Wikipedia // Public Domain
Wikipedia // Public Domain

8 Hidden Museums Around the Globe

Wikipedia // Public Domain
Wikipedia // Public Domain

Not all of the world's museums are splashy, high-profile institutions. Some fascinating collections are tucked away in more obscure spots, whether it's the suburbs of Maryland or the sanitation department of New York City. Here are eight obscure or semi-private attractions that make it worth going out of your way.

1. THE CIA MUSEUM IN LANGLEY, VIRGINIA

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintains a museum inside its Langley, Virginia headquarters, but outsiders aren’t allowed in. It’s only open to CIA employees, their families, official visitors, and the occasional persistent reporter. Founded in 1972, on the agency's 25th birthday, the museum contains thousands of declassified items, touching on the history of the CIA as well as that of its predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, and foreign intelligence agencies.

Among the hundreds of items on display inside the Langley museum, there's a brick from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan; a hollow rat corpse once used as a “drop” to pass agency secrets; and deadly weapons galore. However, you don’t need to become a secret agent (or marry a spy) to see some of the formerly top-secret relics: Pictures and videos of museum items are available on the CIA’s website, and the organization occasionally partners with libraries, museums, and other institutions to create exhibitions.

2. THE TREASURE IN THE TRASH MUSEUM IN NEW YORK CITY

 

The adage “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” rings true at New York City’s Treasure in the Trash museum. Located on the second floor of a nondescript East Harlem warehouse, the museum features countless tossed-out items, curated by former sanitation worker Nelson Molina.

Now retired and in his 60s, Molina first began collecting curbside souvenirs decades ago while on the job. The New York City Department of Sanitation bans employees from bringing their finds home, so Molina used them to adorn an employee locker room inside the Sanitation Department’s East 99th Street truck depot.

His co-workers (and trash collectors from other city boroughs) followed suit, bringing in unwanted objects like Furbys, typewriters, family photos, artworks, and furniture. Over the years, the collection grew to include other unusual items, like a copy of Lena Horne's autobiography signed by the singer herself; a vintage movie projector, and a Star of David-shaped steel plaque from the World Trade Center.

Molina is retired, but he still takes time to maintain his museum, which now fills an entire warehouse floor. The curator pre-approves all museum submissions and artfully arranges them into groups by type, theme, or color. But unless you’re a sanitation worker, you’ll generally have to contact the Department of Sanitation for a pre-arranged tour. (This may change in the near future: The East 99th street warehouse is slated for demolition and the Sanitation Department hopes to relocate the museum to a publicly accessible location.)

3. THE DAVID HASSELHOFF MUSEUM IN BERLIN, GERMANY

Erika Berlin

 
David Hasselhoff’s star (and tan) may have faded since the Baywatch era, but the actor still has fans in Germany: He’s the subject of a hidden museum in Berlin, tucked inside the basement of the Circus Hostel in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood and curated by bartender Ally Chaplin.

The tiny, two-year-old museum is mostly ironic (Germans aren’t as obsessed with the ‘Hoff as we think they are), but it does contain informative displays about Hasselhoff’s influence in Berlin; TV shows Knight Rider and Baywatch; and the hostel’s ongoing campaign to change their street’s name from Weinbergsweg to David-Hasselhoff-Strasse (German for “David Hasselhoff Street”). And since no ‘Hoff-inspired shrine would be complete without rippling muscles and chest hair, there’s also lots of cheesy fan art.

4. THE WILLIAM P. DIDUSCH CENTER FOR UROLOGIC HISTORY IN LINTHICUM, MARYLAND

At the William P. Didusch Center for Urologic History, non-doctors can learn more than they ever expected (or needed) to know about the human urinary tract system. The museum is located inside the American Urological Association’s Linthicum, Maryland headquarters, and is open to members of the public by appointment only. It's named after William P. Didusch, a medical illustrator renowned for his drawings of the urinary tract and the various instruments used to treat it.

