The Best Offbeat Museums to Visit in All 50 States (And Washington, D.C.)

The exterior of The Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho.
The exterior of The Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho.
Courtesy of The Idaho Potato Museum

Don't get us wrong: We love museums devoted to art, history, and science as much as the next person (and maybe more than the next person). But sometimes, our curiosity demands quirkier territory. Here are our favorite institutions devoted to the stranger things in life.

  1. Alabama // The Drive-Thru Museum

The Drive-Thru Museum in Seale, Alabama
AnneNY, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Seale, Alabama

The Drive-Thru Museum isn't the kind of place where you walk around and look at all sorts of cool things. In fact, you don't even have to get out of your car at all. The popular roadside attraction, which is an offshoot of Butch Anthony’s taxidermy shop-turned-Museum of Wonder, is made from several stacked shipping containers with carefully cut windows that give visitors a clear glimpse at Anthony’s assortment of quirky treasures. So drive slowly and enjoy the views.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Hank Williams' Boyhood Home & Museum (Georgiana), Mobile Medical Museum (Mobile)

  1. Alaska // The Hammer Museum

A carpentry hammer on a wooden table
kmk-vova/iStock via Getty Images

Location: Haines, Alaska

As the name suggests, The Hammer Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of hammers. Dave Pahl opened the museum in 2002 as a way to exhibit his impressive collection of hammers, and to educate the public on the fascinating history of the tool. Today, the museum houses more than 7000 specimens in total, approximately 2000 of which are on display at any given time.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Aurora Ice Museum (Fairbanks), Red Onion Brothel Museum (Skagway)

  1. Arizona // World's Smallest Museum

World's Smallest Museum in Superior, Arizona
Danny McL, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Location: Superior, Arizona

Within this cramped, 135-square-foot shed is a host of curiosities and oddities, ranging from lighthearted bits of state pride to some pieces with real historical gravitas. The centerpiece of the museum is a large Apache tear, a semi-precious obsidian gemstone native to the area that the museum says is the largest in the world. There are also a few items that will catch the eye of any history buff, like the pins from past presidential campaigns, a piece of barbed wire from a WWII Japanese internment camp located in Chandler, Arizona, and a letter written by President John F. Kennedy.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Arizona Route 66 Museum (Kingman), Dwarf Car Museum (Maricopa), Tombstone Courthouse Museum (Tombstone)

  1. Arkansas // Chaffee Barbershop Museum

Elvis Presley receiving mail while in the Army, 1958
Elvis Presley receiving mail while in the Army, 1958
Keystone/Getty Images

Location: Chaffee, Arkansas

In 1958—at the height of his success—Elvis Presley traded in his blue suede shoes for a military look when he was drafted into the Army. On March 24, 1958, the King reported for duty at Arkansas’s Fort Chaffee, while media and fans camped out around the military base. The next day, Presley walked into the Chaffee Barbershop and, like his fellow soldiers, got a haircut. This barbershop-turned-museum, which is also known as the Elvis Barbershop Museum, is where it all went down. In 2008, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that fateful day, the barbershop—which still looks exactly as it did when Elvis visited—was turned into a museum so that fans around the world could celebrate this momentous occasion. In addition to Elvis-specific artifacts, including newsreel footage and a camera that was used to shoot what became known as "the haircut heard 'round the world," the museum also traces the wider history of Fort Chaffee itself, making it a great destination not just for Elvis fans but for history (and military history) buffs, too.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: The Walmart Museum (Bentonville), The Gangster Museum of America (Hot Springs), Maxwell Blade's Odditorium and Curiosities Museum (Hot Springs)

  1. California // Museum of Jurassic Technology

Location: Los Angeles, California

The Museum of Jurassic Technology is no less confusing than its name suggests. Inside, visitors will find microscopic mosaics, artifacts salvaged from trailer parks, and a gallery of portraits of the dogs of the Soviet space program. Factual exhibits are mixed in with fabricated ones: One of the first items guests see is a preserved specimen of the so-called “stink ant of the Cameroon of West Central Africa"—a creature that doesn't exist. While most museums are meant to inform, every element of the Museum of Jurassic Technology is designed to make guests question their reality.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: The Museum of Death (Los Angeles), Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum (San Francisco)

  1. Colorado // The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum

National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame, Leadville CO
Roy Luck, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Leadville, Colorado

The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum may possibly be the highest-altitude museum in the U.S. It's located in Leadville, Colorado—the highest incorporated city in the country (altitude 10,152 feet). That's not its most appealing feature, of course: The 25,000-square-foot "Smithsonian of the Rockies" features a walk-through replica of a mine, a model house where you can learn about all the minerals that go into your household products, and almost 20,000 historic objects, archival documents, specimens (including a real lunar rock), and more, all related to mining history, industry, and science.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys (Denver), Lee Maxwell Washing Machine Museum (Eaton)

  1. Connecticut // The American Museum of Tort Law

An image of a book that reads "tort law" on a table with glasses and a gavel.
designer491/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Location: Winchester, Connecticut

Connecticut is home to plenty of unusual museums, but our favorite is devoted to a subject that rarely gets its due: tort law. The American Museum of Tort Law, founded by Ralph Nader in his hometown of Winchester, is devoted to the often under-appreciated right of Americans to sue for wrongful injury. The museum highlights how trial by jury and tort lawsuits have benefited consumers in the U.S., holding those in power responsible for dangerous and defective products, environmental disasters, and malpractice. Exhibits explore some of the most misunderstood tort cases in modern American history, like the infamous Liebeck v. McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit. A visit is sure to make you rethink your views on the American justice system. It's also a great place to get a T-shirt emblazoned with an exploding Ford Pinto.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry (Mansfield), Lock Museum of America (Terryville)

  1. Delaware // Johnson Victrola Museum

Location: Dover, Delaware

A must-see for lovers of vintage audio technology, this museum in Dover features a vintage collection of phonographs (also known as gramophones) as well as plenty of related memorabilia and recordings. It's named for Delaware native Eldridge Reeves Johnson, who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1890s and went on to produce—you guessed it—Victrolas. Docents will even put socks in the Victrolas to control volume—allegedly the origin of the phrase "put a sock in it."

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum (Fenwick Island), Marvel Carriage Museum (Georgetown)

  1. Florida // Coral Castle Museum

Strange statues made of coral at the Coral Castle in Florida.
Christina Rutz, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Homestead, Florida

The whole backstory behind Florida’s Coral Castle Museum may be even more impressive than the 1100 tons of meticulously carved coral rock that make up this museum/art installation hybrid. As the story goes, the statues were crafted by Edward Leedskalnin, a Latvian immigrant who traveled to the U.S. after his 16-year-old bride-to-be canceled their nuptials the day before the wedding. Heartbroken, Leedskalnin eventually settled in Florida where he decided to create this oolite limestone monument to his estranged love, a feat that took nearly 30 years to complete. To this day, no one quite knows how the 100-pound Leedkalnin moved the massive stones—there were no witnesses to the construction. You can now view these sculptures in all their mysterious glory on the South Dixie Highway in Homestead, Florida.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Penny Lane Beatles Museum (Dunedin), Skeletons Museums of Osteology (Orlando)

  1. Georgia // David J. Sencer CDC Museum

An exhibition inside the David J. Sencer CDC Museum
An exhibition inside the David J. Sencer CDC Museum
Courtesy the CDC Museum

