This place is an anachronism. By all appearances, it should be accompanying a traveling circus, trundling across dust bowl Kansas circa 1934. Posters across poor farming towns would announce, in bold playbill script:
THE LITTLE LEVIATHAN
Esteem’d & Unique
Never Before Seen by Eyes of Man
25 cents. Not for the faint.
Alas, The Little Leviathan missed its true calling by eighty years. Instead, you can find it in 2014 in a light industrial park nestled off Western Boulevard near the fairgrounds. But don’t judge a book by its cover. Indeed, that would seem safe advice when one walks into this museum and shop of the darkly bizarre.
If The Little Leviathan is a circus, then Sam Macabro is its barker, Rod Sterling (not the Twilight Zone guy) is the ringleader, and Miranda Almany is the lion tamer of sorts, telling Sam and Rod to “bite it,” but only when absolutely necessary.
Miranda, of the crayola-red hair, opens a dimly-lit glass case and carefully removes a figurine. It takes a moment to recognize the ball of fur she holds. It’s taxidermy gone very wrong. She cradles the rat, preserved for eternity with bat wings extending from its tiny shoulders. “I adore rogue taxidermy. I have the tattoo of a jackalope on my leg, but you can’t see it because of the stockings.”
I am keenly aware there are no fewer than ten skulls – human and animal – staring at owner Rod Sterling as he glides past display cases crammed with artifacts chronicling the harsh history of the medical practice. He points out a hand-crank surgical drill, then proudly uncovers an Edwardian-era dental chair, perhaps best described as ‘the seat of nightmares.’ He explains why I channel the agonizing memory of three years of advanced orthodontia into the black metal chair (it has stirrups, for crying out loud!). “Science is often shrouded and misunderstood. Naturally, we fear what we don’t understand and put it in a darker light.”
Manager Sam Macabro interjects. “If you’re looking to be scared, you will be. We just make the mysterious approachable. We take the fetish out of it.” He goes on to recall the woman who entered the lobby, swiftly scanned the displays of mummified heads and Kewpie dolls, made the sign of the cross, and pivoted to exit, ramming into the closed glass door.
The Little Leviathan maintains its strange inventory though a network of pickers, haunting estate sales and auctions for pickled reptiles, dusty medical textbooks and antique autopsy photographs. While foot traffic in The Little Leviathan spans the simply curious to die-hard hoarders, much of the shop’s business comes from professionals. “Doctors like this stuff,” explains Rod, wielding a century-old bone saw. “They’re often collectors of the equipment and instruments.”
“Most people laugh,” says Miranda when asked for first-time visitors’ most common response to the shop. That makes sense. Laughter is a natural response after adrenaline floods the body. After fear. Listen for it next time you’re on a roller coaster or after the shock in some scary movie. Or the giggles could result from the same titillation felt by some twelve-year-old prairie kid at that circus, past his bedtime, peeking under the tent at the traveling freak show.
“Science exists in nature.” Rod shrugs his shoulders, poised next to a framed diorama containing the corpse of a mouse, frozen in mid-pirouette and dressed as a flamenco dancer. “Yet there’s still mystery and wonder.”