Friday, June 28, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Osceola Wisconsin

From 1867 to 1878 (or by another source 1882) a man named Veit Geiger operated a brewery in the river town of Osceola Wisconsin.  Geiger was an early pioneer of the area working first in a brick yard, later as a farmer before starting his brewery.  He was also a Civil War veteran, serving in the famous Iron Brigade.

The ruins of the brewery can still be seen.

Of course with a brewery of this era there are caves.  In this case a little to the right and up the hill from this view.  When the brewery was in operation they would have been just out the door of the second story.  So, up a little path and we find....

Nicely bricked up and secure.  Just a little to the left of this is another cave entrance. This one is hard to see, but the tip off is this broken bit of archway laying on the ground.

You learn to look for these sneaky little hollowed out spaces.  Not really accessible, but certainly enough to take the traditional flash picture at arms length...

Notice that there is a pair of glasses visible just to the left of that bit of metal tubing.  Yes, I leaned over a little too far taking this one and they fell out of my pocket.  Sigh. Well, in the line of duty I have become fairly proficient at retrieving odd things from odd places, so it was not all that difficult to fashion a stick into a spelunkoscopic device and fish the darned things out. Reminds me, I should probably do a week of medical posts even though they seem to be largely ignored by the blogosphere at large.

If you visit...

Lets assume you can find Osceola, it is on the maps.  It is a small town, so finding the BP gas station should pose no challenge.  The brewery site is actually behind the gas station at the base of the bluff atop which sits a water tower.  The caves are up a small path going to the right.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Ellsworth, Wisconsin

Ellsworth Wisconsin is a sleepy little place.  It was established just before the Civil War, and was renamed in honor of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, one of the first Union casualties of that conflict.

As you drive along Main street you see this off to the south:

These cover the entrances to brewery caves.  As seems often to be the case there are three of them, connected by cross passages.  They were standing open when I stopped for a look, so I did not think a brief visit was out of line.

For some reason the vaults and hallways are full of this odd scaffolding.  These would be worthless for support beams, and the cave in any case seems "rock solid".  It almost looks as if somebody had in mind to put walls up in there.

More of the same, with loose planks laying about.  An odd project that started building in a half dozen spots and finished none!

It has a sort of Old West gold mine look to it.  The green stuff in the distance is the moss/algae you often find in such places.

Way in the back we find a new wall of cinder blocks.  Somebody had an idea going here.

It is a rather pleasant location, right out front is a scenic little stream.

There is very little information about the brewery in Ellsworth.  It almost certainly predates the earliest reference I have found to date, which has it in operation in the mid 1890s and owned by a fellow named Julius Diebnow.

Overall the Ellsworth brewery cave is of fairly standard design, but it does have one interesting can buy it if you want to! Here is the real estate listing.  The asking price seems modest for this pretty little spot, but it should be noted that they want to sell it as a package deal with the house that stands nearby.
Addendum:  The half-hearted construction project inside these caves continues to intrigue me.  It looks a little too elaborate for a "Haunted Halloween" venue such as we saw in Hudson.  In fact for that you would probably want there to be cool exposed stone walls. No, this has more of the look of a failed Rec Room project.

I am disdainful of the modern term "Man Cave".  The implication of it is of a single room ghetto/quarantine ward where the grunting, malodorous Y-chromosome afflicted member of the household is to be contained.  Presumably freeing up the rest of the house for Scrapbooking, quilting and potted plants.

But if you were ever going to build a Man Cave that would meet with my approval, constructing it inside an actual cave might just be sufficient!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - A Hidden Gem

(Time for a few "Brewery Cave" posts I have been saving up.  Yes, you will notice snow in one set of pictures.  It hung on a long time this spring....)
In general I will give directions to the brewery caves I visit unless there are good reasons not to. Some I know of are simply unsafe.  Others are on private property and can't reasonably be entered without a significant amount of trespass.  Recently I was able to visit a cave "somewhere in the Midwest" that I think should be kept quiet simply because it is so unspoiled.

All too often my first impressions of a cave are the stale odor of hobo urine and a random scattering of beer and energy drink cans.  This cave looked as if it went out of active service a few weeks ago.

If any true enthusiasts simply must know more details, email me.  If I am satisfied as to your bona fides I could be a little more specific...

At first I had difficulty finding the cave, even with good information.  In part I was distracted by the above feature which under much back fill I think is either a small natural niche or perhaps an abortive attempt to excavate a cave.  The real cave was not far off, but you had to be right on top of it to know that....

As we shall see there have been efforts to seal the cave off, but it is on public land and is not posted no trespassing, so I decided to have a peek.

The same view from the inside looking out.  The ladder was left by previous visitors.  There appear to have been at least three different attempts to block the entrance.  Whether they were defeated by the elements, the curious or some combination is an interesting question.

