Quirky telephones, whale bones, police gear - you wouldn't necessarily expect to see them in a Long Island museum. But there they are, on display along with other niche historical relics at lesser-known museums around Long Island. Admission is cheap (or even free), giving you one more reason to brave the cold to pay a visit.
Hicksville, 516-822-7505, gregorymuseum.org
Hours: 9:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Admission: $5, $3 ages 4-16, free for Hicksville residents
What you'll see: Thousands of butterfly and moth species are tucked among fluorescent rocks and seashells in this small, two-story house that doubles as a museum. "We have everything from the largest rock and mineral collection on Long Island to dinosaur artifacts," says entomologist Paul Manton. There's also (oddly) a replica jail cell on exhibit (think cramped, really cramped).
Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum
Admission: $6, free younger than 5
What you'll see: Imagine setting out to sea in a small boat to hunt an animal that, with a mere flip of its tail, could crush you and the boat. That's what whalers faced every day. Visitors can trace the history of whaling in Cold Spring Harbor and see real whale bones that have been plied into corsets or intricately carved into works of art. There's also a vintage film of a whaling expedition (warning: harpooning is involved). "We try to help visitors put whaling into context of the time," says director Paul DeOrsay.
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays
What you'll see: Forget "CSI" or "Law & Order." Here you'll learn how folks solved crime and kept order from the 1920s through modern times. You can get a close-up look at uniforms, rotary phones, machine guns, handcuffs and other tools of the trade. "We even have a replica jail cell with a bucket for sanitation," says officer Edward Johntry, the museum's director. One of the museum's prides is a ticket issued to a 17-year-old John F. Kennedy for crossing the median in his dad's automobile. Although less compelling, you'll also see a plug-in switchboard, camera and candlestick phone.
Also try: The Nassau County Police Museum in Mineola displays uniforms, weapons, a Harley-Davidson patrol motorcycle and communication equipment. It's free, but open by appointment only (1490 Franklin Ave., 516-573-7620).
Hours: 1-4 p.m. the first Sunday of the month, 10 a.m.-noon Tuesday and by appointment
What you'll see: You won't hear comedian Lily Tomlin's character "Ernestine" going "One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy," but you will see mannequin replicas of Alexander Graham Bell in his studio and an operator at her switchboard. Random fact: Telephone operators had to know the difference between the sound of a quarter dropping into a pay phone and that of a nickel or a dime. The museum has more than 100 vintage phones. Visitors can see how their voice looks in voice waves and see how a rotary phone works.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, open by reservation for group tours Sunday and Monday
What you'll see: Forget "Guitar Hero." Here, stars are the guitars and their makers. "Serious guitar players and serious collectors will enjoy coming here," says owner Chris Ambadjes, who counts the late guitar maker and electric guitar legend Les Paul among his personal friends. "We're not like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." With more than 200 guitars displayed on any given day, you'll get an understanding of the instrument, the innovations and the pioneers of the industry.