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a federal agency whose official mission is to work "24/7 to protect America from health, safety, and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S." The CDC's scientists work more like a team of detectives to identify public health mysteries around the world, then apply old-school investigative techniques to discover their causes—and cures. The organization's Atlanta headquarters is home to a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that traces the organization's history and hosts a range of both permanent and temporary exhibitions, like this year's "The World Unseen," which featured the work of 10 international artists who look to science—microbiology, biotechnology, anatomy, and beyond—for inspiration.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Lunchbox Museum (Columbus), Delta Flight Museum (Atlanta), Expedition Bigfoot!: The Sasquatch Museum (Blue Ridge), Waffle House Museum (Avondale Estates)

  1. Hawaii// Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House

Location: Wailuku, Hawaii

Run by the Maui Historical Society, the Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House is located in a former girl's school and royal residence. The museum showcases artifacts from the era before native Hawaiians made contact with Westerners, including religious statues, clothing, and tools, as well as 19th-century items. It's also home to more than 100 landscape paintings by Edward Bailey (a self-trained artist who once lived in the house) and a large collection of land snail shells—the most extensive assortment of rare Hawaiian land snails anywhere.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Laupahoehoe Train Museum (Laupāhoehoe), Pacific Tsunami Museum (Hilo), Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum (Kahului)

  1. Idaho // Idaho Potato Museum

The exterior of The Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho
Courtesy of The Idaho Potato Museum

Location: Blackfoot, Idaho

Idaho's official nickname may be "The Gem State," but everyone knows that the potato is its true claim to fame. The Idaho Potato Museum pays tribute to the simple spud. Located inside a 1912 railroad depot, the museum traces the evolution of the potato industry, covering such seminal events as the first potato planted in Idaho and the largest Pringle ever made. And when all that potato talk inevitably has you craving something starchy, the onsite Potato Station Cafe's baked potato bar has got you covered.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Oasis Bordello Museum (Wallace), Shaddow Domain Dime Museum (Idaho Falls), Butch Cassidy Museum (Montpelier), Museum of Clean (Pocatello)

  1. Illinois // International Museum of Surgical Science

International Museum of Surgical Science
Michael Robinson Photography

Location: Chicago, Illinois

The International Museum of Surgical Science is not the place for tourists with a weak stomach. The often-overlooked gem of a museum just north of Chicago's Magnificent Mile explores the surprisingly long history of medical surgery and features a plethora of antique medical instruments you might not want to imagine being used on you—from a replica of an ancient Roman speculum to a 16th-century Austrian amputation saw. There are also plenty of paintings, drawings, and historical artifacts related to anatomy and the practice of medicine through the centuries, from paintings of 19th-century C-sections to Napoleon's death mask to prosthetic eyeballs. On a more modern note, the museum also runs an artist's residency and hosts contemporary art exhibitions related to anatomy, the body, and other medical subjects.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Spinach Can Collectibles Popeye Museum (Chester), American Toby Jug Museum (Evanston), Busy Beaver Button Museum (Chicago)

  1. Indiana // The Indiana Medical History Museum

The Indiana Medical History Museum
Indiana Landmarks, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

What was once the pathology building on the grounds of the Indiana Hospital for the Insane is now a charmingly creepy museum of preserved medical artifacts and primitive equipment used during the early days of psychiatric medical research. Once inside the ominous red structure, patrons can browse a collection of preserved brains and skeletons, view heart-stopping exhibits like an early 20th-century autopsy room, and see shudder-inducing artifacts like an iron lung designed for toddlers with polio. It’s unsettling, it’s intense, and it’s an absolute must-see if you’ve got a morbid streak.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum (Elkhart), Mid-America Windmill Museum (Kendallville), Santa Claus Museum (Santa Claus)

  1. Iowa // Matchstick Marvels

Pat Acton in front of a matchstick construction of the U.S. Capitol.
Courtesy of Matchstick Marvels

Location: Gladbrook, Iowa

Pat Acton of Gladbrook, Iowa, has chosen a highly specific medium for his artwork. He builds elaborate structures out of matchsticks, and you can view his creations at the Matchstick Marvels museum in his hometown. The models on display include recreations of Notre Dame Cathedral, the United States Capitol, and Hogwarts Castle. Most exhibits took thousands of matchsticks to build, and the largest sculptures at the museum contain over 1 million of them.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Squirrel Cage Jail (Council Bluffs)

  1. Kansas // Strataca: The Kansas Underground Salt Museum

Edward Dick, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Location: Hutchinson, Kansas

The town of Hutchinson sits atop a huge geologic feature called the Wellington Formation. Along with its 300-million-year-old fossils, the formation is a rich source of salt, which became the basis of a thriving industry in the early 20th century. This underground museum takes visitors on a tour by tram of a massive salt mine, with subterranean chambers featuring exhibits about local geology and mining. You'll also find out why the Atomic Energy Commission considered Strataca for a nuclear waste storage site.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things (Lucas)

  1. Kentucky // Vent Haven Museum

5chw4r7z, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Location: Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

If you are afraid of clowns, dolls, or animatronic toys, do not visit the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, the world's only ventriloquism museum. Its founder, W.S. Berger—who was not a ventriloquist—collected hundreds of ventriloquist dummies and memorabilia during the first half of the 20th century. Today, the museum owns more than 900 dummies, as well as scripts, photos, recordings, and more. You can even try your skill at throwing your voice with a puppet.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History (Bardstown)

  1. Louisiana // Abita Mystery House

The exterior of the Abita Mystery House.

Jon Evans, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Abita Springs, Louisiana

According to John Preble, founder of the Abita Mystery House in Abita Springs, the No.1 comment from visitors to this oddball museum is "Oh my god!" They could be reacting to any of the thousands of folk-art pieces, artifacts, or junk collections at this classic roadside attraction, from Buford the Bassigator (a half-fish, half-alligator sculpture) to the animatronic diorama of a New Orleans jazz funeral and the mosaic-paneled House of Shards.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (New Orleans), Avery Island Tabasco Museum (New Iberia)

  1. Maine // International Cryptozoology Museum

The interior of Maine's crytozoology museum.

Scott Beale, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Location: Portland, Maine

Serious scholars of cryptozoology (the study of mysterious and unknown animals, duh) come to Loren Coleman's famous museum in Portland to examine evidence of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and many more pseudo-real creatures. On display: a plaster cast of a Thylacine (a.k.a. Tasmanian tiger) footprint, hair samples from Sasquatches and Abominable Snowmen, a movie prop of a FeeJee Mermaid, and the pièce de résistance—Yeti poop.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum (Brunswick), Maine Coast Sardine History Museum (Jonesport)

  1. Maryland // Havre de Grace Decoy Museum

Chesapeake Bay Program, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Location: Havre De Grace, Maryland

Even if you don't know mallards from teals or canvasbacks from gadwalls, you can appreciate the artistry and skill behind this museum's collection of duck decoys. Originally a craft of necessity—duck hunters used decoys to lure actual birds within shooting range—decoy carving eventually grew into a form of folk art. Some pieces by known artists now go for more than $10,000 on eBay. At this museum on the Chesapeake Bay, you can browse fine examples, including a massive mute swan and a diminutive bufflehead.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Urology Museum (Linthicum Heights), National Cryptologic Museum (Fort Meade)

  1. Massachusetts // Museum of Bad Art

Museum of Bad Art
Chris Devers, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Location: Somerville, Massachusetts

