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Funeral Home field trip

Because enough is never enough...and because I was feeling a little uninspired, like I needed to refill my well with some more experiences...I decided to get myself down to Cress Funeral Home in Madison, which is featured in lots of "Weird Wisconsin" type guides for the gigantic taxidermy collection in its basement. Here's an article from Roadside America. I suppose I've always been intimidated because you're supposed to make an appointment, but I called and there wasn't a funeral today, so they told me to come on over.

(click on photos to enlarge)

There were lots and lots (and LOTS) of fish. The previous funeral home owner, Sam Sanfillipo, is an avid sport fisherman, and there were photos of him fishing throughout the displays. (All my wide shots came out blurry, sorry. The lighting was really low.)

Here was my favorite fish. Judging by what I learned in the taxidermist's studio, this is a real fish with what seems to be his real head. Many of the larger fish, like the big marlin, were actually models of fish based on photos and measurements of the fish that were caught.

Birds, birds, birds! The bird case was kind of a mess. Some birds were hanging upside down and there was a bat on the ground. It looks exactly like I imagined the Denizens of the Sky display in the Faris Natural Sciences Center. Meaning, old, yellow, neglected and random. And interesting...that does without saying.

This poor beaver was starting to come apart around the mouth. You can see the plaster coming through the seam of his mouth here. It looked a little worse in person, because there's a seam going down his cheek that's opening and showing plaster, too. Poor bebe. Of course, so far this is just regular taxidermy. Old taxidermy, but nothing too odd, other than it being in the basement of a funeral home. And then....

I see I didn't get this shot at a very good angle. He has three feet!

And badgers are a perennial Wisconsin favorite. (Is that a baby sweater, or did someone crochet it just for him?)

But the thing the collection is really known for is its weird dioramas. Here's a little action at the squirrel bar. The guy on the left is playing a slot machine while the albino squirrel waits for the bartender to come over.

The barkeep's over here watching this other squirrel smoke a big old stoagie.

The combination of taxidermy with plastic toys was a really thought-provoking juxtaposition. (Yee-hhah! Y'all come again now real soon!)

I'll finish with this wonderful antique organ I spotted. I think it epitomizes the whole experience. Old, strange and wonderful.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 25th, 2010 06:43 pm (UTC)
A cowboy squirrel and a badger in a sweater. Ummm. Wow. No other words can quite suffice. :-)
Jun. 29th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
The kitschy ones are definitely the ones that provoke the most thought!
Jun. 26th, 2010 04:17 am (UTC)
How completely bizarre! And a little creepy too :).
Jun. 29th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
I think I've studied the subject so extensively now that I've lost the creepiness. I'll have to fake it for the next book.
Jun. 26th, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
Jun. 29th, 2010 11:59 am (UTC)
Yes! I liked the obsessive-hobbyist context.
Jun. 26th, 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
Whoa. Just... whoa.
Jun. 29th, 2010 11:59 am (UTC)
I don't think I was prepared for the overwhelming number of fish. All the stories you see about this place focus on the chipmunk circus.
Jun. 26th, 2010 10:28 pm (UTC)
Cool. I hope it gave you some good ideas. It sounds like it would give you some inspiration for Insomnia.
Jun. 29th, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)
I definitely think I've got more ideas and lots of solid observation to fuel my story! The most helpful thing I did was to sit in one of the over-elaborate funeral home chairs once I was done snapping photos and to just observe some things in writing. I think the written observation will ultimately be more useful to me, because it took into account so much more than just the visual aspects.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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