This cave has a number of fascinating features.  Way in the back we find this:

This is an ancient wooden hatch in the ceiling.  It rests on a stone foundation and one presumes was used to lower either kegs or ice down into the cave.  A diligent search of the weed tangled area above this found no traces, so I am assuming it was built into the floor of a brewery building, since bulldozed and filled in.  The wood does not look new....

On the adjacent wall is this curious niche.  From the stripe of rust across it I am guessing it held some sort of winch or controls for the "beer elevator".

By now you have probably gotten accustomed to certain brewery cave features.  Here for instance is the vent hole, in its usual location near the back of the cave.  It has remnants of some kind of iron cap or grate that I had not encountered before.

Although this cave is not widely known the presence of the ladder means that at least a few locals are aware of it.  In a side passage I find their gathering spot.

The circular bright object on the wall of the cave had me perplexed for a while.  Then I realized that while I was obviously taking a flash photo I still had in my hand a small LED flashlight with just that pattern of light!  Note also the diagonal "herringbone" cuts in the wall that clue us in on how these caves were carved, or in the case of natural caves, expanded.

I saw a couple things in this cave that I considered exceptional.

I have been in several caves with drain channels before but none this nice.  The floor is done in good quality cement work.  It makes me wonder how long this cave was in active use.  The brewery started in the early 1870s and did not survive Prohibition.  But this system looks pretty modern.  The pipe is probably original but I have not a clue as to its purpose.  (Addendum:  a review of maps shows the brewery, on an 1883 map.  By the time the map was redone in 1885 the spot is marked "Ruins of West Side Brewery".)

This iron hook in the ceiling was interesting.  It does not look formidable enough to hoist kegs of beer. I wondered if there was some sort of lighting system suspended from it.  If so then the next photo could be evidence of very, very old electrical conduit.

Of course you saw right away something that was invisible when I took the picture....a colony of crickets!

It would be a shame if silly yahoos started stomping around, building fires and disturbing things so I do hope I can be forgiven for simply showing you this cave to demonstrate a few hidden wonders.

Lets keep them hidden.  I rather like the idea of hidden wonders right underfoot.

Friday, June 21, 2013

England and Germany. The difference illustrated.

England.  A small tea shoppe near Hadrian's Wall.

Germany.  A small community outside Nuremberg.

I suppose the above ad is actually playing fair, this builder's van is emblazoned with "Balkonsanierung" which means "Balcony Work".  And there did seem to be a projecting overhang depicted.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


In the post on Chuck Knoblauch I tossed out a phrase that has become commonplace:  "a journeyman ballplayer".  And as I typed the words I realized that I now understood the saying.  It started out with something I missed entirely.

We were driving in Nuremberg Germany when our host said: "Did you see the Zimmermann?".

I was looking elsewhere at the time, and in any case what exactly should one be looking for when someone says that?

As it turns out, a "Zimmermann" is one variety of modern day wandering tradesmen, a tradition from the late Middle Ages that implausibly persists to the modern day.  Zimmermann in German means carpenter, or if you want to be precise, a carpenter who does interiors.  A Zimmer is a room.

In the European labor system those seeking to learn a trade become an apprentice.  They work under the supervision of a Master.  When they have become proficient in their skills they have by tradition gone off on a long journey, one of several years.  They wear traditional garb, called in German Kluft.  In fact they are required to wear it at all times. While I missed seeing the young man in an old fashioned frock coat and top hat, I did later in the day find in a museum gift shop a couple of such outfits that were for sale!

The color of the suit varies, with carpenters wearing black, stone masons wearing beige or grey.  Here is a group of such "Journeymen":

I found this photo on a rather comprehensive page put up by the German Embassy.  It makes an interesting  read.

I found it fascinating.  They are only supposed to walk, and are not allowed to interrupt their journey for any reason. They travel for three years and one day, keeping track of their journey in a special  Wanderbuch.  When they arrive in a town they apparently can just show up at the home of a Master and move right in.  But they are not allowed to travel or work within 50 kilometers of where they did their apprenticeship.  When out of the country they will turn up at the German Embassy or Consulate, read a formal statement of their status and receive a small amount of spending money.

It seems that there are not a large number of these Fremder, or strangers, on the road at any given time.  A few hundred from Germany, smaller numbers from France and Switzerland.  In retrospect I had heard a faint report of this practice when I posted on  Masonic graffiti at the Pont du Gard. The practice of wandering journeymen goes back a long ways, obviously with interruptions for wars and so forth.  Perhaps all the Masonic graffiti I saw there was the equivalent of journeymen chiseling "Kilroy was here".

If you want to be very fussy about it, etymologically journeyman is also related to the French term jour, for day.  The implication being that after apprenticeship a tradesman had a right to demand to be paid for a day's work.  But this is an instance where several threads of meaning wind together.  And as it happens, most modern day journeymen work for room and board.

