Supporting Chicago’s vibrant arts scene, iconic architecture and rich cultural history are a number of world-class museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Field Museum, DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center and the Museum of Science and Industry. And while these institutions are certainly must-visits, the city also has a collection of museums that are a little more off the beaten path…and in some cases downright weird.
If you’re looking for a different adventure this fall, here are Chicago museums that delve into the macabre, the impossible and everything in between.
Located in one of the only mansions on Lake Shore Drive, The International Museum of Surgical Science offers a fascinating dive into the history of surgery through exhibits that feature over 7,000 artifacts, including antique medical equipment, intricate anatomical models, and rare surgical instruments. In addition, the collection includes over 600 paintings, prints and sculptures that depict specific procedures or events. One highlight is a plaster cast made from the death mask of Napoleon. Though not for the faint of heart, the museum is the perfect place for an aspiring doctor.
Do you know what a million dollars looks like? Well, you can see for yourself at Chicago’s Money Museum, located on the first floor of the Federal Reserve Bank, located at 230 S. LaSalle St. in the Loop. In the museum, you’ll find a giant glass cube filled with one million $1 bills. The total weight of the cash is about 2,000 pounds. The museum also offers thousands of rare coins, antique cash registers, a million-dollar briefcase and an interactive exhibit that shows you how to spot a counterfeit bill. You’ll even leave richer than you came, as guests receive a bag of cash on the way out. Unfortunately, the money is shredded, so good luck trying to take it shopping.
For literature enthusiasts or anyone with an appreciation of wordsmithing, the American Writers Museum is worth exploring. This interactive museum near Millennium Park showcases the achievements of notable American authors, past and present. Visitors can walk through a series of rotating, state-of-the-art exhibitions, including a gallery designed to illustrate the writing process and a place for visitors to try their hand at the craft themselves.
Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth? Stop by the Museum of Ice Cream in the Tribune Tower. Visitors can eat unlimited ice cream treats featuring toppings and flavors from around the world (You had me at “hello”). The museum also provides an immersive and colorful journey that includes ice cream hot dogs, an edible slime tutorial and a world-famous sprinkle pool. Take a break from all the sweets with a round of putt-putt golf and score a dessert-themed hole-in-one.
The Museum of Illusions, located at 25 E. Washington St. in the Loop, is preparing to reopen this fall with all-new exhibits. Walk on the ceilings and walls in the Reversed Room, see if you can stand up straight in the Tilted Room, or have fun with interactive installations like the Cloning Mirror and Beuchet Chair Illusion. No matter your age, the museum will leave you scratching your head and questioning reality.
For those fascinated with the macabre, the Medieval Torture Museum – also in the Loop – provides a chilling experience. Step into the dark ages as you encounter more than 100 torture tools and learn about the cruel methods of punishment and coercion used during medieval times. Once you’ve made a lap around the museum, brave souls can try the museum’s free ghost-hunting app, which lets visitors detect ghosts and hear their gruesome tales.
The Busy Beaver Button Company, which creates custom buttons for businesses all over the country, also holds the world’s only pin-back button museum inside its headquarters in Logan Square. The museum offers a lesson in both art and history, with over 30,000 buttons highlighting everything from the Chicago Bears to Budweiser to The Beatles.