For visitors who want to travel off of the beaten path, Kansas City has several unique and quirky attractions.
Leila’s Hair Museum — This museum in Independence, Mo., is believed to be the only museum of its kind in the world. There are 159 wreaths and more than 2,000 pieces of jewelry made from, or containing human hair. Other objects on display in the museum include portraits of babies with human hair attached, as well as art made from human hair, buttons made of human hair and much more. The museum also displays the famous locks of Marilyn Monroe and Abraham Lincoln. Leila’s is recognized as one of the “100 Most Unusual Museums in the Country” and is now the headquarters for the Victorian Hairwork Society.
Glore Psychiatric Museum — Located in St. Joseph, Mo., this eccentric museum is in a building that once housed the clinic of the former State Lunatic Asylum #2. The museum illustrates the history of the treatment of mental illness through full-sized replicas, interactive displays, audio-visuals, documents and artifacts such as dousing tanks, cages and straightjackets. Also on display is a collection of more than 1,400 metal objects, such as nails and safety pins, which were swallowed by a single patient. The museum is featured in the book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die in the USA and Canada and is recognized as “one of the 50 most unusual museums in the country.” The old asylum cemetery is located around the block. While more than 2,000 former patients were allegedly buried here, only several hundred tiny, nameless headstones survive.
Airline History Museum — This museum in Kansas City, Mo., takes a look at the golden age of air travel. The most unusual objects on display are the one-size-fits-all paper dresses worn by TWA flight attendants during the airline’s Foreign Accent Service campaign in 1968. The flight attendants had to carry staplers and tape in an attempt to keep their dresses from falling off during the in-flight service.
C.W. Parker Carousel Museum — It’s not all about carousels at this museum in Leavenworth, Kan. A quirky exhibit upstairs takes a look into the world of old carnivals and sideshows. Among the array of objects on display are two shrunken heads, a Fiji Island Mermaid and a petrified human hand. Also exhibited is a piece of steel that was tied into knots by the world’s strongest man, a sword-swallower’s sword and a large collection of rings that belonged to giants. The museum is also home to the oldest operating wooden carousel in the world, which is turned by two men with hand cranks.
Arabia Steamboat Museum — This museum, located in the River Market of Kansas City, displays the artifacts of the steamboat Arabia when it sunk in 1856. One of the exhibits shows jars of fruits and vegetables, which were sealed so well that when one of the excavators sampled a 132-year-old pickle, he said it tasted perfectly fine. Perhaps the most bizarre object in the museum’s collection is the skeleton of a mule, which was the shipwreck’s only casualty.
Patee House Museum — This eccentric museum of American history in St. Joseph, Mo., features a hodgepodge of odd artifacts and memorabilia through two floors of exhibits. Items on display include a 1920s gas station, the dentist office of Walter Cronkite’s father, a collection of spittoons, an 1880 general store, a horse-drawn hearse and a 1,050-pound ball of string. The museum building formerly served as the headquarters for the Pony Express and the Provost Marshal’s office for the Union Army during the Civil War. The museum was also a luxury hotel, a girl’s college and a shirt factory.
Jesse James Home — Legendary outlaw Jesse James was killed in this house in St. Joseph, Mo., on April 3, 1882, at the age of 34. Fellow gang member Robert Ford shot James to collect a $10,000 reward, creating the legendary bullet hole. Now behind a protective frame, the bullet hole is now nearly a foot wide after years of being picked at by tourists. The museum also features artifacts from James’ life and death. Moved from its original location, the building is now sits on the grounds of the Patee House Museum.
Toy & Miniature Museum — The most quirky display features a pair of fully-dressed fleas that can be viewed under a microscope. Also visible under magnification are the world’s smallest marbles and a pair of miniature dueling pistols only one-inch long that actually function in the 1/12th scale.
Puppetry Arts Institute — This attraction in Independence, Mo., houses several unusual puppets. The puppet maker that created the Institute’s Harry S Truman marionette used his own hair on the puppet’s head because he could not find any artificial hair that he liked. The Puppetry Arts Institute also displays the puppet, Sister Mary Annette, which is featured in all six of the off-Broadway Nunsense plays. Other exhibits include the history of “Punch” from the famed Punch & Judy and a display of puppets from around the world.
1950s All-Electric House — The All-Electric House, located inside the Johnson County Museum of History in Shawnee, Kan., showcases the futuristic, up-and-coming technology of the 1950s. The house has hidden televisions, electric curtain openers and trendy appliances. The Kansas City Power & Light company built the house in 1945 to demonstrate a new device: “the year ‘round air conditioner …known as the heat pump.” This was meant to be the epitome of the technological capabilities of the suburban American dream home. Previously a family home for 40 years, the house is now part of the museum’s “Seeking the Good Life” exhibit, which tells the history of the area from a suburban perspective.