Tired of the usual museums, beaches, and statues of people you’ve actually heard of? When you visit a state, would you prefer to find the weird, the wacky, the wonderful, if not the downright offensive? If so, then you might appreciate this sampling of oddball sites in the great state of Massachusetts:
Museum of Bad Art, Dedham
Originally housed in the basement of a private home in Boston, the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) has made it to the big time, now located in the basement of a 1927 movie theater, with its permanent exhibits lining the walls near the theater’s men’s room.
Billing itself “the only museum dedicated to bringing the worst of art to the widest of audiences,” MOBA’s collection is divided into nine categories, including “portraiture,” “here the symbols crash,” and “unlikely landscapes, seascapes, and still lifes.” As noted on MOBA’s website: “The pieces in the MOBA collection range from the work of talented artists that have gone awry to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush. What they all have in common is a special quality that sets them apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent.”
Dedham is located about a half hour southwest of downtown Boston, just off of Interstate 95.
Profile Rock, Assonet
This 50 foot high rock in Freetown State Forest is shaped vaguely like a human facial profile from some angles. The Wampanoag Indians contend it is the face of their Chief Massasoit.
Massasoit was a great leader of the Wampanoag, famous in American history for the autumn feast he shared with the Pilgrims in 1621, which evolved into the holiday we now call Thanksgiving. Through great diplomatic skill he maintained an uneasy peace with the colonists for decades, staving off the inevitable genocide of his people that occurred shortly after his death.
The curious landmark has recently fallen on hard times, as it is now thoroughly defaced with graffiti. A fitting symbol of disrespect, some would say, for the fate of the Wampanoag at the hands of the Europeans.
Not just Profile Rock itself, but this whole area of the state has quite an eerie reputation amongst the locals. This is the “Bridgewater Triangle” (a name intentionally suggestive of the “Bermuda Triangle”), a roughly 200 square mile portion of Massachusetts formed by connecting Abington, Freetown, and Rehoboth into a triangle.
The Bridgewater Triangle is the site of a disproportionate number of rumors, legends, and tall tales of ghosts, UFOs, unsolved murders, Satanic cults, and bigfoot-type beasts. The type of haunted New England locale you’d expect to be the setting for an H.P. Lovecraft horror story.
(In other words, day time is the best time to check out Profile Rock. Or maybe it’s best just to steer clear entirely.)
Assonet is in southeast Massachusetts, about fifteen miles north of New Bedford.
Warren Anatomical Museum, Boston
Named for Harvard professor John Collins Warren (1778-1856), the Warren Anatomical Museum is a collection of historic medical devices and curiosities. Among the odd exhibits is the skull of Phineas P. Gage.
Who is Phineas P. Gage, you ask? Gage was the foreman of a railroad blasting crew who is noteworthy for the fact that in 1848 a freak explosion at his worksite caused a 3 foot 7 inch iron rod to shoot through his left cheek and out the top of his head. Somehow he survived this-indeed, he lived for over eleven more years-but the destruction of much of the left frontal lobe of his brain caused changes in his behavior, personality, and functionality. It was a very important case in the history of neurology and psychology, as it suggested that there was a connection between certain parts of the brain and certain functions.
Not only is the Gage skull (with its telltale hole on top) on display, but so is the iron bar that did the damage (which he kept with him the rest of his life as a memento).
The Museum is located on the fifth floor of the Countway Library, on Harvard’s Longwood Campus. It is open to the public, free of charge, from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday.
Brian MacQuarrie, “The Old Haunting Grounds: Some Say Bridgewater Triangle is a Paranormal Hot Spot.” Boston Globe.
“Massachusetts Attractions and Oddities.” Roadside America.
“Museum of Bad Art.” MuseumOfBadArt.org.
“Warren Anatomical Museum (WAM).” Countway Library of Medicine.