A gopher suspended in fluid preserve seems to peer at visitors at the Oddities & Curiosities Expo at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Photo by Chris Stone

When horror aficionado Fester Crain entered the fairgrounds’ O’Brien Hall this weekend for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo, he found himself in a strange position: on the opposite side of the vendor’s booth.

Crain, 37, over the years has attended this expo as an eager fan of the weird (buying a fox head and sheep brain last year). But Saturday he was selling his own version of the scary crafty.

When the Linda Vista man isn’t concocting popular hamburgers at Hodad’s San Diego, he’s conjuring, molding and painting monster heads. And this year he had a chance to be a part of the show.

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Crain joined 69 other mostly California vendors who returned to selling after being shut out during much of 2020 because of the pandemic. About 2,000 people paid $10 to browse the bizarre Saturday.

Tickets by time allowed a limited number in the cavernous building at once.

The one-day expo began its 25-city 2021 tour at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. It next moves to San Francisco and is scheduled to show its wares from Charlotte to Chicago to Seattle through November.

But COVID guidelines have changed the landscape of the annual event.

Differences include mandated mask wearing, hand sanitizer at booths and only half the number of booths for social distancing.

What hasn’t changed at the expo “for lovers of the strange, unusual and bizarre” is its spirit.

While “oddities” and “curiosities” may give you old-time circus vibes, there were plenty of appropriate-for-all-sensitivity items like butterflies, confections, lamps and jewelry — and a few religious items.

A Bible, a picture of Jesus and a crucifix were on display. But one also could buy a figurine of a nun holding a bleeding baby.

And the babies in artwork were more macabre than cute.

Groups of people favored booths with animal specimens in jars and animal bones and critter pelts, Also raccoon and coyote “penis bones” (for $6).

According to expo coordinator Michelle Cozzaglio, Californians can purchase a human skull.

“California does have stricter laws on animal bones, though,” she said. “Our vendors have to abide by the state regulations. … For example, in California you can’t sell any bear skulls, or anything bear-related.”

But bone origins are important.

An artist with a sign “Help me quit my day job” pauses between customers at the Oddities & Curiosities Expo. Photo by Chris Stone

All of the animals that you’ll find in the show died naturally,” said Cozzaglio, a Oklahoma resident. “None of the vendors, of course, killed the animals for the sake of art or collecting. I’m really big on that. I’m vegan myself.”

Calling herself a huge animal lover, she said she’s declined vendors who were hunters.

Across the country, the expo features taxidermy, preserved wet and dry specimens, odd antiques, horror merchandise, original artwork, animal and human skulls/bones, jewelry made from insects/bones and more.

No human skulls were seen Saturday.

Cozzaglio says she gets many vendor applications, but has to turn a number down because their artwork wasn’t weird enough. However, she hasn’t rejected anyone for the opposite reason: being too weird.

She talked about how the expo came about in 2017.

“I’m a collector myself of all things weird, so that’s kind of how it came about,” she said. “My husband and I have been organizing smaller, offbeat events for a long time now.”

A few years ago, they asked themselves: What if we had an event that was just kind of focusing on all things weird?

“It really just grew from there,” she said, laughing.

Given the uncertainty of the pandemic, Cozzaglio isn’t positive her tour will go as advertised.

“It’s very likely that not all the shows we’ve scheduled will happen,” Cozzaglio said. “You know, we’re submitting all of our plans to the health departments, working with [them] directly. We have a lot of guidelines, very limited capacity. It’s a lot different from normal.”

She conceded that some people “definitely” object to holding events right now.

But, she said, others are happy because it “brings some type of normalcy back to our lives.”

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