Skull Collecting in Bergen, NY
This skull collection in Bergen is not only a private collection, but also part of Cool Craniums–an online business selling skulls. If you’re looking to start skull collecting, this online shop in Western New York is the perfect place to begin.
by Chris Clemens
I spend nearly all of my free time trying to discover new and interesting off-the-beaten path stories and places. During one of my let’s-see-what-cool-new-stuff-I-can-find-today sessions on the internet, I stumbled across a website called ‘Cool Craniums’ run by Nikki Kellogg out of Bergen, New York.
Cool Craniums sells skulls, bones, shrunken heads (sadly, not real ones), furs, preserved insects, claws and teeth. in addition to providing some pretty cool facts and photos on a Facebook Page that reads like a way cooler version of my 8th grade Biology class.
Though Cool Craniums is exclusively an online business, after emailing back and forth a bit, Nikki invited me out to see her private collection in person.
It was a no-brainer (get it?) for me to accept!
Discovering A Fascination
In a huge room above her garage, Nikki runs her online business alongside her displayed personal collection of bones.
It began in elementary school when she stumbled across the carcass of a raccoon. Rather than being repulsed like so many of us might have been, she immediately developed a fascination for learning more about life…and death.
Her father was the one who helped explain each of the body parts and bone fragments on that first raccoon. Decades later, her skull collection represents over 218 different species and 632 individual pieces!!
Looking through hundreds of skulls is a pretty unique experience. Though there were a few I thought looked particularly more interesting than others, I was more interested in which were her favorites.
Like a proud parent, Nikki mentioned liking them all. But after thinking a moment, she pulled a couple off a shelf to show me.
A dog with a hare lip.
A fused vertebrae from a dog with arthritis.
A pig with a massive sinus infection.
It was the deformities that she mentioned being some of her favorites.
I have to admit, it was intensely fascinating to be able to see up close and hold the wonders of nature that lined the shelves. Another of her favorites that she’s yet to own is a hippopotamus skull.
So, if you’ happen to have one laying around you should contact her.
Founding Cool Craniums
After collecting for a while on her own, she opened Cool Craniums in 2000 and began selling skulls via the website.
As you can imagine, there’s a ton of laws about sending dead things through the mail so much of her time is researching rules and regulations to ensure they are being followed with each transaction.
Interestingly, New York is one of only three states that prohibits the import or export of human remains across state lines. Furthermore, Federal and International regulations are constantly changing.
Naturally, I was curious as to how someone acquires such a collection of bones.
While she picks up things on other sites like eBay and from other collectors, hunters and taxidermists, Nikki still celebrates her roots from the days of discovering that raccoon. The commonly found Upstate New York road kill has added to her collection of the animals representing our region.
If a skull is still fresh, she’ll use a crockpot to simmer it in to remove the flesh. In the event that she’s found it a bit too late, she allows the natural decomposition process to take place in her yard (which by the way is huge, so there’s no risk of smelling anything near the house).
She told me she also has tried to macerate skulls but apparently it’s a horribly smelly and messy process. Admittedly, I had to look up “macerate” and found that it’s the process of soaking in water to remove the flesh. Google-image searching ‘macerated’ is possibly the first time ever I’ve considered a full-time vegetarian diet. I’m warning you now, don’t look it up.
What you should look up however is the Cool Craniums website and then go ‘like’ the page on Facebook.
I came home with a beaver skull that now sits on a shelf in my living room, but she has plenty of totally awesome other things for you.
And, even if bones and dead stuff isn’t really your thing, you can at least now close out your browser knowing about one more super unique individual honing her craft and contributing to the long list of people that make New York awesome.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens