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February 2005 Odd Wisconsin

Reading, Writing, and Failing

This past weekend governors from 45 of the 50 U.S. states met to discuss the nation’s ineffective high schools. Only 18% of ninth graders have actually finished college after six more years, and while American fourth graders score among the top ranks of industrialized nations on standard tests, our high school students finish at the bottom. Maybe our schools need...
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Posted in Children on February 27, 2005

Free Speech in Wisconsin

This week the Wisconsin Assembly passed a resolution condemning “anti-American hate speech” by Prof. Ward Churchill, and strongly recommending that the UW-Whitewater cancel his speaking engagement next week. According to the press , the sponsor of the resolution has also asked that the University of Wisconsin examine it's own policies on professors who use what he calls ''hate speech.'' This...
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Posted in Curiosities on February 24, 2005

Happy Birthday, August Derleth

You thought Stephen King and Anne Rice invented American horror stories? Think again. Before they were even born, Wisconsin native son August Derleth (1909-1971) had refined the genre and started the publishing firm Arkham House to bring the weird, macabre, and fantastic to thousands of readers. Today (February 24th) he would have been 96, though it's hard to imagine any...
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Posted in Odd Lives on February 23, 2005

Gitmo Anniversary

On February 23, 1903, the infant government of newly independent Cuba signed a document that permitted the United States to station troops at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely. Today our military base there is in the news almost daily, as the detention center for prisoners captured in anti-terrorist campaigns around the world. The events that led to this arrangement, commonly called the...
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Posted in Curiosities on February 23, 2005

Jefferson Davis's Wisconsin Connections

On this date in 1862 Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederate States of America. Thirty years before that he had been a young officer in Wisconsin and this memoir by one of his contemporaries, put on paper during the Civil War, describes how the future president was humbled by a Wisconsin boat builder. Shortly after it...
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Posted in Curiosities on February 22, 2005

And There Was Light! (in Appleton)

Thomas Edison revolutionized daily life in the 1870s by harnessing the power of electricity. On January 27, 1880, he filed a patent for an incandescent light bulb, and soon went to work building a commercial power plant to supply electricity to homes and businesses. The first place to produce electricity for commercial use, however, was not Edison's Menlo Park, N.J.,...
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Posted in Curiosities on February 21, 2005

Jefferson's Black Descendants in Wisconsin?

Rumors that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with a slave, Sally Hemings, started 200 years ago with this Sept. 1802 article in a Richmond newspaper. Recent DNA analysis persuaded many historans that Jefferson was indeed the likely father of Eston Hemings (1808-1856), who moved to Wisconsin in 1852 with his wife and three children.* A cabinet-maker and musician, Eston Hemings (who...
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Posted in Odd Lives on February 16, 2005

Not So Grim Reaper

February 15th is the birthday of Cyrus Hall McCormick (1809-1884). In 1831 he invented the first commercially successful reaper, a horse-drawn machine to harvest wheat. It was immensely popular with farmers in the burgeoning Midwest, leading him to form the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in 1848 to manufacture and sell his invention. The Chicago firm grew into the largest farm...
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Posted in Odd Lives on February 15, 2005

Be Mine! (or maybe don’t)

According to Catholic Online, St. Valentine was a priest martyred in A.D. 269 at Rome for aiding Christian prisoners. “He is the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travelers, young people” - - a tall order. At an unspecified date, “to abolish the heathens’ lewd superstitious custom of boys...
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Posted in Curiosities on February 14, 2005

Lawmaker Guns Down Opponent in Madison!

Frustration and animosity is said to be running high among legislators these days, but at least they're not shooting each other. That's what happened on February 11, 1842, during a dispute in the territorial legislature between representatives Charles Arndt and James Vineyard. When Arndt accused Vineyard of... well, read the gory details for yourself and see the vest that Arndt...
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Posted in Bizarre Events on February 11, 2005

Was Abraham Lincoln Gay?

A new book by C.A. Tripp, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, attempts to marshal all the evidence on this question, which has for years fascinated people with nothing more important to do. Buttressed by articles like this one, "Lincoln Was Poor Bed Partner, Says Man Who Tried to Sleep With Him” (about Lincoln spending the night with a Wisconsin...
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Posted in Curiosities on February 10, 2005

Black Fur Traders in 18th-c. Wisconsin

African Americans were living in New France before Jean Nicolet set foot in Wisconsin. The Jesuit Relations describe a black child under the care of a Quebec priest in 1631 and 1632, and there are several references to French officers or traders having black “servants” in their employ throughout the 18th century. The earliest record of African Americans in Wisconsin...
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Posted in Odd Lives on February 9, 2005

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) was born near Pepin, where she spent most of her childhood until her pioneer family headed further west. In her mid-sixties she recreated these years in her first novel, Little House in the Big Woods, which proved so popular she went on to write 6 more stories about her girlhood. Her experiences were similar to those...
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Posted in Curiosities on February 7, 2005

A Black Civil War Soldier from Wisconsin Tells His Story

Last week Reps. John Gard and Barbara Toles introduced a resolution to honor Company F of the 29th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops, for their service during the Civil War. Credited to Wisconsin for recruiting purposes, most of Company F was actually raised in Illinois and Missouri, its soldiers taking the places of white Wisconsin residents who would otherwise have been...
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Posted in Odd Lives on February 4, 2005

The President and the Media

Last night tens of millions of Americans simultaneously watched President Bush deliver his State of the Union address. This morning its full text is up on the Web and thousands of people are blogging about it. Did you ever wonder how presidents got their message out before television and the Web? Radio made possible Franklin Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats” that reached...
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Posted in Curiosities on February 3, 2005

Groundhogs, Badgers, and Suckers

Today is Groundhog Day. Do you think anyone ever really believed that a furry little mammal could predict the weather? Of course, who would have predicted that a furry little mammal would give its name to our state? As you may know, we became The Badger State because the first hardy lead miners wintered over in hillside caves they dug,...
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Posted in Animals on February 2, 2005

Women with Clubs

Today (February 1st) is the birthday of Theodora Youmans, a founding member of the Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs. If that phrase makes you think of tea cups, crumpets, and bridge tables, think again. From 1895 to 1925, Youmans and other club women waged a tireless struggle for women's rights. Youmans led the 1911-12 campaign for a women's suffrage amendment...
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Posted in Odd Lives on February 1, 2005

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