Amtrak, Ed Gein, & Me
Posted January 4, 2010on:
Now that’s a combination that not many would put together.
But first a little background, when I started this blog, I found my mind and thus my writing drifting toward persons and things in popular cultural, which I called cultural icons. It began with my writing about Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof and continued on with my connecting Captain Kangaroo to the life I was experiencing.
At one point I created the Great Susan T. Hessel Breast Cancer Challenge. The idea was for readers to challenge me with cultural icons that I would have to put into the blog. Suggestions included Kermit the Frog (easy), Hop Sing from Bonanza (interesting), Lance Armstrong (inspirational), Clint Eastwood, Pollyanna, Shirley Temple and more.
It was my job to find a way to relate it to my life. And I did.
I haven’t had any requests lately until Sunday when my Amtrak friend, Mary, sent me an article about Ed Gein. Apparently there is a new movie out: Ed Gein: The Musical.
Thinking about how I could give a nod to Ed Gein, one of Wisconsin’s most ghoulish crazies, I want to go back to my childhood.
In the 1960s, our family had a number of comedy albums – LPs – that we loved. There was The First Family, with Vaughn Meader who looked and sounded like JFK. His career took off until the assassination, after which it was unseemly to laugh about the family.
The Hessels’ favorite was the You Don’t Have to be Jewish: When You’re in Love the Whole World is Jewish. On that album was one comedy bit called Reading of the Will. Different people in the family were awarded bequests, to which everyone murmured how wonderful there were.
At the end, the will reader had just one more: “To my cousin, Louie, who always wanted to be mentioned in my will: ‘Hello, Louie.’”
To Ed Gein, who Mary wants mentioned in my blog: “Hello, Eddie.”
That would be the easy route, just saying hello. It is similar to when Mary or her mother Georgia want to know the meaning of a word I play in Scrabble. I sometimes respond with “Za is a two letter Z-word in Scrabble.” (It’s actually slang for pizza, with or without anchovies.)
We met Mary and Georgia on Amtrak heading west on December 26, 2008. We quickly discovered they loved Scrabble and the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra when it was under the direction of their friend, Amy Mills.
Our friendship has continued with constant Facebook Scrabble games and occasional visits to La Crosse. Mary was eager to challenge me in this blog once she saw a newspaper story about Ed Gein: The Musical, which had its world debut in Menasha, Wisconsin, January 2.
A murderer and a grave robber living in Plainfield, Wisconsin, Gein actually made lampshades and other items from the bodies he dug up. (I have no intention of considering what body parts he used.) Only until Jeffrey Dahmer, did Wisconsin have a killer that gained as much national notoriety.
The director for this film, Steven Russell, was quoted as saying, Some people say Gein shouldn’t be brought up, but I think that’s just ridiculous,” Russell said. “You can’t forget your past, good or bad, and it’s part of Wisconsin’s history.”
Ah, the personal historian in me is so impressed.
Assistant director, Jason Buss, said, “This wasn’t put together as a gorefest to gross people out,” Buss said. “We don’t make fun of the victims and we don’t glorify what he did. The focus was to get it out there and share it with people.”
According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the movie created parodies out of popular songs to apply them to Ed Gein: Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” became “All Cooked Up;” “The Sound of Music’s” “My Favorite Things” turned into “My Demented Things” and “Annie’s” “It’s the Hard Knock Life” took on another meaning in the state institution in which Gein lived the rest of his life.
What connection could there be with me? Gein was born in La Crosse, although he left here as a young child. After police found body parts in his farm home in 1957, he was suspected of all sorts of crimes, including that of La Crosse’s biggest mystery. In 1954, a 15-year-old girl disappeared while babysitting and has never been seen again.
La Crosse detectives went to Plainfield, Wisconsin, and looked through his farm home and interviewed Gein himself. I talked with one of those detectives 50 years later for a book I wrote about Evelyn Hartley, Where’s Evelyn?
The detective remained convinced that Gein had nothing to do with the tragedy of Evelyn Hartley. I have no idea if he ever played Scrabble.
So there, Mary. It wasn’t that hard a challenge.
Anyone else want to try and stump me with a cultural icon I have to include in this blog? Just email me or make your suggestion in a comment on this post. Since I’m between chemotherapy (it was so 2009) and radiation, I have more opportunities to explore culture as we know it.