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Our Motto: Strange but true.

Our Mission: Amuse, surprise, perplex, astonish, and otherwise connect you with your past.

Our Method: Lower a bucket into the depths of Wisconsin history and bring to light curious fragments of forgotten lives.

Odd Wisconsin

Mrs. Lincoln Grieves in Waukesha

"I am trying as you will perceive, to make the most of this fearfully wearisome summer . . . I live in a retired manner in a private house on the outskirts of the town where there are no other boarders and have all the advantages of the country . . . I am so miserable over my great sorrows, that ... read the rest.
Posted in Odd Lives on March 13, 2014

Aunt Mary Ann

Wisconsin's first doctor — in the sense of someone paid to heal the sick — was a woman of color known simply as Aunt Mary Ann to her Prairie du Chien patients. Her full name was Mary Ann Menard, though she had had two previous husbands before marrying Charles Menard, and raised more than a dozen children from the three ... read the rest.
Posted in Odd Lives on February 28, 2014

Curling in Wisconsin

One of the stranger-looking Olympic sports on our televisions this week has been curling. Like most hardy winter pastimes, it has a proud Wisconsin heritage. Its roots lie in the 19th century, and after a long period during which curling nearly died out in America, the invention of ice-making in the 1930's revived the sport. Arrived with Scottish Immigrants A... read the rest.
Posted in Curiosities on February 20, 2014

Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day, so after madly dashing out to buy that gift you forgot to pick up earlier this week, you might want to click over to our gallery of historic valentines and see where this custom originated. Years ago, people didn't buy mass-produced cards from multinational corporations in chain stores. They made valentines themselves as a personal expression of... read the rest.
Posted in Curiosities on February 13, 2014

How Cold Is It?

We're seeing some of the coldest temperatures in years. Decades from now, our kids may brag about surviving "the brutal cold of January '14." To put it in perspective, here are some claims made by lumberjacks 100 years ago. One recalled a winter when a logger wanting to write home "just stepped outdoors and shouted the words he wished to... read the rest.
Posted in on February 7, 2014

He Must Have Been Yaps

One of the more fascinating aspects of any culture is the jargon that its members speak. Whether they're an ethnic community, professional colleagues, a sports league, or a religious sect, every group that shares the same values and lifestyle will evolve a unique vocabulary for talking about it. For example, a lumberjack arriving at a northern Wisconsin hospital supposedly explained... read the rest.
Posted in Curiosities on January 30, 2014

Birds of a Feather

Enjoying the birds at your feeders from the warmth inside your house this weekend? Here are some of the people who first studied and popularized our feathered companions. Pioneer Scientists Before the Civil War, R.P. Hoy cataloged the birds of southeastern Wisconsin and reported his findings to scholars in the East. Another mid-century scientist, Increase Lapham, built on Hoy's work... read the rest.
Posted in Animals on January 23, 2014

Frontier Justice

Judge William C. Frazier arrived in Milwaukee on a Sunday night in June of 1837. Newly appointed to the Eastern Judicial District of Wisconsin, he had time on his hands that evening and joined a friendly game of poker at his inn. The stakes were small at first, but the wagers increased over the course of the night until "small... read the rest.
Posted in Odd Lives on January 15, 2014

Newhall House Hotel Fire

This weekend marks the anniversary of one the state's great tragedies. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of January 10, 1883, passersby saw flames shooting from one of Milwaukee's landmarks. Built by merchant Daniel Newhall in 1856, it had been one of the nation's most magnificent hotels when it was new. 25 years later, the Newhall House was still fashionable,... read the rest.
Posted in Curiosities on January 8, 2014

Pioneer Hospitality

These days, we try to guard our privacy and security quite closely. But in the early days of Wisconsin, settlers had looser boundaries about such things. Helpful neighbors were an important part of establishing not only a home, but also a community. And this wasn't limited to lending a cup of sugar. Hospitality was key to forming close bonds, and... read the rest.
Posted in Curiosities on January 1, 2014

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