Back in the Cabinet: Revisiting My Private Smithsonian

February 24, 2013 — I wouldn’t blame you if you thought my recently started cabinet of curiosities (From Such Humble Beginning Will Arise a Smithsonian) was just a gimmick. That I wouldn’t keep up with it. That I was merely trying to find fodder for an OTIS blog post. You’d be wrong, though. It’s fodder for two blog posts.

We’ve added a few pieces to the curiosity cabinet since that inaugural late summer day when I learned that press board is weaker than Champaign bottles. Again, I’d like to emphasize that this is a casual hobby for me (and don’t think I don’t know how damning the phrase “casual hobby” is). I don’t necessarily go out of my way to find items to add to the cabinet. I just kind of get them. And I say that out of abject fear that you will judge my collecting acumen and find me wanting.

So, in my continuing quest to attempt to atone for years of collecting mass market silliness, here’s what I’ve found fascinating enough in the past few months to shove into a cabinet and forget about:

Budweiser Clydesdale Ribbon

I’ve already told you how I live close to a Budweiser Clydesdale stable, as well as how one of their massive shoes made it into the cabinet all the way from Florida (see link in first paragraph). To go with that piece, we now have an actual Budweiser Clydesdale ribbon. I’m not sure if this is a mane ribbon or a tail ribbon or if there’s a difference, but I will certainly put that on my list of stuff to fret over.

This came into the collection as a result of my wife and daughter visiting the stables one day while I was at work. They met a caretaker who invited them on an impromptu tour behind the scenes and then gave the ribbon to my daughter as a souvenir.  I’m pretty sure he was hitting on my wife, but that’s totally worth it to get this ribbon into the cabinet.

Christiani’s Vegetable Worm Syrup Bottle

I could probably write an entire post just about this bottle. I’d start with the second line on the label where the manufacturer thought his target market segment not cultured or intelligent enough to discern the pronunciation of “Christiani.”

According to the label, the syrup is for the “eradication of worms in children and adults.” The bottle has a stopper, but it’s degraded over time so that whatever was inside has evaporated, leaving a disgusting and somehow simultaneously aesthetically pleasing black residue all over the interior.

I couldn’t find anything about this company in the two seconds of research I did online, so all I know is what’s on the bottle, that it hails from D.C., and that its product is guaranteed by them under the Food and Drugs Act, June 30, 1906. And even though the company doesn’t appear online, the snake oil that is worm syrup does. And my Google history is now repulsive.

I got the botle from my mother-in-law, who picked it up at a junk shop and then gave it to me when she saw my interest. Why I would want such a thing is obvious, but I’m a little bit suspicious why something like this would catch her fancy.

Spanish Moss

If you guys have been reading my South Carolina articles, you know that I’ve become obsessed with Spanish moss.  I went to college in Florida, so the obsession really should’ve started a long time ago. But I was in my third incarnation back then, and he apparently didn’t care about the stuff.  I never did like that version of me.

Anyway, while I was down South Carolina way, I nabbed a clump from a cemetery. This one. Figured the dead wouldn’t miss it. Although a quieter, wiser part of my brain knows that one of them has been clawing its way up the East Coast ever since my theft to wreak terrible vengeance on me. But life’s already a ticking clock, so the joke’s on him.

Boneyard Beach Shell

I don’t want this collection to get too shell-y, but I had to add this guy. Besides just being a beautiful, undamaged, nice-sized specimen (about the size of a fist), I personally plucked it right from the dead-tree-strewn sand of Boneyard Beach on Edisto Island in South Carolina.

Of course, it wasn’t until I got home and looked at my pictures that I saw the sign posted that prohibited such an act. Some day the mountain might get me, but the law never will.

Black Widow Carcass

I’m doing a horrible job at preserving it, but this shriveled bit of exoskeleton is all that’s left of a black widow spider. I know their reputation is more infamous than their reality, but these obsidian creatures still sports a neurotoxic venom that’s a way deadlier adaptation than anything I sport. And the red hourglasses on their abdomens (which fade after they die) are just style points. Spider as momento mori. God’s a real joker.

