Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unclear on the Invitation

Halloween is soon upon us.  It is such a mixed up holiday.  Is it for children or adults?  Is it funny or scary?  Am I Welcome or indeed is it Do Not Enter?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Last Words

There are all sorts of collections of Famous Last Words, some genuine, some apocryphal.  But what about the final thoughts that are literally "written in stone" on your tombstone?  As I go here and there snapping pictures of Tree Shaped Tombstones I see a variety of sentiments.

Some are religious.  The All Caps and central location on this "rustic cross" type does seem emphatic.

That seems a little more humble.


Some are nostalgic.  In this instance it almost looks as if the departed had expected a number of other family members to be added to the family plot and to his marker.  Didn't work out as planned.  Maybe he was forgotten.

To modern eyes this looks whimsical.  We sometimes use foreign phrases to sound a bit silly, kind of the equivalent of "Ta-ta-for-now".  But to a native German speaker this may have been heartfelt.

And with some last words you can feel the pain generations later.  This is to date the only example of a Tree Shaped Tombstone I have seen in a Jewish Cemetery (more on that another day).  This is done in nice white stone that makes the words a little harder to read, but it says:


Friday, October 25, 2013

Archaeological Chaos

When we were in France last spring we took a side trip to a sleepy little town in the western part of the country.  It was once a site of much industry, and in particular had a major manufacturer of buttons, beads and tile.

As my better half collects buttons it seemed a logical spot for an "off the beaten path" side trip. Especially since one of her fellow collectors tipped her off as to the location of an enormous dump...where you could go and dig up buttons all day long.

Evidently the place ran into financial difficulties in the 1970s, and when it closed they just hauled the inventory out back and dumped it.  Acres and acres of artifacts.  All of it naturally atop roughly 200 years of earlier dumpings....

I am normally cautious about tossing around big numbers, but imagine this stuff going down for many meters.  We are talking about millions of bits of tile.  This looks sort of boring but other sections were more varied.  And more what we came for.

My interest in collecting is sort of the magpie variety.  If something is shiny and catches my eye I like it.  There were a few other folks wandering around the dump site with bags and small hand tools. Some of them apparently were looking for very specific tile bits. Doing a bathroom remodel on the cheap I guess.

Pity the far distant archaeologists who have to make sense of this mess, or of similar industrial age mega sites.  Proper archaeology involves taking each "small find", marking its location precisely, then placing it into its own little bag for later study.

If you have an interest in buttons and such my better half blogs on such matters regularly.  Drop in and visit at NEXT DOOR LAURA.

If you happen to be in France and have an interest, there sure seem to be enough buttons, tiles and beads for all.  And if you turn up in the near future you may not need any tools.  We left ours hanging on a branch. It is hard enough to bring big old bags of tile as carry on luggage.  I did not want to explain these.

We also left you a few artifacts.

Yer Welcome.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Teams with Better Logos and Better Records than the Minnesota Twins


Another bad year for my beloved Minnesota Twins.  They finished with a record of 66-96.  True baseball fans cannot change their allegiance to a team but three consecutive seasons of bad baseball do make one weary.  For a change of pace here are a few fun sports team logos I have run across. Mostly baseball, but a few from "the lesser sports".

Academics and sports do not have a comfortable relationship in most instances.  So I like these two from a pair of fine European university towns.

Places where baseball is a relatively unknown sport probably work harder to come up with clean, informative, attractive logos.  I would love to have a hat/shirt with either of these two.

Teams that celebrate local products and industries are fun.  The most famous of these in the States would be the Green Bay Packers.  The trainers of the Leverkusen basketball team probably get free aspirin.  I don't want to think too hard about the concessions stand at the Stockton California minor league team.  The mingled odors of asparagus and unshaven men....

I just like the term "Honkbal".  On our last trip to Europe I tried hard to find a place where we could take in a ballgame.  We came close in Genk Belgium.  But alas, Genk is a much bigger place than you might imagine and our navigation skills proved insufficient.  Next year we will try again.

First game of the World Series tonight, weather permitting.  For fans of the two championship teams contending, congratulations. In that regard also, next year we will try again.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tree Shaped Tombstones - With Faithful Dog!

