Wednesday, April 29, 2020

In Potter's Fields

I'm not sure the concept of a "Potter's Field" is well known these days, although some Covid related stories have touched on it.  Simply put it is a burial place for the poor.  The name and concept are very old.  In the Book of Matthew it is said that Judas had remorse after betraying Christ.  He tried to give back the 30 pieces of silver but the High Priests would not accept it as it was "blood money".  Eventually they used it to buy a patch of waste ground, previously used for potters to dig up clay.  It's lack of suitability for agriculture and the pits already present made it an obvious, and probably economical, choice.  It was used to bury "strangers", likely a catch all term for the poor, the infidels, and the unknowns.  The spot tradition associated with the original Potter's Field was actually used to bury non Jews until the early 19th century.

Potter's Fields are pretty common in the US.  Here in my little town of Chippewa Falls there are two of them.   Naturally the stories associated with them are rather sad.

The older one is on the site of the former County Poor Farm.  This institution goes back to 1877, and ironically the first resident of it was Jean Brunet, the founder of Chippewa Falls.  The site had a batch of the best farm land in the county, now sadly a mostly failed development with "Shovel Ready" signs standing in weedy fields next to unoccupied streets.

This cemetery is near my former office but I had no idea it was there.  Until a tidy up a few years ago I think you'd really have to be looking to find any trace of it.  It's hard to reconcile the age of the Poor Farm with the first recorded burial there in 1901.  Jean Brunet for instance died there soon after his arrival.  Likely the earlier burials were just poorly marked or perhaps in a now unknown location.

Certainly some of the simple grave markers reflect this uncertainty.  Probably from the cemetery restoration, this is a bit modern and would have been pricey back then.

Although others like early this one don't tell you very much more....

The other Potter's Field in town is on the expansive grounds of The Northern Wisconsin Center.  It's actually just across the river from the Poor Farm.  The Northern Center began operation in 1897 as one of two facilities in the state to house what we would now call Developmentally Disabled individuals.  Early names of the facility use less kind descriptive terms that I feel no need to repeat.   Like the Poor Farm it's population grew during economic hard times.  When jobs are scarce and families just scraping by the added responsibilities of caring for the less able sometimes became severe.  At its peak it had 2,203 residents.  Basically a small town's worth.  Some of them are buried here:

The markers are mostly plain, and give just the basics.

Notice the little touch of ornamentation in the form of colored gravel pressed into the cement.

The Poor Farm cemetery seemed like a forgotten place.  It is back behind the 1970's era nursing home that replaced it, and dumpsters and a forlorn picnic table for exiled smokers hardly makes it seem contemplative.    But the Northern Center is still a going concern.  Sort of.  With the trend in recent decades towards community based living for the developmentally disabled the population there has aged and contracted.  Only a few buildings of the vast campus are now in use.  But there are a few newer gravestones to be seen, done in a more modern and less severe granite.  And even among the older memorials, modest though they are, you see signs that sometimes somebody remembers the people buried in a Potter's Field.     


Monday, April 27, 2020

Sunbeam II

Brief update on The Sunbeam Tavern.  The Hide in your House deadline has been pushed forward into May but the Sunbeamers appear to be getting ready.  They have a new sign!

I squinted at this for a long time, on a day with bright sunshine and a riot of spring peeper frog noises in the background.  I don't think the sign is "pre-distressed" but the background of - I think - pine trees does disrupt the edges of the lettering in a distracting way.

I guess the official name is "Margo's Sunbeam Tavern".  They have a facebook page.  Here's their home page photo...

As this photo accompanies all their posts I'm not sure if this is New Year's Eve or just a slow Tuesday night.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Hudson Road Brewery, Menomonie WI - Part III

Louis Burkhardt sold the Hudson Road Brewery in 1912 to a certain Joseph Neidemair. It seems to have still been a going concern, even allowing for a bit of civic boosterism the amount of beer brewed was likely increasing in the later years of the enterprise.  And they still had big crowds of people coming out on the weekends.  I think the picnic ground/dance hall operation was a big part of their business and that the distance from town helped.

