Monday, April 29, 2019

Tipsy Sons of Norway!

The starting point for today's little history lesson sits in the living room at my brother's house.  It was purchased many years ago at an antique store in northern Minnesota.

It appears to be some kind of podium, although the short height and the flat top suggest it was used not to hold the notes of somebody speaking in Norwegian but rather a statue, or some other bit of decor.  The emblem is that of The Sons of Norway.  

This version of their logo was in use from 1901 to 1922 and references the earlier name of the organization, Sonnen af Norge.  It got me thinking about the beginnings of this fraternal organization of stoic Scandinavians; and got me to pick up a story that I had first encountered many years ago.

If you are not from Minnesota the mental picture you have of Midwestern, Scandinavian descended folks is likely heavily colored by Garrison Keillor.  His "Prairie Home Companion" show was a generally affectionate, somewhat accurate depiction of stolid, serious small town life.  "Norwegian Batchelor Farmers" were a staple.  Sometimes there was mention of "The Sons of Knute", a thinly disguised iteration of The Sons of Norway.

To his credit - and in his younger days Keillor was indeed a genius level satirist - he portrays the Sons of Knute as being more than a bit willing to tip a glass.  Here for instance is a song about their annual Christmas dinner.

I'd have to say this is spot on because the Sons of Norway basically got their start in the saloons of my old neighborhood on the North Side of Minneapolis.

THIS short history of the original Lodge lists the 18 founding members.  Two seem to have been very transient members.  Of the other 16 one quarter were saloon keepers!  James Peterson and Louis Stokke were respectively the first Vice President and Treasurer of the Sons of Norway.  They were also partners in a saloon near the intersection of Broadway and 20th.  This was the epicenter of the early organization with other founding members being millworkers and shopkeepers nearby.

In the 1890s it was fairly common for saloons to have bottles with their name embossed in the glass.  Perhaps this was for take home bottles.  In case you forgot where you had been?  Above is a nice example from Peterson and Stokke "Fine Wines and Liquors".  The address on the bottle is 2029 Washington Avenue.  The same address given for the meeting that led to the founding of the organization!

Below is another example from founding member Ole Lodgord.  "Wines, Liquors & Cigars".  

There is at least one other early bottle associated with the Sons of Norway.  In a newspaper article I read many years ago I found reference to The Sons of Norway band playing at Roman and Person's Hall.  Roman and Person was another saloon partnership with bottles much like the above.  They were also near the intersection of Washington and 20th (now Broadway).  It seems as if it was a hopping place in the 1890's, supposedly stoic Norwegian inhabitants notwithstanding. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Bloomington Normal IL (Part Two)

And now for the "other" brewery in Bloomington Illinois.

While researching the brewery cave under Forrest Park I kept running across confusing references.  They were also of a cave, under a park on the south side, and one that was beloved of generations of exploring young people.

It was not the same location.  But close.

The Meyer Brewing Company was located off South Main Street on a site now occupied by the Highland Park Golf Course.  It was established in 1862 as a partnership of Anton Meyer with a man named Wochner.  They built a substantial brewery.

A Sanborn fire map from the 1890s even shows the location of the brewery cave.  It would be extending back from junction of the two buildings seen above. Note also the large pond in front of the brewery.  This was created by building a dam across a small creek.  In the photo above a cow is standing in the shallows.  It is interesting to compare photo and map.  The two cisterns are probably covered by the little wooden structure in front of the brewery.  A direct run in and out of the storage cave no doubt accounts for the arched doorway on the right side of the shorter building.  The less you need to maneuver kegs and blocks of ice the happier you would be.  The wooden lean to on the taller building is even shown.  Sanborn fire insurance maps may not have always shown caves, but they were very detailed with regards to things that might start on fire and with sources of water for the fire department.

After the brewery went out of business the cave remained a popular place with local young folks.  I even found a reference to a Boy Scout troop visiting it on a hike....with one of the Scout leaders dressing up as a ghost so as to jump out and scare them!

