In the mood for some weird and downright strange sights? Well, if you’re in Austin, there’s plenty to see. From the macabre to the astonishing to the just plain ‘what the heck?’, these locales and landmarks will definitely hit the spot.
Museum of the Weird
If you are fascinated by the unusual and the bizarre, or you are just plain curious, this small storefront “museum” on 6th Street will fill your head with all sorts of crazy images and thoughts. Museum of the Weird (412 E. 6th St., Austin, 512/476-5493, 10am-midnight daily, $8 adults, $5 children) is the only place in the world where you can view up close a mermaid-monkey creature, skeletons, shrunken heads, and lots more creepy stuff.
If you take the tour you can also stroll up to the top floor and watch sideshow performances in a small room. A tattoo-covered performer may swallow a sword or electrocute himself. On the way up the stairs you’ll have the opportunity to swallow a giant Madagascar hissing cockroach, and you can view the room where Johnny Depp stayed when he was in town filming a movie.
If all this isn’t enough, for a couple extra bucks you can see the museum’s most prized treasure: the giant frozen body of a prehistoric, sasquatch man-creature known as the Minnesota Iceman. This man-like creature is frozen in a block of ice inside a specially designed coffin/freezer machine. Peering through the glass at this mangy face brings up all sorts of thoughts from, “is this real?” to “will he come alive if the ice is thawed?” to “this is just plain ridiculous!” Viewing hours for the Iceman are limited, so it’s best to call in advance.
Cathedral of Junk
History will one day refer to our age as the age of waste, and when future archaeologists discover the Cathedral of Junk (4422 Lareina Dr., 512/299-7413), they may think we worshiped the gods of garbage. In the backyard of a small house in South Austin is artist Vince Hannemann’s life work. Here you’ll find over 60 tons of post-market-consumer junk weaved, stacked, stuffed, twisted, and screwed together, all amid overgrown vegetation. The final effect is astonishing. This temple of refuse has been featured in motion pictures such as Spy Kids 3D, and has been the backdrop for top-model photo shoots as well.
The artist didn’t create this masterpiece to express some profound point about our consumer culture of obsolescence, or because he believes in worshiping transcendental refuse. In his own words he did it “because it was kinda cool.” Bravo! The cathedral was nearly scrapped when the city tagged it as a blatant code violation. Luckily the city and the artist figured out how to retrofit the structure to make it safer so it could be preserved. The artist opens the cathedral to the public Saturday and Sunday noon-6pm, and by appointment during the week.
South Austin Museum of Popular Culture
It should come as no surprise that there’s a homespun South Austin Museum of Popular Culture in Austin (1516 S. Lamar Blvd., 512/440-8318, 1pm-6pm Thurs.-Sun., free). The best way to explain this place is by completely dismantling its name. First of all, this DIY museum is really more of a shrine than a museum—a shrine to 1960s and ’70s music. And it’s actually not about pop culture per se, but about the counterculture. The only thing that’s correct in the title is that it is, in fact, in South Austin. Here you can marvel at the incredible world of music from the pioneering age of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. The walls are filled with posters, T-shirts, and memorabilia from this era. For those who don’t think poster art is fine art, the founder of this museum says, “‘Fine’ is a four-letter word. It’s the F-word of the art world.”
When you arrive at this sight you may wonder why an old tree with a plaque on it is worth seeing. Well, this venerable 500-year-old Treaty Oak tree is all about legend, history, and drama that includes religion, truces, chainsaws, poison, and endurance. It is the last survivor of the Council Oaks, a grove of trees that was once a place of religious ceremony for the area’s Comanche and Tonkawa populations. According to legend, it is also the site where Stephen F. Austin signed a boundary treaty with local Native Americans in the 1800s. In the 1920s, when the Council Oaks were being cleared for urban growth, this one ancient tree was saved from a violent death by chainsaw and consecrated a historic U.S. tree by the American Forestry Association.
By most folk the Treaty Oak is remembered not for having witnessed Austin’s history, but for what happened to it in the 1980s when a lovesick lunatic poured lethal amounts of poison on the tree to get back at a lover. Don’t ask why. In the ensuing months Treaty Oak made national headlines as dendrite doctors tried to save the tree. Now about 35 percent of the tree is alive, and Treaty Oak has become a symbol of endurance for Native Americans and Anglos alike.
If you want to see this historic tree there’s no need to make a special trip. Just check it out while you’re eating at Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill. Treaty Oak is on Baylor Street in between 5th and 6th Streets, just west of Lamar Boulevard.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Austin, San Antonio and the Hill Country.