In a cemetery near Appleton, Wisconsin we find this rather attractive family grouping.

It is difficult to ignore that massive, vine encrusted tree, but the really great feature is in the smaller subsidiary stump just to the left of the main unit...

I have encountered a few other animal forms as part of tree shaped tombstones, but they are usually an ambiguous critter that could be a lamb, a deer, or a scrawny dog.  This fella is all canine.  He is waiting for a loved one to return.

He seems comfortable on his bed of moss, and has the innate patience of all dogs.  This is good as his wait will not soon be over.

Filed away in a category of things I am going to show a stone carver one day.  I am planning on having a tombstone much like this one.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Turning into a Fly

Once in a while at work there is a slip up in protocol and somebody gets stuck by a needle.  When this happens there are procedures involved.  We test for this and that.  Things always work out.   But the other day when discussing such an incident I recalled that I am long overdue in my transformation into a fruit fly.

Back in college I did a little work for one of the biology professors.  I do not recall the particulars such as why I was doing this, or for how long, or whether I got paid.  It involved a study on the genetics of fruit flies.

Specifically they wondered if an infectious entity called "sigma virus" could piggy back some genetic material along when the little critters acquired it.  In addition to cooking up batches of fruit fly chow I had to help sort them out.  Toss in a little knock out gas, put them under a microscope and separate them into different groups based on things like eye color.  Fruit flies by the way have natural ruby red eyes.

Then various batches of dazed bugs were put into a big blender and emulsified.  Assorted chemicals and filtration techniques were involved and you got a tiny amount of extract supposedly containing sigma virus.

It was then my job to inject normal fruit flies with it and see if their descendants developed mutations. Like odd eye colors.

You may think it is difficult to inject fruit flies.  And correct you would be.  You take a very thin, tiny glass tube.  You heat it up and draw it out until it is nothing more than a hairlike wisp of glass, yet still hollow.  Then you carefully draw up a tiny shot of the stuff and under the microscope inject it into the abdomen of our little insect pals.

Did I mention the part about carefully?

Long, long ago.  Well before meeting future spouse I in fact did have a few other interests.  One rather striking young lady seemed to wander by the lab and chat on a more than random basis.  Nothing ever came of it as it turns out but maybe that was why in a distracted moment I accidentally poked the palm of my left hand with a dose of fruit fly sigma virus.

I got a little red mark there, one that not only perfectly duplicated the color of a fruit fly eye but also persisted for a year.

So I have long assumed that one day I would begin the transformation into a giant bug.

I prefer the more tasteful 1957 Vincent Price original version of The Fly.  The later remake did feature a comely Gina Davis (who oddly looks an awful lot like that co-ed from so long ago).  But Jeff Goldblum looks icky even without slime and bug special effects so I hope for some other fate.

So far I have not developed an excessive fondness for fruits and vegetables.  And recalling the intent of the original experiment I am happy to report that throughout childhood my kids have also displayed the customary and proper disdain for virtually all food items not consisting of starch and meat.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Saving the Blind Ethiopian Goats

Edna was a very busy person.  And a very important one.  The two so often go hand in hand.

Every day her mail box was full of brochures and envelopes.  Each one informed her of new problems in the world.  Problems that only she could help solve.  There were blind people.  And deaf people.
There were refugees.  It seemed as if every disease needed more money to control...cancer, malaria, AIDS.  There were abandoned dogs.  And cats.  And horses.

Sometimes problems just seemed to be multiplying and combining.  There were refugees with cancer. There were blind horses.

So much trouble, oh, so very much trouble.

Every day she sorted the stacks of mail, trying to remember which ones she had donated to lately.  It was hard.  Some days she got 40 or 50 appeals.  They all looked official, some of them resembled bills. The problems were heart breaking.

Edna remembered when the world was a simpler place, a place where what problems there were could be taken care of by the local church.  Or perhaps by Unicef.

Edna's son tried to get her to be a little less generous.  "Think of your own future too Mom", he would say.  But Edna had five or six bank accounts with lots of money in them.  "I can afford it", she would say, and write another handful of checks.