This addition to the cabinet is courtesy of the sandbox in my nieces’ and nephew’s backyard, so I guess this story could have had a real unhappy ending. And yes, a dead black widow in a Tupperware container in my living room is my definition of a “happy ending.” For the record, I had an awesome joke here that my wife made me take out.

Also for the record, I consider this a practice black widow, as whatever lessons I learn from preserving it will go into doing a better job on the next one. And there will be a next one.

Rotbert’s Stem

I guess you’ve really got to be a supporter of this site to know who Rotbert is. For the rest of you, here’s the short, sad backstory (the rights to which I’m currently shopping around—figure it’d make a good children’s picture book or cable docudrama). Well, this is his one-and-a-half-year-old stem.

I didn’t hold onto it on purpose. It just kept popping up. I’d find it while mowing the lawn and toss it to the side. Or see it in the bushes while hunting for black widows and throw it out into the street. But I can’t shake it, so it’s earned a place in the cabinet of curiosities.

So not only did he have a horrible life, he sucks at haunting.

Grave Dirt from Night of the Living Dead Cemetery

Unless I’ve angered a witch, I’m not the type of guy to go scraping grave dirt up as a memento (although I will apparently rip down some Spanish moss), and that’s even if the cemetery is one of the most iconic ones in horror cinema history. Fortunately, my friend Joey is.  

When I left after my one visit to this Pennsylvania site, I came away with only pictures and the vague sense of a loop being closed. When Joey left, I ended up with a vial of soil trod upon by George Romero.

It’s really creepy to write the words “I ended” in a sentence about a graveyard.


Like everything else in my life, I don’t know where this cabinet of curiosities is going. If it’s anything like this post, absolutely nowhere. Sorry. I’ve already passed my half-hour limit for trying to figure out how to wrap articles up. Plus, it's snowing, and I want to go make a snowman.


  1. You want "interesting fodder"? Then let a LIVE black widow spider take up residence in the cabinet. Heh, heh, heh.

  2. I had Black Widow Spiders in my house once. It was more than once because that's what they're like. I thought they were some sort of mock Black Widows but the joke was on me. I didn't get bitten or anything, just spooked. I was actually glad they weren't the Brown Recluse, as I lived in a basement flat at the time and have never been a very good housekeeper.

  3. Sir...i am honored that it made the "cabinet of curiosities"!!
    It's the little vial of dirt that could....

    Joey, Diane, and Jess

  4. Ok, I'm adding "graveyard dirt" to a list of things I collect. Hey, you think trick-or-treaters would like a vial of graveyard dirt at Halloween? Hmmm, would have to be from someplace famous, like Sleepy Hollow. Oh, and they would get candy too. I'm not smart but I'm not stupid either.

    1. This sounds like a great idea for older trick-or-treaters... (not really wanting to get *that* call from the other PTA mothers..) and we have family cemeteries, with local folklore/rural legend as well! OK.. that sounded a lot more creepy than I intended... ah, well, some people have summer homes. Ours has the inherited acreage of rural country where I live, the documentation of two burned familial civil-war plantations and *three* cemeteries. Yeah. Weird like that.

      At least now I have a gimmick ;) thanks

  5. You went to school in Florida... you lived here and no one told you Spanish moss carries redbugs?? It's a tiny bright red-orange, (obviously) bug that digs into your epidermis. It can lay eggs there. If you start itching... you can suffocate them with clear nailpolish over the affected area..(at least that's what I've been told. I have never actually gotten them in my skin, although I have seen them. I've lived in Florida all my life).

    They are also called chiggers. The proper scientific name is Trombicula alfreddugesi.

    The good news is, if you've carried any in with your Spanish moss to your car or home, they're probably dead by now :) Try not to pick any more Spanish moss.. or stand directly beneath it.