5. Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, Hayward, Wis.
There aren’t many roadside attractions in the U.S. that can rival the quirkiness of the enormous steel, concrete and fiberglass “Shrine to Anglers” model at this hall of fame and museum. The 4 ½-story, leaping muskellunge (muskie) is so large it can accommodate 20 visitors in its jaws. A Wisconsin fisherman named Bob Kutz first conceived of the hall/museum in 1960, but it took another decade — and some major financial support from the Jim Beam whiskey distillers — to make the facility a reality. Inside the museum you’ll find a staggering assortment of some 50,000 pieces, from vintage lures and outboard motors, to rods, reels and other angling equipment. Oh, naturally there are a few hundred mounted fresh water fish around to prove that fishermen really did land fish this big and weren’t just telling the proverbial fisherman’s lie. The hall honors not just the top freshwater fishermen, but also fishing guides, fishing writers, photographers and artists, and others who’ve contributed to the sport. Hall officials also maintain extensive lists of world fishing records as well as specific line-class records for all North American fresh water fishes. But for many visitors, the highlight is that trip through the giant fish.
4. International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, Santa Claus, Indiana
This facility is located in — where else? — the tiny town of Santa Claus, Indiana. Not just any shopping mall Santa with a few years of service can make the cut for this hall of fame founded in 2010. Just take a look at the credentials of some hall members. Charles W. Howard, one of the inaugural inductees, earned the nickname “Dean of Santa Clauses,” thanks in part to his longtime role as old St. Nick in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Another of the inaugural inductees, James Edgar of Brockton, Mass., earned fame in 1890 as the first department store Santa in history. And we can’t forget honoree Edmund Gwenn, who collected an Oscar for his portrayal of Santa in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street. So clearly, the bar has been set very high for potential HOF Santas. The hall accepts nominations from the worldwide Santa community and a panel of journalists from North America makes the final decisions.
3. World Kite Museum & Hall of Fame, Long Beach, Washington
Many inductees into the World Kite Hall of Fame are famous for other reasons. 1995 honorees Wilbur and Orville Wright used kites in developing powered flight; Benjamin Franklin (Class of 1994) earned induction for his experiments involving kites; Charlie Brown (2001) was often seen flying kites in his comic strip. Yet the other inductees during the hall’s quarter-century of existence are no less amazing, and the displays … well, you clearly can’t buy kites like this at your local Walmart. An estimated 1,500 kites are on display, some so intriguing, you’ll be inspired to take your kids or grandkids to the park that same day to fly a kite. But you can actually make your own kite at the museum and step outside on the beach to get it airborne. The best time to visit might be the third full week each August, when the facility hosts the Washington State International Kite Festival.
2. International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center, Baraboo, Wis.
Quick, name as many famous clowns as you can in 30 seconds. If you’re like many people, you didn’t need the entire 30 seconds to exhaust your knowledge of notable clowns. Almost everyone is familiar with Ronald McDonald, while Baby Boomers probably remember Bozo the Clown. So the International Clown Hall of Fame clearly has its work cut out for it, in spreading the word about famous clowns and the world of clowning. It also is at a disadvantage in terms of attendance, as some 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from coulrophobia, or a fear of clowns, which can induce shortness of breath, panic and other symptoms. The hall inducted its first class in 1989, but moved from Milwaukee to Baraboo in 2010. Baraboo is also famous as home of the Circus World Museum and as the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus.
1. National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame, Bonner Springs, Kansas
Modern American agriculture helps feed the world, and that proficiency inspired this hall of fame near Kansas City. Chartered by Congress in 1960, the Ag Center is entirely supported by private and corporate donations and revenue from admissions, memberships and other sources. As of 2012, 39 individuals had been inducted, from the obvious agriculture superstars, such as George Washington Carver and Eli Whitney, to the not-so-obvious honorees, including President Abraham Lincoln, who created the U.S. Department of Agriculture and signed the Homestead Act of 1862 that opened up western lands for farmers and ranchers. The Ag Center features several different elements, including Farm Town U.S.A., a fun stroll through a re-creation of an early 20th century farm community featuring several original structures. There is also the National Poultry Museum, which tackles many questions (Where do chickens come from? How long does it take a hen to lay an egg?) but doesn’t touch that infamous existential question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?