Growing up, I lived a couple hours north of Seattle.  While that doesn’t seem very far of a drive by today’s standards, back then, the trip involved a great deal of logistical planning, and was one my family took only a few times a year.

A couple of favorite places that we would go included the Woodland Park Zoo, the Museum of History and Industry, and to the Waterfront, with dinner at Ivar’s Acres of Clams.  We usually managed, after pleas from us kids, to find time to visit Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.

The shop was compelling in an odd, freak-show kind of way.  Perfect for kids in that pre-teen age bracket.  It had been there forever, we thought, and its wear and tear made it comfortable and appealing.  The store has actually been there for over 107 years, so as kids we weren’t too wrong about its history and condition.

Today, the same pre-teen faces browse the store, looking at the same weird stuff that we did.  Where did it all this weird stuff come from?  And why is it still so popular?

There’s a story behind the store, just as there’s a story behind the items in the store, and at the heart of it all is a man named Joseph Standley.  As a third grader, he won a prize for having the neatest desk.  The prize was a book about the wonders of nature, and it was to fuel an insatiable curiosity in the youngster.  Joseph began “collecting,” and became a serious student of ethnology

As a young man Joseph owned and operated a grocery store in Denver, and began bringing his “collections” into the store for his customers to view and enjoy.  After relocating to Seattle in 1899, Joseph turned his avocation into his vocation, and opened a small curio shop.  About a year later Ye Olde Curiosity Shop was born. 

Since its opening, the store has occupied a number of different locations, but has always called Seattle’s waterfront, home.  It is currently located at Pier 54, right next door to Ivar’s Acres of Clams (1001 Alaskan Way).  Ye Olde Curiosity Shop is both a museum, with a permanent collection of oddities to view, and a store, with retail sales in-store as well as online.  It is open Sunday – Thursday, 10 am – 6 pm, Friday-Saturday 9 am-9 pm.  Extended summer hours of 9 am-9:30 pm daily.  There is no admission charge.

What’s in the shop?  I know you’re wondering what kind of weird stuff that I’m talking about.  Here are some of the things that fascinated me when I was a kid:

From the permanent collection: Sylvester (a perfectly preserved mummy), Siamese twin calves, shrunken heads, a grain of rice with the Lord’s Prayer engraved on it, a humongous snail, fleas in dresses, painting on the head of a pin, a nine foot blow gun, a beheading sword, and a mermaid (of questionable authenticity).

For sale:  Northwest Indian totem poles, masks, artwork, and jewelry, Eskimo carvings and baskets, Russian lacquer boxes and matreshka dolls, copper and wooden postcards, music boxes, dolls, smoked salmon, local and world music, Viking helmets, Mexican jumping beans (we loved playing with these on the car trip home), Seattle souvenirs, and salt water taffy.

Was there an odd little place that you enjoyed as a kid?  Some place that always made you laugh and smile?  That’s what travel memories are about, so take a minute, and share them with us in the comments.


Photo credit:  flickr


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