Atlas Obscura visiting the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball in 2013 (photograph by Allison Meier)

As we reach the end of 2014, we are celebrating an incredible year of the Obscura Society. Over the past 12 months, the events branch of Atlas Obscura has hosted a cocktail party in a crypt, falcon flying in the desert, a rogue taxidermy fair, and a stargazing evening at an observatory. While our events this year were mostly based in New York City and Los Angeles, we’re thrilled to be launching an Illinois Obscura Society focused on Chicago and beyond in 2015, as well as extensive events in Washington, DC, and Philadelphia

Below are some of our favorite events of the year. Thanks so much to each and every adventurous soul who joined us on these gatherings and made them such an extraordinary success! We are so inspired for the year ahead. And we are always thrilled to have new people at the Obscura Society. Join our mailing lists for New YorkLos Angeles, and Chicago to find out first about our next gatherings, and keep an eye on the events listings as we go behind-the-scenes at museums, step into abandoned spaces, learn about curious history, and get hands-on with the world’s hidden wonders.

Eastern State Penitentiary (photograph by Michelle Enemark)

[January 11] Obscura Society NYC hit the road, heading to Philadelphia to view the medical oddities of the Mütter Museum, the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, and take a tour off-limits at the dilapidated Eastern State Penitentiary. (Event produced by Megan Roberts, Head of Obscura Society NYC)

Allis Markham’s taxidermy studio (photograph by Erin Johnson)

[March 22] Obscura Society LA visited Allis Markham at her new taxidermy studio in downtown Los Angeles. Markham performed a skinning demonstration on an arctic fox pup and shared behind-the-scenes stories about death at the zoo, flesh eating beetles, and a secret diorama hall at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. (Event produced by Erin Johnson, Head of the Obscura Society LA)

Lock Picking Party (photograph by Steven Acres)

[March 28] Obscura Society NYC invited master lock pick Schuyler Towne to the John M. Mossman Lock Collection of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen. 300 guests received a crash course in picking locks and their very own kit of tools. In between sipping cocktails and dancing to Jason Prover and the Sneak Thievery Orchestra, attendees spent the evening practicing their new skill set amidst the grandeur of the two-tiered reading room and the world’s largest collection of vintage bank vault locks. (Event produced by Megan Roberts, Head of Obscura Society NYC) 

Philippe Petit performing for the Obscura Society (photograph by Steven Acres)

[April 30] Obscura Society NYC and Riverhead Books invited 40 guests to take a risk and join us on a mystery excursion to an undisclosed location. On a dark and rainy night, the destination was the Green-Wood Cemetery catacombs, where renowned wire-walker Philippe Petit awaited to reward our intrepid guests with an evening of close magic. Burial chambers opened to reveal craft cocktail bars, an ethereal harpist clad in white performed, and an audience member surprised us all by setting up an impromptu tarot card station. (Event produced by Megan Roberts, Head of Obscura Society NYC) 

Falconry demonstration in Palmdale, California (photograph courtesy Falcon Force)

[May 17] Master falconer Vahe’ Alaverdian and Rebecca Butcher hosted a falcon flight demonstration in the open desert of Palmdale, California. Diving towards their prey at speeds reaching 280 miles per hour, the peregrine falcon is the fastest living creature on earth. (Event produced by Erin Johnson, Head of the Obscura Society LA)

Cocktails in the Crypt (photograph by Steven Acres)

[May 24] Obscura Society NYC held a brassy jazz party underground in a historic Harlem crypt. Loren Schoenberg, artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, joined the Lucky Chops Brass Band for a steamy night of Prohibition-era cocktails and jazz. (Event produced by Megan Roberts, Head of Obscura Society NYC) 

Screen Novelties (photograph by Sandi Hemmerlein)

[June 14] Obscura Society LA got the rare chance to peer into the magical world of stop motion animators Screen Novelties. Known best for their work on the Spongebob Squarepants stop motion television special and the Flight sock puppet parody from the 2013 Oscar telecast, Screen Novelties showed us their private collection of puppets and puppet films, materials, and sound stages. (Event produced by LA Field Agent Sandi Hemmerlein) 

