When Pennies Built a Hospital

In the above image, people in Woodruff count the thousands of pennies that came in the mail as part of the Dr. Kate Million Penny fundraiser in 1953.

Dr. Kate was Kate Pelham Newcomb, a country doctor undeterred from attending to her patients by any harsh winter weather that northern Wisconsin threw her way. She was used to adversity, though. Her mother had died when she was very young (as did a baby brother). As a girl, she dreamed of being a doctor but her father thought medicine was an inappropriate career for a woman. So Newcomb became a teacher, instead, in Buffalo, New York, in 1911.

When her stepmother died, Newcomb moved to Boston to take care of her family and manage the home. But she was miserable and still dreamed of becoming a doctor. Her father finally relented and she went to medical school.

In 1919, Newcomb moved to Detroit and opened her own practice. She also met her future husband there, Bill Newcomb, and the two married in 1921. But a lung disease soon led Bill to trade polluted Detroit for the fresh air of Boulder Junction. Newcomb followed in 1923, giving up her medical career for a life in the forest.

But the needs of her new community brought Newcomb back into medicine in 1931.

It wasn’t easy. She was the only doctor serving a far-flung population of several thousand. To reach her patients, she paddled in icy rivers, drove through blizzards, and walked miles in snowshoes. The latter feat earned her the nickname “Angel on Snowshoes.”


Dr Kate Newcomb. Wisconsin Historical Society

Although she eventually delivered more than 3,000 babies (and never losing a mother like she’d lost her own), Newcomb dreamed of doing more. She wanted a hospital and launched a campaign to raise funds for the facility in 1952.

Around the same time, a local schoolteacher seeking to demonstrate how much a million was led to a student drive to collect 1 million pennies, the Million Penny Parade. All of the pennies would go toward funding the hospital.

The effort captured the imagination of people around the country and even around the world. Pennies poured into the Woodruff post office. Newcomb even appeared on the TV show “This Is Your Life” in 1954 to help raise money to complete construction.

With enough funds secured, Lakeland Memorial Hospital opened in 1954. Woodruff gave Newcomb a parade worthy of a hero, with 90 floats and 15 marching bands.

Two years later, in 1956, Newcomb passed away.

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Recalling Women’s Fight for the Vote in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Historical Images

Nov. 5, 1912, was a bad day for Wisconsin women hoping to gain the vote in a statewide referendum.

Wisconsin voters (all male, by definition) shot down the suffrage question. As the poster, pictured right suggests, many of them did so for fear of what women would do armed with the vote. (Since only men could vote, it’s not clear who the other half of the “menace” in question is).

Women’s rights groups began forming in Wisconsin in the late 1860s. Most focused primarily on suffrage and temperance, the latter of which generated particularly strong opposition from the state’s powerful brewing industry, as well as German-Americans. Many of these voters believed that enfranchised women would force prohibition on the state.

In 1911, Richland Center suffragist Ada James enlisted her father, state Sen. David James, to push for a statewide referendum on suffrage. His support along with the lobbying of the Wisconsin Federation of Women’s Clubs brought the issue to voters in the fall of 1912. Wisconsin men voted suffrage down by a margin of 63 to 37 percent. Many factors contributed to the referendum’s defeat, but the link between suffrage and temperance played a major role.

Seven years later, in 1919, Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment, the measure that would give women the vote nationwide. It was Ada James’ father, David, who raced to Washington, D.C., after the state Legislature approved the amendment to give Wisconsin that honor.

The Man Who Put Wisconsin Aviation on the Map

Schwister at the controls of the Minnesota-Badger WPT

Schwister at the controls of the Minnesota-Badger
WPT

This week in 1911, John Schwister of Wausau flew Wisconsin’s first homebuilt airplane christened the “Minnesota-Badger.” The name came from the two sites of construction: St. Paul, Minnesota, and Rothschild. Schwister made his inaugural flight on June 23, 1911, traveling several hundred feet at an altitude of 20 feet. It was the state’s first plane capable of sustained, controlled flight, meaning it could take off, land, and turn as directed in the air.

Schwister constructed his plane out of wooden ribs covered with light cotton. He initially designed it as a glider that he towed like a kite behind his car. He then added an early-model airplane engine that he ordered through the mail and taught himself how to fly his craft. The Minnesota-Badger made several more flights, including an exhibition at the Langlade County Fair in Antigo, pictured above. Another journey saw Schwister travel 27 miles at a sky-scraping altitude of 2,000 feet.

Although Schwister was seriously injured in a plane crash in 1912, he kept flying and kept constructing new planes — and his efforts inspired other Wisconsinites to take to the air in their homebuilt crafts.

Photographic Futures: High School Students Predict Careers in Photos

In this image, Menomonie High School senior William C. Klatt operates on a disembodied head using a bit of photographic trickery. Klatt’s photo appeared in a unique album, depicting members of the 1905 graduating class in quirky scenes that seem perfect to get us in the April Fools’ spirit.

