Most Unique Massachusetts Museum | The Plumbing MuseumPhoto Credit : Courtesy of The Plumbing Museum
New England, of course, is home to some of the best-known and most visited museums in the country. But for every Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Shelburne Museum, and Mark Twain House, there are dozens of smaller, quirkier museums run by equally passionate staff. Is it possible to create an indisputable list of the most unique museum in every New England state? Maybe not — but it’s fun to try.
From the world’s largest Pez dispenser to a custom-built Pez-themed motorcycle, this shrine to all things Pez is not to be missed. With roots stretching back to 1927 Austria, tiny little Pez candies (originally peppermint, with other flavors to follow) and their now-iconic dispensers have been thrilling American kids of all ages since they were first introduced in this country in 1955. The Pez Visitor Center is the public face of the Orange, Connecticut, production facility, which has been Pez’s U.S. base since 1973. Here you will find the largest assortment of Pez dispensers on public display anywhere in the world. (Does our careful choice of wording mean there’s a larger, private collection out there? Hard to imagine!) Better still, the museum space includes windows that allow a glimpse into the production area, where the candies and collectibles are born.
On Peaks Island in Maine, 20 minutes from Portland by ferry, a musician who goes by the name of Nancy 3. Hoffman has built a collection — and created a museum to house it — that’s the very definition of unique. Be honest: How many seconds of your life have been spent thinking about umbrella covers? Happily, Nancy 3. Hoffman has thought about them a lot. Her collection was born in 1996, when she found half a dozen umbrella covers (but no umbrellas) in her closet. She added to her collection, she says, by stealing another from a local department store. Before long, friends started contributing more. She had acquired about 80 when she first opened her collection to the public. Now numbering more than 700 and including covers from 45 countries, Hoffman’s trove has been recognized by Guinness as the largest umbrella cover collection in the world. Each summer, Hoffman conducts tours herself, often accompanying them with a live accordion rendition of “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella.”
Without question, plumbing is one of the greatest innovations of civilization. Virtually all of us depend on plumbing systems every day; however, most of us don’t truly appreciate what marvels those systems really are. When this museum first opened in Worcester in 1979, it was dubbed the American Sanitary Plumbing Museum by Russell Manooq, whose father had created and built up the collection over 20-plus years. The name was later streamlined and the collection was relocated from Worcester to a beautifully renovated icehouse in, appropriately enough, Watertown. This fascinating museum celebrates the plumbers, engineers, and inventors whose work and creations have improved our lives. From the “earth closets” of the 1800s to the wooden water pipes of the Civil War era to some ultramodern innovations from around the world, this hands-on (and completely sanitary) attraction will leave you flushed with appreciation.
If there were an award given for New England’s most fun museum, the American Classic Arcade Museum would have to be the odds-on favorite. In the late 1990s, the Laconia arcade Funspot — which holds the Guinness World Record for largest arcade — collected all of its vintage games into one area. That collection has officially become a museum that now includes nearly 200 pinball and arcade games (mostly from the 1970s and 1980s) and occupies an entire floor of the building. The classics are all here, of course, so you can indulge in Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man to your heart’s delight. Even more fun are the forgotten favorites that you haven’t thought about in years. The only downside is that you may find it hard to keep a straight face as you explain to your loved ones, “Honest, I spent the day at a museum.”
The Musée Patamécanique maintains an air of mystery. Its own website questions its very existence, and its exact location remains a well-guarded secret. Guests are met at a prearranged location and guided to its secret location — or rather, locations — in the historic district of Bristol. The Musée’s founder started creating the mechanical sculptures that are the heart of this museum while pursuing a master’s degree at the Rhode Island School of Design. Celebrating “pataphysics” (the science of imaginary solutions) and committed to the notion that “we are what we pretend,” the magical, whimsical world of Musée Patamécanique will leave you questioning not only where the boundary between reality and make-believe lies, but also whether that boundary even exists.
Museums don’t get much less formal than this. You won’t find priceless paintings or ancient treasures at the Museum of Everyday Life. The exhibits here celebrate the mundane and the commonplace. But as you turn out the lights at this completely self-service museum in Glover, Vermont, you’ll likely find yourself thinking about culture, history, and museums themselves in new ways. Recent exhibits have explored matches, safety pins, and other nearly invisible objects around us. The museum is open year-round, but winter visitors should dress warmly, as the space is not heated.
What would you add to our picks for the most unique museum in every New England state?
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.