WFU alums’ cabinet of curiosities
April 11th, 2011
On Saturday I hadn’t expected to find myself on blogging duty. I was meeting a marvelous painter friend of mine Frances Hairfield (sister Nancy is a WFU alum) from Morganton at a historic house in Elkin, N.C., to mark the occasion of the second annual international Obscura Day. Neither one of us knew much about what we were in for. Obscura Day sounded vaguely familiar and yet, obscure. Wouldn’t you know it: The keepers of the flame of the obscure were both Wake Forest graduates.
She and her husband, Dr. Paul Gulley (’74, MD ’78), a doctor of internal medicine, opened their house to show off their special room marked above the door with brightly colored paint to let you know you are about to walk into an Alice in Wonderland scene. Look up. There’s a small alligator on the ceiling. How about that praying mantis toy peeping out from a box on the desk? Yes, that is a dissected frog on the wall – a knitted one, almost Kermit-like in a tragic way. Animal skulls abound. Butterflies rest under glass. In a plastic purse is the late pet hamster who landed at the taxidermy shop instead of a backyard grave. Books are everywhere.
On a shelf is Anne’s gem collection, including the rock she carried to show-and-tell in fourth grade. Her collecting began with seashells lovingly acquired on summer vacations when her family traveled from Ohio to Myrtle Beach. The rock collection started with a rock cut in half to reveal glittering innards. It came from Gatlinburg. (“Tells you about our summer vacations,” she says.) She insists that we should all look around. We will see the obscura in our own lives. Do you have anything collected on that window ledge above your kitchen sink? Voilà. Obscura.
The international “holiday” got its start through Atlas Obscura, “a compendium of this age’s wonders, curiosities and esoterica.” A science journalist started the Atlas Obscura online community, and this year 103 communities reported they were hosting Obscura Day, celebrating what one writer called the world’s “most spectacular nooks and crannies.” The point is to create far-flung explorers and a catalog of weird places not necessarily found in the tourist’s guidebook. If it all works as planned, we’ll feel, well, more curious.
And so while some of us celebrated with the Gulleys on Saturday on West Main Street, near the Yadkin River, far-flung others traipsed through the Museum of the Weird in Austin; explored artists’ “squats” in Berlin; examined the strongest tidal current in the world in Saltstarumen Sound, Norway; crept through the catacombs of Brooklyn; and pondered how “buttons are communicating time capsules” at the Busy Beaver Button Collection in Chicago. Does it need mentioning that the Busy Beaver is the world’s only button museum? I thought not.