Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

An odd day.  It started with leisurely gardening and a walk.  The latter got to be rather brisk when dark clouds rolled in and sirens started blaring.  We had a torrential downpour that flooded our street (which is I must mention on top of a hill) and blew a number of manhole covers off from backed up water pressure.

Resuming my walk when it was safe I ran across this vignette.  

A crowd has gathered.

Here's what they are watching.  

This man and his family clearly came prepared to fish, setting up a table and chairs in the spillway below the dam.  The man is of generous proportions.  He has hooked onto a fish of similar dimensions.  An epic battle ensued for about half an hour as he tried manfully to crank that monster in using tackle suitable for pan fish.

In the end the fish, probably a sturgeon, won.   The line broke and the fisherman raised his arms to the heavens in frustration.  We spectators cheered briefly then moved on.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Signs of the (Covid) Times

All sorts of businesses are going with online ordering and curbside pick up.

If you have a theory as to what is going on here please feel free to post it below.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Hudson Road Brewery - The Promised Part Four !

We left the Hudson Road Brewery story a while back*, with me wondering exactly what I'd see walking the site.  With the return of balmy weather and some relaxation of Covid Panic I got the chance.  You'd be amazed how much you can learn by chatting with an 87 year old local farmer.....and from walking the site with the current owner of the brewery land.

Because the maps were rather deceiving I suppose it would be best to start there.  The earliest view is from 1877, but it's blurry and unhelpful.  But an atlas from 1888 shows this alignment.

It looks straightforward.  Main brewery building aligned North-South, road to the North and East of it.  This of course is called  "Brewery Road" on old maps.   But take a look at the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of 1910....

Because this is a bit low res, here's a link where you can zoom in and read the labels on each of the outbuildings and areas of the main brewery.  Pink on these maps indicates brick construction....remember the 300,000 bricks used for that rebuild in 1883?  Of interest is the directional arrow....the brewery is clearly oriented more East-West than North-South, and there is a road that makes a dog leg turn and runs on the South side of the brewery.  Now, correlate this with yet another photo courtesy of the Dunn County Historical society...said to be circa 1902.

This one is helpful because it was taken from a little further back, and it sure does show that road running to the south of the brewery.  Gilbert creek is just off to the left in this picture.  Note that the elevation of land behind the brewery is only 20 feet or so.  Recall that the account of the 1874 fire said that the earlier version of this brewery was at the foot of a bluff.  Creative embellishment?  Or was the 1860s - 1874 version of the Hudson Road Brewery somewhere else?  Now for a bit of fun let's try to overlay what is seen in this image onto the current Google Earth map.  I've put the brewery buildings on in blue and the historic road in red.  The blue star below appears to be the vantage point of the 1902 photo.  The red star, now a horse pasture, is where Old Timers say the picnic grounds was located.  Right next to the brewery, so that makes sense.

The course of Gilbert creek has likely changed a bit over the years.  And there are some newer structures that have been built on or near the site of the main building.  Here's some modern pictures.

The red brick structure seen here is a smokehouse, probably built after the last brewery building was demolished.  A scattering of bricks newer and older.  And there were two water pipes sticking out of the hillside.  This is about where the Wash Room for the brewery was.  Possibly original pipes that nobody ever bothered to remove?

Old bricks everywhere.  And yes, I did take one home as a souvenir. 

And finally, the picnic area.  Once filled with rowdy drinkers, now a pasture for some nice horses.  Of the reported dance hall I can see no current trace.

This would seem to wrap up the story of the Hudson Road Brewery.  At least in the sense that I don't think we'll learn much more about it.  But some parting thoughts.

1. This is hardly an ideal site for a brewery.  It's not that far from the creek and must have flooded periodically.  

2. I still suspect that the earlier versions of the brewery might have been elsewhere.  On higher ground for instance.

3. The locals actually had a recollection - passed down now for over a century - regards the question of a storage cave.  Somebody long departed who was related to the Burkhardt/Niedermeyer clan thought that Hudson Road shared cave space with the other brewery about two miles away.  This seems odd but I have seen precedent once before in Hastings Minnesota.  Perhaps the hauling of kegs back and forth was going on anyway as their main customers were in town.

4. The "dog leg" road was still in use in fairly recent times.  You can actually see a line of bricks that marks its course going down the hill.  

5. In the pasture, former picnic grounds, there are a couple of probable building "shadows".  Of course these could be of any era but one is in about the correct place for the curious L-shaped building on the 1910 view.  Here, have a little fun playing with the image zooming in and out.  Look for rectangle shapes in the grass, they pretty much always man made.


