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Museum of the Weird in Austin, TX

In case it somehow isn’t 100% clear to you from the photos that I absolutely, positively loved Austin’s Museum of the Weird…I absolutely, positively loved it. The Museum of the Weird has every classic roadside attraction element:

  • A museum incorporating lots of sensational posters, travel ephemera, movie props, and taxidermy including at least one feejee mermaid
  •  An area with a larger legend surrounding it that you can look at but not photograph
  • Enter and exit via a gift shop

In addition, this museum has another museum built on top of the first one full of classic horror movie icons rendered in wax and your tour guide for the legendary part of the tour you can’t photograph is a man who claims to be a wizard and does a brief cold reading show. You heard me. A mother-flipping wizard. 

But first: The legendary Ice Man. The owner of this museum saw the Minnesota Ice Man as a child when it came around on tour in the 60s, which is not really the sort of tour you see going around anymore. Admittedly, I don’t browse ticket buying sites often but I still don’t think “dead guy in block of ice” has much of a chance if it’s in town the same dates as The Book of Mormon. Regardless, dead guy in a block of ice made a big impression on this child, and he began to collect weird items, like a mere glimpse of the ice man radicalized him to a gothic awakening. In 2013, that same Minnesota Iceman was listed for sale on eBay, and the only way I can explain as to why I didn’t know about this/bid on it was that I was going mildly insane with wedding planning at the time. Otherwise I never would’ve missed a chance to bid on something that had a feature on Unsolved Mysteries

On to the wizard: In the ice man room, the wizard put on a show. He had a man in the group picture a person in his mind while holding a crystal in his hand. He gave me another crystal and told me to vividly picture a place I found special or interesting, real or imaginary, somewhere I would want to go. I chose Egypt because I’m dying to go and have wanted to visit since I was a kid, so I suppose in a way Hatshepsut is my Minnesota Iceman. He had the man and myself write down who or what we were picturing, respectively, fold the paper twice, and hand them to someone else in the audience. She mixed them up until she didn’t know which was which, and then she handed them to someone else, who also shuffled them. Saul Ravencraft (the wizard) took one of the papers and burned it. There was then a whole thing about the man in the group’s person but since that part’s not about me and I don’t know how true or false any of his guesses general statements wizard oracles were, let’s skip to the part that’s about me.

…As I go through my notes, it’s clear to me how this particular wizardry worked but it’s delightful all the same, and if a visit to Egypt does indeed “inspire a very interesting creative work” I’ll be sure to quote the wizard on my book cover.

The British Museum

I could have spent the bulk of forever inside the British Museum. My visit was a foregone conclusion–how could I know that one country spent centuries invading, ruling, and claiming other countries’ treasures for its own, amassing many of them in one place, and not see that collection myself? And even still, knowing this, I did not comprehend the scope of the collection. Even now, I cannot fully comprehend it, and here’s why: the permanent collection at the British Museum comprises over 8 million items. EIGHT MILLION. I can easily comprehend something like eight million dollars in the context of what it could do–namely, in the Seattle area, it could buy you roughly 18 condemned houses at 2016 prices. Fewer, if there’s a bidding war (there will be). Closer to ten now, if that house just outside my neighborhood is any indication, because you’d need the million left over to tear down and haul away the abandoned car and bus lawn stockpile. Digression aside, I have a harder time comprehending eight million items, as objects that take up three dimensional space. As things you could set side by side and contemplate one after another after another after another, and the amount of time it would take to do so. If I spent one second looking at each item in a collection of eight million, it would take me 133,333 minutes to look at everything. 2,222 hours. If I went to the British Museum every single day from open until close, looking at one item per second, with no breaks, it would take me over 40 weeks to view eight million items. I could be impregnated the morning before my first day at the museum and walk out with a full term baby on my last. Except then it would presumably take me a little longer because no pregnant woman is going 7.5 hours (10.5 on Fridays!) without a bathroom break. 

Of course not everything is on display all the time, so I wouldn’t have to take a nine-month sabbatical to personally contemplate each and every item in the British Museum, but even still, the size of the collection on display is nigh-incomprehensible. I spent an entire day inside and still had to be choosy about which exhibits I most wanted to see. Which is a problem when you’re the sort of person who wants to see everything

The case of ants-in-my-pants must-see-it-all grew stronger when immediately after we arrived, Jason decided he needed a snack, so instead of some stupendous historical treasure, the first thing I saw in the British Museum was a woman in the self-serve snack line carefully weighing each and every single millionaire bar on the tray with the tongs to ensure she got the largest piece. That’s a thing I saw. 

