Ye Old Curiosity Shop along the Seattle waterfront at Pier 54 has been a touch stone for me growing up. I visited often as a child and loved heading over there when I was working across the street from the Seattle Ferries. Returning to Seattle recently, I was delighted to return to a favorite landmark with my friend and business partner, Dave Moyer.
The shop used to be packed with novelties, cheap toys, and a ton of ancient artifacts from the Pacific Northwest and further abroad including Sylvester and Sylvia, two human mummies, major attractions for many years.
Estimated to have more than a million visitors every year, Ye Old Curiosity Shop was founded by J.E. “Daddy” Standley in 1899 as a shop for curios and Indian goods. Over the years, the shop has shifted from handmade objects, including baskets made by the daughter of Chief Seattle, Princess Angeline, to trinkets from China and Taiwan. At one time, you could buy a totem pole or fascinating handmade carving or beaded purse. While a few lovely handmade items are still available, most of the items for sale are dedicated to the cheap tourist.
The store wasn’t always on the waterfront. It was originally at Second and Pike, moving to the waterfront when the Washington State Ferries rebuilt much of the dock system around them. In 1963, they moved onto Pier 51 and in 1988 moved to Pier 54 next to Ivar’s Acres of Clams. According to Wikipedia, over a million objects were moved to the current location.
Ye Old Curiosity Shop continues to attract visitors from around the world to look at the two mummies and other historical artifacts including an old silent picture movie box, a psychic fortune teller (much like the one from the Tom Hanks movie “Big”), a one armed bandit, a two headed piglet, shrunken heads, among other old carnival and historical artifacts.
I bought my first set of Mexican jumping beans there, a fart toy, and other novelties, delighting my imagination. The eclectic collection took my imagination to another time and place. Somewhere in a box I still have some of those treasures, reminding me not only of a younger, freer time in my childhood, but also a reminder of how much I’ve done and how far I’ve traveled in my life thanks to such exposure and stimulation.