Every month, a parking garage in Uptown is turned into a cavalcade of old.
It’s called Vintage Garage and it’s wonderful. Amazing clothes, books, vinyl, dishware, photos, machinery, furniture — everything the lover of the old can want. The Sept. 20 market was themed “Retro Chicago.”
I’m gushing over the flea market now because I’m going to make fun of it.
I’m not making fun of the market itself or its wonderful sellers. But any time there’s a collection of stuff, some of it is a little odder than the rest.
So I’m not saying that the ventriloquist dummy in a toddler-sized coffin is by any means representative of Vintage Garage, but I’m saying that it exists, it was in your city and at night it watches you sleep.
Here are five of the more interesting items encountered at the market and possible purposes for them:
Item 1: Ventriloquist dummy in a coffin
Ventriloquist dummy, propped upright in a toddler-sized coffin.
Winning all bets for “What’s the creepiest thing you’ve ever seen?”
Item 2: Chicago Scene board game
A Monopoly-style game created in 1977 by a company called Groovy Games out of Lafayette, Calif. You buy and sell famous Chicago properties (and for some reason, suburbs) and play as either a union leader, a lawyer, a politician or chairman of the Democratic Party.
On-point 1970s regional political satire.
A video I later found describing the Chicago Scene innards included the penalty card “You Vote Only Once Lose Your Job with Sanitary District – Advance to Unemployment Office.” If you play as a lawyer, you’re from the firm of “Quirk, Land & Ellis.”
It appears Groovy Games really had a thing going with regional satire Monopoly knockoffs. They also made “Scene” games for Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Hawaii, Houston and San Francisco.
In Los Angeles Scene, the law firm is Fibsome Dunnhim & Crutches and in Hawaii Scene you cut deals with the “Big Five” sugarcane processing corporations instead of the Democrats.
Item 3: A series of Elvis Presley records
A series of Elvis Presley records arranged in roughly chronological order.
A hefty vinyl flipbook of an ever-widening man.
Item 4: A gasp
Me, gasping over the discovery of a book I had been looking for for quite a while.
There it was in a pile of books: “Old Chicago Houses” by John Drury. A book I had only seen once in a regional suburban library but was so excited by the find I photographed page after page of the monster.
Contrary to popular belief, I’m not all that into Chicagoana. I love this city, but I’m convinced I could find as interesting stories and people if I scouted around Cleveland or Tbilisi. Chicago’s just where I happen to live.
But this book was a treat. By the author of a bizarrely well-written restaurant guide I’ve written about before, it was something I wanted and something that was now in my hand.
It had been passed over by who knows how many dozens, hundreds or thousands of people who didn’t know the weird, sad story of the author’s life to find me, someone who got why it was something that should be read and valued.
When I opened it, a clipped newspaper article from 1978 peeked out. The vendor asked for less that what was marked. I gladly paid.
And that’s what the market is, I guess. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and all that. Maybe someone out there would get a gasp of joy from Chicago Scene or get a little misty at an old fedora like their grandpa used to wear.
Maybe all these bits and baubles that I passed and teased were as joyful for other people as this weird old book happened to be for me. Maybe there’s a bit of beauty in even the weirdest item the vendors of Vintage Garage offer.
Item 5: Clown vomiting keys
Decorative plastic clown head, positioned beneath the ventriloquist dummy in a coffin, with a ring of keys exuding from its mouth to simulate emesis.
Topping the coffin dummy in the creepiest thing ever competition.