Milwaukee Public Museum

10 Weird Facts About the Milwaukee Public Museum

The Milwaukee Public Museum has a long history of creating innovative and immersive exhibits. The earliest habitat dioramas were created here, and The Streets of Old Milwaukee transport you directly into the past.

Opened in 1965, The Streets of Old Milwaukee was designed by artist Edward Green to be more than just an exhibit. You wander through a neighborhood on a fall evening, peering through windows into incredibly realistic scenes of life at the turn of the century. There are homes and shops, all filled with authentic items, people and pets. Sure, some of the cats and dogs are looking a bit rough, but it’s all part of the charm (and eeriness) of the experience.

But there is a lot more quirkiness, creepiness and mystery in Milwaukee’s legendary museum if you know where to look. Here are some strange and interesting facts about the museum and its exhibits to think about next time you visit.

The Creepy Granny Takes a lot of Abuse

Creepy walking grandma in the Streets of Old Milwaukee

In The Streets of Old Milwaukee lurks a mannequin of a grandma rocking on her porch that has a tendency to strike fear into the hearts of all who encounter her. After years of abuse and outright assault, Grandma had to be replaced in 1987. These days, she even has her own Twitter account.

But she’s still just as creepy.

Finding the Snake Button

Bison hunt diorama at the Milwaukee Public Museum
Photo by John December/Creative Commons

The Indian Crow Bison Hunt, which was the largest open diorama in the world when it opened in 1966, contains a tiny secret whose discovery has become a quintessential part of the Milwaukee experience. A hidden button makes the rattlesnake in the diorama shake it’s tail.

Do you know where the snake button is?

House That Belonged to a Victim of Belle Gunness?

milwaukee-public-museum-european-village
European Village at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Photo by John December/Creative Commons

Cult contributor J. Nathan Couch tells me that one of the houses in the European Village allegedly belonged to a victim of turn-of-the-century serial killer Belle Gunness.

After the mysterious deaths of her first two husbands, the “Black Widow” began placing ads in newspapers looking for a new husband. Many men responded, a number of them from Wisconsin. Gunness corresponded with potential suitors by mail, beckoning them to visit her on her farm in La Porte, Indiana and “come prepared to stay forever.”

The men arrived on her farm with their life savings…and then vanished. The Mistress of Murder Farm was poisoning them, butchering them and feeding them to her hogs.

Did one of the houses in the European Village once belong to a victim of serial killer Belle Gunness? And if so, which one?

A Lion Once Lived on the Roof

Milwaukee Public Museum director Dr. Sam Barrett, leading an expedition to Africa in 1928, purchased Simba from a group of Massai people who had found the lion cub wandering alone after a grass fire. He was brought back to Milwaukee, where he spent some time living in the museum’s taxidermy studio until a special structure was built for him on the roof.

After chipping a tooth chewing on his bowling ball, Simba was transferred to the Washington Park Zoo, the precursor to the Milwaukee Public Zoo, where he lived out the rest of his long life. When he finally died, Simba was given a permanent home in one of the museum’s dioramas.

The lion that lived on the roof of the Milwaukee Public Museum

During Simba’s time the museum shared a building with the library. Today, the roof of Central Library where he once lived is a green roof, with tours happening on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Samson Taxidermy is a Re-Creation

Milwaukee Public Museum taxidermist Wendy Christensen works on Samson the gorilla

Featured in a recent issue of National Geographic, the mount of Milwaukee’s famous gorilla Samson is a re-creation by the museum’s resident taxidermist Wendy Christensen. After 25 years in a freezer at the zoo, Samson’s skin was too damaged to mount. So Christensen used his plaster death mask and photos to bring him back to life using synthetic materials, such as fur provided by National Fiber Technology, the company that supplies wookie fur for Star Wars.

When she took Samson to the World Taxidermy Championships in 2009, Christensen won several awards for her work, including Best of Show and Best in World, Re-Creation.

The Samson re-creation, as well as his articulated skeleton, are on display in the museum’s Victorian-style Sense of Wonder natural history exhibit.

Carl Akeley’s Muskrat Cabinet

Taxidermist Carl Akeley created the muskrats, the world's first habitat diorama, in 1890 at the Milwaukee Public Museum

Legendary taxidermist Carl Akeley pioneered the art of modern taxidermy during his time working at the Milwaukee Public Museum, where he created the world’s first habitat-style diorama in 1890 – the muskrat cabinet by the bathrooms on the second floor. His work inspired museum exhibit designers around the world, and it became known as “the Milwaukee style.”

