Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Keep Louisville realllll weird! The Louisville Stigmatorium Oddities & Strange Collectables

Heading northwest into the industrial district of Louisville where the Victorian Mansions pass into the areas of yesterday's industry is a boat repair shop adorned with a ship, perched on top the building. 

It reminds me of the artist coop I used to live in Oakland, where I used to practice with my band while watching another ship being built, the tail end of a replica of the infamous Titanic for an oversea's historical recreation amusement ride. 

Something told me that there was a lot more to this plainspoken building with the precariously perched boat as its only sign. It like the port of Oakland I frequented, it had that similar feel... there is more then meets the eye hidden in secluded industrial setting.

After all these spaces are ripe for mixed use culture. You have the space to sculpt, create larger pieces,play music, metalwork.You can choreograph dance , rehearse a play ...

Or as Andy did, start your own museum.

The Louisville Stigmatorium Oddities & Strange Collectibles is the brainchild of Andy Harpole and is the brick and mortar counterpart to his fascinating , funny and curious facebook page.

I saw his posting on another page I've been following: The House in Old Louisville which local authour David Domine's is chronicling a riveting current true crime local story to become a book on one of the strangest stories to come out the Bluegrass, a 'Party Monster' style murder love triangle complete with victim buried in an old creepy Victorian Mansion basement.A real live American Horror Story Season 1 Mansion complete with a Sanitorium past with a mad doctor to boot.

Andy knew one of the defendants when they were kids, it has to be something short of the twilight zone feeling when you hear them involved in a murder case. Louisville is a large metro area with a small town feel. 

Through looking at facebook photos I spied this beauty, a Catholic Sick Call Kit , often referred to as a Last Rights kit. Priests would bring these, on call to patients and gravely ill.

I had quite the collection of antique embalming and postmortem makeup, collected after I was offered a position at the Skyview Mortuary in Pacifica, California in 2001 after I was asked to apply makeup to my best friend Heather Oswald. She had passed in a fatal car accident took her life a block from our old house that we shared with room mates in Oakland.

Andy doesn't just appreciate these stigmatized objects and gives them respect and a new home, he loves to hear the stories behind them and will even include them with the objects. It gives them history and history of an object is what can give them a stigma, a boon for oddity collectors. 

His collection of these objects took over his home and he started looking around his boat shop for a place in which he could share his collection with like minds. With successful sales on eBay and craigslist, he was actually contacted by the producers of the popular shows "Oddities" to be a guest on the show. Something he wasn't inclined to do once he found how scripted the "reality" show actually was. It is also said in collector circles of the truly weird that having the T.V. folks can inflate/deflate prices by their comments or focusing on an object which can be a slippery slope.

 I am sure my Buddhist friends are not so keen seeing sacred objects, such as sacred horns made from Monk femurs, trivialized on the shows like that so that some hipster can have a touch of culture on their coffee table, not that they won't take care of the objects well, its just that the culture appropriated is alive and well.This can be a sticky subject as you can imagine.  

Embalming Certificate

Electrical Medical Equipment for Electro-shock Therapy

Post mortem Photograph

Many of the items, if not most in the Stigmatorium are forgotten relics of the past,not something currently in use today , except perhaps in repurposed art and furniture. 
At his home for example, one of Andy's prized possessions is his coffee table made from a repurposed casket from a showroom in a funeral home. A salesperson's sample which until it had new life as a workable piece of furniture had just sat. The mid 19th century chestnut wood coffin or "Coffine table" as he calls it was one of the first things he decorated his home with after his divorce. 

I couldn't help but to the notice the similarities in our stories, in dealing with grief over a loss of a loved one, whether in divorce or a fatal car accident. We both learned to cope by exploring the themes surrounding loss head one with collecting objects to help us understand and accept loss. Another similarity I found with Andy is a sense of being a caretaker of the dead as we both found that we had a knack for visiting and cleaning overgrown forgotten cemeteries.   

Like a lot of us called "quirky & Unique" (and those are the nice interpretations of our similar character) Andy was always a little bit different from his peers. "These objects have a way of finding you" he said and I couldn't agree more when I considered my own collection of antique Catholic objects, each of them gifted to me by friends being the only "cradle Catholic" that still has fond memories of her days in Catholic School. His collection grew in the same way as he began to be the friend that his friends would call when they found something weird.
A trephine- a medical tool used to remove part of the skull, believe to relief head pressure. Owned by Dr. Samuel Mudd who treated John Wilkes Booth.

Even more amazing is his sense of radar to these objects, its as if he stumbles upon them, stopping by a roadside yard sale to fins a couple antique viewing coffins. You can say it has become sort of a passion for him to embrace the things stigmatized by others.
One of my postmortem makeup kits I brought in for trade. This was an "airbrush" used to apply make-up. Circa 1920's-30's

A coffin with an occupant!

Met wonderful people and pets at the Stigmatorium!

XRays on display and for sale

Grave rubbing of the Notorious Ed Gein

His afterlife is a happy one!

A fish jawbone from the Ohio River on display


Beetles cleaning specimens. They get to eat and then they are cleaned and articulated.

When Andy started his facebook page he had no idea what kind of reaction he would get, and it has been very positive. Folks are curious and more open minded then he expected, much to his relief. His page has helped like minds meet each other and he has had others come forward to help him put on B-Movie nights and music shows. 

He credits his recovery from divorce and alcohol for being able to feel again and rediscover his past loves of collecting and learning taxidermy. He is also organizing a cleanup of one of our local neglected cemeteries here in Louisville.I commend him for taking the time out to volunteer to help the folks from our past and for cleaning their resting places. To participate this weekend look here: Eastern cemetery Clean up event.

In our talk, he sage wisdom came through in which I took notes to apply to my own life. "Purge who you are 'supposed to be' and embrace who you are" is something that I feel is a key to happiness since money doesn't always provide that. As Andy is fascinated and embraces the Stigmatized objects, he feels that this philosophy could work on a larger level, a more "live and let live" stage of mind where folks leave thew politics and religion at the door that can hold one back from accepting others who are different. Let the curiosity take over and learn something new. 

And that , my dear friends, is how we live together peacefully and "Keep Louisville Weird". Not one person I have met in my new hometown exemplifies that more then Andy and The Louisville Stigmatorium Oddities and Strange Collectables! 

Thank you Andy and all who contribute to the Stigmatorium!