If you're tired of going to museums to admire priceless masterpieces, make a trip to the Museum of Bad Art in Somerville, Massachusetts. MOBA is dedicated to celebrating the tacky, amateur creations that usually end up in second-hand stores and trash bins. Collection titles include "Poor Traits," "Oozing My Religion," and "In the Nood." Note: The museum's gallery is currently undergoing renovations, so be sure to check with the museum before dropping by.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: The Plumbing Museum (Watertown), Salem Witch Museum (Salem)

  1. Michigan // Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum

An animatronic figure in a case with a sign above it saying "Ask the Brain" in Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum.
ellenm1, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Location: Farmington Hills, Michigan

The late Marvin Yagoda’s 5500-square-foot establishment in Farmington Hills combines all the interactive childhood fun of playing games at an arcade with the mysterious, macabre fascination of exploring the animatronic oddities at a circus sideshow. Some of the coin-operated machines act out medieval torture scenes or real-life historical murders, but if mechanical horror isn’t your thing, you can always stick to traditional games like Pac-Man and Skee-Ball—and you can even trade in your tickets for prizes at the end of your visit. Admission is free, but you might end up spending your weight in quarters at this jam-packed, marvelous museum.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Michigan Air Zoo (Kalamazoo), Pickle Barrel House Museum (Grand Marais)

  1. Minnesota // SPAM Museum

Bright screens and cans of SPAM inside the SPAM museum.
Lorie Shaull, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Location: Austin, Minnesota

Even if you think it’s best not to ask too many questions about canned meat, the SPAM Museum is too fantastic not to visit if you’re ever near Austin, Minnesota, the birthplace of Hormel (the makers of SPAM and other meat products). Walk through vibrant displays that chronicle the history of SPAM and its perhaps surprising impact on the world since it landed in casserole dishes and military supply packs in the late 1930s. Find out how many SPAM cans tall you are, learn how to package SPAM like a factory professional, and sample some salty SPAM yourself—served on pretzel sticks to eliminate waste.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: House of Balls (Minneapolis), Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden (Minneapolis)

  1. Mississippi // The Apron Museum

Woman prepares a meal in a vintage apron
Tom Kelley Archive/iStock via Getty Images

Location: Iuka, Mississippi

The secret behind America’s only museum devoted to aprons is its enthusiastic owner, Carolyn Terry. She started to build her collection from estate sales, and has now amassed more than 3500 aprons, some dating back to the Civil War era; one woman in Denmark even donated her grandmother’s dowry aprons from 1922. There’s no need to sift through placard upon placard to learn the unique, intimate details about each apron—Terry will answer any questions you might have, personalizing your museum experience based on your interests. “If you’re into art, we can look at how artists drew their aprons out. If you’re into history, we can get into the needleworks of a time period. If you’re creative, it’ll move you up a notch,” Terry told Mississippi Today. “Sometimes there are surprises.”

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Catfish Museum (Belzoni)

  1. Missouri // Leila's Hair Museum

An example of a mourning bracelet made of human hair on display at the Mannum Dock Museum of River History in Mannum, South Australia.

South Australian History Network, Flickr // Public Domain

Location: Independence, Missouri

Next time you’re unclogging your shower drain, just remember that soggy mess of matted hair could be museum-worthy. At Leila's Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri, patrons can observe the follicular beauty of wreaths (600-plus pieces), jewelry (2000-plus pieces), and other items, all made of human hair, preserving a tradition that can be traced back to the 12th century. Owner Leila Cohoon’s collection spans centuries and comes from all over the globe, with the oldest brooch in the museum dating back to 1680. Her assortment of hair art has been collected by her and her family through art auctions, garage sales, estate sales, and antique dealers, and it’s still growing to this day. (The collection, not the hair itself.)

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Titanic Museum (Branson), World's Largest Toy Museum (Branson), World’s Largest Small Electrical Appliance Museum (Diamond)

  1. Montana // Historic Dumas Brothel Museum

A room inside the Historic Dumas Brothel Museum
A room inside the Historic Dumas Brothel Museum
Nicolas Henderson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Butte, Montana

This two-story brick building didn't start off as a museum. In fact, it was a brothel from 1890 until 1982, making it America's longest-running house of ill repute. Now, it serves as a museum filled with historic artifacts, and the new owners are working to preserve and protect this iconic building. It's also a supposed paranormal hotspot.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: American Computer and Robotics Museum (Bozeman)

  1. Nebraska // Hastings Museum Kool-Aid Exhibit

An exhibit of Kool-Aid memorabilia from the 1970s at the Hastings Museum in Nebraska.
Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Location: Hastings, Nebraska

Simply being known as the birthplace of Kool-Aid wasn’t enough for the city of Hastings, Nebraska—instead, an entire wing of the city’s museum is dedicated to this sugary childhood staple. “Kool-Aid: Discover the Dream” is a crash-course in all things Kool, featuring relics from the drink’s history. Vintage advertisements, old-school merchandise, and endless packets of multi-colored powder fill display cases just blocks from where Edwin Perkins invented the drink nearly a century ago. The crème de la crème, however, may be the museum’s display of the original Kool-Aid Man suit. For novelty beverage aficionados, this is basically their Graceland.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (Grand Island), Bigfoot Museum & Research Center (Hastings), National Museum of Roller Skating (Lincoln)

  1. Nevada // The Neon Museum

The Neon Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada
The Neon Museum

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

The Las Vegas strip has been home to an endless array of neon signs advertising everything from casinos to motels to 24-hour restaurants. The Neon Museum is a kind of retirement home for the signs, which are often massive and have intriguing stories behind them. Be sure to check out the giant pirate skull from the now-defunct Treasure Island casino and take in the splendor of the décor from the Liberace Museum.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Pinball Hall of Fame (Las Vegas), Goldwell Open Air Museum (Rhyolite), The Haunted Museum (Las Vegas)

  1. New Hampshire // Woodman Museum

The Woodman Museum in Dover
The Woodman Museum
Magicpiano, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Location: Dover, New Hampshire

An eclectic display of taxidermy, old medicinal cures, and other remnants of New Hampshire history are on tap at the Woodman Museum in Dover. Four separate and historic homes (including the Damm Garrison House, the oldest house in Dover) showcase the exhibits, including a selfie-ready stuffed polar bear.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Crane’s Snowmobile Museum (Lancaster), The Museum of Dumb Guy Stuff (Portsmouth)

  1. New Jersey // Insectropolis

Moths at the Insectropolis in New Jersey
Moths at the Insectropolis
mriggen, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Toms River, New Jersey

Get a buzz on at Insectropolis, a museum in Toms River devoted to all things insect. This “bugseum” puts live and preserved creepers and crawlers on display. Now you can safely observe a beehive without having to flee.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Morris Museum (Morristown), USGA Museum (Liberty Corner)

  1. New Mexico // American International Rattlesnake Museum

Entrance to the Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque
Entrance to the Rattlesnake Museum
Marcin Wichary, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Satisfy your curiosity for rattlers alive and dead at the American International Rattlesnake Museum, an Albuquerque den that lets you get up close and personal to these misunderstood—but still unnerving—creatures.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: The Toy Train Depot (Alamagordo), Roswell UFO Museum (Roswell)

  1. New York // Jell-O Gallery Museum

Displays at the Jell-o Museum in LeRoy, New York
Displays at the Jell-o Museum in LeRoy, New York
David Wilson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Le Roy, New York

The history of this gelatinous treat gets the deluxe treatment at the Jell-O Gallery Museum in its birthplace of Le Roy, New York. Check out vintage ads, marvel at the iconic boxes, and grab some unique recipes.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: The Kazoo Factory, Museum, and Gift Shop (Eden), Museum of Sex (New York City)

