The Alabama Museum of Wonder
Quite simply put, this place is the coolest museum in the world.
Way back in the hills and dales of Alabama near a town called Seale, (population around 400 plus a coupla herds of cows) Butch Anthony has set up shop with a collection of some of the oddest stuff you have never seen. For the past 6 years or so he's been making a living as a folk artist and curator of his self-made Alabama Museum of Wonder.
I first heard about the place while visiting a roadside art gallery called "The Mayor's Office." When the owner Frank heard about my website he told me I had to meet Butch and see his "stuff" and it wasn't long before Butch's pick up truck rolled to a stop in the gravel driveway. Butch turned out to be a real likable guy, decked out in faded coveralls, a backward baseball hat, and a quick grin. He said he'd loved to give my friend Jason and I a grand tour and we proceeded back up the road, took a left turn onto Poorhouse Road (past the dumpster with a four foot tall Styrofoam Pixie elf sticking out) and finally turned into his property. Oh what a sight it was!
At first glance the yard and ramshackle buildings seem covered in junk but as I looked closer a sense of structured chaos made itself known. Strange welded metal birds stood next to mechanical cog men with baby doll faces. The grand vision of a sheet metal dinosaur greeted me on the walk up, its jaws open in a roar (or is that a bemused laugh?) All other sorts of glorious gee-gaws, made to amuse and befuddle, litter the grounds. Butch says he has made most of them from thrown away objects, turning one man's trash into another man's absurdity.
Butch gestures us to come inside, unlocking the dead bolted door and swinging up the "keep out" sign. Once inside I am slack jawed with amazement. Butch has crammed so much of the weird and odd into this place that your eyes don't know where to look first. Severed mannequin heads share space with the befuddled bust of Caesar. Tramp art purses hang next to a tanned rattlesnake hide, Indian arrowheads line a case on top of which sits a homemade "hoodoo house." A brightly painted wood sign proclaims. "Albert Einstein's Brain!" and there it is, pickled in a jar and looking suspiciously like an old cabbage. A recreation of the USS Alabama warship sits near a mounted "saber tooth rat." But the first room's centerpiece is a stuffed "faux paux " mermaid, housed in an enclosed box made from thrown away window frames. Butch supports himself by selling stuff out of the museum and the floor is littered with old envelopes sent by customers buying stuff I would never get the chance to see.
Butch Anthony with a friend
I want to ask Butch about the history of these items but he's already walking into another room. He proudly shows off a six foot tall metal statue of a New York art critic he made and says that someone recently stole one of her marbled eyes during a traveling exhibition. When he told the critic about the theft she said that her real eye had been itching like crazy that day. I just nod at the story, my gaze wandering across the collection of license plates, automaton puppets, and a recreation of the 1969 moon landing that looks to have been made from tin pie plates. Where does he get these ideas? I turn around to ask but Butch is already deeper into the museum. Hurriedly I follow.
Butch and his Alabama Mamma Jamma Hearse
We go past a beaded curtain, into the darkened heart of his collection of curios. Oh yeah, here's the inner sanctum, where he keeps the really good stuff! I spy the worlds largest gallstone carefully preserved in a painted box, Bigfoot body parts for sale. (need some yeti hair? How about Sasquatch teeth?) A painted 6 shooter sent by some cowboy leans next to a mummified possum. ("When people find weird stuff, they bring it to me," Butch explains.) I stand memorized at the weirdness that surrounds me. A turnip root with a man's face is preserved in a jar. The blackened cage of a spontaneous combusted bird hangs from the ceiling. Debris from a UFO shot down over an Alabama dove field lays next to a dark rock that "came out of the sky and hit the trunk of Frank's car." A mysterious white raccoon is stuffed and nailed to a wall with a painted placard announcing it's place in this paranormal Parthenon. Fortean objects lay stacked upon one another so thick that it would have taken days for me to see and catalog it all and I haven't even mentioned the "Woods of Wonder" next to his Museum. Of the wondrous metal men and creatures that gaze at you when you walk down that kudzu lined trail. You'll have to go see them for yourself. Make sure to tell the robot that Derek said "Hi."
Butch invited us to stay for the day and tool around in his brightly decorated hearse called the "Alabama Mamma Jamma." but we had to move on. Unwilling to leave the place without a souvenir, I picked up a pair of mirror shoes confiscated from some high school in the 60's and said I had to buy them. Butch named a more than fair price and we said our farewells. I left content in the knowledge that I had been to the coolest museum in the world.
Butch Anthony, his dog Blue, Soapstick the mule, Bob Ross the Fortune Telling Chicken and the Alabama Museum of Wonder are all at 41 Poorhouse Road, Seale Alabama. His phone number is 334-855-9547 and I suggest you call before you drop by since Butch goes down to the creek quite a bit to look for stuff.
Speaking of wonders....
Interview with Butch Anthony and a tour of the museum June 25th, 2000
Interview with Frank Turner, June 25th, 2000