When Prohibition ended brewing operations in 1920 the land was bought by the city who built a golf course on the site.  The bricks from the main buildings were widely reused for local projects.  The brewery cave, or perhaps, caves, lingered on a while. In a March 1931 edition of the local paper the following account of their demise is recorded.

Numerous Improvements Are Being Made at Municipal Golf Course

"Those cavernous holes in the cliff at Highland park are gone.  Vacant sockets which had been an eye-sore to golfers, openings of former underground beer cellars used when the park was the site of the old Meyer brewery, have been covered with dirt. The dirt will be allowed to settle, be evenly sloped, and sown with grass."

"The work has included draining of the brewery pond, razing of the old smoke stack, filling in half of the pond, and new bridges for the stream; building of a stone entrance, curb and tarvia road to the club house...."

"The old cellars were once used for aging beer.  Later they became romantic haunts of boys.  Now that they are gone, the only beer cave left near the city is the one of the old Stein brewery in Stein's grove now Forest park."

A few parting thoughts.  If you have followed over from the previous posting on the Stein brewery cave you might be distracted by the seemingly random use of Forest and Forrest in describing the park it lies in.  Forrest seems correct but contemporary sources are just random in this regard.  I am not optimistic that traces of the Meyer brewery cave can still be seen.  Google Earth shows extensive landscaping of the area.  There really does not even seem to be much of a "cliff" left.  Golf courses tend to be pretty active when it comes to remodeling nature.

On the other hand, there are two buildings from the brewery still standing.  A large maintenance building and a smaller pro shop date back to the latter days of the Meyer enterprise, although I don't think either show on the map or photo above.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Bloomington Normal IL (Part One)

The Stein brewery south of Bloomington Illinois was a good distance out of town.  This part of the world is quite flat and it may be that they needed to hunt a bit to find a place with suitable ground structure and a water source.  Of course this also put it outside the constraints of the city limits and as a bonus just south of an amusement area then and now called "Miller Park".  

Exactly when a brewery was built in "Stein's Grove" is a bit vague.  1857 seems a good estimate.  It is known that it was sold to the competing Meyer Brewery in the 1870s.  The cave probably continued to serve the new owners until the 1890's.

The next use of the cave was by a couple of guys named Harder and Grady in 1932.  They decided to grow mushrooms commercially.  This was during The Great Depression so perhaps it is not surprising that the enterprise was undertaken " part to solve a personal employment problem".  They proved more adept at growing the mushrooms - supposedly one day they harvested 300 pounds - than in finding local markets for them.  Two years later they were out of business.

The cave remained in excellent condition.  In the 1940's the caretaker of the park decided to tidy it up a bit and give tours of the place.

An article from 1947 goes into considerable detail....

"ADVENTURING into the unknown, Carol Tudor and Ronald Stutzmann, 7 year olds, visit the old brewery cave at Forrest Part, crawling over debris, they follow Cusodian E. R. Burnett into the low, overhung mouth."

The cave was said to have "...bewitched Bloomington-Normal children for half a century".

The cave is described in detail.  The first room was 25 feet square with a sloping 9 foot ceiling and a manhole for ventilation.  The main tunnel came off of this and was 14 feet wide, nine feet tall and a whopping 200 yards long.  Speaking of his lantern light tours Burnett said: "Just about one person in 10 makes the whole trip..".

In this newspaper photo he looks like a rather scary guy.  The people who decided not to follow him down a long dark hallway may have been the smart ones.  Carol and Ronald look apprehensive.

Burnett's tours seem to have enjoyed a measure of popularity.  On a warm summer Sunday he took as many as 150 people through the cave.

At some point the cave was sealed up.  It is said to have been in the far western portion of Forrest Park, probably not too far from Morris Ave.  A creek runs though the park and there is a fairly deep ravine, so it is likely that the sealed over entrance could still be located by a diligent searcher.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Quonsets Fall

We've made it through to glorious spring time, but oh it was a wicked winter.  Cold, blizzards, and finally one last late winter blast of heavy wet snow that weighed heavily on morale...and on local roofs.

On a recent walk I noticed that several Quonset huts in town had bitten the dust. 