Impatience aside, once we finally got into the museum itself, it was hard to understand the scope of the place, the expanse of the building. It contains entire temple facades, nearly half the Parthenon, the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts outside of Egypt, the largest collection of Mesopotamian artifacts outside of Iraq, one of the largest collections of different types of physical currency in the world, and I could continue listing them but my brain is already tired just revisiting some of those places in my head. It would probably take me the better part of nine months to describe all of the astounding, intricate, heartbreaking, thought-provoking things I saw, and I’m already two trips behind on this thing so instead, here are the high points:

Throwing knives

Knife money, do not get confused with throwing knives!

photographed B.H. (because horse)

Here, I learned that even in ancient Egypt, cats were dicks.

As is clearly evident, the ramen noodle hairstyle was popular long before 1998 Justin Timberlake, potentially predating packaged noodles themselves! 

This whole wing of the museum is essentially #housegoals. I’m sure “Library of King George III and given to the British nation by King George IV in the third year of his reign” is a very affordable home furnishing style.

They even make fun of us, their wayward child, on their teacups. Tough love!

You know why I took this photo. You know. If you don’t, look a little more closely.

Do you reckon that baby monitor is particularly valuable?

I was thrilled to see this work by Odilon Redon, as he is one of my favorite artists and I have yet to see very many of his works in person. 

photographed B.H.

All I want for my birthday is this chalice. Maybe a pair so there’s always a clean one ready to go.

Also, I would like a baba yaga pitcher.

I found another Jaime Lannister hand among the collection. 

You also know why I took this photo. Don’t click away before you spot all three! Ding dong, you’re good at this game!

I estimate I was able to see perhaps half of the rooms of the museum before having to hustle out so as not to have my coat confiscated by coat check. Which is probably for the best, as it kept me from actively trying to furnish my home via the exceptional gift shop. I couldn’t help but notice they didn’t sell any replicas of those wind chimes, though.

The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati

I say I’m not the biggest fan of advertisements, and sometimes I even mean it. I consider Times Square to be the closest thing we have to hell on Earth, and when I learned that Piccadilly Circus was much the same, I knew what area of town I wouldn’t want to stay in on my trip to London.

I despise all the billboards on the large road nearest my home, and I especially loathe the digital one that blasts blinding light into the low income apartments across the street. (Seriously guys, this is a suburb, not Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, no one needs an advertisement for a weed whacker blazing into their bedroom window at 4am.)

I sent a dude packing who wanted to advertise his business in my front yard with not so much as a “good day, sir”. I listen to a lot of NPR because then I don’t have to hear about my “friend in the diamond business” like I would on other radio stations. I have yet to take money from a single business to put any form of ad in front of your eyeballs, beloved readers*.

But I’m also a shocking hypocrite–stick me in a room with old timey neon lights and I go all doe-eyed with delight. And what the hell is my blog even about if not monuments erected as a form of advertisement? See? Hypocrite. So it’s really no wonder that when I got to Ohio, I shoved my in-laws into a rental car and dragged everyone to Cincinnati to visit the American Sign Museum. 

The American Sign Museum opened in 2005, the brainchild of Tod Swormstedt, of the sign industry magazine baron** Swormstedts. Its purpose is to preserve and display (you guessed it) signs, and they must be doing a bang-up job as they outgrew their first location and moved to this new location in 2012. Even at this new location, they’re only displaying a small percentage of their overall collection, and they’re looking to raise the roof and double the museum’s size in the future. I honestly wish I could tell you more, but there isn’t a ton in the way of context in this museum. I can tell you that while I was there, they blocked off the whole back room for an interview with/photoshoot of a Kroger executive, and part of me really, really wanted to play reporter and ask him what those brown lumps were in my brand new non-expired Kroger Brand heavy cream, but a bigger part of me didn’t want to be dragged off the property. 

All those signs sure are pretty, though.

You can hardly read it here, but that door purports to lead to “funtown”. Not to judge a funtown by its door, but…run, children. Run.

Every single time I see an indoor faux streetscape, I think of House on the Rock. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. 

The fish in the blender is obviously my favorite, because a fish smoothie sounds like a nom or vom in the making.

I’m 99.99999% sure that the person in this photo *is* Sign Industry Magazine Baron Tod Swormstedt. I literally was not even going to include this photo in the post until I did a triple-take whilst perusing their website. If this was a professional-person blog, this caption would read something like “above: Tod Swormstedt working in his shop at Neonworks of Cincinnati”. If it was indeed Tod Swormstedt. And also if they managed to take a photo that didn’t completely obscure his eyes.

That feels less like an ad, and more like a threat, just saying.


*Not for lack of trying, and I did post that one thing one time but those people got weird and I took it down, not just because they got weird but also because they didn’t pay me, which, to me,  feels like a really important part of the whole buying an advertisement scenario.

**I mean, yes, they own Signs of the Times but I honestly just don’t even know what qualifies one for a non-nobility barony honorific