Quirky Fun at the DeMoulin Museum
Patrons don’t just visit Greenville’s DeMoulin Museum – they experience it.
Famous for its collection of rare fraternal lodge initiation devices, the museum lets visitors try such inventions as mechanized bucking goats, trick chairs and even a guillotine.
Its unique artifacts recently earned it a ranking on the GoBankingRates website as one of the world’s 16 weirdest museum attractions.
Curator John Goldsmith says the museum embraces its reputation for weirdness.
“Quirky is the DeMoulin Museum’s calling card. It’s not a dry, stuffy place. It’s something you have to experience to get the full effect,” he says.
Although it hooks visitors with its unusual artifacts, it also offers a glimpse into more than 100 years of Greenville’s economic development.
The museum opened in 2010 to preserve the diverse history of the DeMoulin Bros. & Co. manufacturing facility and to honor its founders, employees and products.
Now one of the nation’s leading makers of marching band uniforms, DeMoulin Bros. & Co. still plays a significant role in Greenville’s economy.
[infobox alignment=”right” title=”If You Go…”]
Location: 205 S. Prairie in Greenville
Spring hours: Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment with tour groups welcome
Admission: by donation
Phone: (618) 664-4115
Likewise, the museum includes a prominent display of band uniforms, with plans to open an exhibit dedicated to the 1996 Olympic band. DeMoulin Bros. & Co. made 300 uniforms for the band, whose members toured four years to promote the Atlanta Olympic games and even made an appearance in presidential inaugural festivities.
The company’s production history has also incorporated church furniture, choir robes, and graduation caps and gowns. The museum contains examples of all, Goldsmith says, including an honorary graduation gown worn by late actress Ruby Dee.
DeMoulin Bros. & Co. began in 1892 as a maker of lodge paraphernalia and regalia. Founder Ed DeMoulin’s membership in a local fraternal lodge inspired the business, and brothers, Erastus and U.S., lent their own expertise.
“By 1900, the facility employed around 100 people, the majority of whom were women. That was unusual for the time,” Goldsmith says.
By then, however, the facility already made a number of fabric and embroidered items. It made its first band uniforms in 1897 for the Greenville concert band.
“The DeMoulin brothers were visionary in their ability to see a need in the immediate community, then respond on a national scale,” Goldsmith says.
More than 125 years later, their legacy survives in the company, the community and the museum. The company, in fact, enticed a visit from magician David Copperfield in 2002.
The museum curator finds evidence of the brothers’ personalities in his favorite artifact, a patented strength-testing device called the invisible paddle machine. When a novice straddled the device and picked up the handles to test his strength, it fired a blank, shot water into his face and released a paddle to hit his rear end.
“Because so much is going on with that single device, it illustrates the DeMoulin brothers’ variety of skills, such as innovation, creativity and mechanical ingenuity,” Goldsmith says.
The business supplied catalogs specific to each fraternal lodge for more than 30 years and filed patents for multiple inventions.
The mechanical goat holds its place as the first and perhaps best known. They made models that buck, rotate and even spin like a Ferris wheel. Examples of each can be seen – and maybe tried – at the museum today.
In fact, the DeMoulin Museum has something for many tastes, whether interests run toward fraternalism, marching band history, or church and graduation regalia.
“The business had an early motto of ‘fun at the lodge,’ so we have a motto of ‘fun at the museum,’ ” Goldsmith says.