These spectacular institutions are loaded with treasures—and we’re not just talking about artwork. We’ve got plenty of quirky collections and serious scholarship to explore.
Vent Haven Museum
Open by appointment May through September, Vent Haven (above) is “the world’s only museum dedicated to ventriloquism,” showcasing more than 900 dummies dating back to the 19th century, plus puppets, scripts, memorabilia, and more.
33 W. Maple Ave., Ft. Mitchell, (859) 341-0461
Cincinnati Fire Museum
Most people don’t know Cincinnati is home to the country’s first paid professional fire department (launched in 1853) or that a downtown museum showcases the city’s firefighting history. Located in a restored 1906 firehouse, the kid-friendly museum isn’t particularly big, but it’s packed with educational materials, safety information, life-size wax figures (and horses!) depicting firefighters at work, and artifacts dating back to the early 1800s, like a gigantic drum from 1808 that once served as the city’s “fire alarm” and an 1816 Hunneman Pumper, Cincinnati’s oldest surviving fire engine. Take a self-guided tour or call ahead to schedule one led by an active off-duty local firefighter. If you ask nicely, they’ll let you slide down a real firehouse pole.
315 W. Court St., downtown, (513) 621-5553
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
At this “museum of conscience,” thought-provoking permanent and temporary exhibits, videos, and programming educate visitors about the Underground Railroad, the hardships slaves endured, prominent abolitionists, and those who continue to fight for equality today.
50 E. Freedom Way, downtown, (513) 333-7739
Lucky Cat Museum
Micha Robertson’s personal collection of Maneki Neko (Japanese lucky cats) outgrew her home in 2012, so she opened a museum. Today it includes more than 2,000 colorful waving cats and counting, because she admittedly doesn’t “know how to stop.”
2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills, (513) 633-3923
American Sign Museum
Featuring 22,000 square feet and a century’s worth of 3D signs, it’s the country’s largest public museum dedicated to preserving signs and educating visitors about their history. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a demonstration of how neon signs are made.
1330 Monmouth Ave., Camp Washington, (513) 541-6366