Dressed in a traditional Bavarian dirndl, Arlene Wagner greets visitors with a smile. “Welcome to the Nutcracker Museum,” she says. Here in Leavenworth, Washington, a Bavarian-themed village, Arlene has amassed one of the largest collections of nutcrackers in the world. It’s a mind-boggling museum filled with more than 7,000 wooden, mechanical, plastic, and metal culinary tools designed to crack open nuts.
The unique collection contains traditional hand-carved soldier figurines that you typically see at Christmas. But it also features a dizzying array of characters ranging from Santa Claus to Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Garfield, and Snoopy. Teddy bear–shaped nutcrackers, snowmen, a cast-iron Jimmy Carter prototype, and an Egyptian mummy are just a few of the characters that line the shelves of the museum. Even Herr Drosselmeyer from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet is here, presenting a toy soldier nutcracker to Clara, the magical piece that changes everything.
Many of the nutcrackers once belonged to other avid nutcracker collectors who visited and admired the museum so much, they donated their private collections. A favorite with visitors is a replica of Arlene, “the Nutcracker Lady,” holding a book she published in 2005 titled The Art and Character of Nutcrackers. As you open the book, a handle lifts to crack the nut.
Arlene started collecting nutcrackers in the 1970s. In 1995, she and her husband, George, opened the museum. Carved by Karl Rappl of Oberammergau, a six-foot beer-drinking Bavarian nutcracker figure named Karl is the museum’s icon. Nutcrackers from more than 50 countries are on display and tourists from more than 70 countries have visited this one-of-a-kind collection.