Peculiarium.
Moody lighting and weird things in the wall: welcome to the Peculiarium.

Freakybuttrue Peculiarium

Field review by the editors.

Portland, Oregon

In 2010 artists Lisa Freeman and Mike Wellins wanted to open a food truck. "People would ask us, 'What's your business plan?'" said Mike. "We had no plan, of course."

Sit on Krampus's lap year-round.
Sit on Krampus's lap year-round.

"We kept thinking about how to design the food truck, how to decorate it," said Lisa. "And then," said Mike, "we thought, 'Wow, we're spending a lot of time talking about how the truck will look, not about the food.'" "And we realized," said Lisa, "that we didn't like the idea of spending all day in a place with no bathrooms."

So Mike and Lisa dumped the food truck idea and became the self-described ringleaders of the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium, a brick-and-mortar tourist attraction with a 10-foot-tall Bigfoot and indoor plumbing. It opened in April 2011.

Vince and visitor at the wheel of the Peculiarium golf cart.
Vince and visitor at the wheel of the Peculiarium golf cart.

Unlike other urban odditoriums, the Peculiarium is not just a storefront with some weird junk in a display case. It's a true museum (or anti-museum, as Mike defines it) where everything is either made or modified by the warped brains of Lisa, Mike, and a supporting cast of like-minded artists -- all who share a perhaps-unhealthy passion for weird science, urban legends, and cryptozoology. "It's a chill place, not a scary place," said Mike. Signs caution visitors, "We promise nothing," and, "Unattended children will be fed to Krampus."

Mary Reeser's chair and feet.
Mary Reeser's chair and feet.

Krampus, the abominable anti-Santa, sits on a throne where visitors can pose on his lap for snapshots. Lisa and Mike at first pictured him as a seasonal display, but visitors liked Krampus so much that he's been kept year-round. Other large photo-friendly exhibits, such as a "cliffhanger" skyscraper parapet and a tables-turned alien autopsy, are neatly tucked into the space. "We pack it in here," said Mike.

Peephole displays beckon the curious, and artifacts have helpful descriptions for those who like a good backstory. There's a merman named Derek and a murderous ventriloquist dummy named Sparky (strapped into an electric chair). A sex kit distributed by the Rajneesh sits next to a display of insects such as "CIA Bug" and "Button Fly" ("A famous bug lady came in here and loved it," said Mike). A 16th century book is open to Nostradamus's recipe for chocolate cake. A reliquary enshrines the head of Monsignor Novelo, "The patron saint of keeping one's skull out of a novelty shop."

A chair with a glowing burn-hole is a tribute to human combustible Mary Reeser, while a rotary phone on a pedestal is offered as an instructive interactive historical display. "This is how phone calls used to be made," reads an accompanying sign. "Give it a try, if you can stand the pain."

Potions for sale, and also bottled human souls in hay-lined boxes.
Potions for sale, and also bottled human souls in hay-lined boxes.

The Peculiarium confessional -- a locked box with a pen and slips of paper for contributions -- has been the attraction's most successful visitor-participation project. "Some confessions are delightful and some are downright creepy," said Lisa. "I have read things that I will never be able forget," said Mike.

Plumbing problems in the Dollhouse of Horrors.
Plumbing problems in the Dollhouse of Horrors.

Walls are hung with mass-produced landscapes and still lifes that have been deftly enhanced with painted-on space monsters, zombies, and giant robots. Mike calls this NERC (Non-Elective Retroactive Collaboration) art, and you can buy prints of your favorites at the Peculiarium -- "Jetpack Bunnies," "Machine Gun Bigfoot," etc. -- as well as human souls in bottles, and apothecary nostrums such as Anti-Hipster Powder and Liquid Hobo Toe Jam.

One of Mike's most elaborate NERCs, The Haunted Dollhouse, began as a normal dollhouse that Mike found at a yard sale. "The woman said her daughter didn't like it," Mike recalled, "because she kept hearing voices in it." Inspired, Mike remade the dollhouse into a house of horrors, featuring a tiny man who's been stabbed with flatware, and a woman unsuccessfully fighting a large tentacle that's trying to drag her down the toilet.

The Peculiarium Bigfoot has concrete feet and a modesty flap for those who dare to lift it. "I can't even count the number of people who've come in here with personal Bigfoot stories," said Lisa. "'He's not that tall,'" one visitor told her, "'but you got his face right.'" Outsiders feel at ease in the Peculiarium, perhaps encouraged by its "Dogs and decent costumes get in free" sign. "One woman told me that someone had stolen her internal organs," Mike recalled. "I said, 'Lady, I don't know how you could be talking to me without lungs.'"

Autopsy photo op.
Tables-turned "alien autopsy" is a popular Peculiarium photo-op.

The Peculiarium was closed for 17 months during the 2020-2021 pandemic, but its artists kept busy creating new displays, and the attraction reopened in July 2021. "As long as we're kicking, we're not done for," said Mike, a sentiment worthy of any NERC zombie. Lisa said that she's been touched by the outpouring of well-wishes since the Peculiarium again opened to the public. "When we get this kind of joy, of course we're not gonna quit," she said. "It's too much fun."

Freakybuttrue Peculiarium

Address:
2234 NW Thurman St., Portland, OR
Directions:
On NW Thurman between NW 23rd and 22nd. Northwest side of the city. I-405 exit 3 toward US Hwy 30 W. Immediately take the Vaughn St. exit, then immediately turn left onto NW 23rd Ave, then take the first left onto NW Thurman St. The Peculiarium will be a half-block on the right (south) side, in the pink building.
Hours:
W-M 11-7 (closed Tu) (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
503-227-3164
Admission:
Adults $5
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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