The Magazine Reader

The Morbid the Merrier? Alas, No More.

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

These days, America's morbidly curious community is in mourning: Morbid Curiosity magazine has published its final issue.

This is a national tragedy. Our great nation no longer has a magazine dedicated to publishing ordinary people's accounts of the noteworthy events of their lives -- giving birth, buying a gun, having an operation, getting mugged, getting busted, getting abducted by aliens, cross-dressing, visiting mom in the insane asylum, attempting suicide, kicking heroin, drinking blood, committing necrophilia. You know, life's bittersweet moments.

For a decade, Morbid Curiosity has been a confessional where Americans revealed their deepest, darkest secrets. The title was no joke: Morbid Curiosity was definitely morbid. It was also frequently gross, disgusting, perverse -- and very funny if you prefer your humor to come in a decidedly dark hue. It was not for the squeamish, which is probably why its circulation hovered around 3,000.

Morbid Curiosity was founded in 1997, before every boring narcissist had a blog, by Loren Rhoads, now 42, a San Francisco-based writer of horror fiction and essays about her hobby, which is visiting graveyards. "Morbid Curiosity," she announced, " is looking for TRUE first-person stories about your encounters with the unsavory, the unwise, the unorthodox or the unusual -- all the dark elements that make life truly worth living."

America, God bless it, responded to Rhoads's call with an outpouring of very weird tales. Rhoads had no way to check their accuracy. All she could do was limit the financial incentive for fabrication by paying zero -- and publish the ones she liked best.

"It really does amaze me the things people will admit to doing," she says. "People will admit to the strangest things."

What kind of strange things?

Well, in her nostalgic introduction to the 10th and final issue, Rhoads lists some of the mag's greatest hits. "In the course of its decade, Morbid Curiosity has included 310 essays," she wrote. "It gave birth and sat at deathbeds. It's wakened on the operating table more than once. It's attempted suicide, assisted suicide, committed murder, and sat on a jury that sentenced two men to life in prison for killing their parents. . . . It worked in a vivisection lab and at a slaughterhouse, fished the bodies of jumpers out of the San Francisco Bay, paid the bills as a stripper and by starring in porn movies, modeled corsets, counseled teenage sex offenders . . . "

That paragraph, zippy as it is, merely hints at the gory glories contained in those tales. That story about fishing bodies out of San Francisco Bay, for instance, was penned by a former Coast Guardsman who revealed that the first body he pulled out of the water had a couple of Dungeness crabs attached to it. Which inspired a Coast Guard cook to boil them up and make crab salad. When Rhoads published that piece in the sixth issue, she couldn't resist including a recipe for crab salad -- a cute touch.

The final issue -- now available at larger, weirder and more tolerant newsstands -- has nothing quite so outrageous. In fact, it's kind of tame -- at least by the standards of the previous nine issues. Nobody admits to killing anybody or sleeping with a corpse. The most shocking thing in the issue is "Plasma and Poultry," Sherilyn Connelly's account of sitting around with a couple of friends and drinking each other's blood, which was, she reports, "an odd sensation."

Sipping blood from a syringe inspired Connelly to contemplate vampires, and she concluded that she isn't one. "Vampires don't exist," she writes. "But, by gum, you willingly drink blood and your weirdness factor can't help but shoot through the roof."

So true! And only in Morbid Curiosity would a story about recreational blood-drinking include the phrase "by gum."

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