The photographs were the work of Albert Hansen and Sarah Ana Heller, both students themselves. Hansen took the photos while Heller did the prophesizing, posing each student with a costume and setting appropriate to their fated careers. Heller also wrote the text that accompanied each photo. Some of her captions are humorous and all are intriguing, like this one for a young woman dressed as a cook: “The Queen of Madagascar has secured at an enormous cost and trouble the services of Birdie Retelstorf as chief cook for the royal family, where she serves such delicious dishes that the Queen would not part with her for love nor money. Recommendations can be received at any time from her majesty for any graduate from The Stout Manual Training School. Miss Retelstorf’s master piece in the culinary line is a toothsome dainty known as Missionary Salad.”

Students appeared as everything from doctors and socialites to cowboys, dentists, and violinists. In one image, a woman wins an international prize for her book on mathematics, a fate far ahead of its time. Hansen himself posed as a hobo while Heller’s profession was unclear. Of herself, Heller wrote, “Any person in the audience who will volunteer to predict the future of this singular looking object will receive a prize package of chewing gum at the close of this meeting.”

Heller dressed for an unknown future Wisconsin Historical Images

Heller dressed for an unknown future
Wisconsin Historical Images

Hansen took his first photo at age 14 and never stopped. He liked to experiment with the possibilities of the medium, as these photos demonstrate.

At least one student fulfilled his photographic prophecy. Fred Quilling really did become a pharmacist. After an apprenticeship and degree from Northwestern University, Quilling returned to Menomonie and ran a drugstore on the town’s Main Street for many years.

Hobo Hansen Wisconsin Historical Images

Hobo Hansen
Wisconsin Historical Images

When the White House Came to Wisconsin

Coolidge fishing on the Brule. No idea what that big wad of white fluff behind him is - cotton candy?

Coolidge fishing on the Brule. No idea what that big wad of white fluff behind him is – cotton candy? Wisconsin Historical Society

It’s all about the presidents this month. Lincoln’s birthday, Washington’s birthday, and Presidents’ Day for all the rest (though really, Presidents’ Day is still officially Washington’s birthday and only became popularly known as Presidents’ Day in the 1970s). While Wisconsin might not lay claim to a president, it does boast a “Summer White House.” President Calvin Coolidge escaped to Wisconsin for three months in the summer of 1928 to fish the Brule River while working in a nearby high school.

In fact, Wisconsin has been a popular destination for fishing presidents. Since Ulysses S. Grant, five presidents have dropped a line in the state’s waters.

Ill health led Coolidge and his wife Grace to leave Washington for Cedar Island Lodge in Brule. The announcement sent residents into a panic as they prepared for their lofty visitors. They built a new railroad depot, strung telephone and telegraph lines, redid roads and constructed an airport. A makeshift Oval Office was set up inside Superior Central High School for the nation’s business. The whole city decked itself out in red, white and blue. And upon his arrival, a huge crowd turned up to greet Coolidge, embarrassing the man known as “Silent Cal.”

Coolidge appears to have spent most of his time fishing rather than politicking. In July, he welcomed presidential nominee Herbert Hoover and declared his support of Hoover’s bid for office to residents, visitors, and newsmen. But that was about it. The Duluth Herald reported that the president appeared “more anxious to master the paddling of a canoe against the Brule rapids than in learning what is going on.” Coolidge definitely kept his cool… if being cool meant his demeanor toward his job.

Coolidge left his summer White House able to fly fish and paddle a birch bark canoe. He hoped to come back to the Brule, but sadly, died before that came to pass.

Ringing in a New Year with Wisconsin’s Baby New Year

Jimmy Clark rings in 1954 as “Baby New Year” in cowboy boots, underwear, and a sash while standing atop a case of Appleton’s local Adler Brau beer and holding a cigarette (it was the 1950s – we didn’t know any better.). Clark was not the baby that year but he represented a custom that goes back thousands of years.

The tradition of “Baby New Year” can be traced back to ancient Greece. The Greeks believed that Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine, was reborn every year as a spirit of fertility and luck. They celebrated with a baby in cradle. Ancient Egyptians also symbolized the birth of the New Year with a baby.

Babies born on New Year’s Day are generally considered lucky and their arrivals heralded in the newspaper. “Lawrence Frank Upthagrove has requested Mayor Walters to telephone the Journal that he is Stevens Point’s first New Years baby,” read a 1911 article in the Stevens Point Daily Journal. It seems unlikely that baby Lawrence made that request himself but New Year’s babies are exceptional.

In Monroe, Wisconsin, the lucky New Year’s Baby of 1948 received gifts from local businesses. To stop any would-be cheaters, the doctor’s signature was required to win.