I realized that I had never seriously thought about Quonset huts in my 62 years on earth.  A shameful oversight.

I of course knew that they were cheap, prefab structures widely used by the military, and that post WWII they were commonly used in civilian settings as well.  Many of the early ones in fact were Mil Surplus but subsequently they were offered by a wide range of builders.

I did not know that their antecedents went back even farther, to the so called "Nissen Huts" invented by the British in WW I.

These structures got their name from their inventor, a certain Major Peter Nissen of the Royal Engineers.  He was an interesting chap, born in America but moved first to Canada then to England with a brief stay in South Africa.  He enlisted at the start of hostilities in 1914.  The massive increase in the British Army made accommodation problematic, and the Nissen hut proved a versatile invention.  Over 100,000 were built during the war.  For this Major Nissen got no royalties although his design did generate income for him after the war when huts based on this design were constructed world wide.

Surprisingly there is still a Nissen Buildings Company going strong 102 years after their founding!

Alas, in the end these are still inexpensive, prefab buildings.  They are not destined to stand for centuries.  Here in my little town there will soon be two less of their Quonset descendants*.
*So called because in the US they were first built at a Naval Construction Battalion Center at Quonset Point Rhode Island.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Mueller Report - Words and Attitudes

One reason I seldom venture into straight up politics is that there seems little point to doing so.  Most people have pre-conceived notions and simply jam the new information into their established framework.  Has anyone ever really, in the history of the Internet, read something and said "By George I shall now change my entire world view based on this"?

One way we shoehorn new information into our non objective brains is by the words that we use.  The recently released Mueller Report is a fine example.  It has not changed anyone's mind.  My more Progressive friends point out that it showed Donald Trump to be a petty vulgar man who is in many ways a poor choice for Leader of the Free World.  My Conservative friends point out that it says he had nothing to do with Russian Electoral Shenanigans, and that even his less brilliant moments sound like the kinds of things that a petty vulgar man would say when he is in High Dudgeon over what he thinks to be an unfair Inquisition.

Perhaps the Mueller Report in the end is less about Pronouncements than about Pronunciation!  Allow me to explain.

When I see the name Mueller, I pronounce it in the German fashion.  "MULE-er".  It fits his photo from one thing, I mean look at him....don't you see stubborn and hard working?  Mueller is the German word for miller, somebody who grinds stuff for a living.  The saying "The Wheels of Justice turn slowly but grind exceedingly fine" would seem a fitting description of two years of sleuthing and issuance of subpoena.

But recently I have heard the name of the Special Counsel generally pronounced as MULL-er.  Hey, it is his name and if that is how he wants it said, fine.  It is in its primary meaning just another variant anyway.  To mull something is to grind it finely.  This use survives to us mainly in "mulled wine", a villainous concoction of spices crushed up and used to ruin red vino for festive purposes.  Mill and mull both come from the Latin molere which means "to grind".

But the secondary meanings of mull are the interesting ones.  It means to ponder, or to turn over in one's mind.  It has some interesting 19th century connotations as well, in the 1860's and 70's it meant "to work steadily without accomplishing much", or to "botch or muff".  While pondering is of course a good thing some of the undertones of ineffectual and/or inaction have persisted.

But we shan't give the man a "mulligan".  This term means to cut somebody a bit of slack whether they deserve it or not.  Supposedly this originates from the 1940's when a man of that surname was routinely given an "extra shot after a poor stroke" on the St. Lambert Country Club course.  It seems he earned it by being the foursome's regular driver over the rough roads leading to the course.

Doubtless Robert Mueller has been driving a very rough road but nobody on either side of the partisan aisles seems to be giving him any such leeway.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Blogroll Part Two

Part Two of a look at my "blog roll" that ancient - for the internet - way of highlighting things I read with some frequency, and that sometimes link with the things I write.  Trust me kids, this was a common convention a decade ago.  Now it just says a few things about your humble correspondent.

