Are you looking for an adventure off the beaten path? Look no further.
I spent months tracking down tales and rumors in a quest to find the best offbeat Pittsburgh Museums. I love an odd tale, strange item, or weird collection. This list will guide you to all of those things and provide a few surprises.
Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology
The Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology is where you’d find Indiana Jones would be if he taught in Pittsburgh. Stashed in the basement of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary are artifacts dating back to 5000 BCE. If you’re looking for hidden treasure, this is it. The program itself is well respected, it dates back to 1908 and covers four dig sites. The work is on par with the British Museum and the workers even speak several languages found in the regions they study.
Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation
Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation does not want you to read this. They prefer to remain hidden. This is because they are a sanctuary to the pure form of botanical art and illustration. There is no distraction. A few chairs dot the room, but you are left alone to find the emotion behind the artisan’s work. It is one of the purest experiences that curators hope to attain. The small museum attracts international fame with its choice of detailed and precision oriented artists dedicated to their craft. Take the extra time to pay attention to the art, yourself, and space between. They’re free and open to the public. Their fifteenth annual exhibition runs until Dec 14th.
The Toonseum is an independent museum that covers modern illustration from Disney to political commentary. This is slanted towards adult viewers. The small gallery has large impact with socially conscious exhibits. To name a few: MLK to March, Chutz-Pow Heroes of the Holocaust, and Slinging Satire: Political Cartoons and the First Amendment. It does cost a few bucks to get in, but is a great way to kill time on a lunch hour.
Trundle Manor is the wayward home for golems, ghouls, and goths. The masters of the manor will graciously share the spectacle in private collection for a small bribe or your soul. The Victorian home on the hill transports visitors into a world of medical oddities, steampunk robots, and animals stuck in time. It also houses the Hobo Bindle Mini-Museum. Like any good funeral, you need to call to make viewing arrangements. They’re waiting.
Center for PostNatural History
The Center for PostNatural History is dedicated to human tampering across other species. The space tells the story of genetic modifications from selective breeding to gene slicing. Taxidermy showcases significant advancements while glow in the dark fish remind us this history is alive. First Fridays during Unblurred is the best time to go. Beyond that, call ahead.
Bicycle Heaven is a cyclist wonderland of color and nostalgia. Thousands of bikes fill the unsuspecting Northside warehouse you’ve probably passed before. Craig Morrow has been collecting the historic pieces for decades. His search for the odd, strange, and weird has lead him to amass the largest collection of Bowden Space Landers in one place. Most of what you’ll find can be bought or swapped as the museum acts as a fully functioning bike shop. Free to enter, but man that class bike might cost a pretty penny.
Photo Antiquities Museum of Photographic History
Photo Antiquities Museum of Photographic History is two museums in one. The first contains a collection of photography saved from the ravages of time. You’ll find original prints from the Civil War and hand colored photographs including one of Teddy Roosevelt. The second is a collage of cameras from the Original Kodak Cameras to photo fax machines. When you visit, look up in the second room; You’ll see large windows. That’s because museum itself was once natural light photo studio.
Roberto Clemente Museum
Roberto Clemente Museum houses artifacts and mementos of the legendary Pittsburgh Pirate. You’ll find the 1971 World Series Home Plate, the last jersey he wore, and personal items from Clemente’s personal life. All of this is housed in a restored Strip District Fire House that has its own character. If you go, set aside $20 and 1.5 hours time for the tour.
Johnny Angels’ Museum of Ginchy Stuff
Johnny Angels’ Museum of Ginchy Stuff is what happens when personal collections grow out of proportion. Jack Hunt, aka Johnny Angel, has been performing for 50 years. During his time on tour he started collecting memorabilia from famous singers he encountered along the way. The best way to explore Johnny’s place is like a good game of pong, you bounce around until you find the perfect angle. It’s free and located next to Bicycle Heaven. You have nothing to lose. Hit two birds with one stone.
American Jewish Museum
The American Jewish Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting the human spirit. The gallery is located in the Jewish Community Center of Squirrel Hill. It provides a look into community that shapes the center. What sets this one aside from the rest of the list is how integrates into that community. Gym goers, students, and families pass by the selection on a daily basis offering a chance to reflect. It’s free to visit, just tell the front desk where you’re going.
Saint Anthony’s Chapel
Saint Anthony Chapel houses the most relics you’ll find outside of the Vatican. For over 130 years the humble chapel has kept to its inscription on its center arch, “Here Lie the Saints in Peace.” Father Mollinger, the founder of the site, had amassed over 5,000 Catholic Relics, stain glass, and wood carvings. Even if you’re non-religious the sanctuary houses undisputed works of art. That’s why everyone should make the pilgrimage to Troy Hill at least once.
Fort Pitt Block House
Fort Pitt Block House is all that remains of the great Fort Pitt once located at Pittsburgh’s Point. The 250 year old structure is as much of a witness of history as it has been a participant. Inside is a mini-museum dedicated to the history of the point. The lovely brick building has survived economic developments, floods, and wars. Today the building is run by the Daughters of the American Revolution. They’ve kept it open and free for explorers since 1894.
Randyland is the top of all the lists. So it’s at the bottom of this one. It’s often called a museum, but I haven’t figured out why. Regardless, Randy Gilson has created an iconic wonder of color and junk. Since 1995, his place has been Pittsburgh’s back porch. A place to let your inner child wander. Randyland is also the best place to take a selfie. Whether you’ve been once or a dozen times, the place is constantly changing and always worth another visit. Free and open to dreamers.
Other Pittsburgh Museums worth mentioning: Bayernhof Museum is a collection of odd automated musical instruments. Pinball Perfection houses hundreds of pinball machines you can play. The Slim Forsythe Living Museum Dedicated to Furthering Humanity Through Country Music is exactly what the title suggests.
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