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Odd Wisconsin Archives: Curiosities

Curling in Wisconsin

One of the stranger-looking Olympic sports on our televisions this week has been curling. Like most hardy winter pastimes, it has a proud Wisconsin heritage. Its roots lie in the 19th century, and after a long period during which curling nearly died out in America, the invention of ice-making in the 1930's revived the sport. Arrived with Scottish Immigrants A... :: Posted on February 20, 2014

Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day, so after madly dashing out to buy that gift you forgot to pick up earlier this week, you might want to click over to our gallery of historic valentines and see where this custom originated. Years ago, people didn't buy mass-produced cards from multinational corporations in chain stores. They made valentines themselves as a personal expression of... :: Posted on February 13, 2014

He Must Have Been Yaps

One of the more fascinating aspects of any culture is the jargon that its members speak. Whether they're an ethnic community, professional colleagues, a sports league, or a religious sect, every group that shares the same values and lifestyle will evolve a unique vocabulary for talking about it. For example, a lumberjack arriving at a northern Wisconsin hospital supposedly explained... :: Posted on January 30, 2014

Newhall House Hotel Fire

This weekend marks the anniversary of one the state's great tragedies. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of January 10, 1883, passersby saw flames shooting from one of Milwaukee's landmarks. Built by merchant Daniel Newhall in 1856, it had been one of the nation's most magnificent hotels when it was new. 25 years later, the Newhall House was still fashionable,... :: Posted on January 8, 2014

Pioneer Hospitality

These days, we try to guard our privacy and security quite closely. But in the early days of Wisconsin, settlers had looser boundaries about such things. Helpful neighbors were an important part of establishing not only a home, but also a community. And this wasn't limited to lending a cup of sugar. Hospitality was key to forming close bonds, and... :: Posted on January 1, 2014

New Year's Revelry, 1840s-style

Milwaukee's New Year's Eve party of 1843 was talked about for decades. About 6,000 people lived in the city then, and hundreds headed to the Milwaukie House hotel for a memorable night of gluttony. A local writer said that "every man who set out to be somebody," accompanied by "ladies in crinoline skirts and tiny bonnets," sat down at long... :: Posted on December 26, 2013

Daring Swim Saved Regiment

In the summer of 1864, Union armies began a siege around Petersburg, Virginia, that would last nearly a year. They were trying to interrupt supplies to the nearby Confederate capital at Richmond and force the South to surrender. Thousands of Wisconsin men were among the soldiers who spread out around the city. On June 15, 1864, enemy sharpshooters hiding in... :: Posted on December 12, 2013

Chest Cough? Try Skunk Grease

Winter's fast approaching, and here at the Society headquarters in Madison, runny noses and sore throats are beginning to proliferate. Relief is in sight, though. Our Museum possesses a bottle of skunk grease made in New Glarus about 1920 that was designed to help relieve chest congestion (read about it here). When doctors were scarce and health insurance non-existent, families... :: Posted on November 13, 2013

Roosevelt and Draper

In 1886, an aspiring young historian in New York wrote to Wisconsin Historical Society director Lyman Copeland Draper: "Although personally unknown to you, I take the liberty of writing to you. I am now engaged on a work in reference to the extension of our boundaries to the southward from the day when Boone crossed the Alleghanies, to the days... :: Posted on November 6, 2013

American Icons through Indian Eyes, 1830

When the Oneida and other eastern Indian nations were dispossessed of their homelands, government officials attempted to settle them on the Wisconsin frontier. They began negotiating for Menominee and Ho-Chunk territory in 1821, but those tribes were naturally reluctant to part with their own lands or to trust the U.S. government. Revisions, protests, and negotiations went on for more than... :: Posted on October 31, 2013

Time Machines

Wisconsin is full of weird and wild natural places such as Stand Rock and Witch's Gulch, But the places that early settlers found most remarkable were made by man, not nature. Effigy Mounds Spread all across our state, often on bluffs and highlands overlooking water, are thousands of carefully crafted mounds in the shapes of bear or deer, lizards or... :: Posted on October 17, 2013

The First Book in Wisconsin

Printing presses were not something that pioneer settlers wanted to carry west. They were made of cast iron and weighed as much a winter's worth of provisions. To be useful, they had to be accompanied by an equally heavy load of lead type. Hauling them overland was impossible and shipping them down the Great Lakes was problematic. So it was... :: Posted on August 7, 2013

He's A Lumberjack
And He's OK

After a long weekend up north recently, we hunted down some memoirs by Wisconsin loggers. Everyone knows the stereotype -- flannel shirt, heavy boots, cheap tobacco, hearty appetite, maybe a blue ox -- but what was the reality? Among the best recollections was one by James Holden, who started his career in the Chippewa Valley in the winter of 1862.... :: Posted on August 1, 2013

Giants In the Earth

Wisconsin had both real giants and mythological ones. The best known of the latter was probably Paul Bunyan, but 1,000 years earlier the Ho-Chunk had crafted tales about the hero Red Horn battling a race of giants: "In the early days there were Giants tall as trees and their bodies in proportion to their height; and their especial food seemed... :: Posted on July 18, 2013

An Indian View of July 4th

In July 1854, John W. Quinney (1797-1855) returned home from Wisconsin. A leader of the Stockbridge (Mohican) Indians who helped organize the tribe's emigration to Wisconsin in the 1820s, Quinney had been invited to speak at July 4th celebrations in Reidsville, N.Y. In his speech there to 2,000 listeners, he described how to him the festivities marked "the triumphal days... :: Posted on July 3, 2013

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