I found it a charming notion, this little sliver of medieval guild tradition still hanging on in the 21st century.  In recent times they have started allowing women to undertake the journey as well.  Who knows, perhaps the common European practice of a "gap year" of travel before starting University is another faint echo of the journeyman idea?

Monday, June 17, 2013

A View from the other Roman Frontier

In general the Roman Empire had logical boundaries.  The Atlantic ocean was on the west, so not much risk of invasion from that direction.  The Sahara desert on the south also proved impenetrable.  To the north you had Hadrian's Wall and the North Sea.  These were not perfect but largely served well.  In the south east there was a disputed region around modern day Syria/Iraq and no end of unpleasantness with the Persians, but there too deserts helped with defense, only the organized armies of a rival Empire were a threat.

The big trouble area was the German frontier and the many barbarians jostling restlessly about beyond it.  Even there, the Rhine and Danube rivers made pretty good frontiers. Difficult to cross in force and given the superiority of water travel over land, great communication routes.  The problem though was that this made a rather long frontier, so for about a century and a half Rome tried to shorten things up by creating a land frontier in southern Germany.  This was the Limes, a word arising not from the citrus fruit but from the word for "limits".

From about 100 AD to roughly 250 this frontier held.  Behind it were prosperous provinces with proper cities.  But eventually the disorder of civil war and the pressures of barbarian incursions caused the area to be evacuated...just ahead of the Germans.

While in southern Germany I had a chance to visit the site of the former Roman fort called Biriciana.  It was part of the now vanished Limes, a system of forts, watchtowers and timber/turf walls that lacks the enduring power of Hadrian's great stone edifice.  But it makes some interesting contrasts with my experiences at Vindolanda.

The fort site proper is not that much to look at.  It was razed by the barbarians then presumably scavenged for stone by anybody who happened by.  The archaeological techniques of the 19th century excavators also were more akin to treasure mining than preservation.  Here is the fort with only a few bits of wall and of the central Praetorium still showing.  Given the stark isolation of the site at Vindolanda it was odd to see houses built right up to the walls of the place.

Nearby was a fabulous bath complex.  A huge place for a frontier post and its associated vicus.  The European archaeological style seems to be running towards preserving such sites under a free standing roof...

These sites are in a small German town called Weissenburg.  They have a very well done museum that contains the items found at fort and bath.  One of the first things you see is this:

This of course has nothing to do with the site at all, and is simply included as an example of life on a Roman frontier.  I recognized it immediately as one of the more famous tablets found at Vindolanda.  It is from a mother to her son listing the items she is sending him. One of our archaeologists gives a talk to school groups quoting it.  He always gets a big laugh when he mentions that she was sending underwear!*

Some of the more interesting items on display came from a hoard found near the fort, probably from a farming villa.  Hoards in England tend to be fairly tame, by the point in history when rampaging barbarians became an issue there the coinage was pretty worthless, and there had been an extra century of economic hardship to reduce the general wealth.  But on the Limes there was quite a bit of prosperity when it became time to flee for safer grounds.  And it shows...

Silver foil decorative pieces, probably votive items to be left as offerings.

Masks, probably the display portions of fancy cavalry parade helmets.

And there were an entire series of magnificent bronze statues of gods and goddesses. Here are a few favorites..

I could not leave out my old pal Hercules!

And here are two different artists depictions of Venus.  Note the out sized hands?  Helpful for discrete covering up.

An interesting visit to a frontier much less heralded, but much more troubled than northern England.
*When he gives this talk in his impressive Cumbrian accent it sounds more like "Ooonderwear".  This spring I heard him give his standard speech to a group of Chinese visitors.  Sure enough, the laughter arrived, but delayed a bit by the poor translators trying to parse the idea from Latin by way of thick dialect English on into Mandarin!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Post Cards from World War I - Part Two

Also from the Tongeren Flea market, a couple of French examples:

Although undated you get the sense that this one was from early in the war.  The fellow looks very dashing and "sang froid" as he uses a sputtering bomb as "a new lighter". Indeed, I have seen another example dated 1915.  Here is the text:

The handwriting here is not too bad, albeit with the cramped word spacing common to post cards.

It is addressed to a Madam Parmentier who is staying at the home of M. Pouffier.  Why? The first lines read: "We are all in good health and well happy to be delivered of those dirty boch".   I hope you are the same."  Is this a family who became refugees?  Although the writer is presumably in the army he says little about that, only that "we have not had too much unpleasantness with the boche."

I think it may be a man named Louie writing to his sister in law, as he mentions his own two children. He also says that poor Reimi should get a long letter.

Here is another odd one...what a way to spell out Happy New Year.

