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Experiencing The Unknown At The Museum Of The Weird

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Believing The Unknown: Museum Of The Weird

 Paying Homage To The Dime Museums Of Yesteryear, With Medical Oddities, Freaks Of Nature, Traditional Sideshow Gaffs And More

Museum Of The Weird [Photo Credit: Sean Hobson-CC]

In this day and age with Google and Siri, the world is at everyone's finger tips. The answers are all just a click away. For many, a sense of wonder, of curiosity, isn't a common feeling. Of course, there are still people who yearn to be inquisitive, to be stumped by the unknown, to look at something and wonder what it is…if it's real, what it can mean... And that's where the Museum Of the Weird comes in.

Located in Austin, Texas, the museum pays homage to the dime museums of yesteryear, with medical oddities, freaks of nature, traditional sideshow gaffs and even live sideshow performers. People visit the museum to “broaden their horizons,” said General Manager Danielle Wilson. “It's very rare. There's not many places that exist like this.”

This is a place where people remain curious…where they may not get all of the answers….where the truth is all not right in front of them. And that is a novelty in itself. But people also come for the shrunken heads, the taxidermy cyclops pig and the wax figure of the Elephant Man…all part of an ever-expanding collection.

It all started with one shrunken head and a pet lizard.

When the Museum Of Weird opened 11 years ago they were just a gift shop with “one-of-a-kind” items from around the world…a small curiosity shop. “But the problem with a shop,” explains Wilson, “is that once you sell a ‘one-of-a-kind’ item you're not going to see it anymore.” Owners Steve and Veronica Busti thought of setting up a museum in the back of the shop to keep the oddities on display instead of selling them off. People also came to see his pet lizards, which included a Nile monitor and an iguana.

Animal Freaks Display [Courtesy/Museum of The Weird]
Shrunken Heads Display [Photo Credit:Spiral Stares-CC]
Man Performs His Act At The Museum [Photo Credit: Eric Baggett-CC]

A little voodoo zombie doll from Haiti and human shrunken heads were the first items on display that the Bustis didn't want to let go of…items they received from fellow oddity collectors, which Wilson explains is “a small community”. It started with three exhibits “and now we have a ton of stuff back there,” most notably their collection of medical oddities and taxidermy animals. There's a Bigfoot exhibit and wax figures of various sideshow performers, like Shang and Ang, Jojo the Dogface Boy. Soon there will also be wax figures of classic movie monsters.

“Like old dime museums, it's all edutainment,” says Wilson. “We don't just show you a shrunken head. Of course, there's that shock factor. But we also have information about it. We have traditional sideshow gaffs, which P. T. Barnum was famous for. We have a mermaid baby that's over 100 years old.”

For the layman, a sideshow gaff is a man-made object that people often wonder about. Is it real? Is it fake? “We want people to wonder. We want people to wonder about what they're looking at. We want to keep that curiosity and wonder going, especially in today's society where it's not so prevalent.”

Wilson's favorite exhibits though are the medical oddities. The Museum Of the Weird has an anencephaly baby – better known as a frog baby - in a jar. There's mummified hands in the collection and Peruvian elongated skulls.

“That's the stuff I like,” continues Wilson. “I think maybe because I'm fascinated with the human body and all the things it's capable of and capable of producing. Anatomy is just cool.”

Strange Artifact At The Museum Of The Weird [Photo Credit: Tina Kolesnik-CC]
King Kong Display [Courtesy/Museum of The Weird]
The Elephant Man [Courtesy/Museum of The Weird]

Wilson has been working at the museum since 2010. She had just moved from Indiana. She had a corporate background and was on her way to a job interview when she saw the Museum Of the Weird and figured she'd stop in. She left her resume. She was soon hired and took over as the GM two months later.

“It's so different here,” she said. “It's very eclectic. I didn't know much about oddities before working here. But the atmosphere…it was very intriguing to me.”

And she wasn't the only one drawn to the museum. The sideshow performers – magicians and natural born oddities – came to the museum. According to Wilson, there's a large community of sideshow performers in the South, especially between Austin and New Orleans. Usually, sideshow performers go on tour. To have an actual job doing their performances is a “rare thing.”

“A lot of the people we have performing now,” said Wilson, “they came in and said, 'I can swallow a sword' or 'I can hammer a nail into my head. Can we work something out?' That's really how it all started.”

With very little information about the Museum Of the Weird online, the museum and shop remains a curiosity, a place of wonder. To fully experience and understand it, one has to see it with their own eyes. The one of a kind place is where people go to experience a feeling of wonderment, to see strange, rare items from all over the world. Maybe the items can be Googled. But it's not the same as seeing it in person…inches away.


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

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