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Top 10 Wisconsin History Stories of 2003

From the rumble of tens of thousands of Harley-Davidson motorcycles all over Wisconsin to the launch of a Web site, American Journeys, which made history of its own by providing worldwide online access to firsthand accounts of American exploration, history made news all over the state in 2003. Following is a list of the Wisconsin Historical Society's picks for the top 10 Wisconsin history stories making news this year:

  1. Wisconsin Historical Society Weathers Another Budget Storm
    As Gov. Jim Doyle and the Wisconsin Legislature struggled to eliminate a $3.2 billion state budget deficit — the largest in state history — state agencies were forced to radically reduce their general-purpose revenue and tax-supported workforce. The Wisconsin Historical Society cut $1.5 million and 15 jobs for the two-year period beginning July 1, 2003, but, with bipartisan support from the Legislature, it narrowly escaped even more drastic cuts that would have permanently crippled the institution. The Society avoided cutting public access to its library, archives, historic sites and museum.
  2. Christopher Columbus to Lewis & Clark — Explorers' Accounts Go Online
    Students, teachers and armchair historians by the thousands can now view eyewitness accounts of North American exploration online with the Wisconsin Historical Society's launch of American Journeys. The Web site makes more than 18,000 pages of rare books and manuscripts chronicling four centuries of North American exploration available to anyone with Internet access. Documents include eyewitness accounts of epic journeys of discovery, including those of Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, and Lewis and Clark. More than 700,000 students and 7,500 teachers across the nation will use the Web site to study American exploration this school year. A $202,000 federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services made the project possible.
  3. History Takes to the Highway — On Two Wheels
    Hundreds of thousands celebrated the centennial of a Wisconsin business icon — Harley-Davidson Motor Company — in 2003. In 1903, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson built their first motorcycle in a wooden shed in Milwaukee. The company, emblematic of Wisconsin’s fine history of industries designing and manufacturing engines and motorized vehicles, became a symbol of American values of freedom, independence and a fascination with the "open road." In August, Harley riders from all over the world took the "ride home" to Milwaukee to celebrate Harley-Davidson's 100th year in the motorcycle manufacturing business.
  4. A Victorian Gem Returns to its Glorious 1890s Heyday
    Culminating many years of painstaking research, the documentary restoration of the Villa Louis historic site in Prairie du Chien, a National Historic Landmark, was completed. Working with a team of restoration experts, the Wisconsin Historical Society completed one of the nation's most well-documented restorations of a Victorian home. Restoration of the William Morris-inspired British Arts and Crafts mansion on the Mississippi River was funded through support from the state of Wisconsin and many private donors, including the Jeffris Family Foundation and members of the Prairie du Chien community. Spurred by the restoration, paid visitation to the Villa Louis rose 22 percent in 2003.
  5. Broadway Gem Preserved in Wisconsin
    Ten Chimneys, the bucolic country estate of Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, opened in May for its first season of public tours. Some 19,000 people visited the house museum this year. Sadly, Joseph Garton, who led the effort to preserve and restore Ten Chimneys, died of cancer in August.
  6. David Maraniss Creates Time Capsule: Madison and Vietnam, October 1967
    In a unique approach to writing history, author David Maraniss intertwined two vastly different, but distinctly related, moments and places in time — a battlefield in Vietnam and violent anti-war strife on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. In "They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967," Maraniss weaves together the agony of a deadly jungle ambush that killed 61 soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division and — half a world away — the bloody clash between club-wielding Madison police and students protesting the presence of campus recruiters for Dow Chemcial Co., makers of napalm and Agent Orange.
  7. Participation in National History Day Doubles
    Four thousand state middle and high school students participated in National History Day events throughout Wisconsin during 2003, a 103-percent increase in participation in one year. The statewide educational initiative, part of a national competition culminating each June in Washington, DC, drew students from 20 Wisconsin counties to the state finals, coordinated by the Wisconsin Historical Society's office of school services.
  8. Declaration of Independence Comes to Wisconsin
    The state Capitol hosted a national traveling exhibit of rare documents on the founding of the United States, including a copy of the Declaration of Independence. The Wisconsin Historical Society supplemented the exhibit with rare documents from its archives, including autographs of five signers of the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin and — the rarest of all 56 signers — Button Gwinnett, who died less than a year after signing the Declaration.
  9. Circus World Museum and the Great Circus Parade in Jeopardy
    In December, Circus World Museum officials confirmed that the museum's precarious financial position has been "exacerbated in the last couple of years by reductions in donors." The museum's fiscal situation casts doubt on whether funding will be available to mount the 2004 Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee.
  10. Green Bay Packers Make Wisconsin Sports History
    Brett Favre, Ahman Greene and Ryan Longwell combine to make Wisconsin sports history on December 14 by breaking a 22-year-old Green Bay Packer record for consecutive games with touchdown passes; a 41-year-old single-season rushing record; and a 58-year-old all-time scoring record.
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