Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, prepare to be awed, mystified and perhaps perplexed by artifacts of the abnormal found right in your backyard!
A hairy homage to love lost, the cradle of celebrity beginnings and a wealth of water fowl are just a few of the astounding eccentricities hiding in your area. These conspicuous curiosities unearthed at local museums immortalize intriguing individuals of the area's past and shed unconventional light on local history.
Now, step right up, come one, come all to ... oddities of the Metro East!
Widower's watch fob of human hair
Where: Collinsville Historical Museum
The story: Mourning the loss of wife Elisabeth Behle, 1800s Collinsville resident Christian Behle thought up a way to remember her — and the time.
"He made his watch fob from his wife's hair," said Betty Wrigley, cataloger for the Collinsville Historical Museum. "Years ago instead of having a wrist watch, men carried a pocket watch with a chord from a button hole to a pocket. It could be made of all sorts of things, he chose human hair."
An intricately woven braid from a long lock of Elisabeth Behle's brown hair connected Christian Behle's pocket watch to his shirt. Fastened to the fob was a locket with a photo of the deceased wife.
The artifact was donated to the museum by the granddaughter of Christian and Elisabeth, Myrtis Bowers, who was one of the founders of the Collinsville Memorial Library Center.
"It wasn't uncommon for people to clip a lock of hair from a loved one as a remembrance," Wrigley said. "But I haven't seen one made into this."
How to see it: 406 Main St., Collinsville
618-344-1834 or collinsvillemuseum.org
Walls of water fowl
Where: Mascoutah Heritage Museum
The story: Harvey Pitt loved hunting — particularly water fowl. So when he passed away a few years ago, he wanted to make sure his large collection of mounted water fowl (some prizes of his own hunts, other collected) was well-cared for. So he donated it to the Mascoutah Heritage Museum.
"What we have here are examples of many of the water fowl in the U.S.," said Carol Klopmeyer, of the museum. Poised for flight, dozens of ducks are already on display, but Klopmeyer said there's even more in storage.
"When the collection got here, it took up the entire room," she said.
Also on display are some of Pitt's decoys — dummies carved from wood and painted to look like ducks. Hunters set these out in water to attract targets. Tucked away in an alcove behind the cases of quakers is a recreation Pitt's desk where he crafted decoys for his company, P and D Decoys. Klopmeyer said decoys are primarily manufactured today, rather than handcrafted.
Though not the museum's most popular exhibit, the collection is well received — particularly by hunters.
"A lot of kids are interested in it — until they see the ducklings," Klopmeyer said.
How to see it: 306 W. Main St., Mascoutah
618-566-9774 or mascoutahheritagemuseum.org
Pencils preserve past
Where: History Museum of Monroe County
The story: Sick of watching the O.J. Simpson trial back in the 1990s, Edd Kueker sought some distraction in his garage.
"I had two gallons of pencils sitting there and I started thinking about what would it look like if I put those pencils together," Kueker recalled. "Somehow they got off into all these buildings."
More than a decade later, Kueker has constructed some 50 pencil buildings — more than 30 of which are on display at the Monroe County History Museum.
All of Kueker's buildings are reproductions of historic structures, many in Monroe County. One is of the Halfway Tavern, which stood halfway between Waterloo and Columbia in the 1700s. It took 42 hours and 68 pencils to construct. Also represented is Dutch's Tavern, the first hotel in Waterloo that was demolished in 1881 and the area's first school house.
"It definitely adds a bit of history," said Dale Wetzler of the Waterloo Museum Society Board. "These are buildings are centuries old."
Kueker builds the replicas using photos. Most of the mini materials are donated.
"Anybody that's got some pencils and finds out what I'm doing gives me a handful," he said. "One of the janitors at a school picked up pencils they found on the floor and gave me a box full. The kids just throw them away, they have no sense of value of what they are."
How to see it: 724 Elaine Drive, Waterloo
Tombstones with no tomb
Where: Old Six Mile Museum
The story: Outside the Old Six Mile Museum are three tombstones without any graves. The museum occupies the oldest structure in Granite City — a house that once belonged to pioneer William Emmert. The tombstones that do not belong to Emmert, or any of his descendents, ended up on the property by chance. And just happened to belong to the property's original owner.
"When we were beginning to clean up the museum, a gentleman drove up with his truck and had three tombstones in the back," said Jim Engelke, who runs the museum.
The man in the truck was tearing down his barn, and in the process ripped up what he thought was a concrete floor only to discover the slabs were actually tombstones turned upside down. Thinking the museum might want the grave markers that date back to the mid-1800s, the man donated the tombstones to the museum.
"Here it was the tombstones of the three people that sold Emmert the property," Engelke said. The stones intended to mark the graves of Henry Hayes and two of his family member somehow ended up as the floor of a barn. Today they are resting on the property once owned by Hayes. As for the bodies?
"We don't really know," Engelke said.
How to see it: 3279 Maryville Road, Granite City
618-731-3101 or oldsixmile.wordpress.com
The rail splitter smirk
Where: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
The story: Something there is no shortage of are portraits of President Lincoln. So Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's likeness of the 16th president should seem like no big deal — except that the portrait managed to catch him with a grin.
"He hated posing for paintings," said school museum Director Eric Barnett. "He's not known for being a good-looking man. He usually has a dour expression, but here he's pretty and smiling," referencing Lincoln's stubble-free face.
The portrait, by artist Alban Jasper Conant was used for many of Lincoln's campaign materials. Barnett credited Lincoln's smile to his company during the portrait sitting in 1860.
"While this was being done he was joking with friends," he said, adding the portrait is said to be one of Mary Todd Lincoln's favorites.
SIUE obtained the portrait by accident in the 1959 sale of Shurtleff College.
"The artist sold the painting to the elders of the Baptist Church of Alton, who started Shurtleff College" said Barnett. When the college was sold to SIUE, they forgot about the painting and left it off a list of items to be excluded from the sale.
"Somebody had forgot it in a closet," said Barnet, adding the portrait was covered in smoke soot when it was uncovered. After careful restoration, SIUE decided to hang the portrait where Linclon can smile upon the university's scholars — the library.
How to see it: 30 Hairpin Drive, Edwardsville
618-650-2996 or siue.edu/community/museum.shtml
Beedle's baby bed
Where: O'Fallon Historical Society Museum
The Story: Before Academy Award-winning actor William Holden made it big, he was little Billy Beedle of O'Fallon. Living in a house at 319 N. Cherry St., the family packed up and headed west while Holden was a youngster.
"When they moved to California they left his baby bed with the neighbors," said Brian Keller, of the O'Fallon Historical Society. In storage for many years, Holden's childhood neighbors donated his baby bed to the museum where today it sits tucked in a section of the museum clad with movie posters and memorabilia of the silver screen star.
In a small shrine to Holden, the museum also displays an alumni award given to Holden by Pasadena City College, vinyl records, photographs, some of Holden's films on VHS, and even a letter penned by Holden expressing his apologies for not being able to attend the town's centennial celebration. Sitting atop powder-blue sheets on the baby bed is a copy of Holden's birth certificate.
Keller said he's unsure if any of Holden's kin has been back to O'Fallon to see the baby bed, but it's one the must-see items of visitors to the museum.
"Pictures with the bed," he said, "are very popular."
How to see it: 101 W. State St., O'Fallon
618-624-8409 or ofallonhistory.net
Contact reporter Sarah Baraba 618-344-0264, ext. 105