Dead Animals and Christmas Shopping: Taxidermy at the Kittery Trading Post

November 11, 2012 — It was meant to be just a casual bit of Christmas shopping for us yesterday in Kittery, Maine. It turned into an awesome animal safari that, well, was still pretty casual.

The Kittery Trading Post is located right on U.S. 1 with all the rest of Kittery’s crowded shopping establishments. The town is kind of Maine’s first line of defense from anybody south, so it’s fortified with all the stores and restaurants it needs to make people feel like they’ve been immersed in its culture without having them penetrate any deeper into the state.

The Trading Post started out in 1938 as a literal trading post in a one-room building. Today it’s 90,000 square feet of outdoors gear, apparel, and Maine-related products that you cannot trade for pelts and cheese wheels. The kind of place filled with cozy sweaters, hats, and coats that make you happy you live in a northern clime so that you get to wear that sort of stuff. The kind of place with an entire display of Bear Grylls-branded survival paraphernalia just down the aisle from a bunch of drunken moose wine bottle holders and fresh-made fudge. The kind of place with a parking garage…for kayaks.

I’d never been to the place before, but the klatch of giant chainsaw sculptures that guarded its front entrance hinted at a relatively unique retail experience. And, as soon as we entered and I saw the massive stuffed moose hanging out with a similarly stuffed cougar and black bear, I immediately stopped looking for lobster T-shirts, lighthouse candleholders, and flannel shirts so thick they make central heating obsolete. I just wanted to see all of the dead animals.

Like everything in life, I’m of two minds when it comes to taxidermy. On one hand, I’m fascinated by it. I think it’s a beautiful craft and I would love to have a collection that rivaled any city’s natural history museum. On the other, I’m slightly disgusted by it and probably couldn’t sleep in a house that displayed so much as a rabbit’s foot keychain. And, of course, that all just makes me even more fascinated by it all to the point that taxidermy’s on my Christmas list, regardless of if that means I’ll have to sleep out in my car.

The specimens were mostly, if not all, representative of Maine and Canadian species and were scattered throughout the three floors like mannequins would be in more conventional clothing stores. They ranged in size from multiple full-bodied moose to small birds. The mother lode was in the gun section, which was bristling with dangerous looking black barrels being hefted and aimed by crowds of people like something globally terrifying was about to go down. But it’s where some of the cooler taxidermy was. Like the black wolf. The decapitated musk ox. The snapping turtle. Caribou and other antlered things.

But listing them is no fun. Nor is smoothly concluding an article. So here are a bunch of pics from my time at the Kittery Trading Post when I was supposed to be either shopping for family or keeping my three-year-old away from the ammo boxes. My apologies for the quality. Just can’t hold a smartphone camera steady.

Decapitated Moose is watching you shop...