It was week two of the epic family journey west. Two weeks, two kids, two adults, cramped car, you know the story. We had checked in with home the night before, and found a major storm had passed through leaving no damage, but no electricity. No reason to hurry home.
We stopped at the Minnesota Welcome Center on I-90 and found the brochure. Just up the road could possibly be the most interesting part of the trip, or possibly the worst. You see, we love unique roadside attractions. In our trips west, we have visited the World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well, the World’s Second Largest Hand Dug Well (if you have seen #1, you must see #2), the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and the infamous Prairie Dog Town. It would be difficult to top such sites, but this looked promising.
We traveled east to Austin, MN and followed the signs. There was nothing very unique about the town. In fact, as I recall, it was uber-ordinary, until we turned into the parking lot. There before us stood the SPAM Museum. New, gleaming, inviting; not at all what I was expecting. I am not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it.
At the entrance, we were greeted by friendly locals who welcomed us and served us little squares of SPAM, each impaled upon a pretzel. Nice presentation; more creative than the usual toothpick. Did I mention the “wall of SPAM?” The entire entrance to the museum is made of SPAM cans, floor to ceiling.
Once inside, we watched a short film on the history of SPAM, how it is made, and other fascinating trivia. It was all very entertaining, and at no time did they take themselves too seriously. It was all done with a wink. Then, it was off to see the exhibits. Here, we “experienced” interesting displays, such as SPAM’s role in WWII, played a SPAM Game Show, and many other interactive displays. It appealed to the kids as well as Mom and Dad, who had worked in the museum business for a number of years and are hard to impress.
I almost hate to spoil the ending, so if you are planning to go, please skip to the next paragraph.
If you cannot envision anyone wanting to experience SPAM, read on. You may change your mind. When we approached the last corner, we began to hear the familiar strains of Monty Python’s “SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM.” Yes, there it was, the diner from the famous skit, recreated down to the last detail. The skit is played on video screens mounted above the counter. It was almost too good to be true!
As with any quality museum, you exit through the gift shop, where we were able to buy all things SPAM, from golf balls to underwear. Oh yes, we were also able to purchase any of the nine varieties of SPAM available. Somehow it seemed appropriate, even though I was not a big fan of the product.
The SPAM Museum is open seven days per week, with the usual holiday closings. Best of all, it is free of charge, quite unusual for a museum of this quality. The SPAM Museum is located at 1101 N. Main Street in Austin, Minnesota. The phone number is 1-800-LUV-SPAM. Well worth the drive, even if you find the product not of your liking, the museum is a blast.
MICKI MORAHN (BA- Indiana University, MA- Indiana State University) has worked for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites as operator of an 1880s water-powered mill. She currently teaches American History for ISU in Corrections Education Program and at St-Mary-of-the-Woods MicCollege.