In fact, on one Saturday night in 1916 it is said that they had done "..a large business...many customers had been served."  The employees staffing the occasion closed up shop, went to a nearby house for a bit of their own celebration, and on emerging in the wee hours saw that the brewery was on fire.

The account of the fire is quite extensive and helps give a picture of the layout.  The blaze started on the north end of the main building, where a 16 horsepower engine and boiler were on the main floor and the big malting machine on the second level. This end was burned down to bare walls.  The center section was the main brewing area.  It too was heavily damaged with the big copper brew kettle and a huge iron vat crashing through the floor and being destroyed.  The south end was mainly ice storage and was less damaged.  A few adjacent frame buildings were spared as the fire department had been summoned by a telephone call from the Louis Burkhardt residence (likely his widow Emma calling) and turned up with a hand pump they used to spray water drawn from the nearby creek.  200 empty half barrels, $500 worth of malt and 250 barrels of beer valued at $1,600 were lost.  

Although he only had $10,000 insurance on a $20,000 loss Niedermair said he was going to rebuild.  But 1916 was a tough time to attempt this.  Temperance voices were starting to become louder and the raw materials needed were going to be hard to come by once the US entered World War One. Good luck finding a $2,000 copper kettle during wartime scrap drives. The Hudson Road Brewery had made their final batch of beer.  But there are a few footnotes to the story...

- Niedermair actually did do some rebuilding.  In part of the burned out brewery he restored a room that he used as a wholesale beer depot.  Previous customers were said to come from far and wide to purchase beer brewed in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire.  Of course he didn't actually have a license to run this business and it was raided in 1917.

- In 1923 he did acquire a different sort of license....a marriage license.  His new bride?  Emma Burkhardt, widow of Louis.  Even though the brewery was no longer in operation that old German tradition of marrying the widow of the owner was sort of observed here....even if in an odd twist it was a former owner marrying the widow of the previous owner.  With no further information coming my way I'll just wish for them a long, happy life together.

I  hope to do a walk around of the site some time this year.  I figure my odds of getting a favorable reply will be better if I wait until quarantine is over so I don't have to come to their front door wearing a mask.  I figure there are 300,000 scorched bricks and possibly a brewery cave there someplace....

Stay tuned, lets hope for a Part IV!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Hudson Road Brewery, Menomonie WI - Part II

The next owner of the Hudson Road Brewery was Gottlieb Burkhardt.  He was part of an extended family that ran a brewery near Wabasha Minnesota from 1865 onward.  They seem like a rough bunch, one of the Burkhardts was caught tossing phosphorus into the vats of a competing brewery...and got a hefty dose of buckshot for his troubles!

Gottlieb may have been one of the milder members of the tribe.  His 1908 obituary speaks well of him and mentions his service in a Minnesota regiment during the Civil War.

Gottlieb Burkhardt acquired the struggling Hudson Road Brewery circa 1887 ( ?, see footnote below) and moved to Menomonie the year after.  Period photos show a substantial enterprise, no doubt reflecting the major rebuild by Wagner after the 1883 fire.

This photo is again courtesy of the Dunn County Historical Society and is felt to be from 1888.  It is always fun to make presumptive identifications in these old photos.  I know that the guy running the beer delivery wagon in 1888 was named Lars Olson. And I rather suspect that the children on the left side were those of Gottlieb Burkhardt. He had four daughters three of whom were Mary, Pauline and Emma.  Also a son, Louis, who I think is the young man in the center of the photo.

With newspaper articles as the major source of detail you always get an incomplete picture of history, but here's a few tidbits of the Burkhardt years.

- They had regular delivery service running beer from the brewery into town.

- They kept the picnic grounds started by Roleff and Wagner open...and it sounds like a rough place.  I find mention in 1890 of a chap named Louis Jesse being involved in a quarrel at the Hudson Road Brewery and having a finger "chewed off by his antagonist"!

