From alligator heads to zombie figurines, a half-hidden museum in Pittsburgh has amassed a unique collection of the macabre.
Nothing seems unusual on the way to Trundle Manor in Swissvale.
It’s a typical, hilly, Pittsburgh-area neighborhood. Then near Juniata Street, the whole spectacle comes into view – a colorful sign reading “Trundle Manor” below a house on a hill with boarded windows and barbed wire bordering the upper story.
A black cat with two different colored eyes sometimes greets visitors; that’s Little Devil, but back to him in a bit.
First, the museum, where curiosities abound. Visitors can feast their eyes on mounted animal heads, things floating in jars, cleavers and a fair amount of unconventional taxidermy, including baby chickens with bat wings and squirrels in dresses and wigs.
“A lot of the creatures that we have in the manor, we found them,” said Anton Miriello, also known as Mr. Arm. “They’re vintage, they’re old or they would have been tossed away. And rather than them being tossed in the garbage, we found a way to acquire them.”
Arm said he and his wife, Rachel Miriello, or Velda Von Minx, aren't into killing things, they’re into collecting them. Though, sometimes Little Devil has his own ideas.
“We have a whole shelf of things that our cat has killed, various mice and moles from out in the yard,” said Von Minx. “We’re the only cat parents that really like those little presents they’ll leave for you.”
A match made in...hell?
Arm and Von Minx have been doing tours of their home for about eight years; they've been married for one.
Their union is a classic American love story: girl stalks boy over social media, boy invites girl to his house and she accepts, and “that night he said he had a freezer of dead squirrels if I wanted to learn taxidermy in the basement," Von Minx said. "The next week was our first official date.”
And they really do live at Trundle Manor.
One of the show rooms is their living room, and in the middle of what was once their dining room sits a large, damaged, taxidermied raccoon that gives guests a chance to see how the craft was accomplished decades ago. Nearby lie cat innards, old medical tools and other oddities.
The couple themselves has a very clear aesthetic: classic and creepy. They said they take their cues from the Addams Family rather than the other classic TV family, The Munsters.
“That’s always kind of our litmus test on whether people are our type of creeps or not, because in our eyes the Munsters are regular people dressed up as monsters, but the Addams were monsters who happened to look like regular people, but they always had an air of class about them and they always welcomed everybody into their home,” Von Minx said.
Showing off their home
Tours are given by appointment only, since both Mr. Arm and Von Minx have day jobs. The way people discover the museum varies.
“I just typed into Google, like ‘weirdest things to do in Pittsburgh,’ and this was definitely the most interesting thing that I saw,” said Jason Caler, of Edgewood.
Caler said the manor met his expectations. His companion on the tour, Bianca Berdeguer, who lives in Highland Park, agreed.
“This place is amazing, like, I’m in love – I fell in love with this place. It’s awesome,” Berdeguer said.
Their growing popularity is a point of pride for Mr. Arm. More than half of all tours are now given for what he calls “normal families.” One, in particular, made him realize they’d become a tourist trap.
“This family was taking their son to Boy Scout camp, but they stopped in Pittsburgh just for us,” he said.
Yes, that is a real brain
Some past visitors and friends of the couple have opted to be part of the museum. One woman mailed in a picture of her colonoscopy, which is on display, and a friend of theirs got them half of a human brain as a wedding gift. Another donated her tumor.
“That was donated by a belly dancer friend of ours," Arm said. "She gave us the condition that we had to give it a vessel proper for it to soak in, so I made that out of oak and brass and tried to give it a bit of beauty, life and entertainment quality, much like the lady it came out of. Thusly was born, 'Olivia’s Singing Tumor.'”
The tumor was benign and Von Minx said their friend still comes to visit it from time to time.
It, like all items in the collection, is deeply loved. Many treasures have been part of Arm's life for years, he said, like his Frankenstein-like dog cobbled together with bones, animal skins and a fish head.
Trundle Manor also hosts art shows, comedy nights and movie nights – most recently a tribute to George Romero.
To learn more or schedule a tour, visit http://trundlemanor.com.