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Odd Wisconsin Archives: Strange Deaths

The Search for Wisconsin's First Priest

"How's fishing?" That's the question that greeted Rev. A.A.A. Schmirler as he paddled the rivers of northern Wisconsin during the summer of 1959. The historian-priest was not fishing, however, but retracing the route of the first missionary to visit Wisconsin almost exactly 300 years before. Father Schmirler was trying to discover the exact location where Fr. Rene Menard died while... :: Posted on September 25, 2013

Looking Down on the Competition

According to local legend, fur trader Michel Brisbois (1759-1837) had himself interred high on a bluff over Prairie du Chien so he could look down on his rivals forever. A Fierce Competition Brisbois was a fur trader who arrived in Wisconsin in 1781 and thumbed his nose at the rich and powerful for the next four decades. He undercut more... :: Posted on March 28, 2013

"Killed by Remorse"

In the summer of 1834, Rev. Cutting Marsh of Kaukauna journeyed across Wisconsin into Iowa, keeping a daily diary as he went. On the Mississippi he heard about the recent death of "a very wicked man" named Nadeau, whose fate was worthy of a story by Edgar Allan Poe. The Murder and the Haunting "It was said," Rev. Marsh wrote... :: Posted on November 28, 2012

Hill of the Dead

That's the English translation of Butte des Morts, a name given to two places near Oshkosh. One, called Little Butte des Morts, was applied to a massive mound alongside a widening of the Fox River, opposite Neenah and Menasha. It's clearly visible in this 1827 color lithograph. A tragic story lies behind it. Indians Resist European Domination "When I came... :: Posted on June 7, 2012

Titanic: The Wisconsin Connections

For months the mass media has been ramping up for the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic. A new 3-D version of the blockbuster 1997 film will be released this weekend, 14 different television programs will air, and hundreds of news stories have already appeared. So we decided to join the crowd and look for Wisconsin connections to the... :: Posted on April 10, 2012

Rude Awakening at Shiloh

This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburgh Landing, at which unsuspecting Union forces narrowly escaped a surprise attack from their Confederate foes. For hundreds of young men from Wisconsin, it was the first exposure to combat. For nearly 300 of them, it was also their last. Caught by Surprise About 65,000 Union soldiers had... :: Posted on April 5, 2012

A Quick Stop to the Music

This weekend marks the anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1862. Union troops, including several hundred from Wisconsin, were trying to advance on the Confederate capital at Richmond. To get there, they had to cross the Rappahannock River, march through the town, and climb over a steep hill. Bureaucratic boondoggles delayed their crossing so long that Confederate... :: Posted on December 8, 2011

The Curse of the Hille Farm

In honor of Halloween, we offer a little-known Wisconsin ghost story. John Hille was a German immigrant who came to America in 1837. He was a skilled cabinet maker and made his living as a carpenter. After marrying fellow immigrant Magdalena Jaquitard, the pair settled in Waukesha Co., where John built a beautiful farm house and where they raised six... :: Posted on October 20, 2011

Battle of the Crater

July 30th marks the anniversary of one of the Civil War's most dramatic battles. Wisconsin troops, including our only unit of Black soldiers and a number of Menominee warriors, played a prominent role. In the summer of 1864, Union forces surrounded Petersburg, Virginia. A stalemate followed in which about 100,000 entrenched troops faced off against one another. At strategic points... :: Posted on July 28, 2011

First Civil War Fatality Predicted His Own Death

Last Saturday, July 2nd, marked the 150th anniversary of the first combat death of a Wisconsin soldier in the Civil War. Just a week after the war broke out in April 1861, militia units from Madison, Milwaukee, Beloit, Fond du Lac, Kenosha and Horicon were organized into the 1st Wisconsin Infantry. They trained at Camp Scott in Milwaukee and six... :: Posted on July 4, 2011

"His Guts in His Hand"

There's been a lot of press this week about the posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Civil War Lt. Alonzo Cushing, of Delafield. This story on CBS was typical. 22-year-old Cushing refused to leave the field on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, even though he was mortally wounded. As the Confederates made their last... :: Posted on May 20, 2010

Death to Capital Punishment

August 21st marks an important Wisconsin anniversary. Our last execution took place on this date more than 150 years ago, when John McCaffary was hung in Kenosha for drowning his wife. The restraints that bound his arms and legs that day ultimately came to the Society's Museum collection as documentation of the last public execution in Wisconsin. It was a... :: Posted on August 20, 2009

Trial by Whom?

This weekend's showing of Orson Welles' 1963 film The Trial (1:30 Sunday, at the Society headquarters in Madison) faithfully recreates the surreal tale of a man who finds himself accused of a capital crime but cannot learn what he's charged with, and who gets ever more hopelessly entangled in a sinister bureaucracy as the story progresses. Such existential dilemmas were... :: Posted on January 19, 2006

Milwaukee's First Settler Bites the Dust

The first permanent buildings on the site of modern Milwaukee were constructed by fur trader Solomon Juneau. In 1816 he began his career as a clerk for Jacques Vieau, who had only a seasonal trading post on the Menominee River. In 1819 he bought out Vieau's post, in 1822 he built the first log house in Milwaukee, and in 1824... :: Posted on June 9, 2005

Lee Harvey Oswald of April 1865

When Abraham Lincoln was gunned down on the night of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth was seen fleeing Ford's Theater by W.D. Kenzie who heard gunshots and saw the actor-assassin leap from the balcony and get away. Another Wisconsin man, W.H. De Groff, was outside the theater and saw Booth escape on horseback. Kenzie was acquainted with Booth and... :: Posted on April 14, 2005

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