Keep Portland’s museums weird

Unusual exhibits offer extraordinary experiences — and a glimpse of locals' obsessions.

Peculiarium – © 2011 Todd MecklemA truly odd photo opportunity at the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium.
© 2011 Todd Mecklem

If you’ve seen one priceless work of art, you’ve seen them all. Okay, that’s not true. But the reality is that memories are more valuable than anything else, and Portland’s collection of strange-but-true museums will leave you richer with remembrances than most mainstream galleries. See for yourself with a tour of these attractions that are doing their part to keep Portland weird:

The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium

Packed full of creepy but fun exhibits, like Al Capone’s safe, an alien autopsy table and an exhibit on spontaneous combustion, this Northwest Portland gallery and shop serves up original artwork and ice cream. Because everyone likes ice cream, right?

The Hat Museum

With more than 1,000 hats, this Southeast Portland house is brimming with headgear, organized into five different categories: vintage, men’s, novelty, international and fabulous! Just be sure to call in advance, as it’s open by appointment only.

Lincoln Street Kayak & Canoe Museum

Representing hundreds, if not thousands, of years of hunting and fishing, the full-sized canoes and kayaks found here are handmade replicas designed to be seaworthy even today. The only thing strange about this Southeast Portland museum, which is free and open from 5-7 p.m. on Wednesdays, is that it’s totally landlocked in a residential neighborhood.

Kidd’s Toy Museum

That’s no typo — this Southeast Portland collection of toys from 1869 to 1939 belonged to Frank Kidd, and includes throwback items such as toy cars, piggy banks, and gadgets like a Dick Tracy wrist radio. It’s open weekday afternoons, and on the weekend by appointment.

Movie Madness

What’s more historical — a video store, or a museum dedicated to cinema props? Thankfully, this Southeast Portland shop houses both, with more than 100 pieces of movie history, like a shower scene knife from Psycho, Julie Andrews’ dress from The Sound of Music, the baby carriage from The Untouchables and more.

Ping Pong’s Pint Size Puppet Museum

Taking up residence in an old corner store in Sellwood, this is where hundreds of puppets, ranging from walking, talking animals to marionette witches, come to life every Thursday through Sunday with live performances. Kids can try their hand at making their own puppets, too.

Portland Police Museum

This arresting collection of artifacts dates back to 1870, and shows how law and order developed in this once wild city. Thumb through early arrest records, try on authentic Portland Police uniforms or clink the door of an original jail cell at this free museum in downtown Portland’s Justice Center, and maybe you’ll get the urge to become a crime fighter, too.

Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals

One of the most extensive collection of minerals in the nation, this Hillsboro, Oregon museum truly rocks. Located just 16 miles west of downtown Portland, the 10,000-square-foot gallery the Rice family’s private home, but now the “Alma Rose” Rhodochrosite from Colorado’s Sweet Home Mine, the world’s largest opal-filled thunder egg and an extensive collection of meteorites live here.

Safety Learning Center and Fire Museum

They always say don’t play with fire, and at the Historic Belmont Firehouse, they mean it. But you can reach out and touch more than 150 years of firefighting equipment and tools along its self-guided tour.

Stark’s Vacuum Museum

Taking up a small wing of a Northeast Portland vacuum store, this collection of 300 antique suction devices from a variety of brands really kicks up quite a fuss. Admission is free, but kindly wipe your feet before entering.

Wells Fargo History Museum

When Oregon was just taking off, stagecoaches and steamboats propelled the state into the future. This museum, located downtown next to Portland City Hall, shows how the area stayed connected to the East Coast through these old modes of transportation.

World Forestry Center Discovery Museum

Typically, a collection of trees is called a forest. But this indoor museum, located in Portland’s Washington Park, explores what makes woodlands important through an array of interactive displays and exhibits.

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