A Preserved! Daytrip in Northern Michigan

03

I went on a family trip through Sault Ste. Marie Michigan this August for the purpose of taking photographs related to taxidermy in the local area. Below I provide comments where I feel that they might be helpful or interesting, but largely this is meant to be a pictorial account of what one can regularly experience in Northern Michigan.

1. We began with a trip to Walmart. It is a supercenter and as such open 24/7 and can self-sufficiently support the entire city in the event of a zombie invasion.

2. For those unfamiliar with American Walmart, there’s always a colourful collection of various recreational weapons for sale under the title of Sporting Goods: rifles, crossbows, blades, airsoft guns. This Walmart recently installed a new taxidermy display. To get to this area of the store, I had to pass through the following departments (in order): Back-to-School, Alcohol, Optometry/Vision Centre, Womenswear, Bathroom Fixtures, and finally Sporting Goods. The taxidermy wasn’t for sale. It was credited to a local business, Cassel Taxidermy.

3. The taxidermy appeared to be punctuating the government enforced signage. A fierce looking turkey defies customers to try and purchase rifles or pistols without appropriate proof of age (18 and 21 respectively). I think the installation actually represents Walmart’s relationship with and investment in its surrounding community. In Sault Ste. Marie, it’s common for local businesses to sponsor little-league teams, or let the Salvation Army dress like Santas and collect donations in the doorway. It felt kind of like that, only in this case the benefactor was one of its rural, hunting-enthusiast clientele.

4. A faux head. It seems that they mixed up dead things with plastic surrogates. For sale were decoys, some of which are also displayed on a nearby shelf.

5. This was my last photo before I was told that I was ‘…not allowed to shoot in the store.

6. Next we drove to Oswald’s Bear Ranch, a black bear ranch that has been running since 1984. The place houses around 29 black bears divided into areas for cubs, young bears, males, and females. The bears have ample space, wooded and grass, man-made waterfalls, and cement hibernation chambers that also help them to keep cool in summer.

7. They primarily all paced back and forth along the fence, however, because visitors are invited to feed the bears apples by throwing them over the fence.

8. There is a small gift shop that also houses miscellaneous memorabilia, including a photo of the (semi) famous Titus, the nearly 900lb black bear and previous ranch resident. Titus was considered to be the heaviest black bear in the Americas and most likely the world. A monument of Titus was sitting outside the shop.

9. There was also a bowl of bear fur to touch, and imitation claws and t-shirts to purchase. The Ranch made clear that they were not permitted to sell any bear parts, as they are not in any way ‘farming’ them. Because of this, the area was a taxidermy-free zone.

10. The ranch was recently in a legal battle to stay open on account of someone filing an animal cruelty charge on account of the ranch’s penchant to sometimes feed the cubs Fruit Loops cereal as treats, to keep them busy while people get their pictures standing next to them. Here we are taking a photograph with a cub, who was fed Fruit Loops cereal on a spoon. The cubs were located in a cement enclosure, with their names and birthdays noted on a plaque outside.

11. The regulatory hand of the authorities was made very apparent through a series of seemingly conflicting signs. I am not sure if it was on purpose, but the signs that they were forced to install were often spelled incorrectly.

14. Maybe it is just the nature of ranches, but I could not help but feel like this was more of a collection of animals rather than a conservation of them. It was both curious and sad as the bears appeared to be treated well but were still treated and in captivity nonetheless.

27. Just a few minutes down the highway was a place called Northland Taxidermy. It was completely unlocked when we arrived but no one seemed to be around. We also called the phone number and no one picked up.

29. Everything was covered in dust. After about 25 minutes in the building we decided to head back to the van. At this point a man dressed in hunting gear came out of the woods and introduced himself – the son of the guy who started the place. He said that he almost exclusively works on customers that bring their own animals for stuffing. Therefore, this taxidermy was also not for sale.

32. The taxidermy was interspersed with related trophies and accolades, featuring both father and son.

33. The place was crammed full of mounts, with many resting on the floor due to lack of wall space. There were heaps of pelts laying in one corner, as well as a pile of taxidermied otters, foxes, and cats.

35. Black bears mounted on the wall, just a few minutes away from the bear farm.

38. Next to the door was a box of taxidermy technique videos and books. I bought one on deer mounting. The book recommends soaking animals in Coleman’s fuel to keep the fur/feathers/skin fluffy. That likely explains the smell in the rooms that we explored.

40. A few minutes away is a family restaurant/bar with a taxidermy theme, called Antlers. The original name of this restaurant was The Bucket of Blood Saloon. During prohibition days, it posed as an ice cream parlour until their immense profits blew their cover.

41. There was no apparent order to the display, other than furry / smooth things near the customers and pointy things near the ceiling. The animals were exotic and decades old, supposedly the result of the previous owners’ prolific bartering skills. Currently they are maintained by Cassel taxidermy (the same as the work in Walmart).

42. ‘Some of the animals you can find here are: a 2-headed calf, a polar bear, white wolf, the infamous fur-bearing trout, albino deer, wild boars, moose, otters, wolverines, several fresh and salt water fish species, numerous antler racks from various deer, elk, and caribou. Don’t forget the pride lions that keep watch over our guests.  Make yourself at home and explore over 64 years of taxidermy,’ says the menu.

43. There was a sense of humour about some of the placement, with a tiny spotted deer sitting on a shelf above the highchairs.

46. A glass polar bear display sits postered over with the local middle school basketball season schedule.

47. A lion sits above a bar with some trophies awarded to the restaurant for good service.

48. I tried to capture an image of an old lady sitting down to a late lunch, underneath a giant tortoise skull impaled with two American flags, a bald eagle, and an attacking boa constrictor. This really summed the place up to a T.

49. A friendly wolf guarded the exit of the restaurant.

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I was not allowed to shoot in the store...