Don't be distracted by the circular pen, that's new.  But on the edge of the tree line there are the ruins of what the owner calls a "silo" that is about the correct location for the 1910 water reservoir.  Note the vague circle to the left (west) of the modern horse pen.

Final thought.  Is there a chance that the complex building shadows in the pasture actually are the earlier (1860's to 1874) brewery?  A tempting theory, but there is the pesky matter of the report mentioning the "foot of the bluff".  Newspapers of any era are fallible and as unlikely as it seems for a 19th century journalist to not to know where to get a drink it is possible that this was just an inaccurate report.
If you are coming in late, the earlier installments of the Hudson Road Brewery story:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Oh and if you are a real glutton for puzzlement here's something on the enigma of that "other" brewery and its cave in Menomonie.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


Writing several weeks ahead I sometimes have to predict the future. Is our society at last emerging from the nightmare of Social Distancing, reversion to natural hair colors and....Tiger King?*  Let's hope so.  And if that is happily the case we should be well into the process of looking back and figuring out who actually knew what they were talking about in real time.

In the current parlance, if someone you generally disagree with says something wrong it is a lie, or at least an error.  If someone you generally agree with says something way off target it is referred to as "a gaffe".

But why?  Gaffe is an odd looking word and its use in this context is most peculiar.

Strictly speaking either gaff or gaffe refers to a large hook you use to help land fish.  Oh, not delicate little trout and such, great big whoppin' fish that would probably break and or bite off your arm if you just reached down and nabbed 'em.  Up in Alaska we used a gaffe to haul in halibut.
I know, this is not a halibut.  Halibut are gross looking.
With that terminal e you'd figure Gaffe to be of French origins and you'd be correct.  It is a middle French word (circa 1300) meaning boat hook, possibly from an earlier Germanic root word meaning "to seize".  If you have a boat hook sitting right there and you are lucky enough to have a gigantic fish on the line, well, it makes sense to use it.

But the sense of gaffe as a "blunder" or "clumsy remark" is much newer and the connection to maritime hardware is said to be "obscure".  

The true origin, or perhaps just a sound alike word that tilted the meaning, could be elsewhere.  

Gaff as a word meaning "talk" is recorded as early as 1812 and according to the Oxford English Dictionary might derive from an Old English word "gafspraech" meaning "blasphemous or ribald speech".  Which might have wandered north into Scotland and become gaff meaning "loud rude talk".  Many of the Scots I have encountered in pubs are probably engaging in this.  Loud for sure.  Rudeness is harder to judge and would require my understanding more than 50% of what they say.
* If rumors are true that Nicolas Cage is going to play the Tiger King in an upcoming film adaptation......the Bad Times may not be over yet.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Farewell to the Digging Season that Wasn't

Those of us who had our excavating season done in by Corona virus have at least been issued the same time slots in 2021.  So I won't mourn the lack of Finding.  All the artifacts grand and small, all the features humble, spectacular or robbed out by later peasants....we'll see them next May.

No, its the people and the landscape I miss.  Here's a bit of a wander down nostalgia lane, with much of it drawing upon our weekend Excursions....

Drinks on the patio.

Sue about to meet "My Little Pony"  Possibly Big McIntosh?

Wandering the hills.  8 years later I still use that shapeless green bag to haul groceries home from far less scenic walks.

Pete making something rude out of clay.  He seems to be giving Pierre a bit of advice from the perspective of an Old Married Guy to someone in a new relationship...

For some reason there are many photos of Pierre consuming large quantities of food...but he remains lean and fit.

Pete showing off on a tumbled down roman column.  What was he trying to demonstrate?

I vaguely recall that he was re-enacting the famous Slim Pickens scene from Dr. Strangelove, but it could just as easily been more advice for Pierre.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Spolia from The Great Depression

It has been a very good spring for extended walks, in part because we are not allowed to do much else.  On one such I visited a spot that featured in a very early entry for Detritus of Empire.   It was looking at reuse of older stones in a newer wall, a practice that in archaeology is called "spolia".  Spolia means spoils.  In excavations the big pile of debris that has been dug up is called the spoil heap and has all manner of random - if hopefully carefully screened - stuff on it.  Even before archaeologists came along inhabitants of ancient sites found nice convenient building stones just sitting around they naturally grabbed them and incorporated them into newer structures.  

In any case the original post dealt with use of older tombstones in a more modern flood control wall alongside Duncan creek in downtown Chippewa Falls Wisconsin.  On my revisit I found some new clues.

I've speculated that the stones came from a company that went out of business, and they were just handy when this project was undertaken.  I had read that it was a monument company, and indeed some of these are partially finished tombstones.  But I think there are enough plain blocks there that they might have been doing other work as well.  In a small town you only have so many "customers" for tombstones in any given year and being able to help trim assorted stores and homes around town would be a sensible business solution.

