Wisconsin State Cow Chip Scrapbook

August 29, 2012

wisconsin state cow chip throw and festival

Since 1975, when the Sauk Prairie Jaycees recognized the twin villages of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac as the cow chip capital of Wisconsin, the community has annually organized the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival.

While it’s not likely to be an Olympic event anytime soon, there were a plethora of nominations for local chip-chucking legend and 10-time world cow chip throwing champion, Kay Hankins, back in the mid-1980s when Wheaties held a nationwide search for sports champion to grace the front of their cereal box. Though a champion, Kay did not make the cover.

The event is held each Labor Day weekend. Festivities for this 37th year kick off on Friday with a corporate cow chip toss and live entertainment. Saturday begins with 5k and 10k run/walks, with the proceeds going back into the community to fund charities, youth-centered activities, and college scholarships. The kids start off the cow chip throw in the morning and that is followed by the Tournament of Chips parade at noon. The rest of the day has activities for everyone — a fine arts and crafts fair, cow chip throws for all ages, a beer garden and food court, pedal tractor pulls for the kids, community displays, and three stages of entertainment including one that is specifically for children.

Cow chip deflectors are available at the event, should anything fly your way.

picking cow chips

chucking a chip

pedal pull seating

pedal pull contestant

pedal pull trophies

magician props

feeding sheep

livestock treats

saint vince

Jodi Anderson


Farewell To A Landmark

June 20, 2012

Building 200 in early 1945, with a giant flag on a towering flagpole in the front lot and banners marking awards for production flying nearby.

As far as historical landmarks go, Building 200 is among America’s homeliest. It’s a two-story barracks-like structure built for function with no attention paid to form beyond the basics of level, plumb and square. Anyone who has spent time on a military base in the years since World War II has seen buildings like it.

For exactly seventy years this month, Building 200 has stood off Highway 12 on the Sauk Prairie just down from the Barabo Hills. It was, until a couple of months ago, the headquarters of the United States Army at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant. Here the Army Corps of Engineers and the Army Ordnance Department supervised the work of the various civilian contractors who constructed and operated the plant since 1942.

Homely it is. Two stories of narrow office corridors in the shape of a rectangle with a cross corridor creating two open courtyards. Not that the weed-choked courtyards are decorative. They are merely a means to admit natural light to the inner row of offices. The exterior is a catalog of historical siding. Wooden clapboards in the 1940s covered by asbestoes sheathing in the 1950s covered by vinyl in the 2000s. The framing is entirely wood post and beam, instead of iron or steel, precious materials reserved for more strategically important purposes. Instead tthe Army used top-grade Pacific Coast fir, old growth lumber, hard to find today.

World War II was fought out of Building 200, so was the Korean conflict. From 1965 to 1975, the managers in Building 200 oversaw the production of propellant for the ammo discharged by the rifles, machine guns, artillery, and rockets fired by American troops at war in Southeast Asia. Pick a scene of combat from a Vietnam war movie, the only way most of us experienced that war. It’s more likely than not that, in the real war the movie imitates, the ammo fired in that scene was manufactured at Badger.

Just as importantly, Badger and Building 200 were part of the Cold War arsenal of the United States. When the communist governments in eastern Europe collapsed, when the Soviet Union dissolved, when China moved away from strict Maoism to whatever philosophy governs it today, they didn’t throw a party in Building 200, but they could have. Just as Badger was part of the victory in the relatively short World War II, it was part of the decades long grinding down of communism afterwards.

As a result, Badger worked itself out of its job. It was decommissioned in 1998 and Building 200 became headquarters for a massive effort to decontaminate over 5,000 acres of infrastructure, soil, groundwater and surface water in nearby Lake Wisconsin.

Much of that work is completed. The Army and its contractors no longer need the 66,000 square feet of office space in Building 200. The property itself has been transferred to the Wisconsin DNR and will become part of the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area. Efforts by preservationists to prevent the demolition of Building 200 and convert it to a visitor center/museum have attracted little support.

Demolition work has already begun. Seventy years ago, when Building 200 was first ready for occupancy, over 8,000 workers were swarming over the grounds beyond to complete the over 900 structures necessary to begin production as scheduled in January 1943.

Today, a handful of equipment operators will pull Building 200 down. It’s not an architectural masterpiece, about as far from a Calatrava or a Lloyd Wright as a building could be.

Let’s call it a landmark to transience, a reminder that the greatest of human achievements, like the humblest, are temporary.