Red Letter Media  This is an interesting one.  It is a gang of film makers in Milwaukee that turn out genius level satire and social commentary in the form of film reviews and the occasional original production.  It is way more insightful than the Hollywood tripe they comment on.  It is also at times quite vulgar.  That is a failing of modern humor, the tendency to go for the gross and/or tawdry variety.  Often it is sheer lazy on display but RLM is never, ever lazy.  I think there is a line where vulgarity adds to humor and just over that line it significantly detracts from it.  RLM is on the tolerable side.  Many other purveyors of humor, some quite well crafted, are over the line.  I have for example tried to watch "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" but just can't do it.

Moose and Hobbes  An old friend who wanders the Western and occasionally Eastern worlds in search of archaeology and punk music festivals.  There are also many cats involved.

Next Door Laura An even older friend who got me started on blogging.  I think NDL got so tired of hearing my stories that a suggestion that a wider audience might be better was strictly a way to distract and divert me.  Like many early blogs it is now updated very infrequently.

Dr. Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog   "Beach" as he styles himself, lives an extremely interesting life.  Although we have often corresponded over the years I am still not entirely convinced that his created persona is not a magnificent fabrication.  Sadly he appears to be on an extended hiatus for reasons that may or may not be simply a means to further the penumbra of mystery....

Chippewa Falls Robotics This is the website for the FIRST robotics team I helped start a few years back.  Like many such student generated efforts it got off to a pokey start, blossomed rapidly, and since then has just sat there.  It awaits revival, but is a reminder of fun times past and perhaps future.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Blogroll Part One

As part of my "retrospective" look at Detritus of Empire - in the sense that I am looking at something very retro - a quick peek at the "Blogroll" that appears off to one side.

Back in ye Ancient Internet Tymes a Blogroll was intended to be a way you'd suggest readers of your blog go visit other blogs, who might often return the favor with a similar link. Now of course the very concept is archaic.

But a quick peek at who makes the Blogroll and why seems in order.  The list of course is not chiseled in stone, this is just a quick visit to current inhabitants.  Here is the first half of the list.

Atlas Obscura  An interesting compendium of odd places around the world.  I sent them a bit on potato vending machines that they published.  I can't visit it too often because it reminds me that I don't go to enough fun places or with a good enough camera.

Twinkie Town  Your primary affiliation as a baseball fan is set early.  So listening to the early years of the Minnesota Twins while on the radio at my grandpa's house cemented this in.  Living in Wisconsin for more than half my life has not made me a Brewer's fan.  It cannot.

Girl Genius  Web based comics come and go.  Girl Genius is one of long standing and is well drawn and clever.  It is in the Steampunk genre and does not take itself too seriously.

The Gormogons Political sites are a bit touchy.  I visit a number and they are of variable perspectives.  This one is a group of old college friends who assume various ridiculous personas.  Witty but again not taking themselves too seriously.

Borepatch One interesting thing about the Conservative and Progressive sites I visit is that the Conservative ones tend to ironically be more tolerant of diversity of opinion. These guys are way more 2nd Amendment types that I am but we get along.  I don't recommend testing the limits on places of the Progressive bent.  I in fact have had one such place on and off the blogroll for years but it just gets too hostile.

More blogroll destinations next time at Detritus of Empire.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Shambling March of Modern Communications Technology

Well that went quickly.  I've been distracted by robotics and such but a couple of weeks back marked eight years since the first tentative post of Detritus of Empire went up.  A lot has happened since then.

2011 was the tail end, or perhaps just past it, of The Golden Age of Blogging. At one point in time everyone with a computer and something to say had a chance to speak to the entire world.  After a few months most of them ran out of anything the world was interested in hearing.

Soon after came the rise of other ways to express, well, something or other.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.  These were all easier than blogging.  But in my opinion not better.  

The new types of "social media" encouraged short, spontaneous, picture based communication.  In other words, superficiality.  As wifi signals dissipate far out into space I wonder what sophisticated alien surveillance networks make of all this.  Pictures of plates of food.  Hostile rants composed largely of abbreviations and devoid of capitalization and punctuation.  They'd be forgiven for thinking we had suffered a technology collapse and had been reduced to the status of angry, hungry savages.

