I've got nothing against a good art museum or a sobering historical exhibit. In fact, I think a great museum is one of the high points of a trip to a new place. But, as Americans, I think most of us also love to explore the weird, the silly, the strange and the morbid. With that in mind, I present to you ten of Texas' weirdest, coolest and most unique museums.
Cockroach Hall of Fame
2231-B West 15th St., Plano ∙ 972-519-0355
I stumbled upon this place a few years back and I tell everyone who's going to be near Plano to pay it a visit, if only to get a laugh. Located inside a pest control supply store and "curated" by owner Michael Bohdan, the hall of fame features plenty of information about roaches and mounted samples. In addition to the "dead" cockroaches, Michael also displays live Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches which are three to four inches long and nearly an inch thick. My favorite part, though, are the displays of roaches in costumes, each in a diorama depicting a scene. For example, there's "Liberoachie", sitting at a piano in a sparkling Liberace costume. And there's also Marilyn Monroach – a dead bug wearing the signature white dress. You'll leave with a smile on your face and a greater appreciation for the lowly roach.
Texas Prison Museum
Huntsville ∙ www.txprisonmuseum.org/
At the Texas Prison Museum, even the tour guide is a genuine artifact: retired warden Jim Willet, who oversaw 89 executions during his career, walked us around and told stories about the exhibits detailing the history of the Texas prison system. Highlights include the Contraband Exhibit, the Famous Prisoners exhibit and "Old Sparky", an electric chair that fried 361 prisoners between 1924 and 1964. You can have your picture taken in a real 9' x 6' jail cell at the Museum for a great souvenir. This very interesting museum is a bargain at only $4 for admission.
The Dog Museum
Waco ∙ antiquibles.com/
If you like dogs, this museum will get your tail wagging. With over 7,000 items on display, this collection includes all things canine: dog salt and pepper shakers, dog inkwells, dog buttons, dog figurines, dogs in photography and advertising — some new, some vintage and some just downright antique. The "slightly creepy" award goes to the taxidermied bulldog from the late 1800s. The museum is free of charge and located in the Antiquibles Antique Mall about four miles north of Waco on I-35.
Ripley's Believe it or Not! Odditorium
San Antonio ∙ www.ripleys.com/sanantonio/
If you've traveled to many big cities, you're sure to have come across one of the several Ripley's attractions, showcasing weird artifacts, unusual relics and displays of world records. The one here in San Antonio offers three floors of interactive displays including a piece of the Berlin Wall, the world’s largest tire, replicas of prehistoric beasts, Lee Harvey Oswald’s car, and iconic items of American and world history. Tickets can be pricey, but there are almost always coupons available — do a quick online search before your visit.
Toilet Seat Museum
239 Abiso, Alamo Heights ∙ 210-824-7791
There's an expression that says "art is where you find it". In San Antonio, you find it on toilet seat lids. This museum consists of over 1,000 toilet seats, but some might argue that the real treasure is its proprietor, 90+ year old Barney Smith, who can tell you the story of each seat. The toilet seat art covers historical events, newsworthy happenings, worldwide travels, hobbies, life events, and celebrities (both famous and "not so famous"). The museum is located in the garage of Barney's private residence, but just give him a call and check that his doors are open when you want to visit. He doesn't charge any admission, but you may find it in your heart to purchase one of the small, handmade souvenirs for sale.
Houston ∙ www.tourtexas.com/content.cfm?id=235
This is one of those museums that people invariably think is going to be boring or morbid and are then surprised by how interesting and cool it is. The National Museum of Funeral History contains the country's largest collection of funeral service artifacts and features in-depth exhibits on embalming, burial methods, mourning rituals and funeral practices of ancient civilizations through today. Artifacts include coffins, funeral vehicles from the early horse drawn variety to the modern hearses, authentic items used in the funerals of U.S. presidents and popes. About a half hour outside of Houston's city center, but well worth the trip
The Salt Palace
Grand Saline ∙ www.saltpalacemuseum.org
Not only is this museum dedicated to salt, it's made of salt! The Salt Palace, a small one-story building in downtown Grand Saline, is constructed of local salt blocks and features the salt industry, which dates back to 1845. Displays inside the Salt Palace include salt mining artifacts, memorabilia and photographs. Morton Salt, which owns the actual mines, does not conduct an underground tour, but a museum videotape shows mining operations. Every Salt Palace visitors takes home a souvenir salt crystal, so please, don't lick the walls.
The Art Car Museum
Houston ∙ www.artcarmuseum.com
First of all, what's an "art car"? Any motor vehicle that has been enhanced or transformed by the application of materials to express the artist's aesthetic or make a statement. Installments here at the museum include several art cars, paintings and sculptures. There are only a few cars on display at any given time so, don't expect a showroom filled with them, but the ones you will see will be beautiful and fascinating and definitely worth your time. And there is plenty of other art here too to capture your interest.
Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum
San Angelo ∙ Facebook page
Like many Old West towns back in the late 1800s, San Angelo was known for boozing, gambling, and prostitution. Today, it's a nice suburban community, but remnants of its colored past live on in Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum, memorializing one of Texas's most famous "gentlemen's social centers". Miss Hattie's was in operation until 1949 until it was closed by the Texas Rangers. Today, in its original location on historic Concho Avenue, Miss Hattie's remains furnished much like it was during its heyday, providing visitors a glimpse into the past. (Tickets may be purchased next door at Legend Jewelers.)
Devil's Rope Barbed Wire Museum
McLean ∙ www.barbwiremuseum.com/
Their tagline says it all: "Everything you want to know about barbed wire and fencing tools". Maybe you think you don't want to know much about barbed wire, but trust me, you do! Barbed wire is a lot more interesting than you'd think. Located on historic Route 66, the museum reveals the history of barbed wire, it's effect on ranching and its darker roles in prisons and in war. Still not convinced? Read these interesting articles about the museum here and here – then add it into your travel itinerary!
OK, so tell me, did I miss any??