The museum is filled with historic medical illustrations, medical specimens, old-fashioned medical tools (some more horrifying than others), and other bladder-related items. Among them is a pineapple-sized kidney stone and a selection of dandies’ canes, the latter featuring hidden cavities for stashing catheters and lubricant. Visitors can also check out an assortment of revolving exhibits, including the upcoming “The History of the Kidney."

5. TOMBA EMMANUELLE IN OSLO, NORWAY

 

Gustav Vigeland is renowned in Norway for creating Vigeland Park, the world's largest sculpture park by a single artist. As for his younger brother, Emanuel Vigeland, he's remembered for designing one of Oslo’s most bizarre under-the-radar attractions: an otherworldly mausoleum/museum hidden inside a nondescript brick building.

Emanuel Vigeland didn’t originally set out to build his own tomb: Like his sibling he was an artist, so in 1926 he constructed a brick building to display his sculpture and paintings. But he also thought the 8600-square-foot space would make a great final resting spot, so he sealed the windows with bricks and covered the walls and ceiling with a fresco portraying “man’s sexual instinct, conveyed through multitudes of naked bodies, women and men in impetuous intimacy,” as described on the museum’s website. (Vigeland reportedly resented his older brother’s success; the over-the-top mausoleum, which he dubbed Tomba Emmanuelle, may have arisen from feelings of inadequacy.)

When Emanuel Vigeland died in 1948, his ashes were stored in an urn that sits above the mausoleum’s main entrance. To enter, visitors need to walk through a low passage and duck down through an inner door; it’s speculated that the artist designed it this way so they’d have to “bow” to his remains. The mausoleum opened to the public as a museum in 1959; today, it's only open for several hours each Sunday, and only a few people are allowed in at a time.

6. THE STAR TOYS MUSEUM IN BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

 

Thomas Atkinson didn’t originally set out to start a private home museum of Star Wars toys and memorabilia, “but there’s just so much cool stuff,” he told Maryland’s Capital News Service in 2012. Now in his 50s, Atkinson began collecting Star Wars-themed items after first seeing the original film as a 13-year-old. But what started out as a couple T-shirts and posters ballooned into thousands of comics, action figures, trading cards, plates, linens, posters, and more.

These objects went on permanent display in 1994, when Atkinson moved to his present-day house in Linthicum Heights, Maryland and filled an entire room with his Star Wars stuff. To “more effectively protect, preserve, and promote this outstanding collection,” Atkinson founded his Star Toys Museum in 1998.

Members of the public can view The Star Toys Museum by scheduling an appointment. And while they’re at it, visitors can also follow the scent of wood chips and check out Atkinson’s giant hamster home, which he bills as “the world’s largest hamster habitat." According to Atkinson, it "occupies three rooms across two stories and passes through solid walls" [PDF].

7. THE MMUSEUMM IN NEW YORK CITY

 

In the case of New York City’s Mmuseumm, a freight elevator doesn’t carry visitors up to the museum—it is the museum. Located in Tribeca’s Cortlandt Alley, the tiny space contains a curated assortment of artworks, found items, vintage curiosities, and cultural memorabilia all displayed and labeled like objects of great value or historic significance. “We’re thinking about narratives and ideas that connect us as humans and then [we] illustrate those with objects,” Mmuseumm co-founder Alex Kalman told The Cut.

Now in its fifth year of operations, The Mmuseumm is currently open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m (although it was closed for the installation of a new exhibit at press time). If you miss visiting hours, you can peer through the elevator’s windows and access the museum’s audio guide by calling a number on your phone. To view even more curious items from the Mmuseumm’s collections, check out its second "wing" (yet another tiny exhibition space), located on the same block.

8. THE BENDERY MILITARY MUSEUM IN TRANSNISTRIA

Tiraspol Hostel via Facebook

Tucked between Moldova and Ukraine is a tiny former Soviet republic called Transnistria. It’s not recognized by the United Nations, nor is it typically included on world maps. The territory was once part of Moldova, but when that country broke away from the Soviet Union in 1990, citizens of Transnistria—which was home to many Russian-speakers—still felt attached to the Soviets and declared independence. They planned to establish a socialist republic, and remain part of the Soviet Union.

