solomon’s Castle – middle of nowhere, FL, USA
A prime example of the American spirit, perhaps, or just a case of someone letting their creativity run free. Howard Solomon’s ‘dream turned reality’ is a castle, built out of the aluminum presses from the local newspaper, in/on a swamp. The 12,000 square foot structure isn’t entirely open to the public, but the guided tour will take you through the best parts of it. You’ll also learn how to spend the night in a special room of the castle, the only one of its kind.
Whether you enjoy metalworking and oddball crafts or simply like visiting places with an incredibly quirky sense of humor, there’s something for everyone at this family-friendly place. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but it’s worth the side trip from Sarasota or Punta Gorda.
Name: Solomon’s Castle
Address: 44533 Solomon Rd., Ona, FL, 33865 (GPS: 27.373151, -81.977257)
Directions: No public transportation available to this remote, middle-of-nowhere place. Plug the name into Google Maps and you’ll be good to go – be sure to turn on turn-by-turn directions (these are cached locally, meaning you’ll still get directions after you lose signal!)
Hours: 11:00am-4:00pm Tuesdays-Sundays (closed Mondays and from July to September) – tours start when a small group or more are ready to go.
Admission: $12.50, cash only (ATM on site)
#1 – the DeMoulin Museum of Spanking Machines and Initiation Devices, Greenville, IL, USA
After nearly 10 years of traveling the world, I have sometimes wondered how much weird there is left to see in the world. A lot of places are varieties on a theme — an unusual person making art or craft in prodigious quantities, great big collections of something weird, or perhaps something religious used or made in an unusual way. In this case, we have a historical journey to an almost-forgotten time to credit for my weirdest place of 2017.
Initiation devices were the early 20th century ways of inducting new members to fraternal societies or organizations, some secret and some not. DeMoulin, as a company, produced everything from band uniforms to devices like these, which were sold to the groups that used them on unsuspecting initiates. Gags ranged from firing a blank shot (making a loud POP) to dumping water on the poor guy, and yes, spanking yourself like in the machine above. A script would be read about how the initiate must ‘prove their strength’ by standing on the carpeted platform and bending over to pull the handles in the corners. At some point, the paddle would be released and smack the initiate on the rear.
It’s a wonderful little collection of devices, some of which you can try out for yourself (kids apparently will line up to be spanked by a machine!). Whether approached as a side trip from St. Louis (about an hour northeast) or as part of a longer road-trip, consider this a must-see destination.
Name: DeMoulin Museum
Address: 110 West Main Street, Greenville, IL, 62246 (GPS: 38.891917, -89.411973)
Directions: From I-70, take exit 45 to IL-127 N, then drive about 2.2 miles (3.5 km) and turn right onto Elm Street. Turn left onto E Main St and look left for the museum
Hours: September through May: Saturdays only 10am-2pm, June through August: Friday 1-3pm, Saturday 10am-2pm, Sunday 2-4pm
Admission: by donation
Phone: (618) 664-4115
Where did you go in 2017? Comments are open.
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