This past weekend I finally got to see the annual Chicago Oddities and Curiosities Expo at the Odeum in Villa Park. The event proudly proclaims itself geared for “lovers of the strange and unusual” and features taxidermy, specimens, artwork, and just about anything bizarre. My teen daughters, Leia and Jade, joined me and although the event took place both on Saturday and Sunday, our schedules only permitted Saturday a.k.a. one of the hottest days on record. The unholy mix of southwestern temps and midwestern humidity made for an uncomfortable journey but, in the end, we all agreed it was worth it.
I was surprised by how big this event was, with two large rooms and an upper level completely devoted to the macabre. They offered food, beer, live entertainment and lots of vendors. Each booth was guaranteed to have something you’ve never seen before and often inspired an even mix of fascination and revulsion.
One of our first stops was Ripley’s Believe it or Not who had their own section of specimens collected from several of their US locations. I’ve visited the ones in Baltimore and Pigeon Forge which, although similar, had many unique items. Some of the notable antiquities on display here were replicas of people with physical abnormalities such as a man with blue skin and one covered in hair, a Fiji Mermaid, and an authentic vampire hunting kit from the 1800’s.
There were also historic items owned by Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) one of P.T. Barnum’s most famous performers.
Ripley’s also showcased authentic shrunken heads including an extremely rare one of a child.
One of their more dynamic pieces was a giant ball of human hair sitting in the middle of their exhibit space. Standing next to it was a Ripley’s employee brandishing a pair of scissors in case anyone was interested in making a contribution to the ever-growing pile of DNA.
Anyone enthralled with death would feel right at home at this event. I haven’t seen this many specimens, skulls and skeletons since the Field Museum of Natural History.
It was also a great place for getting a jumpstart on your Halloween decorating with unique handcrafted goodies you won’t find at stores.
There was plenty of merchandise suited for horror fans like myself, too, and I couldn’t help but notice that many of the attendees were wearing shirts featuring their favorite slashers.
Jade is a fan of Stephen King’s “The Shining” and although she prefers the novel over Kubrick’s classic she was happy to see it represented here. Another vendor was selling keychains for “Room 237” and since Jade will be touring the Stanley Hotel in Colorado next week, I offered to buy her one. She declined since the room number in the book is actually 217 which for some reason the hotel wouldn’t allow Kubrick to use. Sheesh!
Both of my girls bought patches from The Monsterologist whom I interviewed for in Scary Monsters Magazine # 108. My eldest daughter, Leia, loves all things H.P. Lovecraft so she was happy to see his new Cthulhu series was available.
The Cryptozoology fan in me was happy to see a couple of Jackalopes and a Mothman on hand as well!
Before leaving, I ended up getting one of those small alligator heads; a standard specimen item at horror cons but a LOT cheaper here. The official website for this expo states “all items have been ethically acquired” so I figured what the hell since I’ve been on a gator kick ever since seeing Crawl (2019) last week. There were some rather interesting animal taxidermy projects involving squirrels that reminded me of my visit to Trundle Manor a couple years ago. I’m not really a fan of dressing up dead animals but, if anybody out there reading this is, you’ll find plenty of them here.
Here are some more items featured at the show…
The Odeum’s air-conditioning had trouble keeping up with the sweltering heat outside (my car dashboard thermometer read 107 as we were leavinf) so we opted to leave without staying for the live shows. From what I read, these ranged from folks breathing fire to swinging in the air by their nipples. I know it sounds crazy considering the subject matter, but this event ended up being a great family outing. And, lets be honest, sometimes you just gotta celebrate the weird.