Walking through the Melbourne CBD, I passed a shopfront that had a plastic (I assume) skeleton posed inside one of the glass doors. The skeleton peered out, with its hand on the handle, like it was about to stroll onto the street.
The shop billed itself as a purveyor of “scientific curiosities”. I went in and turned to the first glass display case, a tall one beside the door. The guy working there appeared from another room and asked how I was going. I was saying the word “fine” as I looked at the glass case.
“Fine” isn’t a long word, but my voice caught in the middle of it, and it came out with a strangled upward inflection. Right as I was speaking, I caught sight of a spherical glass container, the size of a softball, that contained a preserved puppy corpse.
The puppy looked like a bulldog, or maybe a bull terrier, white fur with black patches. Its eyes were closed, and it was curled foetally, to fit the sphere. The liquid it floated in was clear, not cloudy the way formaldehyde normally is. (Maybe the formaldehyde – and the puppy – were fresh.)
The dude asked me if there was anything he could help me with.
“I’m just looking. Unless you have anything particularly interesting?” I was giving the guy an open invitation to show me his favourite oddities.
“No, things are just how they look.”
“Right, yeah, I just caught sight of the puppy. Is it … just for aesthetics?”
He looked at me strangely.
“Like, there’s no scientific purpose?”
“Nope, it’s just a puppy corpse.” He paused before adding, “Stillborn.”
The puppy ball cost $495.
The shop is Wunderkammer, and their tagline is “chamber of wonders.” They offer an explanatory pamphlet that notes, “The word ‘wunderkammer’ translates as ‘wonder-chamber’. The term is German, although collections of curiosities have existed in Italy since as early as the 16th century. These were the first museums and housed both the familiar museum fare such as natural specimens, coins and minerals, as well as more aberrant and miraculous objects, such as religious reliquaries, double apples, ‘mermaids’ and the like.”
I regret not asking if they had any mermaids in stock.
Some things Wunderkammer did have in stock during my visit:
– a mummified fox and rabbit in a shadow box
– preserved crocodile feet
– a Singapore ball (a type of mace in which the spikes retract)
– a taxidermied porcupine
– a dissected frog, its organs neatly labelled, under glass
– a ‘Breast Believer’ pump in its original cardboard box (I couldn’t figure out what this was, even after several minutes of googling)
– a Hamilton bone drill
– a taxidermied bat impaled on a metal pole, wings spread wide, mouth open as if screaming (probably because of the pole shoved up its butt)
The last time I was in Melbourne, I stumbled upon the secret headquarters of the Royal Over-Seas League, and discovered the perfect epitaph. I didn’t think a second Melbourne visit could beat that. But Wunderkammer decidedly did.
Then I discovered that Melbourne’s fire truck sirens sound like they’re shooting lasers. Pew pew pew!
We also visited the Melbourne Zoo, and in talking about it with friends later, learned of two separate incidences of people (men) breaking into the zoo’s lion enclosure.
In 1989, an adult karate student broke into the den in the middle of the night in an attempt to test his martial arts skills by fighting the lions. Zoo officials found what was left of him the next morning.
Then in 2004, a man broke into the lion enclosure during the zoo’s opening hours. The crowd watched him pull a Bible from his bag, hold it over his head, and invite them to join him and pat the lions.
When an Age reporter later enquired about how much danger the man had been in, a zoo spokesperson gave the best official response: “They are large male lions and there are four of them, so I’m sure you can work that out for yourself.”
And finally, my absolute favourite thing on this trip: a barista with the image of an evergreen air freshener tattooed on her forearm.