Obscura Society Illinois: Spirits of the Midway - The Science Behind the Sideshow - Atlas Obscura
Free iron-on Atlas Obscura badge when you preorder our new kids’ book. Shop now.

Obscura Society Illinois: Spirits of the Midway - The Science Behind the Sideshow

The Illinois Obscura Society of Atlas Obscura was created in partnership with Enjoy IllinoisSign up to find out more about the back room tours, unusual adventures, and incredible parties that Atlas Obscura will be putting on in Chicago and greater Illinois. 

Last Friday the 13th, the Illinois Obscura Society hosted an event for 450 curious onlookers at the legendary Salvage One event space. Guests were treated to acts of contortion, mind reading, high-altitude juggling, spooky stories, and a brass band to bring it all together. In conjunction with Enjoy Illinois, the Illinois Obscura Society is born!

Michael Reyes poses with a brilliant costume for the evening’s entertainment.

(All photography by Jamie Bernstein.) 

Salvage One is part antique shop, part event space, and all curious. Three floors chock full of architectural salvage, odd furniture, and pieces of Illinois’ history surrounded us throughout the event. 

The space was divided into many different rooms, with small distractions everywhere. There were even simulated rides such as the mesmerizing HypnoDrome and an historical spook-house created by the Pocket Guide to Hell.

Items introduced at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 were on display, along with an original souvenir photo book.

Not one, but two bars provided refreshment, most of it from Illinois, including locally sourced wines, beers and cocktails from Frankfort Spirits.

 

Many unique nooks and crannies welcomed our guests, including these barber chairs surrounded by vintage records and salvaged signage.

Guests enjoying Illinois microbrews.

Would you put your life in our hands?


Field agents Rachel and Charles helped those brave enough down onto our bed of nails. Many of those who tried actually survived!

Thom Britton wowed the crowd by performing seemingly impossible feats. But this wasn’t magic: it was all real. Thom Britton’s FreakShow & Tell explains the science of the side show, and how you too can do the things he does. 


This is NOT magic. This is real.


Eat the fire.

Thom has nearly 100,000 volts going through his body; enough to light this lightbulb.

The audience looked on in rapture. Some of them were also silent, and seemed to have trouble with invisible walls. 


We are a mime-tolerant society.

Chuck Carter braved heights as he juggled wherever there was a hole in the crowd.

While Thom believes everyone can do the things he does, some us may not be physically equipped to perform the feats of contortion we witnessed.

Contortions are just one of the many skills taught at the Actor’s Gymnasium.

Some secrets were personal. Mentalist Jonny Zavant wowed the crowd with his numerical predictions throughout the night.

“You’ll meet a tall, dark stranger.”


Atlas Obscura Co-Founder Dylan Thuras

Keeping things lively were Chicago’s own Black Bear Combo, who entertained guests with raucous renditions and at one point a march around the venue.

 No amplification needed.

This is only the beginning. The Illinois Obscura Society has arrived, and the expeditions have begun. The Prairie State is anything but plain, and we’ll help you explore every last bit of it.

The Illinois Obscura Society of Atlas Obscura was created in partnership with Enjoy IllinoisSign up to find out more about the back room tours, unusual adventures, and incredible parties that Atlas Obscura will be putting on in Chicago and greater Illinois.