To qualify as truly oddball, a museum must be esoteric and project a certain Twilight Zone aura. It must also be user-friendly. None of these scholarly repositories have stanchions or eagle-eyed security guards. Bring the kids. Touching the exhibits is encouraged.
Housed on the second floor of a modest two-family brick house in Brooklyn, The Enrico Caruso Museum Of America (1942 East 19th Street, Brooklyn; 718-368-3993; $5, by appointment only) is a well-tended shrine to the world’s greatest tenor. Every year, 2,500 faithful make the pilgrimage to Aldo Mancusi’s opera mecca. After listening to the vintage Caruso recordings (played on gramophones), you’ll understand how the big guy managed to perform in front of 50,000 fans in Central Park without a microphone. The permanent collection – occupying the entire second floor and spilling over into the bathroom – consists of rare memorabilia, from Caruso’s Sulka neckties to his silver flatware. The highlight of the two-hour tour is an eight-minute home movie of the legend himself, screened in a converted bedroom that seats twenty. “People today don’t realize how great Caruso was,” Mancusi laments. “Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras … please. Enrico would have blown them all off the stage.”