Freeze-dried bats. Mummified skunk heads. Jars of preserved animal fetuses.
Something weird this way comes, thanks to the Oddities & Curiosities Expo taking place Saturday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The event is billed as more than 100,000 square feet of the bizarre, strange and creepy, with local and national vendors of taxidermy, “wet specimens,” skulls, bones, antique medical devices, macabre artworks and crafts.
There will also be performances from something called the Stray Cat Sideshow, featuring Secoria the sword swallower, who claims to be the first woman in history to swallow a Ford Model T car axle. Reverend Matt, the monster scientist, will give a lecture on how to contract lycanthropy (and thus become a werewolf). And Rexx Body Modification will be hanging around the expo with live human suspension performances, which involve hoisting a person into the air suspended by metal hooks attached to the skin.
More of a do-it-yourselfer than a gawker?
Check out the “Taxidermy With Nina” class, a two-hour beginner course for $100, mouse included. Or you can get the Rexx team to hook you up for your own human suspension experience starting at $125. You even get to keep the hardware used to pierce your flesh.
The Twin Cities have hosted sex conventions, tattoo conventions, puppetry conventions and even conventions for adult fans of a “My Little Pony” cartoon. So why not the “first and Original Traveling Oddities event”?
The expo for the odd is the creation of Michelle and Tony Cozzaglio, a young couple from Tulsa, Okla., who like to collect the strange and unusual in antiques, skulls and bones. They decided to share their passion by inviting a few dozen vendors to expos they first organized in 2017 in Tulsa and Denver.
“I didn’t think anyone was going to come,” Michelle Cozzaglio said.
But thousands did. So in 2018, they brought the expo to eight cities around the country.
This year, they’ve expanded to 16 locations, with Minneapolis getting on the tour circuit for the first time.
Cozzaglio quit bartending and working for call centers. Her full-time job now is impresario of the unusual.
She expects to draw about 10,000 attendees in Minneapolis, ranging from families with kids to older adults. They’ll see about 150 vendors and exhibitors with names such as Dead Things by Sarah and Bobble Dead, maker of zombie bobblehead dolls.
“It’s really all the spectrum of weird,” Cozzaglio said. “We try to have a little something for everyone.”
Rejecting the normal
Affordable Skulls & More from Texas will be there. It’s a retailer of “all the basic skulls” — beaver, raccoon, squirrel — for the beginner or budget-minded collector, Cozzaglio said. Crazy Coaster Chicks of Tulsa livens up mundane beverage coasters with images of serial killers and postmortem photos. Need a mouse skeleton strumming a tiny toy guitar? You may be able to find it at the Skeletorium booth.
Twin Cities paranormal investigator Bryan Dorn also will be on hand, to talk about “ghosts and graves” as part of Shadow Hunters Minnesota and the Minnesota’s Famous Dead project. Dorn, an Eden Prairie man who is also a pro wrestler with the stage name Ian Xavier, said he investigates reports of haunted houses and businesses and researches the history and burial sites of notable Minnesotans.
Ollie Schminkey, a St. Paul potter who runs Sick Kitty Ceramics, will be selling disquieting “body horror” mugs and bowls decorated with disembodied molded teeth and fingers.
“I like to make functional work that’s a little scary,” said Schminkey, who graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul with an art degree and sells pottery through Etsy. “Every person that’s [at the expo] is going to be my ideal customer.”
Cozzaglio stressed that she vets all vendors to make sure animal specimens for sale are “ethically sourced,” meaning that they were stillborn or died of natural or accidental causes. Nothing was killed for the sake of art, she said.
She said about half of the vendors at the Minneapolis show will be from Minnesota. Part of her job curating exhibitors is to make sure everything is at least a little bit different. She’s a gatekeeper who rejects normalcy, such as a vendor who wants to be there just to sell hot tubs.
“I, for some reason, get applications all the time for gutter-cleaning companies,” she said of another type of business she rejects. “They say, ‘Imagine the oddities in your gutter.’ ”
From roadkill to collectible
One vendor who made the cut is Cameren Torgerud.
Three years ago, Torgerud turned his skull-collecting hobby into a business, opening the Studio Payne Art Gallery and Oddities Shop on St. Paul’s East Side. That’s where you can buy beaver, fox or squirrel fetuses preserved in a jar, or browse more than 30 species of animal skulls for sale, ranging from giraffe to coyote, much of it roadkill.
He said he once collected about 20 deer skulls after he discovered a carcass dumping ground used by road maintenance workers. He also spends a lot of time walking along train tracks.
“Trains kill a ton of animals,” he said.
His taxidermied ducklings came from an egg farm that had an excess of male birds. His preserved cat in a jar used up its ninth life freezing to death in a shed.
“No one is stealing cats and killing them,” he said.
Torgerud also sells some human bones retired from medical library use and human teeth ($6 each, or two for $10) that used to be owned by a dentist.
When he heard that the Oddities & Curiosities Expo was coming to Minneapolis, his reaction was “Sweet! Finally!”
“I’m going to bring about the entire shop,” he said of what he hopes to sell at the expo.
Interest in collecting dead animals or animal parts for aesthetic purposes seems to have grown in recent years, with the creation of online groups to sell or trade bones and skulls and the emergence of rogue taxidermy as an edgy, contemporary art form. If you search for one term for it — vulture culture — you’ll get more than 3,000 Etsy hits.
“It’s super in,” said Torgerud, 28, who said that owning an animal skull is a way to connect with the natural and wild.
“It’s a way to have a tiger in your home without having a tiger in your home,” he said.
And human fascination with the creepy never gets old.
“People love serial killers,” Torgerud said. “They’re fascinated with death.”
Manda Rexx of Davenport, Iowa, performs human suspension for the expo. When she’s swinging through the air hanging from her hooks, it never fails to draw a crowd.
“We’re odd. We’re different,” she said. “I think it’s something you can’t take your eyes off of.”