  1. North Carolina // North Carolina Maritime Museum

North Carolina Maritime Museum
The North Carolina Maritime Museum
Michelle Underhill, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Beaufort, North Carolina

The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort covers nautical history in the state. From artifacts taken from Blackbeard’s wrecked flagship to the skeleton of a sperm whale, you’ll feel as though you’re practically underwater.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: The Brady C. Jefcoat Museum (Murfreesboro), Gourd Museum (Angier)

  1. North Dakota // National Buffalo Museum

“World’s Largest Buffalo” statue near the National Buffalo Museum
“World’s Largest Buffalo” statue near the National Buffalo Museum
Geof Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Location: Jamestown, North Dakota

The National Buffalo Museum is home to a 26-foot-tall, 46-foot-long, 60-ton buffalo statue named “Dakota Thunder” as well as a herd of much smaller, living buffalo (a.k.a. bison). For years, another major draw was the herd’s rare albino mother-and-son pair, White Cloud and Dakota Miracle. Though they’ve both passed away, you still have the opportunity to see an albino buffalo up close: The taxidermied White Cloud is on display inside the rustic log museum, along with other buffalo relics including a 10,000-year-old bison skull and a complete bison skeleton.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Badlands Dinosaur Museum (Dickinson)

  1. Ohio // Lucky Cat Museum

Displays inside the Lucky Cat Museum
Displays inside the Lucky Cat Museum
5chw4r7z, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

According to Japanese lore, a maneki-neko—a cat figurine with its paw raised—is supposed to bring good fortune to those who look upon it. So exactly how much good fortune will seeing hundreds of lucky cats bring you? Only a visit to Cincinnati’s Lucky Cat Museum can answer this question. The collection includes Pokemon cats, Hello Kitty cats, inflatable cats, wooden cats, dancing cats, and even one with his paws crossed in an apparent act of defeatism. As museum owner Micha Robertson explained to a Cincinnati Public Radio program in 2015, she loves the cats for their eccentricity and individuality along with their alleged luck-bearing qualities.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum (Logan)

  1. Oklahoma // Museum of Osteology

Museum of Osteology, Oklahoma City
fine_plan, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

After Jay Villemarette's skeleton supply company Skulls Unlimited built a reputation among academics, veterinarians, and hobbyists, he decided to open a museum nearby. His Oklahoma City-based Museum of Osteology is distinctive for a few reasons. Upon entering the building, you’ll get to see flesh-eating beetles cleaning the carrion from a soon-to-be-displayed skeleton. And, while Villemarette houses normal bones from animals like elephants, giraffes, and whales, he also exhibits plenty of bizarre ones, like those of a two-headed calf and hunchbacked human skeleton. The skeletons are also arranged in ways that suggest movement, life, and even personality—take, for example, the raccoon skeleton clutching a box of Milk Duds.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: American Pigeon Museum (Oklahoma City), Toy and Action Figure Museum (Pauls Valley)

  1. Oregon // National Hat Museum

National Hat Museum, Portland, Oregon
National Hat Museum

Location: Portland, Oregon

Celebrate the history of headgear at Portland's National Hat Museum, which features almost 2000 hats dating back to the early 1800s. Make a reservation (they're required for a visit), and a docent dressed in 19th-century attire will guide you through the collection. You'll see hats from Hollywood and famous designers, as well as millinery made from surprising materials like cork and mushrooms. You'll also learn how war and industry has literally shaped hats, and why hat-wearing is on the decline. The museum's website promises, "You will leave this experience armed with enough information to speak confidently with others on the subject of hats."

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Kidd's Toy Museum (Portland), Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals (Hillsboro)

  1. Pennsylvania // Mütter Museum

The Mutter Museum, Philadelphia
John Donges, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In the 19th century, a surgeon named Thomas Dent Mütter went out of his way to collect remarkable medical tools and specimens that could be used for education. Today that collection makes up the bulk of the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. The institution is home to more than 5500 medical instruments, 100 skulls, and 2300 swallowed objects removed from patients. Some oddities come from noteworthy sources: A piece of John Wilkes Booth’s vertebra and Albert Einstein's brain are both on display (and you can get a peek on some things you won't see on display here).

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Mercer Museum (Doylestown), Donora Smog Museum (Donora), Living Dead Museum (Evans City), The Stoogeum (Ambler)

  1. Rhode Island // Newport Tower Museum

Location: Newport, Rhode Island

This museum aims to answer a single question: Who built the Newport Tower? To conventional historians, the squat stone tower in the city's Touro Park resembles the remains of a windmill-type structure, and carbon dating of the building material indicates that it was constructed in the 1600s. To Jim Egan, founder of the Newport Tower Museum, the mysterious building has a more esoteric provenance. He argues that the tower was built in 1583 using a design by John Dee, an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Its purpose? To serve as a celestial timekeeping device for a new English colony in what is now Rhode Island. But that colony apparently dissolved before it began, leaving a tower with few clues to its reason for being there. Find out more at Egan's jam-packed museum.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: New England Wireless & Steam Museum (East Greenwich), Edna Lawrence Nature Lab (Providence)

  1. South Carolina // Kazoo Museum

Kazoo Museum, Beaufort, South Carolina
bobistraveling, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Beaufort, South Carolina

The Kazoo Museum in Beaufort contains one of the world's largest collections of the buzzy musical instrument. The historical gallery is attached to the Kazoobie Kazoo factory, so visitors can take a guided tour of the facility to see how kazoos are made from beginning to end. You can even design a kazoo to take home as a souvenir, making this museum entertaining for all ages.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Macaulay Museum of Dental History (Charleston)

  1. South Dakota // International Vinegar Museum

International Vinegar Museum, Roslyn, South Dakota

Location: Roslyn, South Dakota

You may not consider vinegar the most exciting subject, but after a visit to the International Vinegar Museum in Roslyn, you'll hopefully have a new appreciation for the acidic liquid. The institution claims to be "the world's first and only museum dedicated to the wonder that is vinegar." In addition to educating the public about how vinegar is made and the dozens of uses for vinegar, the museum also hosts the annual Vinegar Festival.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: National Music Museum (Vermillion)

  1. Tennessee // Chasing Rainbows Museum

    Dolly Parton's Chasing Rainbows Museum at Dollywood
    Chasing Rainbows Museum via Dollywood

Location: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

No visit to Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains would be complete without a visit to Dollywood, Dolly Parton's famed theme park in Pigeon Forge. And no visit to Dollywood would be complete without a stop at the Chasing Rainbows Museum. If you want to experience what it feels like to walk in Dolly's shoes—and see just how sparkly those sequined dresses she's so famous for are—this interactive museum offers a treasure trove of memorabilia from the singer-actress-pop culture icon's career, including a collection of her Grammy, CMA, and People's Choice Awards gowns, as well as some of her most famous costumes from movies like 9 to 5.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (Gatlinburg), Bush's Beans Museum and Visitor Center (Dandridge), Cooter's Place Dukes of Hazzard Museum (Gatlinburg), Johnny Cash Museum (Nashville)

  1. Texas // National Museum of Funerary History

National Museum of Funerary History, Houston, Texas
A Yee, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Houston, Texas

If you're the type who's more fascinated than fearful when it comes to death (or if those emotions balance each other out), you'll love the 30,500-square-foot National Museum of Funeral History in Houston. The 15 major exhibits include a collection of vintage hearses, caskets, and coffins from around the world, sections devoted to the history of cremation and of embalming, memorabilia from famous funerals, 19th-century hair art, and much more. Plus, their motto is memorable: "Any day above ground is a good one."

