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Celebrity Museums

Celebrity Museums

Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center, Jamestown, N.Y.
If you stop by the Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, any branch of the Hollywood Wax Museum (Branson, Mo.; Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; or Hollywood) or one of the 13 worldwide branches of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, you’ll see lifelike versions of famous people. If you want to learn details about the real lives of Babe Ruth, Judy Garland, Muhammad Ali and other celebrities, though, add some of these museums to your travel itinerary.

Comedian Lucille Ball starred on radio, television and film from the 1930s well into the 1970s. Now Ball and her husband and co-star, Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz, are celebrated at the Lucy-Desi Museum in Ball’s hometown. On display are costumes, awards, photos and other memorabilia, as well as a wide variety of audio and film clips. Jamestown also offers the Desilu Playhouse, an attraction filled with more Lucy-Desi artifacts and faithfully re-created sets familiar from the TV shows, including the couple’s New York apartment.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland
The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin and more than 600 other music industry celebrities have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their stories and their music, along with 18 permanent exhibits and up to a half-dozen temporary exhibits are presented at the seven-story Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. The museum recently unveiled an expanded Beatles exhibition and is displaying Lady Gaga’s meat dress as part of the Women Who Rock Exhibition, on view through February 2012.

Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville, Ky.
Visitors to the Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville get a one-two punch: a lesson in civil-rights history and a review of boxer Muhammad Ali’s life and legacy in and out of the ring. In addition to viewing footage of famous fights, visitors can step into a re-creation of the gym at Ali’s Deer Lake, Pa., training camp, known as Fighter’s Heaven, which includes a full boxing ring, heavy bags and a chance to shadow box with the Champ. Gloves signed by other noted boxing champions are here, as is the People’s Choice fight robe given to Ali by Elvis Presley.

Graceland, Memphis, Tenn.
Speaking of Elvis (you didn’t think we’d mention the Champ but ignore the King, did you?), Graceland is the country’s — perhaps the world’s — most famous celebrity museum. Each year, more than 500,000 Elvis fans tour the Graceland Mansion and the Elvis Presley Car Museum and see the star’s jets, his clothes, his racquetball building, his gold records and, of course, his gravesit

Louis Armstrong House Museum, Queens, N.Y.
Louis Armstrong (“Satchmo”) died in 1971 after a long career as a singer, songwriter, trumpet player and film star. Although he is counted among the world’s most accomplished jazz musicians, Armstrong and his wife, Lucille, rejected the Hollywood lifestyle and chose instead to live in a modest home in the Corona neighborhood of Queens. Today the Louis Armstrong House Museum, complete with the original furniture, fixtures and decorative knickknacks, is a museum. During guided tours, visitors hear audio clips from a vast archive of recordings Armstrong made while he lived in the home.

Museums: Thomas Edison National Historical Park, West Orange, N.J.
In 1887, the already prolific inventor Thomas Edison set up a factory complex in West Orange, N.J., so he and his staff could conduct experiments on projects such as alkaline storage batteries, phonographs and motion-picture cameras. Today, the renovated complex and Glenmont Estate, the 29-room mansion where Edison lived with his wife, Mina, are open to the public as the Thomas Edison National Historical Park. Visitors can see everything from Edison’s private lab and his original tinfoil phonograph to Black Maria, the shack considered the world’s first motion-picture production studio

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville, Tenn.
The songs and stories of the celebrities of country music are told at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Nashville. In addition to the Hall of Fame Rotunda honoring everyone from Elvis and the Everly Brothers to Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, the museum’s main permanent exhibit offers a chronological tour through country music history with artifacts, photographs, original recordings and archival video and films. Tours of historic RCA Studio B, where more than 35,000 tunes were recorded, depart from the museum.

Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum, Baltimore
The life of the baseball legend known as the Sultan of Swat is honored at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. Visitors to Ruth’s childhood home can see his bedroom, his catcher’s mitt and plenty of other artifacts, but for many the highlight will be seeing what is considered to be one of the most valuable and famous sports collectibles: the 1914 Babe Ruth rookie card (see images), which pictures the legendary slugger as a pitcher. The Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, nearby and next to Oriole Park, displays more Ruth-related artifacts as well as exhibits about Maryland sports history.

Judy Garland Museum, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Actress and singer Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, and today her restored childhood home is the Judy Garland Museum. The house is filled with exhibits that range from photos and annotated sheet music to Garland’s personal makeup case and the horse-drawn carriage seen in an Emerald City musical sequence in “The Wizard of Oz.” If that’s not enough Garland, each June the museum holds a Judy Garland Festival.

Jimmy Stewart Museum, Indiana, Pa.
The Jimmy Stewart Museum on the third floor of the Indiana Free Library is a shrine to the local boy who became famous and beloved worldwide as an actor in film, radio and TV. In addition to film clips shown in a 1930s-style movie theater complete with velvet drapes, this museum displays photos, movie posters, awards and other Stewart-related memorabilia. Even the view is notable: The Stewart family hardware store site and the bronze statue dedicated to Stewart on his 75th birthday are visible from the museum’s window.
Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond, Va.
The five-building Edgar Allan Poe Museum opened in 1922 and is just blocks from the first Richmond home of the author of “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher” and other classic, and often spine-tingling, works of literature. The extensive collection includes manuscripts, Poe’s boyhood bed, his vest, socks, walking stick, trunk and even a lock of his hair.