For five decades, two fundamental forces of the universe squared off against each other in the tiny town of Wykoff -- and few have known about it.
The first of those forces: Messiness. Its champion: Edwin Julius Krueger: lifelong Wykoff resident, proprietor of the Jack Sprat Food Store, carefree spirit, and a man who never threw anything away.
The opposing force: Tidiness. Its champion: The ladies of the Wykoff Progress Club: overs of order, neatness, and no-nonsense adult responsibility.
For almost 50 of his 91 years, Ed lived like a slob and got away with it. He moved into the small Jack Sprat Food Store in 1933 and otherwise did nothing particularly important in his life. He was beloved as Wykoff's most colorful character. But after 1940, when his wife died, he was very, very messy.
The women of Wykoff bided their time. When Ed died in 1989 he left his store -- and its decades of accumulated debris -- to the town with the stipulation that it be turned into a museum. Perhaps he thought his messiness would outlive him. But the women of Wykoff -- mostly German-American and all very tidy -- had other plans.
Connie, a proud member of the Wykoff Progress Club, shows us around Ed's Museum. "His dream was to have a museum. He kept everything." Although the place is ostensibly a showcase of a half-century of stuff that most people threw away, Connie spends as much time describing the cleanup as the exhibits.
"Here are some photos of the way the place looked when we got here," she says, pointing to snapshots of narrow pathways winding through mountains of clutter. "We hauled out six truckloads of trash, six truckloads. I still can't believe it."
Ed did not have the eye of a curator. He didn't save for the sake of preserving important artifacts of 20th century Americana, he just saved whatever came his way. Thus Ed's Museum is a hodgepodge of oatmeal tins, Hollywood pinups, and decades of junk mail, all now efficiently organized by the women of Wykoff, who do not attempt to make sense of it. Their mission, as they see it, is simply to preserve Ed's collection.
Over here is a wall of player piano rolls. Over there are pile after pile of TV Guides, every issue from 1954 through 1989, stacked by year. "Ed loved to get mail," Connie tells us. Ed's considerable string collection now occupies a drawer near the 1937 lollipop tree, still with some original lollipops. Remembering the photos of all this stuff piled in giant heaps, we ask Connie: Does she really believe Ed wanted his mess organized so efficiently? "Of course," she answers.
The second floor has been restored as a pre-sloppiness model of home comfort a half century ago. One room contains every toy Ed's son owned, a dense arrangement that covers all surfaces, with all the original packaging.
Down in the basement, more stuff. A humidifier hums loudly in a room stacked to the ceiling with every magazine Ed ever subscribed to. Labeled boxes hold all of Ed's pocket planners, his check registers, his collection of Smokey the Bear posters. On one shelf, above a stack of vintage cardboard soft drink and laundry soap floor displays, we notice a small cardboard box sealed shut with strapping tape. "That's Sammy," Connie tells us. "Ed's cat." Sammy, we learn, died in 1986. "Is he stuffed?" we ask. "No," Connie answers. "He's just in there."
Would Ed really have appreciated the whirlwind of stacking, organizing, and sealing-in-boxes that's blown through his store? Connie thinks so... but we're not so sure. Ed really, really loved his freedom to be sloppy. Even the clothes he wore were ragtag, which naturally was a source of consternation for the Progress Club. The women of Wykoff therefore made it a habit to buy Ed new clothes every Christmas. They thought Ed appreciated it.
Then, after Ed died, they found their presents -- years' worth of shirts and slacks -- in their original wrapping, unopened.