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Odd Wisconsin Archive

'06 - - a very good year

As 2006 gets underway, let's cast a backward glance at what occured during the '06 of previous centuries.

Two great explorers concluded trips in 1806. William Clark returned with Meriwether Lewis from the Pacific and was put in charge the next year of relations with western Indian nations, including Wisconsin's. In the spring of 1806, Zebulon Pike returned from the headwaters of the Mississippi, stopping in at Prairie du Chien. That year author Juliette A. Kinzie, whose memoir Wau-Bun defined Wisconsin in the minds of thousands of 19th-c. readers, was born. So, too, was the first Danish settler in Wisconsin, Charles W. Borup, who arrived in the U.S. in 1828 and went on to make his fortune in the Wisconsin fur trade.

Two odd Wisconsin characters died in 1906. Henry Kurz was an actor, comedian, and theater manager who came to Milwaukee in 1848 and, more than anyone else, nurtured for 40 years the city's vibrant German-language drama -- now, alas, all but forgotten. David "White Beaver" Powell died that year, too. He was a friend and drinking buddy of Buffalo Bill Cody who settled in the La Crosse area about 1876, making it the base of his tours for a number of seasons with Cody's wild-west shows. In 1881 opened a questionable medical practice in La Crosse, where he engaged in shady business deals and local politics, even serving as mayor (1885-1886, 1893-1897) -- although his chief source of income seems to have come from the sale of patent medicines.

As they departed the stage, 1906 was ushering in three 20th-c. Wisconsin celebrities. Sterling North, who wrote "So Dear To My Heart" (published in twenty-six languages) and "Rascal" (about raising a raccoon), was born in Edgerton; both books were made into films by Walt Disney Studios, who brought his nostalgic view of rural Wisconsin to millions. The most famous cabaret singer of the century, "The Incomparable Hildegarde," was born outside Sheboygan in the village of Adell in 1906. She began performing in the 1920s, achieved stardom in the 1930s, and became one of the world's most highly paid popular singers during the 1940s and 1950s. And last but not least, also born that year was Ed Gein, the notorious Wisconsin murderer whose story inspired Hitchcock's film, Psycho.

1906 was also the year that Fighting Bob La Follette left Wisconsin to start his senate career in Washington, D.C. That year the famous Kissel Motor Car Company began to make automobiles in Hartford, reaching its peak in the 1920s, producing trucks for the army during World War I, and only ceasing production during the Depression. Meanwhile, over on the Mississippi, the steamboat Quincy sunk outside Trempealeau.

1906 was quite a year in Wisconsin sports, as well. On April 27th, Archie Hahn, representing the Milwaukee Athletic Club, won the 100-meter dash at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. On Dec. 1st, Fred Beell, of Marshfield, won the American heavyweight wrestling championship in New Orleans, but lost it sixteen days later, and the Oshkosh "Indians" baseball team won 76 games that summer.

Certainly the initial sports news of 2006 is more discouraging than that, with the end of the Packers' dismal season quickly followed by the sacking of coach Mike Sherman and the rumored departure of Brett Favre. But think positive. Who knows? Somewhere in Wisconsin a baby's being born who will do great things, perhaps in a line of work we can't yet even imagine. There's always more history to be made.
:: Posted in on January 2, 2006

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