Chicago has several world-class museums, but compiling a list of “weird” museums in the city is not an easy task. This is still the Midwest, after all. We don’t have a phallological museum like Iceland or a museum of medieval torture instruments like the Czech Republic or a museum of toilets like India. We do, however, have a few museums that — while they may not be all that weird — are a bit offbeat, at least by Midwestern standards.
International Museum of Surgical Science
1524 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60610
More than 7,000 artifacts relating to the history of surgery, including a circa 1500 Austrian amputation saw with reversible blade, are housed in this lakefront mansion that was built in 1917 for the daughter of a Diamond Match Company executive. The building was modeled after a chateau built at Versailles for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who themselves would experience an amputation of sorts. In addition to medical artifacts like Dr. Judo Wara’s collection of early heart valves, the museum has more than 600 works of art related to the surgical field, including the original plaster cast of the death mask of Napoleon. One of the newest exhibits at the museum covers surgicogenomics, the use of genomic technology and stem cells in surgical procedures.
The Oriental Institute
University of Chicago
1155 E. 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
This museum makes the list because it’s hidden away in a nondescript building on the campus of the University of Chicago that few people would suspect houses an incredible collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and other Middle Eastern locations. The visitor will be struck by the immense size of some of the works of art, including the head of a bull that once stood at the entrance to the Hundred-Column Hall in Persepolis. King Tut fans will enjoy a colossal statue of the Egyptian monarch unearthed in 1930 in Medinet Habu.
The Money Museum
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
230 S. LaSalle St.
Chicago, IL 60604
A giant glass cube holding $1 million in $1 bills is among the curiosities visitors will find at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Money Museum. Surprisingly, the museum is a big hit with kids. They get to go home with their own bag of old currency shredded by the Reserve, which shreds about $10 million worth of worn-out paper money every day. The Money Museum is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, except bank holidays. With this being a federal building in a post-9/11 world, visitors must go through a security screening process that includes walking through a metal detector.
Related: Best Deep-Dish Chicago-Style Pizza
National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 W. 19th St.
Chicago, IL 60608
Although Chicago is home to a large Mexican-American community, it seems odd that the National Museum of Mexican Art would be located here rather than California or Texas. This building in the Pilsen neighborhood houses more than 7,000 works of art from the pre-Columbian era to the present. Popular with visitors is the artwork relating to Mexico’s Day of the Dead observances.
Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows
600 E. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
This collection of 150 beautifully crafted stained glass windows is housed in an 800-foot-long gallery at Navy Pier. Many of us probably first became aware of the existence of stained glass windows while sitting in a church pew and many of the windows on display here were originally in religious buildings. However, there are also many secular works of art in the museum, many of which come from Chicago-area homes and businesses. There are also 13 windows created by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studio in New York City.
Dennis D. Jacobs is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in scores of newspapers and magazines and on multiple websites. For the past four years, he has been the Chicago International Travel Examiner for Examiner.com. He lives in west suburban Chicago.