currituck’s “cabinet of curiosities” opens this weekend
A one-of-a-kind family attraction will open its doors in Barco TODAY, May 8, thanks to a Currituck County woman’s passion for preserving the old and peculiar. Historical McHorney’s Odditorium is a departure from traditional Outer Banks amusements, inviting visitors to take a walk on the weird side.
Beginning with a Civil War-era home belonging to The McHorney Family, Erica Mason, McHorney’s creator and curator, has undertaken a labor of love in her delicate restoration of a local landmark. Mason’s vision consisted of transforming the historic structure into a non-profit multi-purpose venue and attraction encompassing a range of classifications, including a curiosity shop, museum, event center and art gallery. A walk inside will uncover a wide range of fascinating and bewildering sights, such as strange specimens in jars and bizarre taxidermy, not to mention many notable relics, including freak show and circus souvenirs.
McHorney’s is the culmination of a lifetime devotion to artists, culture, knowledge and history, honoring an 18th-century Currituck family who, in one generation, risked it all for what they believed in and in another, risked being “odd” to live how he believed. Erica Mason and the rest of the volunteers at McHorney’s welcome all to take a peek inside Currituck’s new curiosity shop where there’s an oddity at every turn.
The Simmon’s family, who were among the earliest of Colonial Currituck settlers, constructed the two-story single-pile dwelling in 1790. Around the 1850’s the traditional wooden home was purchased by Samuel McHorney as part of a sale involving a vast amount of land in Currituck County. In 1863, during the Civil War, Samuel and his two sons, B.F. and Edmund McHorney, secretly rehabilitated Confederate soldiers in the home and then aided their escapes from the Union. It was Samuel’s grandson, Ed McHorney, Jr. who was the last to reside in the primitive residence.
Ed McHorney was described as an odd man, hell-bent on keeping to his routines and way of life. He never married and for most of his adult life he lived in the house alone, farming the acreage for a modest living. Firmly set in his antiquated ways, Ed was content using the fireplace and a small, wood-burning stove for heating and cooking, refusing to upgrade anything in his family’s aging home. He never bothered to install indoor plumbing or even change the window shades; he was simply satisfied with being simple.
Sadly, nearly forty years after his death, the house had become such a crumbling eyesore along Highway 158 that the Currituck Commissioner’s office declared that it would be torn down if left in disrepair. Thankfully, representatives from the NC Preservation Trust came to the rescue and eventually, so did Erica Mason. After driving past the home on countless occasions, Mason had observed it in wonder and appreciation, developing the beginnings of a vision for a roadside attraction. Learning that it was dangerously close to demolition prompted her to act on her idea.
In 2013, she purchased the property and immediately took action on her dream of turning the dilapidated structure into a museum, hoping to bring her love of entertainment and education to her beloved community. Because the home remains on its original foundation and retains most of its authentic, period-significant architecture, it was considered eligible for listing in the National Registry for Historic Places and a worthy recipient of a preservation grant. With the help of grant funds, based on the intact foundation and overall architecture, along with Mason’s personal funds, the house has been completely restored and transformed into a synthesis of old meets odd.
A “Grand Unveiling” of Historical McHorney’s Odditorium is scheduled for this weekend, May 8-10, featuring free live music, a cool Kidzone (until sunset) and plenty of specialty food, beer and wine vendors. The “Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Review” will also be featured during the fun-filled three-day celebration. This rock-n-roll variety stunt show features death defying acts including glass eating, body bending, sword swallowing and the infamous bed of nails. Tickets for Hellzapoppin are $10 and may be purchased at the venue. For more information about Historical McHorney’s “Grand Unveiling,” including show times and live music acts, click here.
Story by Michelle Leckie, HOBX correspondent