Snapshots of Heritage

May 31, 2012

750 Seventh Street

Late last year, I heard the first murmurings of a substantial dry plate glass negative collection at the Sauk Prairie Area Historical Society, the majority of which had not yet been scanned, much less identified, nor entered into the museum’s records. Around that same time, Jody Kapp, director of development at SPAHS, procured a grant through Heritage Credit Union that enabled the development of an educational photographic program for elementary school children as well as the purchase of a new scanner, with which the century-old negatives could be digitally preserved.

Ochsner bird collection at Tripp Museum in Prairie du Sac

To kick off the program, half a dozen groups of second and fifth graders visited Tripp Museum this spring to learn about the history of photography. They were first introduced to several types of vintage photo processes and taught about composition. Afterwards, everyone had an opportunity to compose drawings, using what they had learned in the presentation, and to design a cyanotype, which developed outdoors and was then taken inside for a quick bath. These are now on display.

Children (and adults!) who visit this summer are invited to use one of the museum’s digital cameras to take photos, which can then be emailed to the photographer and may be posted to the historical society’s Facebook page. “Our goal is to not only help people understand the importance of photography in capturing the stories of a people,” says Jody, “but also to interest them in learning how to make their own well-thought-out compositions so they too can help preserve the people, places, and things that are important to them through photography.”

School kids working on cyanotype creations

In late March, I began working with fellow society members and volunteer archivists, Jack Berndt and Verlyn Mueller, helping to scan, identify, and catalog the vast glass negative collection. We have thus far archived 132 images and believe that there are approximately 300+ left. Some of the photos had been previously printed, and it was a great pleasure to realize that the society has the originals, while the majority have not really seen the light of day in more than a century. Farm scenes, newly-built houses, social venues, and landscape portraits are common themes, and it was certainly expected that those sorts of things would be uncovered. Less expected are what appears to be an 1899 trip to New Orleans, photos of photos, and touching memorials for deceased community members.

Many of these images have been printed and enlarged, and they are on display now through November 17 in the Mueller Gallery on the first floor. The entire collection, as it is unveiled, will be presented as a slideshow that you can see when visiting. The public is invited to help identify the people, places, and events depicted in the images. In conjunction with this exhibition, there are a variety of vintage cameras and photo-related equipment on display, such as an old US Army projector, several magic lanterns, varied types of photography, and much more.

Verlyn inspecting a dry plate glass negative

Tripp Museum is located at 565 Water Street in Prairie du Sac and generally open Fridays and Saturdays from 9 am – 1 pm, or throughout the week by appointment. Call 608.644.8444 or email ( for more information. While there, be sure to check out the Bradford Bison [Bison Occidentalis], on long-term loan from the University of Wisconsin Zoological Museum, which was discovered locally by then seven-year-old Joshua Bradford in 2005, and returned to SPAHS this year. There are also tickets available for the Bradford Bison Quilt Raffle, drawing to be held at the “Brunch with a Bison” community party on Sunday, July 1, 2012.

Ed Steuber gives a driving lesson near Prairie du Sac[Edna Graff and Edwin Steuber, Stella Carpenter and Leta Bernhard Stelter]

Jodi Anderson

Highway 41 Revisited

May 31, 2012

Route 66 is the mother road and mother lode of American auto travel mythology.  Wisconsin is not on the fabled route that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, but we are not without a mythic highway of our own.  You can’t get your kicks on Route 66 here, but you can get it done on Route 41.

That’s what millions of travelers have been doing ever since 1926 when the federal government pledged to expand funding for a modern “trunk” highway system that would run from coast to coast and border to border.  East-west roads received even numbers, ergo 66 for the Chicago-Los Angeles route. North-south roads were odd-numbered, ergo 41 for the route that ultimately connected Copper Harbor in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Miami, Florida.  It was one of only a few highways  in the country where a traveler could spot a moose at one end and an alligator at the other–with no more than  2,000 miles in between.

Sign at the northern end of Highway 41 near Copper Harbor.

