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A Guide to New England’s Most Unusual Museums
From cryptids to telephone history.
From day trips to weekend getaways, our biweekly Traveler newsletter shows you the best of New England and beyond.
Most of us have whiled away a pleasant afternoon browsing the impressionists at the Museum of Fine Arts, or pausing between portraits to appreciate the garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Taking in a museum’s fine art collection is, by and large, a great way to enjoy a city. But not all museums need oil paintings. Sometimes you’re looking for that off-the-beaten-track museum experience. Whether you’re looking to show off your detailed knowledge of the telephone at a party someday or just learn every single detail about the minutiae of everyday life, these quirky museums across New England should head straight to the top of your local travel bucket list.
The International Cryptozoology Museum
Break out your field notebook and pack your best trail snack: It’s time to learn the truth about some folkloric and mythical creatures at the world’s only cryptozoology museum (according to them). If the thought of an entire exhibit devoted to Sasquatch sounds like just the type of place you’d want to get lost for an afternoon, this museum is for you. The secrets revealed within this Portland attraction will make even the skeptics think twice, thanks to its collection of compelling cryptid evidence. Come for the hair samples from the Abominable Snowman, stay for the fecal matter from a small yeti. Sure, science might not say these things exist, but this place will make you a believer. And when you’re done learning about coelacanths, kick back with a beer at nearby Bissell Brothers Brewing Company.
$10 for guests over 13, $5 for 12 and under, open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 32 Resurgam Place, Portland, Maine, cryptozoologymuseum.com.
The Umbrella Cover Museum
Save this one for a summer excursion, because it’s only open in warmer weather—but trust it will be worth the wait. Peaks Island off the coast of Portland is home to the world’s only known museum dedicated to umbrella covers—that pesky little slip of fabric that most likely gets thrown out or lost in your purse or the backseat of your car. According to its website, founder Nancy 3. Hoffman, stole an umbrella cover from a dime store and slowly built her collection from there. The museum (official motto: “celebrate the mundane!”) has grown to include over 80 covers and moved from Hoffman’s kitchen to its own one-room building on Island Avenue, where visitors can enjoy a tour, catch a performance of the official museum song, and browse a special section of risqué umbrella covers. Oh la la!
$5 suggested donation, open between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday and Sunday by appointment, 62 Island Ave., Peaks Island, Maine, umbrellacovermuseum.org.
The American Museum of Fly Fishing
You might not know it, but the history of fly fishing runs deep, almost as deep as the waters you might wade in to do it. Even those who might be squeamish at the idea of putting worms on a hook to reel in a fish might be interested in this Vermont attraction, which boasts that it holds the world’s largest collection of angling and angling-related items. Its exhibits document the history of fly fishing with books, photos, art, and gear dating back to the sixteenth century, and examines it as a sport, art, craft, and industry. No shallow puddle history around here!
$10 for families, $5 for adults, and $3 for children aged 5 to 14, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Thursday to Saturdays from November to May and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sundays from June to October, 4070 Main St., Manchester, VT, amff.org.
The New Hampshire Telephone Museum
We’re all so glued to our phones nowadays, so why wouldn’t you want to take a little time to learn about the history of the device that’s always in your hand? This museum will remind you phones weren’t always so conveniently sized and multifunctional. You’ll travel back in time to the invention of the dial system and see antique phones acquired by collectors throughout the years. Just be glad you have a contact list these days and don’t have to work your way through a rotary phone dial.
$6 for seniors, $7 for adults, and $3 for students, open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays May 1 to Oct. 31, Tuesdays and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Nov-Dec. and March-April, closed Jan/Feb, 1 Depot St., Warner, NH, nhtelephonemuseum.org.
Dollhouse and Toy Museum of Vermont/Vermont Museum of Miniature Art
Growing up, we all had our favorite toys. If you were the kind of kid whose Christmas morning was absolutely made by finding a doll under the tree, you may want to take a trip up to Bennington to visit the Dollhouse and Toy. Real estate junkies can also find plenty to enjoy here, with house designs from a French Quarter home from New Orleans to elaborate Victorians featured. Come visit around the holidays and you’ll find the homes decorated with tiny Christmas trees. But it’s not just houses here—the museum also hosts collections of trains, trucks, educational toys, and dolls. According to founder Jackie Marro, the museum has everything from Madam Alexander dolls to character dolls of famous figures (including Groucho Marx and Winston Churchill) to “advertising dolls” used for old marketing campaigns. There’s also a museum of miniature art within the museum that contains Vermeer’s work, including the paintings of his that were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
$4 for adults and $2 for children, open Saturdays and Sundays 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. or by appointment, 212 Union St., Bennington, VT, dollhouseandtoymuseumofvermont.com.
The Museum of Everyday Life
Are you tickled by doing your taxes? Do you get a thrill from brushing your teeth? You don’t always need a big show to be wowed—sometimes the ordinary will do. And that’s just what you’ll find here at the Museum of Everyday Life. This self-service museum housed in a barn in rural Vermont is dedicated to appreciating the minutiae and exploring our relationship with it all. You can browse the permanent collections and special exhibits, which have showcased the origins and history of items like pencils, scissors, and dust in the past. The museum also has a Performance Department that creates parades and puppet shows dedicated to everyday life. The Museum believes puppet shows should be a “central part” of everyday life, so luckily you can view some of their shows online if you can’t make it up to the museum itself.
Free, open daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 3482 Dry Pond Road, Glover, VT, museumofeverydaylife.org.
The Pez Visitor Center
Who knew these creatively dispensed candies had a whole museum dedicated to them? And in Connecticut? Now you do. If you’re taking a trip down I-95 South, be sure to stop off by Orange, Connecticut to see the Pez Visitor Center. Here, journey through more than 4,000 square feet of space dedicated to the candy and its memorabilia, making it the largest collection in the world. The museum can also lay claim to displaying the world’s largest Pez dispenser and a Pez motorcycle, plus a chance to learn a little about the history of the candy at their American headquarters.
$5 for anyone 13 and up, $4 for children under 12 and seniors, open daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 35 Prindle Hill Road, Orange, CT, pez.com.
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