- In 1886 - sort of a grey area in terms of ownership* - there was a newspaper report of "A picnic and dance...near the Hudson Road Brewery last Sunday which is said to have been attended by five-hundred people and where the beer flowed like water."  Interestingly both the chewed off finger incident and the fatal jump off the wagon mentioned in my last posting happened at the picnic grounds and on Sundays.  Hmmmm....

I've studied period maps looking for the location of the picnic grounds and dance hall.  This one from the late 1880's does show a structure on Burkhardt owned land south of the brewery proper.  But it is on the other side of Gilbert creek and there is no road shown.  How did the customers and beer get there?   Not without incident one suspects...

For some reason a fair amount of nonsense has made it into print regards the Burkhardt brewery.  They probably did not brew 10,000 barrels a year (one account put it at 5,000) nor did they make beer with a 12-14% alcohol content although they may have continued the tradition of making a strong Bock in the springtime.  Some later articles claim that G. Burkhardt founded the brewery, while one on-line account has a ridiculous typo claiming that he took over the place in 1806!

The extended Burkhardt family was involved in regional brewing for nearly 50 years but eventually they departed the scene locally.  Gottlieb turned the business over to his son Louis in the late 1890's, then died in 1908.  Louis sold the business in 1912 but remained on the land, devoting his time to farming until his own death from "apoplexy" in 1915.

For the Hudson Road Brewery there would be one more owner.  And one more disaster.
* Very confusingly this report and suggestion that just maybe a few liquor laws were being violated bore the name of H.H.Brown, who one week later denied that he had said this.  In July of 1887 Brown and two partners bought the "other" brewery in Menomonie at a referee sale after its bankruptcy.  Brewery history is complicated.

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Hudson Road Brewery, Menomonie WI - Part I

The historic breweries of Menomonie Wisconsin have a bit of a reputation among local history is felt that they are poorly documented due in part to an aversion by the local paper to mentioning intoxicating beverages.  But actually there is plenty of info out there, so much so that my write up of the "Hudson Road Brewery" is stretching out into a multi part story.   So here goes...

The location of this brewery was atypical.  It was two miles west of Menomonie near a road that continued on, logically enough, to another early community called Hudson.  There was pretty strong Temperance sentiment in early Menomonie so perhaps the inconvenient site had that as part of the motivation.

The brewery was started in the "mid 1860's".  According to Doug Hoverson's Magnum Opus on Wisconsin brewery history the enterprise is first listed in 1866 but might have been up and running a year or two earlier.  The initial proprietor was a man named August Geisert, who managed a production of 400 barrels in 1870.

Geisert died (by various reports in either 1872 or 1881) but there is also a "Mrs. Geisert" to account for.  She ran "the Brewery Saloon" according to a 1873 article that mentions a $5 fine for selling liquor on the Sabbath.  It sounds like a rough place if it is indeed the same "Mrs. Geisert's saloon" where, in August of 1881, a patron was found dead in her well after a drunken altercation.  Various public calls to have her license revoked ensued.   

At some point a partnership acquired the brewery.  This was Fred Wagner and a pair of brothers named Roleff.  (Likely Frank and William, both Menomonie saloon operators).  When?  The best info comes from a newspaper article of May 1874 that describes a fire that destroyed the brewery "a few miles west of this village".  It indicates that it was at the foot of a bluff and that it was new, only in operation for 2-3 months.  This often indicates a rebuild rather than an entirely new facility.

An early credit report said that business was slow and perhaps their product was not good but they did build it up into a solid business.  There was an associated picnic grounds and perhaps a dance hall.  Local German societies met there.  I did find a sad incident from 1879 where their brewmaster, a chap named Samuel Kraunz, jumped off a wagon at the picnic grounds and broke his leg.  Despite having it set he "was taken insane" a few days later and died.

Then in 1883 disaster struck again.  The brewery burned with its entire contents.  

By now Fred Wagner was the sole proprietor, and after initial suspicions of arson he reported that it was a problem with the ventilation of the malt kiln.

