Skulls are everywhere! Always a perennial favorite among tattoo aficionados, they’re also trending in fashion magazines and even spotted on little kids’ backpacks. I alone have four T-shirts adorned with reperesentations of what most of us are hiding beneath our faces. They’re just plain cool.  And nothing’s cooler than skulls in New York City.

This summer, I had the opportunity to spend almost a week in New York City with most of my day open to explore the streets of Manhattan.  I had only three things on my must-do list:

  1. Find a local coffee shop filled with bemustached hipsters with loud ethereal dubstep played on vinyl – check.
  2. Feel completely old, poor, and unstylish at a trendy clothing boutique where I would be patronizingly ignored by the staff – check.
  3. Check out the weird stuff and hopefully talk to the owners of Obscura Antiques & Oddities from the TV show Oddities – check and check!

Obscura Antiques & Oddities

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Check
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Ryan Mathew Cohn, Evan Michelson, and Mike Zohn of Obscura Antiques & Oddities

Can I say that that the staff was more than generous with their time? The staff was more than generous with their time. I talked to the owner, Evan Michelson, for a while about the shop in general as she nonchalantly pointed out some of her more affordable items like change purses made from frogs and old-timey medical illustrations. We shared a laugh about how (um, other) people want everything in the store to be haunted or posess magical powers. She even gave me a sweet deal on a misprinted skeleton shirt. I got an irregular Obscura shirt! Hmmm, I wonder if that’s worth something. Probably at a far-future oddities shop. One sec – I need to update my will. Fight it out, kids.

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Skulls everywhere!
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Cool stuff behind the glass where I couldn’t touch it.

Then, I spent some time staring intensely at the skulls, of course. They had this incredible exploded skull. Each separate cranial bone was positioned with little rods as if a tiny bomb went off, then time froze.  It was the perfect representation of what my headache felt like the other day. Being that it was behind glass, like all their coolest items, I had to do this weird squatty-upside-down position to really get up in there. I wanted to see exactly how the bones fit together and what a normal skull would look like without certain bones.  I’m part of a research team investigating the Starchild Skull – which looks quite otherworldly and is missing some important cranial bones. Of course, it was in this unflattering moment that, who I am pretty sure is Ryan Mathew Cohn – the handsome buyer for the store, came over to discuss skulls and two-headed cows and whatnot. These exploded skulls (which he said were valued at around $4,000) were used by medical students to learn the skull’s anatomy and not actually meant to be funky decor. Go figure.

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I got all up in that grill.

We talked about their infamous mummy hand and he ran around the tiny store (seems much larger on TV) and pointed out other skulls and skeletons. It turned into a really awesome musical montage with Alice in Chains’ Dem Bones playing in the background – well, in my mind.  Trying to impress, I told him all about The Field Reports and the anomolous Starchild Skull. Turns out, he’s got a thing for elongated skulls. He was even quoted in a Huffington Post article saying,“Right now, I really want one of those Peruvian elongated skulls. They used to put boards on babies’ heads to make them stick up like a conehead. I’m fascinated by them.” Lucky for you, Ryan Mathew Cohn, I happen to know a leading expert on elongated skulls, Chase Kloetske, my partner on The Field Reports. That’s really all I got, though; those skulls are super protected by strict Peruvian laws and then there are those pesky repatriation regulations for indigenous remains. Sorry, buddy.

The Evolution Store

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Found it!

My next skulltopia was found quite by accident. As our cab driver recklessly sped between stationary cars on Broadway on what I’m sure were only two wheels, I was glued to the window, trying to focus on a fixed point, because I heard that helps with vertigo, when I saw it – a giant, beautiful, medically-illustrated skull on a storefront window.  We wizzed by so fast, I couldn’t read the name or address, but I knew I had to check it out. The next day, starting at our Hilton near One World Trade Center, I walked and walked until I found it – The Evolution Store. Jackpot! Exhausted from years of not exercising, I opened the doors and probably looked pretty gruesome –  sweaty, jaw dropped, and pupils dilating because of the massive amounts of sweet, sweet nature. No, not that gross outdoorsy kind filled with mud and biting bugs, nope, previously alive nature – or at least facsimiles of. I’m talking skeletons of every kind, georgeous illustrations from early nature journals, meteorites, rocks, fossils, and even anomolous skulls! And, as a store designer in a previous life, just a beautifully designed shop. All they need to complete their collection is a Starchild Skull replica!

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One of each, please.
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How I want to decorate my living room.
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So. Many. Skulls.
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Skulls of Neanderthals, skulls of all sizes, and a pretty big case of crabs.
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The Boy of Bengal Skull on the right and a four year old human skull in the middle (close to the age of the Starchild Skull)

 

A replica of two-headed conjoined twins – the original skeleton can be found at the Mutter Museum. On the right is a conjoined gingerbread man cookie I made last Christmas using the cookie cutter from the Mutter Museum representing those guys on the left. The two pictures are basically indistinguishable.

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Interesting side note – my hotel maid stole the meteorite I bought. Sad. To travel so far only to be stopped just short of my shelf of honor.
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Because who hasn’t wondered what a coyote or raccoon penis bone looks like? You’re welcome.

It’s so nice to see that there are so many other morbidly curious people out there that you could actually open a store, in New York City, selling skulls and bones and people will come and look at them, and enough of those people will buy them so that you won’t die sad and penniless.  Our fascination with those skulls that are mishapen, conjoined and even unexplainable has been around since man started digging in the dirt; but now, anyone with internet access can see those skulls and read about them.  We can see just how many there are, and try to sort the artifacts from the fabrications. Anyone can become part of the mystery and investigation.  Join us on The Field Reports as we uncover the mystery behind one of the most infamous anomalous skulls – The Starchild Skull. Have I mentioned the Starchild Skull?

On a final note, all that dang walking and talk about bones really worked up my appetite so I sipped a delicious Bone Broth for lunch that day at the Springbone Kitchen and sat and thought about – bones.  The restaurant likes to quote this ancient South American Proverb, “Good broth will ressurect the dead.”  It’s kind of true. If you think about it, broth is made by cooking bones forever, trying to pull out all their delicious goodness, and by studying bones, we are pulling out all their tasty information by researching and conducting tests forever. This data gives them a second life. We try to put together the puzzle pieces of what their life must have been like and where they came from. They get to be ressurected in a way, to tell their story all over again.