ASSOCIATES (vol. 4, no. 2, November 1997) -

Table of Contents

                            *LIBRARY LIFE:
                    A COLUMN OF ECLECTIC RANTINGS*
                             Katie Buller

Warning: this column is not for the squeamish and I am serious.

First, the fluffy stuff:
      Wisconsin has a reputation for being a boring flat state with
a lot of blond chubby people running around yelling "Packers!
Packers! WOOO! Packers!".  The menu here is assumed to consist of
bratwurst, cheese and beer and we are the biggest dupes in the
world when it comes to trusting those evil city slickers.
      Well I am here to dispel that myth.  First of all, Wisconsin
is not flat.  Just because every major road that approaches from the
south enters in a region with terrain comparable to your mom's
old dinette set does not mean it continues that way.  We
have some nice lovely bluffs in the southwestern part of the
state continuing up along the Mississippi River. The rest of the
state alternates between beautiful rolling Grant Wood-type hills mom's dinette set again comes to mind.
But it's peaceful, serene and quite pretty.  Okay, now we've
taken care of that.
      Blond chubby people--yes, there are quite a few.  Maybe it
comes from that large contingent of German, Polish and Norwegian
folks who settled here a century or so ago.  But there are lots of
OTHER chubby people too--African-American, Native American,
Asian-American, Hispanic and all shades/hyphens in between.  There
are also lots of skinny people and lots of people who aren't either
chubby or skinny.  In fact, there are just plain lots of different
kinds of people, pretty much like anywhere else.  Also there is a
state law--we must all wear foam rubber cheesehead hats to church
on Sunday, especially when your "church" is Lambeau Field in Green
Bay.  Packers!! WOOO, Packers!!  Well, now that's done and never
believe everything you read.
      The menu here is not just bratwurst, cheese, beer and Packers.
It's bratwurst, cheese, beer, potato salad, lefse, lutefisk,
Swedish meatballs, frybread and those little Oscar Mayer cocktail
weenies. And beer. And Packers.  Packers WOOO! Packers!
      We are not dupes.  We are lawyers.  Well, a lot of us are
lawyers, anyway and what better way to occupy our time than to
sue evil city slickers over ticket sales?  The rest of us are
happy little Packer fans who hang out in bars and drink beer, eat
bratwurst and cheese and yell "Packers!! Wooo Packers!!"
      But none of those things I've outlined is what this column is
all about. The brightly inane image of Wisconsin is just the face
shown to the outside world.  Wisconsin has a seamy dark
underbelly made of nightmares.  This column is about the
Wisconsin of murders, headlines, sordid magazines and frightened
children. This column is about...Ed Gein.
      So, what is Ed Gein doing in a column called "Library Life"?
What does Eddie have to do with libraries?  Who is Ed Gein anyway?
Well to start with, let's enlighten you a little bit about Eddie.
      In the 1950s, Ed was a middle-aged man who lived on a
remote central Wisconsin farm with his mother and brother.  His
mother was a domineering woman who warned Ed about how evil women
were, so naturally Ed thought his mother was a saint.  His
brother didn't agree and mysteriously died while he and Ed were
fighting a fire together on the farm.  Ed said he didn't do it,
but it was no secret that he was shocked about his brother's
attitude and welcomed being left to care for his aging mother
alone on the farm.
      When his mother died, Ed was devastated.  He let the farm go
to waste, living on government farm subsidies and hanging out in the
nearest town, Plainfield, sometimes taking babysitting jobs.
Everyone liked Ed but thought he was just a little strange.
Local teenagers visited Ed out at his farm and later told friends
about the strange "shrunken" heads that were hanging from the doors
in the old farmhouse.  Ed told them that he had sent for them
from a "South Seas company".
      But Ed was not quite all there. To put it delicately, Ed
was spending his evening hours harvesting graveyards for fresh
bodies, especially graves of older women.  He also murdered at
least two women over time.  Ed was eventually caught after his
last murder and was committed to a hospital for the criminally
insane to live out his days as a meek mild-mannered little old
man who seemed harmless.  Right.
      Now, most of what he did with these bodies I'll leave you
to imagine but it's not hard if you've seen the movie "Silence of
the Lambs". To put it bluntly, the "shrunken" heads had been
masks made of human faces.
      Yes, Ed was the partial inspiration for "Silence of the Lambs",
only Ed was  worse...much worse.  Have you seen Tobe Hooper's
"Texas Chainsaw Massacre"?  Tobe spent childhood summers in
Wisconsin.  "Psycho"?  Yep, it's Ed and what's left of his mom
you see there, transplanted from the farm to the Bates Motel.
"Nightmare on Elm Street"? Fred is Ed, especially when parents
began admonishing children with the phrase "Eddie Gein will get
you if you don't behave".  Ditto with "Friday the 13th" films
and the dozens of other slasher flicks. In fact, Ed has given
Wisconsin one of it's only true film icons and is known among
enthusiasts as the "Grandfather of Gore".
      Now this is where libraries come in.  Yes..libraries come in
SOMEWHERE.  After seeing "Silence of the Lambs" for the umpteenth
time, I decided to delve back into those childhood horrors and
shed some light on them, ostensibly to save me from Eddie
nightmares coming back.  Anyway, I walked the full 100 feet over
to the State Historical Society Library and sure enough, there
were a few shelvesful of Eddie books.  I grabbed two of the most
likely, checked them out and trudged back over to my own
workplace to plunk them down on my desk. One of them fell open to
a police photo of an eviscerated body.  Horrified, I slammed the
book shut.
      I have not opened that book again. I opened the other book
which had lots of pictures but that photo did not appear.  Relieved,
I sat down and read the second one which is where I got most of the
information above.
      Learning more about Ed has seemed to blunt a little of the
horror of those memories--he was just a sad demented man who no one
ever really loved.  Would I want Ed for a neighbor?  NOT ON YOUR LIFE!
But understanding a bit more about who Ed was and what made him
so different have put a new spin on those old memories, making them
seem more distant and fictitious, though I know that is not the
case. This is so especially in Plainfield, where even today one cannot
even broach the subject of Ed Gein.  Relatives and friends of his
victims still live in the area today and the memory is painful at
best, but the bogeyman of my childhood is not dancing in my
nightmares anymore.
      However, in recent years we have had a new bogeyman in the case
of Jeffrey Dahmer. Will he be the stuff of slasher movies and
children's nightmares for years to come? His death in prison
underscored the way he lived, but even now I cannot pass by the
prison that contained him, only 10 miles from my mother's home,
without recalling his misdeeds.  It makes me wonder--if Eddie
formed such a dark part of my childhood, what are the nightmares
of today's young people like?
      Watch for them soon at your local movie theater.
Gollmar, Robert H., 1903- . _Edward Gein, America's most bizarre
      murderer_ C. Hallberg, Delavan, WI.  1981.  (This one has
      the nasty photo.  Mr. Gollmar was the judge in  this case.)
Schechter, Harold. _Deviant : the shocking true story of
      the original "psycho"_  Pocket Books,  New York, NY.  1989.