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The museum, a former church built in 1855, has a congregation that never leaves.
The museum, a former church built in 1855, has a congregation that never leaves.

Wolf's Museum of Gods and Monsters

Field review by the editors.

Friendship, New York

If immortal beings really do oversee our lives, then the ones managing Wolfgang and Ali Von Mertz have at times been total jerks. Monsters, you might say.

Wolf and Ali painted the building Victorian purple and black.
Wolf and Ali painted the building Victorian purple and black.

For years the Von Mertzs ran Wolf's Museum of Mystery in St. Augustine, Florida, a venue for Wolf's vast collection of weird and exotic artifacts. Then in 2019 their landlord kicked them out in the dead of winter, and the couple had to truck all of their belongings, including their small family of pets, to an old church building in Wellsville, New York, where they hoped to reopen the museum.

Eight days after they arrived, when the Von Mertzs were out buying paint, the church burned to the ground. All of the pets perished, and nearly all of Wolf's collection was destroyed.

Possessed Regan and crucifix collection in the Exorcist Bedroom.
Possessed Regan and crucifix collection in the Exorcist Bedroom.

Tourist attractions have a known history of calamitous fires, which usually mark the end of an attraction. Not this time. Wolf and Ali scraped together what little money they had left, purchased a second church building for sale in the nearby town of Friendship, and started again. "Any normal couple wouldn't have even considered trying to build a new museum," said Wolf. "But nobody has ever accused us of being normal."

Ali, Wolfgang, and their cats: a watercolor by Dominic Murphy.
Ali, Wolfgang, and their cats: a watercolor by Dominic Murphy.

After five years of repairs and renewed collecting, Wolf's Museum of Gods and Monsters opened to the public in September 2023. "We started with so much stuff in the last place that it was kind of chaos," said Wolf, but its absence -- along with a new location in a 19th century church -- has helped steer this museum toward a unifying theme of the supernatural. That includes religion, aliens, ghosts, witches, the devil, movie monsters, and occasional human monsters as well.

Wolf's fascination with what he calls "dark" things has given the museum an Exorcist Bedroom and a Theatre Room with John Dillinger's death mask (he was gunned down leaving a theater), a "Wall of Horrorgraphs," and a baby demon rubber suit worn by Verne Troyer ("Mini-Me") in the film Wishmaster. The pews in the church are filled with dozens of seated skeletons, some dressed in clothes that Wolf and Ali found in the building after they bought it. A room titled, simply, "Hell," features a big animatronic Lucifer sucking the soul out of a human dummy.

Alex Murdaugh display features the hunting suit worn by the murderer in an infamous photo.
Alex Murdaugh display features the hunting suit worn by the murderer in an infamous photo.

A demon's hellbound travel trunk is packed full of lost souls.
A demon's hellbound travel trunk is packed full of lost souls.

We wondered if such displays might be viewed with alarm in the little town of Friendship, but Wolf said that the local response has been positive. "I'm right next to a Baptist church," said Wolf, "and the pastor's daughter is one of our biggest supporters. She's just crazy about the place."

Hundreds of informative plaques help visitors to understand what they're looking at. A human brain encased in resin is in the same display area as a Lizzie Borden newspaper from day of the murders, recovered from under the floorboards of a Borden relative's home. Both somehow survived the fire, as did an executioner's sword, a black box from a downed Russian jet, two skull caps from executed criminals, and a 1930s painting of Hitler. These few relics from the old museum are often blistered and charred, which adds to their unsettling allure.

The Haunted Barn gallery has a gun that killed an Alabama Bigfoot in 1989; an Ed Gein display (he did his ghoulish work at his farm); and a variety of ominous possessions from the hunting lodge of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh. "I bought all of his ammunition," Wolf said, as well as the full-body camo suit worn by Murdaugh in a widely circulated photograph, holding a shotgun. "It's a creepy photo," said Wolf, "which of course we've enlarged for the exhibit."

Valak the Evil Nun greets visitors to the Weeping Room gallery.
Valak the Evil Nun greets visitors to the Weeping Room gallery.

As with the Von Mertz's previous attraction, the Museum of Gods and Monsters is what Wolf refers to as a "full retail museum," meaning that every item in it is potentially available for a price. "I would still sell anything," he said, "but it would have to be for what it's worth to me."

Despite the trauma and heartbreak that led to this new location, Wolf now likes it more than he did the old place in St. Augustine. "With all the stained glass windows as backdrops, the atmosphere is far better," he said, although it took years of grunt work by Wolf and Ali to get it to the point where they felt comfortable opening it to the public. "OCD personalities, one thing leads to the next," he said. "It was insane when you look back on it -- way too many modifications -- but when we had our opening, every single thing that we said we'd do, we did." Hubris may be a deadly sin in some churches, but not in the Museum of Gods and Monsters. "We're proud of it."

Wolf's Museum of Gods and Monsters

Address:
41 W. Main St., Friendship, NY
Directions:
I-86 exit 29. Turn south onto NY-275/Pennsylvania Ave. Drive a half-mile. At the blinker light turn left onto NY-20/W. Main St. Drive a half-mile into downtown. The museum will be on the left, inside a purple church.
Hours:
May-Oct F 4-9, Sa 2-9, Su 2-8 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
585-957-1144
Admission:
Adults $10.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

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In the region:
Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, Wellsboro, PA - 50 mi.

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