Many of us have used the word “zoo” to describe a place full of people or animals, but this guy’s house would definitely fit into the literal interpretation.
Norman Sam Elder was many things: an explorer, artist, writer, accomplished equestrian, and exotic animal owner. He was also considered to be one of Toronto’s eccentrics. When he was a little boy, his father founded Elder Carriage Works, the first carriage business in southern Canada. Elder himself founded a museum inside his home in 1967 and filled it with exotic animals and artifacts collected from his travels across the world.
Elder also owned a summer cottage in Muskoka, but it was abandoned and reclaimed by nature after his death in 2003. Before all the buildings on the property were bulldozed, though, a group of urban explorers and photographers from Ontario Abandoned Places were luckily enough to see it for themselves.
During his lifetime, Elder went on many expeditions to remote areas of Papua New Guinea, Namibia, the Amazon, the Congo, the Arctic, Madagascar, and other countries. He collected many artifacts from his travels and displayed them on the main floor of his home, which served as the Norm Elder Museum.
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The most notable artifacts included a reconstructed panther skeleton, a collection of turquoise malachite eggs, fossilized elephant bird eggs, unexploded military mortar shells, an elephant skull with the jaw bone, dried elephant dung balls, a stuffed dingo, and human skulls from the Ganges river.
Some were actual live animals, including a fruit bat, three lemurs, several chinchillas, and multiple ferrets. He also had two large pythons and a boa constrictor that lived in the basement and were said to escape to other parts of the house.
He even had a Galapagos Islands tortoise named Tony, who roamed around on the first floor and walked up to people in the room. When he died, he was frozen before being taken to a taxidermist, who stuffed him and returned him to the museum.
It wasn’t just the inside of his house that was extremely interesting, though.
The front garden of the museum was enclosed by an eight-foot iron fence that he had bought from the Riverdale Zoo. Underneath the back garden was a granite-walled tunnel. The entrance to the tunnel was a secret doorway under Elder’s bed and it led to a room known as the “tomb.”
He liked to sketch and paint in his Muskoka cottage, where he collected old National Geographic magazines.
In this L-shaped building, he kept reel-to-reel films and many photo albums documenting his travels.
The place looked untouched and forgotten when the group of urban explorers went there in 2015. They found no signs of vandalism.
Some of Elder’s paintings were beautiful. Others were very haunting.
At this point, you’re probably thinking this is a guy you’d definitely want to meet if he was still around, but he was hiding a disturbing truth.
In 1997, Elder was accused of sexual assault. A year later, he pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting 10 young men between 1970 and 1980, and was sentenced to two years in jail.
There’s no proof that any of this happened on the cottage property, but these photos of young men were found there.
On October 15, 2003, Elder committed suicide in Toronto by hanging himself. In the fall of 2015, his entire property (including his paintings, sketches, and photo albums) in Muskoka was demolished. His museum was gutted and renovated.
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