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Museum of the Weird (Austin), Devil's Rope Museum (McLean), Texas Prison Museum (Huntsville)

  1. Utah // Pioneer Memorial Museum

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Next time you take a plane across the country, spare a thought for the pioneers who made the trek in Conestoga wagons. At the Pioneer Memorial Museum in Salt Lake City, you'll find artifacts associated with the area's early settlers, from the relatively expected (quilts, guns, a stagecoach) to the more uncanny (a jar of human teeth). They also have a large collection of Victorian-era hair art, which was an important part of 19th-century mourning traditions—key in an era where you were lucky if you didn't die of dysentery.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Museum of Ancient Life (Lehi), Hutchings Museum (Lehi)

  1. Vermont // Museum of Everyday Life

A brown toothbrush on a dark wooden table.
KVLADIMIRV/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Location: Glover, Vermont

While many museums build their collections by curating the rare and unusual, the Museum of Everyday Life in Glover does just the opposite. Everything about what they have dubbed an "exhibition barn" is different. First, it's completely self-service—you walk in on your own, turn on the lights, and leave a donation at the door. Then you make your way through the space, which is exactly what its name advertises: an assemblage of items you see and probably use every day, like a toothbrush. As the museum's website explains, "We celebrate mundanity, and the mysterious delight embedded in the banal but beloved objects we touch everyday." They're not kidding. But there is something about seeing these items put on display in an unheated barn in the middle of nowhere that creates a sort of contemplative experience that allows you to realize the beauty in commonplace things. A rotating series of exhibitions give context to the artifacts, explaining their history and relevance to our daily lives. You'll never look at a simple safety pin the same way again. Most importantly: Be sure to turn the lights off when you leave.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Bread + Puppet Museum (Glover)

  1. Virginia // Poe Museum

Poe Museum, Richmond, Virginia
Eli Christman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Location: Richmond, Virginia

Once upon a midnight dreary ... Edgar Allan Poe spent his formative years in Richmond. It was here that he first began his career as an assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger, a literary magazine. He was fired just a few weeks later for being drunk on the job, but that didn't matter. When the building that housed the magazine was being demolished, its pieces were used to create a memorial garden to the late writer. In the nearly 100 years since the Poe Museum and Enchanted Garden were opened to the public, the museum has acquired more of "The Raven" author's personal possessions than any other institution in the world. In addition to personal artifacts, like his boyhood bed and a staircase that once stood in his childhood home, there's also a research library that is home to an enviable collection of Poe's manuscripts, personal correspondences, and first-edition copies of his work.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum (Alexandria), DEA Museum & Visitors Center (Arlington), United States Army Women's Museum (Fort Lee), Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum (Alexandria)

  1. Washington // SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention

Location: Bellingham, Washington

Take a trip through the history of electricity at the small but jam-packed SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham. The collection includes a Tesla coil, Leyden jars, Edison light bulbs, manuscripts by Galileo and Benjamin Franklin, and the largest assemblage of 19th-century electromagnetic apparatus in any private collection in the world. Many of the exhibits are interactive, and if you time your visit right, you can catch live demonstrations in the auditorium.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Of Sea and Shore Shell Museum (Port Gamble), Kelly Art Deco Light Museum (Port Townsend), the Northwest Carriage Museum (Raymond), Museum of Un-natural History (Walla Walla)

  1. West Virginia // Mothman Museum

Jimmy Emerson, DVM; Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Location: Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Mothman is one of the more obscure cryptids to have a whole museum dedicated to him, but the fabled creature—supposedly a large man with moth-like wings—is a local celebrity in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Head to the Mothman Museum to learn about the history of the figure, from the first sightings in 1966 to how the 2002 movie, The Mothman Prophecies, made him famous.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Archive of the Afterlife (Moundsville), West Virginia State Farm Museum (Point Pleasant), Oglebay Institute Glass Museum (Wheeling)

  1. Wisconsin // National Mustard Museum

The National Mustard Museum

Ali Eminov, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Location: Middleton, Wisconsin

Do you feel like you just don’t quite know enough about mustard? Well, you can make those fears a thing of the past at the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. Within these stone-ground walls are more than 5600 mustards from all 50 states and 70 countries. The museum is a collision of eras—ancient tins of Colman’s mustard stand alongside modern German, Scottish, and French imports you won’t find in any supermarket. You can do more than browse, though—at the National Mustard Museum you can take part in taste tests and purchase your own jars of whatever mustard you desire, curated by the museum's founder, Barry Levenson.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum (Milwaukee), A World of Accordions Museum (Superior)

  1. Wyoming // Wyoming Frontier Prison

A picture of the Wyoming Frontier Prison.

Onasill ~ Bill Badzo, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Location: Rawlins, Wyoming

Originally opened in December 1901, Wyoming’s first state penitentiary is a notorious relic of Western folklore. It housed more than 13,000 inmates during its existence and was known for its brutal forms of discipline designed to quell unruly inmates, including the use of a literal dungeon. When a new, more modern prison opened up nearby in 1980, the old one was declared a historic site and turned into a museum called the Wyoming Frontier Prison. Now, you can tour this abandoned prison and its seemingly endless rows of haunting, old-timey cells.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: Museum of the National Park Ranger (Yellowstone National Park), Cody Dug Up Gun Museum (Cody), Campbell County Rockpile Museum (Gillette)

  1. Washington, D.C. // National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

thisfeministrox, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Our nation's capital is overstuffed with world-renowned museums and opulent art collections. Think of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum as an antidote to the big, crowd-pleasing collections on the Mall. (Penjing is the Chinese version of Japanese bonsai). In this small, peaceful gallery on the grounds of the National Arboretum, you can browse the outdoor display of teeny-tiny trees and marvel at their resilience. Some bonsai have been "trained"—carefully shaped and pruned to a miniature size—for more than a century.

Other Offbeat Museums We Love: The Interior Museum (Washington, D.C.)

By Michele Debczak, Shaunacy Ferro, Ellen Gutoskey, Kat Long, Bess Lovejoy, Tara Rahimi, Jason Serafino, Jennifer Wood

47 Fun Facts About the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

A turkey float near the start of the 92th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC
A turkey float near the start of the 92th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC
webpay/iStock via Getty Images

On Thursday, November 28, Macy's will send its 93rd Thanksgiving Day Parade down the streets of Manhattan—a spectacle that millions of people tune in to watch from the comfort of their homes. Here are a few things you might not have known about the iconic holiday event.

1. The Macy's parade was initially Christmas-themed.

A black-and-white photo from an early Macy's Thanksgiving parade

The “Macy’s Christmas Parade” debuted in 1924 as a way to celebrate the expansion of Macy’s flagship Manhattan store, which covered an entire city block and became the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Store.” According to The New York Times, “the majority of participants were employees of the stores. There were, however, many professional entertainers who kept the spectators amused as they passed by. Beautiful floats showed the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe, Little Miss Muffet, and Red Riding Hood. There were also bears, elephants, donkeys and bands, making the procession resemble a circus parade.” (The animals came from the Central Park Zoo.)

2. The parade originally ended with the unveiling of Macy's Christmas window displays.

The parade began at 145th Street and Convent Avenue and continued down to Macy’s huge store on 34th Street. All along the route, according to the Times, the parade “was welcomed by such crowds that a large force of policemen had its hands full maintaining the police lines.” Some 10,000 people watched Santa—who rode on a float designed to look like a sled being pulled by reindeer—be crowned “King of the Kiddies,” then enjoyed the unveiling of the store’s Christmas windows. The parade was such a success that Macy’s decided to make it an annual event; it would become the Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927.

