Whimsical & Just a Little Weird: The Strangest Thing I Saw in Holland

Whew, yesterday was a long day. It’s pretty much a full-day endeavor getting back home from Europe. Thankfully the plane ride was a direct flight. Funny thing on the plane, my seat mate was a guy who was a dead ringer for Scott Kelly, the astronaut who just spent a full year in space on the International Space Station. If he hadn’t had an accent (I think it was Dutch) I definitely would have believed it to be him!

I’ve spent the majority of the day unpacking, washing clothes, going through 10 days worth of mail and trying to catch up on my email and phone calls. I’m still not caught up, but getting closer. I also spent several hours today going through some of the photos I took while away. I’m looking forward to sharing Holland and Belgium with you in some upcoming posts, especially the beautiful homes and gardens.

Today I thought I’d share something a bit whimsical, something that definitely ranks as the strangest thing I saw on my visit to the Netherlands. On Thursday, April 28th, we visited the town of Enkhuizen, located in the province of North Holland in the Netherlands. While in Enkhuizen, we toured the Zuiderzee Museum, an outdoor museum that is a combination of original buildings and buildings purchased or donated from nearby areas.

Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Holland, Netherlands_wm


This outdoor museum was created to give visitors a look at how a fishing village of this type would have looked back in the day before numerous floods led to the building and closing of the Afsluitdijk (Barrier Dam) on May 6th, 1932, forever cutting off this area from the open North Sea.

IJsselmeer, Netherlands


It will take another post to share this delightful village museum, but today I’m sharing the apothecary or pharmacy and the surprising collection located in the back room of the building.

Gapers & Yawners, Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Holland, Netherlands


Attached to the outside of the pharmacy was this starling looking figure. Our guide called him a “Yawner” but when I started doing a bit more research online, I discovered these figures were also called “Gapers.” Gapers were figureheads that were often attached on the outside of apothecaries (sometimes with a pill on their tongue) to help those passing outside recognize the shop as a pharmacy.

Gapers & Yawners, Zuiderzee Museum Pharmacy, Enkhuizen


Our time was limited so I hadn’t planned on going inside, but Teresa, a reader of BNOTP I met during this fun trip, had been inside and suggested I check out the back room. Ummm, the look on her face had me intrigued, so I ventured inside. I was greeted by the “pharmacist” with a nice smile.

Gapers & Yawners, Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Holland


Wish I’d had more time to look around and check out the wares on all the shelves. I think some were even available for purchase.

Gapers, Yawners in Zuiderzee Museum, Holland, Enkhuizen


With guided walking tours, if you dillydally around too long, you’ll get left behind. So I had to take photos quickly and move on. I headed for the back room, unsure what to expect.

Yawners, Gapers, Zuiderzee Museum, Holland, Enkhuizen


This is what I found upon entering the room! It kind of takes one aback…this room full of Gapers! lol I guess it’s a “Gaper Museum” of sorts.

Gapers & Yawners, Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Netherlands


The ones with their tongues sticking out made me laugh with their comical expressions. From what I’ve read, earlier Dutch pharmacists had to take their business on the road to sell their pills and formulas.

Gapers, Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Holland_wm


Usually the pharmacist was accompanied by an assistant who was dressed as a Moor. One article I read said this was to give the assistant an exotic look that would help draw attention. Another article said the Moorish dress and appearance symbolized the origin of most medicines as being from faraway lands.

Gapers, Yawners, Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen, Holland, Netherlands


Apparently the assistant would act the part of a sick person who was very much in need of help. He would be given some medicine by the pharmacist and would begin to feel much better, often to the point where he would dance and perform for the entertainment of the gathered crowd.

Gapers & Yawners, Zuiderzee Museum Pharmacy, Enkhuizen, Holland


When pharmacists no longer had to travel around and could work from a shop, these eye-catching wood figureheads were attached to the outside of the shop to help those who were illiterate find the pharmacy more easily.

Are these not the strangest looking things?! The one on the bottom left must have been really feeling poorly because he looks like he’s seen a ghost!

Gapers & Yawners, Zuiderzee Museum, Pharmacy, Enkhuizen, Netherlands


Have you ever heard of Gapers or Yawners? If you ever visit the Netherlands, keep an eye out and you may come across one, although they are rarely found now outside museums.

Gapers, Zuiderzee Museum, Holland, Enkhuizen

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  1. Eowana Jordan says

    Well, shut my mouth! Lucky you to visit one of the most interesting countries in Europe! Enjoy! Aren’t the breakfasts wonderful?

  2. I love those, especially the ones with tongues!!

  3. Linda Page says

    I love the Gapers!!! Did you bring one home? It would be great in your office!! So glad you went into the “back room”. Sounds like your trip was great. So glad. Get some rest. I am using only one crutch now. And I am driving myself around without my chaperon (Jason). Welcome back.

  4. well they’re really pieces of art, but I don’t think I’d want one hanging around the house. Love your pictures, thanks for sharing your visit.

  5. I have never heard of these. Thanks for the info. Looks like a fun place to visit. Keep the pictures coming . I have really enjoyed your trip.

  6. They do grab your attention, but they might just keep me away from the pharmacy! It’s been a wonderful time following along and ready for more. Another great trip (and great travelog), Susan.

  7. Gapers! Never seen anything like them! They are pretty funny. The woman one looks like she is singing.

  8. I’m from the Netherlands, so of course I know gapers, but it’s so great to read about your own country as seen through the eyes of someone who’s not from here. I love reading your posts about the Netherlands and Belgium!! And your other posts, too, of course (I follow your blog for quite some years).

    Hope you had a wonderful time!

  9. Judith L says

    What a weird and wonderful collection!