Mount Wilson Observatory (photograph by Steve Grant)

[June 29] Obscura Society LA gathered at the Mount Wilson Observatory to gaze at planets, galaxies, and globular clusters through the historic 60-inch telescope, the very same telescope that Harlow Shapley used to discover that the sun’s position was not the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. (Event produced by Erin Johnson, Head of the Obscura Society LA)

Mountain View mausoleum (photograph by Sandi Hemmerlein)

[June 21] At the beautiful Mountain View Mausoleum in Altadena, California, Obscura Society LA was honored to have Caitlin Doughty from the Order of the Good Death, Judson Studios, the vintage sounds from Hot Club of LA, and hundreds of guests join us for a magical moonlit evening in the cemetery. (Event produced by Matt Blitz, Head of the Obscura Society DC)

Moore Lab of Zoology (photograph by Erin Johnson)

[July 12] Obscura Society LA visited the Moore Lab of Zoology, a research lab and collection containing over 60,000 specimens in Los Angeles. (Event produced by Matt Blitz, Head of the Obscura Society DC)

Landscaping at the Brand Library (photograph by Erin Johnson)

[August 24] Obscura Society LA toured the fascinating Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale, California, including the historic mansion, Japanese gardens, Victorian “Doctors’ House,” and the mysterious family cemetery. (Event produced by Hadley Hall Meares, LA Field Agent)

Rogue Taxidermy Fair (photograph by Steven Acres)

[October 5] Obscura Society NYC joined forces with our friends at Morbid Anatomy to host a Rogue Taxidermy Fair at Brooklyn’s Bell House. Innovative taxidermy artists and collectors from around the northeast displayed prized pieces as we toasted the book release of our host for the night, Robert Marbury with his Taxidermy Art. Katie Innamorato of Afterlife Anatomy joined us for an only slightly bloody squirrel taxidermy demonstration and our favorite local brass band the Lucky Chops joined us once again, closing out the party with an exuberant set. (Event produced by Megan Roberts, Head of Obscura Society NYC) 

Houdini séance reenactment (photograph by Roger Fojas)

[October 31] Bess Houdini, Harry Houdini’s mourning widow, organized a séance every year for ten years after his passing to see if she could speak to Houdini beyond the grave. The final 1936 séance was in the hills of Hollywood. Obscura Society LA, in conjunction with the Alchemy, reenacted this historical event. (Event produced by Matt Blitz, Head of the Obscura Society DC)

Brookhaven National Laboratory (photograph by Mark Roberts)

[November 7] Obscura Society NYC visited the awe-inspiring campus of Brookhaven National Laboratory for a private tour of several cutting-edge research facilities. We learned about studies being conducted with the manipulation of infinitesimally small particles at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, visited the accelerator beams of the brand new National Synchrotron Light Source, and were completely blown away by the National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider — one of only two particle accelerators in the world — where scientists are recreating the conditions of the Big Bang to study the building blocks of life and foundation of all matter. (Event produced by Megan Roberts, Head of Obscura Society NYC)

The Robotic Church (photograph by Robert Wright, courtesy Amorphic Robot Works)

[November 25] Artist Chico MacMurtrie hosted a very special performance of the Robotic Church at his Red Hook, Brooklyn, workshop, housed in a historic sailor’s church. 42 kinetic robots of various shapes and sizes, each designed to create its own musical tone while moving, filled the space with a cacophony of sound for an entirely surreal and immersive experience. (Event produced by Megan Roberts, Head of Obscura Society NYC)

Read more about our Society Adventures on Atlas Obscura, and follow our events page and mailing lists for New York, Los AngelesChicagoWashington, DC, and Philadelphia to join our next gatherings. Thanks to all the intrepid attendees who joined on our explorations and celebrations, and for your enthusiasm and dedication which is inspiring us for another fantastic year of events in 2015!