A ribbon of smooth concrete, with two lanes divided by painted stripes visible in the dark, and with identifying signs mounted within reasonable distances to keep drivers from getting lost, the 1920’s U.S. highway system was state of the art for its day.  Much has been written about the primitive state of American roads prior to the construction of the Interstate System in the 1950s. We all know the story of how President Eisenhower, recalling an all but impossible cross country journey with military vehicles in 1919, vowed to build a new system once he moved into the White House.  American roads were terrible in 1919, but had Ike made his road trip ten or so years later, his opinion might not have been so negative and our current highway system might not be the same.

The difference between 1919 and, say 1929, was federal funding.  Realizing that the automobile required better roads than horse-drawn wagons and that the states could not be relied upon to create a uniform system of roads, the federal government first offered the carrot of regular funding in 1917.  The program was expanded throughout the 1920s. Wisconsin, for example, told the feds it would need money for over 5,000 miles of urban, rural and cross-country highways and, eventually, got it.

Route 41 was number one in Wisconsin. It connected the most populous part of the state, starting at Kenosha and Racine, then north through Milwaukee and on to Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Appleton, Green Bay and Menominee. Then it was on to the wilds of the UP and down to the shore of Lake Superior.

It was a vacationer’s route. Chicagoans heading north to the Wisconsin lakes came up 41, then turned off onto adventurous  state routes to Waupaca, Oneida, Vilas and other resort counties.  Snow birds went south, through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia, down to Naples on Florida’s Gulf Coast. There 41 turns straight east across the Everglades to Miami, still two lanes, still flanked by ditches filled with waterfowl and ‘gators easily spotted out the car window.

One difference between the highways of the 1920s and the Interstates of the 1950s, is that the highways ran through villages, small town and cities. Their purpose was to link downtowns to downtowns.  In Chicago, for example, Highway 41 was and still is Lake Shore Drive.  Appleton ran it down College Avenue. Milwaukee followed a different course, choosing to run its stretch of 41 on 27th Street. It wasn’t on the lake, but still in the heart of the city.

Historic Highway 41

Small towns vied to bring the new highway down their Main Street. The term bypass, unheard in the 1920s, first reared its ugly head in the  early 1930s and bits and pieces of Route 41 were moved to the outskirts. The death knell for down town commercial districts started to sound as soon as the highway moved out of town. It was only a matter of time before the Interstates demolished and/or carved up  urban neighborhoods and pulled downtown stores to malls positioned off the exit ramps.

It you look carefully you can still see relics of the old Route 41 in Wisconsin.  The heavily remodeled or tumbled down remains of cheese stores, root-beer stands, gas stations that sold only gas, and mom and pop  motels with a string of rooms fronting the road and the “office” in the family home nearby.

Route 66 has a legion of fans who preserve its history. Route 41 has one too, at least in Milwaukee. The annual gathering of Historic Highway 41 will take place on Saturday, June 2 on 27th Street.  Go to Get it done on 41.

Portal Hawthorne

May 29, 2012

Although it is bordered by major transportation arteries, the Hawthorne neighborhood in Madison seems sheltered and quiet.  At the center is the heart, Hawthorne Elementary School, a welcoming place with a large, grassy playground, plenty of trees and plenty of happy faces.  The school a culturally diverse east side school where 68% of students qualify for subsidized meals.  And the school and community are home to new symbol of their rich culture and cohesiveness.

The Hawthorne Kiosk project was over 3 years in the making.  Doing something with next to nothing takes time, as does involving all those great students and their community.  The term Kiosk is a bit of a misnomer – this is a large, colorful, involved mosaic structure that embodies a spirit of place.  It offers a lot more than messages.

ImageThe clay tile mosaic kiosk was inspired by the rich history of vernacular mosaic artists in Wisconsin.  The original plan was to hire an artist to oversee the project but funding never materialized, so Hawthorne art teacher Julie Olsen rolled up her shirtsleeves and volunteered for the task.  “The school’s visionary art teacher had met challenge after roadblock after delay by keeping her vision clear and her project open to embrace the community,” said Anne Pryor of the Wisconsin Arts Board.  “Out of a combination of planned process and responses to needs that developed, the kiosk was born of many hands working together to add a fabulously unique art object to their community.”Image

To prepare, Julie put a lot of time into researching vernacular artists, past and contemporary. She spent time with folks at Shake Rag Center for the Arts in Mineral Point and Grandview near Hollandale. She studied with a variety of artists from Madison to Fennimore. All the people she consulted with are her mentors, she says.

