Oddities & Curiosities Expo a ‘wicked good time’

Zach Petroff | Opinions Editor | Local resident Nick Poluha purchases a mummified cat head from Chicago Curiosities as a graduation gift for his sister who just completed mortuary school.

Zach Petroff | Opinions Editor

Creeping into Pittsburgh like a creature in the dark, the Oddities and Curiosities Expo found a haven at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Saturday. Not for the faint of heart, the traveling convention aimed to attract those looking to avoid the sun and explore the darker side of life.

In the case of Lilith Vonnightshade of Penn Hills, it was a chance to interior decorate.

“We have a Tudor style home, it’s very traditional with a tongue and groove ceiling,” Vonnightshade said. “It’s very cozy and warm with a cottage style. We’ve been looking for something to kind of fit that vibe and then we found this dude.”

The “dude” being the mounted head of an adult male caribou, whose impressive stature stood over four feet tall with its antlers.

“He will go great with my ‘Funeral Parking Only’ sign,” Vonnightshade said. “Which is perfect because I also own a hearse.”

Stopping in Pittsburgh for the first time as part of a 30-city tour, the Oddities and Curiosity Expo is a traveling convention that features a hearse car show, a taxidermy class, an old-timey clown museum and vendors from all over the country showing off and selling their strange and unusual wares.

The event seemed to have everything one’s black heart could desire.

Owner and creator of the expo, Michelle Cozzaglio, started the expo in her hometown of Tulsa, Okla. in 2017 as a way for small business owners to sell their “unusual stuff.” Cozzaglio said she never imagined that her hobby would grow into a continental phenomenon.

“It really just comes from my own personal love of dark art oddities,” Cozzaglio said. “And now we’re doing shows all over the country.”

Saturday was no exception as the David L. Lawrence Convention Center featured 150 vendors with about 9,000 people attending, according to Cozzaglio.

“This expo draws that intriguing thought,” Cozzaglio said. “People are like ‘what am I going to see at a place like that?’ And as I always say, this show is for lovers of the strange and unusual.”

Yesica Venturo, along with three of her friends, drove from Maryland for a chance to partake in the unusualness.

“Personally I love the wet specimens,” Venturo said. “I’ve never had any, so this is kind of the perfect market to shop around and see what I can find.”

The Georgetown law student was able to find her wet specimen, which ended up being a dead rat in a clear vial. Filled with a solution of ethanol along with a purple dye from inside the rat’s skeleton making the former furball a permanent piece of art.

Venturo found the expo was a perfect place to express herself and be among people who also have a love for the harrowing side of life.

“I think it’s not a bad thing to kind of explore out of your comfort zone,” Venturo said. “And when you do actually find a community of people that really support it and make creepy art like this, and you dive into that area, then you can really find a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t have thought you liked.”

Local Pittsburghers also partook in the fun, as Nick Poluha found the expo as a perfect opportunity to go shopping for his sister.

“We got her a cat head,” Poluha said. “She’s graduating from mortuary school so we think it’s the perfect gift.”

For those looking for something less grotesque, there were plenty of other creepy collections to torment one’s soul.

Owner of the Weeping Glass, Kelly Braden, was one of the vendors at Saturday’s event. Her shop, located in Allentown specializes in “Oddities, curiosities, unusual gifts, odd art, natural history, ephemera, melancholia and sadness,” according to their website.

One of the more popular brands of Braden’s tea is the Black Collection, which includes names like Nocturnal Black, Widow Black and Nocturnal Black.

Braden was “delightfully mortified” for the increased business and the growing gothic community.

“I’ve been in the oddities business for like 10 years and there’s always been a community for it in Pittsburgh,” Braden said. “Everything we’ve done has always been heavily supported.”

Included in that younger generation was 10-year old Foster Wright of Detroit, whose love of the “Chucky” movies inspired him to sell his horror movie watercolor paintings at the expo.

“One day I was on YouTube, when I was like 4,” Foster said. “And I saw this video edit of Chucky and I literally screamed out ‘I like Chucky!’ My mom and dad were upset but from then I just started becoming obsessed with Chucky stuff.”

Foster, who draws inspiration from horror makeup artist and puppeteer Kevin Yeager, has found success selling his art at the expos.

“With the last show, I was able to buy a PlayStation 5,” Foster said.

And for those looking to get the full convention experience, patrons were able to take a 6-hour taxidermy class.

Focusing on beginners, Heather Clark of Cocoa Beach, Fla. provided sustainably sourced frozen feeder rabbits for students to learn the basics of taxidermy.

“This class gives you the initial information that you need to build from,” Clark said. “You’re going to learn basic inductor level taxidermy with one-on-one instruction. It’s entry level so people can learn everything they need to know to make our little mounts.”

Being adorable was not the only reason Clark chose to use rabbits for her class of around 20 participants.

“They are very forgiving,” Clark said. “So when mistakes are made, which happens when you’re new at something, that fur is really forgiving and it helps create better looking mounts at the end.”

Angie Silhan missed the expo when it came to her hometown in Richmond, Va., but her boyfriend surprised her with the full-day tutorial.

Shilhan said it has been something she has been interested in learning how to do for a long time.

“I’ve always collected bones and pinned butterflies and insects,” Shilan said. “I then kind of grew into wet specimens, and then real taxidermy, so it’s been a natural progression.”

It didn’t take long for Silhan to name her new dead pet.

“I named him Beelzebub,” Silhan said. “It’s a demon name because he’s all black and [has] little red eyes.”