That wild country, in this case Plainfield, Wisconsin, gave up some of its secrets on Saturday, November 16, 1957.
Recognize this photo? No? Think Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre— they were all born in this Wisconsin farm house, courtesy of the warped inspiration of Ed Gein, the Butcher of Plainfield.
The author of Psycho, Robert Bloch, lived less than 30 miles away in Weyauwega at the time of Gein’s arrest and created Norman Bates with "the notion that the man next door may be a monster unsuspected."
Through the years, the fictional Norman Bates morphed into the most monstrous characters the public could envision: Leather-face, Buffalo Bill, Freddie Kruger, Michael Myers, they all sprang from the Ed Gein vein of bizarre imagination.
What has Ed Gein to do with today’s Samhain tale?
Summer late 1980s, and I’m on a road trip with my BFF Cathy. We have been in Chicago, and instead of driving back to the Twin Cities via I-94, we decide to take the scenic route through Wisconsin, with me mentioning a somewhat vague destination of Plainfield and Ed.
Our rambling takes us past a monument to the old-style tourist attraction and roadside kitsch:
La Reau’s World of Miniatures.
La Reau’s rivaled any gator farm or wax museum on any roadside in America. Entering through
gray medieval castle walls, we found a sub-sized world of Stonehenge, New England fishing villages, the United Nations, Empire State Building, Lincoln Memorial, Monticello each carved in miniature, out of styrofoam. We spent a long time at La Reau’s—I mean, really, it was the chance to travel the world for a mere pittance.
It was a perfect late summer afternoon sporting a crisp, blue cloudless sky with trees already turning reds and yellows. As we left La Reau’s, we turned to the right, traveling on a two-lane state highway. I drove while Cathy checked the map, noting what roads we needed to watch for, explaining we had three major turns, and figuring out it would be an hour and a half until we reached the Wisconsin Dells, where we planned to get back on I-94, so as to make the Twin Cities before it got too late.
And then we were there. Twenty minutes later, without making a single turn.
We were simply there. Sitting there looking at the Dells, all noisy and loud with the last of the summer tourists, and the gaudy attractions— Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Ducks, the miniature golf.
Except we really weren’t due for another 70 minutes.
Whatever route we took, wasn’t on the map. No matter how we figured it, there was no way to get from La Reau’s to the Dells in twenty minutes without turning.
The good news is we ended up where we wanted to be, in the Dells, in spite of whatever time gap we passed through. We could have ended up a few miles north on Hwy 39— in Plainfield, where I could have photographed Ed Gein’s three-year-old grave, just before someone borrowed his tombstone.