Despite losses in excess of insurance an ambitious rebuilding was undertaken.  300,000 bricks.  Elevators to "do the labor of nine men".  A three story 52 by 132 foot structure that contained "A mammoth malt kiln for the manufacture of light malt and beer equal in quality and color to that made in Milwaukee."

Here's a photo taken a few years later that nicely shows the "mammoth malt kiln".

photo from Dunn County Historical Society
But perhaps it was just a bit too much.  The 1880's were a time when the big breweries were starting to ship beer by rail to local depots in places like Menomonie, and to "capture" chains of brewery owned saloons.  In the late 1880's the business faltered.  After a short period of being leased by a man named H.H. Brown (known to history mainly from tax records and a thank you from the local scribes when he sent a fresh keg over to the newspaper offices) a new owner came onto the scene in 1887.  

The Burkhardt family had arrived.

continued in part II

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Skunk Cabbage

A metaphor for the Covid Spring of 2020.  Signs of new life and hopeful renewal. But realistically, still kinda stinky.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Staph and Staff

I have a fondness for homonyms, words that sound alike.  Strictly speaking what I'm going to discuss today are mere homophones, words that sound alike but have different spellings.  There are rules for this sort of thing I guess, and some would insist on having their entrants be of completely different etymologies.  But the more word sleuthing you do the more common ancestors you turn up.

Consider staph and staff.

Staph, or if you are on less familiar terms, staphlococci, are a family of bacteria notorious for causing infections.  They show up under a microscope in cozy little clumps.  This gave them their name, which comes from the Greek staphyle meaning a bunch of grapes.  

Staff is a much more complicated word.  It may go back to an even older Paleo-Indo-European word, stebh.  The Greek word probably comes from this root, and incorporates both the concept of the cluster of grapes and the grape vine proper.

Other linguistic variants of the word cover assorted pillars, posts and poles including walking sticks/herding tools that we refer to as staffs.  

By the 1700's it became a term for a group of military officers who assist a commanding officer.  This is a German variation and seems to be based on the baton as a badge of office for the highest ranked officers.   Germany is the only nation in recent years to issue batons to Field Marshals but it used to be more common.  The Duke of Wellington supposedly held the rank of Marshal in the ranks of eight different Allied armies and got a baton from each of them to add to his two British ones!

The non martial use of the term staff to describe a group of civilian employees is pretty recent, dating to 1837.

On occasion the two words come into conflict.  After all, the last thing the people staffing your ICU want is....staph.

Random Internet picture of an ICU staffer.  Apparently from Tree Frog General Hospital.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Disease Etymology II - Under the Influence

The Current Unpleasantness is without precedent in our life times but has some analogs in past Influenza epidemics.  1918 struck with a ferocity nobody saw coming.  Ever since we've been nervously worrying that it might hit us that hard again.  So we've devoted a lot of resources to vaccines, medications, surveillance, etc.

Influenza is another very interesting word, so much so that to clip it down to "flu" is a grave disservice.

I have to confess this one surprised me a bit.  I had assumed that the term only went back as far as 1918.  That bug got called Spanish Influenza not because it had much to do with Spain but simply because the news media there were able to report it without the wartime censorship of other nations.  Influenza sounds vaguely Spanish so I assumed the term began there.

Oh goodness no.  It goes much farther back and is of Italian origin.  Tracing words is a bit like tracing epidemics.

At least as far back as the early 1500's the term influenza is used in reference to diseases.  This was on the basis of then prevalent thinking that there were astrological "influences" of the stars and planets on such matters.

It comes from the Latin influentia, meaning to stream outward from.  Astral influences will sorta do that I guess.

 Oddly the word "fluent" which sounds the same and also implies a sort of "flowing" seems to have different roots altogether.  Go figure.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Etymology of Corona Virus - Naming names....

As the Current Unpleasantness drags on I struggle to find things to write about.  It's not as if I'm doing anything fun.

So how 'bout a week of Disease Etymology, starting with everyone's fave, Corona Virus.

