Those drinking colorful daiquiris or shopping for souvenirs on River Street in Savannah, Georgia, might not know that right above them—in a historic row of former cotton warehouses—is one of the country’s most macabre museums. The Graveface Museum was opened by Black Moth Super Rainbow guitarist Ryan Graveface in February, 2020, after he hosted a series of successful pop-up exhibits around the nation.
“While I was on tour [with the band], I would be buying really weird collections,” says Graveface. “I would be obsessed with trying to track down weird stuff.”
As a kid, Graveface collected the 1980s trading cards Garbage Pail Kids. His tastes took a macabre turn when he realized that his favorite horror movies, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Stephen King’s It, were inspired by real life events (Ed Gein and John Wayne Gacy, respectively). “You start to see these movie boogeymen are actually real dudes,” Graveface says.
The museum immediately went viral for its unusual collection, which ranges from a human spine belonging to Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey to a taxidermied two-headed calf.
Shrunken heads and sideshows
I start my tour through a large, devil-themed papier-mâché doorway straight out of a funhouse; the darkness is a welcome respite from the Savannah heat. The first room features oddities like shrunken heads and that two-headed calf. Many items are from the collection of “King of Gaffes” Homer Tate, a sideshow creator known for Tate’s Curiosity Shop and The Thing in Arizona. Some are authentic historic artifacts; others were created by Tate or collected from the Georgia home of Ophelia Baker, a clairvoyant and fortune teller better known as “Madame Truth.”
A large collection of photographs and artifacts related to medical oddities and circus sideshow performers includes placards that detail the histories of the people behind the photos. They feature Zoe Zobedia, “The Moss Haired Girl”; “Bearded Lady” Lola Conklin; and “Lobster Boy” Grady Stiles Jr. (son of Lobster Man, Stiles toured with carnivals for more than half a century until he was murdered in Florida in 1992), among others.
A smaller room focuses on UFOs, with a mirrored ceiling and video footage from alleged sightings. The last gallery downstairs features objects used in Victorian funeral traditions, including a vintage coffin, embalming equipment, wreaths, and mourning attire. An altar found behind the walls during construction of the museum is also on display. Security footage captured by Graveface shows items being flung off the walls and lights turning on long after the museum has closed for the night.
The museum’s lower level is home to the Creature Castle Pinball Pit (included with the price of admission), which is a welcome break from the darkness—literal and figurative—of the first floor. I take a few minutes to play machines featuring Elvira, The Addams Family, Mortal Kombat, and Freddy Krueger. A few weeks after my visit, Graveface opened a larger, separate arcade with even more pinball machines, located less than 3 miles from the museum, next to Graveface Records & Curiosities (also owned by Graveface). Admission to the Graveface Arcade is also included with a museum ticket, and valid for 2 days.
But it’s the museum’s upstairs gallery that draws true crime and cult fanatics from far and wide (I initially discovered the museum through a “Murderino” group for fans of the My Favorite Murder podcast). The collection includes a document from Savannah’s (now defunct) Oglethorpe Sanatorium, where former patient L. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics before he founded Scientology. On the opposite wall is a framed pair of sweatpants that once belonged to Charles Manson, set beneath photos of his followers and a wooden sign from California’s Spahn Ranch (obtained from a lawyer for the “family”). Alongside it are a few graphic images from the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders.
A television plays tapes of Heaven’s Gate founder Marshall Applewhite next to a papier-mâché head in the likeness of People’s Temple founder Jim Jones. The bust is adorned with a pair of Jones’ large, signature sunglasses, and a pair of headphones plays recordings from the 1978 massacre. Framed packets of Flavor-Aid (mistakenly reported to be Kool-Aid) retrieved from Guyana remind visitors of the tragic event that left more than 900 of Jones’ parishioners dead, including the leader and his wife.
The final gallery features artwork made by notorious serial killers alongside their belongings: A drawing of the devil by Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez is displayed alongside the underwear of Aileen Wuornos, and a drawing by Ottis Toole (who confessed to the 1981 murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh) is terrifyingly childlike.
A majority of Graveface’s collection is dedicated to John Wayne Gacy, complete with a wall painted to resemble the design from the home of the infamous “killer clown.” Multiple portraits feature Gacy dressed up as his alter ego, Pogo the Clown—but Gacy was also a prolific artist, producing dozens of portraits of himself, other serial killers, and Disney characters.
“I’ve got many, many, many duplicates,” Graveface says. “[Gacy] painted Hobo the Clown 400 times and Skull Clown [at least] a hundred times.”
After reading the 1983 book Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders, Graveface got his first Gacy painting when he was just 15 years old. He has since tried to track down as many as he can, even befriending Gacy’s old friends and family members along the way. Graveface has also spent the last 7 years working on a documentary about Gacy, which he says will focus mainly on his victims.
But there’s no denying what brings people (including myself) to the Graveface Museum: the items you won’t find anywhere else—the bizarre, the macabre, and, yes, the horrifying aspects of humanity. And while most of the artifacts featured belonged to infamous names such as Manson, Gein, and Gacy, Graveface is careful not to glorify the people behind the sensational headlines.
“These are murderers,” he says. “They’re clearly terrible people.”
If you go
The Graveface Museum is open Thursday to Sunday from 12 to 7 p.m. Admission is $20 and includes access to two pinball arcades.