A couple of weeks ago I did something I had never done before: I helped chaperone a field trip for my son’s second-grade class at St. Paul Lutheran School. I’ll probably never be invited to do so again, as I offered an alternative education schools – especially parochial ones – don’t typically provide.
The class went to the Department of Natural Resources’ fish hatchery in Wild Rose, a small village in Waushara County that I’m somewhat familiar with, having been born at the hospital there. The hospital still exists, although it no longer has a birthing center.
To get to the fish hatchery for the field trip, we traveled through Plainfield, another Waushara County village. Because it was Halloween time, the boys in my vehicle were talking about Jason, Freddy and other fictional horror characters. Inspired by their talk and the location of where we were, I decided to give them some of the history of Plainfield’s most famous citizen – Ed Gein.
For those unfamiliar with Ed Gein, he was a man who killed a Plainfield hardware store clerk one morning during hunting season 55 years ago, and then took her body back to his rural home. Officers investigating the woman’s disappearance traced her back to his home where they found a number of other not-so-pleasant discoveries tied to grave-robbing he had committed. The murder, his grave-robbing and at least one other possible murder attributed to him a few years earlier spurred national media coverage and later inspired some of the fictional horror characters the boys in my vehicle were discussing.
The people of Plainfield, who still don’t like to talk about Gein to this day, burned his house down in an attempt to erase the horror he had suddenly scarred on such an extraordinarily ordinary village. The legal process in Waushara County worked quickly to get him out of its system, too, as a judge quickly found him unfit for trial and sent him to a hospital for the criminally insane. (He was convicted in 1968 of the murder after the initial ruling was overturned; however, he was sentenced to life in a mental hospital after it was determined he was legally insane.)
Having worked in Waushara County as a reporter for a decade, I knew many of the people who dealt with the case and knew Gein. All of them, like the people of Plainfield, talked little about the case. During my tenure there someone stole Gein’s gravestone in the Plainfield Cemetery and tried to sell it on eBay; they were later busted for the crime and the gravestone was recovered. The sheriff stored it in his office, realizing that to put it back on his grave would only invite others to do the same.
I told the boys in my vehicle all of this, along with the fact that my son’s great-grandfather used to volunteer at the mental hospital where Gein lived during his final years. He played checkers with Gein, saying he was just like anyone else. “I’d bring him home for dinner,” he often told his wife. She, of course, told him that would never happen.
The boys were fascinated with my lesson, and on the return trip wanted me to give it again. I obliged, once again leaving out the gorier parts of the story.
I told my wife about our discussion later, and she quickly pointed out that it may not have been an appropriate lesson. It’s two weeks later and I haven’t been reprimanded by the school or any upset parents about it, so I’m assuming I’m in the clear. Then again I haven’t been asked to chaperone any of the upcoming field trips.