Corona viruses are so called because under an electron microscope they have projections going out in all directions.  This reminded early investigators of the "corona" in the sense of light radiating out from the sun.  But the word is very old and generally means other things.

In Latin corona means "crown".  If you picture a stock image of a medieval king with that pointy headgear you get a bit of a sense of radiating things, but in Roman times it was a bit more explicit, with the "rays" being in addition an emanation of wisdom, or power or noble worth.  You see this on assorted coins of the era...

Of course the Romans had some original words and ideas but swiped both on a wholesale basis from the Greeks.  In Greek the word is korone.  It meant "curved", and likely was a reference to the laurels that were often used to honor the worthy in ancient times.  Of course there are coins for that also...

The concept of a laurel wreath as a badge of honor still lingers on in odd corners of our world.  Consider for instance the title Poet Laureate.  

There is some debate as to how the curved part of the word came to be.  Some hold that the beaks of crows have that kind of shape and that it carried over.  Crows have been designated as the genus Corvus and given their reputation for being harbingers of ill fortune this might be an appropriate and millennia long curving around to get to the modern covid-19.

As always there are parallel words that also come down to us from the same source.  Cornice for the "crowning" portions of a building.  Also, oddly, coronary which initially referred specifically to the arteries supplying the heart.  Anatomists in the 1600's noted that they curved down around the muscular portions of the heart as they supplied it with blood.

With a word this ancient and with largely positive, regal connotations, it is no surprise that advertisers have latched onto it.  Some are now regretting this.  On a vital supply run I did inquire and learned that sales of Corona Beer are down 50%.  I have no data on the resale value of Toyota Corollas. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Sunbeam Tavern

The world is the same....and also different these days.  On a bright spring day I took a very long walk.  Oddly it was to deliver some hand sewn face masks.  But it was such a nice day that any excuse would have sufficed.

On the way I walked past a tavern on the edge of town.  Like all such establishments it had been closed for a couple of weeks and will remain so for several more.

I'm pretty sure this has never happened before in Wisconsin.  Through wars and recessions taverns stayed open.  Even during the 1918 pandemic a lot of them did.  Milwaukee closed the churches but let the bars carry on.  Prohibition - which in Wisconsin was sort of an abstract concept - did not close the bars entirely, just made them discreet.

Small taverns have been such an integral part of our culture in the Badger State.  But even before this draconian shutdown they were beginning to fade away.*   Some of them will not reopen.

The Sunbeam tavern.  I've never been in, and one of my kids says it might be a bit rough for my tastes.  In my own younger days, perhaps not.  But in my serene retirement years I'll take his word on this one.

Their sign has taken some kind of a major hit.  Probably high winds, although it is in a rather sheltered area.  Actually that steel pole is bent to a degree that I suspect a pick up truck might have been involved somehow although the adjacent railing seems intact.

All bars and restaurants are closed these days, with carry out orders the only exceptions for the latter.  You see lots of signs in windows wishing patrons well through the corona virus pandemic.  At the Sunbeam tavern the hastily taped up sign says something different.....

I imagine the bartender meeting was loud, spirited in more ways than one and was attended by some regulars granted one night status as "auxiliary" bartenders.  But from the darkened interior the meeting and/or party is over.

To better days Sunbeam, I hope you come back strong and carry on the long tradition of local taverns.  
*Some of the reasons for small rural bars dwindling are good ones.  We are an automobile culture and I don't want my children on the road with intoxicated drivers. But small watering holes struggle even in neighborhoods where a sufficient clientele could walk to them.  We've become socially distanced even in non covid times, hunkered down in front of screens drinking stuff we bought at the Big Box store.  In some ways the friendly tavern was a good thing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Gildas the Wise makes a muddle of things

Excavations at Vindolanda should have begun on Monday.  The first part of the season including my session has been cancelled. It seems likely the entire 2020 campaign will be lost.

