GLADEWATER - In the quiet town of Gladewater, there is a surprise-filled collector's shop in the antiques district that specializes in a good scare.

While some passersby ignore the old wooden coffin on display in the front window, braver souls stroll inside for a closer look at the beauty, mystique and intrigue of the macabre.

"If everyone is the same as everyone else, what fun it that?" said a grinning Douglas Richardson from his family-owned Antiques & Oddities store. "If there's a coffin in the window, people shouldn't be surprised at what they find in here. Everything in our store is different. … We think life's too short to be boring."

Indeed, there's no yawning in this store, which can seem a cross between circus sideshow and fright museum.

It's packed full of things that garner a stare or two: the taxidermy claw of the mythical Chupacabra, a vintage autopsy table, medical instruments and pickled things in jars.

The store also has a head-turning mascot, a rescued 16-year-old Chinese soft shell turtle named "Won Ton," but he's not for sale, or on the menu.

Not all of the shop is devoted to the goose bump crowd.

There are also vintage toys, paintings, antiques, furniture and whatnots, grouped together in eclectic fashion to invoke double takes and conversation starters.

"Yes, the coffin is real," Richardson said of the large wooden box on display in the center aisle. "It was brought over from Italy in 1900. It was a transport coffin for a body being brought from Italy to New Orleans."

The remains apparently went to a mausoleum; the coffin elsewhere, before winding up in the Gladewater antiques shop.

"There's a big market for stuff like this," Richardson said of the items. "This would be a slow sell in Gladewater, but most people who buy from us are not from Gladewater. We have people calling, looking for stuff every day. … Sometimes we're even shocked at what sells."

The shop enjoys a varied clientele from around Texas and beyond, mostly private collectors and museums on the hunt for something "different."

Most of the inventory isn't around long enough to collect dust, especially in the fall when people are planning Halloween parties.

The internet helps the shop maintain a fresh supply of hard-to-find items on the shelves and new people are constantly stopping in to shop and to stare.

Customer Trish Lyle, of White Oak, is a regular who likes unique home décor.

"Some things are not my style, but it's interesting to me," she said. "This stuff is unique. You have to be open-minded about it. I always seem to find something I want when I come in. … Sometimes if they see things they know I might like, they'll text me."

With so many eyebrow-raising items in store, curious minds want to know: What's been the most unusual item offered for sale?

"It's hard to say," Wolfe Richardson said. "There have been a lot of odd items in here but the most odd? Probably the gallstones."

Two, to be exact, carefully preserved in a small, glass jar.

As a point of disclosure, the gallstones and other once-living specimens were acquired by ethical means, through reputable sources, the shopkeepers said.

"We're cruelty free," Douglas Richardson said.

Generally, most items are acquired through more conventional ways, such as picking excursions to New Orleans and beyond.

"The autopsy table is from the 30s or older," Douglas Richardson said. "A friend had it, and used it as a sofa table. I saw it, wanted it and brought it here. Here's the thing, nothing is made like this anymore. … These kinds of items are getting hard to find."

Indeed, many vintage items are disappearing fast, having been tossed into landfills with the garbage.

Wolfe Richardson, a professional seamstress and alterations expert, said not everyone understands the beauty of simple design and quality craftsmanship of period pieces.

"Art was probably my favorite subject in school, I took every class," he said. "Now, sewing is my life."

He helps with store merchandising and runs a side custom alterations business that specializes in trendy vintage wedding dresses and elaborate-looking pageant gowns.

"Antique stuff from the 30s and 40s is what people are wanting right now," he said, citing rising popularity in "Bonnie and Clyde" themed weddings. "There's a big demand for the old dresses."

As long as there is customer demand for eccentric heirlooms, these guys are happy to deliver.

"For us, this shop just seemed like it was meant to be," Wolfe Richardson said. "It's a lot of fun."



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Jacque Hilburn-Simmons is an award-winning journalist who has been writing professionally for 30 years. She's a former police reporter who also wrote a book about the KFC murder. She shares stories about East Texas through her Behind the Wheel column.