About

My eldest daughter and I walking beneath the boughs of the Granby Oak.

My name is J.W. Ocker, and I don’t do OTIS for a living. That often makes me sad. I’m from Maryland, but have lived in New Hampshire since 2008. I’ve authored a few books. Like The New England Grimpendium and The New York Grimpendium (2010 and 2012, Countryman Press). They're travelogues of my experiences exploring macabre sites, attractions, and artifacts in those regions. Some of the stuff I got to see as a result of those projects includes Jack Kevorkian’s paintings, Troma Studios, the Wilder brain collection, a ship graveyard, tons of mummies, a pirate’s cave, and a book made of human skin. The New England Grimpendium won a Lowell Thomas Silver Award from the Society of American Travel Writers. The New York Grimpendium got a Gold Lowell Thomas. It was described by The New York Times as, “droll and gruesome...readers might die laughing, gag on its tasteless subject matter, or even shed a tear or two.”

My latest book is Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, in which I visited every Poe site on the East Coast and across the Atlantic, meeting and talking to those men and women who are upholding the dark poet's physical legacy. It's a weird book, but it won the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biography.



Here on OTIS, I chronicle my visits to hundreds of oddities of culture, art, nature, and history across the country and world. The Peter Iredale shipwreck. St. Michan’s crypt. MacTonight. Also those times in between the oddities where I discovered a surprise basement in my garage, invented the candy drinking game, and was disappointed by my cancer experience. Sometimes I define oddity as “that which sticks out to me personally.” Other times as, “Anything I can write a post about.”

Looking into the infamous windowed grave of  Dr. Timothy Smith in New Haven, Vermont.

My work has appeared on CNN.com, the website for The Atlantic, Rue Morgue magazine, the Boston Globe, Atlas Obscura, Roadtrippers, and other places people stick writing. I’ve got a wife, two daughters, a penchant for port, and I celebrate Halloween for a month and a half. Send me an email at ockerjw@gmail.com or hit me up on the OTIS Facebook page or Twitter. I’m also looking for a patron to underwrite my life so that I can remove those first two sentences from this bio. I'd keep the "My name is J.W. Ocker" part.

FAQs:
1. When did OTIS start?

June of 2007. It debuted with entries on the War of the Worlds monument in New Jersey, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania; Elvis’ Graceland in Tennessee, The Awakening statue in Washington, D.C. (since moved), the Great Pyramid of Egypt, and the Mothman statue in West Virginia.

2. Do you do OTIS for a living?

You’re just saying that to hurt me.

3. Why do you put yourself in the photos?

At first it was because they were my own private pictures. Then, when I started the website, it was proof that I had been to those places. Eventually, it just became a thing. The “I” in OTIS, and all that. These days I regret it because I always have to get into shots even when I don’t want to and I’ve inadvertently chronicled the deterioration of my body and fashion sense over the past half decade.

4. Do you travel alone?

I've done a lot of solo travel, but it's rarer now. These days, I'm usually accompanied by my wife, who is a professional photographer, and my daughters. I'll always dig a good solo trip, though, especially since Odd Things We've Seen sucks as an acronym.

5. What’s the coolest place you’ve ever been?

Long answer: I don't know, because I’m always the most into whichever oddity I’m researching/planning a trip to/just came back from. Plus, how do you compare four-foot-tall carnivorous lilies with statue of Jim Henson talking to Kermit? That said, I usually do answer this when I’m asked, just for the sake of the conversation, although I am always lying.

Short answer: The Capuchin Crypt in Rome.

6. How do you find and get to all these sites, especially considering FAQ #2?

That’s a long answer. I have a book pitch for it, in case you're a publisher asking the question.

7. Are there better sites than OTIS for finding oddities to travel to?

Totally. Atlas Obscura, for one. Roadside America, for another. Both of these are way more comprehensive than OTIS. What you’ll get here, though, is firsthand experience of every oddity, since I’ve personally been to everything posted on OTIS. Also, plenty of original photos of each site.

8. Do you have a giant travel budget?

No, not at all. I’m as worried about the fate of Social Security and whether the size of my TV is embarrassing just like most people. A large percentage of the entries on OTIS focus on sites that are free to see, minus a couple of gallons of gas. I just really try to take advantage of time and place.

9. What’s the one thing in the entire world that you’d like to see if given the opportunity tomorrow?

The Elephant Man’s skeleton.

A Diquis Sphere in Costa Rica.