BY KAILEY TEDESCO
This is my favorite bookstore in the world. It’s on a cozy little corner in Manayunk and filled with plushy velvet chairs, rare crystals, some wicked occult objects, and a staff that completely adores everything about books. (They even encourage you to smell them!) They’ve hosted some incredible witchy events over the years including the creation of a witch zine, spell casting workshops, and equinox themed poetry readings. They also celebrate indie publishing, and will promote local and emerging authors—basically they care and they know how to make everyone in the literary scene feel pretty darn special. Not to mention Amelia, the bookshop cat, is basically the cuddliest creature ever.
When I think about the top ten most magical nights of my life, I immediately think of the time I went to see Night of the Living Dead at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Fireflies were starry all over the tombstones and vines stretched onto the footpaths as we walked past dozens of mausoleums and over towards the large outdoor movie screen. The entire landscape was alight with midnight picnics and laughter all suspended just above the death below. There’s something energizing about being in a cemetery—you face death squarely, but know, for at least a short time, you’ll be able to exercise a small power over it.
Something about Philadelphia cemeteries just knocks me out completely. There’s a lushness to Philly. Greenery bursts almost hazardously over everything, no matter how badly industrialization tries to suppress it. And within that greenery, snakes and squirrels and cicadas all mumble together, making the alive even more alive and the dead more pronounced by contrast. Laurel Hill is breathtaking—a museum as much as it a place of mourning. I highly recommend looking at their events calendar or simply taking a stroll through the graves on the next starry night.
Every time I’ve visited the Mütter Museum, it’s been almost eerily quiet. I think it’s because the exhibits are so entirely captivating—I’ve literally caught myself staring slack-jawed. The museum seeks to feature medical oddities, antiques, and instruments. Ever since watching The Nightmare Before Christmas as a kid, I’ve been into the idea of specimens, aesthetically. The entire museum is bell jars and curio cabinets and tiny drawers of curled bones and sutures. It ties the left and right sides of the brain together perfectly as you read about medical practices while staring at almost dadaist walls of skulls and organs.
Permanent exhibits include The Soap Lady, the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden, and Albert Einstein’s Brain.
A note: It is not for the very squeamish. I have a pretty strong stomach for these things, but the wall of eye infections seriously disturbed me!
This is a shop of oddities, antiques, taxidermy, and much much more. The entire shop is decorated in purple damask and velour fainting sofas. A stuffed grizzly bear wears a gold grown and lords over you as you browse through dusty ouija boards and spooky wooden dolls rocking in Victorian prams. You can spend a whole day here, flipping through the strange grimoires or asking the shopkeepers about the unique stories each object brings to the room. It’s an experience.
And it’s beautiful. Like jaw dropping beautiful.
The Convent is the place you wish you discovered early on in your teenage years. It’s a dramatic and occult-themed art gallery disguised as a chapel. Rows of pews lead to an altar which is always covered in sculptures and paintings that will make you question whether you are living in the real world anymore. And you just know that there has to be some kind of ancient demon trapped in a back room somewhere, like in Phantasmagoria, and that makes your time there all the more dangerous and delicious.
Current exhibitions include Tyler Thrasher’s beautiful and serpentine sculpture work and Allison Sommer’s completely hypnotizing mixed media and graphite pieces.
At this time Blood Milk Jewels is an online company, but they are known to show up at pop-ups and night markets around Philly, and other cities as well. The designer says this of the jewels (taken from the site’s About page):
Due to my academic background in literature and writing, I like to imbue my jewels with personal tales, historical contexts such as the Victorian Spiritualist movement and mythological references, mostly all of which surround the dark romanticism that the question of death often carries with it.
What more could you possibly ask for, right? I recently got a strand of Mourning Beads from Blood Milk, and next to my engagement ring and pearls I inherited from my Grizzy, they are the most special piece of jewelry I own. Made with spinel and onyx, they keep me feeling centered, strong, and in tune with both the physical and a spiritual worlds at once. I adore them.
Kailey Tedesco is the author of These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length collection, She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications). She is the co-founding editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a member of the Poetry Brothel. She received her MFA in creative writing from Arcadia University, and she now teaches literature at several local colleges.
Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her work in Prelude, Bellevue Literary Review, Sugar House Review, Poetry Quarterly, Hello Giggles, UltraCulture, and more. For more information, please visit kaileytedesco.com.