If I hadn’t been doing research for an adventure for Wandering the World’s Largest, I never would have stumbled upon the Abita Mystery House. But am I ever glad that I did. Typically the more out-there a roadside attraction is, the more I love it, and the Abita Mystery House is no different.
We headed north from New Orleans across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to the town of Abita Springs. After a hearty breakfast at the Abita Springs Cafe—order the New Abita Star (a half order is plenty) and signature Abita Roasters Coffee—we walked around the corner to discover the wonders of the Abita Mystery House. Before you even step inside the museum’s doors, you’re greeted by a half dozen hand-painted, sassy signs that perfectly set the tone for what you’re about to experience.
A bit of history about the Abita Mystery House
Inspired by Ross Ward’s Tinkertown Museum near Albuquerque, New Mexico, artist John Preble created the Abita Mystery House inside a renovated Standard Oil gas station in 1997. Preble’s son suggested the name the “You-See-Em Museum?” and condensing the concept to just its initials, the UCM Museum was born. In 2007, the UCM Museum grew into the Abita Mystery House.
According to a souvenir booklet printed by the Abita Mystery House in 2011: “The museum is decorated by tens of thousands of bottles, bottle caps, license plates, springs, motors, old radios, wacky postcards, vintage bikes, Southern memorabilia, folk art, pocket combs, barbed wire, garden hoses, and old arcade machines.”
Main Exhibition Hall
Walking into the Abita Mystery House’s main exhibition hall is how I imagine Alice must have felt when she tumbled through the looking glass. With fanciful, carnival-esque music playing softly in the background, the thin winding hall is the blissful definition of sensory overload. As one of the museum’s small signs reads: “This is place to push buttons.”
Featuring everything from New Orleans during Mardi Gras to a tornado blowing the tops off of nearby homes, a 30-foot series of dioramas titled River Road springs to life at the push of a dozen or so buttons. Though possibly my favorite part of the exhibition hall was the antique Metal Typer machine (complete with exposed back so you can watch all the action) perfect for making a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
The House of Shards
If I was charmed by the exhibition hall’s quirks, I was completely in awe when we rounded the corner and came upon the House of Shards. Built from a 1920s barn and collected barge wood, the House of Shards includes more than 15,000 pieces of ceramic plates, tile, colored glass, and mirrors.
Along with its immense structural beauty, the House of Shards also includes a seriously cool infinity mirror. Pose for the perfect photo (we only half succeeded) here to wow all of your friends back home.
In case you were wondering, the World’s Largest “Bassigator” is named Buford. Originally built as a Mardi Gras parade float by Preble and Abita artists Dave Kelsey, the 22-foot fictional create not only won the float design content, he also become the Abita Mystery House’s version of the “jack-a-lope.” Fun fact: Buford’s eyeballs are actually plastic beach balls painted black.
The Hot Sauce House
True to its name, the museum’s Hot Sauce House is literally a small house filled with hundreds of bottles of different hot sauces. Regardless of your feelings about this spicy condiment, it’s miniature shrine is sure to make you crack a smile.
If you visit the Abita Mystery House
If you’re in the area (or even if it would require a detour), I highly recommend a visit to the Abita Mystery House. Less than an hour north of New Orleans, the museum is a great afternoon trip if you’re in the market for something a little quirkier. For the $3 price of admission, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth, but be sure to bring lots of quarters with you so you can get your fortune told by Claire Veaux or create a Metal Typer souvenir coin of your own.
Once you finish touring the museum, a stop in the gift shop (which you conveniently enter and exit through) is a must. Stock up on postcards featuring your favorite Abita Mystery House attraction or purchase a woodcut print designed by the museum’s creator.
Abita Mystery House, 22275 Highway 36 in Abita Springs, Louisiana