Discover the Unexpected Museums of Cleveland Plus

What would Cleveland Plus be without the renowned, ever-expanding Cleveland Museum of Art? I certainly couldn’t picture the backdrop of the city without our own homage to rock at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum or the gridiron greats at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And, to imagine this region minus A Christmas Story House just makes me sad. But many aren’t familiar with some of Cleveland’s lesser-known museums like the ones dedicated to polka music, policemen and carousels. These niche institutions score big points in uniqueness, diversity and importance to Cleveland Plus.  So, whether you’re a visitor or a local, we’ve got a couple of not-to-be-missed attractions worth an afternoon visit.

Think Manhattan’s the only place to learn fashion? Think again. The Kent State University Fashion Museum explores the history of fashion through its eight galleries featuring changing exhibitions of work by many of the world’s great artists and designers. Closely linked to the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising at Kent State University, the Museum provides visitors a first-hand experience with historic and contemporary fashions, as well as costumes representing many of the world’s cultures. In early October, the museum will feature “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.” Pulled from Katharine Hepburn’s personal collection of her stage and screen costumes, the exhibit will explore her fashion influence on the emergence of what is now called “The American Style.”

Uniqueness is certainly the theme at the Merry-Go-Round Museum located in Sandusky (home of Cedar Point Amusement Park). Visitors can expect an entertaining and educational visit that focuses on the art, history, preservation, production and restoration of these beautiful and historic amusement rides. While there, you can even catch a ride on the fully-restored Allan Herschell Carousel with the band organ playing. New for 2010, the museum features an exhibit displaying rare carousel animals from several nationally-known private collections called “Wild!” Think: reindeer, pelicans and buffalo.

During the holiday season, take a trip into holiday cinematic magic at Mark Klaus’ “Holly”wood Christmas Movieland to explore thousands of pieces of holiday movie memorabilia including promotional posters, costumes, props and entire sets. Collected by ornament designer Mark Klaus, “Holly”wood Christmas Movieland comes to life with indoor snow demonstrations and elaborate displays focused on films like The Grinch, Elf and Miracle on 34th Street. The exhibition is not open year-round, so be sure to check their website for location, dates and hours.

Dancing at the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame.

Take a step into the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame located in Euclid and you’re instantly surrounded by Cleveland’s polka history. With plaques of big names like Frankie Yankovic, Johnny Pecon and Johnny Vadnal adorning the perimeters, the museum takes visitors on a journey involving legendary oompah bands, vintage accordions, ornate performance costumes and images and video of this post-war, ethnic folk dance that reflected a time of happiness and prosperity. Admission is free to the four-room museum, but it’s always nice to toss a donation their way (or purchase a fabulous polka CD in their gift shop).

Once you’ve perused the Polka Hall of Fame, don’t forget to walk upstairs to the Greater Cleveland Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame and Museum (both museums share the same building).  While primarily focused on local softball heroes of days past, visitors get the opportunity to learn a thing or two about the sport including the start of women’s leagues and the ever-changing equipment used. During my first visit, I had the pleasure of taking a British radio host who’d never played the sport in his life. What fun it was to explain the difference between baseball and softball and watch as he attempted to catch a ball in a mitt for the very first time. The facility is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11am-3pm.

BBC reporter Gordon Sparks.

Is baseball more your sport? Make a trip to the Baseball Heritage Museum where fans get a real education on former players and coaches connected with the rich diversity of our American pastime. This display began when Robert Zimmer began displaying Negro Baseball League memorabilia while Cleveland hosted the 1997 MLB All-Star weekend. Nine years later, Zimmer secured a space in the historic Colonial Marketplace (conveniently located near Progressive Field) and opened the small museum.

Regardless of age, ethnicity, religion or creed, all visitors should expect a fascinating, educational experience during a trip the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. Inside the 24,000-square-foot museum, the stories of many of the region’s Jewish people and families–past and present–come to life through state-of-the-art exhibitions, interactive shows and films, oral histories, photographs and artifacts. The ultimate experience is unforgettable and, in my opinion, should be a “must-visit” attraction for visitors and locals alike.

We know that Cleveland boasts more than 117 different ethnicities. But, did you know that Cleveland is home to one of the world’s largest populations of Hungarians outside of Hungary?  That being said, the Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Society offers a museum experience that showcases the beauty and diversity of the culture of Hungary and of Hungarian-Americans. Art on display includes Hungarian textiles, porcelain crafts and embroidery, while there’s a bevy of information covering the Hungarian military, theater and general way of life. Located in the Galleria at Erieview, the museum offers free admission (though donations are always appreciated).

Visitors can tour the USS Cod, a vintage submarine used in World War II and credited with sinking more than 12 enemy vessels and damaging another 36,000 tons of enemy shipping. Climb the same vertical ladders and use the same hatch used by the crew, walk through the living quarters and even take a look at the engine room. This piece of history opens in May and offers various military discounts.

Delve into the history of Cleveland law enforcement at the Cleveland Police Museum—free of charge.  See confiscated firearms, uniforms, artifacts and more from Cleveland’s past including artifacts from the legendary crime fighter, Eliot Ness, and his Torso Murders investigation. It’s a small facility, but the staff on hand is dedicated and knowledgeable. (Follow it up with a visit to Lake View Cemetery to see the memorial to Eliot Ness, then head off to Great Lakes Brewery’s taproom for an “Eliot Ness” brew and a chance to see the pub where the lawman hung out.)

