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article-imageAtlas Obscura at the Rogue Taxidermy Fair (all photographs by Steven Acres, visit http://stevenacr.es to view more of his work)

Transforming cast off creatures from roadkill to vintage discards, some contemporary taxidermists are reimagining the art of preservation. This October 5, Atlas Obscura co-presented a Rogue Taxidermy Fair with the fellow Brooklyn-based Morbid Anatomy in celebration of a new book on "rogue taxidermy."

Robert Marbury's Taxidermy Art: A Rogue’s Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How to Do It Yourself, published by Artisan Books, examines new approaches to taxidermy, which are breaking off from the traditions of hunting mounts and natural history museums, while maintaining the careful skills of the practice. The Rogue Taxidermy Fair at the Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn, brought together local and regional practitioners including the Minnesota Association of Rogue TaxidermistsCaitlin T. McCormack who crochets skeletons contained in bell jars, Amber Maykut of Hoardaculture showcasing beautiful butterflies and tattooed frogs, Divya Anantharaman of Friends Forever Taxidermy with ethically-sourced taxidermy transformed with ecological specimens and beadery, and Daisy Tainton with anthropomorphic insect dioramas. 

Mike Zohn of Obscura Antiques & Oddities also brought to his booth a Ferris wheel of chipmunks that was once part of the defunct Dead Pals of Sam Sanfilippo housed in a funeral home in Wisconsin that included a whole cavalcade of critter taxidermy. Katie Innamorato of Afterlife Anatomy demonstrated for the crowd the careful process of squirrel taxidermy from specimen to detached skin, and the all-day event concluded with an incredible evening set by the Lucky Chops Brass Band (previously seen at our Cocktails in the Crypt evening) and a taxidermy trivia competition. Check out photographs from the fair below, and keep an eye on our events page for more unique adventures in New York City and beyond. 

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Robert Marbury (at left), Atlas Obscura founder Dylan Thuras (at right), & the proud winner of the taxidermy trivia contest at center

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Katie Innamorato of Afterlife Anatomy demonstrating squirrel taxidermy

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article-imageOfferings at the Palacio Municipal at La Calaca Festival (photograph by Reka Nyari)

David Metcalfe, author, researcher and founder of Liminal Analytics — Applied Research Collaborative — co-authored this piece. Dr. Andrew Chesnut is Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and is author of the only book on Saint Death in both Mexico and the US, Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint. Metcalfe and Chesnut direct Skeletonsaint.com, a site dedicated to news and analysis of the fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.

The season of death is at hand. Halloween and the Mexican death trinity of Day of the Dead, Catrina Calavera (Skeleton Dame), and Santa Muerte (Saint Death) engage millions of South and North Americans in rituals that reconnect us with our own mortality. Leaving aside the jack-o-lanterns and trick or treating of our own childhood in the United States, we will try to answer one of the two questions that invariably come up during our presentations on Santa Muerte. What is the relationship, if any, among Saint Death, Catrina Calavera, and Day of the Dead? The other question that always arises is "Do you believe in the Bony Lady?"

Let's first take a look at the member of the Mexican death trinity who has been in the limelight during the past three years, especially with her cameo appearance in the critically-acclaimed TV series, Breaking Bad. Santa Muerte is a Mexican folk saint who personifies death in the form a female skeleton. Whether as a votive candle, gold medallion, or statue, she is typically depicted as a Grim Reapress, wielding the same scythe and wearing a shroud similar to the Grim Reaper, her male ancestor. Folk saints, unlike official Catholic ones, are spirits of the dead considered holy for their miracle working powers. However, what really sets the Bony Lady apart from other folk saints is that for most devotees she is the personification of death itself and not of a deceased human being.

article-imageA Santa Muerte devotee commemorating Day of the Dead in Tutitlan, on the outskirts of Mexico City (photograph by Angus Fraser)

article-imageFamily of Santa Muerte devotees commemorating Day of the Dead in Tutitlan, on the outskirts of Mexico City (photograph by Angus Fraser)

In Mexico and Latin America in general, such folk saints as Jesus Malverde, Juan Soldado, and San La Muerte (the Argentine cousin of Santa Muerte) have millions of devotees and are often petitioned more than the Catholic saints. These homegrown saints are united to their devotees by nationality and often by both locality and social class. A Mexico City street vendor explained the appeal of the skeleton saint to her saying, "She understands us because she is a battleaxe (cabrona) like us." In contrast, Mexicans would never refer to the Virgin of Guadalupe as a cabrona, which is also often used to mean "bitch." All the major shrines in Mexico and the U.S. celebrate annual feast days with the specific date varying. Doña Queta's historic shrine in the notorious barrio of Tepito will commemorate its thirteenth anniversary on Halloween. One of the most recent trends among devotees of Death on both sides of the border is to integrate the Bony Lady into Day of the Dead commemorations.

In the United States, All Hallows' Eve has taken on the darker image of Halloween, with haunted houses, horror movies, and the dead returning for trouble rather than tradition. However, in Latin America and Europe, where Catholic cultural influences have remained strong, the first and second of November continue to hold their ancient ties to festivals associated with sacred remembrance of the dead's continued presence in the world of the living. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead,) which falls on November 1 and 2, is one of the most anticipated holidays of the year. It's a time to reconnect with deceased friends, family members, and ancestors in a festive spirit of remembrance and celebration.

