Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

April 2006 Odd Wisconsin

"The World for Its Motherland"

On May 1, 2006, (named “A Day Without Immigrants” by activists) more than 1,000,000 immigrants* boycotted American businesses and schools to show how important immigrant workers are to the U.S. economy. They were also demonstrating against HR4437, a bill which would make it a felony to be in the country illegally. Anyone who assists or encourages a foreign worker already...
read more.
Posted in Curiosities on April 28, 2006

Drunks, Gamblers, Thieves, and Other Pioneers

We easily get the impression that all our pioneer ancestors were hard-working, upstanding, church-going pillars of a proud community. That's because they were the ones who took the pictures, wrote the histories, and operated the libraries and museums where such records are kept. But in reality they shared the world with "such unpleasant sights as often greet the eye on...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 27, 2006

Angels, Animals, or Agents of Change

Wordsworth claimed that humans are fallen angels who come into the world "trailing clouds of glory," but some people think he was overly optimistic. Wisconsin's own Thornton Wilder had a different view. He wrote, "every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for." Although we may not...
read more.
Posted in Curiosities on April 22, 2006

Ruminating About Germinating

This time of year, Wisconsin gardeners are like racehorses stomping in the starting block. A few passionate ones are already harvesting greens in their coldframes, but most us are impatiently awaiting the arrival of that mythical date when our backyards are supposedly safe from a renegade killer frost. We have to content ourselves with visions of bounty and great expectations...
read more.
Posted in Curiosities on April 19, 2006

Place of the Spirit Tree

That's the English translation of the Potawatomi phrase that christened a Wisconsin river, city, and county. The mysterious tree they encountered had been planted by white men. During the winter of 1698-1699, a tiny group of Frenchmen sought shelter on the Lake Michigan shore between the Door penninsula and Milwaukee. Their leader was Fr. Pierre-Gabriel Marest (1662-1714), on his way...
read more.
Posted in Curiosities on April 16, 2006

Madison's First Child

"I shall be glad when it is all over and I am gone, too," burst out Wisconsiana Hawley to a reporter in 1917. She had been the first settlers' child born in Madison, and she was tired of hearing about it. "The papers have had a lot of stuff about us, but all the reporters know is what they are...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 13, 2006

Mediums Rare

When religion and science first clashed in the 1850s, explosive energy from the collision spun off in weird directions. Some people gave up ancient dogmas with a sigh of relief, while others dug in their heels and insisted on the literal truth of "the old time religion." Some simply lost their faith and spent the rest of their lives searching...
read more.
Posted in Odd Lives on April 11, 2006

Madison's Most Important Phone Call

Richard Valentine, a telegraph operator in Janesville, went to Chicago in 1874 to see a man named Elisha Gray, who was experimenting with sending music over wires. He came back and strung a telegraph wire between his home and his brother's, stuck one of Gray's primitive devices on either end, and made the first Wisconsin phone call. Soon the two...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 9, 2006

John Muir's Dorm Room

"I can vividly recall the tall clock which he made," wrote Grace Lindsley in 1935, "and which was connected with his bed in such a way that when the time came for which he had set it, the mechanism was released which tipped up the bed and threw the occupant on the floor, and at the same time struck a...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 8, 2006

Jefferson's Madison Descendants

Rumors that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with a slave, Sally Hemings, started 200 years ago with this 1802 article in a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper. Recent DNA analysis has persuaded most historians that Jefferson was indeed the likely father of Eston Hemings (1808-1856), who moved to Madison in 1852 with his wife and three children. A cabinet-maker and musician, Eston Hemings...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 8, 2006

Murder in the Capitol !

On February 11, 1842, the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature was interrupted by the shooting of one member by another. While they were deliberating, Representative Charles C.P. Arndt implied that fellow member James R. Vineyard had lied. During a break in the proceedings, Arndt approached Vineyard's desk and the two continued their disagreement. Tensions escalated, Arndt punched Vineyard in the head, and...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 5, 2006

Pigs Beneath the Legislature

Madison first hosted the legislature in February of 1838, when lawmakers gathered to consider the profound political and economic issues of the day. Unfortunately, the Capitol building wasn't finished and they found conditions unbearable: "The floors were laid with green oak boards full of ice," one of them wrote later; "the walls of the room were iced over; green oak...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 4, 2006

The Wolves of Madison

"Bears were common," wrote H.A. Tenney of Madison in 1845, "wolves innumerable, and other wild animals in proportion... The present generation have not the faintest conception of the enormous profusion of that period." Everyone loved the ducks, geese, and fish, but they found the wolves troublesome since they ate the settlers' pigs and chickens. Robert Ream, who took over the...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 3, 2006

Early Madison Fish Tales

Many observers commented on the abundance of fish and game around the Four Lakes at the time that Madison was founded. "On the first day of May in 1839," wrote the first postmaster, John Catlin, he and a friend "discovered a large catfish near the shore of the head of Third Lake [Lake Monona] and I suggested the idea of...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 3, 2006

The Port of Madison?

Before Wisconsin was a state, some leading citizens of the hamlet called Milwaukee suggested a canal be dug between Lake Michigan and the Lead Region. The canal's proposed route would have passed roughly through Menomonee Falls, Pewaukee, Delafield, and Fort Atkinson, where it would have joined the Rock River. Lead from Mineral Point, New Diggings, Platteville, and other southwest Wisconsin...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 2, 2006

A Boy's-eye View of Madison in 1837

George Stoner arrived in Madison in the summer of 1837, a week shy of his seventh birthday. "The site upon which the city now stands," he recalled, "was then covered with a forest of giant oaks, among which were nestled two or three log cabins." Woods ringed the lakeshores, deer grazed on the capitol square, wolves surrounded the houses at...
read more.
Posted in Madison on April 2, 2006

  • Questions about this page? Email us
  • Email this page to a friend
select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text