In the early 1900s, taxidermy was a thriving industry in New York City. The taxidermists who handled Theodore Roosevelt’s prey and the great African elephants in the American Museum of Natural History had a steady flow of customers. Today however, as one might imagine, the scene has dwindled. This one-man shop is one of the oldest — and last — operating taxidermy studios in the city.
Originating in Europe in order to preserve specimens collected by world explorers, taxidermists were as common as butchers and barbers in the 17th and 18th centuries. By the 19th century, there would be a taxidermist, or even several, in nearly every town throughout America and England.
However, after the Great War ended in 1918, the demands for taxidermists’ talents declined with the advent of photography to capture exotic animals abroad. Museum exhibits also began to fill up, and by World War II big game hunting was frowned upon.
But here in a small shop in Queens, the antiquated craft is alive and well. John Youngaitis is the owner and lone taxidermist at Cypress Hills Taxidermy Studio, a business his father started 58 years ago. Youngaitis the junior has been stretching and sewing the skins of dead animals onto foam models since he was a teenager.
Originally in Brooklyn, the studio moved to Middle Village, Queens in 2013, where the lifeless, stuffed animals that stand in the storefront window overlook a sprawling cemetery on Metropolitan Avenue. But instead of going into the ground, the remains of the animals he prepares hang proudly on the walls of the few customers that find their way to the shop.
Many of the specimens are sold or lent to bars, or used for movie shoots and parties. Currently, Cypress Hills Taxidermy Studio focuses on mounting hunters’ game, but when Youngaitis’s father ran the shop, they would receive lions, tigers, zebras, and zoo animals that had died.
The front room of the taxidermy shop is filled with an array of species including a boar, a penguin, a black bear, a red fox, and other animals of land, sea, and sky — a throwback to the time when the old craft ruled New York City.
Know Before You Go
Window-shopping is available at all times, but ring the bell if you're interested in meeting the owner and one-man-taxidermy machine to discuss the possible procurement of his animals.