As the weather finally starts warming up across the country and spring starts to bloom, many of us start thinking about the open road and our seasonal plans to visit theme parks across the nation and beyond. A wise man once said, “It's not the destination, but the journey,” and for many of us who plan to drive across this great land to reach the theme parks of our choice, no truer thought may have ever been put into words.
The road, however, can be a harsh taskmaster. When the miles start to drag and the scenery starts to blur into one monotonous stretch of highway, a distraction from the mundane is called for. Welcome to the wacky world of roadside attractions! You may not find any $100-million, cutting-edge rides in the middle of nowhere on the way to Disney World, but you might experience gravitational vortexes at Secret Mystery Spots. You might marvel at a chainsaw garden or a miniature replica of Stonehenge, or you might walk among giant fiberglass dinosaurs on a prehistoric nature trail. Don't forget to SEE ROCK CITY!
These homegrown attractions often entice us with promises of the strange and the unusual, and back in December while visiting Austin, Texas, I took a tour of an attraction that combines all the roadside curiosities one could imagine into one place: The Museum of the Weird!
Inside the lamp-lit, twisted hallways behind the Lucky Lizard Giftshop at 412 E. 6th Street, I discovered a world of the unexplained. One of the first exhibits you'll encounter is the legend of the Texas Bigfoot in all his 10-foot glory, amid a recreation of his natural habitat. Other monstrous characters lurk in the corners.
You'll see wax figures of Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Phantom of the Opera among others. You'll see displays of infamous sideshow oddities like the Fiji Mermaid and the conjoined circus twins, Chang and Eng, as well as the Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy. You'll learn about the history of magic and witchcraft. Unusual movie props from films like “Gremlins” and “Freaked” are also part of the collection.
After exiting the first part of the museum, you'll find yourself in an area in the back of building that looks like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. In fact, Johnny Depp once lived in the adjacent apartment. You'll climb a winding spiral staircase to the second floor and a room filled with more movie monsters, including a giant bust of King Kong with a life-sized hand perfect for taking photos. This room contains rows of seats for the grand finale: a mini sideshow where you will witness amazing acts of unspeakable skill and questionable taste!
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Steve Busti, co-owner of the Museum of the Weird, for a Theme Park Insider exclusive. Enjoy the behind-the-scenes tour below:
RW: Whose original idea was "Museum of the Weird" and what are the names of the official owners/operators?
MOTW: The Museum of the Weird is owned by Steve & Veronica Busti. Together they opened the gift shop "Lucky Lizard Curios & Gifts" back in 2005 in Austin, Texas. In the beginning, the shop was the museum, but over the next year Steve had started collecting so many weird objects and exhibits that he decided to open the Museum of the Weird (name inspired by Austin's motto "Keep Austin Weird") in the back of the shop.
RW: What was the original inspiration for your attraction?
MOTW: PT Barnum was one of my biggest inspirations; he had created the first "Dime Museum," which in essence is what the Museum of the Weird really is. It's also my homage to all those terrific roadside attractions that used to dot the American landscape, many of which are still around today.
In addition, I was always filled with wonder by the old sideshows that toured around with carnivals back when I was a child. The banners were often times more interesting than the actual exhibits. However, there was one show I saw when I was a young child in the mid-70s that left me in awe. It was a caveman-like monster frozen in a block of ice. It was billed as the "Creature in Ice," but today it is more popularly known as the Minnesota Iceman. To this day there are many who believe this thing was actually real.
Its current whereabouts are unknown. Now wouldn't that be an amazing find for the museum!
RW: Were there any specific TV shows and/or movies you saw growing up that influenced "Museum of the Weird"?
MOTW: Growing up in the 70s of course I was inspired by shows like "In Search Of," especially anything to do with real-life mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, Ghosts, Cryptids…I was fascinated with that. I would check out every book in the library on those subjects.
I was also a huge monster movie buff, and I was also really creeped out by wax figures, which probably explains why I have them in my museum now. I got to see the 3D version of House of Wax in a theater when I was a kid, and even before that the very first movie I saw in a theater probably scarred me for life. Being a big Godzilla fan at the ripe old age of 4, my uncle took me to see Godzilla vs. Megalon in 1974. Unbeknown to me, it was playing a double bill with another movie caller Terror in the Wax Museum. I don't think I had ever seen a really scary movie before that, and I can tell you, that movie scared the crap out of me!
And that one probably prepared me for the following year when I saw Trilogy of Terror on TV. The Zuni Fetish Doll still terrifies me to this day! I even have a replica that I'll be putting in the Museum soon.
RW: Have you ever had any supernatural experiences or encounters yourself?
MOTW: I had my most unforgettable encounter with the supernatural when I was living in England. I had been very, very sick and became bedridden, and I believe I had a Near Death Experience. As I was laying there thinking I was dying, a beautiful woman appeared to me in my bedroom, urging me to get up. She was clear as day, but I only saw her head and shoulders, surrounded by brilliant white light, floating over my bed! Needless to say, I went from being completely unable to move, to literally jumping out of bed and running out of the room, filled with adrenaline!
I am pretty certain our Museum of the Weird is haunted as well! I never had anything paranormal happen in this building, however, until I brought a particular item in to put on display. Ever since then, my employees and I have experienced all sorts of strange happenings. If you come visit, ask us what we believe is haunting us, and we'll show it to you and tell you all the stories!
RW: Why Austin?
MOTW: This is where I live, and I believe it's the coolest city in the US! Also, Austin's motto is "Keep Austin Weird"… my goal is to Make Austin Weirder!
RW: On my visit, we were told some interesting stories about your location. One was that Johnny Depp once lived in the adjacent apartment? Can you tell us about that?
MOTW: In the early 90's Johnny Depp was in Texas filming "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" in nearby towns Manor, Elgin and Lockhart. During that time and after wards he lived in the apartment upstairs from where the Museum of the Weird is now. While here he formed a band with Gibby Hanes, the lead singer of the Butthole Surfers. The band was called P. They played several shows, as well as at the 1993 Austin Music Awards, and put out an album two years later.
RW: Another story was about a recently discovered underground secret passage beneath the building. Can you tell us about that?
MOTW: I can't tell you anything about that… it's a SECRET passageway! But if you take the tour of the museum we might show it to you. :)
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