Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ghastly Gein Pops Up Again

Ed Gein died of cancer in a mental institution two decades ago, but writers concocting stories about horrible events for the Halloween season continue to resurrect him. People who lived in Wisconsin 50 years ago, as I did, would prefer the world forget about Gein.

Younger generations may not have heard of the killer, grave robber, and mutilator of bodies who lived in a farmhouse he decorated with human remains near the small community of Plainfield, Wisconsin. But they can get the idea from a series of fictitious monsters patterned after him. Gein’s story was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock”s famous thriller, “Psycho.” He also was the model for Leatherface in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Leatherface wore clothes made from human skin; so did Gein. More recently, Gein inspired the terrifying “Buffalo Bill” character in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Gein admitted, without a trace of remorse or concern, to two murders and exhuming more that a dozen bodies from the local graveyard. He made lampshades, bowls, a shirt, and other items from the cadavers. The local sheriff investigating the disappearance of a woman found her in Gein’s farmhouse. Her beheaded and disemboweled body was hanging upside down from a ceiling beam. The discovery was made in November 1957, the year I graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

I never encountered Gein, nor did I help those who burned his farmhouse to the ground shortly after he was arrested. But I unknowingly passed too close to him for comfort many times over a four-year period. Perhaps I exaggerate the proximity, but nevertheless the annual resurrection of this creature scares hell out of me.

Plainfield is about the halfway point between Madison and my hometown. I, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, drove through the area whenever a trip was made to or from home by auto. One time, three of us stopped in a Plainfield bar for a beer. Two men who stopped in a Plainfield bar a few years earlier never were heard from again. Although he was known to favor dispatching or mutilating women, Gein was suspected of doing the men in. He never admitted guilt regarding the missing men. There were several other mysterious disappearances in the area over several years.

Thank God I never hitchhiked home from school. That probably was due more to circumstance than common sense. Thumbing a ride was an acceptable way to travel in those days. Neither we youngsters nor our parents thought much about the danger involved. Nowadays, parents worry much more, and hitchhiking is rare. Teenage travel may be less adventurous, but it surely is safer.

If you are among those planning a pilgrimage to look for spooks where Gein’s farmhouse stood, or in the Plainfield cemetery where he is buried near many of his victims, please do us all a favor this Halloween. Stay away, and let Ed stay dead.

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