Monsters Among Us: Ed Gein – Inspiration for Horror!
Note: This article was originally posted for our “100 Days of Halloween” campaign in 2014. It has been updated in 2017.
We continue our #100DaysofHalloween campaign with the series “Monsters Among Us.” We’ve looked back into history a bit, and now we come to a “familiar face” (you’ll understand that term more, shortly) in more modern history. One that has inspired some of our most terrifying figures in modern film, literature, and even video games.
“The real world is where the monsters are.” -Rick Riordan, author of The Lightning Thief
What do Buffalo Bill, Norman Bates, and Leatherface all have in common? Ed Gein.
A now well-known serial killer from Wisconsin, Ed Gein was born to an alcoholic father and a hyper-religious mother. Despite how that might sound at first, his father had little to do with Ed or his brother Harry, and the children were raised solely by their mother.
Augsusta was a harsh woman with stringent beliefs that bordered zealotry. The overbearing mother would continually berate Ed for making friends at school, condemning the boy to a lonely life. Particularly, Augusta preached adamantly against sexual immorality and would warn her boys not to interact with girls or women who were promiscuous, something that would shape Gein’s life in the years to come.
When Augusta died, Gein’s world fell apart. Despite her restrictive upbringing, he loved his mother more than anyone or anything else. After her death, he boarded up his mother’s room, as well as the living room and parlor. Augusta died in 1945, and the following years between 1947 and 1957, Ed Gein would embark on a life filled with horrifying implications.
Gein was a smaller man in stature, quiet and timid. He was given the nickname “Weird Ed” due to his odd demeanor and the strange smiles he would give people. Rumors sprouted from children who visited his house that he harbored shrunken heads in his room. It was a rumor people would ask Gein about, at which he would simply smile, often playing along with the story.
Although a strange little man, he was seen as kind and harmless with a possible learning disability. Ed was a regular at the local hardware store, doing odd jobs for his neighbors to earn money. His family’s farm fell into neglect, as Gein lived on government subsidy. He would be asked to babysit regularly.
He got along with children well, possibly because he was still mentally very much a child. Ed poured himself into books, particularly ones that dealt with human anatomy, and regularly read stories of Nazis and cannibals.
“During that search in 1957, Ed Gein was revealed to be more than just a strange little farmer.”
It was when Bernice Worden went missing in 1957 that the people of Plainfield, Wisconsin made the connection. Bernice was the owner of the hardware store, and her son was an officer and unofficially acted as the chief fireman. Evidence tying Gein to her disappearance sent the authorities to search for her on Gein’s property.
During that search in 1957, Ed Gein was revealed to be more than just a strange little farmer.
Grave robber, murderer, and inspiration for some of the most gruesome fictional characters in modern history became his legacy.
Bernice Worden’s body was found in his barn, hung upside down and headless, her body splayed like a hunter might dress out a deer. If this was not enough, Ed’s house was even worse.
Inside, authorities found Gein’s collection of human anatomy, drawn from his confirmed victims as well as local graves he had robbed. These included a bowl made from a human skull, human skin hung like clothing in his closet. Ed Gein was attempting to create a suit that resembled his mother, which he intended to wear. (Norman Bates, anyone?) There were also masks peeled from human faces (Leatherface!), a box filled with female parts, a belt made from nipples, and other sickening trophies.
Here’s a list of items authorities discovered when the Gein house was searched:
… Human skulls mounted upon the cornerposts of his bed
… Human skin fashioned into a lampshade and used to upholster chair seats
…Human skullcaps, apparently in use as soup bowls
… A human heart
… The head of Mary Hogan, a local tavern owner, found in a paper bag
… A ceiling light pull consisting of human lips
… A “mammary vest” crafted from the skin of a woman’s torso
… A belt made from several human nipples, among many other such grisly objects
… Socks made from human flesh
“Eddie” Gein was confined to a mental hospital later that year, deemed mentally unfit (Ya think?). He died in that facility at the age of 77, almost thirty years later. The orderlies there described Gein as a kindly small man up until his death, whom they couldn’t imagine hurting anyone.
The acts and atrocities of Ed Gein became the inspiration for popular characters in fiction and film such as: Norma Bates (Psycho), Leatherface (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs), and more recent creations such as Bloody Face (American Horror Story), and Eddie Gluskin of the video game, Outlast.
The story of Ed Gein gives us modern insight that still today, there are monsters among us.
You might also like:
Podcast: Monsters Among Us: Elizabeth Bathory
Podcast: Monsters Among Us: H.H. Holmes
Podcast: Monsters Among Us: Friday the 13th Edition
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Photo: Ed Gein By Mistyday22 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons