The X-Files’ strange relationship with Wisconsin.
Illustration by Rachal Duggan.
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On one hand, Delta Glen, Wisconsin is a picturesque Midwestern town. Residents have a fierce pride in their local beef cattle economy, high school football, and generational homesteads. On the other hand, (spoiler alert) a local doctor has been secretly injecting the children of Delta Glen with supposed alien DNA as a part of a larger conspiracy to test extraterrestrial antibodies on the human population.
The X-Files has a small footprint in Wisconsin, but conjures some pungent Dairy State flavor in “Red Museum,” the 10th episode of the second season. Originally aired on December 9, 1994, the episode centers around the strange abductions of teenagers in and around Delta Glen. The teenagers disappear for a day or more at a time and later turn up wandering the woods without clothing, disoriented, and bearing the words “He [or she] is One” on their backs.
The sheriff of Graham County, the fictional county in which this fictional town of Delta Glen is located, alerts FBI agents and ‘90s heartthrobs Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) to the abductions. The two agents arrive in the town and the sheriff begins to place bets on who might be behind the crimes. Many focus their suspicions on the local cult, the Church of the Red Museum, and its figurehead Richard Odin, a former doctor who moved from California to the rural town, purchased a 500-head cattle ranch, and converted it into a vegetarian conclave to promote beliefs about soul transference and the end of the world.
As with nearly every episode, film, and offshoot of the ‘90s series, there’s a lot going on in this episode. Children are being abducted, a plane crashes, a peeping tom has been hiding in the walls, ‘90s jean jacket-clad teens are pumped full of testosterone and growth hormones, a cult of spiritualists advocate for the purging of barbarian meat-eaters, and Mulder rattles off this zinger: “Somebody’s been paying to have those kids injected with alien DNA to see how they’d react. It’s been going on for years!”
Oh, and Scully eats an ungodly amount of ribs at Clay’s BBQ.
Unfortunately, there is no Delta Glen, Wisconsin (although, there is a Delta, Wisconsin in the Northwestern tip of the state.) The fictional town likely is modeled after Green Bay, as the sheriff describes the county as a “cattle country” and the main packing plant is the center of many character’s lives, much like the meatpacking industry found in Green Bay. In reality, Brown County, Wisconsin has the second-highest number of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS) in the state. Some aspects of the Delta Glen are familiar to the Green Bay region, but it doesn’t seem quite as large as the urban center of Green Bay. Perhaps an outlying rural community provided inspiration for series creator Chris Carter, who also scripted this episode.
JASD Beef, the fictional slaughterhouse that becomes a central part of the story, was actually the J & L Beef processing plant in Canada, and unfortunately the same is true for the town’s famed Clay’s BBQ, which was shot at a Canadian fish and chips restaurant.
But the episode does capture something resonant about Wisconsin’s places and people. Gary Kane, the 16-year-old high school football star who is abducted in the opening scenes of the episode, calls his younger brother a “butt crumb” and wears a Green Bay Packers long sleeve shirt, looks and acts like most rural high-school kids I can recall from my own upbringing. The aging farmer who is weary of government-approved growth hormones and laments the changing conditions in the cattle industry is reminiscent of the age-old tension in the industry between small farmers and mega-farms.
Mulder and Scully make other visits to the dairy state, but not very many. In the first season’s “Fallen Angel,” a UFO crashes in the (real!) town of Townsend in Oconto County, and Mulder tries to infiltrate the crash site as local and federal officials try to cover it up. In season five’s “Travelers,” police shoot a man in the (again real!) village of Caledonia in Racine County, and his last words uttered are “Mulder.” This leads Mulder down another rabbit hole to find the truth about his family’s past, how far the conspiracy goes, and how it all connects to another rural Wisconsin town.
“Red Museum” has a hidden history: Carter initially planned it as a crossover episode with CBS’ Picket Fences drama series, which takes place in the fictional Rome, Wisconsin (not to be confused with the real Town of Rome in Adams County). Agents Mulder and Scully were supposed to visit the town of Rome, but the idea fell apart because the shows aired on separate networks, FOX and CBS. “Red Museum” is the remnant of this scrapped idea and episode 10 of Picket Fences season three, “Away In A Manager,” is full of alien-cow debauchery.
The town of Delta Glen has not resolved the contaminated beef, alien DNA-injected teenagers, and the hidden cabal behind the affair. File number XWC060361 remains open and unsolved.