Evel Knievel was born in Butte, Montana, and he considered this city his home all of his life. So why is the Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka? There are 3 reasons. Butte wanted no part in it. In 2012 Lathan McKay began hunting for Evel memorabilia, and 3 years later he had the largest collection ever assembled. Evel Knievel’s touring vehicle was a Mack truck. It was restored in Topeka where McKay became acquainted with Harley-Davidson dealer Mike Peterson. The two of them and a 3rd partner decided to put the Evel Knievel Museum here. It opened in 2017.
So far it’s very successful. 180 visitors on TripAdvisor rated it excellent. There was a line waiting to get in when Ruth and I went there this summer. Many in line to get in were children, so I asked the ticket seller what brings people in and she said, “childhood stuff and toys.” Children see Evel in costume at the entrance and wonder if he is Elvis, or at least Elvis-like. They still know Elvis. The History Channel feature “Evel Live” on July 8, 2018. During this 3 hour show, which a lot of people like Ruth watched and enjoyed, Motorsports superstar Travis Pastrana broke 3 of Evel’s motorcycle records in Las Vegas. The woman giving the tour at the Topeka museum had been there. There’s a mini-resumption of interest in this daredevil.
The Evel Knievel Museum gets it right. There are lots of stunt bikes and costumes to look at. Visitors, many of whom are older, had followed Evel’s career and are still big Harley fans. They find it way cool. There’s a Harley dealership at the exit. The most popular activity is the ‘Virtual Reality 4-D Jump Experience’. This is advertised with the sentence, “Get ready for a wild ride!” The displays, which include the restored Mack Truck where tour-takers can see Evel’s lucky horseshoe, are appealing.
Evel was famous for his injuries. Some statistics near the entrance play this up with lots of lurid information. Evel broke his back 4 times. In 1972 he jumped 3 cars wearing a back brace. At one point he was unconscious for 29 days. ETC. His career was mostly over by the mid 1970s when about 70,000 people watched him crash, break his pelvis, and retire. In his 20s, when Paul Newman and Steve MacQueen were active, Evel looked like a composite movie star. By the time he attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon in 1974 he looked old for his age. Evel was a franchise genius, a gifted self-promotor, and a money magnet who bragged about how much he was worth.
Will this museum continue to thrive? The Roy Rogers museum in Victorville, CA, is gone. the Liberace museum in Las Vegas is history. On the other hand, Graceland is the reason why many travel to Memphis and Elvis makes more money dead than alive. Then there’s Michael Jackson, Marilyn, Prince, etc. I suspect that the men behind the Evel Knievel Museum look forward to a quick fortune before oblivion and Evel become synonyms.