As to the date of the wall I was fortunate enough to spot this:

Absent a bit of most inappropriate stone robbing I am left to speculate.  It looks like a tombstone but other interpretations are possible.  If it is a memorial the individual would seem to have a name ending in R (although what's that little _ doing there after it?), and to have died in 1934.  The E. is enigmatic.  Many local worthies were members of a fraternal lodge called the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, and their notation B.P.O.E. is sometimes seen on tombstones.  But shouldn't that be centered rather than off to the right side?  Unfortunately the local historical society is not open for in person visits just now and the online archives of the local paper do not cover this year.  I expect to have more substantial theories down the road a bit.

And of course there is always this one:

August 16, 1895.  Nothing more.  So many questions.  Did the carver make a mistake? I'd expect you would carve the name first.  Did somebody not pay their bill?  And if so what was the procedure for this?  A finished tombstone would be of no value to the carver nor would its absence be much noted by the deceased!  You can lean on the family of course but maybe this was a mean old cuss that nobody liked in real life.

Questions, questions.  At least I can more accurately date the age of the wall, which I'm sure was one of many successive efforts to control floods along this unruly creek.  It can't be before 1934.  Probably it was a Depression era project, possibly a W.P.A. effort?  And a business failure in a company that likely needed both funeral and commercial customers to make ends meet would make sense.  Time to clean out the warehouse.  Hey, you can even toss in that old stone we were using as a doorstop....

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Parking Lot Hoard

Withdrawal symptoms are not pretty.

Today I am supposed to be in sunny England, happily troweling away at a Britano-Roman site.  I should be intently watching each careful scrape looking for both the spectacular and the mundane, as each can contribute to our understanding of the past.

But no, for the first time in 13 years there is no spring archaeology trip.

I never entirely turn off the "radar" that makes me a good excavator.  I'm always scanning my surroundings, looking for things that don't quite fit and might be hints of something atypical.  It's probably why I was a better than average diagnostician back in my medical career.  Maybe I even stayed a step or two ahead of my teen aged kids and whatever they were up to.  At least for a while.

I try to walk every day.  It's harder during the winter, but as soon as I can delude myself that spring is coming I am tromping about town.  And of course, scanning my surroundings.

I run across a lot of lost coins, and into my pocket they go.  At home they go into a jar.  When our bank stopped happily accepting batches of coins they started accumulating, so the sizable hoard I set out to clean recently was at least two years worth.

So what can be learned from a frankly random collection that comes from so many sources?  Do the presumably rowdy patrons of the Sunbeam Tavern and those of the now quarantined Burger King and the hormonally  distracted denizens of the High School parking lot have enough points in common to describe our community?

Lets find out.  Here's a small view of the batch before cleaning.

I'll try to do a semi-professional job of analyzing these finds, with notes for future scholars....

Here's the hoard after several days of lackadaisical cleaning efforts.  Not bad actually.

It adds up to 34 quarters, 54 dimes, 26 nickles and 198 pennies.  Oh, plus the following foreign issues, which likely ended up coming home from overseas travels. Sometimes they were coins I found on walks over there:

- an old UK 20 pence, a 10 pence "New Pence" from 1992 and a 2008 UK penny.
- a 2002 10 euro cent piece
- 6 Canadian pennies and one quarter.

If dates interest you the oldest coins were a pair of 1964 pennies.  The newest finds were from 2019.

About half the quarters were commemoratives.  None were from Wisconsin or adjacent states.

The biggest batch of course were the pennies.  You drop one and you can hardly be bothered to look for it.  Note the huge difference in quality between old and new.

Newer US coins, other than the nickles, all have base metal cores and a thin wash of something that at least tries to look like the copper and silver of bygone times.  This makes them easily damaged especially in places where a snow plow goes back and forth repeatedly.

Coin hoards are used to gain insight into times past.  Was there inflation?  Were times rich or poor?  Even modern coin accumulations have been studied.  There are all sorts of factors that go into what is found.  How many of each type were made?  What was saved by collectors?  What denominations stayed in use for things like vending machines and bus fares?

With the insidious growth of electronic transactions I am pretty sure that coinage as we've known it for several millenia will vanish in the next generation.  And far future archaeologists will likely have a hard time figuring out this now unfamiliar technology.

So here, Far Future Archaeologists, let me make your job easier.

Little known fact.  Abraham Lincoln slowly turned into a zombie.  

It started in 1997.....

And the horrifying process was complete by 2008.

Abe Lincoln. Zombie.  Start writing your  Doctoral theses Future Peeps....