Antler Basket Weaving

June 18, 2012

Jen's antler basket for yarn

It’s no secret that Wisconsin is filled with talented artists. What isn’t always evident, though, is how willing they are to not only share their craft, but to teach it as well. Such is the case with Mary Luckhardt-Klemm, who makes a variety of woven items in her western Sauk County home, the most stunning of which are her antler baskets.

My friend, Jennifer, first met Mary and saw her work during the Fall Art Tour in 2011. After bringing her in to teach basic weaving to a troop of Boy Scouts, we had the fortune to visit Mary in her studio and learn how to incorporate an antler into the construction of our baskets.

Mary prepping an antler shed

the basket studio

Jen pulling round reed

Jen and Mary

One of my favorite things about visiting any artist is the opportunity to tour their workspace. Being in Mary’s studio was a multi-sensory experience. It was filled with raw materials and finished objects, all rich with a variety of colors and textures.

We learned about preparing the antlers, which can become handles or components, such as a rim or base. Even the tips of the horn as well as splices of it are used as feet and beads, or to cover the end of a frame piece. Once the frame is constructed and basic binding has been done to secure the edges, the basket can be woven using a free form or planned design. We chose natural materials, including sea grass and round reed, to fill in the weaving and finished up with a dip into a natural stain solution.

If you’re interested in learning to weave, chances are that there are classes in your area. Wisconsin is rife with weavers talented in a variety of areas, from Native American black ash and birch bark weaving to extremely modern art installation pieces. Inquire at your local community or crafting center, or ask a weaver when you see one at a craft show. Additionally, there is a partial list of basket weaving guilds in Wisconsin at The Country Seat, Inc website.

[The finished baskets featured in this piece are the work of Jennifer Mack.]

woven antler basket

Jodi Anderson


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 (spahs@frontier.com) 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


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.

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Finding John Willis

April 14, 2012

In early April 2012, a few days shy of the 150th anniversary, I visited the place where John Willis died. He was one of the 1,754 United States Army soldiers who died in the two-day battle near the Shiloh Methodist Episcopal church in southern Tennessee. Another 8,408 United States soldiers were wounded, another 2,885 missing. The forces in rebellion against the United States, lost 1,723 dead, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing. The total casualty list was larger than that of any battle yet fought by American arms.

John Willis began his journey to his death at Shiloh in the town of Strong’s Prairie, in Adams County, Wisconsin. In the summer of 1861 Willis and many of his friends in this frontier community had responded to the call of “Captain” Henry Dawes to join a volunteer company optimistically called “The Adams County Rifles.” They were a jolly bunch of boys and young men up for adventure. John was a little different from the rest because he had been courting a young farm woman named Mary Bassett. They decided to get married before John left for the army. The ceremony took place just in time for John and Mary to say goodbye.

The Rifles, as yet unarmed, traveled to Camp Randall in Madison, and signed on to serve their country. They became Company E of the 16th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.

Company E so impressed the officers of the 16th that they named it the Color Guard, so designated because its duty was to protect and hold high the regimental flag in combat. In the smoke, noise and confusion of battle, a soldier would know he was in the right place if he could see his regimental flag. It was a dubious honor for the color guard because it made them choice targets for enemy fire, as events on the morning of April 6, 1862 would verify.

The 16th was part of the Army of The Tennessee, under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. It was advancing up the Tennessee River to capture the important railroad center of Corinth, Mississippi. The Tennessee flows north so “upriver” is down on the map. As directed by Grant’s choice as on-site commander, William T. Sherman, the 20,000-man army disembarked from a fleet of river steamers at a point known as Pittsburg Landing. Sherman ordered them to make camp. Since he and Grant planned to advance on Corinth in a few days, Sherman neither ordered his men to camp along a solid defensive perimeter nor to fortify their positions with trenches or barricades. The 16th Wisconsin, for example, was on the southern edge of the camp in a disconnected line with units from Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. Few of these men had ever experienced combat. Most were, like the 16th, green volunteers.

Just prior to dawn on April 6, the Confederate forces led by General Albert Sidney Johnston, began what is considered one of the most successful “surprise” attacks in American military annals. Johnston had moved over 20,000 troops to within hailing range of the Union lines. Union scouting parties had seen the Confederates coming and reported to Sherman, but he refused to believe he was facing an entire army.

Skepticism was not an option for the 16th Wisconsin. Roused from their blankets, they rushed to form into line alongside their regimental colors. A thousand Confederate rifles fired, then a thousand more, joined by artillery. The men of Company E started to fall. Color Sergeant John Willis was among the first. He was followed by five others who took his place at the flag: Lewis Knight, Erwin Ryder, Henry Thomas, John Holcomb, Philo Perry. Some died on the field. John Willis lingered for a day in a makeshift field hospital. Mary’s brother Charles visited him and wrote to tell her that her husband had died in peace.

