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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Fish Were Really Biting

Here at the Historical Society headquarters we are busy mounting all the back issues of our quarterly Magazine of Historyonline. Besides printing scholarly and popular articles, the Magazine also gave occasional glimpses into the activities of the staff. One Sunday in 1955, director Clifford Lord and associate director Don McNeil drove down to Milton, in Rock Co., to support innovative work by local historians. McNeil describes how he got more than he expected during that visit.

"One day this summer," McNeil wrote, "the Director and I took our wives to the dedication of the restored Milton House. After the ceremonies, which were held outside, we took a pleasant trip through the rooms, up the spiral staircase into the charmingly outfitted bedrooms and down the tunnel which served as the escape hatch for slaves using the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War. We marveled at the tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm which had gone into this restoration and the skill with which the devoted members of the Milton Historical Society had sustained the interest of their community over a period of years in the project.

"It was a warm day and following the talks, the tour, and the chat with many friends from other parts of the State who were in town for the occasion, the four of us decided to take a swim in nearby Clear Lake. It was Sunday, and we just happened to have our bathing suits in the car.

"Well, the lake was nice and after ten minutes of exercise in the water, my three companions were resting and sun-bathing on a raft about 100 yards from shore. I had just belly-flopped off the diving board and was nearing the raft when all of a sudden I felt something nibble me on the papilla [nipple?]. I thereupon set the world's record for reverse diving. I exploded straight out of the water, high into the air and landed on the raft.

"'Something bit me,' I exclaimed breathlessly. My companions scoffed. In vain I looked for tell-tale teeth-marks. My wife ascribed it to a vivid imagination worked up by the stirring events of the day. They began to talk of sea-dragons and snapping turtles and underwater nymphs -- even of mermaids.

"So, with gentle jeers sounding in my ears we drove back into Milton. As we awaited the pageant performance that night (it was later rained out, but we heard excellent reports of it on other nights) we stopped to refuel at a gas station on the edge of town. While the attendant made out the credit card, Cliff thought he'd have a little fun.

"'Ever bothered in these lakes by snapping turtles or the like,' he asked with a big knowing smile. 'No, but the fish sure do bite you sometimes,' came the astounding reply.

"By the time Cliff got the whole story, I was practically prone on the floor, weak from violent laughter. The fellow said he never believed it either until a couple of years ago he had been munched upon by the lake dwellers. I was very grateful to him. I don't mind being the bill of fare for some foul fish. But to endure the masticating attempts and then not be believed is just too much for me to swallow. I'll always conjure up a different imagery when someone remarks how well the fish are biting."

Visit the digital edition of the Magazine -- most of it's online through about 1970, with more added every week -- and see what stories you can discover about your community's past.

:: Posted in Animals on March 18, 2007

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