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Science Channel's 'Oddities' star talks mummified heads and celeb collectors

April 14, 2011 |  4:58 pm


Evan Michelson, one of the stars of Science Channel's "Oddities," a series that's a little "Pawn Stars" and a lot "Addams Family," doesn't leave the house without putting on a piece of decades-old jewelry made with human hair.

And though she loves taxidermy, antique medical devices and funerary art, she has a real soft spot for rare turn-of-the-century full-body wax mannequins with glass, lifelike eyes and translucent skin. She hunts relentlessly for additions to the collection of "eternally beautiful" human replicas she keeps in her New York apartment.

But she doesn’t give them names. That would just be weird.

Michelson, who's a guest Wednesday on "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," has run Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village with business partner Mike Zohn for about 10 years. During that time, the duo has built an eccentric and sometimes famous clientele that hankers for circus sideshow props, straightjackets, Victorian clothes, gilded human remains, genetic anomalies, papier-mache masks and embalming equipment.

"Oddities," which airs at 10 p.m. Saturdays, just launched its second season. On her first trip to Los Angeles, Michelson stopped at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank to talk about the 275-square-foot shop of curiosities, the one-of-a-kind items they buy and sell, and what wacky gift she has in store for Ferguson.

Have you refused to buy anything because you thought it was too creepy?

This guy brought in a mummified human head, and it was obviously very, very old. But there was something not right about it. He said his father, who'd been a missionary, had gotten it in Egypt, and maybe he did. It might've been a fake — there were a lot of those made 150 years ago for the tourist trade because they were popular. Or it might've been improperly mummified, like a rush job. Nothing freaks me out, ever, but this just gave me the heebie jeebies.

Where did you develop this passion for odd collectibles?

I'm from a military family and spent a lot of time in Germany and France when I was growing up. I loved those old gothic cathedrals, and I just got obsessed with human remains that had been gilded and decorated. Maybe that's morbid, but if you find that thing when you're a kid that really gets your wheels turning, it stays with you for life.

Since this is Hollywood, you have to dish on your celebrity customers.

Chloe Sevigny, Amy and David Sedaris, Jonathan Davis from Korn, Justin Theroux, Nikki Sixx. Uma Thurman came in recently. We've supplied props for "The Borgias," "Kinsey," "Sorcerer's Apprentice." Any production that needs mad scientist stuff comes to us.

Why do people want to buy shrunken heads, two-headed cows and human skeletons?

These things are totemic; they're iconic. It's human stuff charged with a story. It doesn't get much more mysterious or bizarre than that.

Were you hesitant to do reality TV?

Our customers are very unusual, and it would be easy to put in some funny music and make fun of the [so-called] freaks. I wanted to keep it nerdy, stick to the science and history, to preserve the dignity of the situation as much as possible. [After being approached by a handful of production companies, Michelson and Zohn eventually decided to work with Leftfield Pictures, which also produces "Pawn Stars." The show was developed specifically for Science Channel, though it's also aired on Discovery.]

You've brought something special for Craig Ferguson's show?

Apparently he collects strange stuff, so I have two things with me, but I'm not sure which one I'm going to give him. One is a set of rectal dilators from the turn of the century. It's probably a quack thing, or maybe they're really sex toys disguised as medical devices, which was the way a lot of these pieces were marketed. The other is an electroplated turkey foot match holder. It's a gentleman's accessory.

— T.L. Stanley