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Unique museums

Ode to the banana, pinball and nutcracker

The Washington Banana Museum’s rotating exhibits, tucked into a display case in an Auburn antiques shop, tell the story of the history of the world’s most popular fruit. Photo courtesy of Ann Lovell

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You know those road movies where the characters stop to see some colorful attraction - something like the world's largest ball of string or maybe Graceland?

While such scenes typically seem to be set in the South (Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, for instance) or perhaps the Midwest (National Mustard Museum in Middletown, Wisconsin), such strange sites exist right here in Washington, too. Here are a few you might want to visit on your way somewhere - or maybe even make as destinations themselves.

Washington Banana Museum

If we'd been guessing which fruit our state would have a museum devoted to, we would have gone with the cherry. Or the apple. Or the huckleberry. Or ...

We would definitely not have gone with the banana.

But Ann Lovell of Auburn is, if you'll pardon the expression, bananas over America's best-selling fruit, so much so that she has created a museum devoted to banana-related items.

Lovell has collected nearly 6,000 items - posters, lighters, jewelry, candy containers, cookbooks - and a rotating collection is on view in a large display case inside Bananas Antiques, the shop owned by Benjamin Bigford, Lovell's boyfriend.

Why bananas?

"I always say that growing up in the Pacific Northwest with the rainy climate, maybe there was something alluring about the tropical banana," Lovell said.

Or maybe it's just as simple as this: She, like so many others, loves the sweet, creamy taste of bananas. Her parents called her Anna Banana.

When she was 30 or so, Lovell began collecting banana-related items.

"I thought, ‘You know, this is really kind of interesting,'" she said. "I think people might get a kick out of learning a little bit about the history of the banana."

Among the items in the museum's collection - viewable online at - are a poster for a low-budget 1973 French film called Clockwork Banana and a birthday card with a photo of a baby holding a banana-shaped bottle.

WASHINGTON BANANA MUSEUM AT BANANAS ANTIQUES, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday (call ahead because hours can vary), free, 120 E. Main St., Auburn, 253.804.8041,

Seattle Pinball Museum

This is not your typical museum in that it's less about admiring the historic or artistic nature of the machines or learning about how they work. Instead, it's about playing the games. The Seattle Pinball Museum features a changing collection of about 50 machines old and new that you can play free with admission. The museum also sells snacks and beverages - including beer.

SEATTLE PINBALL MUSEUM, noon-5 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 508 Maynard Ave. S., Seattle, $13 for adults and $10 for kids 7-12 for one entry,  $18 for adults and $15 for kids for multiple entries on the same day, 206.623.0759,

Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum

The museum includes more than 6,000 "nut-opening devices," to borrow a phrase from the website ( The nutcrackers - some of the type featured in the Tchaikovsky ballet and some much more utilitarian, including betel-nut cutters from Asia and the conventional kind strong enough to crack black walnuts - come from more than 50 countries. They take their nutcrackers very seriously here: The museum has published two books. The museum also includes other nut-related items, including intricately carved walnut shells.

LEAVENWORTH NUTCRACKER MUSEUM, 1-5 p.m. daily, 735 Front St., Leavenworth, $5, $3.50 for seniors, $2 for ages 6-16, free for active military and families, 509.548.4573,

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