Wolf's Museum of Mystery
St. Augustine, Florida
Wolfgang Von Mertz was born in 1974 in a town with a giant concrete buffalo. "I was youngest of eight," said Wolf. "They all were hoarders, and when they got tired of their stuff they'd kick it down to me." The pop weirdness of Elvis, the Titanic, Linda Blair, and Lizzie Borden found a place in his heart. The oldest personal item in his Museum is a collage of risque Marilyn Monroe postcards that he collected when he was just 13.
Wolf and his wife Ali opened Wolf's Museum of Mystery, in a Victorian house that's also their home, in 2013. St. Augustine has welcomed them. "It's a very eclectic city; there are not many limits here," said Wolf, whose front door lists "Exorcist Bathroom" and "Chef Agony's Slaughterhouse Kitchen"" among its attractions. St. Augustine refused to help the Tragedy in U.S. History Museum only 15 years earlier; obviously a more visionary generation is in charge now.
Part of Wolf's charm is that he's no mere social outlier with a compulsion for horror movies and junk. Wolfgang Von Mertz is a successful Florida attorney, well-educated and traveled, with an impressive roster of real world friends and clients. Ali is his paralegal. His lawyerly skills, he said, have helped him acquire items that would have eluded the less-savvy collector.
Another odd twist to the Museum of Mystery is that everything in it -- including the stillborn elephant, the Alligator Girl monster, and the Human Brain in Resin -- is for sale*. Wolf calls it a "full retail museum," and while it's tempting to dismiss this as just a slick reframe of a "store," all of its items were collected by Wolf because he genuinely wanted to possess them.
(*The only things you can't buy are the cats, dog, rabbits, and other Von Mertz pets. Visitors are sometimes startled to find that a "stuffed" animal is just sleeping on the displays.)
Another asset to the Museum is the care and effort that Wolf and Ali have spent making it as mysterious-looking as possible; it comes across as an eccentric old person's home, not an oddities shop. "I didn't want to just move all my junk in here and make a hodgepodge of craziness," said Wolf, who has grouped his various collections into themed zones within the house. "He's a little OCD," said Ali, "He goes through phases. There was a taxidermy phase for a while. Now we're in an alien phase."
That's displayed in the Alien Mortuary, whose exhibits include a freakish elongated skull; a black box from a Russian plane whose pilots described weird lights before crashing; a burned-to-a-crisp creature corpse from the 2006 cult film Altered;, and an alien in a tube that's exact replica of the one displayed at the UFO Museum in Roswell.
Other Wolf phases within the Museum are Lizzie Borden's Bloody Boudoir, which displays framed photos of Lizzie's parents' battered skulls above a circular bed owned by a brothel madam; a Bigfoot room; galleries devoted to circus sideshows and voodoo; an iron lung tribute to The Big Lebowski, one of Wolf's favorite films ("It's worth it if only one out of 100 gets it," he said of the display); the previously noted Exorcist Bathroom, which Wolf said is the most popular spot in the house for kids; and a Dark Art Room that displays an obscene ashtray formerly owned by a KKK Grand Wizard, paintings from the Reich Chancellery and the film Silent Hill, and a watercolor of Wolf being disemboweled by Lizzie and Ali.
"I'm an all-in type of guy," said Wolf.
Some may be confused by a place that displays 14th century religious icons with 20th century serial killer art, but the Museum of Mystery makes perfect sense to Wolf; it's just an extension of his interests. By making everything available for sale, he ensures that his museum will always be new, and it also serves as a way to churn his current obsessions into funds that can be used to pursue future obsessions, whatever they may be. We'd guess that they'll be eccentric, possibly bloody and/or naughty, and definitely worth a modest admission price to take a peek.
"People," said Wolf, "like to look at stuff they're not supposed to look at."