Streets of Old Milwaukee Inspired House on the Rock

Streets of Yesterday at House on the Rock
Streets of Yesterday at House on the Rock. Photo: Alexis Fam/Creative Commons

Deep within the bizarre caverns of House on the Rock you can walk through the Streets of Yesterday, a dark and surreal re-creation of a street in the 19th century. Streets of Yesterday made its debut in 1971, inspired by the techniques devised for The Streets of Old Milwaukee.

Mound Builder Princess Was Once on Display

Aztalan princess burial on display at the Milwaukee Public Museum

The remains of what is believed to have been a princess of the ancient and mysterious Mound Builders were unearthed by Sam Barrett during excavations of Aztalan. She is one of only a few burials discovered in what was once a thriving Northern outpost for the Middle Mississippian people.

Unlike any other remains found in Wisconsin, these were adorned in shells from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.

The princess of Aztalan was on display at the museum until 1973, when she was removed due to controversy over the disturbance of Native American burials.

One Guy Was Used for 4 Different Mannequins

Museum exhibit designer Thomas Shea
Milwaukee Public Museum exhibit designer Thomas Shea.

In a video on the creation of the Crossroads of Civilization exhibit, designer Thomas Shea says he’s undergone a full body cast four times over the years for the creation of various people around the museum.

Most recently, Shea was cast for the Persian archer. He now battles beside his brother, who was cast for the Greek hoplite in the early 90s.

Where else can you find him?

Also, the museum handyman was the model for Tutankhamun’s ear.

Herb Was Butchered By Humans 14,500 Years Ago

Milwaukee Public Museum mammoth bones

It’s a strange feeling to look at the bones of an animal that was eaten by humans 14,500 years ago. Herb, a hebior mammoth, was found in 1979 by a farmer in Kenosha County, less than 30 miles from the museum.

Butchering marks on the bones indicate that people were present in North America 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.

There is no much history inside the walls of the Milwaukee Public Museum. Are there more weird facts that should have been included? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Mothman Roadtrip: 6 Things to do in Point Pleasant, WV

If it’s mothman you’re hoping to encounter, these things to do in Point Pleasant, WV just might get you closer to the legend.
Mothman roadtrip in Point Pleasant, WV
The Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Point Pleasant, West Virginia is the setting for a series of bizarre sightings of a creature described by witnesses as a demonic bird with the body of a man, ragged bat wings, and glowing red eyes. Mothman, as it came to be known, was first spotted on November 12, 1966 by gravediggers when it swooped out of the trees over their heads. On the 15th, two couples driving in the TNT area witnessed the creature in their headlights. It then proceeded to chase after them.

The next day, the Point Pleasant Register ran the headline: “Couples See Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something.”

More sightings and other strange events occurred over the next year, including over a hundred reported mothman sightings, UFOs, and even Men in Black threatening witnesses into silence. These events seemingly culminated in the disastrous collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967.

After that, the mothman sightings stopped.

Did the creature cause the disaster, or was it trying to warn of impending doom? No one knows for sure. But if you want to investigate the legend yourself, here are six mothman-related things to do in Point Pleasant:

Visit the Mothman Museum

Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant, WV

The Mothman Museum and Research Center was opened by author Jeff Wamsley (Mothman: Behind the Red Eyes) in 2005. The museum is has videos, recordings and newspaper clippings, as well as props from the 2002 film The Mothman Prophecies, which was loosely based on the book by John Keel.

While you’re here, grab a t-shirt and a plush mothman from the gift shop.

Enjoy a Mothman Cookie at The Coffee Grinder

Mothman cookie at The Coffee Grinder

Where can you find green frosted mothman cookies with red eyes? The Coffee Grinder in downtown Point Pleasant. Get one for me, while you’re at it! Mothman looks delicious.

Attend the Mothman Festival

Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia

The Mothman Festival is held annually during the third weekend of September in downtown Point Pleasant. The event features vendors, live music, guest speakers, mothman tours, a mothman pancake eating contest and, of course, the Miss Mothman pageant.

