At the Oddities & Curiosities Expo, coming May 1 to St. Louis, nearly anything goes: jackalopes, bespoke corsets, translucent mice floating in jars, eyeball bracelets, skull mugs, actual skulls.
“It’s always funny to see what people are walking out with,” says Michelle Cozzaglio, who runs the show with her husband, Tony. “You just see someone walking out with a full zebra, and they’re just walking down the street, walking to their car, and people are like, 'What the hell?'”
The Cozzaglios have long been collectors of the odd and obscure — she estimates she owns five or six real human skulls — and have been organizing offbeat events since 2014, starting with a punk-rock flea market.
They run a record store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called Boulevard Trash and a screen-printing company called Boomtown Tees. They have connections in the music industry and with oddities vendors across the country.
Since the Cozzaglios started the Oddities & Curiosities Expo, she says, exhibitors have mostly found them.
The expo ranges from vendors who sell taxidermy to dark ceramic arts to funeral antiques to medical equipment to antique postcards. Among the vendors coming to St. Louis: Hardcore Hearse Club, Punk-A-Dermy, the Skeletorium, and the Bad Button Bespoke Corsets.
For the crafty crowd, there’s also a do-it-yourself jackalope taxidermy class, which for $200 provides participants with everything they need to create their very own jackalope.
“We think it’s really important to have something strange for everyone,” Cozzaglio says. “We get people who are oddities collectors to serious collectors with museum-quality collections. And then we get the attendee who is like: 'OK, I like Halloween. That seems weird.'”
The St. Louis show will have about 120 socially distanced vendors but no performances like sword swallowers or people walking on glass.
“We get all ages, all backgrounds — anyone can come to our show,” she says. “It’s appealing because they will know that they can come there and will see things they have never seen before.”
What Oddities & Curiosities Expo • When 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 1 • Where America's Center, 701 Convention Plaza • How much $10 timed entry; $200 for taxidermy class • More info showpass.com
25 of our own St. Louis oddities
We’re fans of the odd and curious, especially in and around our fair city. But it wasn't easy to narrow our list of the weird, wonderful and maybe a little macabre. We know there are more, but we had to draw the line somewhere.
The tallest man
Where Alton Museum of History and Art, 2809 College Avenue, Alton • More info altonmuseum.com
At 8 feet 11 inches, Robert Wadlow walked the earth as the tallest human in recorded history. You can see a life-size statue of him in his native Alton, a cast of his record-breaking hands at the Alton Museum of History of Art across the street, as well as some of his shoes at the museum, Fast Eddie’s Bon Air in Alton and the St. Louis Science Center.
Bob Cassilly’s creations
Turtles, hippos, frogs, a giant praying mantis: Because of artist Bob Cassilly, you’ll spot these giant creatures around town and at City Museum. Cassilly died in 2011, but his creatures live on along Interstate 64 (Highway 40) across from the St. Louis Zoo, outside the Butterfly House in Chesterfield, inside Lafayette Park in St. Louis and in other locations. Find a driving tour of his work at citymuseum.org/activity-sheets.
Where Route 100, just north of Alton • More info riversandroutes.com/listing/piasa-bird/5030/
Up in Alton, a giant mural of a Piasa bird graces the bluffs along the river. Native American legend says the man-eating monster bird swooped to the ground to snatch hunters — until members of the Illini tribe finally killed it. In 1673, French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet spotted a drawing of the creature on the bluffs, and Marquette wrote that the bird had a beard like a tiger’s and a face like a man's. While you’re getting there, look up other local legends such as Momo the Monster, whose stinky self supposedly scared residents in the 1970s outside Louisiana, Missouri.
Another notable arch
Where St. Louis Union Station, 1820 Market Street • More info stlouisunionstation.com/grand-hall
The Grand Hall at St. Louis Union Station is a wonder upon itself, with laser shows projected regularly on its seven-story barrel-vaulted ceiling. But after you finish sipping your cocktail at the bar, wander over to the whispering arch, inside the Union Station Hotel's Market Street entrance, and spill your secrets. The sound waves will bounce 40 feet up, over and down the Romanesque curve to the other side. The whispering arch phenomenon was discovered during construction of the station in the 1890s, when a worker dropped a hammer and a painter on the other side could hear him.
