Gatlinburg, Tennessee has no shortage of weird and quirky attractions. There’s a place in town called Hillbilly Golf, for goodness sake. But among the arcades and rides and shops is one authentic gem shining through the sea of corporate kitsch. Yes, I’m talking about the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. It goes without saying that the museum displays an array of salt and pepper shaker sets. More than 20,000 of them.
Like most great quirky museums, it started as a private collection. This one was in the home of Andrea Ludden and her family. As the story goes, the Luddens started with one broken pepper mill from a garage sale in 1984, which turned into a search for one that worked. They bought a few to test out, and then a few more. From there, they got into the shaker set game, and the rest is history.
It wasn’t long before the Ludden family had amassed thousands of sets from across time and space. In 2002, the first Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum opened in Cosby, Tennessee. Three short years later, they upgraded to a space in downtown Gatlinburg. As if all of this isn’t enough, Andrea (an archaeologist by trade) opened a second museum in Spain, with another 20,000 sets. Fun fact: The Luddens are the foremost experts in the “Does the salt or pepper shaker have more holes?” debate. The answer is more complicated than you’d expected.
Vegetables, presidents, and toilets
The inside of the Gatlinburg museum is astonishing. It could be the eighth wonder of the world. It’s one thing to read the phrase “20,000 salt and pepper shakers and 1,500 pepper mills,” but it’s another thing entirely to see them all in one place at one time. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s another hallway completely filled with rows upon rows upon rows of shakers.
There are a few signs talking about certain styles or historical aspects of the sets, but for the most part, there’s very little to distract from admiring the often-absurd individual shakers lining the walls.
There’s quite literally a set for every occasion or interest. They’re arranged by theme, color, and time/place. There’s at least one (but probably more) shaker set for your favorite fruit, your favorite vegetable, your favorite U.S. president, your favorite holiday, your favorite animal, your favorite TV show or movie—you get the idea.
Additionally, there are salt cellars, pepper mills, and other implements for storing and dispensing seasoning. My personal favorites were the shakers shaped like toilets. Potty humor is timeless.
A salty humblebrag
As you’ll see when you browse the collection, salt and pepper shakers were incredibly popular souvenir items, especially back in the day. The invention of the shaker set in the 1920s coincided with the growing popularity of the automobile, and therefore of auto tourism. What better way to show off your travels than with a salt and pepper shaker set you could casually break out when your friends came over for dinner? That’s one smooth humblebrag.
Museum admission is incredibly reasonably priced (especially for Gatlinburg) at $3 a person, and if you buy a shaker set from the gift shop after visiting, they’ll knock that $3 off your purchase. It’s a great deal, especially considering it’s a fully independent, family-run operation. Something about the down-home kitsch of it all fits into the Gatlinburg vibe perfectly. And yes, salt and pepper shaker sets still make really good souvenirs.
If you go
The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults, and free for children age 12 or under.