And maybe this is not so far off the mark.  Well, not the hungry part, at least here in North America and Europe we remain very well fed thanks.  But in the sense of less information being conveyed I think we have had a technology collapse.

I see this all too often working with the current generation.  They toss together an email with sketchy punctuation and flow, hit send and walk away.  They assume communication is instantaneous and infallible.  Of course roughly 50% of the time something gets screwed up.  Spam filters block them.  Files are sent in unsupported formats.  People just ignore them.

And as to the titans of the social media age, well it is starting to look as if even some of them have peaked and are slipping into decline.  Facebook has been rocked by brand damaging scandals regards their acquisition of user data.  Twitter is becoming synonymous with mindless trollery.

In communications as in all things there is an evolution, a somewhat orderly changing over time.  It took millenia for cave painting to become pottery decoration.  With the invention of alphabets clay tablets could preserve specific information rather than imagery.  Papyrus had a good long run, many centuries before morphing into alternatives you could acquire in other climates.  

The printing press revolutionized communication and led to books, newspapers, the little messages in fortune cookies.  Radio complemented print, then images were added and television started the slow decline of printed media.

The internet has been compared to drinking out of a fire hose.  With amounts of information you can customize and consume around the clock while - in theory - never changing out of your pajamas.  

Blogging was "important" for such a tiny sliver of time.  Really just that moment between wide spread access to inexpensive computers and internet and the point at which the big players managed to channel the flow of information by search parameters and so forth so that as much of it as possible comes from sources they hope to monetize.

If you exclude what I assume to be automated 'bots, my traffic runs to dozens or at best hundreds of views per post.  Cat videos, Kardashian doings on Twitter, whatever actually happens on Instagram, these are gigantic click farms.  Or to see it another way, turnstiles that tick as you go through, tagging you electronically to receive targeted ads.

I figure to soldier on a while.  I think of it as being like a stubborn audiophile who insists on that retro technology called vinyl.  It's more work for only debatable improvement in final product, but actually the process is the enjoyable part.  I like writing. Doing it regularly keeps me in practice.  When I see people struggle to put coherent thoughts together into short missives I marvel at the ease with which my fingers more or less know what to do while my brain dashes ahead.

Dashing ahead into year nine.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Cracker Jack, Then and Now

Believe it or not, when I was a young pup there were some "brands" that were conspicuously nostalgic.  I guess today you'd say retro although that term is a newer invention.  You can be forgiven for thinking that this is akin to a dinosaur from the Cretaceous period observing that something looks to be a holdover from way back in Jurassic times.

A good example was Cracker Jack.  This came in cardboard boxes at a time when most snacky stuff already had moved to foil or cellophane bags.  The graphics were decidedly old fashioned.  And it had "a prize in every box", usually some little bit of plastic that even then we recognized as worthless.  I was never a huge fan of the stuff.  The caramel corn does not shake out of the box easily and the peanuts were often stale, hard and something you might break a tooth on.  But it was an interesting little island of brand stability; representing a continuity from one generation to the next.

No more.

Baseball season is up and running for a few weeks now.  Back in chillier times my kids gave me a Baseball Care Package to get me through the winter.  Nice new cap.  Bunch of baseball related snack foods including Cracker Jack.  But the latter seemed just a bit "off".

The graphics had changed a little but it still had all the proper themes.  Kid with sailor suit and dog, red white and blue, baseball oriented.  But the box seemed smaller, even allowing for my adult sized hand.  And yes, it was one ounce versus the classic version which was about 1.4 ounces.  Perhaps being part of a three pack influenced this?  But wait, there's more.

Yay!  Prize Inside!  But as I dug around I found no plastic whistle, no little cowboy figurine, in fact nuthin' at all other than this little scrap of paper.

This was indeed a surprise, so I peeled it open to see what lay within.

Near as I can figure the 2019 purchaser of Cracker Jack is expected to aim their phone at this, snap a picture and get some kind of "digital experience".  On line comments suggest it often does not work.  But maybe the dog will wiggle his ears and bark at you.

