In 1959, Jones and his wife Dorothy opened up a museum on Gunnysack Hill, a mile-long section of U.S. Route 99 just north of Lynnwood, Washington. This first museum was also named Jones' Fantastic Museum.
Many Jones pieces formed a popular attraction at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. The collection subsequently found a home on the balcony level (third floor) of the former Food Circus (now Center House) in the Seattle Center. Called Jones' Fantastic Show when it first opened on Saturday, October 5, 1963, the Seattle museum was renamed Jones' Fantastic Museum sometime after the Gunnysack Hill museum closed.
Below are some excerpts from an article written by Terri Malinowski that appeared December 12, 1963 in the Northshore Citizen newspaper:
After purchasing five rustic acres north of Woodinville, [Jones] discovered the remnants of a log cabin on the property. The germ of an idea was born, and soon Walter and Dorothy Jones were constructing their own ghost town. Called Rusty Gulch, the full length street included a saloon, jail, barber shop and general mercantile store, while a whiskey still nestled snugly in the woods behind the town. The word of Jones' hobby spread and soon people were virtually climbing the fence to see his private creation.
Inevitably, to preserve family privacy and display the items in the proper manner, the couple opened its Highway 99 museum. Most of the ghost town and contents were moved to the museum, plus a variety of contraptions built by Jones himself.
Although Jones began building and collecting these curiosities some 15 years ago, they were only a domestic hobby until he and his wife Dorothy opened their Fantastic Museum on Highway 99 near Lynnwood four years ago. Then when the Seattle Center began casting about for novelty amusements this past summer, it contacted Jones. The Fantastic Show was born on the balcony of the Food Circus Oct. 5.
"I'm just trying to bring back some of the glamour, illusion and fakery of the old time medicine man shows and carnival sideshows," says Walter H. Jones as he tries to explain the appeal of his Fantastic Museum near Lynnwood and Fantastic Show at the Seattle Center.
The story of Jones' preoccupation with fakery and illusion really goes back to a boyhood spent in Ketchikan, Alaska, where touring carnivals and circuses were a rarity for amusement-parched children.
"I still recall arriving in town just moments too late to ride on a steam-driven merry-go-round that was touring the Alaskan seaport towns," recalled Jones. "I was broken-hearted, and I suppose recollections like this provided the impetus for my present shows."
Displayed outside the entrance to the museum were many old pictures of sideshow freaks and human oddities. The Okeh Laughing Record, a 1923 recording of a man and woman laughing while a musician plays a funereal trumpet solo, played in a continuous loop along with a recording of Jones as a sideshow barker, enticing people to enter.
For 13 years the museum featured a real live vampire named Count Pugsly who roamed around scaring children and adults alike, even outside the museum. Sometimes he would appear to be a mannequin, standing still until an unsuspecting visitor stepped in front of him. As soon as the realization struck the visitor that no activating floor mat was there, he would walk towards them, often eliciting loud screams of fright.
The role of the vampire was played by future horror author Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire. Pugmire's recent works include Lovecraftian books of weird fiction. His earlier works include the publication of the punk rock fanzine Punk Lust in the 1980s.
The museum included a collection of funhouse mirrors, mannequins sporting extra legs and arms, a "Death Ray" machine, Sally Rand's dancing slippers, a long row of electronic switches that randomly activated a variety of automatons, a nine-foot-tall "mummified Viking" called Olaf the Giant, and a talking skull wearing a Hitler moustache that loudly spouted gibberish in German. Jones had sped up an actual recording of Hitler, giving his speech a cartoonish quality. The sign in front of the skull read "Hitler is Alive!"
An especially memorable item was the Laughing Lady, dubbed Laffing Sal by her manufacturer. She rocked back and forth laughing uncontrollably with her arms and legs swinging wildly whenever someone stepped on a floor mat in front of her glass and wood case. More exhibits appear in the list of items below.
Doc Jones committed suicide in the early 1970s. In 1973, the third floor of the Food Circus was being renovated, so Jones' heirs moved a greatly downsized version of the museum into the basement. Much smaller than before, it remained there until 1980. Two years later, the entire collection was donated to Seattle Children's Hospital per Jones' will. The will stipulated that if the contents of the museum were ever sold, they must be sold as a whole and not broken up.
The hospital put the collection up for sale in 1984. After searching one year for a buyer, museum broker Bill Zimmerman found collector Jim Schmit of Oregon. According to Zimmerman, the sale "was difficult because the items were so diverse and bizarre and because the hospital wanted to sell it in its entirety."
Schmit, already known to Southern Oregonians for gathering together the world's largest collection of antique outhouses, purchased the entire collection for an undisclosed amount, in partnership with his former neighbor and friend, Baltimore businessman Ralph Bothne.
As of late 1985, much of the Jones collection formed part of the Lakeview Fantastic Museum, located in the small Southern Oregon town of Lakeview on U.S. Route 395 near the California border. For some reason—perhaps a dearth of visitors due to the remote location—by 1991 Schmit had moved his museum to a more prominent location in Redmond, Oregon. Renamed the World Famous Fantastic Museum, it opened in June 1991.
There is evidence to suggest that the museum's relationship with Redmond city planners was always contentious. Schmit's putting up a Ferris wheel on the property may have led directly to the closing of the popular and successful museum in 1996.
In May 1997, Schmit opened up the Museum of the Fantastic in Sisters, Oregon. Containing only 10% of his collection, it was shut down less than two years after it opened.
Schmit is credited with discovering Chinese basketball giant Yao Ming at age 14 and following his progress until he came to the NBA.
At some point, perhaps around the time the Redmond museum opened, another museum containing a portion of the Jones collection opened in Yakima, Washington. The existence of this other museum—hundreds of miles from Redmond—probably marks the beginning of the dissolution of the Jones collection. However, the two collections were still displayed under one name: World Famous Fantastic Museum.
In 1993, Doug Higley received on loan many Jones pieces from both museums for his True Wonders Old Time Museum at Lake Tahoe in California. Sharing Jones' passion for sideshows, freaks and oddities, Higley went to great effort and expense to make his Tahoe museum the best around. Despite his great care and attention to detail, Higley's museum only lasted about a year. Visitors to the area instead spent their money in the casinos adjacent to the museum."Abdominal" Snow Woman
Amazing Mechanical Jazz Band
Baseball coin-op game
Bicycle air conditioner
Blow torch/hot air machine for politicians
"Captain Hook's hook"
Chamber of Horrors
Coin-op game with machine guns that blast Nazi warplanes
Frankenstein in a bird cage
Germ Killer mallet
Hall of funhouse mirrors
"Hitler is Alive!" talking skull
Human skeleton in a display case
Inhuman Head (in barber shop box)
Jules Verne death ray machine
Life-size elephant automaton
Man from Mars Machine
Manley Model 49 popcorn maker
Olaf the Giant
Petrified Space Man
Photo gallery of sideshow freaks
Pianotainer player piano
Quartet of musical monkeys
Sally Rand's dancing slippers
Shoot the Bear coin-op game
Spiked chair "where Mahatma Gandhi sat for inspiration"
Voice-O-Graph recording machine