Toilets and Torture: A Departure from the Museum Norm

Bored with the normal museum scene? Have you had your fill of artful masterpieces, historical figures and aging aircraft? Then read on, because listed below are a few colorful and obscure museums from around the world, whose exhibits and attractions may delight, entertain and perhaps even disgust, but are sure to be the center of conservation upon your return.

For those of us based in the United States, let us start with a few domestic gems, before hopping “across the pond” to see what Europe and Asia have to offer.

The Museum of Bad Art, Boston, MA

MAMA AND BABE Sarah Irani, 1995

MAMA AND BABE.
Sarah Irani, 1995

First on the list is perfect for those who may have wept at the tragedy of Picasso’s Guernica, or marveled at the application of the Golden Ratio in Michelangelo’s Statue of David. Now it is time for you to experience the arts’ more comical side. The Museum of Bad Art in Boston is dedicated to displaying a range of pieces from ‘the work of talented artists that have gone awry, to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush. What they all have in common is a special quality that sets them apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent.’

Although some of these works may look like they were produced by Bob Ross after a cocaine and tequila bender, don’t be too judgmental. After all, the art world is a fickle place, and what might be viewed today as shoddy brushwork, may be hailed in fifty years as a brave departure from contemporary norms.

International Spy Museum, Washington, DC.

Part of the New James Bond Exhibit. International Spy Museum

Part of the New James Bond Exhibit. International Spy Museum

Always wanted to be James Bond, or just fascinated by all the time and money that the world has put into stealing each other’s secrets? Then the International Spy Museum, as the only museum dedicated to espionage, should be high on your bucket list. Interactive exhibits help you learn the tricks of the trade of both real and fictitious spies. History buffs, gadget fanatics and those that prefer their martinis “shaken, not stirred” will find hours of entertainment and education here.

Just a word of caution, in a museum full of spy equipment, it might not be a smart idea to try and stick your gum under a bench instead of throwing it away. Trench coats, fedoras and dark sunglasses optional.

The Garbage Museum, Stratford, Connecticut

Sure, seeing the bones of a 65 million year old dinosaur can be pretty cool, but what about seeing a dinosaur that you created within the last year? The Garbage Museum’s Trash-o-saurus is just such a creation, made from the estimated amount of garbage that the average person generates each year.

Ever wonder what that soda bottle was before you were drinking out of it; a baby pacifier, an inkjet printer, another soda bottle, or maybe all three? Gain perspective on the recycling process by walking through an enormous compost pile and watching the sorting and recycling process for glass, plastic, newspapers and cans, from your trashcan to bailing the raw materials for shipping to processors.

Maybe afterward, you will want to work on making your own dinosaurs extinct.

The Burlesque Hall of Fame, Las Vegas, NV

Itty Bitty Tease Cabaret © 2011 Tuomas Lairila

Itty Bitty Tease Cabaret © 2011 Tuomas Lairila

Regardless of the opinion of some, this next museum is definitely not trashy. Located in Las Vegas, of course, this risqué locale is sure to titillate the senses as well as educate about the rich and unique history of vintage American Burlesque.

Containing an impressive, one-of-a-kind, collection of art, artifacts and personal histories of some of the most popular and well known icons in the business, including a colorized photo of Mata Hari, the Burlesque Museum does not leave you wanting.

Heart medication recommended.

Torture Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Ah the Netherlands, known for its tulips, windmills, torture devices, wooden clogs, red light district and hash bars. Wait, torture devices? Yes, you read that right. Nestled ominously in a quiet corner of Amsterdam resides the world’s premier museum dedicated to instruments and methods of suffering. Stretching racks, thumb screws and a rusty guillotine are just the warm up to this collection that will leave you glad you live in modern times.

Oh and if you find yourself staring blankly with horror at some device that looks like it is out of a Saw movie, but you don’t know how it was used, don’t worry, there are detailed explanations and paintings to fill in the gaps in your imagination. Although be forewarned, sometimes it is better not to know.

This monument to the heights of human cruelty comes with a reminder and a message, that while the devices may have changed, cruelty persists and we need to be vigilant in our struggle against it.

Museum of Witchcraft, Cornwall, UK

Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Cornwall. UK. Photo Credit: John Hooper/Hoopix / Mow

Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Cornwall. UK. Photo Credit: John Hooper/Hoopix / Mow

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.” – The Three Witches, Macbeth

While you are unlikely to run into many Shakespearian representations of practitioners of the occult at the Witchcraft Museum, you are likely to see a fascinating collection of witchcraft-related artifacts, including medieval dipping chairs and ritual poppets (think voodoo dolls).

Founded by Cecil Williamson over forty years ago, this ex-undercover MI6 agent, whose job was to gather information on the occult interests of leading Nazi military personnel, even has a 3000 book library on witchcraft, in case you want to brush up on your skills. Just a final word of advice, leave your Harry Potter costume as home, this isn’t Hogwarts.

Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, Rome

After all that torture and witchcraft, you may want to round out your medieval trifecta with a visit to a museum dedicated to another tradition started during the dark ages, Catholic Purgatory.

Tucked away in a fittingly unnerving room off the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio church on the banks of the Tiber, you can quietly browse this assemblage of scorched handprints adorning bibles, tables and clothing, hailed as signs from souls trapped in fiery Purgatory trying to contact their loved ones to pray for them and reduce the amount of time they have to spend outside of heaven.

Founded by a priest who saw an aberration in the midst of a fire that destroyed the altar in his church and concluding it was a pained soul from Purgatory, he started to collect information on the appearances of these phenomenon from around the world.

If you believe and want to “Pay it Forward”, you can light a candle in the church and say a prayer to help free a soul from its painful limbo.

Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, New Delhi, India

Sulabh International Museum of Toilet

Sulabh International Museum of Toilet

So you think you’re the king on the throne when it comes to toilet knowledge? Think again! However, thanks to New Delhi’s Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, you can brush up on our facts and be ready to wipe the smile off the face of the next sanitation historian you come across.

From the humble chamber pot to the medieval portable “treasure chest” commode used by the British during hunting, the exhibits will keep you flush with excitement. Just make sure to triple check the museum restroom signs if you feel the urge, lest you become a live-action demonstration exhibit.

The world is full of unique and interesting museum experiences and we challenge you to move beyond the norm and seek them out. If you have visited any of the above museums or have a gem of your own to share, we would love for you to share your experiences using the comment area below!

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Toilets, Torture and a Trash-o-saurus: A Departure from the Museum Norm
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Toilets, Torture and a Trash-o-saurus: A Departure from the Museum Norm
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listed below are a few colorful and obscure museums from around the world, whose exhibits and attractions may delight, entertain and perhaps even disgust, but are sure to be the center of conservation upon your return.
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Student Travel Planning Guide

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