BUCKTOWN — “This is going to be a jail cell.”
Ryan Graveface is standing in the back room of a cluttered Bucktown store, describing what will soon be a recreation of where John Wayne Gacy spent his final days alive.
The cell will display paintings, books and other items Gacy owned before he was executed in 1994, memorabilia Graveface has collected over the years as part of his research and interest in the infamous Chicago-area serial killer.
The jail cell is just one part of a museum Graveface is building in his expansive store, Graveface Records and Curiosities, 1829 N. Milwaukee Ave., which is holding a soft opening Saturday.
While still a work in progress, Graveface is already filled to the brim with oddities and artifacts you likely won’t find anywhere else in Chicago — and certainly not in Bucktown: vinyl records, horror paraphernalia, diaphonized animals, obscure movies, arcade games and belongings of serial killers and cult leaders.
And, to top it all off, a wide range of cocktail bitters.
In the front of the store, a record shop will sell “heavily curated” albums ranging from indie rock to punk to shoegaze to jazz and metal. Venture a little farther in and you’ll find horror movie soundtracks and DVDs and VHS tapes, as well as masks and other items sold by Terror Vision, Graveface’s horror label and imprint.
Then there’s the museum, with a $5 entry fee. Besides the jail cell, it will include occult pieces, stuffed animals that were once part of roadside attractions and an exhibit on cults, as well as other Gacy and Gacy-related items.
The museum takes visitors into the basement, where they can play pinball and arcade games and browse a vast array of hard-to-find films from the collection of former Bucktown video shop Odd Obsession, which closed in 2020.
If it all sounds like a bit much, that’s the point, Graveface said. The maximalist, overstimulated environment is fueled by his love for physical media — the weirder the better — which has resulted in a display of his interests and passions.
“I love holding this s—, like it’s everything to me. I don’t have a Netflix account. I don’t subscribe to Spotify,” Graveface said. “All I do is just sell s— that I like. … At the end of the day, if no one buys anything in here, OK. I mean, it would suck financially, right? But it wouldn’t matter. if I die with this stuff, it’s fine.”
For Graveface, the overwhelming nature of the store is how he’s always approached his numerous business ventures.
Graveface owns a record store, museum, music venue and curiosity shop in Savannah, Georgia, where he moved from Chicago in 2010. But he retained ties to his home city, and when the Bucktown space came available cheaply, he jumped on it.
“They’re all physically separated businesses spread out throughout [Savannah]. So I was like, why don’t I just put that all together and try something here?” he said.
Graveface also wanted to help revive Odd Obsession, which was across the street before it closed.
When Graceface signed the lease, he called longtime friend and Odd Obsession owner Brian Chankin to see if he wanted to be involved, he said.
Chankin gave Graveface access to his collection, which had sat in storage for two years. Now, Graveface has several thousand Odd Obsession titles available for rent at the store. They’ll be available to browse for museum-goers or accessible through a monthly membership. Graveface is still hammering out the details on that.
“The only way to access Odd Obsession and even rent these titles or see them … will be to hand over $5 or become a member,” he said. “We’ll start this Saturday with it being more curated, then I’ll add a bit beyond the initial curation, hopefully by Sept. 1.”
Besides being a collector, Graveface is a musician and filmmaker.
One of Graveface’s projects is a documentary about Gacy, sourced from interviews with those who knew him plus the more than 10,000 Gacy-related items he said he’s collected.
Graveface’s interest in the serial killer dates back to years ago, when he lived in Norwood Park, near where Gacy lived before his arrest in the late 1970s.
“Everyone has a story in that neighborhood. ‘Oh, I did some work in his backyard, turns out that there was a body in it.’ You know, just like story, story, story story,” he said. “It becomes fascinating, because, you know, it’s 40 years later, and it’s a lot of blurred information that then influences what I love, which is horror. … And then you start realizing that there’s a person behind this character. It’s just the whole pop culture aspect.”
Graveface said he doesn’t want the Gacy exhibit to be seen as a celebration, but as a means to investigate his crimes and the people associated with him.
“I don’t want people to think that it’s like a glorification of that guy. He’s a piece of s—,” Graveface said. “There’s other people involved, so that’s my interest. And I think once people hear that, it won’t be like, ‘This guy collects this offensive s—.’ It’ll be like, ‘This guy is actually some sort of like bizarre investigative journalist that also hoards s—.’ Because that’s what I do.”
Graveface Records and Curiosities will be open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.
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