And in Menasha, Wisconsin, in 1948, Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Shukoski won the New Year’s lottery with a second New Year’s baby. The Shukoskis won their first first baby of the year in 1946. But it seems holiday births were nothing new to this family of eleven. Dad and one of the boys were born on Thanksgiving, another on July fourth, and another on Christmas Eve.

Wisconsin’s Goddesses and Ag Queens

I’ve never hid my love of agricultural queens. The cow-shaped air freshener given to me by Alice in Dairyland 2005 hung from my rearview mirror for years (no, it didn’t smell like cows). A few years ago, I did a tribute to Alice on “Wisconsin Life.” And now, I’ve written a longer piece on ag queens and the long history – and future – of women in agriculture for Edible Milwaukee. Get a sneak peek below and then follow the link to the full piece.

Isn’t she adorable? Alice in Dairyland.

She’s milked a cow with rocker Alice Cooper. She’s danced with Lawrence Welk on TV. She’s appeared in the Rose Parade.

She is Alice in Dairyland and she’s been Wisconsin’s agricultural royalty for 66 years. Alice travels the state during her yearlong reign talking up the importance of farming. Despite her name, she’s more than just dairy, and more than just an agriculture beauty queen.

“I cover the diversity of Wisconsin’s agricultural sector from mink and cranberries to ginseng and ethanol,” says Zoey Brooks, the 67th (and current) Alice in Dairyland. “It’s a marketing job, and I spend most of my time on the road trying to be a positive voice for agriculture in Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin’s royalty isn’t confined to Alice. We’ve also got a cranberry queen, a honey Queen, a Brown Swiss Queen, a Hereford Association Queen, a maple Queen, and a Cherry Blossom Princess, among others. While they may seem a little silly and outdated today, these agricultural queens have an ancient history.

Read the rest of the story in the fall issue of Edible Milwaukee.

Bringing Beer Back Home

Source: Edible Milwaukee

Source: Edible Milwaukee

My latest story for Edible Milwaukee is out in the summer issue. It’s all about some of the local growers trying to revive the state’s hop and barley tradition.

Let’s just say I jumped at the chance to explore Wisconsin beer, past and present. I remember the first time I saw hops growing at the truly wonderful Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York. It was actually the hops that led me there – I saw them climbing up the poles in one of the gardens and just had to get out to see what in the world was growing in there! I’ve since been to the American Hop Museum in eastern Washington so hops in their pre-beer state are no longer foreign to me. But I still thrill at the sight of them. There’s something magical about the vines and flowers.

I learned a lot telling this story (I won’t spoil it by telling you everything before you can even read it – something I tend to do to my husband all the time) but one of the things that sticks with me is something brewmaster Grant Pauly from 3 Sheeps Brewing in Sheboygan told me. Wisconsin’s long brewing history isn’t just about the beer. It’s also about the equipment to make that beer and that the state’s long brewing history means that many of the things needed to make and sell beer commercially – from the tap handles to the cardboard six-pack holders – can be sourced from local businesses. It makes perfect sense but had never before occurred to me.

Here’s the story. Enjoy!

 

Long before Wisconsin became America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin brewed beer. The state had barley, wheat, ice, and water. It had hops. And most important of all, a beer-thirsty people called Wisconsin home.

So thirsty that in 1839, German settlers in Milwaukee, desperate for a taste of home, mixed whiskey and vinegar with a little limestone to create a head that they called “Essig whiskey heimer” (something like homemade vinegar whiskey or vinegar whiskey of home). The opening of the city’s first brewery – by a Welshman, not a German, alas – the next year hopefully put an end to that frightening blend.

Read the rest at Edible Milwaukee…

A Wisconsin Chiropractic Tale

After spending several years researching alternative healing methods for my new book, I was surprised to only recently learn the story of chiropractor Clarence Gonstead. Even more so because I’ve driven by the modernist Gonstead clinic in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, countless times.

Born in South Dakota in 1898, Gonstead grew up on a dairy farm in Primrose, Wisconsin, with an interest in automotive and tractor repair. Stricken with rheumatoid arthritis at 19, the bedridden Gonstead had exhausted nearly all of his medical options when he sought the services of a Madison chiropractor. The treatment worked. Gonstead was soon up and walking. This life changing experience led Gonstead to devote his life to chiropractic – a not uncommon conversion story in the annals of alternative medicine.

Source: Wikichiro

Source: Wikichiro

To save money for school, Gonstead worked as an automotive engineer. In 1923, he graduated from the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa (the Palmers had founded chiropractic in the 1890s), and a few years later, set up his own practice in Mt. Horeb.

Gonstead didn’t stick with the Palmer’s original theory. Rather than a vertebral bone causing nerve pressure (and thus disease) as founder D.D. Palmer and his son B.J. believed, Gonstead suggested that the vertebral disc caused nerve pressure. He developed his own method of spinal assessment to locate the spinal impingement, known as a subluxation in chiropractic.

