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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Truly Super Bowls

Sunday's matchup was uninspiring, don't you think? We've got much more remarkable bowls in Wisconsin history. The oldest is undoubtedly a feature in the Dells known as the Sugar Bowl, but human bowls reach back hundreds of years to this Late Woodland bowl from Aztalan and this slightly later Oneota one from La Crosse. Milwaukee potter Susan Frackleton made some of the world's most beautiful bowls in the early 20th century.

We also have Bowler hats, of course, and the village of Bowler, in the forests of Shawano County. Bowlers, in fact, were among immigrants' early priorities: La Crosse settlers built the city's first bowling alley in 1846, when less than fifty people lived there. The sport became popular with women athletes, was an unexpected scene of early civil rights confrontations, and led to preposterous photo shoots like this one.

And every Wisconsin child learns about the Packers' 1967 Ice Bowl and their multiple Super Bowls.

But few people have ever seen the most remarkable Wisconsin bowl -- a Tiffany punch bowl presented to Wisconsin logger Joseph Bailey (1827-1867) who saved the Union fleet in May, 1864. During a disastrous invasion of Louisiana that spring, Union forces had lost a string of battles with Confederate soldiers and $2,000,000 in federal ships and hundreds of soldiers had been stranded by low water. Just when capture of the ships and soldiers seemed inevitable, Bailey, a lumberman, proposed a series of wing dams be built to increase the river's depth -- a technique he had used before, to float stranded logs to sawmills in the Wisconsin pineries. His plan worked, he saved the Union fleet, and his grateful fellow officers had this silver punch bowl made for him to commemorate the event. The alligators are not a fanciful decoration. Wisconsin troops had to brave encounters with them to build the wing dams under Bailey's direction.

So next winter, if you find yourself faced with yet another boring bowl, spend the afternoon time traveling here at

:: Posted in Curiosities on February 7, 2006
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