Here's a peek at some of our curiosities...

Artizan Military Band Organ

Go ahead drop some change into our military band organ…and step back!  The full, brass-band blast of the mechanized music machine was designed to be LOUD.  The sound had to be heard over the noise of a circus, carousel, carnival, or roller skating rink. 

Why a military band?

John Philip Sousa, America’s “March King,“ made military band music so immensely popular that by the turn of the twentieth century, nearly every small town boasted a band of its own.  The craze had not cooled by the 1920s, when our organ was built by Artizan Factories, Inc.  The advent of amplified music coupled with the Great Depression signaled the end of the band organ’s day in the sun.  But you can still tap your toes to the sounds of yesteryear just out-side our shop (in July of 2015).




Black Bart

The One-Armed Bandit

Can an outlaw mend his thieving ways?  As Black Bart, the One-Armed Bandit, can attest, it ain’t easy.  Once upon a time Bart’s hand-carved, hand-painted wooden figure enclosed a full functioning slot machine.  He robbed many hapless citizens of their hard-earned cash. 



Then came the day when Black Bart realized he could no longer live the life of a criminal.  He had a change of heart, and came to work at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.  His steely-eyed, masked face still startles visitors, but they know that though he may look fierce, deep inside he’s an honest guy.


Black Bart arrested!

Owner Andy James was shocked one morning in 1984 when several sober-faced police officers presented him with a warrant for Black Bart’s arrest.  After all, Bart’s desperado days as a (literal) one-armed bandit ended the moment his slot-machine innards were altered to dispense souvenir coins.  He’s been a law-abiding citizen ever since.  Andy vouched for Bart’s innocence in vain.  The officers escorted the former bad man off the premises on orders from the state Gambling Commission.  The real culprit was an antiquated law that insisted “once a gambling device, always a gambling device”…regardless of how well it had been “reformed.”  But it takes more than one raid to bring down the James gang.  Bart was soon cleared of all charges and resumed his customary place up front as a greeter. 





Will you meet a tall, dark stranger?  Is love in the cards for you?  Will you be wealthy beyond your wildest dreams?  Ask Estrella, the Gypsy Fortune Teller!  Cross her palm with silver and she’ll look into your future.

You might say that Estrella was born to share the wisdom of the ages, She is one of only a few fortune tellers created almost 30 years ago by the American Amusement Company of San Pedro, California, and she is a woman of quality.  Her rich satin clothing is hand-sewn.  Her jewelry, accessories and tarot cards were carefully selected to evoke the vintage arcade fortune tellers which first appeared after 1912.  She is housed in an oversized booth constructed of solid oak.

Present her with a few coins, and she comes to life.  Here chest rises and falls as she breathes.  Bending gracefully, she moves her hands over the cards, her green eyes searching for the omens and signs of fate.  Her gold necklace glitters as she inclines her head.  When her reading is complete, she sends you away with a keepsake, one of 21 different cards, each foretelling a different destiny. 

What does your future hold in store?   Estrella knows.



Fleas in dresses

For over two centuries, the delicate art of dressing fleas in tiny costumes flourished in Guanajuato, Mexico.  Known as plugas vestidas, these individual insect characters were accessorized with shoes, hats, belts...even infinitesimal loaves of bread.  Distinguished, elegantly attired fleas could be purchased at the shop into the 1930s, before the tradition eventually faded away and became a lost art. 



Four Legged Hen

From England comes a relative success story in the world of poultry.  Reared by Mr. S. Earl, a butcher of High Street, Steyning (south of London, England), this fine hen lived a long and happy life of seven years.  She was even know to have laid several eggs.  Though her extra legs were no encumbrance to her in her daily life, they eventually brought about her demise in 1908 when she became entangled in the wire netting of here enclosure and expired.  She then came to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop by way of Walter Potter’s Museum of Curiosity in Cornwall (established in 1860).  Our gallant hen had had the honor of being preserved by Mr. Potter, personally.

Want to know more?




 Freak pig

It takes a lot to make a piglet.  Hundreds of thousands of proteins go into the development of a complex life form, so many that biologists have given them bizarre nicknames to keep them all straight.  For instance, the protein responsible for telling an embryo in the womb where one eye begins and the other leaves off is called "sonic hedgehog."  This little Duroc-breed piggy will never go to market because of an overdose of sonic hedgehog...resulting in eight legs, three eyes and three mouths, two tails, two noses, and two ears.  It was born one of a litter of 17 on Alfred Carey's ranch in East Selah, Washington in 1944.



(Shrunken) Heads 

Because the Jivaro group of tribes ferociously guarded their privacy well into the twentieth century, not much was known of them in the world beyond the Amazon basin of Ecuador and Peru.  Early travelers to the region found the Jivaro’s poorly understood practice of headhunting fascinating and eagerly sought to bring home souvenirs.   Beginning in the 1870s, the Jivaro produced imitations made of monkey, sloth and goat skin that they created exclusively for trade.  Non-native taxidermists soon go in the act and peppered the market with counterfeit heads which were procured from unclaimed individuals grabbed from morgues under false pretenses.  Though genuine examples exist, they are extremely rare. 

