Bearded ladies were once a staple in freak shows, and for the past six years the Bearded Lady has been a staple in Burbank, part of the Magnolia Boulevard renaissance anchored by Atomic Records and Pin Up Girl Boutique at one end and Halloween Town to the west. This section of Burbank close to the studios has always had a Twilight Zone freaky small-town vibe, fostered in part by the longtime presence of horror/goth general store Dark Delicacies as well as a large number of vintage shops catering to non-mainstream fashionistas.
The Bearded Lady perfectly enhanced the cool, weird and spooky vibes of Magnolia Boulevard with merchandise ranging from vintage undertaking and medical equipment to carnival memorabilia, arranged in rooms by theme in a small bungalow. Owners Erick Wessell and Kiko Bailey became fascinated with spirit boards, of which the much-maligned Ouija board (Parker Brothers manufactures them!) is just one version, and began collecting and displaying them. Wessell and Bailey relay that upon viewing the carefully curated displays of glass eyes, poison bottles and circus posters, customers would always exclaim, “This place is like a museum!”
So the duo connected with their friend Stephanie Joens, a dealer in Halloween memorabilia, and together the three launched the Bearded Lady’s Mystic Museum in 2016, with an emphasis on the history of fortunetelling, spiritualism and other mystical arts via exhibits, art shows and other events, such as The Shining–themed speakeasy that takes place there this Friday the 13th.
Seven months ago, the Bearded Lady moved its collection of oddities and antiques into a storefront next door to its sister venture, doubling the size of the museum, which now includes a Victorian reproduction bar and numerous nooks, the better to showcase art of a darker sort. The Mystique Museum operates like a “real” museum, with a permanent collection of posters, spirit boards and a variety of fortunetelling devices, ranging from tea cups to tarot cards. It has also a full gift shop with these items for purchase, of course.
“Kiko and Eric had their collection, and I had mine, and once we made the decision to open the museum, we acquired more for the collection,” Joens explains. And what a collection it is! Among the pieces exhibited are Ka-Bala, a now-hard-to-find 1960s glow-in-the-dark divination game for children, who were instructed to chant “Pax, sax, sarax; hola, noa, nostra!” while tilting the game board to roll a marble into various holes and reveal their fortune, and possibly their future, as the “Eye of Zohar” in the center wobbled over the aspiring thaumaturgists.
Born into a conservative Christian family, Joens had a rebellious, curious streak that drew her toward the forbidden. “If you tell me not to do something, I want to know why. And with spirit boards, why are they taboo, why the negative connotations?” she pondered. Wessell, who was raised Catholic, collects all matter of items and material related to the Devil and demons, while Bailey comes from a Wiccan family. While the museum had fans, and a healthy membership program, they really hit their stride with their Slashback Video horror VHS-themed show, combined with an exhibition of vintage Ben Cooper Halloween costumes (Ben Cooper Inc. pioneered the thin plastic masks and vinyl costumes based on TV and movie characters that kids wore in the '60s and '70s) which debuted four months after they combined locations.
“We had 2,500 people on opening night. There was a three-hour wait to get in,” Joens marvels. That successful combination of horror and pop culture formed the nexus of their current exhibition, “The Shining Art Show,” inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of Steven King’s book. Pieces range from paintings to taxidermy to a full-sized installation of the Redrum door and Overlook Hotel bathroom. More than 40 artists contributed work to the show, and the museum has been tricked out with floor coverings to match the carpet of the cursed resort, with various tableaux inspired by the film.
“We saw our base in the horror community and felt that both the book and the movie's mix of horror and mysticism fit,” explains Joens. Community is important to Joens, Wessell and Bailey so the Mystic Museum, which offers a variety of membership levels, also has an occult book club and is the home of Club Coven, a nondenominational occult group of like-minded individuals who meet monthly to swap spells and discuss the arcane and supernatural. (Interested folks should go to the Bearded Lady and speak directly to Bailey, Jones or Wessell.)
This sense of community is carried over into items they sell: Taxidermy animals are ethically harvested and proceeds from their sales go to support the Shambala Preserve and Roar Foundation — the big cat preserve run by actress Tippi Hedren, whose grandson, Dylan Bauer, is the in-house psychic (he reads tarot and throws bones, a skill he acquired while living in New Orleans).
Fittingly, this Friday, which happens to be the 13th, one of the Overlook Hotel’s most beloved interiors, the Gold Bar, will be the focus of a special speakeasy event that combines spirits with, well, spirits. The $45 one-night Mystic Museum membership fee covers entrance to the museum, two cocktails designed by a mixologist to celebrate The Shining (yes, one will be rum-based!), plus open bar for glasses of house red or white wine, appetizers, desserts and a commemorative glass. A DJ will round out the otherworldly experience. Guests are encouraged to dress for the time period.
The Bearded Lady and The Bearded Lady’s Mystic Museum, 3202-3204 Magnolia Blvd. Burbank;
(323) 696-5219. Hours: Sun.-Mon., noon-7 p.m.; Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
The Friday the 13th Speakeasy is this Friday, April 13; non-member admission $45. Tickets here.