Extra! Extra! Skeletons In The Closet – a gift store with a difference

October 4, 2012

Since I’ve not given you anything extra for a while, I thought I’d add this today too: somewhere that’s literally dying for your business…

The L.A. County Coroner’s Office is somewhere you never want to visit. It’s the place where people who have died in suspicious or unexplained circumstances are sent for autopsy and examination to determine the cause of death. Over the years countless numbers of people – and a who’s who of celebrities – have ended up on the slab here, all of them equal in death.

Past “Guests” include Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Robert F. Kennedy (who was assassinated in the now-gone Ambassador Hotel), John Belushi, Janis Joplin, Brittany Murphy, The Notorious BIG, River Phoenix and perhaps the two most famous murder victims in the history of Los Angeles, Elizabeth Short (“The Black Dahlia”) and Sharon Tate (who was murdered by Charles Manson and his followers).

The coroner’s department has existed in LA for over 100 years, but this unusual place is located in the Administration Building, which was converted from the old Los Angeles General Hospital building and restored after an earthquake in 1994. When you walk in it’s like you’ve stepped into a 1940s film noir; there’s an ornate tiled floor, marble walls, a big black staircase, gorgeous wooden chairs with red leather cushions, a big chandelier and four frosted glass doors with gold letter writing on them – you expect to see Humphrey Bogart walking out of one of them holding the Maltese Falcon and a gun.

Three of the doors are marked Identification (for tracing Jane and John Does), Notification (for contacting relatives and family) and Personal Property Release, where relatives can collect the personal possessions of their dearly departed. There’s no viewings done here though; that’s in another building altogether. The final door leads into something unique, though there’s no sign – just the same lettering as you see on the other doors. Apparently the only one in the world, this room (officially numbered 208) is Skeletons in the Closet, the official L.A. County Coroner’s gift shop.

Opened in 1993, it sells souvenir items like t-shirts, tote bags, baseball caps, coroner toe-tag key chains, pins, badges, boxer shorts called “undertakers”, books about the history of the Coroners in LA, “My First Skeleton”, water bottles, yellow crime scene tape that says “Warning! There’s a party going on” and much, much more. Each item displays a unique design such as a skeleton in Sherlock Holmes attire, the iconic chalked-out dead body outline or the County Coroner seal.

The idea for the gift shop came out of special coffee mugs and t-shirts that were created for the annual professional Coroner Conference, and any money that’s made at the gift shop goes to a good cause, the Youthful Drunk Driving Visitation Program (YDDVP). It was of course a media sensation from day one – they do a thriving mail order business too – and it’s meant to try and look for some humor, to remind people that life is precious and you must enjoy every moment of it: their slogan is “We’re dying for your business”.

Inside there’s a small skeleton dressed as Sherlock Holmes and a coffin converted into a black leather couch with the slogan “Law and Science Serving The Community” on it, while their most popular item, believe it or not, is a large beach towel with the dead body chalk outline on it – so you can lie down and play dead in the sun – and t-shirts with the Coroner’s seal (which is what I bought when I visited).

Obviously Skeletons in the Closet doesn’t qualify for Gourmet Ghosts, but it’s certainly an interesting and unusual place you can visit. After all, every victim who dies in the City of Angels comes here…