I did not actually attempt this.  I'm skeptical of any "app" these days.  The free ones in general tend to have shoddy security features.  And the story of Bingo the Dog and Sailor Jack, the kid is actually a bit sad.

The dog was a stray adopted by one of the owners of the Cracker Jack brand.  The cute kid was a grandson of the other owner who died tragically at age 8.

I suppose to be fair I should mention that in a sense the elimination of the cheap plastic trinkets was actually a return to their original format.  Back in the early days of the company they included coupons that you could save up and redeem for things.  Also baseball cards that nowadays would be worth a darn site more than this little dog picture.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Late Season Blizzard Options

The early part of the week was beautiful.  Sunny, temps in the mid to upper 60s.  I got in some good long hikes in training for the UK trip.  I was in shirtsleeves and was a bit warm at that.

And mid week....this.

I guess the only slightly happy individual in Wisconsin right now might be the bird at our feeder.  He's happy I filled it one last time.
When you get a late blizzard there are options to consider.  

1. Command it to Melt!  This is easier than getting out the snow shovel one last time.  It is also quite satisfying, as delusions so often are, in particular because the heated up streets and sidewalks will emerge first.

2. Make snowmen.  And dinosaurs, forts etc.  An impermanent art form...think of it as being Banksy working with sidewalk chalk.  But rolling a single ball along the sidewalk path will suffice for the day or two it takes for option One to take effect.

3. Just plow it.  Sometimes your Civic Duty remains a duty even when it makes little sense.  Besides, it is always best to run the snowblower tank down to empty for off season storage.  There can't be another one of these rolling at us out of Canada.

Can there?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Things the Dogs Find

We helped out with the maple syrup operation for a while.  The people who really know what they are doing were unavailable for a few hours.  So we got instructions on stoking the fire, keeping the levels topped off, what to do if the sap boils over.

Not a very demanding job really, I had time to look about and reflect.  The syrup boiling went on in a little shed in the woods.  And on the wall were some things the dogs found and proudly brought over.

A deer antler.

A really big bird claw.

These gruesome little mementos are related.  There is a river on one side and a fairly busy road on the other.  Regards the road, deer wander onto it, stare into the oncoming headlights and slowly think "What the heck?".

Then eagles, vultures and related birds flap down, help themselves to the roadside venison until they have eaten their fill.  After that they flap ponderously out across the road, noting the oncoming vehicles and slowly think "What the heck?"

Monday, April 8, 2019

Our One Tree Maple Syrup Empire

Although I hail from a large city I've now lived most of my life in more rustic settings.  And since this is where my kids and grandkids also reside it may not be surprising that the extended tribe has a bit of hunter-gatherer instinct re-emerging.  Collectively we raise chickens, grow peppers and beans.  Of the small game hunting perhaps the less said the better, as it eventually brings up the topic of squirrel tacos.

This spring on a whim we decided to tap our front yard maple tree for sap.  

Being mildly encouraged by friends who have an ambitious sap to syrup boiling system we did extensive research which consisted of going to the hardware store and buying some "taps".  You hammer these into the tree and sap runs out.

As you can see there are buckets involved.  A few in the case of our little one tree operation.  Many if you are doing this on a dedicated scale.  As ours was a substantial tree we put in three taps, perhaps just a bit excessive.

In fact this is a tree that I both love and hate.  It is gigantic and towers over our house.  Although most impressive it has a system of roots that pulls water from a huge area.  Our front lawn becomes dead brown grass by mid July.  Unless you are willing to water it and I consider that a bit environmentally dubious.

They say an average maple tree will give you 10 to 20 gallons of sap during a "season".  The season by the way is that variable span of time when it gets warm in the daylight hours but is still below freezing at night.  Even with a late start we got over 30 gallons from this tree.

The other big variable is sugar content.  This is a Norway Maple with less concentration than the classic Sugar Maple.  Still, with a 2% reading we expect for our efforts to eventually have all of 2, maybe 3 quarts of really good syrup.  Pancakes and waffles ahead.

