FAIRBORN — Downtown Fairborn’s Secret Chamber House of Oddities and Artwork is now offering a unique new experience for the inquisitive and perhaps slightly morbid.
Having launched her new additional space in October 2021, store owner and operator Cherish Harrell Brooks has transformed what is essentially the 600 square foot basement of her gothic art gallery/curios storefront into her own personal museum of the strange, dark, and creepy.
Intrigued patrons may stop into the House of Oddities during business hours, ask for a guided tour of Harrell Brooks’ macabre museum, grant a $5 donation if they wish, and enjoy the peculiar pleasures of an expertly and lovingly curated series of displays downstairs.
Exhibits featured range from “haunted baby dolls,” to serial killer-themed artwork, stuffed life-sized armadillos and boars, historical artifacts from wars and fires, and various other odds and ends that may cause equal parts revulsion and revelation to those willing to venture down the narrow stairway to Harrell Brooks’ den-like proscenium of gleefully ghoulish delights.
“This collection is not just stuff I’ve gathered over the years,” Harrell Brooks said. “It’s also stuff that people brought me that they didn’t know what to do with. And I in turn held onto them, because I didn’t know what to do with them, either.”
Harrell Brooks went on to explain that she didn’t feel comfortable “just putting a price tag on these things and selling them in the store,” due to the respect she felt she owed to those who were gifting her the items that would ultimately end up being housed in her modestly sized basement museum.
Creating the museum in her basement wasn’t too far afield from the ancillary activities of Harrell Brooks’ store, being that she already hosts a monthly horror-themed book club and has provided space in the past for local artists and photographers to use her building as an apropos “boudoir” studio. For Harrell Brooks, her passion for the weird and spooky is a “lifestyle.” She in fact offers none of her wares online in order to ensure any customer who wishes to purchase something from her store must come inside and experience it for himself.
Although the main House of Oddities store is all-ages, being that the basement museum does house sensitive materials, Harrell Brooks will generally only permit those who are 18 or older inside of that part of her building. She has in the past allowed entry to museum goers who are younger with the permission of a parent, but she has stipulated that it likely would be a space better suited for adults.
“There are elements down there that are a little ‘spicier,’ ” Harrell Brooks said, “and I don’t want upset anyone. That’s not my intention here.”
Beyond the “spicy” elements of her museum, Harrell Brooks will also point out — for those courageous enough — articles displayed that have allegedly been investigated by professional ghost hunters and found to be “otherworldly.” This includes an eerie framed photograph of an early 20th century woman that Harrell Brooks claims two different ghost hunters found to be named “Mary” by way of investigative devices they used for detection.
Harrell Brooks had originally kept the photograph in her upstairs store, but due to its “bugging out” one of her associates, she decided to bring it down to the museum where it would only entice those who specifically wish to be frightened.
Harrell Brooks did specify that though her store and museum are staunchly not “Halloween-themed,” they are part and parcel of her aforementioned horror-enthused lifestyle that originally led her to showing her collected wares at various conventions around the country before she decided five years ago to open the House of Oddities in Fairborn, close to where she grew up in New Carlisle.
“I used to come down to Fairborn a lot to check out Foy’s and the other stores here, which really kicked me into the horror community,” Harrell Brooks said. “I always remembered little things I would see, things that made me wonder if they were ‘real’ or not like mermaid figures or two-headed buffalos and things like that. Those experiences made a big impression on me as a kid, and that all really stuck with me, leading very much to where I am today.”
For Harrell Brooks, what she’s providing to the community is more than just another store that sells and displays kooky art and goods. In her vision of what she does, the House of Oddities proprietor is opening up a special inclusive space that invites those who “want to be themselves and may not feel comfortable doing that in their day-to-day life or at home with their family.”
Harrell Brooks also wants “people outside of town to be aware that downtown Fairborn can be a destination and is worth the drive for what we’re doing at the store and museum, along with what the other great shops all up and down the main drag do here, too.”