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Modern human beings have always had a fascination with preserving physical artifacts.  The term “museum” is actually derived from the Greek mouseion, referring to temples they built to honor the goddesses who kept watch over the arts and sciences.

Within these temples, they displayed all kinds of objects and artifacts, like paintings and sculptures, coins and jewels, along with weapons from past wars.  In the early days of America, many museums were built to honor the diversity and great strides the country was making.  In 1786, one of the countries first museums was opened in Philadelphia, known as “Charles Wilson Peale’s Cabinet of Curiosities.”  This museum featured a collection of portraits of the country’s founders and gave insight into some of the practical issues they faced as they struggled to form the nation.  Frequently, museums would be set up in private homes and other out of the way places, often announced by signs such as, “George Washington Slept Here.”  Museums throughout Europe were often thought of as ideal hiding places and many had secret rooms in which artifacts were hidden.  Sometimes entire buildings were kept hidden from the public and were only made available to the most elite members of society who would pay to use the spaces for social gatherings.

Over the years, collectors with a wide array of interests have opened up museums throughout the world.  No longer are paintings, sculptures, rocks, dinosaur bones and other conventional museum pieces the only items that are commonly displayed.  Today, anyone with a taste for a collection of the strange or unusual can likely find a museum where they will feel at home.

Toilets & Torture

Do you like toilets much?  If so, then you’re in luck, because the Sulabh International Social Service Organization in New Delhi, a pioneer in the field of sanitation in India, has opened up The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets on the campus of its central office at Mahavir Enclave.

The organization’s founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, had wanted to open such a museum for a long time and when he finally decided to go through with it, he searched the globe so he could properly depict the evolution of the toilet.  Plumbing professionals, international embassies, and high commissions all came through for him providing him with information, photographs and actual toilets from their respective countries.  Of course, India is the ideal location for such a museum considering that some of the very first toilets in history were developed and utilized here.  It was during the Harappa civilization in India, some 5,000 years ago, that people were using water borne toilets in their homes, which were linked with drains covered under burnt clay bricks.  Ultimately, the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets helps students and others who are interested learn about the historical trends that were so critical to the development of the modern toilets we have today.

In the town of San Gimignano, Italy, an entirely different kind of museum exists; one that is certain to ignite the imaginations of those with macabre tastes.  The Torture Museum offers a distinctly gruesome collection that is owned by a group of independent Italian scholars who make pain-inducing instruments such as thumbscrews, knee splitters, hot pokers and Judas cradles available for public view.  The museum maintains that it exists not for the sake of entertainment, but rather to serve as a clear message against the violation of human rights.  The museum condemns all forms of torture and makes it clear that the use of such devices was not credible as punishment, but merely an exercise in brutality and savagery.

However, it should perhaps come as little surprise given the wide interest that there are numerous torture museums around the world that receive millions of visitors each year.

Lawnmowers and Bad Art

You would think that to anyone except for the most serious lawn care enthusiasts, a lawnmower would be a complete bore.  And you would probably be right.  Nonetheless, the British Lawnmower Museum exists in the quaint seaside town of Southport and gets plenty of visitors.

The museum is the brainchild of ex-lawnmower racing champion Brian Radam, whose interest in lawnmowers stems from his close involvement in the family garden machinery business.  The British Lawnmower Museum is stocked full of antique mowers, parts and manuscripts from all over the world.  In one section, it pays homage to Edwin Beard Budding, who invented the lawnmower in 1830.  At the time, people thought he was crazy for creating such a contraption, but we all know how that story went.  Today, the museum is one of the world’s leading authorities on vintage lawnmowers and employs several specialists who can answer almost any question on the subject.

Perhaps the most fun of all the strange and unusual museums is the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), with multiple galleries in Massachusetts.  As its name suggests, MOBA is dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and perhaps most importantly, celebration of bad art.  Some of the most awful pieces include paintings of a nude contortionist, a nude woman scratching an itch in her armpit and an individual sporting a blue left foot.  Initially, MOBA was housed in the basement of a private house in Boston, but with so much bad art in the world to be acquired, it quickly outgrew the space.  With the ultimate goal of bringing “the worst art to the widest of audiences,” undoubtedly more MOBA locations are on the way.

Geeking Out

Quirky museums of highly specialized artifacts are popping up around the world at a rapid rate.  Whether you have a thing for Pez dispensers or Pokemon, soap bars or sandstone sculptures, there’s a good chance that there’s a museum out there, or one in the works, where you can go and geek out.