Travellers looking for something beyond top attractions such as the Space Needle in Seattle might consider adding a weird museum or two to their itineraries.
Here are some suggestions from among dozens of unusual museums across the US, from a funeral museum to an attraction devoted to wet wipes. They aren't the only reason for buying a ticket but they're certainly all worth a stop.
MOIST TOWELETTE MUSEUM, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
This free attraction next to the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University contains one of the odder collections open to the public. On two big bookcases in the office of curator John French are more than a thousand mostly unused, wet wipes from around the world, as well as a "celebrity wing".
Why moist towelettes? "I think everybody just has an urge to collect something," French says. The collection's oldest item is a box of Wash Up! towelettes from 1963.
DIALYSIS MUSEUM AT NORTHWEST KIDNEY CENTERS, SEATTLE
Seattle has many unusual if obscure attractions, such as the gum wall at the Pike Place Market. Here's another one that's a bit more educational: a dialysis museum.
The Northwest Kidney Centres opened the free museum two years ago to celebrate its 50th anniversary as a pioneering medical treatment centre. People who find old medical devices intriguing and those whose lives have been touched by kidney disease are most likely to seek out this display.
The museum shows the history of dialysis through machines and photographs including some early hospital models from the 1940s, and home and travel machines from the 1960s. Some machines were one-of-a-kind devices created with spare parts, including a "travelling kidney" in a suitcase.
NATIONAL CRYPTOLOGIC MUSEUM, NSA HEADQUARTERS, ANNAPOLIS JUNCTION, MARYLAND
The National Cryptologic Museum, about 40km north of Washington, DC, offers a glimpse into the history of American spying, from code books used during the Revolutionary War to signal flags from the civil war and decoding machines from World War II.
An 18th-century cipher device, acquired from a West Virginia antique dealer who found it near Monticello, is a highlight. The curators believe it's the oldest true cipher device in the world. A display on biometrics gives a window into modern surveillance - more focused on computers than spies. Two aircraft used for secret missions are parked next door.
The free museum is open weekdays and some Saturdays. Details: nsa.gov/about/cryptologic_heritage/museum.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF FUNERAL HISTORY, HOUSTON
This serious cultural and history museum also has a sense of fun, illustrated by its trademark - "Any day above ground is a good one" - and its annual haunted house.
Exhibits include artifacts from presidential and celebrity funerals, historical hearses and a full-scale replica of an embalming station from a civil war battlefield. Other replicas in the 1860sqm exhibit space include a typical Victorian living room to illustrate at-home funeral practices, and a recreation of a casket factory from the 1900s.
Admission is between $US7 ($A7.57) and $US10 and the museum is open daily except for some holidays.
VENT HAVEN VENTRILOQUIST MUSEUM, FORT MITCHELL, KENTUCKY
The Vent Haven Museum houses more than 800 ventriloquist dummies, thousands of photographs of famous performers and a library full of ventriloquism books. It also hosts an annual convention of practitioners. Figures on display include a replica of the Charlie McCarthy, who was Edgar Bergen's sidekick. The museum has one puppet on which visitors can try out their ventriloquism skills.
The museum is open May through September, suggested donations $US10, adults, $US5 for under 12 and seniors. Details: venthavenmuseum.com.
Six more weird and intriguing museums
- The Toilet Seat Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas.
- The Titan Missile Museum, Green Valley, Arizona.
- The Wrench Museum (farm implements), Marsing, Idaho.
- The Mutter Museum (medical oddities), Philadelphia.
- The Glore Psychiatric Museum in Saint Joseph, Missouri.
- The Museum of Sex, New York City.