Moldova and the breakaway republic went to war. The conflict lasted until 1992, when it ended in a ceasefire. (By then, of course, the Soviet Union had dissolved.) Moldova gave Transnistria limited autonomy, and today, it has its own government, army, national anthem, and currency. However, Moldova still won’t fully acknowledge Transnistria as its own country, and neither has Russia.

Visitors to the city of Bendery in Transnistria can visit a tiny museum, hidden inside three adjoining cars from a decomissioned Soviet steam train. The museum's displays trace the city’s military history, and are filled with rare Soviet military memorabilia: uniforms, medals, a handle-driven computing device, weapons, and Lenin and Stalin pictures galore. The Military Museum at Bendery is free, and is located right next to Bendery’s main train station. Keep in mind, however, that none of the museum’s curators speak English, nor are translations available for the museum’s plaques.

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George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
This Crafty Bicycle Can Knit a Scarf in 5 Minutes
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo

Knitting can be a time-consuming, meticulous task, but it doesn’t need to be. At least not if you’re George Barratt-Jones. As The Morning News spotted, the Dutch designer recently created a human-powered automated knitting machine that can make a scarf while you wait for your train to arrive.

The Cyclo-Knitter is essentially a bicycle-powered loom. As you pedal a stationary bike, the spinning front wheel powers a knitting machine placed on top of a wooden tower. The freshly knitted fabric descends from the top of the tower as the machine works, lowering your brand-new scarf.

Cyclo Knitter by George Barratt-Jones from George Barratt-Jones on Vimeo.

“Imagine it’s the midst of winter,” Barratt-Jones, who founded an online skill-sharing platform called Kraftz, writes of the product on Imgur. “You are cold and bored waiting for your train at the station. This pedal powered machine gets you warm by moving, you are making something while you wait, and in the end, you are left with a free scarf!”

Seems like a pretty good use of your commute down-time, right?

If you're a fan of more traditional knitting methods, check out these knitting projects that can put your needles to work, no bicycle required.

[h/t The Morning News]

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THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
6 Works of Art That Were Hiding in Plain Sight
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this year, an 1820 facsimile of the Declaration of Independence turned up in Texas. Despite once being owned by James Madison, it had been shuffled among the papers of a family who eventually forgot about its provenance and came to consider it "worthless," at least until its recent authentication. As one of only 200 facsimiles created by printer William Stone, it was a rare document, but what made headlines was a curious footnote in the document’s journey: It had been hidden behind wallpaper during the Civil War as protection.

There’s something tantalizing about a precious object concealed by wallpaper or painted over; it suggests treasures might be hiding anywhere—maybe in our own homes. Here are a few stories of art that's been lost, and found, on the same wall, hidden beneath wallpaper, paint, and plaster.

1. ANGEL MOSAIC // PALESTINE

Conservators who began restoring the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2013 after centuries of neglect were prepared to clean its mosaics from years of soot and grime. They weren’t expecting to find new ones.

Using a thermographic camera, one restoration worker noticed a shape in the plaster walls. When the team started chipping off the material, they found the brilliant glow of mother-of-pearl tiles. Soon an 8-foot-tall angel was revealed, dressed in a flowing white robe, its golden wings and halo as luminescent as when they were installed in the Crusades era. It’s believed that the angel was covered up following an 1830s earthquake, perhaps to hide damage. Now the lost seraph (above) has rejoined the procession of radiant mosaic angels who are walking to the nativity along the church’s historic walls.

2. MEDIEVAL MURALS // WALES

Mediaeval wall paintings, Llancarfan church, Wales
Chris Samuel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

During the Reformation, the murals in Catholic churches of the British Isles were often covered with plaster, turning them into more austere Protestant spaces. In covering them so entirely, this art was sometimes inadvertently protected from centuries of decay. In 2010, conservators announced an incredible find in the 800-year-old Church of St Cadoc at Llancarfan in Wales.

