My life is completely complete. My Wisconsin visit exceeded all expectations (which were admittedly high). I'll be posting about all of the mind-blowingly awesome stuff that I got to see and do, but this one has been burning a hole in my internets.
On the recommendation of my friend Faythe, Claire and I went to see Sam Sanfillippo's amazing taxidermy museum, located in the basement of the unassuming Cress Funeral Home in Madison. We met our new friends Tom and Matthew at the funeral parlor, then we were guided past the chapels and viewing rooms to a door in the basement. When we crossed the threshold, we all stoped dead (no pun intended) in our tracks. The room was filled floor to ceiling with taxidermy fish, raccoons, badgers, birds and SQUIRRELS! Over the years, Mr. Sanfillippo, who was a director of the funeral home, amassed a huge collection of squirrels that met with unfortunate accidents (ranging from automobiles to golf balls--leave it to a funeral director).
According to this post at RoadsideAmerica.com, The squirrel dioramas were all conceived by Mr. Sanfillippo and executed (sorry...again, no pun intended) by Vito Marchino, obviously the most talented taxidermist on the planet. It all makes sense to me now. The inner lives of squirrels were always opaque to me when I watched them scurry around the park, but after seeing them at work and at play, their lives and loves have deeply moved me. Mr. Sanfillippo's dioramas command respect--many are mechanized and kinetic, but they are all arranged with massive attention to detail.
At a carnival for ground squirrels, a cotton candy vendor hawks his wares very successfully as squirrel families circle the merry-go-round and other attractions, including a nod to adult proclivities, the "Topless Girlie Show". The pretty ladies that dance are actually wearing MORE clothing than all of the squirrels in the diorama...but that's probably what makes the entertainment exotic. Cowboy squirrels peacefully coexist with dinosaurs, the carnival-goers happily go about their business with an old-school plastic safari hunter in their midst.
Never does Mr. Sanfillippo lose his ability to surprise. Just when you think the three-legged goose is the ultimate attraction in the room, a huge taxidermied trout wearing a waistcoat and a monocle grabs your attention. Our group spent close to an hour wandering through the museum. Unfortunately, Mr. Sanfillippo is getting on in years and wasn't available to show us through the collection in person, but the staff at Cress obviously adore the museum and were very kind to us. If you'd like to visit (if you're reading this, I'm SURE you want to visit), just give the funeral home a call at 608-238-8406 to make a reservation. If there is no service going on, they'll be happy to escort you through their little slice of heaven.
If you're not going to be able to make it to Madison for a while, take heart! I posted 36 of my best photos of the museum to my FLICKR account for your amazement. See you in Wisconsin!