3. There were objections to the parade early on.

Advertising from an early Macy's parade

Two years after the first parade, the Allied Patriotic Societies protested, telling Macy’s that it shouldn’t hold the event on Thanksgiving because “it would interfere with Thanksgiving Day worship,” according to The New York Times, and because it wasn’t appropriate for a commercial company to hold a parade on the holiday. If the company didn’t acknowledge its protest, the association declared that it would go to the police commissioner and ask him to revoke the parade permit.

Percy Straus, who worked for Macy’s, attended the association's meeting. He pointed out that there was no blatant advertising in the parade, and that the word "Macy's" was used just once. “He also said that Thanksgiving morning was the only time when children would be free to watch and traffic would be light enough to permit the parade’s passing,” the Times wrote. “It would be over, he thought, in ample time to permit churchgoing.” Straus’s justifications didn’t make a difference; the association voted to protest the parade, but its efforts to get the event canceled were unsuccessful—the parade went on as usual.

4. It wasn't new york city's first thanksgiving parade.

Before the Macy’s Parade, there was the "Thanksgiving Ragamuffin Parade," an event where local children dressed up as beggars and asked adults on the street for pennies, candy, and apples. The Macy’s Parade was such a success that it quickly drove the now-obscure Ragamuffin Parade out of business.

5. The parade's character balloons were inspired by a float.

A sepia-toned photo of an early Macy's float

The Balloonatics float—which, as the name would suggest, was festooned with balloons—inspired the creation of the character balloons. These days, the people who design the balloons are called “Balloonatics.”

6. The character balloons in the parade debuted in 1927.

Three years after the first annual parade, balloons made their debut. According to The New York Times, the parade included “a ‘human behemoth’ 21 feet tall … [that] had to crawl under the elevated structure at 66th and Broadway,” “a ‘dinosaur’ 60 feet long attended by a bodyguard of prehistoric cavemen,” and “a 25-foot dachshund [that] swayed along in the company of gigantic turkeys and chickens and ducks of heroic size.” Also in the parade that year, but not mentioned in the Times, was the first character balloon, Felix the Cat.

7. For a few years, there were “balloon races.”

A black-and-white photo of a dog balloon at an early Macy's parade

The first year, Macy’s had no plans for deflating its balloons, so they were released into the air, where they quickly popped. But that all changed with the 1928 parade.

That year, Macy’s released five huge figures—an elephant, a 60-foot tiger, a plumed bird, an “early bird” trailing worms, and a 25-foot-high ghost—into the sky. While the majority of the balloons in the parade used regular air to stay afloat, these figures were built around helium balloon bodies, which were designed to slowly leak the gas. As The New York Times explained, “The figures are expected to rise to 2000 to 3000 feet and are timed by a slow leak to stay aloft for a week to 10 days. By then it is expected they will have alighted in various parts of the country.” Whoever returned the balloons would receive a $100 reward.

The first balloon to land was the Tiger, which the Times reported landed on the roof of a Long Island home: “A tug of war ensued for its possession … neighbors and motorists rushed up from all directions. The rubberized silk skin burst into dozens of fragments.”

By December 1, four of the balloons had landed (one in the East River, where it broke in two and was pursued by tugboats). The ghost, however, was “reported as having been sighted moving out to sea over the Rockaways with a flock of gulls in pursuit,” according to the Times.

8. The parade's last balloon race was held in 1932.

The parade held its last balloon race in 1932 after two incidents involving airplanes. In 1931, aviator Colonel Clarence Duncan Chamberlin snagged a balloon in mid-air and towed it back to his home and received $25 as a reward. In 1932, according to some sources, a 22-year-old woman taking flying lessons purposefully flew the plane she was piloting into one of the released balloons. It was only the quick action of her instructor that kept the plane from crashing.

9. The parade was broadcast for the first time in 1932.

These broadcasts were radio-only, so listeners had to use their imaginations. The first televised parade took place in 1946 and was limited to the New York area only.

10. Mickey Mouse made his parade debut in 1934.

A black-and-white photo of Micky Mouse at an early Macy's Thanksgiving parade

Macy’s designers collaborated with Walt Disney to create the 40-foot-high, 23-foot-wide balloon, which was “held down to Earth by 25 husky attendants,” according to The New York Times. The parade that year also featured the first balloon based on a real person: comedian and vaudeville star Eddie Cantor.

11. The parade floats used to be pulled by horses.

The Thanksgiving Day parade floats were pulled by horses until 1939. You can see footage of the first horse-free event above.

12. The parade was halted during World War II.

There were rubber and helium shortages, so Macy’s canceled the parade from 1942 to 1944. The company deflated its rubber balloons—which weighed 650 pounds total—and donated them to the government. (These days, the balloons are made of polyurethane fabric.) The parade returned in 1945, and in 1946 got a new route, which started at 77th Street and Central Park West and ended at 34th Street—half the length of the previous route.

13. A 1958 helium shortage almost grounded the parade’s balloons.

A row of helium tanks
scanrail/iStock via Getty Images

Initially, it looked like a helium shortage would keep Macy’s parade balloons from flying in 1958. But the company collaborated with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and the rigging specialists Traynor & Hansen Corporation to come up with a creative solution: According to The New York Times, the balloons were filled with air and dangled from “large, mobile construction derricks.” The paper also described a test of the method:

“A motorized derrick with a 70-foot boom had a specially built wood-and-steel hanger attached to the end of the wire hoisting cable. The Toy Soldier, weighing more than 200 pounds deflated, was stretched full-length on a canvas carpet. Limp and sickly looking, it was not the robust figure children and adults are used to seeing. Lines from the body of the balloon were attached to the hanger while two vacuum cleaners, working in reverse, blew in air. An hour of blowing filled the figure out nicely and the boom hoisted it into the air.”

14. Strong winds caused the balloons to be grounded in 1971.

The balloons have only been grounded once since 1927, when winds during the 1971 parade were too strong for them to fly.

15. One especially long-lasting dinosaur balloon got a sendoff at the American Museum of Natural History.

The exterior of New York City's American Museum of Natural History
diegograndi/iStock via Getty Images

A 1976, a green balloon modeled on an Apatosaurus dinosaur that had appeared in 13 parades was displayed inside the AMNH’s Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda for five days before being retired. Instead of helium, it was filled with air, and visitors got a chance to see it up close. The historic balloon also appeared in the parades in 2015 and 2017.

16. Macy's is a major world consumer of helium, thanks to the parade.

Thanks to the parade, Macy's is reportedly the second-largest consumer of helium in the world. Only the U.S. government consumes more, with NASA and the Department of Defense leading the charge.

17. The parade floats fold down small.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Balloon Inflation on the night before Thanksgiving. Next to the Museum of Natural History in New York City
SergeYatunin/iStock via Getty Images

Since 1968, the floats have been designed by artists at Macy’s Parade Studio in New Jersey. The floats can be up to 40 feet tall and 28 feet wide—but they fold down into a 12-foot-by-8-foot box to make the journey through the Lincoln Tunnel.

18. The parade features float-based balloons.

the parade features float-based balloons called falloons—a combination of float and balloon—which were introduced sometime around 1990. There are also balloon vehicles called balloonicles (a portmanteau of balloon and vehicle), which made their debut in 2004. Trycaloons—balloons on tricycles—hit the parade in 2011.

