date published: October 23, 2006

The best Boston museums you’ve never visited
by Josh B. Wardrop

Here in Boston, we love our world-renowned museums— the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, the JFK Library and Museum—and, as evidenced by the lines to get in on a weekend, so does everyone else. But Boston and the surrounding environs have a lot more institutions of learning that would also love the chance to expand your mind, or cater to your particular interest—even those as unexpected as beer, cars or preserved human body parts. Read on, and you’ll get Panorama’s recommendations for some of the hidden jewels of Boston’s museum community.

Mary Baker Eddy Library
200 Mass Ave., 888-222-3711 Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) was, unsurprisingly, all about ideas. After all, for a woman of her era to have founded both a religion (Christian Science) and a newspaper (The Christian Science Monitor), she had to have had extraordinary belief in the power of ideas and free discourse to change the world. And that’s the mission put forth today by the library opened in her honor four years ago, which casts an eye on the power of ideas through exhibits like the newly opened Sensational Press, Radical Response. One highlight of the library is the Fountain of Quotes in the main hall—an eye-catching and unique water fountain which features words projected in light that cascade down the fountain with the water, assembling to form quotations by famed thinkers from the past 3000 years. The most popular attraction, though, is the Mapparium—a three-story high globe, made out of stained glass, that depicts the planet as it was in 1935 (when it was built in what was then the Christian Science Publishing Society by architect Chester Lindsay Churchill), and places visitors on a catwalk at the very center of it, allowing a better view of the totality of the planet on which they live.

Boston Beer Museum
30 Germania St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-9080 In 1985, Jim Koch revolutionized the American beer industry with his introduction of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, a craft brewed creation that sparked the microbrewing revolution of the 1990s. The Boston Beer Museum isn’t so much a museum, technically, as it is a tour of the original brewery in Jamaica Plain—a Boston borough that was a brewing nexus in the early 20th century. The facility is now mostly used for research and development, but every variety of Sam Adams is still brewed there once a year. The tour begins with a video about the history of Boston Beer Company and the plant (formerly the Haffenreffer Brewey), then moves onto the main floor to detail the intricate brewing process. The best part of the journey, though, has to be the conclusion—when visitors head for the tavern-style tap rooms to sample a host of Sam Adams beers.
—Christopher Wallenberg

Larz Anderson Auto Museum
15 Newton St., Brookline, 617-522-6547 If the idea of truly vintage automobiles is what gets your motor revving, there’s no greater nirvana than the restored carriage house at the center of picturesque Larz Anderson Park. Contained within is the assembled collection of motorcars belonging to Larz Anderson and his wife, Isabel (whose inheritance of $17 million at the age of 5 had made her the richest woman in America). The cars they adored included rarities like an 1899 Winton, the first model to cross the North American continent—given its 4-horsepower engine, it was probably a pretty long trip, but that’s beside the point. Also on view in the Western Hemisphere’s oldest continually displayed car collection is 1906 CGV. A precursor to the modern RV, its seats fold down into beds and it boasts a working toilet right behind the passenger seat. In the spring and summer, the museum hosts special lawn events devoted to different makes and models, which draws enthusiasts and their cars from around the world. But anytime of year, this charming museum is heaven for those who love the open road and the first amazing vehicles that allowed us to traverse it.

Warren Anatomical Museum
Countway Library of Medicine, 10 Shattuck St., 617-432-6196 Skulls, preserved body parts, unwieldy metal contraptions with an ominous look about them—it might sound like Marilyn Manson’s living room, but the Warren Anatomical Museum located on the Harvard Medical School’s Longwood campus is, in fact, a very serious institution of learning for students of the human body. Established in 1847 from the private collection of Dr. John Collins Warren, the Warren Museum contains anatomical and pathological specimens that were used by Dr. Warren in his teaching of medical students. Warren also collected medical apparatus, and those pieces now represent one of the largest exhibited collections of early medical instruments, providing visitors with a fascinating look into the early, pioneering days of surgery and medical treatment. Interesting items abound: everything from the skull of Phineas Gage (the railroad worker whose severe head injury gave physicians their first significant understanding of the role the frontal lobe of the brain plays in human behavior) to anatomical photos, prints and drawings, to models and actual preserved specimens dealing with the human form. Perhaps not a museum for the overly squeamish, but a treasure trove for anyone fascinated by how the human body works and how doctors have treated it through the ages.

Rose Art Museum
Brandeis University, 415 South St., Waltham, 781-736-3434 Sometimes we forget that simply because we don’t have a student ID or a knapsack, and because we might have a few grey hairs that we can’t conceal, that doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of the often exceptional art collections to be found in university art museums. In fact, one of the area's finest collections of modern and contemporary art sits just 15 minutes outside the city, at The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in Waltham. Home to a constantly changing array of exhibitions by current, cutting-edge artists like Clare Rojas, Erwin Wurm and Sarah Walker, the Rose also boasts pieces by the giants of the genre, such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and countless others. Since you don't have to be a kid to be into modern art, this is one Rose any art lover should stop to smell during their visit to Boston.

Concord Museum
200 Lexington St., Concord, 978-369-9763 Boston is a city justifiably proud of its place in history, but it would be a mistake to assume that all of the notable events in our region’s history happened within city limits. Concord (located just 30-35 minutes west of the city) is a town that served as a nexus for not only earthshaking historical events (such as the major battles of the Revolutionary War) but also—as home to such names as Thoreau, Alcott, Emerson and Hawthorne— for the primary minds behind America’s first literary revolution. All of these elements, and others, are celebrated at the Concord Museum—an institution specializing in displaying the decorative arts and historical artifacts of 18th and 19th century Concord, including Revolutionary War weaponry and uniforms and original writings and personal effects of the great writers who made their home in this bucolic and quiet woodland town.

Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center
771 Commonwealth Ave. at Boston University, 617-353-1309 Lots of museums place the works of great artists, writers, thinkers and world leaders on display for us to admire and appreciate, and to see up close through our own eyes. But not every museum allows us to see those luminaries through their own eyes. The Gotlieb Center is a true hidden jewel—nestled away at Boston University’s Mugar Library—that exhibits the personal papers and effects of notable names ranging from actors (Tyne Daly) to civil rights leaders (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), from newsmen (Dan Rather) to authors (Walt Whitman). For some, these pieces of ephemera—these private correspondences, these casual and unguarded moments captured in print or on film—are simply addenda to the works created by legendary figures. For others, these pieces are the story—how exhilarating is it, for example, for someone who’s seen Jaws a hundred times to see the original draft of the first page of Peter Benchley’s novel, complete with pencil notations and words crossed out? Whereas most museums are about the grandeur and scope of some artistic masterpiece or dinosaur skeleton, the Gotlieb Center is a small museum celebrating intimate treasures—a place where no two visitors are likely to be thrilled by the same items equally.

back to homepage

Refer to listings in the museums section.