I’m a museophile – big ones, small ones and, especially, off-the-wall ones. I’ve visited the Dog Collar Museum on the grounds of Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent, England, Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri, and the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam. Among my favorites are several who were started by individuals with a particular passion. Here are some of these interesting – perhaps odd – collections.
The National Mustard Museum is appealing on so many levels – history, gastronomy and humor. Founded by lawyer Barry Levenson, the museum is located in Middleton, Wisconsin, a short drive from Madison. Over 6000 different brands of mustard from all 50 states and more than 70 countries are one display. In addition there are exhibits featuring mustard pots, mustard advertising and mustard in culture – think Clue’s Colonel Mustard and Shakespeare’s Mustardseed.
What possessed this Midwesterner to amass myriad mustards? It began with a sleepless night after a baseball game. As he wandered aimlessly through the aisles of an all-night grocery store, he mulled over the idea that he needed to have a hobby – perhaps start a collection of something. While musing over the mustard selections, he made his decision.
It was an odd choice, but he’s made the most of it. He’s a prince of puns and a hero of humor. In addition to some educational information, guests are bombarded with witticisms. Take his Mustardpiece Theatre with titles like “Hello, Dollop” and “Annie Get Your Bun.”
Fans can get a real mustard fix in the museum store by purchasing mustards from all over the world. True confession here: my sense of humor is arrested at the level of a fifth-grade boy so my favorite area is dedicated to merchandise from the fictional institution of higher humor, Poupon U. I have a D.D.S. degree from the school – Doctor of Diddley Squat. Pennants and playing cards are fine but the poup de grace is a Poupon U. toilet seat.
Closer to home, the Jack Sisemore’s RV Museum in Amarillo is another fun collection. I had no interest in RVing but it was included on a press trip itinerary. In spite of myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the collection.
The museum is located on the property of Sisemore Traveland – the RV dealership Sisemore’s owned since 1974. He and his son Trent have been collecting antique RVs – along with assorted cars, motorcycles and auto and camping memorabilia – for 30 years.
Vehicles include the world’s oldest Airstream (1935) and a 1918 Harley motorcycle – one of only two existing with left-side sidecars. Other goodies include a tiny 1946 teardrop trailer made from World War II surplus aluminum and the 1948, red and white, Flxible Bus driven by Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth in the 2006 movie “RV,” which also starred Robin Williams. Before it was purchased for the movie, it was used by a high school band. Over the years, band members have made pilgrimages to relive happy times.
The Sisemores have approximately 45 vehicles on display. The museum is open six days a week and it’s absolutely free. And, if you’re an RVer or camper, the dealership has all sorts of accessories and necessities for sale.
In our own backyard, we have a really unique museum – the Museum of Osteology. Yes, a museum of bones – skeletons, more accurately. When Jay Villamarette was seven, he found a dog skull and became fascinated. It was the start of a skull collection. As an adult, he discovered that there was a market for scientific specimens and began a part-time business. Demand from universities and museums soon turned his hobby into a full-time occupation.
All the animals he works with were the result of natural or predator deaths. His biggest job was working on a 40-foot humpback whale whose skeleton, hanging from the ceiling of the museum, is a real highlight.
The bones are beautiful and the way they are exhibited is brilliant. Whether visitors realize it or not, they’re getting a basic zoology course in scientific classification – proceeding from some of the lowest limbs on the tree-of-life. Displays point out interesting evolutionary adaptations.
Skeletons range from a tiny Pribilof Island Shrew, smaller than a hummingbird, to an elephant, giraffe and the whale. While most of the animals represented are mammals, there are actually close to 1500 species in the collection – all vertebrates, of course. For younger visitors, there’s a scavenger hunt worksheet for fun. The museum, at 10301 S Sunnylane Road, is a bit of a drive but definitely worth it.