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A shocking look into one of Richmond's most freakish basements

Monster Madness

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Linda Powell's Laburnum Avenue home seems normal enough. Too normal. I check the address again before pressing the buzzer.

Powell greets me at the door. Is this sharply dressed, middle-aged woman with shoulder-length hair and the face of a mother also Richmond's monster toy monger?

The first floor of her home — all polished Victorian furniture and tidily vacuumed rugs — is the perfect foil for what lurks in the basement.

"Please excuse the mess," she says as we descend into a dizzying collection of bloody eyeballs, silent screaming heads and staring figurines of Wednesday Addams.

It's unlikely that anyone in this historic city has made such a monumental effort to preserve the legacy of Uncle Fester and other '60s pop monsters. There are hundreds of ghoulish toys down in Powell's basement. There are humpbacked creeps from dusty coffins, creatures from black lagoons, ungodly beasts from the deep recesses of nerdy minds.

Powell received her first monster toy — a stuffed Herman Munster doll — at her birthday party in 1963 or '64. Though she can't remember the exact year, she kept as proof the grainy photograph taken at the party.

The toys trickled into her possession throughout her childhood. Her fixation with the horror genre grew with every Saturday episode of Shock Theatre hosted by Bowman Body (an early local version of Elvira) she and her brother watched at home.

Powell watched every sci-fi show and creature-feature that came out in the horror heyday of the '60s. In the'70s she munched popcorn at the drive-in in front of slasher movies like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Friday the 13th."

But she didn't really begin collecting until about seven or eight years ago. Her first forays into the underworld of monster toy collecting began at generic toy conventions without themes. Then, she was a shy collector embarrassed by her addiction. She tiptoed to booths and whispered, "Do you have any Addams Family?"

When Powell went to her first real monster toy convention five years ago, she was amazed at how many thousands of people were there. The realization that all those people shared in her excitement gave her confidence.

Now she strides boldly to the counter of convention peddlers and asks for the head of Linda Blair.

Powell's hobby carries a hefty price tag. Most of the original '60s toys she looks for demand upwards of $600 to $700 at conventions, and those are the steals. Some of the rarer finds sell for thousands of dollars. Numerous times in the heat of a buying frenzy, Powell has run out of money and considered hocking a ring or post-dating a check. "You lose your bargaining power when you're clutching something screaming 'How much is this!'" Powell says.

At one convention she leapt over a counter to get to a Lily Munster-Baby doll to add to her set.

So where does she find the money to pay for her steady diet of Pinhead and "The Exorcist?" On the Internet, of course.

Many people, she realized, are driven by the same sort of fever to collect.

Powell saw a gold mine. She got busy on the Internet and set up a system to sell her wares. Bewitched by her initial success in trading collectibles, she sold some of her least favorite toys.

This business hasn't made Powell a millionaire, but she says she's comfortable. And she's ready to let the world know of her passion.

"I'm ready to come out of the monster toy closet," Powell

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