Rusty, dusty and full to the brim, the Miracle of America Museum is an Aladdin’s Cave for anyone who loves history in the raw – or exploring junk shops ( – which I do!). Please do not misunderstand though: this is not junk ( – okay, well some of it is); there is real treasure here and an abundance of truly iconic artifacts. The museum is bursting at the seams with “stuff”, much of which sparks a memory because it is familiar from an everyday life not too far away and some of which makes you stare agog simply because it is there.
We had never heard of The Miracle of America Museum until we came across it purely by accident. We happened to be driving through Polson to Flathead Lake and saw it: a building with an ancient aeroplane on the roof and what looked like an old helicopter in the yard. Intrigued, we went back the following day to check it out. What a hidden gem it turned out to be!
The founder of The Miracle of America Museum (MOAM) is Gil Mangels. Legend has it that he started collecting when he was 3 and, probably in his 70s now, hasn’t stopped since.
But what do you do when your collection grows out of hand and is so eclectic that you cannot define it? You start a museum of course! This is exactly what Gil did in 1985. It was his passion and his hobby which resulted in this wonderful, quirky museum. People across the area found an outlet for their own treasures and donated to the museum. I doubt if Gil has ever turned anything down.
The Miracle of America Museum: the main exhibition hall
We went inside and were greeted by a friendly lady who gave us a map and advised us about the best way to tour the museum. The entry fee was $10 and believe me, this is $10 well spent. In the main building there are four rooms, vaguely divided into themes such as military, home, bicycles, motorcycles, music, toys…..but don’t be surprised if you see a pair of roller skates from the 1960s in a display case with guns! There are two working pianolas which will burst into life and fill the hall with music when a quarter is inserted. Many of the notices are hand written and somewhat faded, but there are some really quirky and unusual pieces on display.
The Miracle of America Museum: the external exhibits
Outside there are more treasures. Some live outside in the elements permanently; others are housed in various shacks and shelters which have been donated over the years. In one of these sheds, which is entitled “Fridges and Freezers”, there are scores of washing machines, specimens from every decade of the Twentieth Century.
And if anyone is thinking about a PhD thesis on the history of the vacuum cleaner, look no further: there are hundreds here!
In another shelter, the theme is broadly photography, cinematography and printing – although there is also a telephone booth from the last century and an ancient switchboard in the mix. There are so many old cameras of every description here that it would have been possible to set up shop and clearly, when the local cinema closed or was updated, the equipment was too precious to trash. What do you do with it? Send it to the Museum of course!
There are exhibits on forestry and farming and a whole warehouse full of snow mobiles. What about chains saws? Yes, rows of them! If cars are your thing, there are plenty here of all different flavours. Other forms of transport? Helicopters, aeroplanes, motorbikes, tanks, trains, tractors, fairground rides, lawn mowers, boats…..they are all here.
Other shelters house a school room, a barber’s shop, a dentist, a gunsmith, a blacksmith….Each is filled with the appropriate equipment and paraphernalia that you would have expected to find at the point when the particular outlet functioned.
There is a hut full of electrical components and a ton of military stuff: uniforms, tanks, jeeps, everything from a Corsair jet bomber to stone arrowheads, Winchester rifles to a blunderbuss.
Bizarrely, there is a UFO display featuring an “alien autopsy”. There are also several sculptures dotted around which I assume have been fashioned from “left overs”. As I said, nothing is discarded here.
Should you visit The Miracle of America Museum?
We spent two and a half hours wandering around The Miracle of America Museum and barely scratched the surface. Sometimes, because of the layout, we had to backtrack through an area we had already explored. It did not matter though: there was always something else to see that we had missed the first time round. And frankly, it was fascinating! It was the best ten bucks we have spent in a while and if you are anywhere near Flathead Lake and Polson, it is definitely worth checking out this hidden gem. But do not expect a neat, polished, curated display. The Miracle of America Museum is a symbol of America itself: a veritable melting pot. Everything, absolutely everything, is in there, all rubbing up together.
You can find directions to the museum here
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