Keep Savannah Creepy.
That is the mission of Ryan Graveface, owner and curator of the Graveface Museum. Savannah has a weirdo reputation to uphold and Graveface works tirelessly to maintain it. Even those familiar with Graveface’s other businesses — his many record labels, his bands, his record store and curiosity shop in the Starland District — may be shocked by the sheer depth of rare and fascinating objects that fill his museum.
Located on Factors Walk — the creepier, more shadowy side of River Street — the Graveface Museum is home to a priceless collection of weird memorabilia and artifacts related to UFOs, cults, the occult, roadside attractions, taxidermy, circuses, funeral rituals, side shows, and true crime. It is like all of your favorite podcasts in physical form.
The museum is the culmination of years of obsessive collecting by Graveface.
Although he has displayed some of his pieces at galleries or in his shop, it wasn’t until he organized his collection into a museum that the breadth of his passion became clear.
“When you’re living out of boxes, meaning all this stuff was literally in boxes my whole life... until you finally put it up on walls and give it a moment and have people come through the door and comment upon it, within 24 hours of opening it I realized, holy [expletive] I have the deepest collection of some of this stuff on Earth,” said Graveface. “Prior to that I just knew that I had cool stuff which is a wildly different thought pattern.”
Once you enter the museum through the gaping maw of a papier-mâché Satan, the first exhibit you encounter features a bizarre array of taxidermy (a five-legged cow!), (real) shrunken heads, and dried up creatures created by the “King of Gaffes” Homer Tate. Tate constructed artifacts out of different objects like his wife’s hair and his cat’s teeth to sell to roadside attractions. The artifacts often included phony stories about their origins in “the wilds of Borneo.”
“I’m presenting them as they were created, rather than the fake stories because I think it’s far more compelling that this guy did this [expletive] work and then got yelled at by his wife when he chopped off her hair while she sleeps.”
The room itself also carries its own strange secrets. The museum was built in an old abandoned cotton warehouse and during renovations, Graveface found other curious objects hidden behind a wall including exotic house decorations from Papua New Guinea, and an old record from the 1940’s of people speaking in tongues at a sermon.
Throughout the museum, countless other rare objects adorn the walls such as the actual sign from Spahn Ranch where the Manson Family used to shack up, a pair of Jim Jones’ sunglasses and unopened Flavor Aid packets from the Jonestown massacre, ritual objects used by the Odd Fellows fraternal order, and a “clown in a box” containing the ashes of a deceased circus clown.
The museum even displays Lizzie Borden’s personal diaries.
“They are the most boring things I own, unfortunately,” Graveface admitted. “No lesbian love affairs or murder, just, ‘Tea at 9’.”
The biggest draw of the museum is the True Crime room which features artwork created by some of the most notorious killers in U.S. history including Richard Ramirez, Ruth Judd, Charles Manson, and John Wayne Gacy. At 71 pieces, Graveface owns the largest collection of Gacy paintings in the world, although only about 20 are on display.
“This entire room could just be Gacy and THAT would be weird,” Graveface joked.
An unintended consequence of housing so many charged objects under one roof is that the museum is possibly one of the most legitimately haunted spaces in Savannah. During my interview with Graveface at his museum, a strange energy seemed to permeate the atmosphere and while discussing strange occurrences a rock fell from seemingly nowhere and cracked the windshield of Graveface’s car while we stood right next to it. Spooky indeed. Graveface’s wife, Chloe, had to burn sage afterwards to clear the bad mojo.
“The thing that has surprised me the most, and I was not intending on it, is how many ghostly experiences people are having in here...and these are normal people that say they’ve never experienced this before,” Graveface explained.
Graveface has been keep a running logbook tracking customer’s supernatural experiences, and a family of ghost hunters who visited the museum with paranormal detection devices were able to pick up strange voices connected to a haunted Ouija board.
Although there is nothing particularly scary or gory in the museum, it can be an intense experience for some, so as a palate cleanser one of the rooms features 15 vintage horror themed pinball machines that visitors can play for free.
“I don’t want them to cry or be scared, but I always thought that dark history should be taught,” Graveface explained. “I think it’s important to learn about a lot of this stuff. I would like people to view it more from that end. I’m not trying to shock you and I’ve presented things, hopefully, artfully enough to where it doesn’t appear that I’m glorifying or taking advantage...I think it’s working because the amount of questions I’m getting and the types of questions seem to be people analyzing and wanting to learn more.”
“For some person that just walks in from River Street, it might actually be too deep,” Graveface added. “There’s no surface level of ‘Oh, this is fun’(laughs). Not necessarily what I was going for and not necessarily a good thing, but anyone who is already interested in this or maybe has seen a piece before, it will blow their mind.”
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