The Good: Fun, Mildly informative, Easy to find, Free
The Bad: Essentially propaganda before a gift shop
The Basics: A fun place to visit, the Spam Museum guides the visitor through the history of Spam and Spam marketing as a fair way to kill a few hours in Minnesota.
There is something nice about returning home after a few weeks on the road, at least for me. Time on the road without a computer means time away from reviewing and that both bums me out and forces me to write and post a number of reviews in a short amount of time. The flip side, of course, is that time out on the road gives me that much more to write about when I return. I have been on a cross country trip for two weeks and I listened to new music almost the entire way there and back, bought new teas and new DVDs en route. And now that I am home . . . I get to think about some of the highlights of my travels.
Strangely, one of those highlights would easily have to be the Spam Museum. Yes, I hear you cry, what the hell is the Spam Museum?! Who would go there and why?! Well, some of those questions have easy answers, some more complicated. Let's start with the basics: the Spam Museum is exactly what it sounds like. It is a museum dedicated to the canned meat product known as Spam. Produced by Hormel Foods, Inc., Spam has taken on a legendary status in song and story (no kidding) in popular culture and it now has a museum dedicated to its history, production and marketing. Who goes there? Well, in this case, people who are traveling with their ornery mother who wants nothing more than to keep her happy. My mother apparently saw a special on the Minnesota which featured the Mall Of America (reviewed here!) and the Spam Museum and ever since, she has wanted to go there. So, as part of my yearly trip across country for my annual Star Trek convention that helps me clear some of my overstock of trading cards out, we took the northern route and our first stop this year (after some cheese shops in Wisconsin) was the Spam Museum.
The Spam Museum is strangely difficult to find using the Spam Website, which gives decent directions, but fails to give a street address for the Spam Museum. The Spam Museum is located at 1101 North Main St. in Austin, MN. Mapquest directions to that location give precise directions to the Museum. Strangely, it also has a listed address on some sites as something on Spam Avenue and I have confirmed that many on-line directions sites can correctly find the proper museum there, too.
Austin, Minnesota is a small town nestled in the Southeastern corner of Minnesota. The town is easily accessible from the major arterial route 90, via exit 178B. I swear, the whole town is owned by Hormel Foods and in addition to the Spam Museum there are corporate offices and what appeared to be at least one factory in the town.
The Spam Museum is a colorful brick building with a giant Spam Logo on the front facade. Visitors are checked in at a security station and allowed to park anywhere (making the security stop seem somewhat pointless). The whole neighborhood has little Spam accents, like the blue Spam Ave. street sign and blue gate near the front of the building. There is, as well, a statue of a pig and a farmer out in front of the Spam Museum, making it hard to miss this building.
Ease Of Local Transport/Parking
Austin, MN is a very small town and despite arriving around noon and leaving during what would have been rush hour anywhere else, the roads were very easy to navigate. As well, there were ample street signs directing anyone from Route 90 to the Spam Museum, making it difficult to miss once one got off at the right exit.
Parking at the Spam Museum is free and seemed relatively secure, whatwith the rolling fence (it was open during business hours) and the little security post at the entrance. There was more than enough parking available for both the Spam Museum and the adjacent corporate offices. One has to wonder what the peak season for Spam Museum tourism is, but as part of a summer vacation, there seemed to be plenty of space to meet visitor demand.
The Spam Museum is a museum that does not take itself seriously and is loaded with Spam-related information and activities. Upon entering, there is a wall made of Spam cans with a globe in it, along with Spam-related artwork decorating the walls of the lobby. Inside the museum, which is easy to follow as a self-guided tour, there is a movie on Spam and activities related to the Spam Museum, its creation and presentations made at the museum. There is something odd about a museum where the first activity is self-referential not about the subject (in this example, Spam), but rather the location (the Spam Museum). This would be like going to the Pyramids in Egypt and first being given a lecture on the history of Pyramid tours as opposed to information on the Pyramids themselves. At the Spam Museum, the visitor is subjected first to a history of how the Spam Museum came to be and the various celebrities who have stopped by the museum to celebrate its opening.
Leaving the theater, the visitor walks through a history of the meat product and the business, learning how the son of George Hormel took over the production of Spam. There is a whole history of embezzling workers and possibly one of the most campy presentations of dialogue between a father and son ever presented . . . but it's hard to mock it because, well, the whole place has serious camp value from the tour brochure to the internet access that has a mouse ball that is the yolk of an egg on a plate.
Other activities in the Spam Museum include learning the prestigious history of Spam in World War II and displays of the many famous advertising campaigns. There are print ads on the walls, televisions and radio broadcasts going at the touch of a button and even a mock staging of "This Is Your Life" for Spam. It is strangely educational (as much as it can be for a meat product) and the whole experience is basically propaganda for the greatness of Spam leading up to the gift shop. But hey, it's free and after eighteen hours of driving, it was something to do!
There are also physical activities like attempting to pack your own Spam cans with beanbag Spam as a timed exercise. There is a trivia contest to see how much one has learned about Spam and, of course, monitors featuring the Spam sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus.
There was a free sample of Spam given out in the lobby while I was at the Spam Museum. One of the workers walked around with a tray of two different flavors of Spam, but there was no formal tasting area to sample the many flavors of Spam. And yes, there are a ridiculous number of flavors of this product. And after an hour in the museum, one will be hungry . . . probably for Spam.
Strangely, there is no on-premise cafe or restaurant, either. However, directly across the street there is a diner that prominently advertises that it serves Spam products at all hours.
At the end of the Museum there is the inevitable gift shop. Unlike somewhere like Celestial Seasonings which gives a free sample pack of the product and discounted product in the gift ship, the Spam Museum is free, gives nothing away and has prices in the gift shop that are roughly the same as at the local grocery store. While there is all sorts of Spam swag (perhaps the most inventive is the Spam slicer, like a giant plastic egg slicer for Spam), the average visitor is likely to want to stock up on flavors of Spam that might not be available locally. I know I did.
Anyone looking for Spam t-shirts, hats, magnets, and anything else Spam related, this gift shop seems to be the ideal place!
The Spam Museum is fun and it is a worthwhile diversion while on your way to somewhere else, but it is hard to think that some might make this place the destination in their many travels. The museum does not take itself overly seriously, so I find little reason to either. It is fun and cute, with a charming amount of supporting literature, but it is basically an inventive way to either sell more Spam or reward those who already buy the product.
For other destinations, please visit my reviews of:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
Verona Beach State Park
For other travel reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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