Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Series Surprises – When the Characters Take Charge

Today we have a piece written by Patricia Skalka, author of the Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries. The third book in this series, Death in Cold Water has recently been released in paperback.

In real life, people and relationships continually shift and change.  They do the same in fiction. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises I encounter in writing the Dave Cubiak Door County mysteries comes from seeing how the characters evolve from one book to the next. Death in Cold Water, the third book in the ongoing saga, finds protagonist Dave Cubiak firmly ensconced as the heroic sheriff even as he continues to struggle with the issues of grief and loss that propelled his move to Door County. But he is no longer the same character he was in Death Stalks Door County, the book that kicks off the series. Over time, and the course of three volumes, he transitions from a forlorn, drunk recluse into a man who slowly learns to trust both himself and others and one who learns to love again.

In describing the heroic detective figure, Raymond Chandler once famously said “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero.” Chandler’s description does not fit the flawed and tragic protagonist we first meet.  He is mean (punishing himself for the deaths of his wife and daughter); he is tarnished (having drunk himself out of his job as a Chicago cop); and he is afraid (fearful of life, of making more mistakes); he is not a hero (initially he stubbornly refuses to help solve the mysterious murders plaguing the county). After his moral compass swings back into place, all changes. Cubiak’s plight endures him to readers who empathize with his failings and see themselves reflected in his struggles.

Although I create the stories and control the words that fall upon the page, more often than not I feel like a bystander, one who records events as they occur and documents the shifts in relationships between my fictional characters. I always imagined that Dave Cubiak and the erudite physician Evelyn Bathard would be friends, but I never planned for Bathard to become a father figure to the sheriff. Yet that is exactly what happens. The process begins in the second book and intensifies in Death in Cold Water.

Meanwhile, Mike Rowe makes his entrance in book two as a minor character. His role is expedient. Cubiak needs access to a fast boat, so I introduce a hot-shot young deputy who owns the high-powered Speedy Sister.  I cast Rowe as a minor figure but then the muse takes over and in Death in Cold Water, the deputy plays a pivotal role. Even more interesting, at the same time, almost magically, Cubiak emerges as something of a father figure to the younger man.

Did I mention love? In book two, both international photographer Cate Wagner and local vet Natalie Klein appear as romantic interests. In Death in Cold Water, one of the two wins Cubiak’s heart. But I’m not telling which. The answer is one of the series surprises.

 

Patricia Skalka is the author of Death Stalks Door CountyDeath at Gills Rock, and Death Rides the Ferry, the fourth book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series. She is president of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin. A former staff writer at Reader’s Digest, she presents writing workshops throughout the United States.

The Story of Tommy Thompson

Today’s guest blogger is Doug Moe, coauthor of the book Tommy: My Journey of a Lifetime. He penned it alongside the subject of the memoir, Tommy G. Thompson, Wisconsin’s longest-serving governor.

I suspect many readers will come to former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson’s new autobiography, Tommy: My Journey of Lifetime, which I coauthored, looking for details on major policies he helped initiate, like BadgerCare in Wisconsin, and, on the national level, Medicare Part D.

The details are in there, and they are often fascinating. When Thompson, as Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, helped push through the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, it took a call to the White House from the House floor at 4:30 a.m. Sec. Thompson was there advocating for the bill, and one congressman insisted on talking to President Bush. Every vote mattered, and Thompson put the congressman on the phone with the president. The bill passed narrowly. At nine the next morning, President Bush called Thompson.

“Two things, Tommy,” Bush said. “You did excellent work. Congratulations. But never, ever call me again at 4:30 in the morning.”

I think my favorite passages in the book may be the humorous moments when quirks of human nature are revealed. For instance, during the first campaign for governor in 1986, the Democratic mayor of Kenosha, John Bilotti, let it be known he might consider backing the Republican Thompson for governor in the race against Democrat Tony Earl. The only problem was, Bilotti didn’t want anyone to see him talking to Thompson in case he decided to back Earl, as everyone expected. He insisted Thompson park behind City Hall in Kenosha. Bilotti emerged out a back door, his collar pulled up, trying to be incognito.

“I’m going to go back inside,” Bilotti said. “I will leave the side door open, and I want you to come up the stairs. Don’t talk to anybody.”

Relating this story to me years later, Gov. Thompson said, “See what I had to put up with?” Still, he eventually gave Bilotti a job in his administration.

Then there was the 1988 meeting in Washington D.C. between Gov. Thompson and his top aide, Jim Klauser, and Lee Iacocca, head of Chrysler. The auto giant had recently purchased a large share of American Motors, which operated a big plant in Kenosha but had plans to close it. Talking to a reporter in the days before the meeting, Klauser remarked that Iacocca was “a strange man.” The meeting did not go well. Gov. Thompson felt Iacocca had assured him the plant would not close. Iacocca denied ever doing that. After only a few minutes, Iacocca exploded, and lunged across the table at Klauser, hollering: “I am not a strange man!” American Motors left, but Chrysler agreed to pay $25 million, much of it for job training for displaced workers.