Want to learn more about life on a farm? Head to Stearns Homestead, a working farm operated by the Parma Area Historical Society (May-October) as an educational and historic farm. It features a barn complete with animals, two homes dating back to early 1900s that now serve as museums, gardens and a display of historic farm and household items.

Visitors will head back to the 19th century at Hale Farm & Village, an outdoor, living history museum near Akron. Guests can see Wheatfield Village, a small Ohio town struggling with the impact of the Civil War. Period crafts are made on the premises, with skilled artisans demonstrating glassblowing, blacksmithing, spinning, weaving, candlemaking and basketmaking, Farm animals are in residence as well, with a “stable” of horses, pigs, cows and sheep.

Families also can take a step back in time to explore life during the 1800s in the beautifully-restored canal era town of Historic Roscoe Village.  The “Canal Town Journey” tour features costumed interpreters, hands-on activities, shopping, dining, lodging and a horse-drawn canal boat ride.

History buffs might also want to check out Century Village Museum where they can experience more than 100 years of history throughout its treasures including a cabin from 1798, vintage barns, an 1872 schoolhouse, five furnished historical homes, a jail and country store. The museum is located in the village of Burton and is open April – November.

Built in 1824, Dunham Tavern Museum is Cleveland’s oldest building still standing on its original site.  Today the former stagecoach stop sits on an urban street and features a small garden oasis, an original parlor, a taproom and many items of early Americana including period-appropriate antiques like Mochaware, treenware and Flow Blue china. Stop by for a guided tour and get a glimpse of early life in the Western Reserve region for travelers and settlers. But remember, the entirely volunteer-run historic site has limited hours and is only open Wednesdays and Sundays from 1-4pm, unless you call ahead and reserve an alternate day and time for groups of 10 or more.

Detroit might be the Motor City, but Cleveland Plus has its own automotive legacy and a number of car museums like the National Packard Museum in Warren, the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland’s University Circle and the Canton Classic Car Museum in, you guessed it, Canton. And you can now include the Mentor Museum of Speed (7700 Tyler Boulevard, 440.350.1480), a giant warehouse of valuable automobiles that opened in 2009. The Speed Museum isn’t a museum in the traditional sense because, unlike a museum, all the artifacts are for sale. Geared toward classic car buyers and lovers alike, the Speed Museum is like a permanent car show and showroom at the same time with plenty of hard-to-find automobiles, all of which have been meticulously restored.

The International Women’s Air and Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport (a free museum within walking distance of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum) documents women’s past and present accomplishments and contributions to the fields of aviation and space.  IWASM collection of memorabilia and historical artifacts preserve the memory of women aviation pioneers. Special exhibits have featured daring female innovators from Amelia Earhart to wing walkers.

Aboard the William G. Mather. Head to the Great Lakes Science Center to discover what life was like aboard a working Great Lake freighter, the William G. Mather. Guests can explore the 1925-built Mather from bow to stern, walk the decks and see its huge cargo holds, brass and oak pilot house, elegant guest quarters and four-story engine room.  While there, learn about how Cleveland Plus became a great industrial center on Lake Erie.

If you’re traveling to Cleveland for a visit, put Lake View Cemetery on your itinerary. It doesn’t seem like it would be a tourist destination but, filled with architecture and tributes to those who made great contributions to the area’s industrial and civic development, Lake View Cemetery is more like a sculpture garden then a burial place. The interior of its Wade Memorial Chapel was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including the focal point “The Flight of Souls,” a leaded glass window done in the Favrile technique. Lake View Cemetery counts J.D. Rockefeller and African American inventor Garrett Morgan among its famous residents.  And here’s a tip–on a clear day stand atop the memorial for President James A. Garfield for a fantastic view of the city.

The history of Cleveland Plus would be incomplete without mention of Congressman Louis Stokes. His legendary rise out of public housing to becoming an inspirational political hero is celebrated in the Louis Stokes Museum. Inside, visitors can view Stokes’ memorabilia, video interviews, miscellaneous video footage, awards and a written history about the Congressman and his important work.

Attention all budding doctors and medical show junkies:  The Dittrick Museum of Medical History is a one-of-a-kind attraction! Connected with Case Western Reserve University, the museum grew from the late 19-century efforts of Dudley Peter Allen, M.D. a founder of the Cleveland Medical Library Association, to preserve the medical heritage of Cleveland Plus by maintaining the equipment of its physicians. Okay, okay . . . but what’s inside? Check out a 19th-century sadistic-looking homeopathic medicine case, an 1861 amputating set complete with handheld saw and the 1890 physicians surgical chair designed to look like a piece of parlor furniture.  I won’t spoil the fun, but can tell you that there are other pretty cool exhibits, a research center and various lectures throughout the year.

Ever wondered how we bought things before money existed? And, who makes our money anyhow? All these answer and more answered at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Learning Center and Money Museum. The museum regularly hosts temporary exhibits exploring currency and the value of money from other times and cultures. Kids can get a look at the Money Tree where they can track counterfeit money and follow the history of money through the ages. Opened Mon. – Thurs. from 10am-2pm, the museum offers free admission and a unique tour through the Federal Reserve.  –Submitted by LRH

EDITOR’S NOTE: Add to this list with your own suggestions by commenting on this blog. We know there are more!

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About PositivelyCleveland

Positively Cleveland is the destination marketing organization that has been promoting business and leisure tourism to Cleveland for more than 75 years.

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