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Mystifying Marvels: Spotty the Dog at Alexandria's Runestone Museum

Curled on a rug at the foot of a vintage stove in the homestead exhibit at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria is a brown and white fox terrier; His name is Spotty, and he is stuffed with a story.

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Shelly Nelson, Runestone Museum attendant, sits next to Spotty the dog in the Homestead exhibit at the Alexandria Runestone Museum. Nelson is one of the newest employees at the museum, joining the team last summer. Contributed photo

Editor's note: This is the first in an Echo Press occasional series, "Mystifying Marvels," that will spotlight unusual exhibits and attractions at local museums and historical places.

Spotty — one of three Alexandria attractions to be featured on Roadside America — is a stuffed fox terrier donated to the Runestone Museum sometime in the 1970s, according to Amanda Seim, executive director for the museum. It's the only domesticated taxidermied animal in the museum.

The audio clip that accompanies Spotty's display talks about how pet taxidermy was not that uncommon back in the day. Especially if you go back to ancient Egypt when people requested their pets be preserved with them during mummification so the animals could accompany them into the afterlife.

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Spotty, the dog rests at the foot of a stove in the Homestead Exhibit at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, waiting for his story to be heard. Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

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Pet taxidermy in the United States did not reach popularity during the 1800s. There was a rise in spiritualism during this time — the belief that the spirits of the dead exist and have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living — which led to a fascination with death.

Seim says kids are much more open to the idea of Spotty, while the parents are often astonished. She also says some think he is cool, while others find him creepy.

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Amanda Seim

"But he is definitely popular, and he opens up a discussion about death," said Seim.

According to a story written by Henry Moen and featured by the dog's display, Spotty's story starts on a wintry white country road on a frigid day, sometime in the 1950s. Spotty wandered, hungry and alone. Until he came upon the old farmhouse of Mrs. Ella Pearson, where he whined until Pearson finally heard his plea and took him in. She fed and warmed him until she eventually placed him back outside said that he better get on back to his home, but he didn't have one.

Pearson ended up keeping Spotty and had him officially licensed as hers in 1958, and the two were nearly inseparable. Wherever she went, he went. From riding in the car to visiting Pearson's sister. The times when Spotty was left at home, he waited for her to return, greeting her at the yard's edge with a "woof."

Years in his new home faded by, but so did his senses; his eyes became blurry, his hearing had become non-existent, and he developed sores throughout his body. Spotty got older and was eventually put to sleep. The dog's death was hard on Pearson. She needed him as much as he needed her.

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Spotty was sent to Mrs. Fred Plagman, a local taxidermist, to be mounted "real nice." After hearing the story of Spotty, Plagman agreed to do the mount free of charge.

The written story at the museum ends with this: "He was not only a dog but a smart friend to us all. There was always a woof and a wag of his tail to greet us, so you see, we could not just throw him away," said Plagman.

Spotty and other artifacts were donated to the museum by the Moen family to the museum in the 1970s so the memories can be preserved and the stories retold.

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The Kensington Runestone stands on display at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria as visitors wander through the exhibits. Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press

Today, Spotty stays curled up, resting next to the vintage stove in the homestead exhibit, waiting but not alone. Thousands of visitors a year come to the museum and marvel over his presence; some try to pet him but just like everything else at the museum, to keep him preserved, they are asked not to. Spotty is also one of three Alexandria attractions featured on Roadside America. The others are the Kensington Runestone and the statue of Big Ole.

"Spotty is unique," said Seim. "He highlights the bond we have with dogs, a special bond that tells a story."

Gallery: Spotty the Dog

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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