Goat.
Well-worn Ferris Wheel Goat. Terrified riders evidently held onto its neck for dear life.

Museum of Initiation Pranks

Field review by the editors.

Greenville, Illinois

Although small and modest, the DeMoulin Museum is one that we'll remember long after larger, slicker attractions are forgotten.

Trick Chairs - Down He Goes!
Haw haw! Collapsing chair from the 1930 DeMoulin catalog.

A hundred years ago the DeMoulin Co. was the world's biggest provider of fraternal lodge initiation pranks. Its owners -- three gadget-loving brothers -- felt that being an Odd Fellow or a Shriner would be more memorable if recruits had to pass dramatic, terrifying tests. "They took it to a very sophisticated level," said museum curator John Goldsmith of the DeMoulins' pranks. "They also had a crazy sense of humor."

Anti-Mason propaganda fueled the brothers' ideas, particularly the belief that Masons were a secretive cult that blindfolded and forced its members to ride a goat -- a symbol of Satan -- as part of their initiation. To poke fun at this, the DeMoulin Co. produced a variety of fake "bucking" goats over the years, with names such as "Rollicking Mustang" and "Fuzzy Wonder." The "Ferris Wheel Goat" was the apex of this technology: a goat mounted inside a large wheel that would send blindfolded initiates bouncing and spinning on stomach-turning rides.

Knife throw.
Museum board member Jeff Leidel is the latest victim of the Knife Throwing Stunt.

The various goats in the DeMoulin museum are all well-used; obviously this prank was very popular (We even found one in a museum in Wisconsin).

Bucking goats, however, were among the DeMoulin's mildest inventions. The "Molten Lead Test" demanded that initiates plunge their hands into what they thought was boiling metal. The "Embalmed Meat Test" forced them to eat rancid-smelling meat that they were told came from the corpse of George Washington (He was a Mason). Lodge wannabes endured realistic branding, or served as a target for a guy throwing knives. Tests of strength unexpectedly sprayed their faces with flour or water, or smacked their butts with exploding cudgels. Innocent-looking chairs and stairs would collapse; brotherly handshakes delivered powerful electric shocks.

Butt paddle.
Museum curator John Goldsmith smacks Greenville's city manager with an exploding cudgel.

Those who refused their tests were dragged to a guillotine splattered with blood and hair; it would explode just as the blade stopped short of their necks (DeMoulin sold a fake decapitated head as an accessory).

Women who visit the museum, said John, will sometimes roll their eyes and ask why grown men did these things to each other. "It was meant to be fun," John answers. "And boys will be boys."

John walked us around, demonstrating some of the pranks. The museum, he said, is a popular with kids, who really love the ominous guillotine and the butt-smacking strength-test machine. "You can't spank kids in school any more," said John, "but you can bring them to the DeMoulin Museum and they'll volunteer to spank themselves."

Skull.
The Pledge Altar. Initiates were greeted with a pop-up skeleton that spit water in their faces.

Exhibits cover the whole history of the company, including various fires and tornados that wrecked the factory and its infamous stench incident of 1900, where a boxcar of rotting goat horns threatened to stink out the entire town.

DeMoulin is still in business in Greenville, now as one of the world's biggest suppliers of band uniforms. But it was the initiation pranks that gave the company its start, and the DeMoulin brothers threw themselves into it with gusto, supplying not only the pranks themselves but also the creepy costumes worn during the initiation rituals, special peek-proof blindfolds for the victims, and scripts to follow to make the prank ceremonies more believable and frightening.

"The DeMoulin Company made lodge initiation fun for almost everyone involved," said John (The lone exception was the poor guy being initiated). "It brought every man down to the same level. And when your initiation was over, you got to do it to somebody else."

Museum of Initiation Pranks

DeMoulin Museum

Address:
110 W. Main St., Greenville, IL
Directions:
DeMoulin Museum. I-70 exit 45. Drive north on Hwy 127 for two miles into town. Turn right at the stop sign onto S. 3rd St. (following Hwy 127). Drive six blocks. Turn right onto Main St. Drive two blocks. You'll see the museum on the right, in the blue-fronted building.
Hours:
Summer F 1-3, Sa 10-2, Su 2-4; off-season Sa 10-2, or by appt. (Call to verify)
Phone:
618-664-4115
Admission:
Donation
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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September 26, 2017

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