Expect the unexpected at Adam Williams’ eclectic and bizarre gallery and shop Birmingham Oddities. Located on First Avenue North, this extravaganza of the unique offers customers, and visitors alike, a glimpse at rarely-seen artifacts. But for curator Williams, it’s often the stories behind the items that generates the most interest.
What can you expect to find at Birmingham Oddities?
We host tons and tons of unusual items. People often ask me what is an oddity, and I suggest that “oddity” and “ology” are interchangeable. We sell a lot of small animal skulls, like skunks and opossums. We carry old medical tools like shock therapy machines and antique embalming pumps. We have tons of 100-year-old prescriptions. There are dozens of rocks, minerals and fossils scattered about the shop. We have a three-foot dinosaur bone and old ophthalmological tools. There are tons of books and dozens of tarot cards. We have ancient Chinese statuary and baby hippopotamus skulls. It’s a zany place.
How did you begin collecting such unique items?
I have been collecting most of my life, starting out on unusual rocks and animal bones that I’d find by the creek when I was a kid. I remember being highly fascinated with science and taking apart every electronic device. I like to see the inside of things and know how they work. I used to have a little suitcase that I took to Grandma’s house that was slap full of rocks I had found. Later in college, I studied biology, chemistry and anatomy. I loved going to thrift stores and finding medical teaching models or old chemistry kits … I just kept collecting and collecting.
What is it about Birmingham that makes a store of this nature thrive?
I love this question. This is the heart of the machine. At first I was skeptical of the success of Birmingham Oddities. I’m different, the things I like are different, the items are different. Who would like it? Who would judge me? Who would shun me? Well, it ended up being no one! To my surprise, everyone loves oddities. Everyone says, I’m the weird one, I’m different, and that really makes us all the same … well, or at least, like-minded. We are all curious people, in love with the unusual, the insides, the way things tick. It is curiosity that allows us to expand our minds.
How does Birmingham Oddities connect with local artists and events?
We are way more a part of the community, and here for the community than we are a store. We like to refer to ourselves as a gallery rather than a shop. Probably 90% of the customers come in to look, not necessarily to buy. Everyone says I’ve been trying to get down here for a while. It’s something to do, not a store to shop at. One of my favorite compliments early on was, “Thanks for giving Birmingham something to do, rather than just somewhere to eat.” We also participate in any local event that we can. We regularly host artists at Birmingham’s ArtCrawl; we are big supporters of Artwalk. We sponsor the Punk Rock Flea Market, and we just brought a Carnival Sideshow to Trim Tab Brewing for their monthly event “The Happening,” complete with a two-headed baby and the bearded lady.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve come across thus far?
I get this question a lot from customers, and I guess it’s hard to say … we are everything odd, so what is the oddest? People say it’s me sometimes. They expect some dark, mysterious, old man wielding a wand or a staff, but instead it’s just a short, fat kid with a big smile on his face. But to try to answer the question, I’d say the Pathological Human Brain Specimens from Hillman Hospital are pretty wowing. We have a baby hippopotamus skull in the store right now. I’ve sold several taxidermist baby ducks. Lots of people buy the antique OB/GYN speculums, or ray guns, as I like to call them. Maybe the framed drawing by the mass murderer, Ottis Toole, is the weirdest. I don’t know; I think it’s all very odd especially when you hear the items’ back stories … that’s the fun of oddities, sharing the items’ stories.