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Odd Wisconsin Archives: Bizarre Events

The Strange Tale of Petersylvania, Wis.

Not 'Pennsylvania' but 'Petersylvania' -- that's the name that Rev. Samuel Peters (1735-1825) gave to his hypothetical 10,000-square-mile empire in northern Wisconsin. Like most dreams, it didn't come true. But it's certainly an odd story. The Wanderings of Jonathan Carver It all began with Jonathan Carver (1710-1780), the first English-speaking traveler to journey through Wisconsin. Carver crossed from Green Bay... :: Posted on February 2, 2012

It Was So Cold That...

This weekend's arctic blast and snowstorm sent us searching the historical record for similar outbreaks of frigid weather. We found this account by Ebenezer Childs (1797-1864), describing a trip from Madison to Green Bay in the winter of 1836-37: "There were then but three other families in Madison. The doctor from Fort Winnebago [at modern Portage, who had been tending... :: Posted on January 19, 2012

How Egg Harbor Got Its Name

On June 23, 1825, Henry and Elizabeth Baird set off from Green Bay toward Mackinac. They were passengers in a small fleet of bateaux owned by fur-trader Joseph Rolette, who was taking beaver pelts to market. The Bairds were on Rolette's own boat with nine voyageurs; another craft was commanded by John Kinzie, who would later help found the... :: Posted on September 15, 2011

Failed Miracle

Religious enthusiasm can lead to unexpected consequences. H.P. Leavens, a pioneer settler of Neenah, recalled a particularly energetic Methodist minister, one Rev. Albert Baker, and the day he attempted to walk on water. Baker was remembered as "a brilliant speaker and enthusiastic worker" who once claimed privately that he could prove how that Biblical miracle had occured. His friends... :: Posted on August 25, 2011

Smelling the Colors

Willetta Huggins was a remarkable young woman. At the age of 14 she lost both her sight and her hearing, but after only two years of work she was able to distinguish an amazing amount using her remaining senses. For example, she learned how to design and make her own clothing by touch. She even learned to 'hear' people speaking... :: Posted on July 7, 2011

A Con Man for Connoisseurs

Back in 1886, an anonymous journalist at the Madison Democrat recalled a talented charlatan who had fleeced many of the state's residents when Wisconsin was still young. Among them was attorney Edward G. Ryan, who went on to become Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. At the time, the con man was considered just a guy who had... :: Posted on May 5, 2011

April Fools

April 1st is a famous day for practical jokes. In 1942, restaurant owner Henry Rooney of La Crosse took great pleasure in playing tricks throughout the day on his unsuspecting customers. Reporter Jerry Moriarity of the La Crosse Tribune went in for breakfast that day and witnessed the following antics firsthand. Moriarity arrived and ordered pancakes and coffee. The... :: Posted on March 30, 2011

Legislator Obsessed with Underwear

In January of 1899 a resolution was introduced in the Wisconsin Assembly to prohibit tight lacing of women's corsets. Corsets were undergarments stiffened with whalebone that could be tightened by laces to reduce the size of a woman's waist. They had been worn for decades by the time this bill was introduced, with laces adjusted and re-adjusted to conform to... :: Posted on March 2, 2011

Mysterious Woman of the Woods

The toughest work in lumber camps was done by oxen, who hauled huge sleds of massive tree trunks out of the brush and over the snow to the nearest river. When spring came, their masters floated the winter's harvest downstream to the company mill. One lumberjack, however, was given the lonely task of driving the oxen through the forest and... :: Posted on January 18, 2011

The Champeen of Michigan and His Peculiar Leg

In the heyday of logging, lumberjacks invaded northwoods towns every spring after spending a long winter isolated in the woods. "When we had been in camp four or five months," Otis Terpenning recalled, "we were so full of life and activity we just had to expand or die… One crew was always ready to fight any other crew, and... :: Posted on November 4, 2010

Don't Mess with the Cook

During the summer of 1930, papers in northeast Wisconsin ran several memoirs by a writer named B.A. Claflin. Two of these concerned a woman named Mary Ann who ran a boarding house in Peshtigo and worked in logging camps upriver. A big woman, standing six feet tall and weighing near 200 pounds, she was especially imposing when angry. In one... :: Posted on September 22, 2010

The Town That Wouldn't Give Up

This weekend marks the anniversary of one of the most dramatic floods in living memory -- the deluge that nearly swept away the village of Spring Valley. The 973 residents of the little Pierce Co. town were used to floods. Their village, strung out lazily along the Eau Galle River in a deep valley, had witnessed major inundations in 1894,... :: Posted on September 16, 2010

Playing Footsie in La Crosse

The hit TV show "Bones" exploits our fascination with gruesome images quite successfully, but it didn't invent that creative device. For example, on December 1st, 1873, the press in La Crosse reported a strange discovery. While playing in an alley the previous day, two boys had stumbled upon a human foot. They reported it to the police, who took it... :: Posted on June 30, 2010

When Beer Was (Almost) Illegal

Strange as it sounds, in November of 1853 a majority of Wisconsin voters chose to outlaw beer. That year a statewide referendum on liquor sales went 27,519 to 24,109 for prohibition. In Milwaukee, where beer was a vital part of German culture, the vote went the other way. Almost ten times as many people voted against prohibition as voted for... :: Posted on June 17, 2010

Monroe's Limburger War

Ah, cheese. Staple of the state economy, major food group member, and favorite of fondue lovers everywhere. Where would we be without it? In pioneer Wisconsin, we nearly found out. When the Swiss farmers in Green County first realized that dairy could be more lucrative than their failing wheat farms, they jumped on the cheese-making wagon. But not all the... :: Posted on April 22, 2010

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