It started innocently enough. In the '80s, Janet McKane never left the house without a pair of sunglasses. Under the California sun, the shades left white circles around her eyes while the rest was tanned.
Janet’s two sisters started teasing her that she looked like a raccoon, and soon after, a small raccoon figurine commemorated her signature bandit look. The joke gift turned into five. Five turned into 500. And on her 70th birthday, the sisters showed up dressed as raccoons, with 70 additions for the collection in tow.
Today, the number totals 9,804.
“I'll tell you, I just got two more in the mail about an hour ago,” McKane said. “They came from a friend in Minnesota.”
Even with the knowledge of McKane’s extraordinary collection, nothing can really prepare you to walk into her home in Lincoln’s Autumn Wood neighborhood.
Every possible surface has become a display for raccoon items, and the collection isn’t limited to just figurines or stuffed animals. You’ll also find jewelry, art, change purses, fuzzy socks, magnets, cookie jars, candy, keychains, ornaments and apparel meticulously arranged and categorized. A tall bookcase is full of any book that contains a raccoon, and another is full of books where the raccoon is the main character. Binders contain hundreds of raccoon-decorated cards, newspaper clippings and scrapbook pages.
Anything you can think of, McKane probably owns the raccoon version: a yule log, neck pillows, a walking stick, a painted saw. The list goes on. Storage bins in the basement are full of all the things she doesn’t have the room to display.
“In 2010, there was a sale here in town of a woman who had a raccoon collection,” McKane said. “I ended up buying 400 items. After that sale, things just really evolved.”
Many are gifts, but McKane also loves to search for new things.
“Most collectors will tell you that the most interesting part is the hunt,” she said. “And it is. If you find something that's a real treasure, you just get so excited.”
Through the years, notable raccoons in pop culture have added to the scope of raccoon memorabilia, like Meeko from Disney’s “Pocahontas,” Rocket Raccoon from 2008’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and, remember the raccoons from those LA-Z-Boy commercials in the '90s?
Perhaps even more impressive than the collection is McKane’s methodical organization of each and every item, big or small. A binder holds hundreds of pages of spreadsheets cataloging every item, where she got it, and where it’s located. She’s numbered every shelf in her home to help, and the result is something like a Dewey Decimal System for raccoons.
McKane seems to have a knack for this sort of thing, and happily stays busy keeping track of every item that comes her way.
A small box in the basement sits at her work station.
“This is full of things that have lost their number and need to be processed,” she said with a laugh.
McKane’s systematic organization might be related to years of running her own secretarial service in California. Before that, she worked for Rubbermaid for 15 years.
“Now I say I'm retired, but managing my raccoons keeps me pretty busy,” she said.
McKane admits the collection can seem overpowering to some, but it’s her happy place.
“Most people have pictures of grandchildren on the refrigerator, but I have raccoons,” McKane said.
Don’t worry — her grandchildren understand. They’ve grown up mesmerized by the collection and know to call their grandmother whenever they come across any raccoon memorabilia.
“My daughter told me one time, she said, ‘we're your worst enablers,’” McKane said.
That’s the thing about McKane’s collection: to know her means you’ll never look at a raccoon figurine at a truck stop the same way again.
A friend in California once found a raccoon cookie jar at a thrift store. Obviously, it was meant for McKane’s collection. The friend mentioned it to her neighbor, who happened to know some people traveling to Nebraska.
“These friends picked it up, hand carried it on the plane, and brought it over to my house,” McKane said. “I couldn't believe it. I didn't even know these people.”
She guesses she regularly receives raccoons from 15 different states.
“It's interesting to see where they come from, and who has heard about my collection,” she said.
McKane is in contact with only one other serious raccoon collector she’s been able to find who lives in Illinois, and they’ve sent each other many items over the years.
“It is nice to know that there's somebody else out there,” she said.
She often searches online to find other raccoon collectors, but hasn’t had any luck yet.
McKane’s ultimate dream is to someday see her collection in a museum. When she can’t sleep at night, her mind wanders to where it would be and how she would outfit it. Maybe it could be in Tennessee, where the raccoon is the state wild animal. Or maybe right on I-80 in Lincoln.
“I imagine a display of 900 stuffed raccoons in a long glass case, like something from the Museum of Natural History,” she said.
For now, her home serves as a private museum of sorts. There’s even a guestbook to sign if you’re ever lucky enough to get the grand tour.
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