10 Awesomely Odd American Curiosity Shops You Should Visit

Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

Some consumers prefer to shop at big box stories, while others like to peruse smaller boutique stores. And then there are the people who are looking for something a little more ... unusual. You might find these people in a curiosity shop, where they eagerly admire torturous-looking Victorian medical devices, “human ivory” (a.k.a. fingernail) jewelry, and taxidermy mounts of two-headed calves.

Needless to say, every day at an oddities shop is pretty much Halloween. But what better time to poke around their shelves and displays than this time of year, when all of us—not just the collectors and connoisseurs—are in the mood for something a little bit strange and even possibly creepy and freaky? We'd suggest starting with these purveyors of weird wares from around the United States.

1. Bazaar // Baltimore, Maryland

A marker drawing of a clown waving and saying "Hi I'm Pogo" drawn by John Wayne Gacy
Serial killer John Wayne Gacy used marker to draw this clown portrait, which hangs at Bazaar in Baltimore, Maryland.
Courtesy of Greg Hatem

Greg Hatem and Brian Henry were two twentysomethings working jobs they didn’t like—Hatem was waiting tables and Henry was working in a photo lab—when they decided to take the plunge and open Bazaar (clearly a play on the word bizarre). “We both have strange collections, and there was a [retail] spot available in one of our favorite neighborhoods and we decided to go for it,” Hatem tells Mental Floss. “It started as stuff we found extremely weird—we had some rare albino specimens, and we had this one piece that was, like, framed dog hair that had won some dog show in, like, 1974.” The Ouija board was named in Baltimore, so Hatem and Henry naturally sell a lot of those. The store also boasts a signature candle collection, which includes such scents as Abandoned Hospital, Overgrown Cemetery, Plague Doctor, and Séance. “Overgrown Cemetery has a dirty, earthy smell, and Séance has spiritual herbs,” Hatem says. “Abandoned Hospital smells like a decaying building.” Well, naturally!

The Ouija boards and the candles are along the lines of what’s to be expected; Bazaar doesn’t disappoint, however, when it comes to the unexpected. “I’d say one of the creepier things we have in the shop is a sculpture made out of intestines,” Hatem says. “The face is sort of like a horse face and it has a female bust. We believe it’s pig intestines.” (In a follow-up email, Hatem explained that the sculpture had been found in an abandoned farmhouse during a clean-out by new owners, and that he knows virtually nothing about it beyond that.) Bazaar also has some original artwork by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was a prolific creator of drawings and paintings. “The Gacy piece is actually done in marker, and it depicts his alter ego, Pogo the Clown,” Hatem wrote. “I don't know if he titled most of his pieces, but it would be commonly referred to among collectors as a ‘Pogo.’ The Pogo pieces that were done with paint are among his most prized works, but the marker one is still pretty creepy!”

2. Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop // Seattle, Washington

A "Dental phantom"—a metal head equipped with teeth.
Courtesy Ryan Robbins

“I’ve sold more human bones than I know what to do with,” Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop owner Ryan Robbins tells Mental Floss, but Homo sapiens parts aren't the only unusual specimens you'll find here. The store also has a dissected pigeon encased in resin—“You can see all the internal organs”—and framed insects and taxidermy bats. Where does Robbins find all this stuff? “It started off with me traveling around, and now that we have a reputation, people will bring us stuff,” Robbins says. “Or we go to estate sales.” An owner of a tattoo shop that closed sold him a mummified cat. And Robbins also has some "dental phantoms" in the store. “They’re weird,” he said. “It’s a metal armature of a human head that looks like the Terminator ... It’s basically a metal skeleton head. Dentists practice on them and they’re very unusual and creepy.”

3. The Weeping Glass // Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A taxidermied two headed calf next to a vintage lamp.
Courtesy Kelly Braden

Though The Weeping Glass is bursting with odd and curious tchotchkes, probably one of the coolest things about this Pittsburgh establishment is its in-store events, which feature evenings of cocktails and performance artists who tell tales of murder, and an Edgar Allan Poe impersonator who does Poe readings (can you hear the heart beating under the floorboards?). “We definitely see a pickup around the Halloween season, but we have a lot of traffic year-round,” co-owner Kelly Braden says. “Halloween is every day for us.” Currently, there’s a full sheep skeleton in the shop, as well as a warthog skull and an ostrich skull. A cat skeleton Braden calls Ramona “sleeps” on one of the chairs. And it wouldn’t be an oddities shop without a taxidermy two-headed cow (seriously, they all seem to have one). “His name is Dippy, and he’s from a private collector we deal with,” Braden explains.

