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Under-the-Radar Chicago Museums You Won't Believe

BY: Aimee Algas Alker | Jun 8, 2018

Chicago is packed with esteemed museums, from the Field to the Art Institute, MSI, and beyond. But maybe you've already been to these, or maybe you're looking Chicago museums that lie off the beaten path. Whatever the reason, consider checking out these less famous—and far less typical—destinations.

Museum of Surgical Science

1524 N. Lake Shore Dr.
Alternative to: The Museum of Science and Industry
Admission: $17; $9 for kids 4–13
What to expect: Equal parts macabre and informative, the Museum of Surgical Science's 7,000 medical artifacts illustrate how far modern medicine has come from the more grisly techniques, equipment, and ideologies of past eras. The museum's four floors couple anecdotes about notable physicians with examples of antique tools, including a centuries-old amputation saw.

Busy Beaver Button Museum

3407 W. Armitage Ave.
Alternative to: The Art Institute
Admission: Free
What to expect: Since 1896, pinback buttons have been spreading powerful messages, such as "I Like Ike" or "Ambivalent About Eisenhower." Whether promoting presidents or progressive-rock bands, the cheeky collection at the Busy Beaver Button Museum, housed inside the factory itself, is a true conversation starter. Visitors inspired to create wearable manifestos of their own can even order custom buttons from Busy Beaver's website.

Woolly Mammoth Antiques & Oddities

1513 W. Foster Ave.
Alternative to: Lincoln Park Zoo
Admission: Free
What to expect: You may come face to face with a giraffe, alligator, or even a human skeleton at this kooky vintage shop, and one of the most unusual Chicago museums. The taxidermy collectors who run Woolly Mammoth curate a "touchable museum" of stuffed creatures, on display amidst a random assortment of antiquated medical tools, gas masks, and—for visitors in need of more nightmare fuel—a wooden shelf filled with doll heads.

The Oriental Institute | See memberships starting at $23

1155 E 58th St.
Alternative to: The Field Museum
Admission: $10; $5 for children under 12
What to expect: If museums are full of "old stuff," this one holds some of the oldest around, teeming with artifacts from the Near East that as far back as 80,000 BC. From the reign of King Sargon II of Assyria, the lamassu, a bull with wings and a human head towers 16 feet high. In the Mesopotamian Gallery, visitors admire everyday items spanning tens of thousands of years, including a child's pull toy from 2350 BC.

Bronzeville Children's Museum

9301 S. Stony Island Ave.
Alternative to: Chicago Children's Museum
Admission: $5
What to expect: The US's first and only children's museum centered on African American history boasts more than just a pretend grocery store. The pretend hospital teaches kids about Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the very first successful open heart surgery. Kids also immerse themselves in exhibits celebrating famous African Americans from Chicago, including athletes, musicians, and political leaders.

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

756 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Alternative to: Museum of Contemporary Art
Admission: $5
What to expect: The term outside art refers to work made by artists who are self-taught, "outside" the mainstream world of art. Established in 1991, the museum celebrates artists "motivated by their unique personal visions," such as Henry Darger, whose personal effects populate a recreation of his studio/apartment, including newspaper clippings, comics, and coloring books.

Museum of Broadcast Communications | See tickets for $23.50

360 N. State St.
Admission: $25
What to expect: This four-story, 62,000-square-foot shrine to broadcasted entertainment culls an unlikely assortment of media memorabilia, from the iconic doorway of Oprah's studio to the only slightly haunted ventriloquist dummies of midcentury entertainer Edgar Bergen. Although the collection highlights items of national significance—including original clips of Walter Cronkite reporting on the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.—Chicagoans will feel a bit of hometown pride at displays dedicated to Bozo the Clown, the Empire Carpet man, and local and regional horror icon Svengoolie.

Money Museum

230 S. LaSalle St.
Admission: Free
What to expect: Housed inside the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Money Museum explores the world of currency through factoids and interactive exhibits. Learn to spot a counterfeit bill or marvel at the Million Dollar Cube, which is built from one million $1 bills and weighs more than a ton. Visitors can leave in the black by taking home hundreds of dollars in shredded money.



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