Traverse City Record-Eagle


April 7, 2013

Gaylord museum an exhibit itself of bygone era

GAYLORD, Mich. (AP) — The polar bear is always ready to attack you. The beaver looks stunned you've caught him gnawing on a tree. And the brown bear never fails to sleep through it all.

The animals, forever frozen in place along with dozens of their stuffed friends, are among the exhibits at the Call of the Wild museum in Gaylord, the Detroit Free Press reports.

This unique place, the kind of local roadside attraction that used to punctuate the exits along the state's major highways, is more than just a collection of wild animals — it's also a museum of a lost era of tourism.

The museum hasn't changed much since it opened. There are no flat-screen televisions here, no interactive features, no tour guides.

Instead, self-guided tours take visitors through a darkened walkway that features animals preserved by local taxidermists up to half a century ago and posed in ways suggestive of how they behave in the wild.

Bright-feathered pheasants soar in constant flight behind a pane of glass. A possum perpetually carries its young on her back up a log. Two elk lock antlers in unending battle.

And a bear named Pokey, who's curled up in a sleepy ball in his own display, is designated as your tour guide. The paw prints painted on the floor, leading the way through the museum, are proof of his leadership.

The Call of the Wild couldn't be simpler or cornier. And despite that, or because of it, the museum is immensely popular.

"I would like to think it's the substance, that the heartfelt love of nature is reflected in what we do," said Janis Vollmer, the 65-year-old owner. "We're true naturalists."

Her father, Carl Johnson, founded the museum in 1957 after his trips through the Midwest as a traveling salesman took him to similar attractions and inspired him to open his own.

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