The trip to the mail box became a central part of her day.  Each morning she would shuffle down with a bunch of envelopes, each containing her small effort to right the many wrongs of the world.  On the trip back she was hunched over, laden with another armful of troubles.  She had a tote bag to haul them in.

It took Edna a while to notice the changes.  Little things often got by her lately.  But it seemed as if the appeals were getting more urgent, more complicated.  The pictures were more vivid and troubling. Who knew that there were goats who were victims of land mines in Ethiopia?  And that plan to match up blind orphans with abandoned dogs, well it was just such a fine idea!

Many of these new appeals were so very eye catching and all had as their mailing address a post office box in New Haven Connecticut.  That must be where all the really important charities were headquartered these days.  Why, wasn't that the same city where her clever grand daughter was studying graphics design?  Yes, she was very sure that it was.  For a moment, until other things captured her attention, she resolved to write Cathy a letter and suggest she go to work for one of these fine organizations.

But the moment passed and Cathy was forgotten.  Edna was a very busy and important person and small details sometimes got away from her.

So she never noticed that for every donation she wrote to one of these important new charities an equivalent deposit appeared in one of her five, or was it seven?, bank accounts.


A stylistic tip of the hat to the authoress who resides at A TERMINAL CASE OF WHIMSY.  Wish you were still in our real world neighborhood J!

Monday, October 14, 2013

One, actually two, less things to explain....

Some aspects of modern medical technology are really useful.  In particular I enjoy the digital xray systems.  I can be looking at the images on a computer screen before the patient is even back in the ER.  I can zoom them in and out, rotate the angles, play with the contrast to highlight subtle features....its great.

I can also print out a low res version to bring back to the patient room.  It helps explain things better in an era where people appear to be more visually oriented.

But on occasion this can backfire on me.

A few months back I had a very sweet kindergarten teacher in with a cough.  We needed to exclude pneumonia, so I ordered a chest xray.  As it happens she had her four year old daughter with her, also a very sweet person.

So I asked "Would you like to see cool xray skeleton pictures of your mom?".

Well of course she would.

Off goes the school marm to the radiology department.  Back comes the images to my computer.

But when my finger hovered above the print button I paused, wondering, "Has mom explained those very elaborate nipple rings to daughter?".

So on that occasion I broke a small promise to a small person and did not print off xrays for the fridge at home!

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Forgotten Brewery Part Three - Inventory in 1876

Perhaps it is my interest in history bumping up against my home brewing hobby but I have always been curious about early breweries.  Was the beer any good?  How did they make deliveries?  Did the various competing breweries in a town get along as fellow craftsmen or fight tooth and nail?

Much has been lost to time, so when I ran across a fairly comprehensive inventory for the F.X. Schmidmeyer Brewery of Chippewa Falls I decided it needed to be preserved for posterity. Interestingly it also comments on various bills paid over a two year span from 1876 and 1877,

The documents are to be found in the probate paperwork for Amelia Schmidmeyer.  Near as I can tell she owned it all and Francis X. just worked for her.  An odd tale that I have recounted earlier....

The brewery building was 292 feet by 200 feet and was valued at $10,000.  As to the contents of the place the big ticket items were the copper brewing boiler at $100, 300 1/8 barrel casts worth $150 in total and 32 15 barrel casks for the same amount.  I found it interesting that the rather small 1/8 barrel kegs were the most common.  Perhaps they sold for home use?  Or did beer not last as long in the days before pasteurization and chemicals?

Some items are familiar to me, others an enigma.  What was a Pick Machine?  What was meant by a "Jack Plank, 2 augers, cub.."? It sounds like something for moving grain.

Advertising in the local paper was a reasonable $10 a year.  Insurance was a bit pricey for the time, $70 a year.  But when I think of how many breweries burned down it seems fair.

Fred Schmidt got paid $38.50 for repairing casks.  Lumber for a new beer cooler ran $13.  8,000 bricks for the brewery ran $80. Two bills for labor by the brick layers ran $65 combined.

