Even though he’s been dead for six years, Donald E. Stephens remains the Dear Leader of Rosemont, the little patch of farmland near the airport that, as its mayor for 50 years, he developed into Chicagoland’s center for cheesy entertainment. You can’t go too far without running into something that was named for him—like, say, the Donald E. Stephens Museum of Hummels.
Surely you’ve heard of Hummel figurines. Those petite, grandma-friendly ceramic sculptures, designed by a German nun, that depict small, chubby, unblinking children doing adorable things like climbing apple trees, hiding behind newspapers, and running away from home? Yep, those things.
Stephens first became enamored of Hummels on a trip to Germany in 1960. By ’84 his collection had outgrown his house, so he established the museum in a strip mall, where it remains today, nestled between a post office and a liquor store.
Individually, Hummel figurines straddle the line between kitschy and creepy. But when 4,000 of them are staring at you from display cases—where they’ve been grouped by mold, virtually identical except for subtle variations in paint—they are terrifying.
The largest and most terrifying Hummel of all, the eight-foot-tall Merry Wanderer (aka the umbrella-toting runaway), used to guard the door of the museum. He did his job so well he’s since been moved to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. But there are hundreds more of him to take his place. No other museum is as well protected.