Museums Even a Teenager Will Love

Try a museum of a different stripe to pique your teenager’s interest

Ask a teen to visit a traditional museum during a family vacation, and you’re sure to get the all-too-familiar “been there, done that” expression. Plan a jaunt to one of these alternative institutions, and you just might renew their historical curiosity.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

Hello Cleveland! Parents won’t have any trouble convincing their children to visit the city that was once called the “Mistake on the Lake.” With the opening of the I.M. Pei-designed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland has become a Mecca for music-loving teens and their baby boomer parents. Exhibits explore important music sites, from Memphis in the 1950s (complete with a re-creation of Sun Studios where Elvis got his start) to Seattle in the 90s. Cool costumes include John Lennon’s and Ringo Starr’s Sergeant Pepper outfits, Talking Head David Byrne’s Big Suit and Madonna’s bustier from “Like a Virgin.” (During a recent visit, a rotating exhibit called “On the Charts” showcased current acts that included Britney Spears, Outkast and Franz Ferdinand.) 

The actual Hall of Fame is a massive drum-shaped structure with a curving walkway lined with glass panels etched with the inductees’ signatures; it’s surprisingly somber for something that plays tribute to the art form Keith Richards called “music for the neck downwards.” At the end of the exhibit are computerized jukeboxes where visitors can listen to more than 30,000 songs from the inductees. To satisfy all generations, exhibits are designed to range from something teens will enjoy (Warped Tour: 12 Years of Music, Mayhem and More), to something for their parents (The Clash) or their hip grandparents (sad but true) “oldies” buffs (The Doors). Unlike modern art museums where parents may struggle to explain why a pickled cow is art, the hardest thing here might be explaining what you were smoking at that Grateful Dead concert.

Contact info: One Key Plaza, East Ninth Street at Lake Erie, Cleveland, Ohio; 216-781-ROCK;; Hours: Monday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (except Wednesdays, open till 9 p.m.) Summer Hours: From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the museum is also open until 9 p.m. on Saturdays; Admission: adults, $20; seniors (60+), $14; children ages 9-12, $11; children 8 & under, free.

Mütter Museum (medical oddities), Philadelphia, Penn.

The museum, founded by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia with the noble intention of educating future doctors about anatomy and human medical anomalies, is also a great place for teens to gross out their friends and family. Exhibit highlights include The Soap Lady, a woman whose dead body interacted with the soil, turning her into soap, as well as a plaster cast of the torso of world-famous Siamese twins, Chang & Eng, which was made at the museum where the twins’ autopsies were performed in 1874. Collectors (and fans of the tasteless) won’t want to miss the gift shop where they can buy a double-size shot glass featuring the twins emblazoned with the phrase, “Make mine a double.”

History lovers may (or may not) appreciate seeing a cancerous growth removed from President Grover Cleveland, gallstones removed from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall and the thorax of President Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Goth teens will enjoy the collection of 139 skulls amassed by a Viennese anatomist. There’s a collection of 2,000 items non-surgically removed from people’s throats including coins, a wedding ring, safety pins and a toy boat. Squeamish parents won’t enjoy the museum, but it’s a small price to pay for one day being able to tell your competitive neighbors that your kid’s a doctor. Noted celebrity visitors include, rather unsurprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. and Marilyn Manson.

Contact info: 19 South Twenty-Second Street, Philadelphia, PA; 215-563-3737;; Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (except Friday, open till 9 p.m.). Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year’s Day; Admission: adults 18-64, $12; children 6-17, seniors (65+) and students with valid ID, $8; children under 6, free. ”

The Sing Sing Prison Museum, Ossining, N.Y.

At first glance, Ossining looks like s a typical historic village, but first impressions can be deceiving. Originally named Sing Sing (after the Sint Sinck Indians,) Ossining also is home to one of the country’s most notorious prisons as well as The Sing Sing Prison Museum. There’s talk of building a larger museum within the prison walls, but for now visitors can content themselves with the exhibit set up in the Joseph G. Caputo Community Center. For a small museum, it’s extremely comprehensive and covers the histories of prison reform, prisoner treatment, methods of execution and daily prison life. There’s a chilling replica built by prisoners in the Building Maintenance Vocational Class of 1991 of Sing Sing’s infamous electric chair. (The original chair was used in 614 prisoner executions over its lengthy career from 1914 to 1963. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were among its victims.)

There are two actual prison cells on display, but floor-to-ceiling mirrors create the illusion that they’re an entire cellblock. The cells are open for teens (or darkly humorous adults) that want a unique photo for their holiday cards. Recorded prison sounds play in the background. A mounted display shows “homemade” weapons confiscated from prisoners (some still in plastic bags marked “evidence”). Visitors who haven’t had their fill of Sing Sing can stop by the Ossining Historical Society, which also has a collection of prison memorabilia. Those who know all they want to about prison can take in a neighboring exhibit on the Old Croton Aqueduct, which brought clean water to New York City from 1842 to 1991. By prior arrangement, visitors can actually go into the aqueduct chamber. 

Contact info: Ossining Community Center; 95 Broadway, Ossining, N.Y., 914-941-941-3189; Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m; Admission: Free

Ossining Historical Society Museum,196 Croton Ave., Ossining, N.Y.; 914-941-0001; Hours: Sunday-Thursday 1 p.m.-4p.m., and by appointment;

To visit the aqueduct, contact the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct, 914-693-4117;

Destinations: Philadelphia, Cleveland

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Museums