Cooking sap is always done outside.  The sticky fumes would otherwise coat your kitchen walls for all Eternity.  Also you might consider cooking Moonshine as an "off season" product.....
Naturally I wonder about the names of things.  The word "sap" can have assorted meanings.  It can be sticky juice that can be transformed into syrup.  It can mean a foolish person.  It can be an excavation.  When digging a World War One site the term sap for a dug out area of trench is used.  Those who dig them, or just military engineers in general, used to be called sappers.

"Sap" in the sense of sugary plant fluids goes way back to Proto Indo European.  A side version in German is "saft", meaning juice.

On the other hand, "sap" as in to dig a trench towards an enemy position, only goes back to circa 1590.  It is from the French "sapa" but ultimately comes from late Latin "sappa" meaning spade.  The variant of the word that means to weaken - as in to sap one's strength - probably comes from the undermining implications.  Some cross influence notwithstanding, in general tapping trees for sap is not harmful to them. 

And to refer to someone as a "sap"?  This meaning corresponds to "simpleton" and is a bit of early 19th century English schoolboy lingo.  It in turn comes from 18th century "saphead" or "sapskull".  In an era where knowledge of nature was perhaps a bit more universal it was known that the "sapwood", that soft mushy layer between the bark and the hardwood of the tree, was where the sap flowed.  A sapskull was someone who was soft between the ears!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Chanute Kansas

Chanute Kansas got its start in the 1850s as four separate but near together communities.  Each hoped to get the railroad that was scheduled to come through.  The competition was not particularly friendly.  Eventually a railroad company official marvelously named Octave Chanute arrived on the scene and suggested that things might go better if they just merged the four towns together.  They did.  Things did go better.  And they named the new town after him.

One of the first businesses in town was a brewery.  It was started by two gentlemen named Hartman and Hawkins on the edge of town, overlooking Village Creek.  This seems to have been built in 1870.

The enterprise lasted until 1880, being then done in by an ill humored State Prohibition law enacted that year.  The buildings vanished but the cave remained and became the source of much local lore.

Here is a recent photo of the cave.  It does not look like much today but once it was 20 feet wide, 15 feet tall and extended 50 feet into the hillside.  After the brewery went out of business the railroad bought the site and in the late 1880s quarried off the face of the bluff.  Today only 15 feet of cave remain.*

Small size notwithstanding this cave appears to have had a remarkable amount of criminality associated with it!

In 1903 it was raided due to "beer parties" being held there, the lack of a brewery not being a problem for evaders of Prohibition.

In 1909 the cave was one place searched for "The Flying Frenchman", a man wanted for murder in a neighboring county.

But mostly the cave became known for being a retreat for hobos, men riding the rails. Probably the proximity of the railroad tracks made it prime real estate for "Weary Willie".

In 1910 Acting Chief of Police T.E. Hall had this to say:

"The bums have a regular rookery there. It is fitted up with implements for cooking and washing, and is stocked with coffee, bread and potatoes."

At any given time there would be from 2 to 12 vagrants in residence, many of whom left detailed graffiti with names like "New York Shorty", "A No. 1." and "The Denver Kid".  Perhaps some of this still survives.

The presence of dubious characters no doubt lent credence to a very wild story recorded in 1911 under these headlines:

Undersheriff Carwile made four arrests there

This headline uses a couple of phrases less known today, but basically the tale was that a man named Flannery from Oklahoma City - described as a "cocaine fiend", whose wife by the way was a leper - had while deeply under the influence been telling wild and frightening tales.  He said that dynamite recently stolen from the cement plant was being cooked down to nitroglycerin by a gang of criminals hiding in the old brewery cave.

A skeptical but dutiful posse of townsfolk marched out to the cave and found four men cooking.....breakfast.

After questioning turned up nothing of interest the hoboes, and Flannery to boot, were given 15 minutes to get out of Chanute.

Pictures of the cave are surprisingly scarce.  Below is a shot of an excavated shaft at the back of the cave.  Unlike most such features it is four feet across and probably was used both as a vent and to raise and lower kegs from the brewery which sat up above on the bluff.  