Too bad, as this season would have been especially interesting as it would have involved among other things taking down a section of the site from modern ground level.  In theory this means a peek at the enigmatic late occupancy of the fort.  Theories vary but there is evidence of a sub Roman war lord/chieftain occupying some of the buildings after the end of Roman Britain, and then later perhaps a religious community.  A few odds and ends from 9th century Saxons turn up but may just have been wandering through.

The end of Roman Britain in this part of the world saw the dispersal of a highly organized defense system centered of course on The Wall, but also including forts, signal towers, roads and civilian communities.   Naturally one imagines a dramatic end, with shaggy barbarians scaling the Wall and pouring southwards.  But in reality it was - to the extent we can say anything - a more complex process.   A few dates to consider:

394 AD - Battle of Frigidus (Italy).  A donnybrook slaughter between the armies of rival Emperors representing the East and the West.  The Eastern Emperor Theodosius "won" but things were never the same after that.  When he died four months later the Roman Empire was divided between his two idiot sons Honorius and Arcadius, never to be made whole again.

402 AD - large numbers of the Roman troops were withdrawn from Britain.  Absence of coinage later than this date suggests those who stayed behind were not getting paid.  Unpaid soldiers recruited from the locals might quickly become Part of the Problem.

406 AD - The Rhine river freezes over and Germanic tribes cross.  Vandals and Goths march across modern day Germany, France and Spain with little to stop them.  Britain is now cut off except by problematic sea routes.

410 AD - "The Rescript of Honorius".  If accurate*, this was a letter from the Emperor to the cities of Brittania saying in effect "Adios, you're on your own".

So what actually happened up on the Wall?  The archaeological record is sketchy.  As is one of the few near contemporary written sources, a monk named Gildas the Wise.

Born circa 500 AD in what is now Scotland, he wrote a surviving history that gives clues.....but also has egregious errors.  He for instance appeared to have no idea when the Hadrianic and Antonine walls were built, suggesting that the Romans threw them together just before their final departure.  

And according to Gildas, once the Romans left for good the garrison of the Wall did not manage a particularly glorious Last Stand:

"Moreover, having heard of the departure of our friends, and their resolution never to return, they seized with greater boldness than before on all the country towards the extreme north as far as the wall. To oppose them there was placed on the heights a garrison equally slow to fight and ill adapted to run away, a useless and panic-struck company, who slumbered away days and nights on their unprofitable watch. Meanwhile the hooked weapons of their enemies were not idle, and our wretched countrymen were dragged from the wall and dashed against the ground. Such premature death, however, painful as it was, saved them from seeing the miserable sufferings of their brothers and children. But why should I say more? "

Then plague, famine and general sinfulness ruled the land.  

"Lamentable to behold, in the midst of the streets lay the tops of lofty towers, tumbled to the ground, stones of high walls, holy altars, fragments of human bodies, covered with livid clots of coagulated blood, looking as if they had been squeezed together in a press; and with no chance of being buried, save in the ruins of the houses, or in the ravening bellies of wild beasts and birds.."

Pretty grim stuff but it is worth remembering that Gildas got a number of obvious facts wrong in his off the cuff comments on history, and that he was recounting events that were approximately 150 years in the past.  He was handing down tales of the past, and with the shorter life spans of those times probably not three generations past but four or five.

In that it is akin to my passing along a few scraps of family lore about my great grandmother fleeing the Sioux Uprising in 1862.  Filtered and embellished by elderly relatives I'm sure I only have the thinnest connection with actual events.

Gildas was one gloomy scold but he was looking back at hard times.  Hopefully - in the sense of being full of hope - a year from now I'll be returning to sunny fields among the old friends and the older stones. 
* And Boy Howdy is the Rescript of Honorius controversial among scholars.  It may have been referring to "Bruttium" a part of southern Italy. I found reference to our site Director of Excavations going on record as doubting any connection to Britain at all....

Monday, April 6, 2020

Time Capsule - Foot Locker

My father has been gone a few years now.  Looking back at his life I suspect it was mostly fairly quiet. 