Hawthorne Elementary students spent three years making tiles with images describing the unique aspects of the neighborhood, their landmarks, and the people and qualities of their community. Middle and high school students at East Madison Community Center assembled the tiles into mosaic story blocks.  Parents and neighbors helped complete the tiles in community art sessions over the summer.  And art teacher Julie was the glue that held it all together.  As beautiful as the finished product is, clearly the process was as notable as the outcome.

“All sides of the kiosk (even the undersides) are embellished with ceramic images and lettering Imagethat speaks of the people in this place,” observed the Arts Board’s Pryor after the dedication.  “It is a reflection of the Hawthorne community, anchored at the elementary school but including many other rippling circles of nearby residents. Its sturdy decorative frame will support information sharing between the school and community, with the ceramic-embellished posts housing glass cases where notices and messages will go.”

The Hawthorne Kiosk represents a unique community arts partnership involving the Hawthorne Neighborhood Association and Hawthorne Elementary School.   The City of Madison Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development chipped in with a Neighborhood Grant Program grant and, of course, the youth from the East Madison Community Center represented a super partnership as well.

The Hawthorne Community Kiosk was dedicated at a school and community event May 15, 2012.  You could easily tell by the crowd there that it has helped reestablish ties between the school, residents and community organizations. The project catalyzed neighbors, families and children, with the common goal of creating a beautiful structure that enables them to post events in English, Hmong, and Spanish, which will continue to improve engagement of all area families in neighborhood and school events.

Anne Pryor weighed in onImage the larger picture.  “Art supports communication – yes.  Art supports community building – yes.  One person’s vision and determination can envelop others and benefit the greater whole – yes. Artists tend to be people with vision and determination – yes. Thank God for creativity working on behalf of community.”

The kiosk is a portal through which the children welcome the community to their space.  Community members can use this gateway to reach out to each other.  And it is appropriately placed near a school, because there is a lesson there for us all.  “My community became a lot bigger,” said Julie Olsen.

If you’re in the area, take some time to visit the Hawthorne Kiosk.  It is best viewed from the Lexington Avenue parking lot of Hawthorne School, 3344 Concord Ave, Madison.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale WI

Follow the links below for information on vernacular artists:

Narrow Larry’s map of vernacular art sites:


Building Memory: Milwaukee’s War Memorial

May 25, 2012

When the Milwaukee Art Museum recently announced that funds would be dedicated to restoring the War Memorial building, I had reason to smile.

I smiled because it is a good building that will get some well-deserved attention. The last time I visited the museum, the depredations of time were evident on the reinforced concrete wings that establish its strong presence overlooking Lake Michigan. That kind of wear is inevitable in a building that is now 55 years old. But it must be corrected.

War Memorial

The War Memorial when built in 1957.

Designed by the modernist master Eero Saarinen, the building was created as a memorial to those who had died in World War II and the Korean War. It was also the new home for the Milwaukee Art Center, created from the merged Milwaukee Art Institute and Layton Art Gallery.

The original functions of the building were clearly delineated with the War Memorial above and the art museum below. Part of what makes this a good design is that Saarinen kept the view to the lake open between the stone-covered base and the raised wings which cantilever in four directions. Good as the design is, it has been overshadowed by the spectacular 2001 addition designed by Santiago Calatrava.

The smile I had upon reading the blog post also came from deep memories of the building. When I grew up in the Milwaukee suburbs, I enjoyed visits to the city and especially the lakefront. My first visit to an art museum was in this building, I had dreams of becoming an architect and the War Memorial was unlike any other building I saw. It was modern and bold. It made a big impression.

