From shoes to Spam, from Greyhounds to Judy Garland, museums off the beaten path are home to an eclectic and fascinating variety of smaller collections.
Some of the best museum discoveries happen beyond the walls of the big institutions. These are places that are located a little farther out -- or whose exhibits focus on topics that are a little, well, far out. You can, for example, bone up on the history of fishing or farming or hockey or taconite mining or radio broadcasting. Learn more than you ever realized you wanted to know about passenger buses or model trains or keyboard instruments or a certain iconic canned lunch meat. Explore the lives of a famous children's book author and illustrator, a talented but tragic diva, a longtime governor, a legendary outdoorswoman and root-beer brewer extraordinaire.
Eveleth claims to have produced more quality hockey players and contributed more to the development of the sport than any other town its size. The museum has been part of that tradition since 1973, showcasing hockey history with photos and videos, vintage uniforms and other memorabilia. The Hall of Fame honors players, coaches, teams and other significant men and women of the sport, dating back to the late 19th century.
After a single terrible storm damaged 29 ships, Split Rock Lighthouse was built in 1910 to shine its beacon on a rugged area of Lake Superior known as one of the world's most dangerous stretches of water. Yet it's a cheerful place: a picturesque structure on 25 scenic acres. Long a popular stop for tourists, it closed as an operating lighthouse in 1969, rendered obsolete by modern navigational equipment, but was restored to its 1920s appearance and reopened for visitors two years later. The surrounding state park offers hiking, picnicking and tent camping.
Trace the 500-year-evolution of keyboard instruments, learn about the 1,000-year-old Indonesian ensemble music called Gamelan, examine historic letters from famous musicians including Mozart and Beethoven. The Schubert Club Museum's historical approach to music is fitting, given that the club that operates it is Minnesota's earliest arts organization (launched in 1882 by the daughter of Gov. Alexander Ramsey), named for 19th-century Austrian composer Franz Schubert.
Born Frances Gumm in 1922 in Grand Rapids, Garland performed onstage with her sisters before moving to Los Angeles at age 4 with her vaudeville-touring family and rising to fame as a singer and actress, notably in the beloved "The Wizard of Oz." The museum's holdings include the Gumm family home, a dress Garland wore as Dorothy, and a carriage, once owned by Abraham Lincoln, that appeared in "Oz" and other MGM movies. Noting that the singer died, in 1969, by accidentally overdosing on the prescription drugs she abused, museum co-founder Jonny Miner, whose mother used to babysit Frances, said, "She was kind of like Whitney Houston, except it happened a long time ago."
Quick quiz: Hibbing is the birthplace of what nationally famous icon? That's right, the Greyhound Bus, launched in 1914 (oh yeah, plus that Dylan guy, who was launched a few decades later). Museum visitors learn how Greyhound, considered the first bus company, grew from a Hupmobile car and a two-mile route to the largest bus company in the world. Tour historical buses, hear bus driver stories, learn about early bus heating and find out why they named it "Greyhound."
Boats, motors, lures, augers, rods and reels, a leather-cover tackle box and a full-size 1920s fishing shack are among artifacts on display at this museum celebrating the history and culture of one of Minnesota's favorite activities. An aquarium contains live specimens from the state's 4 million acres of fresh water. If you need inspiration for the season ahead, check out the display of record catches.
This museum is all about model railroads, crafted to scale and adorned with period details by train-and-history-loving volunteers. The O-scale (1/4 inch equals one foot) exhibit includes reproductions of the St. Anthony Falls Milling District and the Stone Arch Bridge, the street-car line that ran from 1891 to 1954, the hydroelectric dam that powered it, a typical rural Minnesota town, and the 1913 Great Northern Station.
See a boot that would be the envy of that old woman who had all the kids -- the world's largest boot, the museum claims -- along with other information and memorabilia about the sturdy Minnesota-made footwear, interactive displays, Norman Rockwell imagery and written testimonials from customers.
