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Derek Coleman: No matter your interests, there’s a museum for that

November 28, 2018

I know they’re not to everyone’s taste, but personally I’m a sucker for museums. Any time I’m in Washington I make a point of going to the Smithsonian and I could happily spend days there. It’s the same when I’m across the ocean - the British Museum, the Tower of London and the Imperial War Museum are must-visit places.

I’ve been to the Ann Frank museum in Amsterdam and to our own state’s museum in the Cultural Center in Charleston. I’ve even been to a beer museum in Prague, but there are a lot more, even stranger, museums out there, some of which I’m not sure I’d want to visit.

One that’s definitely on the “no thanks” list is the Plastinarium in the city of Guben in Germany. This place was created by a gentleman named Gunther von Hagens who perfected a technique for combining polymers with animal tissue to preserve it. His museum now shows real plasticized humans and animals in a variety of poses and is something I never want to see.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen museums in Osaka and Yokohama, Japan. Who was Momofuku Ando? He’s the man who, in 1958, invented the instant noodle in his garden shed and then went on to create cup noodles too.

Admission to his museums is free and visitors can walk through a tunnel featuring 800 different types of noodles, varying from the very first chicken noodle to the latest varieties. They can also visit the ramen workshop where they can make noodles and even design their own version of the dish, using pre-made ingredients.

As I said earlier, I love visiting the Smithsonian in Washington but there is another museum in the city that, as a writer of thrillers, I’d also like to see. It’s the International Spy Museum, which is located opposite the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the Le Droit Building.

This museum does charge admission but for their entry fee visitors get to see the history of espionage from Ancient Greece right up to modern times, depicted in pictures, photographs and videos. They can also take on a simulated mission by adopting a secret identity, attending a spy school and taking part in interactive exhibits. There is even a feature called “50 years of Bond Villains” showing the bad guys who have opposed 007 over the years and another showing well-known celebrities who really did have a secret career as spies.

Mexico offers a couple of unusual museums too. The first is in the town of Guanajuato, which was a mining center in the 19th century. Many people found their final resting place there in the crypts of Santo Paula Pantheon, that is until the town decided to impose a burial tax on its people. If families could not afford to pay the tax their loved ones were exhumed. To their surprise, when they started to dig the dead up, the authorities found that a combination of soil and climate had mummified them so now they are on display in the Mummy Museum.

It’s supposed to be a popular tourist attraction but once again I’m going to decline visiting it, as I will the Catacombe dei Cappuccini in the city of Palermo, Sicily. Capuchin friars also found their dead became naturally mummified here, way back in the 16th century and they have been on display ever since.

The other Mexican museum does interest me. It’s at Cancun, or rather it’s in the waters off Cancun and it has more than 500 life-size sculptures that are fixed to the sea bed. They act as a home for coral which is forming a reef over them and they can be seen by snorkeling or, if you don’t want to get wet, from a glass-bottomed boat.

In addition to the Ann Frank Museum, Amsterdam also has the Torture Museum. This is another museum that is popular with tourists. It consists of a number of small rooms, each containing one or two torture implements from history, together with pictures and books depicting the way they were used to extract confessions and information from criminals, enemies and suspected witches. It also has a display of modern torture methods and supports the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Mentioning witches reminds me that there are at least two museums of witchcraft. One of them, as you may have guessed, is right here in the United States, in Salem, Massachusetts to be exact. Here, for an entry fee of $12 for adults and $9 for children, you can see depictions of the infamous witch trials of 1692 in a series of well-lit sets and displays.

The other witchcraft museum is in Boscastle, southwest England. This one is described as; “The world’s largest collection of paraphernalia and artifacts related to folk magic, witchcraft, Wicca and ritual magic.”

Much closer to home is the Vent Haven Museum of Ventriloquism. This can be found at Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, just five miles south of Cincinnati. The exhibit features more than 900 ventriloquist’s dummies from all around the world, some of them more than a hundred years old, and all sitting eerily in rows. There are also books on the art, posters, playbills and photographs. Each year the museum hosts a conference called the ConVENTion that is attended by practitioners of the art from all over the world.

I know some people have a fear of clowns. This is called Coulrophobia and if you suffer from it then you shouldn’t visit the museum dedicated to them in Leipzig, Germany. This is only a small museum but everywhere you look there are thousands of pictures of clowns as well as marionettes, posters, models, figurines and costumes etc. that have been donated by famous clowns.

We’ve barely touched the subject of the world’s weird museums but this is all I have room for here.

Nimhan’s Brain Museum and the Toilet Museum, both in India, will have to wait till another time, as will Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, which displays real skeletons, and Einstein’s brain among other things. If you have a strong stomach then next time I may even mention the various museums of insects and parasites as well as Sweden’s museum of rotten food.

Derek Coleman is a part-time writer who is a native of England and who now lives in Hurricane, W.Va. He can be reached at tallderek@hotmail.com.

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