One of the “Closets of Curiosity” on display at Auburn's White River Valley Museum. Credit: Tiffany Doerr Guerzon
The bottom line
White River Valley Museum’s “Closets of Curiosity” is a new exhibit with a curated collection of interesting objects divided into 15 areas, or closets. Elementary-age kids will love inspecting the weird and wacky items on display, such as an antique hair curling contraption used to create the beehive hairstyle, creepy (and possibly haunted) dolls in Creepy Clyde’s Closet, uranium glass dishes that glow under a black light and vintage medical tools. The family-focused exhibit includes a play area with board games, cards with discussion questions and an activity book.
Find the White River Valley Museum inside Auburn's Les Gove Park. This small museum is known for its innovative and interactive exhibits. The museum is fully open and, thanks to a grant, admission is free for all for the remainder of 2021.
For “Closets of Curiosity,” museum staff explored the depths of the museum’s own collection in storage to find unusual items and create these new displays. Each display invites visitors to peek into 15 fictional characters’ closets. The sections are organized around the periphery of the room and the center offers a seating area with board games where families can play or work on the free activity book offered at the front desk.
Each closet features a sign with the story of the closet’s owner and an explanation of the curiosities inside.
I visited the same day as a group of summer camp kids, ages 8–11. They enjoyed showing me their favorite things. They loved a display of antique dolls; one was a rag doll found alone in an abandoned attic and it has no face (shiver).
Doctor Day’s office was also a popular closet, with its old-fashioned dental chair and an array of weird tonics. The kids were fascinated by an old console TV — especially the fact that it has to “warm up.” Despite the use of rabbit ear antennae, the TV showed only “snow.”
In Gary Geiger’s closet, we saw a set of uranium dishes. When you push a button and turn on a black light, they glow an eerie greenish-yellow color.
To make the most of your visit with kids, I recommend grabbing an activity book on your way in. Then, after the kids have raced around and found their favorite items, use the I Spy and matching activities to explore the other closets.
With online school, children have been living in a flat world, museum director Rachael McAllister explained. “This is a way of bringing kids into the third dimension and showing them that history is in the objects all around us.”
More fun at the museum
Once you finish exploring the closets, the rest of the museum's exhibits are open as well. Check out the interactive displays, such as the miniature Muckleshoot longhouse, complete with tiny figures and a glowing campfire. Kids can look for a list of objects in the longhouse, and sniff canisters to guess various scents, such as wood smoke and pine.
Kids can enter a log cabin, and then prepare a meal at the kid-sized “cook tent.” This area includes a play campfire with marshmallows and salmon to roast — all made of soft fabric — as well as lanterns and a table inside the tent.
In the replica of 1920s downtown Auburn, kids can practice penmanship on chalkboards in the schoolhouse, walk into the real caboose and pretend to conduct the train with a conductor’s hat available in the train repair tent.
Don't miss riding “Sandy,” a coin-operated mechanical horse from a store in old Auburn (bring a dime or ask a museum volunteer for one to ride). Kids will be delighted that it offers a much faster and jerkier ride than the mechanical rides typically available today.
Tips for families
Each closet is packed full of interesting objects so if you don’t see a description of an item you want to know more about, there is a detailed list of contents available at the entrance to the room.
The only hands-on part of the “Closets of Curiosity” display is the button to turn on the black light in Gary Geiger’s closet. Caution kids not to touch the other objects.
If you go...
Find it: White River Valley Museum is located at 918 H Street S.E. in Auburn, inside Les Gove Park. Auburn is about 45 minutes by car from Seattle or Bellevue, and 20 minutes from Tacoma.
Open hours: The museum is open Wednesday–Sunday, noon–4 p.m.
Cost: Admission is free to all for the rest of 2021.
The campus around the museum (Les Gove Park) is full of fun things to do. Check out the all-abilities playground, summer spray park, the library and plenty of tables and green grassy areas to stop for a snack. There's even a climbing wall and the restrooms are open.
Don’t miss getting a selfie with the giant sculpture of a crow eating French fries!
On summer weekends, nearby Mary Olson Farm is open 11 a.m.–4 p.m., through Aug. 29. This sweet spot sits about five miles from the museum and showcases historic family farm life in the area. (Note the weaving shed and farmhouse will remain closed for 2021). The farm is operated in conjunction with the White River Valley Museum and the City of Auburn.
Snack time: If seeing the crow snacking on fries makes you hungry, check out Menchie’s for frozen yogurt or Frugal’s for a burger.