Supporting my theory that Francis Schmidmeyer was more a hireling than a proprietor I find notation for a payment to him of $400.  He claims he was getting paid $500.  Did he get a bad performance review?

Some items I would have loved to see.  " 1 Hidrolic Pump with pips" is inventoried with a value of $30.

One thing that does not appear in the inventory is any mention of bottles.  Curious, as I have seen newspaper ads that indicate the brewery was bottling in the mid 1870s.  Although this was usually a minor product line for small, early breweries - kegs served better for in town business - I would expect that an inventory comprehensive enough to list " 1 crowbar $5" would also note the considerable investment which glass or more likely clay bottles would have been.  I think the business was struggling by the late 70's and had quit bottling by that point.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Forgotten Brewery Part Two - through the years...

It has been difficult to piece together the story of the F.X. Schmidmeyer Brewery.  There are so few physical remains left.  Usually a 19th century brewery would have substantial stone walls that endure, and as I have pointed out in prior postings brewery caves are very difficult to eradicate without using so much dynamite that there would be no windows left in town.

But the Schmidmeyer brewery has almost entirely vanished.

Here is the site in 1874.

1. is the main brewery   2. is Schmidmeyer's house.  3. appears to be some sort of outbuilding to the brewery, probably the malt house.  I think the pagoda like structure associated with it is a chimney. 4. may be a house  This appears to be off the brewery property, which is defined on this 1878 plat map.

Plat maps tend to be pretty accurate.  The first image is a "Birds Eye view" in which artists sometimes took a bit of license.  Note that the bridge that once crossed the river on West street has disappeared.  It was in fact probably just an optimistic fantasy structure.

Our next point of reference is 1886.  By this time the brewery had been closed for six or seven years, and some major changes have occurred....

A new bridge, this time real and half way between West Street (now called Superior) and Pine Street (where the modern day bridge is located).  The brewmaster's house still stands but the entire site has been graded flat.  Note how the house is standing on a little pedestal of original ground?  The odd flat area on the original 1874 view that I marked with a question mark is a potential site for a brewery cave. Unless a slight depression in the ground counts it is gone entirely. My feeling is that this was more of a brick lined room than a proper cave, as the hillside lacks a stone face.  If there was a good storage cave site near the brewery why would they have purchased a site two inconvenient miles away for this purpose?

The little huts to the far left of the picture are covering springs, these are marked on early plat maps. A culvert under the road still drains nice clean water off into the Chippewa River. The site overall was slowly converted to industrial use.  Maps from the late 19th and early 20th centuries indicate a rail road round house, a coal storage area, a stock yard and a grain elevator.

If there was any chance of a cave surviving somewhere else behind the brewery it was covered over in a late wall construction project.

Water run off from a steep hill side can be problematic, and a masonry wall helps keep soil from shifting down to interfere with the site below.

The site today, standing approximately on the front step of the brewmaster's house.

I had for a time some hopes that there was in fact a surviving cave from this brewery.  Because on Spring Street just around the corner I found this:

This is a very odd house, three stories tall and with a ridiculous block of masonry stuck onto its back side.  In fact, it looks as if the masonry is older than the house.  See how the house is overlapping it a bit?

Surely this must be the entrance to a cave extending back into the hillside.  I mean, what other use could there be for something like this?

Alas. With a bit of effort, and only after admiring the tenant's 10 cats and helping move a bunch of stuff off the the trap door, I got a look inside...

Steep stairs going down into a spider infested basement.  The wall to the left is the front wall of the masonry block seen in the above views.  It is entirely sign of a door or archway.

So, what is actually going on here?

I'm not entirely sure.  With the various changes of street names and bridge locations it took me a bit of figuring to actually be sure that this site is off the brewery property.  But it appears to be where I have marked a 4. on the 1874 view.  I am of two minds as to the masonry structure.  It is likely the foundation of an earlier 1870's house, perhaps the one shown on the bird's eye view.  I think they were just being a little lazy/practical when they incorporated it into a circa 1895 building.  Or as an alternative explanation there was that crazy staircase/walkway coming down the face of the bluff on the 1886 bird's eye view. Maybe this masonry structure, which has bits and pieces of all kinds of stuff in it, was a landing for the staircase?