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Although it sometimes seems today's New York City is made up of nothing but brand new, ultra-luxury, high-end condominiums, it is still scattered with an incredible number of derelict buildings, abandoned historical sites, and disused infrastructure spaces. The most high-profile recent ruin repurposing is the High Line — 1.45 miles of disused railway tracks made over into a linear park, the final piece of which opened just last month. The project was massively successful, especially in terms of rising real estate prices nearby and a huge influx of tourism in the neighborhood. It also inspired imitators: a West Harlem resident recently came forward with a proposal for a similar project, which would involve selling the air rights above a rail line to pay for the park, and then using them to create an affordable housing district.

Here are five more NYC ruins, from the Bronx to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, that may soon be given new lives:

QueensWay

article-imageQueensway (photo by Jim.henderson, via Wikimedia)

Also inspired by the High Line is the plan to convert the QueensWay. The 3.5 miles of rail tracks between Rego Park and Ozone Park — known as the Rockaway Beach Branch that once served the LIRR's Rockaway Beach line — seem to be moving ahead into an elevated park. “The QueensWay is like the High Line on steroids: It’s more than twice as long and seven times the acreage,” Adrian Benepe of the Trust for Public Land told CBS New York.

The proposed project will cost in the neighborhood of $120 million, and is not without its detractors — opponents would rather see the rail line itself restored, which would increase transportation options to an underserved section of Queens. But the current proposal includes walkways, biking trails, a wetland habitat and bioswale, and outdoor classrooms. It's possible construction could begin early next year.

 

The Lowline

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Exhibition with a prototype for the Lowline (photograph by Bit Boy/Flickry)

Although projections put the opening of the Lowline at around 2018, the idea has already been tantalizing New Yorkers for several years. The proposal to reappropriate the 1.5 acre Williamsburg trolley terminal to create the world's first underground park was made public in 2011, and has received tremendous media coverage and both official and popular support, including a record-breaking Kickstarter that raised more than $155k from 3,300 donors.

The trolley terminal, which was built in 1903 and abandoned since 1948, runs for three blocks under Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. The park will be lit and powered by a combination of LEDs and a new kind of fiber-optic technology called a "remote skylight," which, in addition to pulling enough sun from street level to light the park, is also strong enough for photosynthesis, enabling plants to grown beneath the ground.

As the Lowline website states, "We envision not merely a new public space, but an innovative display of how technology can transform our cities in the 21st century." An engineering firm has priced the project at a mere $55 million.

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All photographs by Jason deCaires Taylor unless noted

Jason deCaires Taylor creates massive underwater sculptures that are not only visually stunning, but are designed to improve the environmental diversity of their surroundings. His latest work, Ocean Atlas, sponsored by the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation, was installed off the coast of Nassau this first week of this month. Weighing in at more than 60 tons, the Bahamian girl holding up the sea is the largest underwater sculpture in the world. 

article-imageAn award-winning sculptor, photographer, diving instructor, and underwater naturalist, Taylor has been making pioneering underwater sculptures as public art projects for nearly a decade. His statues are made from sustainable materials and a special concrete mix that encourages coral growth, creating artificial reefs for marine life to colonize, as well as drawing tourists away from other natural reef areas that are in danger. 

In 2006, Taylor founded Molinere Bay Sculpture Park, the world's first underwater sculpture garden, off the coast of Grenada. His first work there was Grace Reef, which features 16 statues made from casts of local Grenadian women, and the park now includes 65 individual statues, each based on a living person, from a circle of life-size children to a man seated at a desk covered with newspaper clippings. 

Taylor also has sculptures in England, Wales, and Greece, as well as a second underwater garden, Museo Subacuático de Arte de Cancun, which features more than 400 statues in three "salons." His statues are living works of art, shifting and changing as they are colonized by marine life; Man on Fire, for example, is filled with cuttings of fire coral, which, as they grow, will make the statue appear to actually be on fire. 

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It is extremely rare one gets to experience true, utter darkness — a darkness that has no shadows, no movement, and no light. It's even more rare to experience complete silence. We are not just talking about a normal silence, with the wind blowing past and a few crickets chirping. This silence is so silent that you can hear your own breath, heartbeat, and inner monologue. I had the privilege (perhaps misfortune?) of experiencing both of my senses being deprived while staying overnight at the Grand Canyon Caverns Underground Suite, known as the deepest, darkest, oldest, and loneliest hotel room on planet Earth.

article-imageInside the underground hotel (all photographs by Matt Blitz/Atlas Obscura)

Lying 230 feet below ground level at Arizona milepost 115 on Route 66 are the Grand Canyon Caverns. They are the largest dry caverns in America, and one of the biggest known deposits of selenite crystals, making it truly a natural wonder. Unlike wet caverns, there are absolutely no living things here. The air is so dry and arid that without water, no animal or man would be able to survive past 72 hours. 

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It is estimated the caves were first formed over 335 million years ago, when most of the southwest United States was underwater. About 35 million years ago, rain poured into the subterranean spaces, and when it evaporated, the caverns took shape. Despite it their lifespan being millions of years, the underground site was not discovered until about 90 years ago. 

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It was 1927 when an enterprising Walter Peck, on his way to the weekly poker game, nearly fell into a hole in the ground. Not wanting to miss poker, he vowed to come back the next day to investigate. He did, and brought a few friends, a bucket, and rope. He had his friends lower him down, and then began exploring. Hours later, when he came back to the surface, he was grinning ear-to-ear. Peck thought he had found the only cavern in the world to be rich in gold, diamond, and silver. So, he bought up the whole property, and began plans for a mining operation. He was, of course, wrong.

What he thought were precious metals were just iron oxide and rust glimmering on the limestone rock. Not to be deterred, Peck found another way to make money from his discovery — curiosity seekers. He charged visitors a quarter to be lowered via bucket into the caverns. As one of the first Route 66 tourist stops, the caverns were a hit and remain to this day a vital stop on the "mother road."

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