Where Cahokia Mounds, 30 Ramey Street, Collinsville • More info cahokiamounds.org
Not to be confused with Stonehenge in England or even Carhenge in Nebraska, Woodhenge in Cahokia is a series of poles arranged in a circle next to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville. Archaeologists discovered evidence of three ancient calendars in the 1960s, and workers rebuilt one of them in the 1980s. While you can’t exactly set your Swatch to the posts, on the first days of fall and spring, known as the equinoxes, you can see “spectacular sunrises,” according to the site. “The post marking these sunrises aligns with the front of Monks Mound, where the leader resided, and it looks as though Monks Mound gives birth to the sun."
The Haskell Playhouse
Where 1211 Henry Street, Alton • More info haskellplayhouse.org
This larger-than-life Queen Anne-style playhouse was built in 1885 for 5-year-old Lucy Haskell. She was the daughter of Dr. William and Florence Haskell, and historians believe her grandfather commissioned a prominent local architect, Lucas Pfeiffenberger, to design the structure. Lucy died four years later of diphtheria, and after her mother's death in 1932, the family gave the estate to the city for education and recreation. The playhouse has been restored and is open to the public a few times a year. Children can play nearby at Haskell Park’s playground.
Gorilla bones and prosthetic eyes
Where Taylor Community Science Resource Center, 4900 Manchester Road • More info slsc.org
About 100,000 items — shrunken heads, a four-armed frog in formaldehyde, an iron lung, a case of prosthetic eyeballs, the skeleton of the St. Louis Zoo’s beloved Phil the gorilla — sit in a nondescript warehouse in south St. Louis. It’s known as the Taylor Community Science Resource Center, or the archives of the St. Louis Science Center. The museum uses the collection to augment traveling displays, such as its own mummy of a baby used in conjunction with the current "Mummies of the World" exhibition. The collection is currently closed for tours.
The Gateway Geyser
Where Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park, 185 West Trendley Avenue • More info theparkwithaview.com/gatewaygeyser
Every kid has aimed a garden hose straight into the air, just to see how high the stream of water will go. Malcolm W. Martin dreamed this dream on a much grander scale and is the philanthropist behind the Gateway Geyser, which blasts water 630 feet into the sky — the height of the Gateway Arch. It’s the tallest fountain in America and the third-tallest in the world. The geyser has been spouting off since 1995. It shoots for 10 minutes daily starting at noon, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Where Grant’s Farm, 10501 Gravois Road • More info grantsfarm.com
Grant’s cabin, which got the nickname Hardscrabble because of its crude construction, certainly wasn’t one of Ulysses S. Grant’s most notable accomplishments. Wife Julia Dent later recalled that it was “so crude and homely I did not like it at all, but I did not say so.” But the cabin served as a curiosity and tourist attraction through the years. It was disassembled and reassembled at least three times: at the 1904 World’s Fair, in Old Orchard in Webster Groves and finally at Grant’s Farm, where passers-by on tram tours and in cars on Gravois Road can catch a glimpse — and perhaps imagine Julia’s rolling eyes.
Where Miniature Museum of Greater St. Louis, 4746 Gravois Avenue • More info miniaturemuseum.org
This gem of a museum in the Bevo Mill neighborhood is closed because of the pandemic, but you can visit its website for a virtual tour. Don’t miss the model of St. Louis’ Old Cathedral (with working chandeliers), a black-light-lit haunted house and a model of a teen boy’s vintage bedroom (look for the tiny “M.A.S.H.” poster).
A touch of Holland
Where Bevo Mill, 4749 Gravois Avenue • More info dasbevo.com
You can’t get much curiouser than the Bevo Mill. The 60-foot-tall windmill is the brainchild of August Busch Sr., who wanted a European-style beer garden rest stop between the Anheuser-Busch brewery and the family estate at Grant’s Farm. A landmark at the wedge of Gravois Avenue and Morganford since 1917, it's now run as the Das Bevo event space, with brunch and live music on the weekends.
