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Smithsonian's 'Museum Day Live!' lets you and a guest get into museums for free

Harriet Baskas, special to
Smithsonian Institute in DC
Mark Williamson | Getty Images

September 24 will be a big day for anyone who's a fan of art, culture and history—and a treat for anyone who hasn't been inside a museum for a while (or ever).

As part of the 12th annual Smithsonian Magazine's Museum Day Live!, cultural institutions across the country open their doors for free to anyone (plus a guest) who goes online to pick a museum and download a ticket. Among those participating will be The Smithsonian Institution's long-awaited opening of National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

"Twelve years ago, only about 200 museums participated in the event and now over 1,200 museums take part," Amy Wilkins, Smithsonian Media's chief revenue officer told CNBC.

"The Smithsonian is committed to making knowledge accessible to everyone and Museum Day Live! is an opportunity for museums across the country and their diverse communities to unite around that commitment."

CNBC took a look at some of the more interesting participating exhibits to consider using your free Museum Day Live! ticket:

Crown Point, Indiana: John Dillinger Museum

John Dillinger Museum in Crown Point, Indiana
Source: John Dillinger Museum

The life, times and crimes of John Dillinger, the gangster dubbed "Public Enemy #1" as his crime spree swept the country during the Great Depression, gets the once over at the John Dillinger Museum inside the Lake County Courthouse in Crown Point, Indiana.

Exhibits include Dillinger's lucky rabbit's foot, a (replica) of the wooden gun he used to break out of the "escape-proof" Lake County Jail in 1934, and the trousers Dillinger was wearing when he was shot outside of the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Because crime doesn't pay, there will also be examples of advancements made in crime fighting technology.

"Visitors to the museum are usually surprised at how much information and history they learn about the Midwest and the Depression Era gangsters," said Erika Dahl, spokeswoman for the South Shore Convention and Visitor's Authority.

Cody, Wyoming: Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Source: Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Five separate museums are housed in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, WY. The multiple attractions make it a real bang for the buck of visitors, whether you pay admission or get in free with a Museum Day Live pass.

On display are a wide variety of artifacts and memorabilia relating to William F. Cody ("Buffalo Bill"), Annie Oakley and others who starred in the Wild West shows, a comprehensive collection of American firearms and firearms-related artifacts. Several art and natural history exhibits pay tribute to Yellowstone National Park, which is just an hour west of town.

Fort Worth, Texas: National Cowgirl Hall of Fame

National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas
Source: National Cowgirl Hall of Fame

The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, opens its doors to Smithsonian Museum Day Live ticket holders because doing so "allows us to spread the message of the women who have shaped the West to a broader audience," said museum spokeswoman Tara Trask.

"The general public doesn't always realize that we have Sandra Day O'Connor, Dale Evans, Annie Oakley and more featured in our museum and those who visit us leave understanding that a cowgirl isn't always easy to define but she is inside us all," she added.

In Fort Worth, 10 cultural destinations in Fort Worth are also holding a "Day in the District" celebration on September 24 with free admission and free performances.

Seattle, Washington: Museum of Flight

Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington
Source: Museum of Flight

Seattle's Museum of Flight, already one of the nation's largest air and space collections, recently got even bigger with the opening of the 3-acre covered, outdoor Aviation Pavilion, which displays 15 rare and unique commercial and military planes.

One special perk that may help draw in visitors: The museum will host a "Flying it Forward" event on Sept. 24. It provides free 15-minute flights in small planes to girls and young women who have never flown or who have only flown in airliners. (Reservation required)

Edgefield, South Carolina: Winchester Wild Turkey Museum and Outdoor Education Center

Winchester Wild Turkey Museum and Outdoor Education Center in Edgefield, South Carolina
Source: Winchester Wild Turkey Museum and Outdoor Education Center

The National Wild Turkey Federation's interactive Winchester Museum is popular with wild turkey hunters, and those curious about the comeback of wild turkeys.

Visitors can learn how to make wild turkey sounds in an oversized box billed as "the world's largest turkey call" and see wildlife oddities and a collection of historic turkey calls crafted by the best call-makers. Other activities include a simulated ride in a USDA Forest Service helicopter, a virtual reality theater and an arcade-style shooting simulator.

September 24 is also the Edgefield Heritage Jubilee. The museum will be hosting hourly tours for the trails, fish the stocked ponds and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the center's lakefront pavilion.

St. Louis Park, Minnesota: Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park, Minnesota
Source: Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

The Pavek Museum both preserves and presents the history of recording technology (remember reel-to-reel tape recorders or cassettes?) and broadcasting.

Exhibits include a vast and stellar collection of telegraphs, telephones, radios, televisions, a Theremin (an instrument that uses only antennas and electricity to create sound). You can also find recordings of vintage radio programs, newscasts and other air checks that help tell the story of the science of electronic communication.

Jamestown, New York: Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum

Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum in Jamestown, New York
Source; Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum

For decades (and now in eternal reruns) Lucille Ball and her TV/real-life husband Desi Arnaz entertained millions on television and in the movies. The museum named after them tells their personal story and the role they had on popular culture—complete with costumes, memorabilia, awards, photographs and a variety of special exhibits.

In the museum, fans are reminded that Lucille Ball was not only a comedy legend, but a smart businesswoman who played an important role in the success of the Star Trek franchise, which recently marked the 50th anniversary of the show's first TV broadcast.

"Ball backed Star Trek twice," said museum spokesman Steve Neilans, "Financially, and by using her influence with different TV stations when she was head of Desilu Productions." Ball went against her board to help create the first two pilots of the series, said Neilans.

Bradenton, Florida: South Florida Museum and Bishop Aquarium

South Florida Museum and Bishop Aquarium in Bradenton, Florida
Source: South Florida Museum and Bishop Aquarium

The South Florida Museum is an all-inclusive venue featuring a natural history museum, the all-digital Bishop Planetarium, and a Manatee Aquarium featuring Snooty (Guinness World Records' Oldest Known Manatee) along with wild manatees undergoing rehabilitation.