If you’re looking for something to get you into the Halloween spirit, head to St. Augustine to check out a museum unlike any other.
St. Augustine is famous for its haunted history and ghostly encounters, but Wolf’s Museum of Mystery offers something completely different. The museum, owned and operated by Wolfgang Von Mertz, known as Wolf, features a vast collection of unique items ranging from odd to downright terrifying.
Wolf has been compiling his collection for quite a while, inspired by the sights and people he’s encountered traveling the globe.
“I've been a collector of unusual things for over 20 years,” Wolf says. “I’ve traveled to many parts of the world and was drawn to the different cultures, ideas of food, entertainment and their art. I guess the exotic collectibles were a way to remember the people and places of these trips.”
Wolf took a seemingly unusual path to proprietor of a mystery museum. He graduated cum laude from Stetson University College of Law and received a Master of Law degree in International Law from Georgetown University Law Center in 2002, before joining the U.S. Air Force. He practiced law until 2014 before opening the museum, but Wolf says his career change isn’t is as random as it appears.
“More lawyers and doctors are collectors than you might think,” he says. “I know the revenue source helped me fund my hobby and the job actually took me to some unusual places or proximity to them like Salem, Massachusetts, and Fairbanks, Alaska. The collector in me was around way earlier then the lawyer and the latter only helped facilitate and enable the former.”
The museum features a wide array of themed galleries, such as “An Alien Mortuary,” “Lizzie Borden's Bloody Boudoir,” “The Voo Doo Marie Laveau Alter” and “The Cannibal Kitchen.” It’s difficult to imagine where one can find the macabre keepsakes that make the museum special, but Wolf has it down to a science.
“On a good day, it can be as simple as the local flea market but generally the hunt is a little more challenging,” he says. “Normally you have an idea of something you’re interested in and, after research, you develop leads to a certain area. I was fascinated with shrunken heads at one time and that took me to Peru and Ecuador where the tribe called the Jivaro are located and produced them a long time ago. The details of such finds are an entire experience in and of themselves and the ‘trophy’ is the reward.”
The museum doesn’t just boast odd artifacts and creepy collectables. An array of live animals is on hand to greet visitors.
“We have rats, cats, a chinchilla, a Chihuahua, even a chicken roaming the grounds,” Wolf says. “Of all the money and time I invested into constructing this insane asylum, they remain the biggest draw more than the things themselves. Though people definitely are more jarred or shocked by the second level then the first.”
The museum opened in St. Augustine on July 1, 2013, and, not surprisingly, actual wolves played a role in why Wolf decided to make St. Augustine his home base.
“When I was in the Air Force, we acquired two pet wolves and were stationed in Alaska,” Wolf says. “When I retired back to where I had my bar license in Florida, this was as far north — and the coolest — part of the state I could get. St. Augustine was a frequent trip for us living in Jacksonville and as a tourist town, it was as simple of a decision as that. We live for our animals and modify our lives accordingly.”
But for visitors excited to see Wolf’s amazing display, this Halloween season is the perfect time. Wolf has plans to relocate at the beginning of next year, perhaps to another town. But for visitors who do make it to the museum, all they need to have a good time is an open mind, Wolf says.
“We are not political or judgmental people,” he says. “We have developed a very endearing and loyal base of fans that are entertainers, movie makers, performers and just regular people that return every chance they get because we are what you see, with no corporate white-washing or big brother to limit what we display.
“It’s meant however to be neither too serious nor insulting but rather entertaining and the hope is people will leave here having learned something new, but also realizing that we are not all the same and that’s OK,” he adds.
Wolf’s Museum of Mystery is located 46 Charlotte St., in Historic St. Augustine. The cost is $7 to enter. For more information, visit wolfsmuseumofmystery.com.