One of the first things I did when I moved to Austin was visit 6th Street. 6th Street one of the places that Austin is famous for, after all, and it seemed to be where all the action was. I learned while in Europe that you need to get out and explore any city you move in to if you really want to enjoy it to its fullest. I can take you on a tour to Frankfurt, Germany that would blow your mind, and I am quickly developing a similar knowledge of Austin.
Austin's catch-phrase is "Keep Austin Weird", a tribute to its artsy and liberal-hippy nature in an often overly conservative state. Austin is known for its music, its art, its bat-colony, and is becoming known for film-production. "Keep Austin Weird" has unfortunately been copy-righted and commercialized, and Austin struggles to become more like cities on the coasts, sacrificing much of its unique flavor. A rare few businesses and venues in Austin work hard to truly keep Austin weird.
One of the focal-points of weirdness in Austin is The Lucky Lizard Curios and Gifts.
The Lucky Lizard is not your typical tourist-trap. Its owners focus on things that are off-beat and "spooky". The best expression of this idea in my mind are the comic books and television shows from the 1950s and '60s that focus on monsters and strangeness, like "Tales from the Crypt" or "The Twilight Zone". I have always been drawn to strangeness of this nature; carnival spook-houses, side-shows, tattoo studios. Probably explains why I became a tattoo artist. The Lucky Lizard caters to all of these interests.
When you walk-in, you will find all kinds of weird nick-knacks. They carry a collection of plush animals and matching ceramic figurines, each with a grinning skull for a face. A wide variety of Austin and horror-film inspired t-shirts lines one of the walls of the shop. Jewelry and prints by local artisans dot the sales-floor. They also carry numerous horror-film related toys and memorabilia, particularly related to the old black-and-white classics; Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and The Creature From the Black Lagoon.
And, it has The Museum of the Weird.
The proprietors have assembled a collection of taxidermy oddities, horror-film props, wax-figures, and even a couple of actual mummies. As you walk in, you are greeted by the "Zultan", a fortune-telling machine that was once popular on America's boardwalks and similar to the device featured in the Tom Hanks film Big. The narrow hallway that makes up the bulk of the museum is CRAMMED with odd items and information about those items and the history of the American Sideshow, including a wax figure of P.T. Barnum. You can walk the short hall in a few minutes, or spend an hour reading about the collection and checking out all the exhibits. There is a selection of Bigfoot footprint casts and information about the legendary creature. The walls feature heads of animals born with two-faces or beasts like the famous jackelope. One display case is dedicated solely to deformed animals, such as calf with two-faces and 6 legs and a pig cyclopes.
The first year I went, the hallway was the whole museum, which was more than enough. I have taken my children back at least once a year since, and have made certain that friends visit the museum when they are in town. The second year I visited, The Museum of the Weird was being expanded. It featured a viewing area at the end of the hall where you could see the Egyptian Monitor Lizard for which the shop was named, along with two other little beasties. The proprietors rescued and rehabilitated all of their lizards, and the Egyptian Monitor happily has the run of the place.
My last visit, which was just this month, allowed my daughter and I to tour the completed expansion. We were escorted past the lizard viewing area and up three stories to meet the Egyptian Monitor in person. She was far more interested in getting outside for a little sun than basking in the attention of her fans, but I did get to pet her and ask questions about her, which was awesome (and a privilege I am not certain every visitor gets). Then we were taken into The Museum of the Weird's theater. Here was a small viewing room with chairs facing a stage were horror films are shown on Saturday Nights and where a side-show performer does his set.
These additions were made because The Lucky Lizard and The Museum of the Weird are striving to be more than just another off-beat shop in Austin. They are offering something unique and special to the community, both for fans of strangeness and the artists that create it. Saturday brings you a "family friendly" spook-show, and Sundays has been reserved for a BYOB showing of The Walking Dead television series. Doc Ravencraft is available to perform seances, discuss the bizarre artifacts from the "Cabinet of Curiosities", and provide an entertaining journey into the paranormal. It is an experience that is uniquely Austin, one that should not be missed.
Even the websites are cool. Check them out below, tune into Chris Walden's THE SHADOW HOUR on Wednesday nights, and interject a little strangeness into your world.
412 E. 6th Street
Austin, TX 78701