Where St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station, 201 South 18th Street • More info stlouisaquarium.com
There sits Lord Stanley in his tank at St. Louis Aquarium, his miniature hockey puck and stick poised for action, his brilliant blue exoskeleton a banner of Blues fervor. Lord Stanley is literally one in 2 million, a rare blue lobster whose color is the result of a genetic mutation. He was rescued from the lobster pot by a Cape Cod-area restaurant during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2019. Though the aquarium hadn't planned on a lobster display, it quickly made accommodations for the rare, royal cheerleader.
Ty-D-Bowl, mothballs, murals
Where Willert Home Products, 4044 Park Avenue • More info willert.com
Willert Home Products, celebrating 75 years in business, stands out in an industrial corner of St. Louis for its building's vibrant murals. In the 1990s, company president William Willert wanted to brighten up the Botanical Heights neighborhood and commissioned artists Sarah Linquist and Robert Fishbone to paint the murals, which have since been refurbished. Willert served in Vietnam and has traveled all around the world, inspiring the paintings' tropical plants and animals. The moths hidden among the foliage represent the company’s line of moth-repelling products. Adjacent to the factory is a military tribute park, with flags of the military branches waving in the occasionally deodorizer-scented breeze.
Civil Courts creatures
Where Civil Courts, 10 North Tucker Boulevard
The Civil Courts building is probably one of the St. Louis skyline's more recognizable structures, with its Greek temple topping the 13 stories completed in 1930. But without a pair of binoculars or a drone, you might not notice the two winged, Sphinxlike creatures — also described in past newspaper articles as griffins — atop the building. The human-faced creatures each are 20 feet long and 11½ feet tall, with a half-inch-thick aluminum shell. A 1941 article by the St. Louis Star and Times said Mayor William Dee Becker eyed the sculptures (nicknamed Sue and Sadie) for scrap as the city sought to donate aluminum for the war effort; each could supply enough aluminum for a “moderate-sized” plane, Becker figured. Obviously, the idea never took flight.
Our own exorcism
Yes, every town has its ghost stories. But how many have demon-possession stories? The incident that inspired the movie and book “The Exorcist” took place here in 1949, beginning inside the home of a 14-year-old boy from suburban Washington, D.C. The family heard scratching noises, pieces of fruit flew across the room and pictures toppled. They brought the boy to see Jesuit priests at St. Louis University, and the most of the exorcism took place at Alexian Brothers Hospital in south St. Louis; the wings where it happened were later demolished. The priest’s house on the university campus has also been razed, but the relatives' Bel-Nor home where he stayed for some of the ordeal still stands and was the site of a televised exorcism in 2015.
First columbarium west of the Mississippi
Where Valhalla's Hillcrest Abbey, 3211 Sublette Avenue • More info valhallafunerals.net
The first cremation in St. Louis garnered a front-page headline that we reporter types call a Cheerio-spitter: “Complete and Perfect Incineration Accomplished in Three Hours." A subhead: "No Smoke, No Odor, No Objectionable Features.” Elizabeth Todd Terry, 44, was cremated May 6, 1888, at the Missouri Crematory on Sublette Avenue in south St. Louis. It was the first crematory west of the Mississippi River and the first columbarium in the United States. It operates now as Valhalla’s Hillcrest Abbey. Cremations aren't performed there anymore, but bodies and cremains are interred in the columbarium and mausoleum. The complex includes the historic buildings and a cemetery with nine headstones, though dozens more may be buried there.
A once-mighty oak
Where Near West End picnic site, 4257 Northeast Drive • More info towergrovepark.org
A tombstone in the southwest corner of Tower Grove Park bears a worn name and date: Eliza Hoole, 1882. Who was Eliza? And is she buried here? Our first clue is the word “oak” above her name. According to the park, the stone doesn’t mark Hoole’s grave, but rather an oak tree planted at the spot in 1882. Hoole was a cousin of the park’s founder, Henry Shaw. She came here from England that year and loved the park so much she decided to plant a tree there to mark the occasion. The tree is long gone, but the stone remains.
America’s oldest taxidermist
Where Schwarz Studio Inc., 8520 Gravois Road • More info schwarzstudiotaxidermy.com
Schwarz Studio Inc. says it’s the oldest taxidermy establishment in the United States and was started by German immigrant Frank Schwarz, who studied sculpture, anatomy and taxidermy. He taught the trade to his two sons, Max and Paul, and the business passed down to two more generations before being bought in 2002 by longtime employee Frank Wagner Jr. The studio continues to do work for clients all around the world, including a full-size gorilla for the St. Louis Science Center and mounts for members of the Busch brewery family.