4. Obscura Antiques & Oddities // New York, New York

The term creepy is highly subjective, but there are certain antiques that just have an energy to them, or a look to them, that give some people inexplicable heebie-jeebies, according to Obscura Antiques & Oddities co-owner Mike Zohn. “Years ago, we had a really amazing shrunken head that had a [haunted] look to it,” he says. “We had a [human] brain in a jar many years ago. And Ouija boards—people get really freaked out by Ouijas. I’ve seen people turn around and leave. I’ve had people come in and say, ‘Oh my god, you should burn that.’” Obscura has a collection of Victorian death photos, as well as other memorial and mourning items. And anything related to the mortuary or medical professions is always a big hit, according to Zohn: “We have mortuary supplies, embalming tools. A medical amputation kit. Terrible and intrusive medical items.”

Obscura co-owner Evan Michelson—who, along with Zohn, starred on the Science Channel series Oddities—is particularly well-versed in Victorian jewelry, and the shop has plenty of items made from human hair. “We still have a bunch of human hair stuff—1850s hair items. Human hair wreaths. Most of them are mid- to late 19th-century,” Zohn says, but notes that jewelry made of hair is notoriously uncomfortable to wear close to the skin: “It can actually be kind of abrasive.” And the hair wreaths? “People displayed them in their homes,” he says. “Some of them are memorials, some of them are almost like a family tree—gray hair from grandma, red hair from aunt so-and-so—not necessarily because someone died.”

5. Las Vegas Oddities // Las Vegas, Nevada

“I had a guy walk in and pull a skull out of a kid’s backpack once. That skull was not fresh, so I didn’t call the cops,” says Vanessa VanAlstyne, owner of Las Vegas Oddities. “I did have a guy once try to sell me a half gallon of potassium cyanide from mining—that’s enough potassium cyanide to kill the entire Strip. Las Vegas is crazy.” Given these stories, it's understandable why VanAlstyne doesn't cold-buy off the street. “I do get a lot of people who are like ‘grandpa was a dentist’ or ‘my father was in medicine in the ‘40s,’” she says.

There is no “typical” Las Vegas Oddities customer, according to VanAlstyne, but visitors to her store are usually connoisseurs of some sort. “People who are in a field tend to collect things from that field—a lot of doctors or dentists or dental hygienists," she says. "Then you have your history buffs or your horror fans.” Circus sideshow memorabilia is popular—“this is a very circus/sideshow kind of town,” VanAlstyne says—and, of course, natural history stuff: The shop sells everything from mounted beetles to taxidermied bats.

6. Uncommon Objects // Austin, Texas

Austin's Uncommon Objects was founded in 1991 as an antique collective, but over the years it has evolved, according to its website, "into the one-of-a-kind emporium of transcendent junk" assembled by 24 antique vendors. But the shop doesn't just sell antiques. One of the favorite oddities Uncommon Objects owner Steve Wiman has ever sold were bovine hairballs that form naturally in a cow’s stomach. “They lick their hair and it doesn’t dissolve,” Wiman tells Mental Floss. “They weren’t really heavy—they were spherical and looked like softballs—but you could see tiny hairs and several different tones. I would have never known what it was if I hadn’t been told, but they came from a slaughter house." (Cows can't vomit, so these hairballs are only found after death.) "I sold the collection to someone who had a cattle ranch. I think they ended up in a good home.”

In addition to the semi-gross, Uncommon Objects also deals in the creepy and macabre, although maybe not intentionally. “We get people coming through the front door sometimes asking if we have any haunted items, and our answer is, ‘See if you feel if anything haunted is in here,’" he says. "We’ve had paranormal groups come through and we’ve turned off the power in the shop and they’ve caught a lot of things they felt might be haunted.” Does Wiman himself believe in ghosts? “I think most people who deal with old stuff find that there’s an energy that comes off some stuff, and there’s some stuff that’s a little twisted or perverse without any explanation.”

