Words and images by Tiziana Onstead
With only a few running businesses, one stop light and few planned activities, Woodbine, Georgia, population 1,300, has few reasons to entice visitors into its city limits.
But one sign is making a loud statement and luring in outsiders who are dying — no pun intended — to see its bold, red printing themselves.
It reads: Dead people’s things for sale.
The sign indicates the types of merchandise that await visitors inside the aged, white shop it fronts, Me and My Partner — Antiques and Collectibles. But it has also injected new life into Woodbine and brings a small but steady flow of people who come just to see the unusual signage.
In fact photos of “Dead people’s things for sale” have popped up on travel blogs and websites across the Internet.
The curiosity the sign obviously creates in visitors is a testament to the silent mysteries posed by the antiques and mementoes inside the shop.
“You wonder who owned this stuff through the years,” said Lannie Brant, the shop’s current owner. “(The former owners) traveled all over the country so they bought things from every person.”
The 4-foot fold-able sign is propped up year around to advertise the antique shop, which is only open once a week.
As director of operations for the local landfill as well as a candidate running for Camden County Commissioner, Brant isn’t left with much time to manage the shop except on Saturdays. But Brant said just because it’s closed doesn’t mean people don’t stop by.
“It’s just been phenomenal the amount of people it’s brought in,” said Brant. “There’s not a day that goes by that there isn’t several people that stop and photograph it.”
Inside, preserved treasures are stored throughout the shop. All belongings from the deceased now buried 6 feet under.
Brant said antiques aren’t his forte, but he appreciates the wonder and stories the shop encompasses, which is why he took it over in 2014 when the previous owners, who were close friends of his, left it for him after they died.
That couple, Robert John Briese, known as Windy, and his wife, Jodie Briese, made the shop what it is today, as well as, the sign that keeps it and Woodbine alive.
“(The city) has one traffic light and everybody knows everybody,” said Capt. Larry Bruce, the public information officer for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s kind of like Mayberry on ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’”
Bruce said besides the Annual Crawfish Festival, the city is normally quiet with not a lot of visitors, but the sign is reaching people from all over and bringing them in to see the novelties it broadcasts.
“When you see ‘Dead people’s things for sale’ you are going to stop and say ‘I got to go in,’” Bruce said. “It’s a good commercial sign to have people wonder what’s inside.”
Bruce knew Windy and said he was a unique individual so the sign didn’t come as a surprise when Windy put it outside the shop. He said the locals like the sign just as much as the visitors it brings and the fact it’s turned Woodbine into a point of interest.
But before the antiques and clever sign, the shop was an oil station and café on U.S.17.
The main thoroughfare through the city brought a majority of the business, which allowed the couple to run a successful station for years. But once traffic shifted in the late 1950s, travelers opted for the new, Interstate 95 that opened up, abandoning both the dated highway and the station.
It wasn’t long before the Brieses closed the pumps and reopened the station’s doors as an antique shop and fire museum. Windy was the town’s assistant fire chief and obsessed with fire memorabilia, while Jodie worked as a teacher and loved glass.
The two turned these hobbies into a living.
Every year the pair took a vacation for weeks on end traveling and salvaging prized possessions left behind by those long since gone.
“Sitting up there the crystal decanter, think about where that was in a fancy house somewhere,” said Brant. “That wasn’t in no poor person’s house you know, that being crystal.”
Prices appear on faded handwritten tags that dangle from the timeless pieces, but all hold obvious value.
There are worn books stamped with the finger prints of people who no longer exist, toys from children who’ve already grown up and passed on, and glass dining sets that survived eras of owners. Some without a single piece missing or cracked.
“But you can see there is quite an array of different things and all,” Bryant said. “And we’ve had people of all sorts come in.”
The sign — and the shop — have been mentioned in books and on TV. Behind the register, a dusty hardcover binds a mound of discolored pages with stained edges and lists signatures, dates and locations of people who visited the shop. From Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland to Austria, travelers came from all over for the only antique shop in the 2.6 square miles of Woodbine.
But dead people’s things are the only items highlighted in the store.
Windy’s original passion for fire memorabilia led to the creation of Woodbine’s International Fire Museum. In this museum, pieces that have traveled through time and outlived owners take over the back two rooms of the shop.
From the first style of fire extinguishers to the original badge Adolf Hitler pinned on his soldiers during World War II, the assortment of items is wide ranging.
Even here, it’s “quite interesting to look around and see the history,” Brant said. “Just think about who owned what, if you can just go back and run it through your mind.
When the Brieses died several years ago, they become two more in the long line of people who had known and loved each and every item in the shop — from fire-fighting equipment to sparkling crystal vases.
It was only a couple of years before he died that Windy had the shop’s famous sign made. Now it stands as a monument to both the Brieses and the generations of people who made their shop a possibility by owning its treasures.