The czar of the bizarre

Douglas and nearby Bisbee are sure to pique the interest of many

by Trevor Crawley
museum exhibits in Bisbee
Can you guess what this object is? Check it out in Bisbee. — Photo courtesy Renee Gardner

Check out the bizarre by stopping at a business in Bisbee called The Source Within. The merchandise for sale isn’t the offbeat part, although some of the items wouldn’t be found at your typical craft store.

Celtic jewellery, music, books and candles seem pretty common, but other products and services such as glass-blown witch balls, healing crystals, ghost-hunting equipment, and palm and tarot card readings aren’t your usual business fare.

However, the truly bizarre is reserved for the back of the store, where a small exhibit has been created on the walls of a 10-by-10-foot room that features displays of the weird, strange and unreal.

A mummified cat found in a local chimney, a John Dillinger death mask and a two-headed squirrel are just a small sample of the items in the exhibit, which owner Renee Gardner calls the Mini Museum of the Bizarre.

“I’ve always been collecting strange things my entire life and it just kind of grew over the years,” she said. “Whenever I saw something weird, I’d have to have it to add it to my weird collection of stuff.”

Gardner originally had her collection displayed in a glass cabinet at home, but eventually her friends began to get a little uneasy with some of the items. She then decided to look for an appropriate place outside her house to showcase her exhibit.

Gardner approached The Source Within and asked if she could set up in the back of the store—based on a tradition that began in the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Back then, businesses used to have dime museums, where people could pay 10 cents to go into the back of the store and see eclectic exhibits of the weird.

It was in that spirit that Gardner set up her display in June 2010 with the full co-operation of the store owners.

There is no specific criteria that an object or item has to meet in order to be considered weird or strange or bizarre; if it catches Gardner’s eye, she’ll buy it. She also accepts unusual offerings from friends and strangers.

Too weirded out?

Bisbee lies within Cochise County, which is home to a number of communities with rich histories rooted in the fables and legends of the hardy men and women who first settled the area.

Douglas is one such city, with a historical claim to fame that will pique the interest of heritage buffs. Lawman John Slaughter was elected sheriff here in 1886 and he earned a reputation as a tough enforcer who didn’t put up with criminals.

Bringing down a notorious gang, aiding the U.S. cavalry in their efforts against Geronimo and tracking fugitives were all part of the job for Slaughter.

By 1890, Slaughter retired—his reputation cemented in history with the likes of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Wild Bill Hickok. His ranch outside of town, Slaughter Ranch, is now a heritage site.

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