Everybody knows about the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum; it's one of the most popular museums in the world, with more than eight millon visitors annually. Most people know about the National Museum of American History, too, located a little farther down the Mall. Other famous museums include Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, with its walk-through beating heart, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where the dinosaurs roam. But the Mario Lanza Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? The Sci-Fi and Monster Mansion in Hollywood, California? The Roller Skating Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska?
In all, there are more than 8,000 museums in the United States, most of them unknown to most of us. But that doesn't mean they're unimportant. Museums, little and big alike, are the places where we keep the things that matter to us. No matter how obscure or specialized or seemingly preposterous they may be, they reveal something about our times and our national character. So hats off to museums large and small, famous and unknown, offbeat and off the wall. The seven far-out institutions profiled in this story prove that, in this country, if someone is interested in something, sooner or later they'll probably dedicate a museum to it.