Offbeat U.S. Museums
by Paulette Dininny
Admit it — museums could be more fun. But what if you could visit one that revels in the relatively unexamined, indulges your conspiracy bent or lets you take a trip down RV memory lane? You'd go in a New York minute — and relish the detour.
Here, some museums for the lover of offbeat Americana.
Drug Enforcement Administration & Visitors Center (shown above)
700 Army Navy Drive
Arlington, VA 22202
By appointment on weekdays
Hours: call first
Pentagon City Metro station
You can thank retired narcotics agents for the curious contributions to this small, new museum hosted by the Feds, such as a pair of green platform snakeskin shoes worn by an undercover agent dedicated to street authenticity.
Other artifacts: old opium pipes, a circa 1920 Tommy gun and hollowed-out books and shaving brushes used for smuggling drugs.
The Salem Wax Museum & Salem Witch Village
282 Rear Derby St.
Salem, MA 01940
Hours: Nov-Apr, 10a.m. - 5p.m.
May-Jun: 9a.m. - 6p.m.
Jul-Sep: Sun-Thu, 9a.m. - 7p.m.; Fri and Sat, 9a.m. - 9p.m.
Oct.: Extended hours for Haunted Happenings
Don't think that weeping, absentmindedness and an inability to concentrate could get you into serious trouble? But it did for some young women branded as witches in Salem in the 17th century.
What did it mean to be a "witch" where the terrifying trials were held in 1692? Learn about genuine Wicca holidays, attend ceremonies, see horror flicks, take walking tours and visit a haunted village. October events are plentiful, not to mention spooky. A Hysteria Pass is available for events from October 8 - 31.
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum
724 Dumaine St.
New Orleans, LA
Hours: 10a.m. - 8p.m. daily
Who hasn't longed to have a voodoo doll for wreaking havoc on an enemy, or a potion for good luck, fame or fortune? Indulge your curiosity about the history and practice of voodoo at this French Quarter museum.
Have a reading done by a genuine voodoo practitioner, or ask about being married by "Queen Margaret," who is licensed to perform marriage ceremonies. Numerous walking tours are available, as well as a visit to the grave of the great voodoo queen Marie Laveau and the resting places of other infamous folks. Stock up in the museum shop on candles meant to bring success, general good or love and passion. Order a custom gris-gris bag or pick up a voodoo kit designed to "win in court."
The Conspiracy Museum
110 S. Market St.
Hours: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily
If you've visited the excellent Sixth Floor Museum, and you're convinced that Oswald must have had help, you're not alone. Underwritten by a self-proclaimed assassinologist, this museum latches on to conspiracies, such as those purportedly behind the assassinations of Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, and doesn't let go. For example, did you know that President Abraham Lincoln's assassin might have lived into the 20th century? Leave your skepticism at the door.
RV/MH Heritage Foundation
801 Benham Ave.
Hours: 9a.m. - 5p.m. weekdays
For those with wanderlust who've outgrown tent-pitching, take a trip down memory lane at the RV Mobile Home Museum. There's the 1913 "Earl" travel trailer, believed to be the oldest non-tent model; a shiny silver 1954 Spartan Imperial Mansion, the height of `50s chic; two 1957 models of the little sweetheart Serro Scotty and a 1967 Winnebago, a fine example of the first motorized model. Don't miss the quirky crank-up tent trailer with a slide-out bed in the back. Good fun and Hoosier hospitality here.
Petersen Automotive Museum
6060 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Hours: Tues-Sun, 10a.m. - 6p.m.
A shrine to the automobile in Southern California, this venue wins praise from the cognoscenti as not just another auto museum. More than 150 cars are displayed — from a Ford Model T to prototypes and custom cars. See Tucker's "Tucker," The Dukes of Hazzard's "General Lee," the taxi featured in Seinfeld episodes and the Packard from Back to the Future.
A clever interactive display: a giant engine in which visitors become the pistons.
Hippo Hardware and Trading Company Museum
1040 E. Burnside St.
Hours: Mon-Thu: 10a.m. - 5p.m.
Fri-Sat: 10a.m. - 6p.m.
Have you got a thing for hardware? How about plumbing fixtures? Then Hippo's the place. This is died-and-gone-to-hardware-heaven for hard-core addicts. Stretching the definition, this part-store, part-museum covers three big floors. Explore, browse for creative possibilities or buy vintage inventory from doorknobs to lighting and plumbing fixtures and furniture.
Hippo has supplied prop fittings for the films Body of Evidence, Maverick, Free Willy 1 & 2, Mr. Holland's Opus and more. The Oregon Preservation League calls it the preeminent junk store on the West Coast.
Paulette Dininny is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer who prefers writing about fun stuff than politics.
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