I ended my Mile Marker weekend at the quirky and delightful DeMoulin Museum in Greenville, Illinois.
I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect from a museum devoted to DeMoulin Bros and Company – known today primarily as makers of band uniforms. But so far Pat White from The Tourism Bureau ILLINOISouth had sent me to places that were just right. Trusting Pat, I walked into the DeMoulin Museum with an open-mind, prepared to be interested. Interested doesn’t begin to describe it. I was fascinated.
Today DeMoulin Bros. is the largest manufacturer of band uniforms in the country. (If you marched in your high school band, the odds are that you wore a DeMoulin uniform.) But their roots are much weirder.
Fraternal lodges like Elks and Shriners were coming into their own in the 1890s. There were more than one hundred different societies – all competing for members. In 1892, the national head of the Modern Woodmen of America was looking for a way to draw new members. He called on local photographer and inventor Ed DeMoulin for help. DeMoulin and his brothers suggested that the Woodmen needed to add some humor to their initiation rites. They suggested the “molten lead test:” candidates were told that to join the lodge, they had to plunge their hands into a bubbling pot of molten lead, an illusion created with the chemical reaction of dry mercury powder and cold water. The molten lead test was a success, and a decades-long tradition of hazing new lodge members was born. So was DeMoulin Bros. and Company, which became the leading inventor and manufacturer of fraternal paraphernalia, including spanking machines, collapsing chairs, and other devices designed to cause discomfort in the initiate and hilarity among his friends. Their signature item was the DeMoulin goat, a vehicle halfway between a rocking horse and a tricycle certain to give a blindfolded rider an undignified ride.
The museum would be interesting even if it were no more than a collection of DeMoulin devices, but proprietor and curator John Goldsmith is as interested in the history of the company as he is in the devices. And he tells the story well. Kids will like the opportunity to ride the goat. Adults will be interested not only in the devices (which are weird and wonderful), but in the story of a company that has successfully re-invented itself over and over. The museum’s catch phrase sums it up: Invention. Imagination. Industry.
*#ILMileMarkersTip* Give yourself an hour or two of laughter: go ride the goat at the DeMoulin Museum.
– Pamela Toler, Illinois Mile Marker
Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including The Tourism Bureau ILLINOISouth, the Collinsville Drury Inn and the Days Inn Vandalia. Want to follow in Mile Marker Pamela Toler’s footsteps? Travel the below map!
View Illinois Mile Markers: Collinsville Itinerary in a larger map
Meet the Mile Marker:
She loves the thrill of exploring places of historical significance that link today with times of past. She blogs about history, writing, writing about history — and the occasional road trip through history — at History in the Margins.