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Eight Museums Where You’ll Never See a Tour Bus

Small, oddball museums worth a visit

Busy Beaver Button Museum   Photo: Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune

Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture

6500 S. Pulaski Rd.
Open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $3 to $9

Fun fact: Chicago is home to more people of Lithuanian descent than any city outside of Lithuania, though there don’t seem to be many of them at this sleepy but impressively vast repository of historical and cultural artifacts, from rare archival photos documenting the country’s wartime occupation to folk art and an early-20th-century tourism brochure.

Brick’s Liquor Lane and Vintage Neon Sign Warehouse

1546 N. Rand Rd., Palatine. Open daily. Free
Tom Brickler has turned his 4,500-square-foot liquor store into an ad hoc museum of vintage neon signs, dozens of which hang from the walls and give a pleasingly lurid feel to the place. Among the highlights: a rare porcelain neon sign for Lucky Lager and another for Pilsen Premium Beer from a now defunct Chicago brewery.

Busy Beaver Button Museum

3407 W. Armitage Ave.
10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, or by appointment. Free

The world’s only pin-back button museum—what, you thought there might be more than one?—boasts a collection that runs the gamut from the political (“Howard Stern for President”) to the pop cultural (“I Love Herman’s Hermits”) to the straight-up bizarre (“King Kong Died for Our Sins”). Staff members from the adjacent Busy Beaver Button Company serve as docents.

The Prehistoric Life Museum

711 Main St., Evanston
Closed Wednesday and Sunday. Free

Trilobites, crabs, ancient insects preserved in amber, a prehistoric bear skeleton—these are just a few of the fossilized treasures that founders Dave Douglass and his wife, Sandra, have collected over the years. You’ll find more gems—literally—upstairs in Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop.

The Franklin

3522 W. Franklin Blvd.
Noon to 4 p.m., Saturday, or by appointment. Free

Artist Edra Soto’s modular backyard microgallery isn’t much bigger than a garden shed, but it offers what may be the city’s most intimate encounter with cutting-edge local artists—including Soto herself, who occasionally invites visitors to attend short-film screenings in her home.

Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art

220 Cottage Hill Ave., Elmhurst
Tuesday to Sunday. $2 to $5 (free on Friday)

For the uninitiated, “lapidary” refers to the art of cutting and polishing stones and gems, and this suburban museum contains many dazzling examples, including intricate jade carvings, Florentine and Roman mosaics, and a miniature castle made of agate, amethyst, and gold.

McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum

99 Chicago Riverwalk
Thursday to Monday, May through October. $3 to $6

The view from the top of the McCormick Bridgehouse gives a whole new perspective on the river—the subject of this tiny museum’s permanent exhibition—and its skyscraper canyon. On the bottom level, you can see the massive gears used to raise the drawbridge.

The 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame and Museum

7501 W. Harrison St., Forest Park
Noon to 4 p.m., Saturday. Free

This museum makes a respectable case for 16-inch softball as the sport’s truest form. See vintage uniforms, great photos of the sport’s postwar heyday, and even a Hollywood-style walk of fame.

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