As HHS secretary in Washington, Thompson lost 15 pounds and encouraged everyone in his department to get healthier. He would police the grounds outside the Humphrey Building and occasionally take cigarettes out of people’s mouths. At one point, Sec. Thompson recalled rounding a corner and seeing a man he recognized, a longtime HHS employee, with a lighted cigarette in his mouth. The man was so unnerved seeing the secretary that he took the cigarette out of his mouth and stuffed it in his shirt pocket. The man retired a year or so later, and the day he left, he thanked Thompson and told him he’d changed his life.

“How so?” Thompson said.

“After that day I set my shirt on fire, I never smoked another cigarette.”

Often these humorous stories would emerge while I was interviewing Gov. Thompson – we did more than 30 hours of interviews – about more serious matters. They lightened our conversations, and I hope they lighten the narrative of “Tommy.” It was, in any case, a privilege to help Tommy Thompson tell his life story.

 

Doug Moe is a longtime Wisconsin journalist and biographer. His numerous books include The World of Mike Royko and Lords of the Ring: The Triumph and Tragedy of College Boxing’s Greatest Team.

 

Popular Wisconsin author Jerry Apps envisions a dangerous future in his new novel

A new novel from Jerry Apps is published this week: COLD AS THUNDER.

Since the Eagle Party took power in the United States, all schools and public utilities have been privatized, churches and libraries closed, and independent news media shut down. Drones buzz overhead in constant surveillance of the populace, and the open internet has been replaced by the network of the New Society Corporation. Environmental degradation and unchecked climate change have brought raging wildfires to the Western states and disastrous flooding to Eastern coastal regions.

In the Midwest, a massive storm sends Lake Michigan surging over the Door County peninsula, and thousands of refugees flee inland. In the midst of this apocalypse, the Oldsters, a resourceful band of Wisconsin sixty-somethings, lay secret plans to fight the ruling regime’s propaganda and remind people how to think for themselves.

Q. Cold as Thunder is an intriguing title. How did you come up with it?
A. When I was a kid growing up on a farm in central Wisconsin, when times got tough, prices were down, the rains didn’t come, or a cow had been sick, my dad would say, “These times are cold as thunder.” I’ve never forgotten that, and the picture I paint in this book, especially in the early chapters, would clearly fit my father’s comment that these were times “cold as thunder.”

Q. Dystopian fiction is a new direction for you. What are some of the themes in the book?
A major theme is what consequences could be expected if climate change is ignored, and little or nothing is done to slow it down and plan for it. Another theme: what would a society look like if all agencies, services, and institutions such as education, roads, and healthcare for seniors were privatized, all forms of communication were governmentally controlled, and surveillance of all human activity was widespread? The book is set in a fictional future sixteen years after the Eagle Party gains the presidency of the country and majorities in both houses of Congress.

Q. Who are some of the characters you’ve created in this book?
A. There is a former university professor who was forced from her job. She now heads up a group of seniors called “the Oldsters” who secretly work to educate others. There is a teenager deciding whether to go to Canada to train as an undercover agent. A former CIA agent, now a “fixer” for the National Office of Social Responsibility, shows up to infiltrate the local Oldsters group. And there is Bill the Bartender, who works at the Last Chapter Saloon. It was a library before all libraries were closed.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps is the award-winning author of more than thirty-five books on rural history and country life, including his series of Ames County novels. He is profiled in two documentaries aired nationally on public television and is a professor emeritus of education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

He will speak this evening at a launch event at the Middleton Public Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

UW Press & UW Libraries collaborate on Folksongs of Another America

Today’s guest blogger is James Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America. An award-winning multimedia publication, it is now available in a paperback from UWP, with accompanying audio and video online, as explained below. Leary will also be speaking about this project, and related folk music projects, at the annual Great Libraries of UW–Madison event on May 17.

The original publication of Folksongs of Another America (FSOAA) ambitiously combined a hardbound book, five compact disks, and a DVD in an elegant yet bulky single package weighing nearly four pounds. The years of research, writing, sound and film restoration, and overall production that underlay its existence were matched by hard-won grants to bring retail costs within an average buyer’s reach.

The response was exhilarating: stellar reviews from far and wide, awards that included a Grammy nomination, events in Minnesota and Wisconsin featuring new performances of old songs culled from FSOAA, and a sold-out press run before a year elapsed. But with neither copies in the warehouse nor likelihood of new grants for reprinting, we faced the sad prospect of FSOAA’s disappearance just as interest was building.

A new paperback edition of the book with companion website is our best solution. Trimmer in heft and price than its predecessor, the paperback book swaps the accompanying costly disks for free online access to the music and video. Sound files for all five original CDs—plus the film/DVD Alan Lomax Goes North, coproduced with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress—are now accessible online in the Folksongs of Another America Collection through a partnership of the University of Wisconsin Press and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Libraries.

Hats off to Dennis Lloyd, director of University of Wisconsin Press, and Ed Van Gemert, director of the UW–Madison Library System, for partnering to create the two companion pieces. The songs and tunes in Folksongs of Another America had been hidden for too long to let them vanish once again. May their persistence spur new understandings and performances, along with ongoing recognition and appreciation of the many peoples, tongues, and sounds that—whether past or present, from mainstream or from margin, deservedly acknowledged or unjustly ignored—have always made America great.

