Ten-year-old Asa Raimes Bry stared intently at a two-headed duckling before he began to pet it.
It was Bry's first visit to the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn with his father. The bicephalous bird was a gift to Joanna Ebenstein by her own dad, an early addition to her still-growing collection of curiosities.
"There's a gorilla foot over there you can touch, too," Ebenstein suggested.
"Really?" Bry said before he scuttled to the other side of the small, sunlit room full off rare books, jarred creatures and preserved insects.
"I started like him," Ebenstein told Metro. "All kids start like him."
A graphicartist by trade, Ebenstein is no stranger to collecting the weirder things in life. Shebegan with a simple blog that gathered her research. It achieved international popularity by the time sheturned the operationinto a small by-appointment library for a few years, eventually incorporating a small gallery space.
That again changed in 2014 when Ebenstein and friend Tracy Hurley Martin worked together to open the full-fledged three-story museum — which prominently features Ebenstein's library and personal collection — on the corner of Third Avenue and 7th Street. They celebrated their first year this past July.
Large biological displays and any number of religiously themed items can be seen by passersby through the building's large windows. Sunlight pours into the space, which has both a coffee and gift shop, proving itself to be anything other than a kitschy sideshow or haunted house.
But that doesn't mean the museum has no fun.Bookcases are filled with whimsical items given the subject matter: a full diorama featuring a carefully positioned beetle, a "squirtle" taxidermy featuring equal parts turtle and squirrel, and a spinning Ferris wheel complete with stuffed chipmunks.
"It's not Ripley's Believe It or Not," Ebenstein said. "We think it's beautiful and fascinating, and that visitors walk away at least questioning whether that might be the case."
And they get plenty of visitors. Aside from the library and rotating exhibits, the museum also offers regular taxidermy classes, film screenings, holiday parties and an ongoing number of talks about a range of morbidly fascinating topics.
One lecture on Goth subculture in June attracted so much attention that more than 2,000 people reserved on the Facebook event page. The museum's lecture space only seats about 65.
Their bigger events are just as much of a draw. Theirlatest flea market, scheduled for Aug. 30 at the nearby Bell House concert venue, already has more than 6,000 visitors listed on Facebook.
"We would not exist if not for people who want this to succeed," Ebenstein said. "We have such a great community of supporters and collaborators — that's how we exist."
That community includes the occasionalGoths, Ebenstein said, but also avid collectors as well as the scientifically inclined. In mid-August, the lecture space was packed for what was promised as the first in a series of forensic pathology talks with a medical examiner. His first class: gunshot wounds.
After the vividly graphicpresentation,Kate Kelly, 32, admitted to her penchant for the macabre and curiosity of forensics beyond what most people glean from a Law & Order: SVU episode.
"It's refreshing to know there's a space where that's a legitimate interest," Kelly said, calling it a safe space for anything that might fall under the "dark umbrella."
For what it's worth, that's exactly the sort of accessibilityEbenstein was going for — especially younger fans.
"All kids like this stuff, until a certain point — especially if you're a girl — you get told its deeply un-cool to like it," she said, "I'm very happy when we can help young people feel less of a freak and more like they have a place."