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: Pizza Brain, Philadelphia’s Pizza Museum

The world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia will soon be housed in an unlikely home – not Italy, or New York or even Connecticut, but in Philadelphia, a city better known for its hoagies and its cheesesteaks than its ‘za.

But thanks to 27-year-old Brian Dwyer, the Guinness World Record holder of pizza memorabilia, the dream to open a pizza-themed museum will become a reality late this spring or early this summer at Pizza Brain, the world’s first museum dedicated to Pizza.

As might be expected, the museum will also function as a restaurant serving, you guessed it, pizza.

The idea came about somewhat virally, as many do these days – Dwyer and friends had rousing success at an art gallery event in 2010 titled “Give Pizza a Chance,” which drew a crowd of more than 300.

“When I started down this road, I said, I want to be able to display all this stuff in a pizzeria,” Dwyer told The Huffington Post. “And I thought at first that when we open, I’ll make this funny bold claim that we had the biggest pizza memorabilia collection on the Eastern Seaboard, or maybe in America. As I started joking about that, my friend was like, ‘Dude, you should see who actually has the biggest.’ I assumed somebody had done this. So I did that: I typed in all sorts of search phrases into Google trying to find the biggest collection, and nothing came up. I was shocked. So I contacted Guinness, started going through all the regular channels, and got the record in July.”

And thus the museum began, and thus it will open, in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, the same area that once housed his art show. Thanks to Internet-based Kickstarter, Dwyer and partners have raised $16,587, more than their initial $15,000 goal.

What do you think? Would you visit this museum, if only to get a hot slice at the end of the night?

Museum Month: Kalaupapa National Historic Park And Leper Settlement, Molokai

Some people – me, for instance – tend to skip museums when traveling in favor of fresh air or outdoor recreation. It’s always a treat when I can combine the two, especially because I’m fascinated by indigenous cultures. Though not considered museums in the strictest sense, National Historic Parks, Monuments and the like often do have buildings, exhibits, or relics with educational materials that provide a museum-like experience. When I can combine that with some physically challenging activity, it often makes for an incredibly rewarding day.

While relatively few visitors ever make it to the Hawaiian island of Molokai, located just off of Maui’s western shore, its fame is global due to its tragic history. From the mid-19th century until 1969, thousands of islanders afflicted with leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) were forced into isolation on the Kalaupapa peninsula on the northern shore. A smaller settlement also exists at Kalawao, on the eastern side. Today, Kalaupapa National Historic Park receives thousands of visitors annually, who come to pay tribute – and satisfy their morbid curiosity – to a tragic episode in Hawaii’s turbulent history.

Molokai’s North Shore is covered in dense rainforest and has the world’s highest sea cliffs, which tower over 2,000 feet. These geographical features made Kalaupapa the ideal location in which to displace lepers, often by cruel methods such as tossing them off of ships, which sometimes resulted in fatalities. The forcible removal of native Hawaiians from their ‘aina – family and land, which are at the core of their culture – devastated generations of islanders.

%Gallery-155196%Critical to the development and notoriety of the settlement was the arrival of Joseph De Veuster, a Belgian missionary better known as Father Damien. Although not the first missionary or caregiver at Kalawao and Kalaupapa, it was he who turned the colonies into a place of hope, rather than exile and death.

Father Damien spoke Hawaiian and established schools and other educational and recreational projects. He developed a water system, expanded St. Philomena Catholic Church, and became a source of comfort to residents. He died of Hansen’s Disease in 1889, and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

Although a cure for Hansen’s Disease was discovered in the 1940’s, most of the colony chose to remain at Kalaupapa, as it had become a tight-knit community. Today, only a, uh, handful of elderly residents remain, keeping alive Kalaupapa’s legacy by talking story with visitors and relatives alike.

The National Park Service established Kalaupapa as part of its system in 1980 (previously, it was a National Historic Landmark, the Kalaupapa Leper Settlement). While somewhat pricey and challenging to get to, it’s worth a visit if you’re at all interested in Hawaiian culture and history.

You can get to Molokai year round by either regional air carriers or ferry via Maui. To enter the Park, state law requires a permit from the State Department of Health, and no children under 16 are permitted. All entries are booked and must be prearranged through Damien Tours (808) 567-6171, which is endorsed by the National Park Service (there is also a Father Damien Tours out of Honolulu, but I can’t speak with authority to its quality).

Two excellent ways to gain entry to the park – via prior reservation – are by hiking the 3.5-mile trail or on muleback. Kalaupapa Mule Tour has been a park concession since the early 70s, and I highly recommend the ride if your butt and legs are in good shape and you don’t have a fear of heights. It provides a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, but be prepared for insanely steep, narrow trails and brutal switchbacks. Whether you hike or ride, please be sure to do an honest assessment of your physical abilities beforehand; another option is to do a flightseeing/ground tour. There are no medical facilities at the park.

[Photo credit: Flickr user University of Hawaii – West Oahu; Father Damian, Wikipedia Commons]

Museum Month: Mütter Museum In Philadelphia

The Mütter Museum is not for the squeamish. Brimming with medical oddities, pathological specimens and antique medical equipment, it’s where you’ll find a book bound in human flesh, dried severed hands, a two-headed baby in formaldehyde, Albert Einstein’s brain and a collection of objects that have been swallowed and removed. There’s also a nine-foot-long human colon that contained 40 pounds of fecal matter (it was once part of a sideshow act called “the Human Balloon”) and the body of “the Soap Lady,” whose corpse turned itself into a soapy substance because of the chemical properties of the soil she was buried in. Visitors can “ooh” and “ahh” at a collection of 139 human skulls in neat rows, or check out the tallest human skeleton on display in North America, which stands tall at 7.5 feet right next to the skeleton of a dwarf.

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter originally began collecting these strange items, which were donated to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1858 for the purpose of medical research and education. To this day, the museum exists with that goal in mind – as well as for the shear purpose of shocking and amazing the general public. As the collection has grown, there are now over 20,000 items on display in jars and cases around the museum. Check out the museum’s YouTube station to be introduced to some of the curiosities of the exhibits.