New York City’s most morbid museum

See wax models of diseased body parts, intricately woven memorials made of human hair and more at Brooklyn’s newly opened Morbid Anatomy Museum.

New York City-bound travellers with a taste for the macabre can add the recently opened Morbid Anatomy Museum to their itineraries. Wax models of diseased body parts, intricately woven memorials made of human hair and wet specimens of often-squeam-inducing creatures are just some of what’s on offer at the three-storey cabinet of curiosities in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighbourhood.

Dedicated to “exploring the intersections of death and beauty and that which falls between the cracks”, the museum sprung from the Morbid Anatomy blog, which was started by Joanna Ebenstein in 2007 as a way to organise a project about medical museums around the world. As her blog and research collection grew, Ebenstein created the Morbid Anatomy Library, a 300sqft space open to the public one day a week, and launched a related lecture and workshop series called Morbid Anatomy Presents in 2009. The new museum venue – a former nightclub – means a little more breathing room for Morbid Anatomy, with a café, bookstore and space for exhibitions in addition to its library and permanent collection.

“I can finally find all my books,” Ebenstein said.

Visitors are encouraged to peruse the book collection, which ranges in topic from sex, monsters and medicine to the occult, folklore and natural history. There’s a wide array of related trinkets, artefacts and art to pore over too, including anatomical ex-votos, or religious offerings of thanks or devotion; a 19th century death mask bust with phrenology markings, meant to determine moral character by the shape of one’s skull; Mexican Day of the Dead figures; and emu feet donated by a man whose wife no longer wanted them in the house. 

Through 4 December, memorial photography, jewellery and handicrafts from the US and Europe dating to the 18th Century are on display as part of The Art of Mourning, a special showcase sourced from private collectors.

More quirky than sombre, the museum also hosts a slew of evening and weekend events – a singles night among them. Upcoming August programming includes a talk on “Eva Peron and the Iconography of the Flesh” (19 August), a fancy chicken taxidermy workshop (23 August) and a Michael Jackson karaoke birthday party (29 August).

The Morbid Anatomy Museum is open Wednesday to Monday, 12 pm to 6 pm. Admission is $10.

Amy Brader is the New York City Localite for BBC Travel