As a budding architect, I spent many hours creating my own buildings using anything at hand—wooden blocks, Scrabble tiles, game boards, paper towel tubes—as well as building toys. I used one of those commercial building sets to construct my take on the War Memorial with its dramatic cantilevers. After all these years, I was able to locate a photo of my efforts.Model Building

Looking at my model now, I can see that, like a real building, it accepts the limitations of the materials at hand. It’s the work of a boy more inclined to imitation than originality—a flawed, but sincere attempt to explore an idea.

Saarinen’s War Memorial planted a seed in me that has germinated in unexpected and satisfying ways. While I never became an architect, I’ve never lost my interest in buildings, their designs, their histories and their place in our communities.

–Michael Bridgeman

Note: The Journal-Sentinel’s Mary Louse Schumacher has written a blog post about the War Memorial Building, its history and its importance to Milwaukee.


Liberating New Orleans

May 3, 2012

U.S. Navy warships anchored off New Orleans, April-May, 1862. Fires on the bank were set by rioters from the city.

In late April and early May of 1862, the United States Navy and  Army liberated New Orleans.Many inhabitants of the “Queen of the South,” did not see it that way. A week earlier, after running past the guns of Fort St. Phillip and Fort Jackson downstream, Admiral David Farragut and his flotilla of ocean going warships dropped anchor off Jackson Square.

The Queen was not amused. Upon receiving notice that the Union battleships were on their way, the rebel troops ordered to defend the city abandoned their positions. Disorder ensued. Mobs careened through the city, looting shops and warehouses, and burning military stores, ships at anchor and bale upon bale of the cotton that was the city’s economic lifeblood.

Farragut dispatched two couragous naval officers to accept the city’s surrender. They walked up from the river landing on streets lined with “All the vagabonds of the town, thieves, ragpickers, abandoned women, the inhabitants of the slums, shouting, ‘Shoot them! Kill them!’  The officers reached the post office–United States property–raised an American flag on the rooftop, then beat a hasty retreat back to the fleet.

Farragut had the firepower to liberate New Orleans by destroying it, but never considered the option. He controlled the river and could wait for the army to come to town. That army, under the command of General Benjamin F. Butler, was waiting in transport vessels at the mouth of the river.

Butler was one of the more colorful of Union military leaders. A Massachusetts attorney and politican, Butler had led the Bay State regiment that was the first unit to defend Washington D.C. in the opening weeks of combat. Later, while in command in Virginia, he had applied the concept of “contraband” to slaves who had fled to Union lines. When rebel officers, under a flag of truce, demanded that runaway slaves working on southern fortifications be returned to their “owners,” Butler stated that, if these men were “property” used in acts of rebellion against the United States, they could be seized and held, just as if they were firearms, wagons or mules. On the other hand, if they were not property, the men could travel as they pleased and were free to cross the Union lines. It was a legal dilemma no slaveholder could resolve.

Slaves, first in Virginia, then throughout the south, could not resolve it either, nor did they care. Butler soon had to deal with a flood of human “contraband” seeking freedom with his army. It was only a matter of time before the flood spread up and down the battle lines.

To escort him when he landed at New Orleans, Butler gave preference to men from his home state, the 31st  Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He also selected the Fourth Wisconsin Volunteers because they had the best band in the army.

Upriver the naval vessels came to the landing at the foot of Canal Street. The 31st Mass disembarked and, with bayonets fixed, pushed back the threatening crowd of “vagabonds”. Next came General Butler and his wife Sarah, herself displaying admirable courage. Then came the color guard of the 31st and the band of the Fourth Wisconsin, followed by the rest of the regiment. The soldiers formed a hollow square around the Butlers and, as the band struck up a rousing version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,”  they all marched  up Canal Street to the United States Custom House.

The street was littered with the remains of a week of looting and rioting along with the rioters themselves. The Union troops were under strict orders to maintain their lines and not respond to provocation. This was not easy, as Sergeant Guy Pierce of the Fourth Wisconsin recalled.

Sergeant Guy Pierce.

He “was left general guide of the first platoon which brought him near the curbstone…The mob was pouring out upon the Yankee ‘cut throat’ as they called them, the worst epithets one ever listened to, but we were under orders to keep our tempers, but when a fine-dressed fellow leaned over the edge of the walk swinging his hat and says ‘hurrah for Jeff Davis, you G-D Northern S-O-Bs,’ the butt of [my] musket…shot out by impulse, taking him in the head and laying him quivering on the sidewalk.”

