Washington's Kooky Museums
Category: Seattlepi.com featured stories
You don’t have to travel far for an experience reminiscent of Ripley’s famous Odditoriums. Our region is flush with ‘you have to see it to believe it’ wacky and offbeat museums.
Giant Shoe Museum, Pike Place Market
What it is: A compact, coin-operated museum displaying about 20 giant shoes dating from the 1890s to the 1950s. Oversized footwear, including a 5-foot-long wing tip Oxford, a circa 1930s tennis shoe more than 2 feet long and a 3-foot-long wooden shoe adorned with gold leaf painting, are displayed in three curtained pay-per-view windows, each containing a different museum gallery. How it started: In the 1930s, a Seattle shoemaker met 8-foot-11-inch Robert Wadlow, then the world’s tallest man, and received a pair of Wadlow’s size 37 boots. They were displayed in the shoemaker’s shop window for years, but disappeared in the 1960s when the store shut down. At least that’s the story that has been passed down in his family, says Dan Eskenazi, the shoemaker’s grandson, who, in 1970, went looking for Wadlow’s missing shoes. He didn’t find them, but stumbled across other giant shoes, including one once worn by Wadlow. He opened the Giant Shoe Museum in 1997 in honor of his grandfather and Wadlow. Number of items in collection: 50, with about 20 on permanent display. Favorite or most unusual item: Eskenazi’s favorite is The Colossus, a handmade, 5-foot-long black leather wing tip from the 1920s. What else you should know: For at least a dozen years, the museum has been offering a $1,000 reward for the safe return of Wadlow’s “Giant Shoes of Mystery.” If you’ve got them, now is a great time to turn them in. Coordinates: Pike Place Market (1501 Pike Place, on the “Down Under” level, by Old Seattle Paperworks); 206.623.2870; open daily 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; 25 cents per window.
Washington Banana Museum, Auburn
What it is: A collection of photographs, sculptures, paintings, mass-produced popular culture relics, advertising pieces, ceramics and more—all honoring the banana. How it started: On a 1980 trip to Hawaii (from Ellensburg), Ann Lovell bought a T-shirt from a bar called Anna Bannana’s (“Yes,” says Lovell, “they misspelled banana!”). Her banana-collecting obsession peeled off from there. Why bananas? Lovell says that living in the Pacific Northwest makes her dream of tropical climates. “Something bright and sunny like bananas fit the bill.” Number of items in the collection: More than 4,000. Favorite or most unusual items: Lovell loves the Bakelite figure of dancer Josephine Baker in her signature banana skirt, a porcelain-enamel banana sign from the Fruit Dispatch Company (now Chiquita) and a 4-foot-high banana bass instrument with mother-of-pearl inlays. What else you should know: Lovell, who considers herself a scholar of banana consciousness, keeps most of her collection at home, but maintains a rotating display of about 200 banana-related items at her boyfriend’s antique shop in Auburn, which is called, appropriately, Bananas Antiques. Coordinates: Auburn, Bananas Antiques, 120 E Main St.; 253.804.8041; bananamuseum.com; Tue.–Fri. 10 a.m.–1 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; free.
Museum of Communications, Georgetown
What it is: An extensive collection (formerly The Vintage Telephone Equipment Museum) of operational vintage communications equipment, ranging from telegraphs to modern electronic switching. Displays include teleph