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A tour guide says these are the 3 best Boston museums you haven’t heard of yet

The Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at MGH. Anton Grassl / Esto.com

It’s no secret that Boston is a museum mecca. From the Museum of Fine Arts to the Museum of Science, the Boston Children’s Museum to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, buildings across the city boast incredible paintings, photography, sculptures, and artifacts.

But with so many world-renowned museums on our map, some of the more niche destinations—also brimming with fascinating stories—may not be on your radar. Alan Maltzman, founder of Boston CityWalks, which offers visitors scheduled and custom walking tours of Boston, recommends checking out the following three.

MIT Museum

Fun fact: The MIT Museum has the largest holography collection in the world, with more than 2,000 holograms, or 3-D images.

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Maltzman said his tour groups love discovering the museum when he takes them to MIT’s campus. As a retired engineer, he said he loves going there himself, too. The 52,000 square-foot space contains more than one million objects—including prints, rare books, drawings, films, photographs, and technical archives—that span the interests of the MIT community from the institute’s founding in 1861 to today.

Artist and engineer Arthur Ganson’s kinetic sculptures have comprised a popular exhibit at the museum since 1995. Other ongoing exhibits explore topics like the birth of robotics and the evolution of ocean engineering. Guests can get an up-close look at a large-format Polaroid camera, examine various types of slide rules used by engineer, and get inside MIT students’ brains at “Projects and Prototypes: MIT Student Work,” which currently features items such as a sound sculpture and motorized prosthetic arm.

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“If you’ve got a techie in your life, it’s a great place to go,” Maltzman said.

The museum provides both guided and self-guided tours, hands-on activities, educational workshops, festivals, and family events throughout the year.

(MIT Museum, 265 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on major holidays; $10 for adults, $5 for children under 18, free for kids under 5)


Boston Fire Museum

“You don’t see many fire museums around,” Maltzman said.

You’ll find this one in an 1891 Boston firehouse that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the museum, guests learn that Boston has a distinct spot in firefighting history: The city was the first place worldwide to use a fire alarm telegraph system, on April 29, 1852.

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Visitors can also view engines, photos, alarms, and other artifacts in the museum exhibits. They can examine a hand-drawn, hand-operated pumper used by firefighters in 1793, until it was replaced by a much larger engine in 1808, and special equipment such as thawing devices used on hydrants and hoses during cold-weather fires. Photos details the history of fire service in Roxbury and capture the equipment used long ago by local firefighters, such as the self-propelled steamer of an engine used in the firehouse from 1897 to 1925.

Current firefighting uniforms—the coats, boots, masks, helmets, and gloves men and women wear on the job today—are also on display.

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(The Boston Fire Museum, 344 Congress St., Boston; open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; free, donations accepted)


Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation

Boston is home to some of the most prestigious hospitals in the world, so it should come as no surprise that there’s a museum of medical history and innovation in the city. Yet few people know about it, Maltzman said.

The museum, located at Massachusetts General Hospital, opened in 2012 and is named after Paul S. Russell, a pioneer in the field of transplant surgery. The nearly-8,000-square-foot space includes two floors of galleries full of exhibits with various medical themes, as well as space for lectures and presentations. A rooftop garden filled with more than 30 kinds of trees, shrubs, and other greenery offers guests views of Beacon Hill and the Massachusetts State House.

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If you’ve already made the trip to MGH, Maltzman said there’s another spot you shouldn’t miss: the Ether Dome.

“It’s where the first successful operation using ether was held,” he said.

While the teaching amphitheater is not housed in the museum, it’s in the hospital’s Bulfinch Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The area served as the hospital’s operating room from 1821 to 1868. Dr. William Morton made history on Oct. 16, 1846 when he administered ether to the first surgery patient there.

Visitors can also view an oil painting of the famous first surgery, early surgical tools, and an Egyptian mummy named Padihershef, which was gifted to the hospital in 1824 and currently resides in the Ether Dome. The dome is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free for visitors.

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(Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation, 2 North Grove St., Boston; open Mondays-Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from April 16 to Oct. 15 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; free)

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