The Perfect Match: Oddporium and Arden

Kevin Noonan

, Community

What better location for this unusual shop than Delaware’s oddest community?

So, you’re doing a little shopping for somebody special, but they pretty much have everything they want or need and you’re looking for a unique gift idea.

May we suggest a lamp made from a human spine? Or how about a one-eyed pig embalmed in a giant specimen jar?

Those are just a couple of the items that have been for sale at a small shop located at the corner of Marsh and Harvey roads in northern New Castle County. And the sign hanging over its door tells you everything you need to know about this placeOddporium.

Co-owner Ken Schuler says he can’t imagine another place in Delaware where his business could thrive except where it is—Arden.

“This is the perfect spot for us,” he says. “It would be hard to make this work if we were in some strip mall off of [Route] 202 or something like that. But we’re located in a place that’s known for being different, for having free thinkers, for looking at life a little bit differently than most people. That’s one of the things that make Arden unique.”

Schuler grew up in Arden and his family built the building at the corner of Marsh and Harvey roads that now houses Oddporium. For many years his great-uncle, Frank Harrison, operated a barber shop from one part of the building while the other half housed, over the years, a grocery store, a sub shop and, most recently, a pawn shop.

A few years ago, Schuler wanted to turn it into a photography shop, but then he realized that everyone already has a photography shop—their smart phones. That’s when he decided that he and Beth (then his fiancée and now his wife) would turn their hobby—collecting rare and unusual things—into a business.

Lots of Bones

They advertise their shop as “The Gallery of the Peculiar and the Bizarre” and their website says that a visit gives people “a peek behind history’s dark curtain.”

There are too many oddities to mention them all, but they include primitive medical tools—the kind you’ve seen in a thousand horror movies—and lots and lots of bones. That includes the spinal lamp, as well as an entire skeleton, which is named “Lizzy.” And let’s not forget the preserved one-eyed porker that comes with the label “Amelia, the Cyclops Pig.”

All the oddities have a story behind them and the Schulers love relating those stories, so you’ll get a history lesson as well as a conversation piece when you stop at the shop. And they agree that they picked the perfect location to tell those stories.

“Arden is just different, in the way that people look at us and the way that we look at ourselves,” Ken Schuler says. “There are a lot of things that separate us from other communities. And if that’s weird, then so be it.”

Most of the neighborhoods in Brandywine Hundred date back to the post-war, baby boom era, but Arden predates even that by half a century. And unlike those cookie-cutter communities, Arden houses are different. For one thing, the resident owns the house, but not the land that it sits on—that is leased for 99 years and is renewable.

Arden’s sign and a mannequin at the house on Loreley Lane.

The residents do own the houses, and they (the residents and the houses) are different from each other and especially from the surrounding “Hundreds.” This is a place where mini-mansions stand next to beat-up bungalows in a mish-mash of architectural styles.

Something else you don’t see much in other suburban enclaves—houses with names, like they were pets or something. There’s Friendly Gables, The Sweep, Green Gate, The Second Homestead (we’re not sure what happened to the first), Rest Cottage and the Fels House.

100-Year-Old Homes

All those houses were designed by noted architect Will Price, one of the founders of Arden (which, again, makes Arden different; how many Brandywine Hundred communities have founders?). And all those houses were built in the first decade of the 20th Century.

Arden’s primary founders were Price and Frank Stephens, who started the village with two basic principles in mind—to follow the single-tax economic tenets of Henry George and to establish an arts-friendly community with lots of green space.

That attracted people who tend to be a little different. A prime example of the free-thinkers who still live in Arden is a property on Loreley Lane. The yard is filled with beautiful fountains and gardens, with an elaborate gazebo as its centerpiece. But the yard, and the buildings on it are also dotted with all kinds of signs, many of them old and rusting: “Beware of pickpockets and loose women”; “Day Bus Tours—Travel at your own Risk”; “$500 Fine for Throwing Trash on Highways and Streams”; “Slippery When Wet”, and perhaps the best—oddest?—of them all, an old, faded sign that proclaims “The New Marcus Hook Diner.”

There are also various mannequins scattered around the yard in different poses, and only the lease-holders understand the meaning behind them. And to make sure nobody messes with the gardens and fountains and signs and mannequins, there is a life-sized cutout of a Buckingham Palace guard to watch over everything.

It’s eclectic and eccentric. And it’s pure Arden. 

Then there’s the Lady of the Woods. She used to be a tree, but when that tree had to be cut down a few

Arden’s Lady of the Woods.

years ago the leaseholder of the property on Sherwood Road, the late Ken Sutton, commissioned Arden artist David Yoder to carve the large stump into the shape of a woman. To this day people stop by and put wreaths on her head and flowers at her feet, and it’s common to see somebody stop their car, get out and take a selfie with her, as if the sculpture was a shrine. And when somebody once defaced the lady with tar, volunteers cleaned her off and she still stands alongside the road, smiling down at passersby.

But why turn a tree into a woman? Sutton was once asked that, and he said simply, “Because I can.”

“He wouldn’t have even considered it if it wasn’t in Arden,” says Carolyn Cordivano, Sutton’s widow. “This is a unique place because of the people who live here and the way they look at life and the way they do things together. We’re different, but in a good way.”

And it’s worth noting as we head toward Halloween that there are occult-related things in Arden—other than those sold at Oddporium. That was evident last month at the annual Arden Fair. The first thing you noticed was a guy dressed as a wizard who greeted visitors as they entered the fairgrounds, and he certainly didn’t look out of place; if a real wizard were to live in Delaware, he’d probably end up in Arden.

Also at the fair, there was an entire room of the Buzz Ware Village Center that was used for the Peddlers, Potions and Practitioners holistic marketplace, which displayed all sorts of, well, potions, among other things. We were going to check it out more closely, but it cost a dollar to get in and, money-wise, it came down to a choice between the Peddlers exhibit and kettle corn, and kettle corn won.

Also, right next to the path leading to the Peddlers, Potions and Practitioners display was a booth that sold stuff geared toward the paranormal—magic wands (batteries and magic not included) and ritual wear and accessories, as well as Celtic, wiccan and pagan jewelry (for the well-dressed pagan)—things you don’t see at most community fairs or school bazaars.

Arden on YouTube

Interested in buying some bones? Oddporium is fully stocked.

Arden’s darker side has been aided and abetted by Jay Parker’s YouTube videos. Parker, who spent his early years in the community, claims that his parents were part of a satanic ring that included many people from Arden. Even more to the point, he says the founders of Arden formed the village for that purpose and they used mind control to achieve their goals. According to Parker—who says the repressed memory of the abuse he suffered resurfaced as an adult in 2001, right before he left Arden—the early settlers of the village worshipped Moloch, a pagan god of the ancient Ammonites and Phoenicians. You can see all his outlandish charges on YouTube.

Sadie Somerville is a long-time Arden resident who serves on the board of the Arden Craft Shop Museum and is also active with the Georgist Gild, which promotes Henry George’s philosophy of “tax land, not labor,” so she knows Arden history as well as anyone. And she says Parker’s claims are news to her.

“But people tend to believe stories like that just because it’s Arden,” Sommerville says. “It’s like how people say Arden was started as a nudist colony, but that was just a few people skinny-dipping in [Naamans Creek] and it got blown out of proportion. I’ve certainly never seen or heard of anything documented that would back what [Parker] says, and it would be hard to keep something like that a secret all of these years.”

Parker offers no proof other than his resurfaced memories, so mark it up to just one more unverifiable legend in the colorful history of the oddest village in Delaware.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.