It was a small blow for a man. A giant blow for the cause of human freedom.

In the months to come, thousands of  people from New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana crossed to the Union lines. They chose to be “contraband” and slaves no more.

Fox Lake’s Big Band Legacy

May 1, 2012

Since 1973, jazz lovers in Fox Lake, Wis., have organized the Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee, a community-wide tribute to a local jazz legend.

Berigan—born Roland Bernard Berigan in Hilbert, but raised in Fox Lake—built his reputation as a trumpet playing phenom during the 1930s swing era. At that time Berigan was not only playing with Benny Goodman and other big band greats, but he also recorded a number of albums with his own band. Berigan’s 1937 recording of the Vernon Duke/Ira Gershwin-penned “I Can’t Get Started” won him a posthumous spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1975.

Bunny Berigan Day in 1974 with (left to right) Henry Ballweg; Bunny’s brother Donald; daughter Joyce; grandson James; and nephew Kaye. Photo: Harriet O’Connell Historical Room at Fox Lake Public Library, Fox Lake, WI.

A volunteer-driven effort originally coordinated by Berigan’s daughter Joyce, this year’s Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee takes place May 18-20, 2012. Julie Flemming, who has coordinated the event in recent years, says the Jubilee attracts traditional and Dixieland jazz fans from all over the country. Five bands are slated to perform, including the Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee Band, led by California-based Wonewoc native Bob Schulz; and the Kaye Berigan 5 TET, led by Bunny’s nephew Kaye, who now plays trumpet with Milwaukee’s SUPERband.

Bunny Berigan, 1937. Photo: Harriet O’Connell Historical Room, Fox Lake Public Library, Fox Lake, WI.

A graveside jazz tribute will honor both Berigan and Joyce Berigan-Hansen, who died in 2011.  Also, on hand throughout the weekend is Berigan biographer Mike Zirpolo, author of the 2011 book Mr. Trumpet.

Zirpolo’s 550-paged work of jazz scholarship “is the most definitive biography of Bunny ever—a fabulous book,” says Julie Flemming. And she should know. Flemming curated the online image archive, Bunny Berigan: Fox Lake’s Own, part of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. While she may not have heard of Berigan when she moved to Fox Lake decades ago, “I  can now identify Bunny’s relatives better than I can my own,” Flemming confesses with a laugh.

“For 33 1/2 years, I ran the Fox Lake Public Library, and ten years into my job as a librarian, the historical society ladies allowed me the key to historical room,” Flemming says. “That’s when I started wondering, ‘Well, who is this Bunny Berigan?'”

Her edification began when she would overhear performances while volunteering in the kitchen at the Jubilee. Soon she would start watching jazz documentaries, reading books on jazz, driving to Madison for monthly Madison Jazz Society performances, and after Joyce Berigan-Hansen grew ill and Flemming retired, taking on more and more of the Jubilee planning. This year, she tells me near the end of our conversation, she accomplished most of the work while recovering from a car accident, which left her with a broken neck.

If the Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee is a labor of love, staffed by Fox Lake volunteers and sponsored by local organizations, Julie Flemming seems to embody her community’s collective devotion to preserving its jazz heritage.

By the way, I loved this bit on Bunny Berigan that aired late last year on Wisconsin Public Radio. Over Berigan’s expressive trumpet solo on “I Can’t Get Started,” we hear Wisconsin Life contributor Dean Robbins describe his teen-aged infatuation with the recording: Berigan’s trumpet playing “conveys a melancholy that approaches the sublime,” he says.

You’ll find details about the Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee, coming May 18-20 to Fox Lake, at the festival website.

Find information about other Wisconsin jazz events at the links below:

Birch Creek Summer Jazz Series, Egg Harbor

Eau Claire Jazz Festival

Great River Jazz Fest, La Crosse (no link available)

Isthmus Jazz Festival, Madison

Kettle Moraine Jazz Festival, West Bend

Riverfront Jazz Festival, Stevens Point

–Tammy Kempfert