Steve Busti, Museum of the Weird owner.
Steve Busti at the Museum of the Weird.

Museum of the Weird

Field review by the editors.

Austin, Texas

"Keep Austin Weird" is the long-promoted slogan for a community that hardly needs encouragement to hang out in the deep end of the freak pool. Still, the Museum of the Weird does its part by delivering a potent dose of quirk to the curious along Austin's main tourist drag.

Cyclops general and Feejee Mermaid.
Cyclops general and Feejee Mermaid.

The museum, nestled within the Lucky Lizard curio shop, has an eclectic array of monsters and freaky hoo-ha, from a stuffed cyclops pig to a notorious frozen cave man. Owner Steve Busti created the store and collection with his wife Veronica, reflecting his lifelong fascination with the bizarre (Steve also owns Austin's SFanthor wax museum).

"We opened the Lucky Lizard in 2005," Steve said. "It was a combination of both of our interests. The museum started as the gift store, with weird items displayed but also for sale. We realized people were interested in just looking at the oddities we sold -- we also didn't want to part with some of them. We had two pet lizards in the back of the original store, and people would come in to look at them. They'd not buy anything and leave, and return with friends to look, and still not buy anything."

Chang and Eng and other curiosities.
Chang and Eng and other curiosities.

"I jokingly said to my wife 'we should charge admission for this,' and then the light bulb went on that all the stuff in the store people looked at could be part of a little roadside attraction."

Steve expanded into a large area in the back of the store. "Over the last decade I've been searching for the most unusual items I can add. I've tried to find as many real, authentic oddities as possible." As artifacts were added, Steve realized there was still a place for the sideshow gaffes and implausible items. "I didn't want to take the fake stuff out, because I want people to think, to wonder."

Two-headed calf.
Two-headed calf.

The collection is presented in a series of hallways and small rooms with crowded glass cases. Glaring out from one are heads shrunken by the dreaded Jivaro Indians of the Amazon jungle. There's a 3,000 year old mummy, and a replica skull of a Texan Bigfoot. Nearby is dried fruit from a tree that only produces fruit in the shape of a woman spirit who annoyed a wise man in India.

The museum gives a nod to classic sideshow celebrities, with dummies of P.T. Barnum, the Elephant Man, and siamese twins Chang and Eng.

In that vein, Steve displays a two-headed calf. But he is especially proud of his new "Easter Miracle Calf," born on a Easter Sunday 2014 with two heads. "When they found it, it was already dead. Ripley's didn't want it, but I thought I could try something different..." Steve describes a careful process -- all captured on video for museum playback -- of stripping the skeleton, making molds, and articulating the freak skeleton. When the project is done, he'll have his original 2-headed calf, and two versions of the new two-headed calf. And a looping video.

Steve isn't invested in oddities for the laughs. "I'm very open minded," he said. "I believe there's some truth behind these mysteries. Something that we don't yet understand, that scientists won't admit." Yes, those stubborn scientists....

Cursed!

Lucky Lizard sign.

Speaking of science, we had to ask. Is anything cursed? Steve's face lit up. "A few things, actually"

Curse No. #1: Fertility Statues

A sickly green light illuminates a pair of African fertility statues (a thoughtful customer brought in the "man" statue for Steve's "woman"). If you're a woman trying to get pregnant, you touch it. Steve and his wife go to a Catholic church. "A girl at church told Veronica that her friend had touched the statue on a dare, thinking it was a big joke. She wasn't trying to get pregnant, but then a few weeks later she did get pregnant. So we warn people not to touch the statues."

Curse No. #2: Never Ever Ever Open This Box

Inside a locked glass cabinet is a small tarnished box secured with a padlock. "I found it in a shop. It had a note to employees: 'Never ever ever open this box.' An older employee told me it was not for sale, and it should never be opened. I came back a second time, and a younger employee also told me it wasn't for sale, but I said 'C'mon everything's for sale here.' So he did sell it to me. But then he cautioned me to never ever open the box."

The Cursed Box.
The Cursed Box.

"I kinda wanted it for my wife, and as soon as I brought it back, she wanted to open it. I ended up having to lock it inside there, so my wife won't get to it."

Haunted!

The Museum of the Weird is haunted. "My manager Danielle almost quit after she saw a figure peeking around the corner." Then she watched as a doorknob turned on its own in the empty museum.

Maybe it's the skeleton in the corner coffin, which Steve feels "is trying to communicate." Steve said one day "a custom-made skeleton light switch, La Muerte, and two other Mexican art light switches disappeared off of a shelf. We thought they'd been shoplifted. But then my wife found La Muerte buried under fake snow in a Christmas display up front. We put the switch back up on the shelf, and the next day, the other two missing switches reappeared on the shelf. No explanation."

Steve Busti and the restless skeleton.
Steve Busti and the restless skeleton.

Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice. Beetle....

"I get goose bumps when I talk about that skeleton. Maybe it wants to be buried or something." According to Steve, a visiting psychic also picked up "an energy" pouring off the skeleton.

Near the back of the Museum of the Weird, there's a small courtyard open to the sky. The building dates from 1872, and has its own mysteries. A wooden hatch in the floor intrigued Steve, so two years ago he pried it open and started excavating dirt and stone. Austin was built on top of a lot of old tunnels, and the building next door was a brothel. It's slow going, but Steve is optimistic.

Minnesota Ice Man

The crown jewel of the Museum of the Weird is kept locked up in a large chamber. In a refrigerated sarcophagus, visitors are invited to look down into the contorted face of the frozen Minnesota Ice Man. It's a sideshow spectacular that Steve recalled seeing as a child; he finally tracked it down and made it his own. He retells the story with glee, then invites visitors to take a peek (but no photos).

Professional Human Oddity

Juan Martinez, professional human oddity, drives nails into his head.
Juan Martinez, professional human oddity, drives nails into his head.

The Museum of the Weird isn't quite done with us yet. We sit down in a small theater (where a giant King Kong photo op torso looms from the jungle-covered back wall). A "professional human oddity" appears on a small stage. Juan Martinez is an Austin performer and collector of curiosities who promises to give us a taste of the time-honored traditions of the sideshow. He doesn't disappoint, clamping his tongue in a mouse trap, driving nails into his nostrils, and swallowing a sword that's pulled out by an 80-year-old woman from the audience. Was it crazy dangerous? Remarkably safe?

Steve sees it as part of his overall desired effect. "You go in, you're presented with these things, it's up to you to decide what is real? What isn't? Are you a skeptic, or a believer? The Museum of the Weird probably isn't going to change your mind, but it may enhance your opinions."

Also see: Curse of the Minnesota Ice Man

Museum of the Weird

Lucky Lizard Curios & Gifts

Address:
412 E. 6th St., Austin, TX
Directions:
Lucky Lizard Curios & Gifts. North side of Sixth St. between Trinity and Neches Sts.
Hours:
M-Th 11 am - 11 pm, F 11 am - Midnight, Sa 10 am - Midnight, Su 12 pm - 10 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
512-476-5493
Admission:
Museum: $12 Adults, $7 under 8
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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November 22, 2017

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