He was born on a farm.  He grew up there around horses, the cycles of the year and a bunch of brothers.  Realistically he was the smart kid in the family graduating at the top of his high school class and going off to college.  Which I suspect was also a pretty sedate experience, he was a shy individual and was living with an elderly uncle instead of on campus.

His adult life he spent practicing medicine, mostly in a one man primary care practice.  One of his colleagues once described him to me as "One of the last true gentlemen in medicine".

But in between those two stretches of long tireless work, of routine and probably a lot of Friday nights at home, there was a curious interlude.  He was a U.S. Army doctor overseas.

He had gone to Med School in an accelerated program designed to turn out, as quickly as possible, much needed Army doctors.  Well, even the war effort can only move so fast and at the end of the three year program it was 1946 and the war was over.  My dad was sent to Germany where he seems to have been the sole medical provider for a good sized base near Heidelberg.  Very few stories of those years have come down to us.  It is said he was once near death from pneumonia.  He once visited Vienna and was interested in pursuing a career in psychiatry (!).  He considered, but sadly decided against, going along on a supply plane during the Berlin Air Lift. He went to visit Woltershof, a tiny village on the banks of the Rhine river that was once our family's home.  As an aside, when we visited again in the 1970's somebody there remembered that earlier visit.   He bought a Volkswagen and considered having it shipped home.

As to physical remains of that exotic interlude there is little.  A detailed inventory of the things he did ship home does record a few surviving artifacts including some nice beer steins he probably got on the cheap.  And....there is his foot locker.

I'm pretty sure he left the service as a Captain, so this must have been issued to him at the start of his time in uniform.

Parked up in the attic.  The foot locker has become battered and faded over the years. It's just not the sort of thing you even think about carefully preserving, they were built to be tossed about in the holds of troop ships.

I initially thought this was the maker of the foot locker but no, just the company that made the hinges.  But it is a fascinating tale in its own right.  C.W. Beehler started a metal stamping company in the 1880's but his real passion was excavating fossils!

The actual value of a 1940's foot locker is approximately zero.  No, the value of such an item is what it tells you about the history of the owner and his family.  Here for instance is a sticker that tells a tale.  The style screams 1970s.  My grandfather (my dad's father in law) was a Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance agent in Hawley Minnesota until his death from cancer in 1973.

The inside of the foot locker is "decorated".  My older brother liked Dentyne chewing gum.  My mother - although she would be horrified to admit it today - was a devout Republican at this time of her life.  I guess she actually met Nixon once.  Nixon Now stamps are from his 1972 campaign and therefore predated Watergate when they could have been interpreted as a demand for immediate impeachment.

One last memento.  My brother also worked at the Boys Club on the north side of Minneapolis.

Family memories of this sort are not always carried over from one generation to the next.  I'm not even sure that I have the stories from my dad in accurate form.  My wife is big on putting tags and such on family artifacts so that the kids would have some idea what the heck things are should we elders both "check out" in one form or another.

So I'm going to print out a copy of this blog post, put it in a protective envelope and attach it to the inside of the foot locker.  Hmmm, this is a direction I did not expect a rainy Sunday morning to take.....Greetings Future Generations!

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Cheesehead Apocalypse

Some random images and thoughts from Wisconsin in the days of Corona Virus.

Tempers flare as long lines at the gas stations threaten to break out in riots...

Uh...not so much.   Part of the reason could be seen as I walked past one of the many pumps not in use:

At under $1.50 a gallon I suppose we may yet see roving bands of post apocalypse bikers...and that the gas stations will be giving away premiums to attract their business.  "Coupon for 50% off your next tattoo with each tank full!"

Dogs are exhausted.  Not by repelling home invaders (although post men and squirrels do remain threats!).  But so many walks....some pups just can't take any more.

And finally, while I don't want to make any jokes about places that are suffering from more severe outbreaks I do have to recall a bit of public art that I saw along the riverfront in Milwaukee last year.  It might in retrospect not have been the best idea....

