In the basement of Seegers Union, between the textbooks and sweatshirts sold in the ‘Berg Bookshop, lives a unique collection. Karen Normann has worked in the bookshop for 33 years and has spent much of that time becoming an aficionado in gathering some very Muhlenberg-appropriate keepsakes: mules.
“There are probably between 60 or 70,” Normann reported proudly when she sat down to talk with The Weekly. Whether they’re sitting on chairs, carefully balanced and lovingly arranged on a shelf, propped up on tables or hanging in the window in the form of stained glass, the mules occupy a good portion of Normann’s office.
The now expansive collection of mules essentially started by chance. “Way back when I was in IKEA, I found the first mule, which was a gray mule,” Normann recalled. That’s the one rule with Normann’s mules: they can range from towels, to stuffed animals, to alabaster statues, but they’ve got to be as gray as Marti the Mule himself. Even those that aren’t gray originally will be painted that way – or at least Normann aspires to paint them. As for the first mule, “He’s wooden with his mane coming out and I saw him and I just… bought it. That was just the first one, and it really just went from there.”
Each one kind of has a story about where it came from. If you pointed at one, I could probably tell you its story.Karen Normann
Mule-buying quickly became a habit. “Any time I was in a store and I saw a gray mule—had to be gray, of course. But I would pick it up,” Normann stated. “And then when I traveled, I would do the same.”
Mules on Normann’s shelves hail from all over the world. A mule-spotted hand towel comes from Greece, a mule-riding Santa from San Antonio, Texas. Postcards, photos and paintings derive from various destinations. Even the places that the mules are purchased from vary: whether they are from Amazon or a mom and pop antique shop, Normann doesn’t turn any mules down.
She seeks mules on her travels—and others have begun to seek them out for her as well. “Friends would start giving me mules too, as just a little gift,” Normann explained. “The tiniest mule that I have, which is made of glass, was from one of my goddaughters. There is another one from when a student worker had gone overseas and she brought it back from Bosnia. Each one kind of has a story about where it came from. If you pointed at one, I could probably tell you its story.”
As for future mule collecting goals, Normann says she doesn’t have any—she seeks no milestones and says that collecting them “has just been fun.” But if you happen to spot a mule while you’re out shopping, you know where to bring it.