Austin, Texas. The place is known for watching bats under the Congress Bridge, listening to live music, and visiting the well-known swimming holes unique to the area. Although credited for its weirdness, Austin cannot explain these four locations which define the meaning of the word in imperceptible ways.
By far the most peculiar place on this list, the Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata, still open to the public today, remains one of the only family-owned museums still in existence. However, due to the pandemic, the museum has suspended the public from getting a first-hand tour. Founded in 1921, the gallery gets its name, “Ephemera,” as something previously thrown out, but thought to have cultural value and interest later on. Among each of the oddities featured at the museum, the most popular object remains as the last cigarette smoked by the famous actress, Marilyn Monroe. Other sights, more specifically found in the taxidermy section, include an old flamingo head found in a dumpster treated with mercury, a jackalope, and a pygmy kangaroo reconstructed without the knowledge of how the original animal looked. Back in the late summer of 2008, the museum held a rather unique exhibit that featured mis-engineered biodiversity including a two-headed cow named Patches with feet chewed off by rats, to an ear of corn which replicated a human hand. To peak your curiosity, I will stop sharing the objects found in the museum so you can discover the weirdness for yourself.
Next on the list, the unsettling location known for its abandoned feel, the Coxville Zoo, originally opened in 1939 by Alvin Cox. Originally a gas station and grocery store near the corner of Yager and North Lamar, the Coxville Zoo became a popular site particularly because of Cox’s pet monkey. As more and more visitors came to see the monkey, the owner eventually began to collect more exotic animals, especially from soldiers who could not house the animals during the war, until the gas station became a zoo. However, towards the end of the construction of I-35, the zoo shut down in 1969. The remains include dilapidated barns and cages with the occasional sight of bones from the once-popular animals. Little information about the current owner of the property exists, however, with a quick trip through the woods past Walnut Creek Park, the site still stands.
Taking a trip back to the fearful era of the 1960s with constant nuclear threats, found underneath Westlake Hills, remains an old fallout shelter. Everything from food, beds, clothing, and even a map and radio of the nearby surroundings resided inside after six decades of shutdown from the outside world. The bunker itself accompanies another site located at Zilker Park. Also, a fallout shelter, photos of the bunker, which many still view today, reside at the Austin History Center. The property on which the bunker holds housing has sold and as a result, availability to visit remains unknown. Although nuclear threats no longer remain as the same hazard that they did decades ago, the bunker still serves to show the importance of preparation during comminatory times.
Finally, last on this list resides the unexpected campus of the University of Texas. However, this exact location takes place underground among the eight miles of secret tunnels concealed to the public. Found among the vast and mysterious area includes pipes, some even made up of acid waste, ramps, entrances to buildings, windows, and old storage rooms. These tunnels made it possible to gain access to the main tower in which Charles Witman, the 1966 UT gunman set camp in. In more recent years, back in 2006, a series of online posts concluded the first time that the public saw the tunnels. Included in the pictures lies a large, open room with sand and strange equipment in cages in addition to a strange code of numbers and letters on the wall which ended with the unsettling statement “forgive me.” As the site became more popular, curious explorers sought out to create maps of the hidden tunnels. The campus then installed extensive security including hidden motion cameras and door alarms. News coverage even took place and the college threatened to arrest anyone who trespassed into the area. The tunnels today remain mysterious to all except those with a clearance badge to gain access. The code inside still rests as a mystery, however, many still look for ways to break into the obscure tunnels.
By Sofia Portillo, Features Editor