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The Top 10 of 2009


Mansfield Neblett (left) donates his
now-famous cheesehead to the museum

In 2009 Wisconsin slogged through the doldrums of an economy in recession, received a visit from President Barack Obama, lost several of its own soldiers in a mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas, and Green Bay Packers fans suffered as a Minnesota Vikings team led by Brett Favre beat their beloved Pack — twice. There were other big news stories as well, including a less than stellar gun deer hunting season and a December blizzard that shut down state government and snarled traffic for days. Continuing a year-end tradition begun in 2003, the Wisconsin Historical Society has selected 10 history-making news stories with a Wisconsin connection. Please join us in reflecting on the events and issues that made headlines in 2009.

Top 10 Wisconsin History-Making News Stories of 2009

  • Record Numbers Lose Jobs
    The economic collapse of 2008 continued to send shock waves through Wisconsin's economy. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, unemployment reached a 27-year high in April. By November Wisconsin businesses had lost nearly 130,000 jobs in 12 months, "the steepest year-to-year drop in 70 years of data," according to the paper. State government suffered too, resorting to layoffs and state-mandated furlough days for every state employee in order to balance the books.
  • Largest Overseas National Guard Mobilization Since World War II
    In January 2009 the 3,200 citizen-soldiers of the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team began deploying to Iraq. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, this was the largest overseas deployment of Wisconsin men and women since World War II. Details on their work in Iraq this year is available on their website.
  • Brett Favre Retires Again, Changes His Mind Again
    On February 11, similar to his announcement in March of 2008, Brett Favre once again announced his retirement (this time from the New York Jets) before changing his mind in August and deciding to play for a 19th season. Much to the dismay of many Green Bay Packer fans, Favre chose to play for their heated rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. Favre bested his former team during two separate victories. The first game in Minnesota saw Favre become the first quarterback in NFL history to defeat every one of the league's 32 franchises.The second game took place in the stadium he once called home, Lambeau Field, with Favre leading his new team to a 38-26 win. Favre continues to be among the top quarterbacks in the NFL and as of December 20 has started a league-record 282 consecutive games.
  • H1N1 Hits Wisconsin Hard
    The first confirmed cases of H1N1 flu were reported in Wisconsin in May 2009. In December the state estimated that more than 13,000 people had confirmed or probable cases of swine flu since the outbreak, including 47 deaths. October shortages of the vaccine resulted in canceled clinics and long lines while the limited supply was available to only high risk portions of the population. At one point in the outbreak, 29 schools or school districts were closed due to absence from illness. On December 14 the Wisconsin Department of Public Health announced that anyone could receive the 1.6 million H1N1 doses of vaccine allocated to the state. While cases of the H1N1 flu were in decline in Wisconsin and the nation by the end of the year, health officials warned that the virus could always make a comeback.
  • The Great Circus Parade Returns to the Streets of Milwaukee
    All the razzle-dazzle excitement and colorful pageantry associated with the American circus swept through downtown Milwaukee on July 12 for the first time since 2003. The spectacle consisted of 50 authentic circus wagons pulled by some 350 exquisite horses, 30 musical bands and novelties, exotic animals, 150 clowns and more than 450 riding and walking performers dressed in lavish circus wardrobe. Also present were high-wheel bikes, the Milwaukee Police Band, antique firefighting equipment, mounted police and sheriff posses, and antique automobiles with political dignitaries. Organizers estimated the parade as one of the nation's largest of the year with nearly a half-million spectators in attendance.
  • Les Paul, the "Wizard of Waukesha," Dies at 94
    On August 12 the musical world lost a true giant of the industry with the death of Les Paul, a pioneer in the development of the solid-body electric guitar and an extraordinary musician in his own right. Paul devoted his entire life to making music and improving the technology of the recording industry, playing a lead role in the development of recording innovations such as overdubbing, delay effects and multitrack recording. His music crossed several genres from country and jazz to blues, pop and rock. Paul was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and is one of only a few artists with a stand-alone exhibit in the rock museum.
  • President Obama Visits Madison, Leaving a Presidentially Signed Cheesehead in the Museum's Collections
    When Liberian immigrant Mansfield Neblett went to see President Barack Obama's speech at Neblett's daughter's Madison middle school on November 4, 2009, little did he know that the headgear he chose for the occasion would garner him headlines throughout Wisconsin and from coast to coast. Neblett chose a cheesehead hat to wear as a symbol of his pride in his adopted state. Obama's staff couldn't help but notice the large yellow wedge and persuaded Neblett to remove the hat in exchange for a promise that the president would sign the cheesehead, which he did. Neblett decided the presidentially signed headgear should belong to the state and donated it to the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
  • Hunters/Lawmakers Vent Over Meager Deer Hunt
    Angry hunters packed a state Capitol hearing room to complain about the sparse November deer hunt. Hunters killed only about 195,000 deer, 29 percent fewer than in 2008. They claimed the Department of Natural Resources' herd control measures had devastated the deer population. Some hunters said they didn't only fail to bag a deer — they also didn't see any deer at all. The poor outing had hunters in an uproar. Senator Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, warned the agency's policies could ruin hunting and cause hunters to boycott next year's hunt, forcing the agency to ask the Legislature to raise taxes to make up lost license fees.
  • Fort Hood, Texas, Shootings Kill Two Wisconsin Soldiers, Wound Four More
    Two Wisconsin soldiers died and four others were wounded on November 5, 2009, in a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. Staff Sgt. Amy Krueger of Kiel and Capt. Russell Seager of Mount Pleasant were killed in the attack by a fellow soldier. They were members of the U.S. Army's 467th Medical Detachment. Spc. Grant Moxon of Lodi, Dorothy Carskadon of Monona, Sgt. John Pagel of North Freedom, and Pfc. Amber Bahr of Random Lake were wounded. The incident, which the Wisconsin State Journal called the worst mass shooting on an American military base, killed 13 people and wounded 31.
  • Big December Blizzard Shuts Down State Government, Snarls Traffic for Days
    A major winter storm hit Wisconsin hard on Wednesday, December 9, dumping up to 17 inches of snow across the state and leading Governor Jim Doyle to order a daylong shutdown of state government and closure of most University of Wisconsin campuses. "I can't think of a time right now in my 50-year career where state government was totally shut down," Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison, told the Wisconsin State Journal. Risser, a member of the Society's Board of Curators, has served in the Legislature for more than a half century. Plummeting temperatures that followed the storm turned half-plowed streets into rutted ice roads, causing traffic nightmares for commuters and Christmas shoppers.
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