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Milwaukee Beer Bottling Company of Eau Claire Wisconsin

Today a local history post that - without some background explanation - will make sense to perhaps .001% of my readers.  I present for consideration the following artifact:

OK, so it is a glass bottle.  Clearly dug up out of the ground and not particularly well cleaned by its lazy finder.  The embossing is cool but where's the mystery here?  Wisconsin loves beer, always has.  And Milwaukee is basically synonymous for good beer.  It all makes sense until I show you the wider view:

Alright, for most of you this still makes plenty of sense.  But a few, a very few of you are now squinting and saying "Wait just a darned minute".

Because that's not a beer bottle.

Nope.  This is a style of soda pop bottle called, after its inventor, a Hutchinson bottle.  It had a spring wire device in the short, stubby neck that held a gasket.  Supposedly the term "Pop" came from the sound what was made when you pushed down on the spring and the pressure  - which had held the gasket in place - was released.  You'd generally pour the contents into a glass as drinking directly with that wire gizmo sticking out the top of the bottle would be unpleasant.

Not a particularly sanitary invention but it replaced various cork and glass stopper devices that were even worse.

"Hutch sodas" were the dominant style from about 1880 to 1910, gradually being replaced from 1905 to 1915 by the "crown top" sodas that were standard until plastic screw caps took over in recent times.

So, did the Milwaukee Beer Bottling Company perversely use a soda style bottle for beer?  Quite unlikely.  Here's what I think to be the real story.

The main business of the enterprise was certainly soda pop.  This article from an Eau Claire newspaper of January 1887 suggests it had been started the year before:

"The Milwaukee Bottling Co., Galloway St., are now importing a two thousand dollar machine to manufacture selzer and all seasonal goods.  Their business in the city has increased so largely during the last season that they find the old machinery inadequate for the growing demand.  Consequently they have shipped away the old machine to Boston, and will have it replaced by the new machine which will arrive here from Boston in a few weeks.  It will be well worthy of a visit when it is set in motion, as many new features will be developed."

The reference to Galloway Street makes this the proper moment to introduce a sketch of the establishment from an 1880's fire insurance map.

You can see Galloway Street in the upper left corner.  Of importance to our story are the railroad siding adjacent to the Milwaukee Beer Bottl'g Co and the platform leading into an area marked Office and Beer.  The actual bottling works and ice house are across an alley.

From other sources it is clear that this company had two product lines.  Yes, they bottled soda pop.  But they were also a bottling agent for one of the big Milwaukee breweries.  In this case the various incarnations of the Falk and the Falk, Jung and Borchart enterprise.

There is a tendency to think that the small breweries of America were done in by Prohibition in 1919.  But the sad fact is that by 1919 at least 75% of them were already gone.  Let's not get overly sentimental, many of them were small outfits that brewed beer in small batches.  And as any home brewer will attest, some batches were great, others not so much.  They only had the advantage of a local market, and perhaps could claim to have a fresher product.

But all this changed in the 1880's.  In the large brewing centers like Milwaukee, St. Paul and St. Louis companies made major capital improvements and brought in more sanitary and scientific technologies.  There were economies of scale even as the incidence of bad batches dropped.  The reputation of their beers rose.  Then they invested in refrigerated rail cars that could bring nice fresh kegs of their product anywhere in the country.  This allowed them to operate chains of brewery owned saloons that only sold their product line.

But for the home market....

It became common for the big breweries to have agencies in mid sized towns.  Beer would come in by rail.  The kegs could be stored on ice for area saloons that were bound to that particular brewery.  And at the same time beer could be drawn off the kegs and bottled for the home market.  Beer style bottles with the main brewery's name and logo would have been employed in most cases.  

It is unusual that the Milwaukee Beer Bottling Company so identified themselves even on their soda bottles.  But it likely suggests where their money was in fact made.  Soda pop is never a big profit center.  But beer can be.  Particularly in the 1880s, a time when the industry was rapidly changing.  Within a few years the healthy little community of small to medium breweries in Eau Claire would be wiped out, with only the Walter's brewery hanging on until Prohibition.