Barely a wife, Mary Bassett Willis became a widow.

Life moves on. The war ended, the soldiers who survived came home. One of them was James Dawes, who also served in Company E. He and Mary married and started a new life.

Years passed and the administrative wheels turned. One day in the 1880s, a crate addressed to Mary arrived at the Strong’s Prairie post office. It was a veteran’s memorial stone for “John P. Wills”. His body was buried in the national cemetery at Pittsburg Landing and his name is spelled correctly on the stone there. His next-of-kin were entitled to receive a memorial stone for the home cemetery. According to army records, Mary Bassett Willis Dawes was John’s next of kin.

More years passed and the location of John’s stone was lost. In the late 1940s, the Wisconsin River Power Company constructed the Petenwell Dam on the Wisconsin River and flooded substantial portions of the town of Strong’s Prairie.

In the mid-1980’s the power company drew down the level of the water above the dam, exposing ground that had not seen the sun for forty years. An “avocational archeologist” named Helge Helgesen from Strong’s Prairie started to explore the muddy flats in search of native American artifacts. He came upon a stone but it was not native American. It was the veterans memorial stone of John Willis, cracked and chipped, but with a legible inscription.

Small towns being small towns, Helge had little trouble finding the final resting place of Mary Dawes in the Monroe cemetery, one town north of Strong’s Prairie. He also found her descendants. They agreed to let him place John Willis stone in the family plot near to Mary’s. It remains there today.

Memory is small compensation for a life lost, yet better than not to be remembered at all.

–Michael Goc


Edna Taylor Conservation Park: Gems of Madison

March 27, 2012
Edna Taylor Conservation Park

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Edna Taylor was a writer, teacher and dairy farmer who sold 37 of her 98 acres to Madison to help create the 56-acre conservancy park which bears her name. Taylor, who had the strongly admirable environmental foresight to protect the beautiful wetland and forest, died before the completion of the park. The city bought the land in 1972, four months after her death.

Popular for local school field trips and with birdwatchers, the cattail-rich park is neatly and inconspicuously situated in the midst of frenetic pockets of residential housing and commercial development. Rife with frogs and birds, the hidden gem teems with wildflowers, oak stands, cottonwoods, lily-pads and blue-flag iris. Ponds here play host to everything from egrets and great blue herons to woodpeckers.

Edna Taylor Conservation Park

Tucked off Monona Drive and Femrite Drive, Edna Taylor Conservation Park offers three out-and-back hiking loops, a spring, marsh habitat, a glacial drumlin, oak stands, nature viewing platforms, and a Native American effigy mound. The area incorporates a little more than 3 miles of trails; the scenery is comprised of wetlands, willows, oak forest, ponds, savanna, and a handsome assortment of wildflowers. At the corner of the parking lot a large memorial stone dedicated to Edna Taylor denotes the trail’s beginnings.

The trail starts in between high grass and pretty marshland, and is easy to follow and well-maintained throughout. Birders will have exciting field days watching Canadian geese, cranes, herons, and mallards. Redwing and tricolor birds are abundant in the marshy ponds, and the surrounding shrubbery is especially comely in the fall. Raspberries abound in the fields in July. Observation platforms at the edge of the ponds are great for spotting water fowl. It’s common in the springtime to spy tiny Canada geese chicks and tadpoles.On the east side of the park are six linear Indian effigy mounds and one panther-shaped mound, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Edna Taylor Conservation Park abuts the equally enjoyable Aldo Leopold Park; wedged in the thickness of evergreens, a sign denotes the change of parks. Trail traffic is generally pretty light, and the park is open 4 a.m. to 1 hour before sunset. Restrooms and water are available at the park office during those hours.

Edna Taylor Conservation Park Directions

From the Beltline Highway (US 12/18), drive north on Monona Drive 0.6 miles and hook a right on Femrite Drive. The parking lot for Edna Taylor Conservancy Park is on the left about 0.4 miles from Monona Drive. To the right of the parking is the easily identifiable trailhead. The entry to the Aldo Leopold Nature Center is also on the left side, approximately 1,000 feet from Monona Drive.

Brian D’Ambrosio’s Madison for Dads: 101 Adventures now available for $4.99 as Ebook:
Madison-For-Dads-101-Dad-Related-Adventures