Girl power, y'all.
Girl power, y'all.
courtesy National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame

5 Wacky, Creepy, Wondrous Museums Within an Hour (or so) Drive of Dallas

So you’re not at SXSW or some Southern Californian beach this spring break. You’re a nerd, or a mom, or broke AF. Blast your favorite playlist or quietly begin a new podcast binge and head for one of these sights well worth an hour-ish drive.

National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
1720 Gendy St., Fort Worth
817-336-4475
About 45 minutes from Dallas

Girl power, y’all. The timing is perfect — as women today are poised to punch misogyny and sexism in its smug, entitled face — for a visit to a museum, more than four decades in the making, celebrating badass women. As a girl, did you have shelves stocked with Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the ones filled with tales of her pioneer family’s little cabin in the woods? When the books evolved into a TV series, did you count down the minutes until the sunny theme song began, acting as a narcotic on your preteen brain, the high flourishing as golden, laughing children wearing long braids and flowing gingham dresses bounded through ethereal, wildflower-bursting, impossibly green fields?

Although the story was set in the 1800s, the Wilder family struck a chord with many youths in the '80s. All your curiosities (was Nellie the bully a real person, for example) are answered at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. (It might not answer this specific query, but who knows?) Wilder shares the 33,000-square-foot show ground with 227 women, including artist Georgia O’Keeffe, sharpshooter Annie Oakley and legit cowgirl Sacajawea (principal bad-muther guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition), who kicked butt all over the Wild Wild West and beyond.

5 Wacky, Creepy, Wondrous Museums Within an Hour (or so) Drive of Dallas
courtesy The Bayless-Selby House

The Bayless-Selby House
317 W Mulberry St., Denton
About an hour from Dallas

Denton — it’s an old college town known for groovy local-band births and a few dive-y lairs, as well as multiple historical markers. That’s cool and everything. But hauntings and bloody pasts entice tourist types who fancy freaking themselves out for whatever demented purpose. (You are loved and understood. Remember that.) And Denton has that aplenty. The Bayless-Selby House — which now hosts farmers markets and children’s events — has a disturbing history and, reportedly, a phantom farmer.

“This story has it all: betrayal, murder, scandal …” reports the wedentondoit.com blog. Sam and Elizabeth Bayless arrived in Denton County in 1881 and purchased a two-room farmhouse in 1884. Sam Bayless’ nursery and landscaping business made him so rich he expanded the modest Myrtle Street dwelling into a two-story Queen Ann-style Victorian home and employed several sharecroppers and laborers to help the business. In November 1919, however, things took a tragic turn when an argument with a worker elevated into a brawl that escalated into a killing. Court documents show the quick-tempered Sam Bayless went for his shotgun, but he'd been stabbed and bled to death in his beloved abode.

Now that the house is owned by the citizens of Denton, hosts a museum and is surrounded by gorgeous landscape, that phantom farmer (whose death never was avenged, the stabber set free on bases of self-defense) walks the grounds and, legend says, has yet to vanish. Halloween time sees ghost hunters from around the nation seeking the temperamental spirit.

Unrequited Love Carvings
117 W. Franklin, Waxahachie
972-937-0681
About 40 minutes from Dallas

Fans of winsome whereabouts be warned: Waxahachie could cause your weird little heart to rupture with rapture. There’s the Indian Muffler Man on the high school football field, a replica of TV's Munster house and a haunted catfish restaurant. But the creepiest commodity has to be the nine-story courthouse consuming town square. Locals seem to be accustomed to it. They tend to embrace it, but outsiders might mutter, “For the love of all things holy, what the hell is this?” For it is the thing of nightmares.

Along the top of a series of granite columns that frame each entrance, ornate sandstone carvings of faces cry out. Think that scene in Devil’s Advocate when Al Pacino pitches the greatness of the underworld lifestyle to Keanu Reeves’ character while behind him, silently screaming imprisoned souls suffer in perdition.

Digressions aside, the Ellis County Courthouse’s heads are known as the Unrequited Love Carvings. In 1894, Waxahachie summoned stonemason Harry Herley to sculpt and the decorate outer walls of its new courthouse. Herley carved some of the porches and arches, and he also commissioned and supervised several German-trained carvers.

Legend says Herley, while working, fell in love with Mabel Frame, breathtaking daughter of his boarding house’s owner. Ostensibly to win her attention, Herley carved her likeness over one of the courthouse entrances. But Mabel jilted Herley and his affections. Time passed and, if the carvings tell us anything, he grew less smitten and more embittered with the young woman. Subsequent carvings of Mabel increasingly depicted her as a contorted, perverse demoness.

Visitors follow Herley's increasing infatuation and fury, walking around the courthouse, watching the faces turn sour.

5 Wacky, Creepy, Wondrous Museums Within an Hour (or so) Drive of DallasEXPAND
courtesy DFW Elite Toy Museum

DFW Elite Toy Museum
5940 Eden Drive, Haltom City
817-834-3625
About an hour from Dallas

Ron Sturgeon, the founder of the Elite Toy Museum in Haltom City, always has delighted in toys — the obscure and vintage and, in his words, “exquisite.”

He started with cars and automotive art and has since amassed some 3,000 “elite toys.” The museum is especially popular with gear-heads — you know, because of the cars — but model boats and antique pet toys factor into the magic and whimsy.

The Salt Palace
100 W. Garland St., Grand Saline
903-962-5631
About 70 minutes from Dallas

A Texas town called Grand Saline sits atop about 16,000 feet of natural salt. Is your mouth watering yet? Confederate troops used Civil War-era saltworks, and the salt industry has remained — the Grand Saline salt dome should last another 20,000 years. A tiny building constructed of local salt blocks stands in downtown Saline, according to Roadside America. It has been rebuilt on the same site at least three times.

The most recent Salt Palace was built in 1993, replacing one built in 1975, which replaced one built in 1960, which replaced the original Salt Palace built for the 1936 Texas Centennial. (That one resembled the Alamo.) Seems like when the economy goes to hell, someone in town yells, "Build a salt palace!" Wait, though — there is more, you salt aficionados. Do not miss the museum. It exhibits salt mining artifacts and memorabilia, and visitors take home a souvenir salt crystal. It used to offer tours of the mines but opted to call those off in the late 1960s. Some visitors lick the walls there, it is said.

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