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Small and oddball museums in the Chicago area

Chicago Tribune
From Hummels and helicopters to gemstones and bad art, a tour through 18 interesting Chicago-area museums.

Over the next 51 weeks or so, you can expect in this space coverage of the biggest and brightest in Chicago-area museums. But for your New Year's Day, we've got Hummels, money, sports memorabilia and buttons — plus a roundup of 14 other smaller and/or less-known attractions. Some of these are only open seasonally; tuck them away for an outing in May.

Donald E. Stephens Museum of Hummels: Out in Rosemont, this museum has more than 5,000 Hummel porcelain figurines, based on a donated collection from the village's late first mayor. At 9511 Higgins Road, Rosemont; free admission, 847-692-4000 and stephenshummelmuseum.com

Prehistoric Life Museum: Few other Chicago-area museums display artifacts older than some of those in the David and Sandra Douglass Prehistoric Life Museum, in the basement of Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop in Evanston. Amid the dinosaur bones and skeleton of a cave bear, there are fossils purportedly from Precambrian times — some 3 billion years ago. At 704 Main St., Evanston; free admission; 847-866-7374 and davesrockshop.com

Volo Auto Museum: In the northwest suburbs are four showrooms of vintage cars, parked fender to fender, as well as automobiles owned by celebrities and used in movies. Many cars are for sale. The 1966 Batmobile is here, so is the General Lee and the "Back to the Future" DeLorean. There's also (car or not) the lifeboat used in the 2013 movie "Captain Phillips." At 27582 Volo Village Road, Volo; admission $11.95, 815-385-3644 and volocars.com

Fox River Trolley Museum: Rare streetcars and trains, some still operating. At 361 South LaFox St., South Elgin; open seasonally, 847-697-4676 and foxtrolley.org

Busy Beaver Button Museum: An outgrowth of the button-making company started by siblings Joel and Christen Carter, this museum, in the factory building and also online, is devoted to more than a century's worth of pinback buttons. At 3279 W. Armitage Ave.; free admission, 773-645-3359 and busybeaver.net

Leather Archives & Museum: Devoted to the subject of leather culture and other sexual-fetish lifestyles. (Curiosity is welcome; gawking is not.) At 6418 N. Greenview Ave.; admission $10, 773-761-9200 and leatherarchives.org

Money Museum: Housed inside the imposing Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Money Museum has educational exhibits about fiscal responsibility and how currency is distributed to banks. But what gets the eyeballs is the cube filled with a million bucks in cold, hard cash. At 230 S. LaSalle St.; free, visitors are subject to security screenings, 312-322-2400 and chicagofed.org

Fire Museum of Greater Chicago: Housed in the former home of Engine Co. 123, a restored South Side firehouse, this spot preserves the proud history of the Chicago Fire Department. At 5218 S. Western Ave.; free (open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the last Saturday of the month), 877-225-7491 and firemuseumofgreaterchicago.org

McDonald's No. 1 Store Museum: A re-creation of the first restaurant opened by McDonald's Corp. founder Ray Kroc in Des Plaines on April 15, 1955. (The original building was demolished in 1984.) If you get a hunger for fries, there's a real McDonald's across the street. At 400 N. Lee St., Des Plaines; inside is open seasonally, 847-297-5022 and aboutmcdonalds.com

Chicago Sports Museum: For some, an essential hometown resource. Chicago sports memorabilia (Sammy Sosa's infamous corked bat; closets full of uniforms) in an 8,000-square-foot space adjacent to the Harry Caray's 7th Inning Stretch restaurant in the Water Tower Place mall. At 835 N. Michigan Ave.; admission $6, free to restaurant patrons, 312-202-0500 and chicagosportsmuseum.com

American Toby Jug Museum: Visitors are treated to more than 7,000 mugs and jugs depicting characters in history, both real and fictional. Some pieces date back to the 18th century. At 910 Chicago Ave., Evanston; free admission, 877-862-9687 and tobyjugmuseum.com

The Wall of Bad Art: Stretching the definition of museum, perhaps, but it makes the list. More than 100 examples of yard-sale Americana and testaments to enthusiasm over talent with a paintbrush hang on the wall of the newly renovated Hotel Lincoln in Lincoln Park. At 1816 N. Clark St.; free, 312-254-4700 and jdvhotels.com

Arthur Rubloff Collection of Paperweights: Another stretch, this time in calling this entry a small museum. Some 800 classic paperweights, mostly decorative glass from the 19th century, are displayed within the Art Institute of Chicago. At 111 S. Michigan Ave.; admission $18-$23, 312-443-3600 and artinstituteofchicago.org

McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum: Chicago is known for its movable bridges, including the Michigan Avenue (or DuSable) Bridge. This spot down on the riverwalk lets you see the machinery and learn the history of the Chicago River. At 376 N. Michigan Ave.; open seasonally, 312-977-0227 and bridgehousemuseum.org

Russell Military Museum: Wander amid Patton battle tanks, decommissioned helicopters, aging former warbirds and a Vietnam-era PBR patrol boat. At 43363 N. Highway 41, Zion; open seasonally, 847-395-7020 and russellmilitarymuseum.com

Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation: In the former home of Chess Records, a shrine to Chicago blues and musicians. At 2120 S. Michigan Ave.; $10, 312-808-1286 and bluesheaven.com

International Museum of Surgical Science: Perhaps the best known of Chicago's lesser-known museums, the IMSS has four floors of artifacts from the changing face of medicine, including a working iron lung, all located in a historic mansion on Lake Shore Drive. At 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive; admission $15, 312-642-6502 or imss.org

Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art: Lapidary is the art of cutting and polishing stone. In addition to displays of beautiful gemstones and jade sculpture, coming in March is an exhibit on the championship rings for Chicago sports teams. At 220 Cottage Hill Ave., Elmhurst; admission $5, 630-833-1616 and lizzadromuseum.org

dgeorge@tribune.com

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