Explore the TNT Area

TNT area where mothman was first sighted

The TNT area is the site of an abandoned World War II munitions plant called West Virginia Ordnance Works. It was here that the first recorded sighting of Mothman occurred, and where the creature was considered to be most active. Hayrides and guided shuttle tours let you walk the paths where mothman once lurked and explore the bunkers where the legend was born.

Go to www.mothmanlives.com for more info.

Take a Selfie with the Mothman Statue

Point Pleasant Mothman statue

This stainless steel sculpture with creepy red eyes by artist Bob Roach is located in Mothman Park on 4th Street in downtown Point Pleasant. Stop and take a photo with mothman.

If you do, share it with us or tag your photo #cultofweird on Instagram!

Visit the Silver Bridge Memorial

Memorial for the Silver Bridge collapse in Point Pleasant

Locals worried that the historic K&M Railroad bridge would fall into the river someday. As it turned out, it was the more modern Silver Bridge downriver that collapsed unexpectedly. It was rush hour, and a hairline fracture in an eyebar support gave way, sending 31 vehicles into the icy waters of the Ohio River. 46 lives were lost.

The memorial is located along the Ohio River where the bridge once stood.

A scale model of the original Silver Bridge can be seen at the Point Pleasant River Museum, as well as an eyebar assembly from the collapsed bridge.

Silver Bridge collapse in Point Pleasant, WV

If you go to any of these locations, I’d love to see your photos! When you share them be sure to tag and/or mention Cult of Weird.

#cultofweird

Did I miss something? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Feather death crown

Feather Death Crowns: An Appalachian Omen of Death

In Appalachian culture, a bizarre phenomenon of feather crowns found in the pillows of sick people became known as an omen of death.
Vintage feather death crown photo by Lori Kimball
Feather death crown dating somewhere between the 1800s and the 1930s. Photo by Lori Kimball / www.veraviola.com

Feather pillows are about as rare the Loch Ness Monster, but once upon a time they were as common as could be.

Long ago, the people of Appalachia began to notice a peculiar phenomenon: odd crownlike masses in the pillows of the seriously ill or recently deceased.

These objects became known as Death Crowns (or less-commonly, angel crowns). Death Crowns are usually elaborate, interlocking designs that resemble a disc or crown. The quills always point inward, and though rare, are only found in the feather pillows of the seriously ill or recently deceased.

Because of the isolated, rural nature of the area, the phenomenon appears to be unique to Appalachia, or locations where some of these mountain folk migrated, such as Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio. But it’s almost exclusively a lost-belief now that most people have switched out their feather pillows for comfort foam or synthetic fibers.

I was fortunate enough to overhear a death crown story in my youth, otherwise I’d likely be unaware such a concept ever existed. My family has lived in Hall County, Georgia for generations, just miles from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

My great aunt paid us a visit when I was maybe 5 years old. She started talking about the recent death of her elderly father. He’d been killed while walking around a bus he’d just exited. A car sped by without caution, striking the old man. She was elected the sorrowful chore of sorting through her father’s belongings. As she lifted her father’s ancient feather pillow she felt something solid inside. She started to throw the pillow away, but something compelled her to open it up. She reached inside and probed with her fingers in search of what she had felt. To her astonishment, she pulled out an intricately woven wreath of feathers, roughly the size of a bird’s nest. She took this has a sign her father had gone to heaven.

After several minutes of convincing, she persuaded me to go play. After a while, I forgot about the whole thing—until bed of course. I recall squeezing and kneading my pillow in search of anything that might remotely feel like a “death wreath.” I didn’t. Finally, I fell asleep.

A vintage death crown with post-mortem photo and funeral card
Vintage death crown in a bell jar with post-mortem photo and funeral card. Photo by Lori Kimball.

These odd formations are usually interpreted as a heavenly sign, but skeptics believe that the movements of a dying person—tossing and turning combined with fever sweats–could cause these objects to take form.

If you are one of the few that still sleeps on feather pillow, do not lose all hope if you find a Death Crown in your pillow tonight. One old wives’ tale claims that if you break these wreaths up you could prevent the death of the person the pillow belongs to.

A collection of these oddities can be found at the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee.


