At Hail Dark Aesthetic in Covington, the macabre, the morbid and the music reign

Spooky shop's off-the-wall taxidermy sets it apart
At Hail Dark Aesthetic in Covington, the macabre, the morbid and the music reign
Posted at 10:00 AM, Apr 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-23 13:31:27-04

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Have you been looking for a dead bat to hang in your hallway? Maybe a vintage mortuary kit for all your cadaverous needs? Maybe a Bob Seger record?

Then check out Hail Dark Aesthetic in Covington, Kentucky, which boasts one of the region's most bizarre collections of oddities, music and more.

"When people walk into our store, we get two reactions," said Neil Higginbothan, co-owner of Hail Dark Aesthetic. "They either saw ‘ew' or they eat it like a cheeseburger."

As you walk in the door of the shop, there is a coffin to the left adorned with products from local artisans: earrings made from groundhog bones, studded leather bracelets and delicate butterfly wings encased in a glass locket.

The artist responsible for those groundhog bone earrings is Chelsea Stegeman, who owns Over-the-Rhine-based jewelry shop Tooth and Claw. Tooth and Claw creates in jewelry made from ethically sourced animal parts, conflict-free crystals and minerals and even bullet casings sourced from local firefighters. Her company is proud of the way they use what they have on hand to make something both dark and beautiful.

"Dark aesthetic embodies anything that is supernatural, spooky and taboo," said Stegeman. "What lies beyond the veil is thrilling to people."

Stegeman said that she had been having trouble finding a store to carry her jewelry because store owners were afraid her products wouldn't sell. Higginbothan approached her booth at a local craft show, and they both agreed that her work belonged at Hail.

"It was meant to be," said Stegeman.

Stegeman said she understands that her jewelry isn't for everyone.

"People who are drawn to the culture are able to find beauty in calamity and things that are twisted. They can embrace death as an intrinsic of life," said Stegeman.

Although Hail certainly caters to those with morbid tastes, the store also specializes in music. Higginbothan said the store has about 6,000 records and plans to host intimate concerts in the store and on the back patio. Higginbothan said they have a little bit of everything when it comes to music.

"Anybody can come in and find something," said Higginbothan.

Hail Dark Aesthetic has its roots in Nashville, where the flagship store opened on Halloween of 2013. Higginbothan said it all started when he and co-owner J.D. Tucker realized they had too much stuff. Tucker had been collecting oddities for years while Higginbothan had accrued in excess of 20,000 music records. Higginbothan said they acquired a lot of their materials from picking through private antique collections.

All that picking has led to some interesting finds: The shop sports a large selection of antique taxidermy. A fully articulated lion skeleton sleeps beneath moose antlers and fox skin rugs in its glass case. Several of the mounted heads on the jet-black walls of the store sport mardi gras beads and little hats.

As a vegetarian, there are certain ethical boundaries Higginbothan has to consider as he collects taxidermy for the shop.

"The number one question I'm asked: Did I kill this stuff? The answer is no," said Higginbothan. He said most of the specimens come from private antique collections, and if they weren't on display, they might be in a dumpster.

Evidenced by its abundant taxidermy, Hail Dark Aesthetic prefers to take a humorous approach to mortality. Without explanation, a copy of the book "The Truth About Fonzie" is displayed beside an old-fashioned embalming machine. Higginbothan said that other cultures confront death all the time, but Americans have maintained a taboo about the subject.

"Three hundred years ago, this would be on someone's wall," said Higginbothan, gesturing to a mummified squirrel nestled in a bed of dead flowers. "One day we'll be dead and this will be someone else's stuff."

The mummified squirrel comes from Meddling with Nature, a local artisan taxidermy. Jeremy Johnson, the owner of Meddling with Nature, said that his pieces fit right at home with the store's macabre aesthetic. His other pieces at Hail include "Beaver and Cock," which despite the double entendre is exactly that -- a stuffed beaver and a stuffed cock.

RELATED: Peek inside the craft of artistic taxidermy

"Cincinnati does have a dark sense of humor," said Johnson. "Cincinnati seems to appreciate art based in mortality."

Even if you don't share that dark sense of humor, Higginbothan invites you to come explore his spooky shop.

"We've got everything from a taxidermied springbok to the Twin Peaks soundtrack," said Higginbothan. "Above all else, we have fun."