The author and illustrator Wanda Gag, born in 1893, is best known for her 1928 book "Millions of Cats" -- a Newbery winner and reportedly the oldest American picture book still in print. Gag, the oldest of seven children born to Bohemian parents, spent her first 20 years in this now restored 118-year-old Victorian dwelling, featuring turrets, skylights and an attic artist's studio. Gag's father, Anton, and sister, Flavia, were also artists, and the house's interior is decorated with their work.
If all spam means to you is "unwanted e-mail," discover the history and culture surrounding the original Spam, the iconic canned lunch meat. This free museum features vintage advertising, a game-show quiz, recipes and collectibles, and a healthy sense of humor. You'll learn that Minnesota-based Hormel developed the pork-shoulder product in 1937 and shipped 100 million pounds to allied troops during World War II, and that Spam is so popular in Southeast Asia that a gift pack sells for up to $45 and is considered an appropriate wedding gift.
See what life was like in Minnesota back when settlers moved by ox cart and lived in dug-out homes, when indoor plumbing was considered a luxury, when children performed chores without (much?) nagging. This collection of restored antique buildings on 120 acres shows what farms looked like in the 1850s and 1930s. It includes a feed mill, a country church, a one-room schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop.
The legendary Molter lived in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for 56 years, paddling, hiking, fishing, skiing, snowshoeing, brewing her own root beer and receiving thousands of visitors a year. When she died, in 1986, her homestead was dismantled and transported, appropriately enough, by dogsled and snowmobile to Ely, where volunteers restored two of her cabins.
Learn about the development of the Iron Range from the perspective of immigrants, miners and others who labored to build what would become the nation's largest producer of iron ore. The museum (formerly called Ironworld) houses artifacts, explains methods for mining iron and taconite, explores regional geology. A special area is dedicated to the life of Minnesota's longest-serving governor, Iron Range native Rudy Perpich.
Housed in a 1915 train depot, the museum includes a steam locomotive, a railway passenger car and a caboose. A homesteaders cabin, also from 1915, was originally located in the woods on Lake Vermilion and hauled across the lake to Tower.
Trace the early technological roots of the Information Age through antique radio, television and broadcast equipment. Highlights include crystal radios from the early 1920s, vacuum tubes, early phonograph technology and radio literature. Kids can create their own radio broadcasts in a 1960s-era studio, amateur operators can try out the state-of-the-art Ham Shack and, for a nickel, anyone can play a record on one of Wurlitzer's first jukeboxes.
The permanent collection combines history as well as art, including maritime paintings, artifacts, personal possessions, ship models and navigational instruments spanning several centuries. Highlights include letters written by Lord Horatio Nelson (in his left and right hands!), Nelson's wash basin from HMS Victory, 19th-century ship figureheads, a 17th-century Dutch bronze rail cannon, ship wheels and paintings ranging from classic to contemporary.
The museum promises that "warfare is neither glorified nor downplayed here," but that visitors will gain "a deeper appreciation for the achievements and sacrifices of those who fought." In exhibits including tanks, aircraft, uniforms, weapons, photographs, personal letters, diaries and other artifacts and records, the museum explores the contributions of Minnesotans from all branches of the armed forces, from the state's frontier years until today.
Located on the Hennepin County Medical Center campus, the museum preserves and interprets artifacts from the large public hospital, founded as City Hospital in 1887 and renamed Minneapolis General Hospital in 1920. The collection includes photographs, documents, uniforms and medical equipment used everywhere from the laundry to the emergency room.
Revisit the days when veterinarians mixed their own medications -- using cocaine as a local anesthetic and opium to control diarrhea -- practiced bloodletting as therapy, routinely conducted surgery in farm fields, and removed the horns of adult cattle with a guillotine dehorner or saw. The museum endeavors to "dramatize the contrast between things as they were and things as they are today" with old photographs, manuscripts, instruments and other items.
Katy Read • 612-673-4583