Museum Month: Cockroach Hall Of Fame & Museum, Plano, Texas

We’ve covered some pretty weird museums this month here on Gadling. One that may take the prize for the weirdest is the Cockroach Hall Of Fame & Museum in Plano, Texas.

Museum curator and professional exterminator Michael Bohdan opened the museum so he could educate people about a bug that’s got a serious knack for survival. As Bohdan points out, cockroaches have been around more than 350 million years and survived a lot of Earth’s upheavals that have killed off lesser species, so we might be able to learn something from them.

Wearing his roach-lined fedora, Bohdan takes visitors around the displays, showing off little dressed up bugs such as Marilyn Monroach and Ross Peroach. There’s even a Liberoachie that plays the piano. More serious displays tell about roach biology and the amazing ways they’ve adapted to a wide range of habitats.

For more strange educational experiences, check out more of our articles on weird museums!

Museum Month: The Tenement Museum In New York’s Lower East Side

Often, the sights that are just around the corner are the ones that you somehow never get around to exploring. You say that you’ll go one day, but there’s never a real rush. You tell yourself that it will always be there.

For me, that sight is the Tenement Museum, located in the heart of New York City‘s Lower East Side, a block and a half from the apartment I’ve called home for the past three years.

The Tenement Museum celebrates New York’s immigrants by exploring the history of a single tenement building at 97 Orchard Street, built in 1863. From the outside, the museum doesn’t look too different from the other apartment buildings on the block, including my own. But inside lies a rich tapestry of stories tracking the major immigration waves of the 19th- and 20th- centuries, starting with the Germans and followed by Eastern European Jews and Italians.

There are three ways to experience the Tenement Museum: by exploring the carefully restored apartments at 97 Orchard; by taking walking tours of the neighborhood; or by attending a “meet the residents” session, which allows guests to interact with costumed interpreters depicting people who once lived in the building.

On a recent Sunday, I opted for a building tour that was focused on the experience of sweatshop workers. At one time, the Lower East Side was the center of the American garment industry, particularly in the 1860s when the neighborhood was bustling with workers churning out Civil War military uniforms. Most work was completed in small home-based garment workshops, in cramped and often overheated quarters.

The tour started with a visit to the garment workshop of Harris Levine, a Russian tailor whose 1900 census data provided the basis for the space’s recreation. The guide explained how workers would work an average of 70 hours per week, crammed into tiny quarters along with the boss’s wife and children.

Once garment factories were introduced at the turn of the century, units at 97 Orchard became slightly more spacious and tailored for family living. A visit to the Rogarshevsky apartment, which was inhabited in the 1910s and 1920s, provided a look at the changing nature of the neighborhood as immigrants started to assimilate and economic conditions started to improve.

The building was condemned in 1935, which is where the museum’s focus ends. But stepping out into the traffic and construction of Allen Street, it was evident that life in today’s Lower East Side isn’t too different from the world depicted inside the Tenement Museum. It is still a neighborhood of immigrants, crammed together in tiny apartments, working like maniacs to survive… just today with higher rents and more espresso bars.

[Images via Tenement Museum]

Museum Month: The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum In Washington, DC

Consider for a moment the events of 1625.

Dutch settlers in North America established the city of New Amsterdam, which would become, of course, New York City. Theaters throughout London closed for eight months due to an epidemic of bubonic plague. And somewhere in a studio or garden in Japan, a bonsai artist began training a Japanese White Pine, the very tree that would become the centerpiece of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington, DC.

In 1976, thanks to Japan and its Bicentennial gift to the United States, the Department of Agriculture created the first museum in the world dedicated to the display of Japanese (bonsai) and Chinese (penjing) horticultural art. The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum now contains three pavilions – Chinese, Japanese and North American – with approximately 150 living sculptures interspersed with viewing stones (naturally shaped rocks that are the typical companions of bonsai) and strolling paths.

All manner of trees, from trident maples to California junipers are on view in miniature form in the museum. Highlights include a tree trained into the shape of a dragon; “Goshin,” an artistic tree arrangement in the “forest style;” a shrunken, flat-topped Bald Cypress from the swamps of the American South; and the almost 400-year-old bonsai pine that is approximately the size of a front yard shrub. But what makes this museum a treat is its tranquility, a quality that is increasingly hard to find inside the Beltway. If you’re looking for a moment of Zen, here’s where to find it.


Museum Month: American Visionary Art Museum In Baltimore, Maryland

An enormous ball made out of more than 18,000 bras, a replica of the ill-fated Lusitania constructed of nearly 200,000 toothpicks, and a floor mat created out of hundreds of toothbrushes are just a few of the quirky treasures to be found inside Baltimore‘s imaginative American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM). While it’s a lesser-known spot on the city’s tourist circuit, once anyone catches sight of the museum’s exterior – a found-object mosaic made out of tiny pieces of mirror and glass – it’s impossible not to be curious about what is kept inside.

Wander through the halls and galleries of the museum and you’ll be greeted by an eccentric collection of “outsider art,” or work made my self-taught art makers who have little or no contact with the mainstream art world. It’s common for these artists to be discovered after their deaths, and often times their artwork illustrates unconventional ideas, extreme mental states or extravagant fantasy worlds. Some of the pieces in the museum are thought provoking, while much of it is laugh-out-loud funny – but no matter what, the AVAM has the potential to make you change your opinion on what can be considered art.


Here’s a sampling of some of the fascinating things to be discovered in the museum’s three buildings and sculpture garden:

  • A 55-foot wind-powered sculpture called a “whirligig”
  • A collection of non-electronic machines that visitors operate by pushing buttons
  • Robots made out of streetlights and vacuum cleaner parts
  • Framed, aerial photographs of crop circles
  • A collection of postcards from the Post Secret project
  • Sculptures made out of Styrofoam cups
  • The “Flatulence Post,” a podium decorated with fart art that plays recordings of all the winning farts from an annual competition
  • An expansive Pez collection
  • Several “art cars” covered in mosaics
  • An observation deck fashioned to look like a bird’s nest

If visiting Baltimore in the spring, check and see what dates the museum hosts the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race (this year, it was May 5). For the race, entrants create wacky, roving sculptures that traverse both land and sea on a 15-mile dash. Racers receive awards such as the “Golden Dinosaur” awarded for the most memorable breakdown and the “Grand Mediocre Champion” for the sculpture that finishes dead center in the middle of all entrants. Some of these kinetic sculptures are on display in a section of the museum.

The summer months, on the other hand, bring an outdoor film series to the AVAM. The museum takes advantage of a natural amphitheater formed by the adjacent Federal Hill, screening movies on a 30-foot wide screen that hangs from a golden hand sculpture on the west side of the museum. The screenings happen on Thursdays, so if you’re in town bring a lawn chair or blanket to the hill and enjoy the show.

All year round, be sure to browse the Sideshow Shop, the museum’s version of a gift shop that is packed with oddities and other goodies. Round out the trip at Mr. Rain’s Fun House, a moderately-priced restaurant serving American food and hand-crafted cocktails that match the creativity of the museum, and you will have had a day that truly defies convention in Baltimore.

Photo by Libby Zay.