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Odd Wisconsin

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This room in the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum contains many of the items on display for the Odd Wisconsin exhibit. This room in the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum contains many of the items on display for the Odd Wisconsin exhibit.

You never know what's behind the gray door in the basement of the Wisconsin Historical Museum.

There's the X-ray machine that used to be used by shoe salesmen to measure your feet in a shoe store.  Not the safest concept, but certainly odd.

"Yea, they were after several decades, outlawed," said Joe Kapler, a self-proclaimed history geek.

It's just one of dozens of weird items going up on display here at the museum. Kapler sums up the new exhibit this way.  "The unusual and unexpected stories of Wisconsin history that really fill in and make it rich, interesting, intriguing, fun, scary," he said.

Scary might be this beauty parlor machine from Blanchardville. Women would actually plug it in and hook themselves up.  Why?  It's really an ancestor of the curling iron.

There's a dress that looks harmless enough.  What makes it odd?  "It's actually made out of paper," Kapler pointed out.  "Women could buy napkins, paper towels and for a couple of extra dollars they threw in this matching paper dress."  He said they wouldn't be able to wash it.

One of the oddest items is actually making a retro comeback for real.  The aluminum Christmas tree.  A Wisconsin company used to be the world's leading aluminum tree manufacturer.

There's also not your typical tuxedo jacket, full of sequins.  It's the equivalent of a game worn jersey, complete with Liberace sweat stains.  Kapler said the stains indicate its authenticity.

It gets weirder.  These are actual medical instruments from the 1800's.  Or the toilet... ahem... 'earth closet' from the time before we ever had indoor plumbing.

Then there's the poster advertising the auction of Ed Gein's personal property.  More people ask for a reproduction of this poster than any other at the Historical Museum.

Other bizarre items include skunk oil, the vest worn by a legislator shot on the State Senate floor (bullet hole still there), the top of the engine block from the van housing the bomb that blew up Sterling Hall, and a piece of a tree that was once the tallest pine in the country taken from Forest County.

There's stuff.  Lot's of stuff.  Including the oversized switch blade given to state legislator John Fox Potter before the Civil War.  It's Kapler's favorite.  "Here's this massive, oversized knife," he said.  "It's a gimmick right?  Well sort of.  But when you dig into its story you get into amazing stories about Wisconsin and America and all the issues leading up to the Civil War."

The exhibit will run for a couple of years.  The museum will keep rotating in new stuff, odd stuff, to keep it fresh and keep you coming back to see what bizarre item is next up for Odd Wisconsin.

The exhibit officially opens October 3.  The historical museum is located on Carroll Street on the Square in Madison.

CLICK HERE to email story ideas to feature reporter Joe LaBarbera.

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