19. All of the balloons are designed in-house by Macy’s artists—and it's a long process.

Macy’s balloon designers—dubbed “balloonatics”—begin their work up to a year before the parade with pencil sketches of each character, analyzing not just aesthetics but also aerodynamics and engineering. The sketches are followed by scaled-down clay models that are used to create casts of the balloons. Two miniature replicas are created: One that’s marked with technical details, and one that’s painted in the balloon’s colors. The models are immersed in water to figure out how much helium they’ll need to float. Finally, the schematics are scanned by computer, and the fabric pieces are cut and heat-sealed to create the various air chambers of the balloon.

20. The parade's balloons are painted only after they're inflated.

Once the balloon is created, it's painted while inflated (otherwise, the paint will crack), then undergoes leak testing and indoor and outdoor flight tests. No wonder it costs at least $190,000 for a first-time balloon (after a first appearance, it costs $90,000 a year after that). The balloons are completed by Halloween and stored along a wall in the design studio's balloon warehouse.

21. The balloons are directed by “balloon pilots.”

The 87th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators. Turkey with Pilgrim riders
ALEXIUZ/iStock via Getty Images

They’re the people walking backwards in front of the balloon, directing a crew of volunteers holding guide ropes (called “bones”) and two Toro utility vehicles. Macy’s offers training three times a year for pilots. “We offer the pilots and captains the chance to go around the field a couple times with the balloon a couple of times and practice the instruction and guidance,” Kelly Kramer, a longtime Macy’s employee and balloon pilot, told Vanity Fair in 2014. “We also have classroom training.”

22. Being a balloon pilot takes some physical training, too.

It’s also important for balloon pilots to train physically; if not, “The next morning you wake up and you almost cannot get out of bed because your calves seize up,” according to Kramer. “I walked backwards in my neighborhood at night.”

23. People who want to volunteer to walk with the balloons have to meet certain requirements.

Balloon handlers float Olaf down Central Park South during the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
TD Dolci/iStock via Getty Images

It takes 90 minutes to inflate the big balloons, which, on average, contain 12,000 cubic feet of helium, which is capable of lifting nearly 750 pounds (or filling 2500 bathtubs). Each balloon requires up to 90 handlers, who have to weigh at least 120 pounds and be in good health.

24. The balloons are inflated the day before the parade—which is an event in its own right.

The balloons are inflated the day before the parade outside the American Museum of Natural History, then topped off the day of. Because helium expands in the sun, the balloons are typically left slightly under-inflated.

25. One character has appeared in the parade more than any other.

A vintage photo of a Snoopy balloon at a Macy's Thanksgiving parade

That honor goes to Snoopy, who debuted in the 1968 parade and has had a grand total of seven balloons. The beloved character has made 39 appearances on and off through 2015, but in 2016, he was replaced by Charlie Brown. Fortunately, Snoopy will be returning for the 2019 parade.

26. There was one year when Santa Claus wasn't the parade's finale.

In 1933, Santa led the parade instead of closing it. It was the only year where the jolly red guy wasn't the grand finale.

27. Some of the parade's balloons get their start in South Dakota.

Many of the parade balloons are made by Raven Industries, a rubber firm in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Since 1984, Raven has made nearly 100 balloons. Beginning in April, it takes 25 employees to work on the year’s balloons.

28. Some weird balloons have been featured in the Thanksgiving Day parade.

Among them were the Nantucket Sea Monster (1937), the wrestler The Terrible Turk (which memorably hit a traffic pole and split in half in 1931), a Pinocchio with a 44-foot-long nose (1937), a couple of two-headed balloons (1936), an ice cream cone and a jack ‘o lantern (1945), a space man (1952), Smokey Bear (1969), cereal spokes-animal Linus the Lion (1973), and more.

29. Those giant balloons face a lot of threats.

There are many things that pose threats to the parade balloons: electric wires (which caused the Felix the Cat balloon to burst into flames when it hit them in 1931), rain (which filled the Popeye balloon’s hat with water, which got dumped on spectators along the parade route in 1957), tree branches (which once tore off Superman’s hand). But a balloon’s greatest enemy is wind: In 1993, wind caused the Sonic the Hedgehog balloon to hit a lamppost; the light fell and injured one. In 1997, police stabbed a Pink Panther balloon when wind sent it careening; that same year, the wind made an oversized Cat in the Hat balloon hit a streetlight, sending two people to the hospital with head injuries (after the incident, the parade instituted new size rules). In 2005, an M&M balloon got tangled on a streetlamp, causing the lamp to fall and injuring two, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Each balloon flies at a height determined by its size and weather conditions, and the wind poses such a threat that if sustained wind speeds or gusts are too strong, the balloons won’t fly.

30. Deflating the Thanksgiving Day parade balloons takes just 15 minutes.

Spongebob Squarepants float, with view of skyscrapers on Sixth Ave and cell phones and marchers, at the Macy's Parade Nov 2016
Christine Wolf Gagne/iStock via Getty Images

After the parade is over, the balloons are deflated behind Macy’s on Seventh Avenue. First, the volunteers open up zippers on the sides of the balloons; when most of the helium has escaped, they lie on the balloon to get all the helium out, then roll the character up from front to back. The balloon is then put in storage until the next parade.

31. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was led by the same woman for 24 years.

Jean McFaddin served as the senior vice president for Macy’s special productions from 1977 to 2001, which meant she was responsible not only for the Thanksgiving Day Parade, but also Macy’s famous Santaland, among other things.

32. Some parades have been held in especially frigid temperatures.

The first snowstorm on parade day was in 1989, and dumped 4.7 inches on the city. But at just 19°F, the coldest parade was in 2018.

33. The former Macy's parade studio had a sweet beginning.

A Tootsie Roll candy bar
memoriesarecaptured/iStock via Getty Images

For four decades, the parade's studio was located in a former Tootsie Roll Factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 2011, the studio moved to a 71,000-square-foot warehouse in Moonachie.

34. Some big celebrities have served as commentators.

In addition to the Today show hosts that host the parade now, past parade commentators have included Betty White, Ed McMahon, Shari Lewis, Helen Reddy, Della Reese, and Phylicia Rashād.

35. Beavis and Butt-head were parade commentators during one memorable year.

In 1997, Beavis and Butthead commentated on the parade along with host Kurt Loder. They called the special Beavis and Butt-head Do Thanksgiving, and they even got their own balloon featuring their likenesses sitting on a couch. The balloon wasn’t on the parade route, but rather tethered to a building on the route.

36. Musicals have been part of the Macy's parade for decades.

Broadway musicals have been featured in the parade since at least 1980, when The Pirates of Penzance performed atop a pirate ship.

37. The bleacher seats are reserved for special guests.

The bleacher seats that line key sections of the parade may seem like the perfect seats, but unless you know someone, you probably won’t find yourself sitting there: They’re reserved for Macy’s guests only, and no tickets are sold for those seats.

38. You can’t get married or engaged at the Thanksgiving Day parade, so don’t even try.

General atmosphere at the 86th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 22, 2012 in New York City.
scarletsails/iStock via Getty Images

The question is raised enough that it’s addressed in the FAQ section of the Macy’s Parade website: “Though it would be an honor to share in this special moment, this is not something that we can take part in or approve. At this time, we’re devoted to producing the nation’s most beloved holiday event and coordinating more than 8000 participants, dozens of floats, balloons and vehicles, security and other major logistics.”

39. It’s not the oldest Thanksgiving Parade in the U.S.

That distinction belongs to Philadelphia, where Gimbel’s, a department store, held a modest affair in 1920. It got less modest as time went on.

