Jake the Alligator Man.
Jake the Alligator Man.

Marsh's Free Museum

Field review by the editors.

Long Beach, Washington

Jake the Alligator Man is still the star at Marsh's Free Museum, an enduring attraction scant yards from the beach on the town's main thoroughfare. It's a "free museum" in the successful tradition of tourist stops that mix the free part with plenty of purchasing opportunities. Marsh's is a large souvenir and gift shop, jammed-to-the-rafters with displays of priceless oddities, antiques and sideshow remnants.

If you're wondering, Jake the Alligator Man isn't alive, though some swear they remember seeing him perform in a traveling carnival, or believe the tale that he was a valet in a New Orleans brothel. Photos of Jake have appeared in tabloids, with shrieking headlines about swamp mutations and Florida monster attacks.

Display at Marsh's Free Museum.

Jake's home is a glass case near a row of vintage arcade machines. He has the head and torso of a human and the lower body and tail of an alligator. His skin and scales are blackened and dried out, like a steak left on the barbecue too long; his teeth sharpened points, his eyes sockets are slits, and his hands are withered and claw-like. He looks great on postcards.

Wellington Marsh Sr. started seriously collecting curiosities when he moved to Long Beach in 1935 and opened a tavern (The current owners, Wellington's granddaughters, trace the free museum's roots back to 1921, when the family started a candy shop and ice cream stand).

Alligator Man on the Roof.

On a vacation in Florida in 1944, Wellington saw how souvenir shell shops flourished. He decided that his establishment on the Pacific Ocean could do the same, even though local shells were reduced to broken bits by the surf. He imported shells for sale and rare shells to display as part of the museum. Wellington died in 1977, but today the family-owned business continues to give customers a free, tiny shell glued to a card. They hand out more than one million a year.

Jake has been here since 1965. He was originally part of a collection at Whitney's Museum in San Francisco. Marian Marsh, Wellington's wife, spotted Jake at an antique shop. The Marsh's bought the future star of their attraction for $750.

Replica Jakes look down on the parking lot like lazy gargoyles from the roof of the building Marsh's Free Museum moved to in 1972, across the street from its original location next to the World's Largest Frying Pan.

Eight legs, one head.
Eight legs, one head.

Inside, you will gawk at a variety of delights:

  • An authentic shrunken head from Jivaro Indians in South America.
  • "Mary Lou," a complete human skeleton discovered in someone's closet in Aberdeen.
  • A cast iron sausage stuffer.
  • Wyoming Werewolf: a cleverly modified deer butt. "Captured Dec 12 1976, Afton Wy."
  • "This baby lamb has eight legs and one head," advises a sign, saving you the effort of counting yourself. Purchased by Wellington Sr. in the 1940s, it rounds out a barnyard of horror that includes a cyclops lamb and a two-headed calf.
  • A variety of mechanical peep shows and Test-Your-Love-Power coin op machines.
  • Rare music players, such as the Seaburg H Model Solo Orchestrion, an automated contraption of instruments in a wall-sized cabinet.
  • "Morris the Cat." Named after the TV pet food commercial feline, Morris was the store's beloved pet until he died. Then he became the store's beloved stuffed pet.

Morris the Cat.
Morris the Stuffed Cat.

There are many other items to distract, including the World's Largest Collection of Glass Fishing Balls.

Current owners, cousins Amanda Marsh and Shannon Ahern, have removed some of the ancient clutter from the shop, and are working to get all of its vintage mechanical contraptions working again. We recommend that visitors stay focused, and find Jake the Alligator Man first. He was against the back wall to the right of the cash registers, when we last visited, next to a display of news clippings.

Marsh's Free Museum

Address:
409 Pacific Ave., Long Beach, WA
Directions:
Along the main drag. Rooftop alligator men should be visible.
Hours:
Su-Th 10-5, F-Sa 10-6 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
360-642-2188
Admission:
Free.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

World's Largest ChopsticksWorld's Largest Chopsticks, Long Beach, WA - < 1 mi.
World's Largest Spitting ClamWorld's Largest Spitting Clam, Long Beach, WA - < 1 mi.
World's Largest Frying PanWorld's Largest Frying Pan, Long Beach, WA - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria, OR - 16 mi.

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