Creepy P.E.I. artifacts on display at Cabinet of Killer Curios exhibit

·2 min read
Creepy P.E.I. artifacts on display at Cabinet of Killer Curios exhibit
Two types of hats are part of the exhibit, including a top hat that was cured using mercury, which could be deadly.  (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Two types of hats are part of the exhibit, including a top hat that was cured using mercury, which could be deadly. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

From deadly fashion to taxidermied animals, a new museum exhibit is showcasing the spooky side of history through P.E.I. artifacts with a macabre past.

Cabinet of Killer Curios at the Eptek Art & Culture Centre in Summerside features items from the collection of the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation, just in time for Halloween.

"Everything is deadly," said Eptek site manager Nikkie Gallant. "Potentially deadly," she added with a laugh.

The displays include household items and fashions from the past that often contained deadly poisons like arsenic or mercury.

"Back in the Victorian era, you could be wearing the height of fashion, and also risking your life," said Gallant.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

At the time, top hats often contained mercury, used to cure the felt.

"They were treated with different chemicals that would preserve them but also could be deadly to the person wearing them. So we always like to say, don't lick the artifacts," said Gallant.

Other potentially deadly garments on display include mourning dresses. In Victorian times if a family member died, women were expected to wear mourning clothes for two full years.

"They would be made with things that could damage your lungs or they could ... kill you," said Gallant.

Beyond mourning, there were other dangerous fashions. The dyes used in some clothing, including the well-known Paris Green dye, contained arsenic.

"You were very well-to-do and you were all fashionable, you looked great. But it was going to kill you," said Gallant.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

The exhibit includes a can of Paris Green dye and a wall panel explaining the horrors of the popular green dresses.

A barber pole, with its iconic red, blue and white stripes, might be a surprising addition to an exhibit of macabre items. But behind the cheerful-looking stripes there's a chilling past lurking.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

"Did you know that the colours in the barber pole represented blood, and veins, and bandages?" said Gallant.

"Back in the day, you could go to the barber's and get your hair all done, and get your teeth pulled, and also you could have bloodletting done. So you know, it was one-stop shopping," Gallant said.

Exhibit on until Halloween

A couple of creepy-looking animals round out Cabinet of Killer Curios: a stuffed monkey and a stuffed crocodile.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

"[The crocodile] has been in our collections since the mid-'90s and we've all loved him very much internally," said Gallant.

The exhibit runs until Halloween on October 31.

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