LOVELAND, Ohio -- Joe Burke studied the framed, autographed pictures in front of him. They looked familiar. At first, he was pretty sure they were of celebrities.
The former Loveland resident was back home visiting from Milwaukee. On a whim, he and a friend decided to stop in to a local shop to peruse its goods.
"Who are these people?" the 20-year-old said.
The owner smiled. He waited a beat. "Those are serial killers," he said.
The pictures were of Charles Manson. And Ted Bundy. And the Boston Strangler. All the pictures are autographed for collectors.
Burke hesitated. "OK," he said, taking a step back, looking like he might be rethinking the whole trip.
The pictures and other unusual items in the oddities store, called Memento Mori, might seem a bit strange or even creepy to visitors, but for owner Greg Johns, it's a labor of love.
"This is my shop," said the owner, 45-year-old Loveland resident. "These are all of the things that interest me -- the weird, the strange, the historical."
"It's true," said his girlfriend, Elizabeth Shultz, who works with him. "You're not going to find stuff like this anywhere else around."
Memento Mori means, literally, "remember that you will die" in Latin. In the Loveland shop's 1,300 square feet, Johns and Shultz have crammed thousands of creepy, fun, unsettling and just plain weird objects guaranteed to amaze, haunt and fascinate.
For seven years, Johns has been traveling the country collecting oddities to bring back to the Loveland store, which is tucked into a corner of a building also occupied by an express deli mart at 125 Loveland Madeira Road. The only reason the shop is noticeable is because of the eclectic objects out front, including a stuffed wolf, a funeral sign, pop culture posters and antique boxes.
"I just got tired of having everyday, boring jobs," said Johns, who hails from Connecticut. "My collection had gotten so big, I just thought to open the shop."
Over seven years, a guy can acquire a lot of stuff -- and a lot of weird stuff. What are some of the strangest items in the shop? According to the owners, this is a tough choice. But here are a few:
- A sideshow gaff, or fake exhibit, of a two-headed bog woman -- fake, but made with real human teeth, fingernails and hair.
- "The Great Book of Magical Art, Hindu Magic and East Indian Occultism," passed down from a supposed Cincinnati witch to her children. Included in the book are handwritten notes and spells, as well as a letter to the kids, where she advises them to use the powers for good.
- Human fetal parts. Need we elaborate? Probably not.
- A hand cast of the real Lobster Man, a freak show performer who suffered from a condition where his fingers and toes were fused together like claws.
- A dress worn and autographed by one of the creepy twins in the movie "The Shining."
There truly does seem to be something for everybody.
Alex Charneski, 23, lives nearby. When he saw the strange collection of objects set up outside, he decided to come in and take a look around.
"It really was just curiosity," he said. "I collect vintage safety razors, and I thought he may have some of those."
He passed on the Victorian tear catchers, and none of the numerous death masks tickled his fancy, either, but he's also a Disney buff and found a few old pieces of cartoon artwork. He bought a Donald Duck picture for $10.
Different strokes for different folks, Johns said.
"I'll live in my van for weeks at a time, traveling to Philadelphia, all throughout Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and New York, places like that," he said. "You never know when you might find what someone wants."
One of the most interesting times to be at the shop is on Halloween. Of course, the shop will have specials and deals. But it's also when Johns will drive his hearse down the street, set it up in the parking lot, bring his dogs (he happens to own one of the last two surviving Michael Vick pit bulls) and give out candy and gifts to the children who drop by.
"We always make sure to give them a gift, too," he said. "We all have a great time."
That's exactly what Talia Lewis was looking for. She celebrated her 23rd birthday Oct. 3. On this day, the Hamilton resident wanted to buy something for herself to celebrate, so she came to Memento Mori.
"I just love all the creepy stuff," she said. "I'm in to taxidermy. I love the freak show stuff. I used to work at the Kings Island Haunt, so I just love everything scary."
Walking through the door, she looked over her shoulder. "I just want to find anything weird."
She went to the right place.