Why you should care
Because this traveling show offers camaraderie in the creepy.
As I’m speaking to an afterlife tour operator — someone who takes people to cemeteries to communicate with the dead — I see a girl swinging on human suspension ropes, cuddling a soft mounted taxidermy coyote. Next to me, a vendor sells oils and soaps bound with Romani spells, and behind me, the audience claps as a sideshow performer slides what looks like a foot-long metal rod through her jaw. On the expo center floor in Chicago, we’re surrounded by worn, empty stadium seats. “Yeah, there was some bad energy in here yesterday,” says the afterlife tour operator. “Today’s fine. Want to try?” he asks, handing over metal rods used for conjuring spirits.
This is the Oddities & Curiosities Expo, a traveling event where you can directly engage with the weird and the grotesque. Here, you can “raise the dead” with a taxidermy lesson, stroll under the chilling eye of a life-size horror clown and collect human teeth (don’t worry, most are left behind from materials used for medical training purposes). Then, when you need some creepy retail therapy, you can shop for mason jars of animal fetuses and home décor made from coyote bones. It’s a macabre way to spend an afternoon, and this one-of-a-kind traveling event might be coming to a city near you.
Why would you go? The term “oddity” is a general way to describe something rare or unusual, but most people think “weird,” explains co-organizer Michelle Cozzaglio. So it’s the curiosity that’s the draw. “I think it piques peoples’ interests because they want to know what they could possibly find there,” she says. She and her husband Tony Cozzaglio, who live in Tulsa, Oklahoma have been organizing “odd” events since 2012 — like Tulsa’s three-day Punk Rock Flea Market. Michelle is also a collector of weird things. “That’s how the Oddities & Curiosities Expo came about,” she says. The first was held in Tulsa in 2017, and has since expanded to Denver and Austin, and 14 other cities across the country.
The event draws everyone from curious families to the costumed, pierced and tattooed. There’s a sense of camaraderie among vendors and attendees of the expo, bringing together appreciators of oddities and providing an opportunity for expression in a safe space. Many attendees arrive without realizing how many others share their interests, Michelle explains, and leave feeling connected and supported.
“If it’s twisted and wrong, it’s my cup of tea,” says vendor Pita Collobert, owner of Hannabert Creations. A fixture at most of this year’s expos, she sells anything from “oddities dolls” — doll bodies with animal skeleton heads — to doll-head night lights, as well as bone wind chimes and “possessed plushies” using repurposed and upcycled materials. “I’m used to being the weirdest person in the room, and here I don’t even rate on the register,” she explains. About 30 percent of vendors (typically there are 140 to 200) travel to each of the shows, selling antiques, repurposed roadkill and collector’s items — while the rest of vendors are local. Vendor booths are full for all but one of the upcoming shows.
Collobert enjoys seeing children checking out the wet specimens, suspension performances and the dressed-up characters, and appreciates the value of exposing children to other ways of life. “It’s nice for them to see that not everything has to be a certain way. It doesn’t all have to fit in the box,” she says.
There are other curiosities-type shows around the country. But the Oddities & Curiosities Expo is the only traveling show, Michelle says. And even though the show has a creepy focus, she hasn’t encountered any pushback from the communities where the show has landed.
The tagline for this year’s expo is “For the Lover of the Strange and Unusual.” And once you enter and pass the 100-pound human hairball, you’ll know you’ve arrived. But it’s not just about the weird — there are cute things too. Eerily Beloved owners Brandon and Julie Howey create taxidermy items that even when they try to make it creepy, it’s still “adorable,” says Julie. (I bought a mouse lounging in a cup of tea. It is … adorable.)
So whether you’re looking to expand your two-headed stuffed chick collection or to dress up as a raptor — or maybe you’re just curious about curiosities — there’s some weirdness here for everyone. You might leave weirded out or amazed, but either way just remember: You don’t have to fit in the box — but your possessed porcelain doll probably should.