A school field trip led Rosalind Vang to a strange place – a house filled with mannequins. She tells us about the house and what caught her eye.
Nothing really happens in the small town of Beloit. Some people don’t even know where it is. So the story of Mike Martin and his mannequins created a sensation that we had to see. Some say Mike built the house, a two -story colonial built in 1963 by himself. Peeling white paint, unstable front steps, and forgotten Christmas decorations welcomed us. We first encountered the mannequins in the living room. Clothed in extravagant dresses and accessorized with sparkling jewelry, every single one seemed prepared for our mobile cameras. Large fake eyelashes sprouted from their glass eyes and their lips were overdrawn with color. I focused on their gallon-sized breasts sticking out of their slim bodies. Racks overstuffed with glamorous gowns lined the dining wall and formal shoes piled onto the floor, marking their territory.
The kitchen looked like something straight out of a 70’s sitcom – very yellow. It was empty except for a white box sitting on the island. It seemed out of place. My eyes lingered on its surface. It read in elegant gold cursive: “Your Wedding Day”. I lifted the top and uncovered a wedding dress. It was slightly discolored with puffed sleeves and lace details suggesting the 1980s. I didn’t have the courage to fully remove it for a more thorough inspection. It felt too intimate and historical. Was this Mike’s wife, Maxine’s, wedding dress? Why’d she leave it? Rumor had it that Maxine packed up her bags as soon as her husband died. Maybe she left the dress here to claim her space, to stop the infestation of her husband’s artistry. Maybe she wanted to leave behind anything that tied her to the house. Maybe it was too emotionally unbearable to take it.maybe it simply lost its value and was considered useless.
We toured the rest of the house, but there wasn’t much else to see. The mundane objects around the estate yearned silently to be seen, while everything mannequin demanded attention. It was the wedding dress, though, that created a lasting impression. Its abandonment overwhelmed me and I oddly felt connected with it. Who discards a dress that marked a milestone? A sacred unification? I guess many do.
In the back of my closet at home, I too have an unwanted piece of clothing: my senior prom dress. In no way do these equate in significance but they served a similar purpose. My prom dress signified the nearing end of youth and a time I spent with someone special. Circumstances have changed. I’m no longer the naive girl twirling on the dance floor. I’ve grown out of that ballgown. Maybe that’s how Maxine felt about her wedding dress. The memories associated with an object never die, but its function can. Not everything from the past holds value or relevance. We just have to be brave enough to recognize that shift and leave it behind where it belongs.
Rosalind Vang is a student at Beloit College.