Sometimes you’d rather see a big weird doll collection or a pinball paradise than a painting anyway.
When we think of museums, we tend to imagine marble floors, bright lighting, and exhibitions you can’t touch.
And while North Carolina has plenty of big museums, some of its most interesting and, well, bizarre institutions offer the chance to learn with a side of fun.
Some days you’d rather see a Star Trek-themed pinball machine, an unnaturally large collection of old dolls, or a fossilized crocodile anyway.
Here’s Cardinal & Pine’s guide to the 7 quirkiest museums in North Carolina:
Asheville Pinball Museum, Asheville
Most museums don’t allow you to touch the exhibits, but at the Asheville Pinball Museum, not only can you look at the displays, you can play them. Located in the city’s downtown, the museum boasts 70 games, ranging from vintage Evel Knievel and Star Trek pinball machines to Game of Thrones and other modern-themed models. The museum also has other classic standup arcade games like Frogger and Ms. Pac-Man available for play.
Aurora Fossil Museum, Aurora
Located near a phosphate mine in the tiny Beaufort County town of Aurora, the Aurora Fossil Museum displays a variety of fossils, Native American artifacts, and rocks and minerals recovered from the mine. Visitors can see fossilized teeth and bones and more from nearly 300 vertebrate species, including sharks, crocodiles and fish, as well as invertebrate fossils. And Native American hunting equipment, cooking vessels, and ornamental jewelry sourced from the local area give a look into the history of human life in the region.
The Country Doctor Museum, Bailey
Dedicated to preserving the history of rural health care, The Country Doctor Museum offers visitors a peek into the medical practices of the late 18th century through the early 20th century. Three buildings house exhibits displaying more than 5,000 medical artifacts, such as equipment, medicine bottles and books on a variety of health subjects.
House of Flags, Columbus
With a collection of more than 300 flags, the House of Flags lives up to its moniker as well as its mission to promote flag history and etiquette. The museum highlights not only American flags, but also state flags and other banners, such as the President’s flag, and flags commemorating September 11. The museum is open on Saturdays, as well as for small group tours and by appointment.
Körner’s Folly, Kernersville
When Jule Gilmer Körner, an interior and furniture designer, began building his home in Kernersville in 1878, he had no idea how the project would evolve. With the intention of using the home as a catalog of sorts for his clients, Körner kept the home in a state of constant renovation to accommodate his new design ideas. Today, visitors to the Körner’s Folly museum can see the result—a maze of rooms with no two doorways or windows alike, 15 different fireplaces and ceiling heights that range from five-and-a-half feet to 25 feet.
In 1964, engineer Bob Moog invented a device that helped shape the sound of music for decades to come—the synthesizer. He moved to Asheville in 1978, launching his electronic musical instrument company, which he ran until his death in 2005. Today, the Moogseum honors his legacy as a musical pioneer with interactive exhibits that bring Moog’s inventions to life and explain the connection between electricity and music.
Adults and kids alike enjoy perusing the exhibits at the N.C. Museum of Dolls, Toys and Miniatures, which houses thousands of dolls, figurines, toy trains and more. Vintage pieces range from 19th-century porcelain dolls and Schoenhut circus figurines from 1910 to Shirley Temple dolls and Roy Rogers toy guns. The museum also boasts rare items like an original Punch and Judy theater with puppets and miniature room displays from Germany that date to the 1880s.