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Taxidermy Makes Funerals Fun in Wisconsin

Nothing says “cheer up” like taxidermy at your funeral. Right?
Taxidermy chipmunk rides a plastic deer in this diorama at Madison's Cress Funeral Home

We have no shortage of weird things in Wisconsin, but still…you don’t expect to find a funeral home full of quirky, Victorian-style taxidermy dioramas.

Funeral director Salvadore “Sam” Sanfillippo was a WWII vet who, as he would tell it, was left for dead on Omaha Beach during the 1944 Normandy invasion. But the ride to the morgue kickstarted his heart, and he lived a long and odd life until April of 2013, when he died at the age of 93.

At some point during his career, Sam decided people attending funerals needed something to do. So he began assembling a collection of taxidermy in the basement of his Madison, Wisconsin funeral parlor. He collected roadkill, chipmunks accidentally killed by golf balls, albino squirrels and fish for taxidermist Vito Marchino to transform into humorous anthropomorphic dioramas.

Families of taxidermy rodents enjoyed a carnival. Chipmunks danced in a “Topless Girlie Show.” Albino squirrels drove Barbie cars and played basketball. Cowboy chipmunks of the Old West rode plastic horses beside toy dinosaurs.

According to the State Journal, some 26,000 visitors came to see the unusual display in its first year open to the public.

Taxidermy chipmunks at the bar at Cress Funeral Home in Madison

Topless Girly Show taxidermy chipmunk diorama at Cress Funeral Home in Madison

Squirrel saloon taxidermy diorama

Bucky Badger taxidermy at Cress Funeral Home in Madison

Taxidermy chipmunks in the Woodland Fair diorama at Cress Funeral Home

Albino squirrels taxidermy

Taxidermy birds in a tree diorama

Taxidermy chipmunks playing poker

More taxidermy chipmunks at the fair

Taxidermy chipmunk cowboy rides a plastic horse at Madison's Cress Funeral Home
Photos courtesy of Extreme Craft

Due to the high cost of maintaining the roughly 500 piece collection, Sam’s family decided to auction it off in March of 2014. The auction generated a lot of interest. Even Mike Zohn of Obscura Antiques and the Oddities TV show was present to take home some of the legendary pieces. The squirrel bar scene pictured above, which is now part of his private collection, will be on exhibit at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn later this month.

If you have pieces from the Cress Funeral Home taxidermy collection and are interested in contributing them to Cult of Weird contact me.

Got a tip on another weird place? Tell me about it!

Walter Potter’s Two-Faced Kitten at the Morbid Anatomy Museum

Eccentric Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter’s famous two-faced kitten taxidermy comes to the Morbid Anatomy Museum.
Walter Potter two-faced kitten taxidermy
Photo by Chris Bradley via Morbid Anatomy

This month the Morbid Anatomy Museum is bringing Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter’s two-faced kitten to the public…for the first time ever in the US!

Walter Potter began creating whimsical anthropomorphic taxidermy dioramas in 1854 at the age of 19 with his first piece, The Death and Burial of Cock Robin. He spent his life filling his family-owned pub, The White Lion in Bramber, with amazing and whimsical scenes. Potter’s work also included examples of nature gone wrong, such as four-legged chicks and a two-headed lamb.

In 2003, however, Potter’s Bramber Museum collection was auctioned off and scattered all over the world into private collections.

The kitten, from the collection of Karen Holzner, will be displayed along with numerous other extraordinary objects in the first of a series of exhibits called The Collector’s Cabinet. Other oddities will include an anthropomorphic taxidermy squirrel bar scene from Wisconsin’s own Cress Funeral Home presented by Mike Zohn, a Beauchene skull by Ryan Matthew Cohn, and more.

Morbid Anatomy founder Joanna Ebenstein, who will present the kitten, is the co-author of Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy.

You can find more on The Collector’s Cabinet and other upcoming exhibitions right here.