  10. Marny CA says

    Remembering the movie ‘BIG’ with Tom Hanks and the magical machine that granted his wish … and reminds me of one of the Gapers in your post.

    How nice to have been to the Netherlands … I made it to Israel and Germany in 2010.

    BTW, my ex is/was a pharmacist!!

  11. That’s funny! The one to the left of that one you mentioned looks like a devilish jester! Glad you got home safely. Welcome back.

    • He does! I was just thinking when I uploaded the photos for the post that he looked like a joker or court jester. Thanks, Rita…good to be back home and in my own bed again.

  12. Fascinating….I think that spot needs to be on the tour for everyone! Thank you for sharing…..they are amazing.

    • I’m so glad Teresa went in and prompted me to check it out! That’s the only bad thing about going on a guided tour with a company, you can’t always stay very long at the places we visit.

  13. Laura Tieri says

    I love the pictures of the little fishing village & the beautiful ships at sea!
    Thank you for sharing your trip with us even while you are playing catch up at home!

  14. Oh my goodness, what a story! I’ve never heard of them and seeing a room full of Gapers is something else! Very strange and interesting! Keep the travel pictures and stories coming, sweet lady!


  15. Charlotte says

    I have never heard of a Gaper, but what a history! Medicine has come along way. I also never knew there were canals between houses in the Netherlands, so quaint. I can’t wait to see more photos and hear more about your trip.

    • I’ve never seen so many canals in my life! The history of that area is all about dealing with the oceans and water that seems to always be trying to claim the land. If you have a water problem, call in the Dutch. They know how to deal with water better than anyone because it’s been their lifelong work. Thanks, Charlotte!

  16. LOL — I went to a Twilight Zone themed party over the weekend and these Gapers would have easily fit into a Twilight Zone plot!

  17. Patricia says

    Jaw drops! They would make such a conversation piece!

    apparently you just missed this collection of gapers on auction.

    • lol Those are miniatures apparently, 3 inches high. That would be fun to have little replicas of the real ones, not as scary at 3 inches high. πŸ™‚

  18. The Gapers are wonderful! They are the kind of thing I would like to have a copy of in miniature to tuck into a bookcase or as an accent on a side table. I love things like that. It’s probably why I enjoy pottery face jugs so much. Glad you are home safely and looking forward to seeing more pictures from your trip!

    • That would be so cute! I think I’d like them in minature form a bit better. lol Lifesize form is a bit creepy! πŸ˜‰ Thanks, Melinda!

  19. Lily Sevilla says

    Hi, I am Lily from Costa Rica, I love reading your articles. This is a very interesting one. I went to The Netherlands last year but didn’t see any of these gapers. Next time I will look for them. Thanks for sharing

  20. I have only spent a couple of days in Amsterdam and did not encounter the gapers, but how interesting! I have enjoyed following along on your posts and Instagram. Excited to read more as you share! Did you enjoy the river cruise and the amenities they offered? Pam @ Everyday Living

    • Thanks, Pam! I did! The ship was beautiful, brand new…just a month old. The food was beyond amazing! It was a great trip, I would definitely go on another tour with them.

  21. Marlene Stephenson says

    Thanks Susan, these are very comical to look at. Other countries have such interesting old things to look at. Waiting for next post but, do get some rest.

  22. That is definitely strange! I didn’t see any that I can recall when I was in the Netherlands. Kinda creepy!

  23. ~Susan~
    Thanks for sharing !! I like the history behind these “Yawners” . I would have been left behind because I dillydally around way to much!!

    Glad you are home safely !!

  24. Susan,

    Thanks for capturing what I missed. You took some amazing pictures and look forward to catching up on your blog. It sure was nice to meet you and Teresa. You made my trip that much worthwhile. Happy you are home and getting back to routine.


    • Thanks so much, Kim! It was wonderful getting to know you! It’s hard going back to eating ordinary food again, isn’t it? Where are my 5 and 6 course meals? Where’s my dessert? πŸ˜‰ Say hi to Roberta for me.

  25. Cyndi Raines says

    Hi Susan, glad you are home safe and sound. My nephew-in-law is from Holland, I will ask him if he has ever seen them and my niece is a pharmacist, I’m sure she’ll find them funny too. I found this very interesting. I like finding tidbits of information like this. It reminds me of how back in days of old, barbers were considered to be like surgeons and / or dentists and would hang the bandages from the poles. Some even helped delivery babies and would cut the umbilical cord and give it to the parents, the red for the artery and the blue for the veins. So today you will see barber’s pole red and white or some still red, white and blue. Eager to see more of your pictures.

  26. Alice Stephens says

    Such an interesting blog today with extremely interesting comments. You all made my day. Can’t wait for more pics of your trip.

  27. You know what…THAT will be one of the things you remember forever!! FUN! franki

  28. Oh my gosh a room full of Gapers! I’m sure one or too of them would have crept into my dreams.

  29. Susan, what a wonderful post of our wet day in Enkhuisen. You captured so many memories and put them on your blog. I just forward the links to friends and family so they know how wonderful this last minute trip to the Netherlands was enjoyed!
    Thank you again for posting about that vantage trip and making it possible for me to seize the moment.
    Everyone should be so lucky to be on the same itinerary as you.
    You spend so much time researching, photographing and posting and it is a delight to savor them all. I look forward to learning more especially since I haven’t moved all my photos from the camera SD card to computer yet.
    Can’t wait to see what you discover next!

    • Thanks, Teresa! That trip was so much fun and having you to share it with made even better! We really did luck out on this trip, love those last minute travel deals! πŸ™‚

  30. Thanks for the tip. I live in The Netherlands near Utrecht, but I’ve never seen them. Must go sometime!

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