weird things to do in the midwest
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8 Weird Things to Do in the Midwest, United States

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The Midwest is known for a lot of things, but if you’re looking for weird things to do in the Midwest, this post is for you!

The Midwest may not be known for UFO sightings like the Southwest or Bigfoot sightings like the Northwest or Voodoo in the South, but they have their own mixture of weird. 
 
This is in no way an exhaustive list of all the weird things to do in the Midwest. Not even close. But, it will give you a teaser into why the Midwest is worth a visit if you’re into the weird and unusual things of life. 

Weird Things to Do in the Midwest

Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, Missouri

Lemp Mansion is one of the most haunted houses in America.  You can go and check it out for free and take all the pictures you want.  You can also stay here overnight (I may try to do this next time!), have lunch, dinner and check out their museum + gift shop as well.  

It’s a gorgeous property and you’d never guess it’s supposedly haunted!  Don’t leave without using the restroom, seriously!  

Check out my visit here!

weird things to do in the midwest

Houdini Museum in Appleton, Wisconsin

Care to learn how to escape from a straitjacket or make a table levitate like Harry Houdini? A museum exhibit in Wisconsin will teach you how to do just that.

The famous illusionist and performer, Harry Houdini, moved to Appleton, Wisconsin from Budapest, Hungary when he was 4 years old. Because of Houdini’s time in Appleton, we have a museum exhibit dedicated to his awesome magic tricks/escapes! It’s located inside “History Museum at the Castle” and is called AKA Houdini. (This exhibit takes up the majority of the museum.)
 
AKA Houdini takes visitors through Houdini’s childhood, early career, rise to fame and legacy – with photos, video, and interesting artifacts used by Houdini himself. You’ll find many interactive displays ranging from a display that teaches you how Houdini escaped a jail cell in the nude to one that allows you to make a table levitate! They even have Houdini’s straitjacket on display from his shows and from when he escaped while being suspended from a crane. You can also try your hand at escaping from a straitjacket while at this museum! 
 
It takes about 1 hour or less to walk through the Houdini exhibit – longer, though, if you stop to try every interactive display. This is also a very kid-friendly exhibit.
The History Museum at the Castle is open Tuesday-Sunday (closed on Mondays) from 10 am – 4 pm. Admission is $12 for adults and $7 for kids (under 18). 
 
Address: 330 E College Ave, Appleton, WI 54911
 
Contributed by Lindsey of Have Clothes, Will Travel

The World’s Largest Rubber Stamp in Cleveland, Ohio

The World’s Largest Rubber Stamp, also known as, Free Stamp, is one of the weirdest things to see in Cleveland, Ohio. This seemingly randomly placed rubber stamp can be found at Willard Park, a public park in downtown Cleveland, located at the intersection of East 9th Street and Lakeside Avenue next to Cleveland City Hall. 

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Though an odd choice for an outdoor sculpture and public piece of art, the Free Stamp was originally commissioned by Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) in 1982 and created by Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen. The stamp’s “FREE” messaging was intended as a reference to the emancipation of American slaves during and after the Civil War. 

Originally, the sculpture was to be placed inside the company’s headquarter building however after Standard Oil of Ohio was acquired by BP, the executives at BP felt that the headquarters was an “inappropriate” location for the stamp and began looking for a new place to move the sculpture within the city of Cleveland. 

A few locations were considered for the stamp’s placement including Cleveland Museum of Art, but the artists finally settled on Willard Park where it remains near Public Square, a central plaza in downtown Cleveland. 

The Free Stamp is a cool sight to see with an equally unique backstory, be sure to visit it on your next trip to Cleveland!  

Contributed by Constance of The Adventures of Panda Bear

Randyland in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Nestled in the heart of the Mexican War Streets neighborhood in Pittsburgh is an attraction that is simultaneously weird and endearing: Randyland.

Randyland is by far one of the most fun things to do in Pittsburgh and this homage to happiness will leave you smiling from ear to ear.

What is Randyland? It’s a brightly-painted home turned modern art project by a long-time resident. Every available surface of the house and yard is covered from top to bottom in salvaged stuff. Randyland is free to enter and claims opening hours of 10 am until dusk.

Admire Randyland’s facade and then trace the fence around to the side of the house. Peek into the yard and salute the red suit of armor that appears to be guarding the entrance. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet Randy himself. Randy has proclaimed that he is the happiest man alive. While it feels weird for anyone to be this happy, Randy comes across as incredibly sincere. He ushers in visitors and gives impromptu tours while sharing his life philosophy which is grounded in happiness.

Randy has collected and decorated every item of flair at Randyland over more than 30 years turning his home into a beacon of happiness in the heart of the Mexican War Streets.

