Buster Keaton Museum - Atlas Obscura

Buster Keaton Museum

Piqua, Kansas

This rural water utility building houses a tribute to one of the greatest stars of the silent film era. 

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This rural museum and water utility office honors the life of the town of Piqua’s most famous non-resident, Buster Keaton. Despite his limited relationship with the town during his lifetime, Piqua has become the truest home of the comic genius of the silent screen.

Keaton was born October 4, 1895, in Piqua, Kansas, but he never lived there. His parents, a moderately famous vaudevillian couple who performed together as “The Two Keatons,” had no connection to Piqua. However, they were in town supporting Harry Houdini’s act on the day Buster was born. Buster would grow up on the road, first performing onstage with his parents before making the jump to film. 

Keaton starred in some of the greatest comedies of the era, many of which he directed himself, revolutionizing the language of comedy filmmaking. He weathered career setbacks including the switch to sound and personal struggles, and lived to see interest in his work and career revived in the 1950s.

The famed actor visited Piqua only once in his lifetime. In 1957, Keaton and his wife, Eleanor, were driving back from the Kansas State Fair, when Eleanor saw a sign for Piqua. According to Eleanor, In shock, she stopped short, waking Buster, who was surprised to discover that his hometown even existed. In a hurry, they briefly walked through town, and pledged to come back one day.

While Keaton never returned before passing away in 1966, Eleanor would come back frequently, as Piqua and the nearby town of Iola began planning an annual festival to honor their native son. People, including Eleanor, began donating memorabilia to the festival, which was held annually from 1993 until 2023. Without the level of attendance needed to build a permanent museum, Piqua opened up the Buster Keaton Museum as a room within the water department, where it still stands today.

Know Before You Go

The Buster Keaton Museum is free, but donations are appreciated. It is open during operating hours, and also by appointment.

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