40. When 9/11 happened, parade organizers added patriotic and New York-centric floats and balloons.

Additions included a Statue of Liberty float with the flags of all 50 states, floats for the fire and police departments, and a Big Apple float that featured the city’s emergency services workers and other officials.

41. Contemporary artists have created balloons for the parade too.

The “Blue Sky Gallery” is a special part of the parade that invites contemporary artists to transform their work into balloons. Beginning in 2005, artists have included Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Tim Burton, Takashi Murakami, KAWS, and, for 2019, Yayoi Kusama.

42. Yes, the singers on the parade floats all lip-sync.

That's true even if they’re amazing live performers. Why? Because the floats aren’t equipped to deliver the proper sound quality, as John Legend pointed out in 2018.

43. Some of the parade balloons get a second life in Florida.

For several years, select balloons from the parade were sent down to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, to make special appearances in the park during the holiday season. The event has since been rebranded “Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s,” with Macy’s designing 13 balloons exclusively for Universal.

44. The Rockettes have been involved for decades.

The dance troupe and their signature high kicks have been a parade staple since their first appearance in 1957.

45. Marching bands have to apply months ahead of time for the parade.

Bands across the U.S. have to apply well in advance to be considered for a spot in the parade. After submitting an application and a video of the band’s field marching performance, approved bands are notified roughly 18 months in advance.

46. In 2012, shredded documents from the Nassau County Police Department ended up as confetti in the parade.

A pile of shredded papers
Aschen/iStock via Getty Images

Sensitive information that was clearly visible included Social Security numbers, license plate numbers, and banking data. Macy’s only uses multi-colored confetti, a spokesperson said, and authorities were investigating how the private documents ended up in the parade.

47. We might get a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade movie one day.

A Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade movie was once in the works, with a premise that included the oversized balloons coming to life. Presumably it’s still floating around in development.

10 Facts About the Aberfan Disaster of 1966

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In season 3 of The Crown, viewers witness a harrowing re-creation of the 1966 Aberfan disaster—a catastrophic landslide that killed 144 residents (most of whom were children) in a small village in South Wales. Though it seemed at first to have been an unforeseeable geological accident, the world soon discovered that there was much more to the story.

From the illuminating inquiry that took place in the aftermath to Queen Elizabeth II’s somber visit to the disaster scene, here is some additional history about the tragic event.

1. Aberfan residents had complained about the danger of coal tips.

The village of Aberfan, South Wales, was established around the Merthyr Vale coal mine, which had been depositing its waste materials into giant heaps known as coal tips since 1869.

Coal Tip 7, which was started in 1958, was especially worrying to the people of Aberfan for two reasons: It was built on top of porous sandstone and underwater springs, and it was located right behind a school.

“I regard it as extremely serious as the slurry is so fluid and the gradient so steep that it could not possibly stay in position in the winter time or during periods of heavy rain,” a waterworks engineer wrote to the district’s public works superintendent in 1963 before escalating the matter to the National Coal Board, which failed to halt operations.

2. On October 21, 1966, coal tip 7 finally collapsed.

On a Friday morning around 9:15 a.m., after days of heavy rain, the 111-foot-tall coal tip 7—which was comprised of about 300,000 cubic yards of waste—became a landslide that crashed into Pantglas Junior School and its surrounding buildings at speeds of up to 50 mph.

3. The landslide wasn’t silent.

Though they didn’t know the source of the deafening rumble at the time, survivors of the disaster compared the sound of the avalanche to the roar of a low-flying jet or loose trams hurtling downhill.

4. Of the 144 casualties, 116 were children.

Pantglas Junior School was the main building affected by the catastrophic collapse. Of the school's 240 students, most of whom were between 7 and 11 years old, 116 died in the landslide, along with five teachers and 28 residents of nearby farm cottages and terrace houses. The youngest victim was 3 months old and the oldest was 82 years old. The official causes of death were primarily classified as "suffocation," "multiple injuries," or "skull fractures," but one man—who lost both his wife and two sons in the accident—very publicly urged authorities to change the death certificates to read "buried alive by the National Coal Board."

5. Disaster responders flooded the town to help organize rescue efforts.

As firefighters, police, medical personnel, and other disaster responders worked tirelessly around the clock to clear debris and rescue survivors from the decimated buildings, the rest of the town helped manage the chaos. Bodies were taken to Bethania Chapel (which was destroyed by an arsonist in 2015), where volunteers cleaned the coal from them and escorted parents around to identify them. A local chip shop became the distribution center for death certificates.

"There were no council offices nearby and someone must have said ‘the chip shop—everyone knows that,'" Detective Inspector Charles Nunn, who helped organize the chapel mortuary, told the BBC. "It was the most efficient way. It seems so incongruous now."

6. Princess Margaret encouraged people to send toys to the surviving children.

After the landslide, Princess Margaret asked people to "think of the loneliness of the brothers, sisters, and young relatives who survived" and send toys to them. The response was so overwhelming that the post office in Cardiff—Wales's capital city, which is located about 20 miles south of Aberfan—had to store them in four empty buildings.

7. Queen Elizabeth II visited Aberfan eight days after the landslide.

Prince Philip and then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson both visited Aberfan within 24 hours of the disaster, but the Queen herself didn’t make an appearance until eight days later—a delay that she reportedly told her private secretary, Lord Martin Charteris, was her “biggest regret.” During her visit, she toured the town with her husband, spoke with bereaved families, and had tea with town Councillor Jim Williams, who had lost seven family members in the landslide. Before she left, 3-year-old Karen Jones gave the Queen a small bouquet with a card that read: "From the remaining children of Aberfan."

8. Queen Elizabeth has made several more trips to Aberfan since the disaster.

queen elizabeth II's tree at aberfan memorial garden
The tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II in the memorial garden.

While the Queen may have felt that she made a mistake in waiting so long to visit Aberfan the first time, the townspeople have expressed gratitude over the years for her continued efforts to commemorate the disaster and support the community. She returned in 1973 to open a community center, visited again in 1997 to plant a tree in the Garden of Remembrance, and most recently returned in 2012 to open a new school.

9. Villagers petitioned to have the remaining coal tips removed.

Even after the disaster, officials assured the public that the mountains of coal waste weren’t dangerous—but Aberfan residents were (understandably) adamant about their removal, and even went so far as to dump heaps of slurry in the Welsh Office’s reception area in protest. After that, Wales’s secretary of state George Thomas agreed to get rid of them.

However, Thomas was hardly the hero of this story: Removing the coal tips was a costly process, and Thomas ultimately decided that the bill could and should be footed by the residents of Aberfan. His decision to present the grieving townspeople with a bill for £250,000 (which would be just under $6 million in today's dollars) was met with a universally negative backlash. Especially since the money, which Thomas dubbed a "local contribution," was to be paid out of a charitable fund that had been established to help rebuild the town.

10. A tribunal found the National Coal Board guilty of “bungling ineptitude.”

On October 26, 1966, the Welsh government launched an inquiry, headed by barrister Sir Herbert Edmund Davies, to determine the cause of the landslide and decide if anyone should be held responsible. Though, for most of the 76-day tribunal, the National Coal Board (NCB) maintained that only the weather was to blame, NCB chairman Lord Robens finally conceded that his organization was at fault.

The tribunal’s report, published on August 3, 1967, called the disaster “a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings, and of total lack of direction from above.” The National Coal Board paid £500—a little over $640 then, or $10,000 now—to each victim’s family, but no individual employee from the Coal Board was ever fired, demoted, or even fined.