You’ll find that Randy’s happiness is truly infectious. I guarantee that you’ll leave Randyland happier than when you arrived with a big smile on your face and a full heart.

Contributed by Jennifer from Sidewalk Safari

The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio

The Ohio State Reformatory is an old prison found in Mansfield, Ohio, and makes for a great weird roadside stop if you are traveling between Columbus and Cleveland.

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This prison was closed in 1990, and you can now visit it today to explore the historic site. For $15 you can take a self-guided tour, and see the grounds where prisoners were once kept.

You can see the cells and learn more about what it was like to be an inmate who was imprisoned there. The reformatory is over 130 years old and is open to tourists driving by throughout the year.

The Mansfield Reformatory is best known for being the site where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed. As you walk around on your self-guided tour, you will see many posters and notes explaining what was filmed in each room.

When I visited with a few of my friends, we made sure to watch The Shawshank Redemption the night before, so it was all very fresh in our minds. It was really interesting to see how the prison may have been modified specifically for filming, and how the crew got creative with a lot of the rooms that would typically have been located outside of the prison. It was not only interesting to see the movie site but to learn more about being a prisoner there as well.

Contributed by Michelle of Travel After Five
weird things to do in the midwest

Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana

Just south of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana is the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. The center was founded in the 1970s by the 14th brother of the Dali Llama Thubten Jigme Norbu, the eldest brother of the 14th Dalai Lama and a professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University.

The center is open to all people and all faiths and is a great place to have a cultural experience or just find a little solitude.

Take a walk around the grounds and see the only two Tibetan chortens/stupas in the United States. These religious monuments are said to represent Buddha and are a place to meditate. 

While you stroll around the property, don’t miss the prayer wheels. Each spin is said to say one thousand prayers at once. Inside the main building, see traditional, vibrantly colored butter sculptures, sand mandalas, and other artwork.

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The center hosts workshops and events throughout the year, and you can even rent one of their yurts if you’re looking for a peaceful retreat when visiting Bloomington.

Contributed by Emily of Em’s on the Road

The World’s Largest Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa

A Midwest roadside attraction that we love is the World’s Largest Truck Stop, just outside of Walcott, Iowa. Open since 1964, the truck stop has been a home away from home for truckers and travelers driving in Eastern Iowa along I-80. As you explore, it feels like the truck stop is a small city. There are so many amenities available; much more than any regular truck stop.

Besides the usual store with snacks and knickknacks, there is also a chapel, game room, barber shop, chiropractor, dentist, laundromat, library, private showers, workout room, and even a movie theater! We can imagine that if you’ve been on the road for quite a while and stop at the World’s Largest Truck Stop, it’s going to feel like heaven.

We also recommend heading over behind the World’s Largest Truck Stop. There you’ll find the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum. Admission is free, although they do appreciate donations. Inside, visitors can see over 100 trucks, dating back to the early 1900s as well as lots of other cool memorabilia like original petroliana signs and vintage gas pumps.

Contributed by Vicky of Buddy, the Traveling Monkey

Medical Museums, Jim Jones, and Catacombs Under the City in Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis has it’s own arguably large share of weird, dark, and unusual things. 

You may think – oh Indy is just a midwest city where nothing crazy has happened – but there’s plenty of dark history here.

Charles Manson, one of the most notorious murderers spent part of his troubled childhood in Indianapolis – right down the street from Central State Hospital – Indiana’s ‘insane asylum.’

Jim Jones, the mastermind behind the Peoples Temple, called Indianapolis home for a while and even started the first official church of the Peoples Temple right in Indy. 

So, as you can see, we could have an entire post on just the dark history of Indianapolis, but first, let’s start by letting you in on all the weird things to do in Indianapolis

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Ashley Hubbard is a writer, photographer, and blogger based in Nashville, Tennessee. When she's not searching out the strange and unusual things in life, she's searching out vegan food and is passionate about sustainability, animal rights, and social justice.

3 Comments

  • Sarah

    Loooove this especially as I am based in the midwest and a lot of these are accessible to me (after lockdown of course!). I honestly had no idea Houdini lived in Appleton and I find that kind of hilarious?! One of my best friends from college is from there. We actually went to the Mansfield prison together as it was located not too far from our college. You could totally add some places from Michigan to this list! We’ve got this weird place called the “mystery spot” in St Ignace (upper peninsula). I think it’s totally a hoax for tourism but apparently a lot of odd things have happened there like reverse magnetism and gravity changes.

  • Jenn and Ed Coleman

    I must say, I had a completely different idea when I heard Randyland. I imagined a game with chutes and ladders that kids weren’t allowed to play. I’m also glad there’s a reformatory for Ohio State fans. Having grown up in Columbus and going to school at the nearby State University. The people there go crazy of their use of definite articles and the color blue. Good things there’s a reformatory for them.

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