In the unlikely event you are in Chanute Kansas, the cave is on the north bank of Village Creek, just upstream from the rail road bridge. 
* This looks a great deal like the mysterious stub of a cave to be found near Mirror Lake.  Could something similar have happened there? 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Ticking Bomb in the Cave

Some locations just seem to generate more stories than you'd expect.  So today we will once again visit the general area of the brewery cave in Eau Claire Wisconsin that I've written about several times.  The cast of characters that has graced these premises over the years is impressive.  Maude Phillips the Mad Poetess and Mrs. Jules Anklum, town drunkard, move over.  You have company.

Here is a fascinating article from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram of December 31st, 1953..


A home-made bomb in a cigar box, found by two boys playing cops 'n robbers along the Eau Claire River bank Wednesday afternoon is being investigated by the police department here.

The crude device was found, clock ticking, by Don Anderson, 13, son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Anderson, 620 Chauncy St., and Larry Schaefer, 12 son of Mr. and Mrs. Irv Schaefer, 1519 Woodland, about 2pm.

Detective H.L. MacLaughlin says the bomb could have caused "considerable" damage if it had gone off where any damage could be done.  It was found by the boys in a cave on the south side of the river over the bank from the end of Lee St., not far from a rubber company parking lot.  The bomb is probably the work of some mechanically inclined youth who wanted to see if he could make a bomb work, MacLaughlin said.

LARRY SCHAEFER was eager to tell how it all happened. 

(cue enthusiastic 12 year old voice)

"We had some play guns and were playing cops 'n robbers when we saw a place with some old cans that kinda looked like there had been a fire there.  I kicked a stone and saw a hole.  It was dark in there so I told Don to see what was under there.  He lifted the rock and we saw it.  We thought it was a telegraph set.  We picked it up and heard it was ticking and both hollered 'It's a time bomb'".

The boys dropped it and ran off for a short distance.  Then they went back. "I went back and ripped the wires from the clock real quick," Larry continues. "Then I took it up to the house to show it to my dad."

THE BOY'S MOTHER also told the boy to show the box with the pipe, batteries and clock to his father.  The elder Schaefer unscrewed one end of the pipe, took out a sample of the powder and convinced himself it was a bomb when it flashed as he lit the sample with a match.

The clock alarm had been set at one o'clock and the device was found at about ten minutes to 2.  Wires had been attached to the alarm arm of the clock and then run into one end of the four inch long, one inch in diameter water pipe.

"I don't know just how it would make the second contact," Schaefer said. "I couldn't figure out if it was some kid's prank or what it was."

"The boy said that he and Anderson hadn't seen anyone else playing in the area at the time the box was found.  The river bank there is a popular playground for boys the police reported.

LARRY SAID young Anderson had been certain what they saw was a bomb too.  "We saw on television where they had bombs like that on Dragnet," he said.


The account goes on a bit more but the basic story, two kids finding a ticking bomb under a rock, seems pretty darn implausible.  Finding something this strange under a snow covered rock in the last week of December?  I'm figuring as you likely are as well, that they built the darned thing. 

I must hand out a substantial number of Parent Points to young Larry's elders.  Mom says: "Hmmm. Well, it looks like a bomb.  Go show your father."  Dad then unscrews one end and puts a match to the powder just to test the theory.  Was their life with Larry a series of events like this?

The location of this little drama is unclear, which I suspect is just due to lazy reporting.  It references a cave but the actual account given by the kids is different.  As it happens, Lee Street is a few hundred yards downstream from the known brewery cave. The cave of course would be a natural magnet for the lads, and there are often the remains of campfires to be found there. But honestly, as large parts of this tale sound to me to be blatant nonsense perhaps it does not matter.

For what it is worth the cave in question was used to store dynamite back in the 1880s.  If this article had appeared on April 1st I'd assume the paper was having a little fun with that obscure bit of local history.

For another -  oh yes another! - report of a bomb in a brewery cave, come back next time.