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop’s collection of seven heads came by way of the famous Heye Foundation in New York, shortly before the Peruvian and Ecuadorian governments joined forces to put an stop to the traffic in human heads. 

Keep your head!

Over the past century we have learned more about the Jivaro, including some of the complexities of the head-shrinking ritual.  The head was called a tsantsa, and it served not only as a war trophy, but as a magical talisman and a kind of spiritual insurance.  The main purpose of taking a warrior’s head was to possess is soul, and shrinking that head destroyed the dead man’s ability to exact vengeance his killer.  Once, the head was shrunken and an elaborate series of feasts and rituals was completed, the head had fulfilled its function. 



X The Unknown

Some call it "The Mermaid." Some call it "The Thing." Some call it "It." But everyone calls it creepy! This fearsome creature has been hanging in the dark rafters of the shop for almost a century, its clawed hands frozen in the act of swimming. Daddy Standley declared that he received it from a fisherman named Smith, who shot it at the beginning of the twentieth century off the shores of Duckabush, Washington. According to Standley, capturing the creature traumatized Smith because it looked so human. "The poor fellow almost broke down," Standley was quoted in a story published on August 24, 1923 in The Seattle Post Intelligencer. "He tells me it was years before he got over it. He never killed another."

The only other specimens known to exist hung in the Cliff House in San Francisco, a curio shop in Banff, Canada, and at Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museums.




 Origami Dollars 

It all began innocently enough.  In 1988 the owners of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop went to a crafts fair and saw a tuxedo shirt made of seven cleverly folded one-dollar bills.  They thought it might be an interesting addition to the shop, so they purchased it and slipped it under the glass counter of a display case.  Soon after, the donations began.  “Have you seen this one?” asked visitor after visitor, as each pulled out his or her wallet and began carefully folding a dollar bill.  Companions might tap their feet and consult their watches in vain as their friends became lost in time, transforming a bill into a butterfly, a heart, a ring, a puppy, a camel...  The shop put the bills on display and they’ve been multiplying ever since.  So when a visitor asks now, “Have you seen this one?” the answer might well be “Yes!”



Who is Sylvester?  Legends abound.  He was a cowpoke who got drunk, passed out in the Arizona sun, died there and double-crossed by his guide and left for dead in the desert.  He was John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.  He was a Wild West desperado shot off his horse, stripped and discovered in a sand dune by two wandering riders in the Gila Desert of 1895.  We don’t know for sure…and he isn’t talking.

In some ways, his afterlife is even more colorful.  He was exhibited at Seattle’s Alaska Yukon Exposition of 1909 and at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915.  He’s toured with sideshows and carnivals.  He even ended up as a sofa-well, in a sofa-as the punch-line to a practical joke.  (The dentist who purchased him for $35 thought it would be great fun to slip him under a false bottom he built under the cushions of his sofa, then show his guests what they’d been sitting on.)

It’s not that we haven’t tried to learn about him.  Subjected to the intense gaze of scientific inquiry, the mummy has been x-rayed and has endured several thousand MR and CT scans collected as recently as 2005.  These have shown that all his internal organs, including his brain and delicate optic nerves, are present.  Jerry Conlogue, a member of the examining team, was moved to say that Sylvester “is the best-preserved mummy we have studied.”  Might have something to do with the fact that the body is infused with arsenic, an antique yet effective preservative.

But there’s just so far science can go.  X-rays of his bones may show he probably didn’t dig ditches for a living, but who is he?  Who is Sylvester?


What we know about Sylvester

* Age at death:  35-40 years old

* Current weight: 137 pounds

* Weight at death:  240 pounds, approximately

* Probably at least chubby, if not fat;  “wet” looking areas of body are exuded lipids       (fats)

* Body preserved with arsenic, process in use since Civil War

* Skeleton indicates he was not a laborer

* Gunshot blast didn’t kill him.  Steel pellets did not penetrate scalp, though he was shot  from fairly close range.  They are completely healed over, probably several years before  death.  For some reason, he never sought medical attention.

* MRI and CT images collected November 19, 2005 show all internal organs preserved at two-thirds original size




There are dry martinis and dry books, dry toast, dry eyes and dry runs.  But these are nothing to the intensely dry conditions in the highlands of Central America where “Sylvia” was buried in the early part of the nineteenth century.  Probably a Spanish immigrant, it is thought she succumbed to tuberculosis in her early thirties.  Over time, her body dried naturally and so thoroughly that though she is five feet tall, she weighs only 20 pounds.



Walrus skull with three tusks

I guess it wasn’t enough for this walrus to lug around the typical pair of three-foot tusks of the average adult male.  No, he had to get fancy, and add another one!  Our specimen was featured in Robert Ripley’s Believe It or Not! column in 1937.  Since the status of an adult male depends on these enormous appendages, this walrus may have been king of the beach. 

You can tell a lot about a walrus form its tusks.  If they are slender and grow no longer than two feet, the animal in question is probably a female.  Longer than that, and it’s a male.  If you inspect a cross-section of the tusk (which is nothing but an extra-long tooth) you can count the rings of growth to determine the animal’s age…just like a tree. 


-written by Peg Boettcher



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