After nine years and 1,900+ posts, I have sometimes wondered how many more genuinely weird places there are in the world. We’ve seen Buddhist hell. A museum of ancient Peruvian erotic pots. A park where paper is made from elephant poop. A museum of counterfeit goods.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is no small thing for me to say this, but today’s destination is in a league of its own.
Named after the Demoulin company, the Demoulin Museum (pronounced deh-MOLE-en) covers the history of products the company has made over the years. Since its founding in 1892, the company’s made marching band uniforms, graduation caps and gowns… and initiation machines. While not directly maintained by the company, the museum opened in 2010.
Wait – what the heck is an initiation machine?
From the late 19th to early 20th centuries, fraternal societies and groups were the cat’s meow. Naturally, these societies didn’t just let anyone join. When they did let someone in, there was often a prank to be played on them. It was a uniform prank, so everyone that joined had it played on them, from the restaurateur to the mayor. From the Modern Woodsmen of America to the Fraternal Order of Eagles to the Daughters of Pocahontas, these societies were a classic part of American life.
The exact prank would vary by the organization and the machine they had, but each of them was designed to scare the newcomer in a harmless way. This one is the ‘lifting and spraying machine’, and it came with a suggested script:
Officer (to candidate): My friend, before advancing you further into this order, there is one requirement. It would be wasting time to consider your application if you cannot successfully pass the examination connected with a test we are about to make. The Head Officials of our Order have wisely passed a law prohibiting men of weak physical condition from joining our ranks. There is no better method of determining the real facts than by an exhibition of your strength.
In order to qualify and meet the requirements of this test, it is necessary that you lift the requisite number of pounds scheduled according to your weight. We have for this purpose an automatic self-registering machine. If you do not make good, we shall be obliged to dismiss you and refund your initiation fee. Please take your position at the machine as instructed by the attendant while I note the results of your strength.
The initiate would then grab the handles, fit their feet through the holes on the bottom, and PULL! When the machine registered a strong enough force, it would fire a blank, then spray water in the victim’s face.
And then there’s the spanking machine. Much like the lifting and spraying machine, the spanking machine starts by having the victim give the members a show of strength. They would stand on the carpeted platform, face the handles, then pull up. How hard they pulled up is how hard the paddle would rise to meet their butt. “You can’t spank the kids in school, but let them use the spanking machine, and they’ll line up to spank themselves,” said John Goldsmith, the museum curator.
The decades of band uniforms produced by the company break up the gags a bit. The Demoulin company tagged and labeled everything, prompting people that find old stuff to call them…
A trick chair from the turn of the century — the unfortunate victim is asked to sit down, the chair collapses, fires a blank, and rings a bell.
Ride the goat! The victim would mount the goat while the officials would push from behind. The wheel at the top of the post worked in a very similar way, only the victim would be tied in and rotated upside down!
No, they’re not real knives… but it does make for a hilarious shot. The victim here has knives ‘thrown’ at them, possibly with a blindfold or a spotlight behind the knife thrower to make the action more believable. The knives actually fold out from behind the wall, and used to produce a little electric current to make it feel as if your arm had been cut…
And then there’s the guillotine, which could be ordered with a blood-spattered cloth and a realistic decapitated head made of papier-mâché. The device was made of tin to look like polished steel, and was designed to where the blade can’t drop lower than a few inches of the victim’s neck.
The fear of lawsuits and the closing of organizations means these devices are now in the past… but this place aims to keep their spirit alive. The guide is great at making the history here come alive, so bring your kids and give this one-room museum at least an hour to enjoy!
Name: DeMoulin Museum
Address: 110 West Main Street, Greenville, IL, 62246 (GPS: 38.891917, -89.411973)
Directions: From I-70, take exit 45 to IL-127 N, then drive about 2.2 miles (3.5 km) and turn right onto Elm Street. Turn left onto E Main St and look left for the museum
Hours: September through May: Saturdays only 10am-2pm, June through August: Friday 1-3pm, Saturday 10am-2pm, Sunday 2-4pm
Admission: by donation
Phone: (618) 664-4115
Ratings out of 5 globes (How do I rate destinations?)
Ease to arrive:
Worth the visit:
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Also published on Medium.