A Visit to the Museum of the Weird

Many Austinites have adopted the unofficial slogan “Keep Austin Weird”, found on bumper stickers and t-shirts, a tribute to Austin’s tradition as a hippie refuge and its current status as a hipster haven, with more tattoo parlors per capita than anywhere but Bangkok and nightclubs on every corner.

It’s not surprising that Austin’s sixth-street nightclub district has become home to the “Museum of the Weird” which features relics and curiosities from sideshows from all over the world. It was inevitable that the kids would want to go there, given their fascination with the bizarre.

The entrance to the museum goes through the gift store, where the first thing which caught my eye was the set of sideshow banners on the back wall painted in the style of Bobby Rawls, displaying previews of wonders to come like the Mysterious Fortune Teller and the Fejee Mermaid. Posters in a similar style were featured throughout the museum advertising some of the exhibits which they have collected. If you’re a fan of sideshow poster art, the collection of original works here is well worth the price of admission, but if you want the whole sideshow experience there is so much more…

The exhibits were interesting. Very much a cross-section of contemporary sideshow fare. Mummies and taxidermied oddities of nature, some of them real and some of them likely faked. I didn’t find the furry trout at all convincing, but the Fejee Mermaid which looked like a two-foot tall version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon was a very well executed example of the pickled mermaid sub-genre of oddities. They had very clearly gone to some lengths to acquire a good variety of items.

The star of the show (for a small extra price) was the famous “Minnesota Iceman” a frozen prehistoric man of unknown origins either found in Minnesota or acquired from a huckster in Minnesota who bought him from somewhere else. Since he was frozen in a block of ice of presumably glacial origins I’d go with the latter theory. Whether he was real or a clever bit of sculpture remains to be determined as no owner has ever allowed him to be x-rayed or analyzed genetically. Being frozen in a block of ice does a lovely job of obscuring any artistic shortcomings and adding an element of mystery. There are also some interesting movie props on display.

The final feature of the tour is a live performance. I understand that it is different for every tour, with a firebreathing woman and a stage magician among the performers. We got a very nice fellow with deformed arms who did tricks with electricity, passing house current through his body and lighting light bulbs with it. Much fun for the kids.

This is the second best museum of this sort which I’ve been to, and the other was the Museum of Oddities at Jamaica Inn in Devon, and it has been closed down and the remarkable pieces sold off. Overall the Museum of the Weird is well worth a visit if you’re in Austin.

in: Design, Found Art, Posters · tagged: , , ,

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