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The Secret Science Club’s taxidermy contest at the Bell House

Show and smell: Freaky corpse contest brings stuffed animals and skeletons to Gowanus

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You don’t have to take a dip in the Gowanus Canal to see some freaky mutant creatures on April 6.

Just a few blocks away, geeky event series the Secret Science Club will be hosting its annual “Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest” at the Bell House. Devotees of the macabre can show off their finest stuffed beasts, weird skeletons, and just about anything else that is dead and preserved. The evening is part art show, part storytelling competition, with contestants expected to spin tall and true tales about their beast’s backstory in an effort to win prizes.

“It’s a glorified show-and-tell,” said judge Robert Marbury.

This is the seventh year the club has put on the event, and previous entries have included both the adorable and the abominable. One piece showed two kittens fighting over a ball of yarn another was a chandelier made of goat heads, Marbury said.

Even the organizers don’t know exactly what to expect from this year’s batch.

“I sort of think I’ve seen everything, but then clearly I have not,” said co-host Margaret Mittelbach.

Participants may enter found, purchased, or homemade taxidermy for a chance to win posterity and preternatural prizes. Judging will be in several categories, including “best in show,” “most twisted,” and “shock and awe.” Marbury has also added a new category, the “jump the shark award,” because he suspects this edition’s entrants will take the contest over the top — especially since the Museum of Morbid Anatomy started offering taxidermy lessons nearby.

Of course, the limits of taste are subjective. Organizer Dorian Devins said someone tried to enter a human fetus one year, but the judges wouldn’t allow it.

Judging is different from typical taxidermy competitions, which grade entrants on categories such as overall craftsmanship, composition, and the difficulty associated with stuffing and mounting a particular species, Marbury explained.

“I do none of that,” he said.

In this contest, a commitment to storytelling is just as important as the taxidermy itself, he said. One previous standout presenter showed off the penguin his dead aunt supposedly bequeathed to him. The burly contestant waxed eloquent about his love for his lost relative, and the presentation ended in a rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” It was all an act — but that didn’t matter.

“He made the whole thing up,” Marbury said. “It was great. I love a committed presentation that sort of asks for something from the audience.”

But based on past winners, the key to success is having a little something extra that expertly walks the line between good and poor taste.

One of the best all-time entries was a monkey — bottle opener and brew in hand — riding a coyote that dispensed beer from its penis, Marbury said.

“That one didn’t need a story,” he said. “It was the story.”

“Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest” at Bell House [149 7th St. between Second and Third avenues, (718) 643–6510, www.thebellhouseny.com]. April 6 at 7 pm. $12 advance, $15 day of show. Contact secretscienceclub@gmail.com to register.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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