While the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art are some of the most iconic art stops in Chicago, the city is also full of ancient amputation devices and the largest collection of toby jugs in the world. This unusual art scene often gets overshadowed, but it is definitely worth the visit. To help you get off the typical museum path, we’ve compiled a list of the ten most unusual museums in the Windy City.
International Museum of Surgical Science
The International Museum of Surgical Science holds over 7,000 artifacts documenting the history of surgery. Inside, you can find an Austrian amputation saw circa 1500, iron lungs, and early heart valves. In addition, there is a Hippocrates sculpture and a room full of cadaver murals. It’s not exactly for the faint of heart, but it’s a fascinating museum and the perfect place for aspiring surgeons. Try to go on a Tuesday when entrance is free, otherwise tickets cost $15.
Do you know who is on the face of the $10,000 bill? Well, you can find out inside the Money Museum, located in the Federal Reserve Bank. (Spoiler alert: It’s Salmon P. Chase, Abraham Lincoln’s treasury secretary.) In the museum, there are thousands of rare and old coins, a million-dollar briefcase, and a giant rotating cube filled with one million dollars. On your way out, you’ll receive a bag with 300 dollars. Unfortunately, the money is shredded and uncirculated, so good luck trying to actually put it to use.
Located in the Pilsen neighborhood, the National Museum of Mexican Art is the largest Latino museum in the United States. With permanent collections, rotating exhibits, performing arts-showcases, and an incredible Day of the Dead exhibition, you will find yourself completely immersed in the vibrant Mexican culture. Be sure to grab a delicious Mexican meal while you’re in the neighborhood.
The Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass at Navy Pier
Tucked away near the end of the Navy Pier, this is a museum dedicated solely to stained-glass artwork. Many of the works are from local churches and religious buildings; however, there are also secular works from nearby homes and businesses and even a stained-glass portrait of Michael Jordan. Entrance is free, and you can still browse while eating that ice cream cone you bought on the pier.
This is a replica building based on Ray Kroc’s 1955 original blueprints for McDonald’s. From the outside, you see the original giant sign when McDonald’s proudly advertised to have sold over one million hamburgers (it’s hard to even begin to imagine what that number is today). The museum is closed for most of the year, so you can’t go inside, but you can walk around outside and look in through the windows to see old-fashioned fryers, milkshake Multimixers, and soda barrels. And once the craving for a burger and French fries sets in, you can walk over to the functioning McDonald’s across the street.
Not only is Pert Cleaners one of the best dry cleaners in the city, but it is also part museum. When you drop off your pants, make sure to walk around and look through old-fashioned detergent, ironing boards, and steam machines to get a grasp on the unique history of dry cleaning.
The Busy Beaver Button Company creates custom buttons for businesses all over Chicago and the USA, but the office also holds a small museum inside of the headquarters. From Cabbage Patch Kids to Anti-Nixon Vietnam to Brother Buzz Club Member buttons, there are thousands of buttons to look through. Both a lesson in history and a lesson in art, you can enjoy the framed cases of buttons lining the walls while watching the workers continue to design and create buttons at their desks.
This one is not quite a museum, but it is certainly an unusual work of art and quite literally, a piece of crap. Chicago artist Jerzy S. Kenar created the bronze coil fountain in an effort to clean up the park and get dog owners to pick up after their pets. Meant to be ironic and humorous, the fountain makes for an entertaining photo to send to your friends, perfectly captioned with the poop emoji.
This museum filled wall-to-wall with toby jugs is certainly one of a kind. A toby jug is a ceramic pitcher figured and modeled into the form or face of a popular character – historical, fictional, or generic. The museum holds the world’s largest collection of toby jugs, containing over 8,000 different designs. You’ll recognize quite a few of the faces, including John F. Kennedy and Joseph Stalin.
While many believe the Clarke House to be the oldest house in Chicago, that title actually belongs to the Noble Seymour Crippen House. The southern wing of the now mansion was built in 1833 and is located in the Norwood Park community area. Inside, you can find period-decorated bedrooms, photographs of Norwood Park’s growth from a farming settlement to an urban neighborhood, and even read entries from Margaret Crippen’s journal.