J. Nathan Couch is the author of Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? Find more of his work on his website at www.jnathancouch.com

Death crown photos courtesy of Lori Kimball. Lori sells unique vintage oddities at www.veraviola.com. Follow her on Instagram @veraviola_vintage

Iconic Horror Movie House For Sale in Monrovia

The creepy 1887 Queen Anne Victorian that was featured in the 1986 horror movie House is for sale in Monrovia, CA.
House from the 1986 horror movie starring William Katt for sale in Monrovia, CA
House from the 1986 horror movie for sale in Monrovia, CA

In my childhood, I was convinced every big, creepy old house was full of monsters. Every closet was a doorway to some new nightmare, black voids with skeletal, tentacled beasts lived behind bathroom mirrors. This was due, mostly, to the 1986 horror film House, starring William Katt, George Wendt and Richard Moll.

This movie also inspired an early fear of taxidermy and garden tools, but that’s a story for another day.

House is the story of Roger Cobb, a horror novelist struggling with the disappearance of his son and subsequent divorce from his wife. After his eccentric aunt commits suicide, Cobb moves into her house to focus on writing his next novel. But his solitude is soon disrupted as he discovers what horrors have been waiting for him inside.

Roger Cobb's house
Several changes were made for the film to make the house appear more menacing.

While the interiors of the house were filmed on a sound stage, a 1887 Queen Anne Vicorian located at 329 Melrose Ave, Monrovia, CA 91016, known as the Mills View mansion, was used for the exterior shots. According to Old House Dreams it just happens to be for sale (well, pending sale) for a cool $1,275,000.

From the real estate listing:

Stunning, inviting Eastlake Victorian home with wrap around porch. An opportunity to own one of Monrovia’s premier historical landmarks, Known as Mills View. Every beautiful detail has been meticulously restored to its original glory and just waiting for the next family to enjoy. This home features very spacious rooms with 12′ ceilings throughout formal dining, family room, and parlor. One bedroom and 2 Baths downstairs. Gorgeous hardwood floors, crown molding and fresh paint inside and out! Designed and built in 1890 for William Monroe, founder of Monrovia. Large park like back yard, room for a pool! Come make this Queen Anne Victorian showcase home your very own!

It doesn’t say anything about a war demon in the closet, but I’m sure that’s just an added perk.

More Photos of the Mills View Mansion

Mills View mansion in Monrovia, California

The porch where Roger Cobb cleaned his shotgun

Mills View mansion in Monrovia, CA

Mills View mansion in Monrovia, CA

Mills View mansion in Monrovia, CA

Mills View mansion in Monrovia, CA

Mills View mansion in Monrovia, CA

Backyard of the Mills View house

Anyone have a million bucks I could barrow?

House Theatrical Trailer

According to a comment in this behind the scenes blog from creature effects crewmember Shannon Shea, the current owner bought the place because their love of the House film, as well. Part 2 of this blog is right here.

Nosferatu Director’s Skull Stolen From Grave

The skull of Nosferatu director FW Murnau has been reported stolen from his grave in a family plot in Germany.
The skull of Nosferatu director FW Murnau has been stolen from his grave in Germany
The grave of FW Murnau in Stahnsdorf, Germany

The skull of 1920s silent film director FW Murnau has been reported stolen from his grave in a family plot in Stahnsdorf, near Berlin. Wax residue found near the grave suggests candles were lit, leading authorities to believe the theft may have an occult-related motive.

Friedrich Wilhelm “F. W.” Murnau was born on December 28, 1888 in Bielefeld, Germany. He died on March 11, 1931 following a car crash in Santa Barbara, California.

Nosferatu

Murnau directed the 1922 silent film Nosferatu, an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the short-lived Prana Film studio. Because the studio could not obtain rights to Dracula, they changed names and other details in the story. The vampire was called Nosferatu, and Count Dracula became Count Orlok.

Stoker’s widow sued Prana Film, who then filed bankruptcy to avoid the copyright infringement suit. The court ruling ordered all copies of Nosferatu destroyed. A few prints survived, however, and the film has become known as a masterpiece of German Expressionism.

Max Schreck as the vampire in the classic 1922 silent film Nosferatu
Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok in Nosferatu (1922)

Murnau directed a total of 21 films, including his interpretation of Goethe’s Faust in 1926. 8 of those films have been completely lost to time.

This is not the first time his grave has been disturbed, apparently, and the cemetery is considering sealing his grave.

via The Guardian