And our text:

My French translator could not make much out of this one.  The cute couple on the front notwithstanding it seems to be a fellow wishing his brother a happy new year.  Perhaps that is best, how many sweet hearts would actually want to think of their loved one being surrounded by gigantic artillery shells.  Or is this perhaps a bit of phallic imagery?  It is possible to read too much into such things, but one imagines the target audience for this card was lonesome soldiers and their back home wives and sweethearts.  In that context we seem to have a coquettish smile on her face, a gently held bunch of flowers - could be dropped at any moment - and some serious looking cannons and ammo.

And recall that we are talking about lonesome French people here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Postcards from World War One - Part I.

Note:  European Flea Markets are a treasure trove for history lovers.  I am not sure how general the trend is but I ran across much more material related to the Great War than to the Second one.  Probably it is a combination of things.  Much of the material from the 1930's and 40's is still sheltered within intact households.  And of course anything relating to the Nazi era is at the same time shunned and prized by the antiquities market.

There are some fascinating post cards from World War One.  I found lots of these at the Tongeren Flea Market.  Skipping over the majority which were of the comic genre - gas masks and latrines, rats in soup kettles - I picked up a few that had a personal feel to them.....

Translated loosely this says:  No Sugar Ration Card!  Since I can't give you sugar I will give you a sweet kiss!

You can't help but identify the sender of the card with the amorous soldier on the front, but in fact this is one of a series of patriotic themed cards.  I have seen them referred to as Romantic Gesture cards.

But who sent it?  And what did he have to say?  We have a few problems to overcome.

This was an era of extravagant penmanship and slang ridden conversation.  Coupled with some ink fading and I fear my interpretation of the above will be guesswork in places.

Even the date is obscure.  On the front of the card is a PFB logo.  This should indicate it was made by Paul Finkenrath of Berlin.  Unfortunately that company went out of business in 1910, and the reference to sugar rationing clearly makes this a war time issue.  The postmark is light in a key spot, but I think it is from 4-10-1917.  One assumes that the Finkenrath trademark was revived during the war years.

It is posted from Motorschule Russelsheim.  Russelsheim was a place where among other things, aircraft motors were made.  It later became the headquarters for Opel.  I have seen an oblique reference to pilot trainees being sent for a month of education at a Motorschule.  This would be after basic training but before flight school.  This makes me wonder if the writer of this card was a pilot trainee?  What I can make out of the message does have one odd phrase in it..."Im luften grussen".*  It means "the airiest of greetings". An unusual way to put things...was he making an oblique comment to sneak it past the censors?

I am assuming that the sender had the last name of Fothenberg or something close to that.  That name does not appear on the list of World War One aces, although my reading indicates that there were a surprisingly large number of pilots trained in World War I, and few attained memorable success.  Or was he a humble mechanic?  Did he attempt pilot training and wash out?  Did the Motorschule also train truck drivers?

Let us assume that Fraulein Kuchart was proud of him in any case.
* the weird letter that looks like a capitol B is now archaic.  It was the equivalent of "ss"
Addendum:  It has been suggested that above message actually alludes to training as a motorcyclist.  Less cool than a pilot I suppose, but still interesting.  I can't personally make the German word for motorcycle "Motorad" appear, but my feeble excuse still applies, it was an era of extravagant penmanship and lots of slang.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Fleas of Tongeren

You don't travel to Europe to find things you have back home.  No McDonald's for me, even if they do serve beer.

Among the things the Old World has and we mostly do not is, surprisingly, flea markets.

Oh, I am sure they are still around in the States somewhere, but the advent of ebay and a general disinterest in history has trimmed them way down.

But in Europe they are very much alive and well.

Flea Market, or Flau Markt is the generic term.  In France you find them called Brocade Markets.  In Germany a somewhat lower end version seems to be called Trodl Markt.

I had heard about a rather fun one in Tongeren, Belgium.  It was a convenient stop off for us on a Sunday morning....

The market runs along the outer aspect of the city wall on its east side, then in on several side streets.

Garish ceramics seem popular.

Creepy garden decor and advertising items.  I think the Coca Cola guy's head has a hinge on the side.  Not sure what is in there.  Interesting to see decorative "arts" that have not been Disneyfied into homogeneous, bland forms.

What a mixed array of stuff!  Saints and a baby Jesus from a (hopefully) decommissioned church are sharing floor space with a stuffed leopard head!

I confess to being a sucker for taxidermy.  And the Tongeren flea market had a ton of it. Check out these stuffed boars....some were as cheap as 60 euros!

I love the wonky eyes on that last one!

In the end I decided that bargain or no, a boar's head was just about the worst idea for air travel packing.  Bulky, tusky, hard to explain to customs....So I settled for a small medallion that I found at a militaria dealer

I am totally gonna wear it at our town's Oktoberfest, even if it is a Belgian Army commemorative item.