So we say farewell to a pioneer brewery.  Nothing survives but a cave on the other side of town that they only got to use for a few years.  And some scribbled documents in which a rather testy Francis Schmidmeyer tries to settle up his wife's estate.


Walking back behind the tedious blue Quonset huts that now occupy the brewery site I found this:

The base of a bottle.  It could have come from the brewery or been tossed down from one of the grand houses above.  But the semi circular marks on the base are from an open pontil....a style of glass making that became obsolete circa 1860.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Forgotten Brewery - F.X. Schmidmeyer

My very first posting on Forgotten Brewery Caves dealt with a nicely preserved specimen in Irvine Park, Chippewa Falls.  It repeated the widely available information that Schmidmeyer had the cave excavated in the early 1870s and that it was later used by the still extant Leinenkugel's brewery.

But from the start there were some parts of this story that did not feel definitive.  

For instance I knew that Schmidmeyer had been in business earlier than 1870.  I had seen an ad for his brewery from circa 1867.  So, where was he storing the beer in the 1860s?

This started an on and off hunt through archives and up and down hillsides.  And although I have to concede some missing parts I think I can now relate the history of the first brewery in Chippewa Falls.

My best information is that Francis Schmidmeyer established his brewery in Chippewa Falls in 1855 or 1856. The site he picked reflected the economic picture of the time.  It was right on the Chippewa river.  At that point there was no bridge over the river, and were no streets worthy of the name.

It was for the day an ideal location.  Because the roads were poor in the 1850s, all meaningful travel was by water.  And Schmidmeyer's brewery was located at the ferry crossing.  It had a number of natural springs on site, indeed, it was located on what would be later named "Spring Street".  And a nice bluff.  Just the place for a storage cave.

Building marked 37 is main brewery.  The house on the corner was the Brewmaster's.  1874 Birds Eye view.

Yes, the Schmidmeyer Brewery had every possible advantage.  First on the local market, great location, a growing community.  It should have lived long and prospered.  But it did not.  So, what happened?

In his obituary it says that Schmidmeyer established the first brewery in town which he "conducted for a number of years prior to 1855."  At some point he is said to have "leased it to other parties", with the implication being that this happened when he enlisted for Civil War service in 1861.  But the date of this is vague and there is reason to suspect that what he did was actually sell his interest in the brewery.  He may not have even lived here when the Civil War began as he does not appear on the 1860 census.

In this hand written note it seems Schmidmeyer is making reference to renting the brewery out to a partnership of Hubs (or Huber) and Neu for 3 years at $1,500 a year.  The marking L-  rather confusingly designates "to" in this rambling document!
Most of the available information on the brewery is found in scrawled hand written documents filed when Mrs. Schmidmeyer died and her estate was being settled.  Bad handwriting, smudges....but it is still remarkable to hold a sheet of paper once labored over by a Civil War veteran.

The 1870 census does have a "Frank Schmitmire" listed as a brewer.  He is 40 years old and residing with 36 year old Margaret Schmitmire and with Otto, Paul and Carlton, ages 12 to 3.  It sounds like a reasonable little family group.

But a mere six years later in the Probate files I find this statement:

"Francis X. Schmmidmeyer being duly sworn since Amelia Schmidmeyer was my wife.  She died at my house on the 20th December 1875.  She left me her husband with four children.

Paul Gibbard aged 18 years
Adolph Gibbard aged 16 years
Children of her former Husband.
Carl Augustus Schmidmeyer nine years of age and Emelia Margarth Schmidtmeyer age 6 years."

There is something going on here. Margaret Schmitmire?  (oh and pardon the constantly mutating spellings, that is what is recorded!) has passed away.  Emelia is recorded as being the daughter of Frances and the new Mrs. Schmidmeyer, born a mere 12 months after the 1870 census.  It appears that the previously mentioned Otto and Paul, now 17 and 18  are considered adults and on their own.