One night, the store’s alarm went off and Wiman was called to the store by the cops while they conducted their search of the premises. Fortunately, it was a false alarm, but an idea for an in-store event was formed. “We’re in conversation now about doing flashlight tours around Halloween,” Wiman says. “When I saw what they were seeing just via flashlight—like when you come upon a baboon head or a creepy doll—it’s a very different experience from what you see during the day.”

One of the store’s most dedicated customers is YouTube sensation Grav3yard Girl, who, with 8.5 million subscribers and regular Uncommon Objects "hauls," brings the store—and most likely oddities shops in general—a ton of business. “Creepy dolls are one of the things she’s bought for many, many years,” Wiman says. “She’s made them desirable to people who maybe wouldn’t have been into them.”

7. Woolly Mammoth // Chicago, Illinois

A mummified human head from Chicago's Woolly Mammoth
Courtesy of Woolly Mammoth

Even the origins of Chicago's Woolly Mammoth—a "curiosity cabinet of odd, amusing, and eclectic items resurrected from the past," according to its website—are a little spooky: Husband-and-wife owners Skye and Adam Rust came up with the idea in 2010 while on a trip to Transylvania, Romania, where they visited sites associated with Vlad the Impaler.

According to the Rusts, the creepiest oddity they ever sold is also their biggest regret. “We acquired a medically prepared, mummified human head,” they wrote in an email while on a buying trip in Europe. “There were cutaways that showed facial nerves, eyelashes, and some mustache remnants. We named him Alexander the Great, and we can barely look at a picture of him without getting sick to our stomachs that we sold him.”

Like Bazaar in Baltimore, Woolly Mammoth also has a John Wayne Gacy painting, but this one is probably even more disturbing than an infamous Pogo drawing: it’s Gacy’s painted depiction of Adolf Hitler. And like Obscura in New York, Woolly Mammoth also sells Victorian mourning hair wreaths, as well as 19th century obstetrics tools—primarily cephalotribes (an instrument that was used to crush the skulls of stillborn fetuses) as well as an in utero mechanical trephine (a saw for removing a cylindrical piece of tissue or bone).

8. Cleveland Curiosities // Cleveland, Ohio

According to Clement Kunkle, who owns Cleveland Curiosities with his wife Hallie Wallace, this generation is into being gothy and weird—hence the rise in popularity of oddities shops. Kunkle has always been a bit pleasantly gothy and weird himself, collecting skulls and engaging in bug-pinning projects and nature-collecting since the age of 13. “It progressively turned into more of a profession,” he tells Mental Floss. At Cleveland Curiosities, though, it’s Wallace who teaches the in-store butterfly-pinning classes, and a photographer friend comes in and does tintype photos for anyone who wants one. Back in September, Butch Patrick, the actor who played Eddie Munster on The Munsters, made an in-store appearance.

Some of the creepy stuff in Cleveland Curiosities includes old masquerade clown and devil masks. The store has the requisite two-headed calf, abnormal medical human skulls, and some Victorian human skeletons. For the tamer customers in the Lakewood shopping district, Cleveland Curiosities sells pins, prints and patches from various artists. “They’re not too creepy,” Kunkle says, “but people feel comfortable buying them because they’re just weird enough.”

9. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop // Seattle, Washington

Established in 1899, Seattle’s Ye Olde Curiosity Shop is one of the country’s O.G. curiosity shops. It all began when Joseph Edward Standley, later known to the public as “Daddy Standley,” won a clean desk award as a child and, as a prize, was given a book on natural oddities by his teacher, according to Standley’s great-great grandson Neal James, one of the store’s managers. Standley began collecting all sorts of things and, as an adult, opened a grocery store that he decorated with his various oddities. “After a while, no one could find the groceries, so he decided to open this store,” James tells Mental Floss.

The store sells framed spiders and bats, shrunken-head replicas, animal skeletons, and unusual taxidermy. But it’s the store’s museum that contains the most interesting artifacts. There are not one, but two Fiji Mermaids—a half-monkey/half-fish taxidermy creature that originated with Japanese sailors and was made most famous by P.T. Barnum. Another unique item sounds similar to the mummified head from Woolly Mammoth. “We call him Medical Ed, and he’s a head that was mummified and it opens up so that you can study all the inside parts,” James says. “It appears to be something that wasn’t very common. You can’t find many of them anywhere.” Other curious items include bone and ivory jewelry, (more) hairballs from a cow’s stomach, a preserved baby octopus, and a whale eardrum.

