Morbid Curiosities: Collections of the Uncommon and the Bizarre
Lots of people collect things: buttons, stickers, rubber duckies, books, porcelain figurines, … skulls, shrunken heads, murder weapons, antique surgical and autopsy equipment… ← Whoa there! Yes. There are folks who collect some wildly weird stuff. Items that some of us would think of as rather morbid and distressing end up prominently displayed in other peoples’ homes. But collecting is collecting and rare and unusual items are fair game and indeed prized. This is one of those books that I just stumbled upon and the topic piqued my interest because, as a teen, I had an animal skull collection and even got the opportunity to bring some specimens to the Yale Peabody Museum bug room. (This was a room deep in the basement that contained a series of chambers with beetles that would meticulously strip the flesh from bone, leaving perfect skeletal remains for display and/or investigation.) In the end, I’m glad I gave this, initially off-putting, book a chance.
Written by Paul Gambino, this tour of some of the world’s most macabre and eclectic collections, with owners as unique as their hoards, is generously filled with photographs on almost every page. The text contains interviews with the collectors, in which Gambino elucidates the origins of the collections and what drives each person to fill their home with things that most readers are sure to think belong six feet under or in an incinerator. I was amazed that anyone could get their hands on some of the items, such as the death certificate for John Wayne Gacy, one of the most notorious serial killers in United States. The items shown in this book, though often disturbing, are all none-the-less part of life on this planet and may be, in many cases, important artifacts from our human society. Once one gets past the disturbing gut reaction and steps back, it becomes obvious that most of the items are of historical and anthropological interest. These collections turn their owners homes into small and unique museums that are, no doubt, of great value both to their owners and many historians and scientists. I can appreciate the need for a book like this and wonder if there are others that catalogue and describe other private collections (of anything) that are not usually seen by the public. This book might not be for everyone, but if you you think you can stomach the photographic topics, it is well worth a gander.