It seems almost certain that Schmidmeyer's second wife, Amelia, was previously married to a man named Gephardt, and that she effectively owned the entire brewery.  This suggests two things:

1. Mr. Gebhardt had owned the brewery.  Whether Schmidmeyer sold it to him in the Pre-Civil war era or whether it had passed through other hands is not clear.  Huber is a prominent brewing family in Wisconsin and may have been involved at some point.

2. Gebhardt was dead.  Women often inherited property in the 19th century, but they rarely did well in Divorce Court!

It is an oft repeated tradition in the early brewing industry that widows would own the brewery then remarry a man who would run it. The odd twist here is that that man had actually established the enterprise a decade or two earlier.  A widow and a widower joining forces to brew beer at his former business.

I don't think Schmidmeyer was ever really happy with this arrangement.  In one place he writes:

"When I married my wife she had an old horse and old wagon and no beer."

One gets the impression that the business had run down before Schmidmeyer got back into the picture.

More slightly crabby sounding talk from Francis X. appears to narrow down the date of his marriage to Ameilia to approximately 1871.

"For 5 years I  ran the brewery for my deceased wife for which I charge $500 a year.  I worked for my wife.  It was worth $1,000."  

Civic histories are full of success stories.  Of failures, not so many.  So the final unraveling of the Schmidmeyer Brewery in the later 1870's is somewhat a matter of conjecture.  They had a strong new competitor in the "Spring Brewery" established across town by Miller and Leinenkugel in 1867.  And perhaps the Schmidmeyers just were not that great at running a business.

I find oblique references to issues with barley shipments not being paid for.  At one point F.X. Schmidmeyer was "arrested for violating the licence and it cost me $500.  It was fined out of the brewery".  It was not his only brush with the 1874 he was sued by an Anna Shanagham for "wrongful detention of personality (horse)"!  A 300 barrel a year brewery can only take so many adverse events.

No doubt the death of Amelia complicated the situation considerably.  Within a few years there was a lawsuit for sale of the property to benefit her children by the previous Gebhardt marriage.  A public sale in 1881 put the final seal on the enterprise.

But Francis X. Schmidmeyer was a resilient chap.  The 1880 census finds him running a boarding house and, at age 50, married a third time to Ida,  a woman half his age.  His collection of children now running from Carl, age 10, down to Caroline, age 1.   Francis lived to a reasonably ripe age for that time, passing away from "stomach trouble" in 1904. He seems to have had five or six children with Ida, the youngest of which was approximately the same age as his first grandchild!

Next time:  Maps and sketches, the brewery through the years

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How do you cook Clay Pigeon?

Always good to try new things.  My youngest son took me shooting the other day.  I could not recall ever firing a shotgun and that does seem like the sort of thing one would remember.

He looks like he knows what he is doing:

I look as if I am just trying not to channel Dick Cheney...

The boys are going bird hunting this weekend.  I guess if that does not go well our tribe can try to make it through the long hungry winter by gnawing on fluorescent clay targets, as it appears that even I am capable of bagging at least a few of them.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Probably Not My Next Home

Stopped at a light I looked over and saw this:

I had not actually envisioned My Next Home being in Hobbiton, but what the heck, I went over for a closer look.

This company is a local realtor, and evidently this is something they created as a fundraiser for a worthy cause.  Details here if you want to buy a ticket.  It is rather cool, but without grandkids to use as an excuse I fear being the owner of this would simply make me an even more blatant nerd.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Uri Geller Does in his Spare Time

On a walk recently I encountered this interesting commercial venture:

Hey, I've seen less plausible business models.  Hooks are actually a product that has some practical use.  Cheap, and not unattractive.

I had initially titled this post "What Uri Geller Does in Retirement", but a quick Wikipedia search shows that the 66 year old Geller is still active.  Some performing, some treasure hunting, some suing folks who imply that he can't actually bend spoons.  Just being Uri Geller in other words.

But I cast no aspersions here.  I admire showmanship and would very much like to believe that intense concentration can accomplish much in this world.  I also admire his car, a vintage Caddy covered with bent spoons of various level of significance based on prior owners and/or mental energies expended in their bending.

Want more pix of Uri's spoon infested ride?  Well, sure you do.