Odds and Ends > Etcetera

Ghoul/Bone Collector


Linda passed this on, and she's writing about this to-
Cultural Property.
United States Department of State.
International Cultural Property Protection.

Anyone who has the time please take a minute to give them an earful about this case of disrespect for human remains.


TAMPA - Rick Spitz gently cradles one of his proudest possessions, an ancient human skull from South America with dents scarring the base.
"This guy was clubbed," he explains. "You can see he got an ax, too." Inside Spitz's condo, under the mounted skin of a 15-foot Burmese python, is a
living room crowded with human bones, giant gator skulls, jawbones of extinct rhinos and a collection of unclassifiable exotica. "You ain't seen nothing yet," says Spitz, 58, eyes twinkling. "Let me show you my beauty."
From a shelf beside his TV, Spitz removes what he explains is a 2,700-year-old Peruvian human skull. It is tan and unnaturally elongated from ritual
skull-bands, with rotted-out teeth and black splotches where skin clings to bone.
"You see the brain in there, through the eyehole?" Spitz asks. He shakes it; something rattles inside like a walnut. "For a long time there were people who believed these were aliens."
Spitz has been living among such bizarro bric-a-brac for about 20 years, since he began bringing unusual items back from trips to Central and South America. His walls teem with tribal masks and giant mounted heads of wildebeest and kudo. On one couch lounges a human skeleton from the Civil War era, next to a Ziploc bag of boar tusks and a replica of an extinct Florida beaver with hooked,
5-inch-long teeth. On another couch, he has a full-sized plastic human skeleton that he plans to commission a cryptozoologist to turn into a "really ugly" mermaid.
In the freezer, recently arrived shrunken heads from Peru share space with a pint of Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream. Though Spitz says he has a friend with a genuine shrunken human head in a safe deposit box, the ones in the freezer are fake - just goat hide stretched over a plaster mold. "I probably have 30 heads in here," he says, explaining that cold kills whatever bugs might have survived the journey from South America.
His collection began when he was traveling in Central America hunting for wood to import.
He said he noticed how badly the indigenous population lacked medical supplies. Then the owner of a Tampa medical supply company, Spitz started donating batches of equipment -wheelchairs, defibrillators, prosthetics - to Guatemala and Honduras.
"The people down there are very proud and they always want to give you something for a service that you render," he said. "So I would ask them for
off-the-wall stuff in lieu of taking goats and chickens and stuff. As my travels increased I ended up just getting oddball stuff."
-- Christopher Goffard can be reached at <a
href="mailto:goffard@s...">goffard@s...</a> or 813 226-3337.

He started selling the goods in the mid 1980s out of a S Howard Avenue shop called Bare Bones, which also had more traditional imports such as drums and rain sticks. About five years ago, he moved the business to a shopping plaza at 4556 S Manhattan Ave. and renamed it the Weird Shoppe.
This spring, a decision to move his shop to a second-floor location proved disastrous. It was too difficult to haul much of his collection upstairs, and it
wasn't easily accessible to elderly customers. The Weird Shoppe never opened at its upstairs location, and Spitz's collection is now scattered throughout his condo, in storage and in friends' homes. He hopes to reopen in Ybor City as a nonprofit venture early next year. He would
use the store's revenue to send medical equipment to South America and open a 23,960-square-foot orphanage outside Guatemala City. So far, the red tape is getting the best of him. "This nonprofit thing is turning into a nightmare," he says. "The paperwork is unbelievable." He has blueprints for the orphanage drawn up, but distractions have made it tough to get the plan off the ground. His health is bad, his balance is poor and he is in the middle of a lawsuit against his chiropractor.
Whatever happens to Spitz, he is certain the small, wooden figure perched on his coffee table will play a role. The figure is in the shape of a seated,
mustachioed man, holding a cane and wearing a wide-brimmed hat. "I was down in Guatemala and I ran into this little character here - Maximon,"
he says. Maximon is a Guatemalan folk deity. Spitz isn't sure whether he's good or evil or both, though he believes he possesses uncanny powers.
He owns about a dozen of the figures. He says he has seen an apparently infertile woman turn up pregnant after she gave Maximon a dollar. He also
recalls a customer who put his parole officer's card in front of Maximon; the officer was fired. "You don't want him mad at you," he warns. "You'll have more bad luck than you know what to do with."
Spitz once promised Maximon he'd break ground on his orphanage by a certain date - a promise he wasn't able to keep. Spitz's girlfriend soon dumped him. Then things got even worse.
"I was real depressed," he says. "Probably within three weeks, 10 people I knew died or (nearly) died. My car got stolen. The Weird Shoppe got broken into." But Maximon is a good ally, too. A few months ago, while hunting for artifacts, Spitz slipped in the silt of an abandoned phosphate mine in Polk County and found himself mostly submerged. As he waited for help, he wondered if Maximon was angry at him. To extricate him, it took four guys, four hours, and a rope. "I was up to my
neck," he says. "It was getting a little bit hairy."
Maximon decided to keep him around, he says, probably so Spitz could keep his promise.
"If I'm down in the dumps, he pulls me out," Spitz says. "I think I'm around to build this orphanage."

I am keeping up with this.  



[0] Message Index

Go to full version