Museums of a Different Color
Nearly 2,000 museums across America participate in the Blue Star Museum program. Nationwide, the American Alliance of Museums approximates that as of 2006, there were roughly 17,500 museums in the country. And while many of them fit within the confines of traditional museum subject matter---art, history, ecology, anthropology, etc.---many break from the norm. These museums focus on off-beat, quirky, cool, or niche topics that carry specific interest to a specific kind of visitor.
I know what you're thinking. "There's no way there could possibly be a museum affiliated with the National Security Agency. It's impossible there is a museum dedicated to the great tradition of American fly fishing. The history of wind power couldn't possibly be translated into a museum." Well, I have some good news, faithful readers---these places are real. And, better yet, they are free for active duty military and their families.
These Blue Star Museums speak to quirky and the idiosyncratic ideas and objects that very well deserve their own space.
The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures (Tucson, Arizona)
This gem of a museum considers itself a miniature time machine where visitors can explore different locations and eras through miniature objects. Their collection of 275 houses and room boxes ranges from miniature carvings from Japan to one of the oldest miniature homes in the United States, which dates back to 1775.
Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum (Vista, California)
This museum's name may be a tad confusing. While antique engines are part of the museum's collection, their primary focus looks at the "mechanical ingenuity and crafts associated with the early days of the American farm and rural community." This hands-on museum keeps its entire collection operational and uses its farm machines in the museum's daily events.
World Figure Skating Museum & Hall of Fame (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Tucked away in Colorado Springs, you'll find the international museum of figure skating as well as the sport's Hall of Fame. In addition to the Hall of Fame, the museum also focuses on the history of the sport, the science behind skaters' skills, and art portraying figure skating from the world-over.
National Quilt Museum (Paducah, Kentucky)
The front of the National Quilt Museum reads "Honoring Today's Quilter." Their mission also includes education and promotion of quilt and fiber art and welcomes new audiences from around the world.
National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center (Dubois, Wyoming)
The National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center is a symbol of survival---not just of the bighorn sheep that the center watches over, but also of the town of Dubois. Thanks to a collaborative partnership between the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the town of Dubois, the Wild Sheep Foundation, and others, the center was opened in 1993 to encourage eco-tourism and public education of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
National Cryptologic Museum (Annapolis Junction, Maryland)
The public's main access to U.S. cryptological history and the National Security Agency, the National Cryptologic Museum is located next to the NSA headquarters and hosts thousands of objects, including a German Enigma machine from World War II. The museum also tells the history of cryptography and the people who are legends of encryption and decryption, including George Washington who integrated coded messaging during the American Revolution.
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center (Baker City, Oregon)
Almost every kid growing up in the 1990s is aware of the Oregon Trail, mostly because of the very popular computer game of the same name (Oh no! Baby Timothy has dysentery again!). But Baker City, Oregon, offers something a bit better---the REAL THING. Through living history demonstrations, exhibits, and four miles of "interpretative trails," the journey of the brave frontier men and women come to life.
Naval Undersea Museum (Keyport, Washington)
Operated by the United States Navy, the Naval Undersea Museum collects and preserves "naval undersea history, science, and operations..." To me, this can only mean one thing---SUBMARINES! But in reality, the Naval Undersea Museum holds much more, including the most comprehensive collection of torpedoes in the nation and deep-sea diving equipment.
American Wind Power Center and Museum (Lubbock, Texas)
The American-style, water-pumping windmill is the specific focus of the American Wind Power Center and Museum in Lubbock, Texas. More than 100 historic windmills span the center's 28 acres and help tell the tale of wind power in America.
American Museum of Fly Fishing (Manchester, Vermont)
The mission of the American Museum of Fly Fishing it to serve as "the steward of the history, traditions, and practices of the sport of fly fishing and promote the conservation of its waters." The rods, reels, art, photographs, and other objects at the American Museum of Fly Fishing make up the world's "largest collection of fly angling art and artifacts."