While exploring archaeological sites and museums of classical and Victorian origin is thrilling for me personally, so is peering into the eye of a bizarre statue or medical device, kept safely at some of the most strange and bizarre museums in the world. These are some of my favorites!
Museé Fragonard, Paris
The Fragonard Museum houses the only remaining collection of the infamous "flayed figures" created by Frenchman, Honoré Fragonard. Fragonard was a medical master and anatomist in the 1700s who created hundreds of "flayed figures" called échorchés, which are carefully dissected animals -- and humans -- which were posed and mounted using a secret process similar to plasticization. Most of these figures were created as educational tools, but some of the works are purely artistic. Fragonard made hundreds of these flayed figures over the course of his life, but the 21 échorchés on display are the last of these haunting figures that exist.
The Cesare Lombroso Museum of Criminal Anthropology, Turin, Italy
Cesare Lombroso was a 19th century Italian criminologist who developed a school of criminology known as "biological determinism", a theory which held that a person's propensity toward criminality could be predicted by studying their physical characteristics. Hundreds of skulls from Lombroso's collections are on display, medical sections of "madmen and criminals," drawings, photos, criminal evidence and even the Gallows of Turin, which was used in the city's final hanging in 1865. Lombroso's own head is on display as well, perfectly preserved in a glass jar.
Coney Island Museum, New York City
Coney Island Museum has been keeping alive the traditions of the famous amusement park, and was founded on the belief that the popular culture of 19th century America gave rise to a democratic golden age. Offering walking tours of the rides and attractions of the area, and lectures covering the legendary history of Coney Island, this bizarre museum is the hub of information on all things Coney Island. One can see Burlesque Shows, a Mermaid Parade and even a Sideshow Freak School in operation. Through April of 2012 the Great Coney Island Spectacularium will be in operation, a series of exhibits and showings that hearken back to the days of dime museums, waxworks, magic lantern shows and other live acts that flourished before cinema changed the entertainment landscape forever.
International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago
It may sound boring and mundane, but in the International Museum of Surgical Science Museum the sordid past of surgical science is explored, from the time when barbers doubled as surgeons and performed bloodlettings and amputations without the benefits of antiseptics or anesthesia, through the evolution of surgery into an important and vital discipline of medical science. The exhibits focus on the medical issues of the past and present, including permanent collections of antique medical artifacts with everything from acupuncture needles to x-ray machines on display.
Trundle Manor, House of Oddities
Located in Swissvale near Pittsburgh, this collection of vintage taxidermy, Steampunk sculpture, antique medical devices, rusty cleavers, coffins and dead things in jars is sure to cause chills and wonderment. Billing itself as the headquarters of the Secret Society of Odd Acquisition, Trundle House offers exhibits and creepiness that can be found nowhere else. Visits are by appointment only, but by all accounts no one has ever come away unsatisfied by the experience.
Museum of Bad Art, Dedham, Massachusetts
For those who have never been able to define "good art" over "bad art", the MOBA collection of downright bad art will forever put to rest the uncertainty. This is the only museum in the world that is dedicated to the collection, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms. How bad is it? The word "awful" comes immediately to mind. Pieces in the collection range from works by artists with actual talent that didn't quite work, to others executed by artists who apparently didn't know which end of the brush was used to apply paint. All are purported to possess an indefinable quality that sets them apart from being merely incompetent.
Circus World, Baraboo, Wisconsin
The Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, preserves the heritage of the traveling circus with an impressive collection of memorabilia, props, posters and painted circus wagons. From May through September Circus World puts on live circus acts, parades, clown shows and animal rides. The circus is a thrill for all ages, and Circus World exists to preserve the circus for all.
The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, Fall River, Massachusetts
Yes, that's right, the house that was the scene of the infamous crime is now a Bed and Breakfast. The home has been meticulously restored to "the original look at the time of the murders," and guests can stay in the Andrew and Abbey Borden Suite, or in the actual room where Abbey was killed. Nearby is the Fall River Historical Society, where an exhibit on the famous murders displays everything form a bloodstained camisole, to actual hairs taken from the bloody hatchet and gruesome crime-scene photos.
The First Ripley's in St. Augustine Florida
I have, on occasion, visited several "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" locations around the globe, but the location in St. Augustine is unique. This was the first Ripley's in a collection of museums started by Robert Ripley.
Robert was an eccentric man and an avid traveler, obsessed with the inner workings of anthropology and archaeology. He took the world by storm visiting far off lands and unblemished territories and cultures. Places like India and the Orient were unconventional areas for the American traveler during the 19th century, however Ripley's obsession drove him to these areas to study the local customs and speak with people in the area.
Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, Minneapolis, Minnesota
This truly bizarre museum, now administered by the Science Museum of Minnesota, offers a collection of medical devices that have been sold to the public over the years that range from the horrifying to the preposterous.
Included in the collection is an ultraviolet comb with penile and anal attachments, a prostrate warmer, a MacGregor Rejuvenator that claimed to reverse the aging process by bombarding the body with radio waves, and a Recto-rotor (no explanation necessary).