“The principles of the Gonstead Method are the simple principles of chiropractic put to work; how to understand what causes nerve pressure, how to find it on the patient, how to achieve a corrective setting of the offending vertebra, and how to know when the chiropractor’s job is done, and nature’s begins,” explained Gonstead.

Neither D.D. nor B.J. Palmer took kindly to the ideas of others, even other chiropractors, so Gonstead likely received a chilly response to his technique.

Patients, on the other hand, loved Gonstead’s methods and they came from all over the country seeking his care. His clinic, a midcentury modern structure designed by Wisconsin architect John Steinmann, was one of the largest in the world with seating for 106 patients, a lab and research facilities, and seminar rooms. He even built a hotel, the Karakhal Inn, in 1965 to accommodate patients from out of town and other chiropractors seeking to learn his method. Business was so good that a regular limousine service traveled between the Madison airport and the Mt. Horeb clinic. Patients with their own private planes could land at Gonstead’s personal airstrip on the outskirts of town. For many years, the clinic was the largest chiropractic clinic in the world.

Gonstead also had a rather notable home. Herb Fritz, Jr., an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the private home on 55 acres in the late 1940s or early 50s. Unfortunately, the home burned down in 1992.

Gonstead died in 1978 and a nonprofit foundation now runs his clinic. His method has spawned followers and practitioners around the world.

A Pirate Who Roved the High Inland Seas

Yesterday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day (that’s September 19th in case you want to mark your calendar for next year), a day to practice your “arrrrrrrrrs” and “ahoys” and maybe adopt a pirate name.

While we tend to think of pirates as tropical characters (at least in popular lore), pirates (lumber thieves, privateers, rum – runners) roamed the Great Lakes as well. Only one, however, was actually branded a pirate and formally charged for his actions. Dan Seavey – or “Roaring Dan” as he was known – was guilty of everything from poaching to running a floating brothel aboard his Lake Michigan schooner, the Wanderer. 

Roaring Dan Seavey Source: Wikimedia

Roaring Dan Seavey
Source: Wikimedia

Born in Maine in 1865 and the son of a schooner captain father, Seavey took to the seas as a teenager, first working aboard local vessels and then for a stint in the U.S. Navy. He came to Wisconsin in the 1880s where he met and married 14-year-old Mary Plumley, the first of his three wives. The couple moved to Milwaukee in the 1890s where Seavey had a small farm and operated a tavern with a partner on the waterfront.

Seavey soon met Milwaukee beer king Frederick Pabst who encouraged Seavey to invest in a mining company in Alaska. Seavey took his advice and pulled the first of what would become several disappearing acts. He sold his business and deserted his family to seek his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. The company went bust within a few years and Seavey came back to Wisconsin but not to his family. He soon disappeared again, resurfacing in Escanaba, Michigan, in 1900.

There, Seavey married Zilda Bisner. Four years later, Bisner filed for divorce, claiming domestic abuse, and Seavey fled once again onto the lake.

Seavey ran many different businesses in Michigan, both legitimate and not. He tried trapping, logging, lumber milling, and marine transporting. On the side, he also practiced the pirate-y arts of bootlegging, poaching, smuggling, and pimping. All of these activities made Seavey a recognizable character throughout the Lake Michigan port cities. Not to mention the fact that he was nearly 6 and a half feet tall and weighed 250 pounds.

And like any good pirate, Seavey was notorious for his barroom brawls and prize fights. One fight occurred on a frozen harbor in Frankfort, Michigan, in 1904. Seavey fought pugilist Mitch Love bare fisted for two hours before cleaning the ice with Love and collecting his winnings.

Seavey also made a significant fortune off his floating brothel. It was a brilliant move considering that the jurisdiction of local authorities ended at the water’s edge. Crafty schooner captains like Seavey would load their boats with alcohol and ladies and travel from port to port. Weekends and paydays were, unsurprisingly, especially profitable in port towns.

On June 11, 1908, Seavey and two accomplices stole a schooner in Grand Haven, Michigan, and headed south to Chicago intending to sell the ship’s cargo on the black market. The theft initiated a chase with federal authorities. The federal ship Tuscarora steamed after Seavey carrying U.S Deputy Marshal Tom Currier and a warrant for Seavey’s arrest. The Tuscarora eventually spotted Seavey’s ship near Frankfort and gave chase, firing a cannon that ended Seavey’s run. Seavey was arrested and arraigned for mutiny and sedition on the high seas.

Seavey’s luck had not run out, though. Despite the government’s best efforts to prosecute him, the grand jury did not indict him and Seavey was set free. How he got off when he clearly stole the ship is a matter of speculation but the act and the case forever branded Seavey a pirate.