The Dark Parlour: Oddities for York's curious and strange
In Lauren Rae’s world of the macabre, almost everything is for sale, including real human skeletons and skulls, retired medical specimens and an entire room dedicated to funeral and mortuary practices from the Civil War period.
Upstairs is a séance parlor — which is also an occult shop with items to satisfy pagan, Wiccan or other magic needs, such as cauldrons, sage, herbs and incense, when not in use.
The Dark Parlour, at 118 E. King St., in Royal Square, opened this summer, and since then, it’s become a fixture in the community for the curious and strange.
"I have people who come in on a weekly basis to see what I’ve procured over the weekend," said shop owner Rae, who added that some have even driven hours to see the parlor.
At first, there was a lot of “jaw dropping," "wows" and "where did you get this," she said, but no one’s really scared — "it’s just a lot of fascination."
A York native, Rae had initially been looking to leave town after her father died, but after prodding from her friends to stay, she said she just needed a reason — and she realized the city would be the perfect place to open her store.
“York is a really great crossroads for travel and tourism,” she said, given its proximity to areas including Baltimore, Harrisburg and Gettysburg.
Some of the shop’s merchandise is born out of Rae’s interests in medicine, science and history — part of which she got from spending time with her parents, who were antique dealers.
“I grew up in the world of antiques, getting up very early in the morning, going to flea markets and going to auctions,” Rae said.
Rae also received a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the now-closed Art Institute of York, and she has her own designs via Lauren Rae Art & Design, so she chose to add an element of art into the shop.
"The artists that I bring in, they’re exploring the human condition or pushing themselves beyond their normal boundaries," she said.
One of those artists is Travis Trium Perfectum, based near Cleveland, Ohio, who will be bringing his first-ever solo show to the parlor Nov. 15-16. His work will be on display for two weeks.
The show will be a walk-through experience with video installations and audio — a taste of his previous work and new material for the debut. His work explores the dark side of the human condition — "things we don't bring up that we all go through" and showing the "beauty of those elements," he said.
The dark theme also came from Rae's own history.
"I have always been into the occult and studied various forms of the occult since I was basically a child,” she said. “ I was reading Steven King as a child instead of Baby-Sitters Club or Hardy Boys."
Rae thought studying the occult would help her find power and confidence within herself, and she’s found that to be true over the years. Her parents were also big horror movie fans, and she said that she believes they would be proud of her new venture if they were alive today.
The Dark Parlour will kick off its Halloween season Friday, Oct. 4, during York's First Friday celebration. Strangelove Vaudeville, a collection of independent artists that came together this June, is slated to present a "dark carnival" in front of the parlor's storefront.
Krystal Younglove leads the troupe with her husband, Christopher Strange, and the talents represented fall in line perfectly with The Dark Parlour's themes. The group has a "mixture of the strange," with one member doing Victorian seances and witchdoctery.
Friday's show will be a family friendly affair, featuring aerial silk pieces, fire dancing, fire breathers and a sideshow, in which Love — the indestructible lady — will put her head in an live animal trap.
"The Dark Parlour is a fantastic place because it is wonderfully macabre," Younglove said, noting she appreciates its willingness to go beyond the mainstream, which is something she hopes will continue to grow in the community.
"I think that this is a seed and it will start sprouting," she said.