I'm a sucker for strange, and there couldn't be a better place to fulfill my macabre window-shopping fantasies than Afterlife Antiques & Oddities, which opened at 2332 Atwood Ave. on April 5.
Owner Nicole O'Connor's smile is bright. Still, I can't help but lock eyes with the mount of a two-headed calf bust behind her - my two versus its four. O'Connor, 27, hasn't even priced it yet, as she kind of likes keeping it around.
"It is alarming, but I love it," says the Manitowoc transplant who moved to Madison in 2001 for school. While home for Thanksgiving, she caught wind of the two-headed calf mount, and by Easter she had it in her arms: a 1933 relic that's quite rare because of genetic engineering these days. She even found the original newspaper article that welcomed the calf's arrival.
O'Connor is a master hunter for such finds. She's spent many years working with historical artifacts and currently is employed part-time as a photo archive assistant for the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
If two-headed calves aren't your cup of tea, consider a taxidermied skunk or a weasel.
Those with tamer tastes can wander up front for antique glassware, books, records and baubles. There's a vintage Bob Dylan print for the wall. Or freshen up with cosmetics from Fat and Moon. For tarot lovers, the Wild Unknown deck is rare to find in shops. Nature lovers will rejoice in illustrator Kim Krans' gorgeous fine line drawings; the deck is one my favorites.
Tucked in back, in a discreet armoire, is a trove of vintage medical equipment and models. If you've been in need of spare hands, this is the place.
Afterlife is what you'd expect if a hip Morticia Addams and Aldo Leopold went into business together - a sweet little shop of horrors mixed with a nod to nature.
And the space is supposedly haunted.
The narrow storefront was once a part of the Ohio Tavern, which has the same property owner, Terre Sims. The Ohio Tavern occasionally gives ghost tours, and Afterlife may include séances and other monthly events in the future, such as movie nights, DJs and - my favorite - O'Connor's mom hosting a cookout.
If you think you only live once, spend at least some of it checking out Afterlife.
2332 Atwood Ave., Madison, 11 am-7 pm Thurs.-Sun.