Similar to clowns and sharks, an aged doll has an unsettling connotation attached to it.
"Movies definitely fueled that," confirms Brittany Nicole, co-owner and operator of Old Ghosts Odditorium. "You think back to the '30s, and you look at one of those dolls, that was a brand-new baby doll that brought some little kid somewhere so much joy. That was the one toy they had that their parents could afford to buy them."
It's this level of object empathy that permeates Old Ghosts, found just off I-595 in Fort Lauderdale. The store is home to a collection of antique oddities, peculiar artifacts from some bizarre avenue of world history: taxidermy animals, papier-mâché clown heads, carnival sideshow banners.
All the objects on display at Old Ghosts come from Nicole and her partner Jackson Valiente's personal collection, which took a combined 20 years to amass. The duo met after Nicole became a regular client at Kreepy Tiki Tattoos and the neighboring Kreepy Tiki Bar & Lounge. The two hit it off, and Valiente offered her a job at the tattoo parlor.
After the bar closed, they needed to figure out what to do with the space. The first idea, a museum, endured until it reached a point where visitors couldn't tell where the museum ended and the gift shop began.
"A lot of people would come in and ask us if stuff was for sale and if they could buy it, and in the beginning, it was like, 'No, not really,' because it was our stuff," Nicole explains. "But that's how the idea for the store was birthed. A lot of people showed interest in our taste."
Old Ghosts' collection is assembled from estate cleanouts, dumpster diving, and networking connections built from years of working in this industry. Regardless of where the stuff originates, Old Ghosts has an ethos about the unique relationship between human and object.
"Whether it's an old pillow or an old doll or an old mirror or it's your iPhone, everybody has that ability to have this emotional connection with something that is not living," Nicole says.
A few years back, when Kreepy Tiki Bar & Lounge was still in business, the duo had a friend named Jack who was in Hawaii. Jack, an importer/exporter of fine art, had stopped at another tiki bar that was shutting down when he came upon the stuffed bird.
"In the antique world, those are very hard to find, and if you do find them, they are typically very expensive," Nicole recounts. "He wanted to buy it, and the guy told him no — that it was a family heirloom, that it was his great-great grandfather's pet bird."
As the story went, the bar owner's great-great-grandfather would visit the tiki bar every day, bringing his pet macaw along with him. The creature outlived its master before passing away itself in the 1940s, whereupon the bar owner's grandfather had the bird taxidermied.
Fast-forward to seven years ago, and Jack is trying to get ahold of this bird for Valiente. The family was hesitant at first but eventually agreed, albeit with one stipulation.
"They didn't even want him to buy it," Nicole says. "They were going to give it to him as long as it went to another tiki bar. And the guy was like, 'Yes, it's gonna go to Kreepy Tiki in Fort Lauderdale.'"
But there was something about the bird.
"The bartender was in here cleaning up and she starts calling my partner, freaking out that the bird fell and landed standing up," Nicole recalls. "She said, 'Something is up with this bird. I'm not going back inside.'"
The management shrugged it off. Then the bird fell the following night, again landing on its feet. Same thing the night after, and the night after that, and the night after that, ant the night after that. Each night, it landed on its feet.
"We were like, 'He's gonna break eventually,'" Nicole says. "We ended up moving him down lower to be actually on the bar surface, and nothing ever happened again."
The running joke became that this bird was upset about having been exiled to the top shelf.
While many of the items in the Old Ghost catalog were a nightmare to acquire, there's a level of enjoyment in running into clients who remind them of why they got into the business to begin with.
"It's cool to meet other collectors," Nicole says. "Because at heart that's what we really are: collectors that got out of control and had to start selling stuff."
Old Ghosts Odditorium. 2608 S. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 954-224-7419.