Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Of mice and mourners (and taxidermy)

In a funeral home in Wisconsin, past the visitation parlor and a rack of pamphlets on cremation, down a set of dark stairs, a dead squirrel rides a plastic horse. His tiny mouth permanently frozen in a cowboy's holler, he raises his straw hat with one paw. A trio of dead chipmunks in grass skirts are frozen in a hula dance, paws raised above their heads. A sign above their beach hut reads "topless girlie show." The scene is partly lit by a lamp with a base made out of four animal legs (hooves still attached). All of this death is Sam Sanfillippo's life. The funeral home's former undertaker, the 87-year-old is a life-long hunter and fisherman. The basement is filled with an odd collection of hunting prizes and roadkill that arrives by mail. Mr. Sanfillippo has spent years organizing the collection into artistic tableaus. His taxidermist cousin, Vito, stuffed most of the subjects. The purpose of the collection, he says, is twofold. In part, it teaches kids "how to fish and hunt and get their minds off dope." It also entertains grieving relatives. "It cheers them up," Mr. Sanfillippo says.

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