Church staff had long been intrigued by a thin red line of paint on the wall. After conservators began the painstaking work of removing 21 layers of limewash, a dramatic painting of St. George slaying a dragon appeared. The discoveries continued with scenes of other popular medieval motifs, such as the Seven Deadly Sins, a royal family, and "Death and the Gallant," in which a rotting corpse with a worm creeping in its rib cage leads an elegantly dressed man to his mortal end. The murals are now on view for all to enjoy.

3. BRETON GIRL SPINNING // FRANCE

Paul Gauguin, "Breton Girl Spinning"
Paul Gauguin, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, French artist Paul Gauguin's 1889 Breton Girl Spinning is an enigmatic fresco of a young girl dancing at a small tree. In one hand, she is spinning wool; in the distance, above the water and shapes of ships, a huge angel with a sword is flying. In part because of this angelic figure, the painting is sometimes called Joan of Arc.

The work was painted right on the plaster dining room wall of La Buvette de la Plage, an inn in Brittany, France. After being forgotten under layers of wallpaper, it and two other murals (one by Gauguin and one by his student Meijer de Haan) were rediscovered in 1924 during some redecorating.

4. MAYA MURALS // GUATEMALA

While updating their kitchen around 2007, Lucas Asicona Ramirez and his family in the Guatemalan village of Chajul discovered some old interior design—Maya murals, hidden for centuries beneath the plaster.

The roughly 300-year-old artworks in the colonial-era home featured figures in both Maya and Spanish attire, representing a moment of European arrival. One may be holding a human heart, or possibly a mask used in a dance. Ramirez hopes to turn the room into a museum, but needs more funding. Other households in Chajul also have historic murals in their homes, and some are striving to conserve these memories of their ancestors even while local preservation resources are limited.

5. WILLIAM MORRIS RED HOUSE MURALS // ENGLAND

The 19th century British artist and writer William Morris is celebrated for his textiles, writing, wallpaper, and other work in the Arts and Crafts movement. The house in Bexleyheath, Kent, that architect Philip Webb designed for him and his wife Jane in 1859 was intended not just as a home, but an incubator for art. The "Red House" became a hub for like-minded artists, and Morris founded “The Firm”—which produced decorative objects such as stained glass and furniture—there in 1861 alongside several other artists. However, the Red House community was short-lived, and financial difficulties forced the family to move out in 1865, never to return.

When the National Trust acquired the house in 2003, they found that the group had left behind some of their artistic experiments. Behind a wardrobe, under layers of paint and wallpaper, the trust made a most extraordinary find: a full wall of almost life-size biblical figures. Researchers believe they were collaboratively painted by Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, and Ford Madox Brown, all of whom were major artists in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

6. AMÉRICA TROPICAL // UNITED STATES

Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros had just been expelled from Mexico for his leftist activities when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1932. Local boosters commissioned him to create a mural on the theme of "Tropical America" on the touristy Olvera Street, which was an idealized vision of a Mexican market, but he had no interest in portraying some folkloric fantasy. “For me, 'America Tropical' was a land of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of them invariably persecuted and harassed by their respective governments,” he said in a 1971 documentary.

His América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismos, or Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism, was a moody landscape with gnarled trees clawing at a Maya temple. At the center, an indigenous man is crucified, with an American eagle ominously descending over his head. Innovative techniques such as airbrushing gave the tableau a visceral edge.

The 18-by-82-foot act of subversion was soon whitewashed. Still, many people did not forget it, especially as Siqueiros became recognized as one of the most influential of the early 1900s Mexican muralists. Eight decades after it was painted, the city of Los Angeles, along with the Getty Conservation Institute, began a restoration. The whitewash had protected its details from sun and rain and finally, in 2012, its defiant scene was again revealed to the public. It is now the oldest mural in L.A., and the only one by Siqueiros in its original location.

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