With museum space at a premium, John has turned some beachcombing finds into yard art.
With museum space at a premium, John has turned some beachcombing finds into yard art.

John's Beachcombing Museum

Field review by the editors.

Forks, Washington

"People ask me how many miles I've walked," said John Anderson, owner of John's Beachcombing Museum. "I tell them, 'I don't measure it in miles. I measure it in two new hips, two rebuilt ankles, and a bad back.'"

John and autographed volleyball that floated all the way from Japan.
John and autographed volleyball that floated all the way from Japan.

John is no geriatric hippie plucking pretty seashells from the sand. Known as the world's greatest beachcomber, he's pioneered what he calls "extreme beachcombing," ideally suited to the rugged, rocky, remote shores of northwest Washington State. He hauls what he finds back to his former plumbing repair shop, which he opened as a museum in 2014. John rarely throws anything away, and estimates that in 40+ years he's salvaged over one million items, which fill the museum and spill out into displays and monuments that he's built in the front yard.

John once outfitted his entire family in Nike shoes that floated in from a container ship. He built his garage out of freshly-cut lumber that washed ashore. He has so many toothbrushes that he built a toothbrush tree in the museum. "If you're camping and you forgot your toothbrush," said John, "you can always find one on the beach."

Even though the museum is packed to the rafters, its items are neatly organized and carefully sorted, a habit that John developed with his plumbing tools and supplies. And despite the seaborne origin of everything inside, the museum doesn't have the stale saltwater smell of a beach house. "Rolling around in the surf actually cleans things pretty good," John said. "And I hose everything off."

The center display is labeled,
The center display is labeled, "How to get a head in life."

John's Beachcombing Museum.
Rubicon 1, a competitor for the X-Prize, blew up in August 2004.

John's beachcombing has turned up countless floats and buoys, but also road signs, hard hats, camera bags, boots, gas cans, stuffed animals, flippers, fishing lures, dozens of identical doll heads, bins of cigarette lighters, hockey equipment, the skull of a grey whale, a 16th century anchor chain, a sake bottle with a snake inside, a panel from the Rubicon 1 space probe, and a mammoth tooth that John says is 20 million years old. Up by the ceiling hangs a survival suit, unused, from a fishing boat that sank nearby before any of its doomed crew could put it on.

A small section of the museum is filled with items washed across the Pacific by the 2011 Japanese tsunami, including a volleyball covered with autographs. John traveled to Japan to return as many of the items as he could, but the volleyball remains an enigma. "I searched for two weeks," John said. "I visited a lot of schools, but never did find the owner."

All of this was found by John on a beach.
All of this was found by John on a beach.

Tourists sometimes identify items that have puzzled John. Thousands of little strips of wood were recognized by a visitor as blanks for pencils. Sailors once told John that the museum's torpedo-like relics were actually locator beacons launched from a nuclear submarine (One of John's friends did find a live torpedo on a Hawaiian beach). A dented metal artifact was identified by Boeing as part of a 727 jet engine. "They wanted to confiscate it," said John. "And they wouldn't tell me what plane it came off of."

John's most talked-about find is probably the McCloskey slippers. John was fixing some pipes for a customer, who showed him a slipper he'd found on the beach with the label "Mr. McCloskey." "He said, 'Poor Mr. McCloskey. I wonder what happened to his other slipper?'" A year later and ten miles north, John found the other slipper, with an identical label. Both now hang on the wall of his museum.

John has found so many messages in bottles that they fill a binder.
John has found so many messages in bottles that they fill a binder.

Buoy tower rises from the museum grounds.
Buoy tower rises from the museum grounds.

John has also found his share of messages in bottles, and visitors to the museum can flip through them in a binder. None were from shipwrecked sailors -- many were science projects set adrift by school kids -- and John answers every one that he can.

The museum provides its own message-drop bottle for visitors; once a year John takes the bottled notes out to sea and sets them adrift.

Is there anything that John hasn't found on a beach?

"I've been asked if I've ever found a dead body," said John. He added that the answer is obviously no. "If I did," John said, "I'd have to get a refrigerated display case."

John's Beachcombing Museum

Address:
143 Andersonville Ave., Forks, WA
Directions:
North edge of town, on the west side of US-101. Turn onto Andersonville Ave. (a gravel road) and drive to the tower and museum, on the left.
Hours:
Summer daily 10-5, fewer days off-season. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
360-640-0320
Admission:
Adults $5.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Forks Timber Museum, Loggers MemorialForks Timber Museum, Loggers Memorial, Forks, WA - 2 mi.
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World's Largest Western Red Cedar TreeWorld's Largest Western Red Cedar Tree, Kalaloch, WA - 20 mi.
In the region:
Carved Tree Faces, Port Angeles, WA - 46 mi.

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