From coffins to vampire kits, Dreamcatcher will find it

Mortimer, a life-size vampire, keeps watch over Dreamcatcher’s offerings in the basement.

Did you know that in the Victorian era families would have portraits taken with their recently deceased children?

Photographers would prop up the dead children with posts or sticks so they looked like they were still alive. These were taken because they might be the family’s only remembrance.

“In a lot of the photographs, you’re able to see the posts,” said Karen Sawyer, who owns Dreamcatcher Antiques & Collectibles on Main Street with her husband, Tom. “And you can tell from the expressions.”

Sawyer knows all about post-mortem photography because the images are among the countless items she and Tom hunt down for a pool of the store’s customers who collect spooky items.

The historic Austin Building, where Dreamcatcher Antiques & Collectibles is located, once housed a morgue and embalming room in the basement.

“People collect some weird stuff,” Sawyer said. “Weird sells. It really does.”

One Gouldsboro customer collects mourning jewelry, such as hair wreaths and lockets containing a loved one’s hair.

Mourning jewelry was at its height of popularity from the 1850s to the 1880s. The hair was a way to keep a loved one with you, Sawyer said.

Not long after opening on April Fool’s Day in 2011, the Sawyers sold six coffins to a family who planned to use the coffins as beds.

Vampire kits are another hot item. “The real deal” vampire kits would have holy water and a couple of wooden stakes, Tom said.

“We had a huge witch’s cauldron,” Karen said. “We’ve had chastity belts. They bought one chastity belt for a dollar and sold it for $700.”

While creepy goes quickly, there are still some items to be had. Right now, the shop has a magician’s box complete with sword. A body drag also is available. Tom explains that this is a tool used to drag lakes and ponds for dead bodies.

A life-size vampire named Mortimer keeps watch over the basement. He rests upright in an antique coffin that was once used to transport deceased World War II soldiers home from overseas.

The antique coffin is not for sale, but a replica is available.

“Sometimes, it’s nice to just have things that are conversation pieces,” Karen said.

Ghosts are believed to be keeping watch downstairs and throughout the building.

“The place is supposedly haunted,” Karen said.

Back in the day, small-town furniture makers also served as the community’s undertakers.

The morgue was located in the building’s basement along with an embalming room, which is now used for storage.

A consultant for the former NBC television drama “Medium” shopped at Dreamcatcher a year or so ago. While the woman was paying, she told the Sawyers there was a ghost of a little girl standing next to her at the counter.

The woman told them the girl wanted the couple to unlock a cabinet of toys for her.

The Sawyers think the girl is likely 7-year-old Margaret Grindle, who died in a gruesome accident on Route 1A on Aug. 26, 1939.

“We’ve named her Maggie,” Karen said.

Maggie’s mother and two teenaged sisters died with her when a blast of dynamite went off in a truck.

They had been riding back to Ellsworth from Bangor to visit their father, who was recovering from surgery. The man driving the truck, Joseph Moffett, also died along with another man driving a nearby car.

The Aug. 30, 1939 issue of The American stated, “Five Ellsworth persons were literally blown to pieces Saturday evening when a case of dynamite, fifty pounds, exploded in the small truck in which they were riding. A man in another car, just about to pass the truck, was also killed.”

All the body parts were taken to the local undertaker at H.C. Austin. The Grindle family was put in one casket, which is buried at Woodbine Cemetery.

But, there’s more.

“We think the original undertaker before Austin is here,” Karen said. That would likely have been Roy Haynes.

“We hear noises a lot,” she said. “A lot of weird things have happened.”

Ellsworth historian Darlene Springer said Harry Austin bought the business from Haynes.

Haynes would have been doing business in the same location, in what was then the S.K. Whiting store. The Whiting building was destroyed in a 1933 fire, ravaging the downtown area. The H.C. Austin building was built where S.K. Whiting’s had been.

The Sawyers hear lots of customers’ stories, including tales that all of Main Street was once a Catholic burial ground and that builders moved the headstones but not the bodies.

Of course, not everything sold is macabre in nature.

Vinyl records are huge collectibles, Tom said, as are old signs and tins, especially “old medical stuff.”

Photos, particularly 8-by-10-inch glossies, are big sellers. Favorites include portraits of television show characters, including “The Munsters” and “Lost in Space.”

“We sell a lot of comics,” Tom said. One young man purchases only comics featuring evil characters. “He’s wicked polite,” Tom said.

A mother and son from Pennsylvania, who visit every summer, have a coordinating collection. The mother collects cats and the son collects mice.

“They literally buy every cat and every mouse we have in the store,” Sawyer said.

Another customer, a Mount Desert Island jeweler, bought a pair of castle doors.

The couple are constantly online scouring auctions and estate sales.

“We do it 24/7,” Tom said.

“In this business, you have to constantly be on top of what’s hot and what’s not,” Karen said.

“Old tins we can’t keep in,” Karen said. “I sell them faster than I can buy them. A lot of people are going for the general store look in their kitchens.”

Five years ago, crocks were all the rage. Then two years ago, it was old suitcases.

The Sawyers can’t stock enough nautical merchandise during the summer.

“Old quilts are hot right now too,” she said. “Everybody wants what grandmother had. Old kitchen stuff is always popular.”

What people don’t realize, the pair said, is that old doesn’t mean valuable.

An example is old Singer sewing machines.

“Those you can’t give away,” Karen said.

People also think they’re going to collect a toy or some other thing and they’ll hold onto the collection for 30 years then sell it for a lot of money. That’s unlikely.

Karen said she encountered collectors trying to do this with toys or beanie babies.

“Don’t pay any more than what it’s worth to you personally,” Tom said. “You may never get your money out.”

News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.