Fitting as it may be, a funeral home in a small Wisconsin town is an unlikely place to discover the front door of the Psycho house. But for years, mourners at the Dallmann-Kniewel Funeral Home in Rib Lake, WI passed through the actual, original door seen in the classic 1960 film. It’s a twist only Hitchcock himself could write that a prop from that movie inspired by Ed Gein should return to the place where the real Norman Bates committed his crimes.
The original set of the Psycho house was a facade with only the front and left sides, the two sides you actually see in the film from the Bates Motel parking lot. The ornate front door was used for close-up shots of the entryway from the front porch and views from the interior, which was built on the Universal Studios lot on the Stage 28 soundstage.
So how did this iconic piece of movie history end up in a Wisconsin funeral home?
It seems that the Bates house interior set on Universal Studios Stage 28 was dismantled sometime in the early 2000s. The owner of Dallmann-Kniewel purchased the door from a dealer in LA, had it shipped to Wisconsin, and is said to have installed it as the front door of his mortuary.
You can see what may be the door in a 2008 Google Street View capture. It doesn’t appear to be the right size or design, so it may have actually been an interior door.
The Psycho door remained there in the funeral home for years, until the owner sold the business in 2012, and the new owners wanted a more energy-efficient door.
They listed it for sale on Craigslist in 2015, where La Crosse resident Dan Estep discovered it.
He shared the details in a September, 2015 forum post titled “Searching for Old Doors on Craigslist can be CrAzY!”
“I spend a fair amount of time searching Craigslist for antiques and old house parts, sometimes for toilets, butt that’s another story,” Dan wrote. “About a month ago I was looking around on Craigslist in the Antique section. While there I saw a very large Walnut Victorian door for sale. The ad title read, ‘Own a piece of movie history’! As I read their ad further it said, ‘The original door from the Alfred Hitchcock movie, ‘Psycho‘. This was the door used on the front of the Bates Motel.’ I loved the style of the door and I thought I might be able to use it here on the Vincent house. I really didn’t believe that it could be the actual front door to the Bates’ motel, used in the movie. I was right, it wasn’t the door to the motel, it was the front door to the Bates’ house.”
Dan bought the door and contacted Profiles in History, an LA auction house that specializes in film props and other Hollywood memorabilia.
He packed up the door and headed west, where it sold on September 30, 2015 for $22,500.
The Psycho house is considered the most recognizable movie house of all time, and the door is the only piece of the original set known to still exist. Profiles in History called it “one of the most important Hitchcock relics one could ever hope to find.”
We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes
The irony of the Psycho door being used in a Wisconsin funeral home is that Norman Bates was directly inspired by Ed Gein. Author Robert Bloch was living about 30 minutes from Plainfield in Weyauwega, WI when the horrors inside Ed Gein’s house were revealed in 1957. Bloch was shocked that such horrendous crimes could be committed in a small community without anyone’s knowledge.
He published his novel Psycho in 1959, and Hitchcock’s film premiered the following year.
Dead Pals of Sam Sanfillippo
Wisconsin is no stranger to weird funeral homes. Sam Sanfillippo of Cress Funeral Home in Madison used to have a large collection of taxidermy on display for mourners to appreciate, including a giant blue marlin, a dolphin, and numerous dioramas with chipmunks and squirrels doing things like sitting at the bar, playing poker, and enjoying a “Topless Girlie Show.” There was even a pair of albino squirrels driving a pink Barbie car.
The collection was auctioned in 2012 to oddities collectors who wanted a piece of the quirk. A case with a squirrel riding a bucking bronco and various cowboy chipmunks can be found at the Woolly Mammoth Antiques & Oddities shop in Chicago.
The funeral home hasn’t completely given up the showmanship, however, as you can drive past and see an antique horse-drawn funeral carriage on display.
More Architectural Horror
Another interesting architectural horror find came about in 2017, when an estate sale was held at Wisconsin’s own Amityville Horror house, which included some props left behind from the production of 2005 remake. Among them were the icon quarter-round windows from the gambrel roof facade that gave the historic mansion it’s signature sinister appearance.
They were being stored in the attic.