Wisconsin has some legendary monsters: the Beast of Bray Road, aka the Wisconsin Werewolf, the Hodag, and Ed Gein among them. The latter, the only one of the three to qualify as human, is a celebrity, even if he’s infamous instead of famous, famous for all the wrong reasons. He served as the inspiration for the Buffalo Bill killer in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and his life story inspired both THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and PSYCHO. He may well be the most famous person to ever come out of Wisconsin. (Can you think of any others? Willem Dafoe, Orson Welles, Gene Wilder, and Fredric March (who won the Oscar for his portrayal of DOCTOR JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE) are all from the Badger State, as are authors Laura Ingalls Wilder and Thornton Wilder (no relation) and architect Frank Lloyd Wright, among numerous others. But did you *know* they were from Wisconsin? I didn’t. I did a google search. With Ed Gein, I knew that he was from the little town of Plainfield. And even after reading the long list of celebrities who hail from Wisconsin, I would still argue that Ed is more famous. How many people on that list have inspired more movies? None.
Like it or not, what Ed Gein did is history. History, capital H. And we humans tend to commemorate scenes of great tragedy. I’ve visited numerous Civil War battlefields where many people died and where terrible things happened. Should we not commemorate a place if the number of victims is smaller? How many people have to have died at a particular location before we commemorate it? The difference of course is that some people fear commemorating in this sense is tantamount to celebrating, and what Ed Gein did should never be celebrated. Let no reader then misconstrue my writing about Gein as an attempt to glorify his crimes. Such is not my intent. Nor do I mean to imply any disrespect to Gein’s victims. But Gein himself was also a victim in this case. He was, quite literally, a madman. Whereas someone like Ted Bundy was just evil, Ed Gein was insane, and thus not wholly responsible for his actions. I can and do feel sorry for him, while at the same time I find his actions abhorrent and sickening. Yet the story fascinates, does it not? In a way that few stories do. I knew, if I was going to be visiting Wisconsin, that I simply *had* to pay a visit to Plainfield, and to Ed Gein. And so I did.