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Battered Skycycle X-2 landed at the bottom of the Snake River Canyon.
Battered Skycycle X-2 landed at the bottom of the Snake River Canyon.

Evel Knievel Museum

Field review by the editors.

Topeka, Kansas

"He was a real-life superhero to a lot of people," said Mike Patterson, co-founder of the Evel Knievel Museum. "People were intrigued by this guy that would go out there and continuously break his bones."

Red-white-blue suit and bike from Evel's jump over 15 vehicles in 1972. He only broke his ankle.
Red-white-blue suit and bike from Evel's jump over 15 vehicles in 1972. He only broke his ankle.

Robert "Evel" Knievel (1938-2007) didn't want to break his bones, of course, but he did anyway, many times, jumping motorcycles over obstacles ranging from a pit of rattlesnakes, to a pile of 50 cars, to a pool filled with live sharks. His daredevil antics ended in 1977 but, Mike said, young kids today still know about Evel. "It's amazing how recognizable his name is even now."

The Evel Knievel Museum opened on May 26, 2017, a collaboration between Evel collector and former professional skateboarder Lathan McKay (who calls Evel "the godfather of extreme sports") and Mike, who added 16,000 square feet and a second floor to his motorcycle dealership to house the collection. Its largest artifact is Big Red, Evel's 63-foot-long Mack Truck mobile home, whose restoration by Mike and his crew spawned the idea for the museum. "Once we had it here, we didn't want it to leave," said Mike, and Lathan agreed that an Evel museum should be built around it.

"Big Red," Evel's home on the road, had its own bar with beer on tap.

Evel Knievel merchandise for kids.
A hero for kids and merchandizing bonanza for toy companies.

"It's the most complete Evel Knievel collection in the world," said Mike. "There's an overwhelming amount of stuff."

Big Red embodied Evel's idea of on-the-road luxury in 1974, with a dressing room, color TV, mobile phone (in a briefcase), and full bar with beer on tap. One of Big Red's crew, quoted in the display, recalled that its custom automatic transmission "was easier for Evel to drive with his messed-up hip." The display also notes that Evel was frequently pulled over by the police, "just so they could get his autograph and look at his truck."

The most famous piece of hardware in the museum is the Skycycle X-2, a rocket-on-wheels in which Evel tried (and failed) to jump the Snake River Canyon. Lathan and Mike found it in Canada in 2016. "It was quite a story, getting the rocket out of Canada," said Mike. He hedged on specifics, but said that, "When you're crossing the border out of Canada with a rocket, don't call it a rocket." The X-2, its nose still battered by impact, sits on Evel's original launch ramp, on dirt brought from the launch site, like sacred earth for a saint's bones.

Bad to the Bones.
Touch the body part to see Evel's x-rays.

Speaking of bones, the museum's Bad to the Bones exhibit encourages visitors to tap various parts of Evel's touch-screen body, linking his injuries to photos and videos of the crashes that caused them, as well as x-rays that show the metal pins that held Evel together. "He jumped 168 times, crashed 19 times," said Mike, who judged that "a pretty good record, but every one of those crashes hurt bad." The museum features an enlarged quote from Evel: "I forgot all the things that I have broke."

For a closer (but not painful) bond with Evel, visitors can try the museum's Plan a Jump interactive wall. You select from a menu of historical Evel motorcycles, ramps, speeds, distances, and obstacles -- Two caged lions? 14 Greyhound buses? -- and see if you survive or crash. And the Jump Experience sits you on an Evel-model motorcycle wearing VR goggles to experience a real daredevil jump over 15 Topeka police SUVs, complete with rushing wind, 360-degree video, and a landing thud. "It doesn't move, but everyone who rides it swears it does," said Mike.

Battered helmet saved Evel's life after a jump crash in 1968. He was in a coma for a month.
Battered helmet saved Evel's life after a jump crash in 1968. He was in a coma for a month.

The museum's oddest display is Fan Mail, a postal bag of 300 letters sent to Evel's hospital room after he broke both arms in his 1977 shark jump. Evel never opened them -- in fact, he found himself in jail shortly thereafter -- and they remained unopened until Mike and Lathan conceived of the exhibit in 2017. "They were from all different types of people," said Mike, "who were absolutely blown away when we told them we'd just read their letters from 40 years ago." How did the museum track them down? "We found a lot of them on Facebook."

Evel Knievel never jumped again after the shark tank crash, and although he tried four times to put a museum together, he never succeeded -- perhaps the worst pain for someone as theatrical and media-savvy as Evel. "We received a letter from his widow," said Mike, "thanking us for what we'd done and saying that Evel would be proud. It was always his dream to have this. Now he's finally got it."

Evel Knievel Museum

2047 SW Topeka Blvd, Topeka, KS
At Historic Harley-Davidson. South side of the city. I-70 exit 363. Drive south on SE Adams St. for three-quarters of a mile. Turn right at the stoplight onto SE 21st St. Drive three-quarters of a mile. You'll see Historic Harley-Davidson on the right, at the corner of 21st St. and SW Topeka Blvd.
Tu-F 10-5, Sa 9-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $15.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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