James is an encyclopedia of knowledge about the business, and speaks with infectious enthusiasm about each object and oddity. Does he plan to follow in his great-great grandfather’s footsteps? “Most certainly.”

10. The Creeper Gallery // New Hope, Pennsylvania

"Haunted Ralphie," a haunted taxidermied dog, at the Creeper Gallery
Erin McCarthy

Owners and artists D.L. Marian and Danielle Deveroux call their store a "completely unique gallery experience," and they're not kidding. The Creeper Gallery, located on Bridge Street in New Hope, Pennsylvania, is full of unusual original art, vintage taxidermied animals, manuals from secret societies, a human skeleton, and first editions of Edgar Allan Poe's works. Then there's The Red Room, which contains haunted dolls, paintings, and even a leather earhorn that was owned by a Civil War veteran ("family claims they see the spirit of a soldier in the vicinity of the piece," the earhorn's tag notes). Marian and Deveroux find items for the shop all over the world: “There’s no Walmart for it!” Deveroux told CBS. “So we’re hunting and pecking. We’re going far and wide.”

The Reason Why a Puppy in North Carolina Was Born Bright Green

Anastasiia Cherniavskaia, iStock via Getty Images
Anastasiia Cherniavskaia, iStock via Getty Images

When a dog owner in Canton, North Carolina, first saw her new puppy, she knew exactly what to name him. Hulk the infant pup is much smaller than his namesake, but like the comic book character, he's green from head to toe.

As WLOS reports, Hulk was born with a coat of fur the color of avocado toast. He is one of eight puppies in a litter a white German Shepherd named Gypsy delivered the morning of January 10. Even though one came out lime-green, it was healthy, normal birth, according to Gypsy's owner Shana Stamey.

Hulk's unique coloration isn't a sign of any health issues. Meconium—or the matter in the intestines of a fetus—is mostly made of water, but it can also contain something called biliverdin. This chemical makes bile, and when it gets into the amniotic fluid of a birth sac, it can stain a puppy's fur green. This is especially noticeable when the newborn's fur is white, as in Hulk's case. You can see the rare phenomenon in the video below.

After a few weeks of baths and licks from mom, the meconium stains will eventually fade to reveal his natural white coat. But while he won't be green forever, Hulk gets to keep his colorful name for life.

[h/t WLOS]

Not-So-Fancy Feast: Your Cat Probably Would Eat Your Rotting Corpse

Tycson1/iStock via Getty Images
Tycson1/iStock via Getty Images

Cat enthusiasts often cite the warmth and companionship offered by their pet as reasons why they’re so enamored with them. Despite these and other positive attributes, cat lovers are often confronted with the spurious claim that, while their beloved furry pal might adore them when they’re alive, it won’t hesitate to devour their corpse if they should drop dead.

Though that’s often dismissed as negative cat propaganda spread by dog people, it turns out that it’s probably true. Fluffy might indeed feast on your flesh if you happened to expire.

A horrifying new case study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences offers the fresh evidence. The paper, first reported by The Washington Post, documents how two cats reacted in the presence of a corpse at Colorado Mesa University’s Forensic Investigation Research Station, or body farm, where the deceased are used to further forensic science for criminal investigations.

The study’s authors did not orchestrate a meeting between cat and corpse. The finding happened by accident: Student and lead author Sara Garcia was scanning surveillance footage of the grounds when she noticed a pair of cats trespassing. The cats, she found, were interested in the flesh of two corpses; they gnawed on human tissue while it was still in the early stages of decomposition, stopping only when the bodies began leaching fluids.

The cats, which were putting away one corpse each, didn’t appear to have a taste for variety, as they both returned to the same corpse virtually every night. The two seemed to prefer the shoulder and arm over other body parts.

This visual evidence joins a litany of reports over the years from medical examiners, who have observed the damage left by both cats and dogs who were trapped in homes with deceased owners and proceeded to eat them. It’s believed pets do this when no other food source is available, though in some cases, eating their human has occurred even with a full food bowl. It’s something to consider the next time your cat gives you an affectionate lick on the arm. Maybe it loves you. Or maybe it has something else in mind.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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