As a hot dog lover I made a pilgrimage to the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. Curator Barry Levinson shows up for work every day proudly wearing his Boston Red Sox hat. It’s fitting that Barry wears a Red Sox cap to work since it was one of the team’s historic collapses that inspired the idea for the mustard museum.

After they lost to the Mets in a monumental collapse in the 1986 World Series, he took a long walk in the chill of an autumn night. As he tells it, “I was walking around a supermarket while pondering the meaning of life when I came across the mustard aisle.” In a scene right out of the movie Field of Dreams he heard a voice saying, “If you collect us, they will come.” And so the National Mustard Museum was born, which appropriately enough has mustard colored walls.

National Mustard Museum barry

Barry in the tasting room

Barry didn’t seem so eager to relive that night but loved talking about mustard. He has on display more than 5,000 mustards from all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Mustard really is a universal condiment. Many of these mustards are for sale and there is even a tasting area to try them out first. The mustard bar reminded me of a wine tasting room at a Napa Valley vineyard. Each mustard was slathered on a cracker as I compared the nuances of each one. Up until now mustard for me was divided into two categories: yellow and brown.

National Mustard Museum

Just one of the walls of mustard

But Levinson’s collection goes way beyond those two simple blends. I tried some flavored with lime, blueberries and wasabi and had a few shipped out as gifts. In the end, the National Mustard Museum should more appropriately be called the National Mustard Gift Shop since there are so many types to purchase, but I don’t think that would attract the crowds as much. I know if the place didn’t have “Museum” added to the name I wouldn’t have made the detour to visit it.

mustard vending machine

Mustard vending machine

It got me thinking though. Barry was clever enough to take his obsession and turn it into a museum. Even though admission is free, he is making a good living on the sale of mustard and mustard related products. Which of your hobbies could you turn into a shop, add “museum” to the name and sit back as the carloads of fans started eagerly arriving? A relative of mine has a collection of over 500 cookie jars. I keep trying to convince her to create a museum, bake some cookies for sale and ride into retirement on the coattails of her collection. Who knew that being a pack rat could be so lucrative?

Go if you’re interested in: Condiments, food history, Boston Red Sox

What makes it special? You’ll never see more mustards in a jar than here.

If you like this you’ll also like: SPAM Museum, Austin, Minnesota

Tips: Bring an appetite for the free tastings and plan on eating some local weiners for dinner.

Website: National Mustard Museum

I tend to like museums like the Roger Maris Museum that are devoted to one person. They usually fly under the radar and reflect local civic pride honoring a native son or daughter. The Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bike Museum that I visited in Sparta, Wisconsin comes to mind. As far as I know it’s the only museum in the world dedicated to a NASA astronaut and bicycles. Who knew they had so much in common? (Although I am impressed by whoever came up with the name for the “Rockets & Sprockets” gift shop inside.)

Often the exhibits have the sort of homespun memorabilia and little known facts that aren’t found in larger museums. Thus with a high degree of anticipation I sought out the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, North Dakota.

Roger Maris Museum

Roger Maris Museum, Fargo, North Dakota

At first I couldn’t find it. I double checked the address and instead of a museum all I could see was the West Acres Shopping Center, a large regional mall. In Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania I came across a mall that has the aptly named “Church on the Mall” so I finally realized that the museum was actually in the mall; somewhere among the shops and kiosks selling personalized coffee mugs and tutti-frutti  yogurt.  I went inside and there it was, occupying a prime corner piece of real estate between Spencer Gifts and Tip Top Tux.

The tagline for the museum is “A permanent shrine to a reluctant hero.” Maris was a soft-spoken player who didn’t let his fame get to his head. He only agreed to the museum if it was placed in his hometown of Fargo, was free and was at a site where the greatest number of people could see it; and that’s how the museum dedicated to the man who broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record ended up at a suburban North Dakota shopping mall.

Roger Maris signed baseball card

Maris is in pretty good company

For being in a mall the exhibit is well done. Maris donated every major piece of memorabilia he had. On display are his two MVP awards (that’s right his record shattering year wasn’t some flash in the pan, he won the MVP in 1960 as well) and various uniforms, bats and home run balls from throughout his career. A little nook off to the side has seats from the original Yankee Stadium where you can sit and watch a grainy newsreel highlighting Maris’ career.

His single season home run record was later broken several times by players who could only do so because they were puffed up on steroids. Reflecting on Maris’ accomplishments made me realize that he should be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I’m not saying that just because when I was a chubby little kid he gave me his autograph. Although it didn’t hurt.

Here’s a link to the Roger Maris Museum. Next time you’re in Fargo check it out.