We don’t have to wait for the circus to come to town — St. Louis is home to its own circus rings and more than a few performers. Circus Flora in Grand Center went dark for more than a year but recently announced its upcoming show June 4-6, “The St. Lou Revue,” along with its regular season in October. Circus Harmony performers have their own ring at City Museum, though in recent weeks they have sent walking performers around the museum, since spectators can't gather for performances. And groups such as Everyday Circus and Circus Kaput send performers to private parties and events.
Where Telephone Museum at Jefferson Barracks, 12 Hancock Avenue • More info jbtelmuseum.org
The Telephone Museum at Jefferson Barracks is a labor of love that's best enjoyed with a child in tow — their smartphone-agile fingers may not know how to dial one of the many rotary phones on display. You can pose with a sculpture of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell and marvel at a huge collection of novelty phones, all housed within a restored 1896 Army officer’s building at Jefferson Barracks.
It’s hard to choose a favorite big thing towering over the streets of St. Louis, so let’s first honor the world’s largest ones: the ketchup bottle water tower in Collinsville, the giant pencil at City Museum (also home to a giant pair of underpants) and the colossal chess piece outside the World Chess Hall of Fame. The Missouri Botanical Garden is hosting giant origami sculptures now through Oct. 10 in "Origami in the Garden." Meanwhile, you can see a giant Vess bottle just north of downtown, a giant ice cream cone in front of Meisner Primary School in Affton, a giant eyeball and deer at Laumeier Sculpture Park, a giant hot dog cart in Union, Missouri, a giant three-way plug on the lawn of the St. Louis Art Museum, a giant spinning moon on the Moonrise Hotel roof and a giant set of teeth at HealthWorks! Kids Museum in St. Louis.
Final resting place — maybe
Where Boone Monument Road, Marthasville, Missouri • More info facebook.com/danielboonecemetery
Daniel Boone was buried here. Well, at one time, at least. The frontiersman undoubtedly died at his son’s home near Defiance in 1820, and he was undoubtedly buried next to his wife, Rebecca, about 14 miles away in Marthasville. But questions remain about where his body actually rests now. In 1845, Kentucky state officials got permission to move the Boones' bodies to a monument in Frankfort, but some people believe the wrong remains were dug up. Historians agree to disagree over many aspects of this mystery, but the truth is that parts of both may be buried in both places.
Where The Darkness, 1525 South Eighth Street • More info thedarkness.com
The Darkness claims to be the best haunted house in America, and since it’s been in business here for 27 years, its operators probably know what they’re doing. Owner Larry Kirchner grew up obsessed with Halloween, and every year he adds and subtracts from his attractions, which include Creepyworld in Fenton and a haunted house at the Lemp Brewery. The Darkness will have a booth at the Oddities & Curiosities Expo.
Where Weldon Spring Site Interpretive Center, 7295 Highway 94 South, St. Charles • More info lm.doe.gov/Weldon/Interpretive_Center/
You’ll get one of the highest and most panoramic views of St. Charles County by climbing the trail up the 75-foot-tall disposal cell at the Weldon Spring Site Interpretive Center. Not only will you feel on top of the world, but you will actually stand on top of a rock-covered pile of radioactive waste. The U.S. Department of Energy opened the site in 2002 atop old TNT, DNT and uranium ore processing facilities. The exhibit hall is closed because of the pandemic, but visitors can explore its 150-acre prairie and surrounding trails.
Birds of a feather
Where O'Fallon Park, 799 East Taylor Avenue • More info stlouis-mo.gov/parks
If you visit O’Fallon Park in north St. Louis, you might first note the historic boathouse, which was recently renovated. But look just beyond the water to the island on the lake, and you’ll see hundreds of white birds roosting in the trees, walking on the shore and swooping down to the water’s surface for a snack. For nearly a decade, the great egrets, cattle egrets, snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons have landed here, a convenient stop on the Mississippi Flyway. In the fall, they’ll start flying south for food.