But wait, there’s more! FSOAA necessarily focused on a relatively small yet representative set of songs, tunes, and recitations from the hundreds collected by fieldworkers Sidney Robertson, Alan Lomax, and Helene Stratman-Thomas from 1937 to 1946. I worked with many experts to sonically restore the selected tracks and to transcribe and translated lyrics. From my research, I provided new contextual, biographical, and comparative background. But the rich fund of other recordings by Robertson, Lomax, and Stratman-Thomas have raw sound and spare documentation. They await future researchers who will discover, ponder, and pursue them.

So I’m delighted that this new FSOAA website complements several three other sites that further reveal the complexity and diversity of

Helene Stratman-Thomas

the Upper Midwest’s folk musical traditions. The first is the Wisconsin Folksong Collection, produced by the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Mills Music Library and Digital Collections Center, which presents field recordings made by Robertson and Stratman-Thomas.

Alan Lomax

The second related site is the Library of Congress’s Alan Lomax Collection of Michigan and Wisconsin Recordings from 1938, , offering his sound recordings “in their raw form, as full disc sides without speed correction or other digital processing.”

The third site is a digital repository called Local Centers/Global Sounds. It offers post–World War II home and field recordings featuring diverse Upper Midwestern folk/vernacular musicians. It also includes digitized tracks of 78 rpm recordings that were performed by or that influenced regional musicians. This repository is a collaborative project of the Mills Music Library, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and the Digital Collections Center, all at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We encourage readers and listeners to roam these sites. In the realm of 78s, many will be familiar with widely available classic recordings made in the 1920s by performers in the “Race” and “Hillbilly” series of American record labels. Yet we cannot fully grasp the richness of American roots music without also experiencing such stellar Upper Midwestern Germanic, Nordic, and Slavic “Foreign” series performers as the Swedish comic vaudevillian Olle i Skratthult, the Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Gunleik Smedal, the Finnish accordion virtuoso Viola Turpeinen, the singing Polish mountaineer Karol Stoch, the trumpet-playing Bohemian bandleader Romy Gosz, or the German concertinist Hans “Whoopee John” Wilfahrt.

James P. Leary is professor emeritus of folklore and Scandinavian studies, and cofounder of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His many books and documentary productions include Wisconsin FolkloreSo Ole Says to LenaPolkabillyAccordions in the CutoverDownhome Dairyland (with Richard March), and Pinery Boys (with Franz Rickaby and Gretchen Dykstra).

Tips for Reading in Your Midwestern Hometown         

Today’s blog post is inspired by Courtney Kersten’s appearance at The Local Store in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where she read from her recently published debut memoir Daughter in Retrograde.

Avoid flippancy as you pack your bag in California. Yes, you really will need wool socks. No, despite any Midwestern fantasy of that one spring where it hit 82º, it won’t happen again. Yes, do bring pantyhose if you’re really going to wear that skirt. Bring your reading glasses. Bring that chamomile tincture. Don’t leave the door without deodorant.

Embrace the urge to ask the flight attendant on your flight from San Jose to Minneapolis for another Biscoff cookie. She’ll hand you three and tell you to stash them quickly. You do. You take her generosity as an omen of good luck. You realize you forgot your book.

When you arrive in your old home, embrace the brown leather jacket your father found in his closet that might be a forgotten leftover from his ex-wife. You look at the tag. You smell the armpits. You dig in the pockets and find a creased receipt. It’s dated from February 2001, a Gordy’s grocery store purchase of one rotisserie chicken. You’re not sure what this means. You decide to wear the coat. You may even take it home with you.

While strolling around your hometown before your reading, avoid the westside Dairy Queen where you once locked yourself in the bathroom as a child and screamed until you heard your mother’s voice on the other side. If you were to return, it would feel metaphorical. Avoid the park where you and your mother once threw bread to the ducks. This wouldn’t feel metaphorical, but it would smear your mascara. Avoid the mall where you and your mother spent hours shimmying in and out of jeans. Avoid the streets around the hospital and the entirety of downtown Chippewa Falls. These places would derail you entirely.

Avoid eating all three Biscoff cookies still stashed in your bag before reading. You’ll fantasize about their sweet snap. You’ll desire their powder on your fingers. You anticipate that it would be reassuring—they were your omen of good luck, weren’t they? You eat all of them five minutes before you’re supposed to read.

Now, embrace the water fountain. Embrace drinking slow. Embrace the book your Aunt Delores offers to let you read from. Embrace the heat shuddering through the vents, causing you to sweat—maybe this is your Midwestern fantasy come true. Maybe you didn’t need those wool socks after all . . .  Embrace the familiar sight of slush near the door reminding you that, yes, you really did need them. Embrace the nostalgia that blossoms within you upon seeing this dirty snow. Embrace turning to the podium and opening your book.

Avoid the quavering that wants to creep in your voice. Avoid that old tick of rocking back and forth in your shoes. Avoid channeling your nervousness into your hands that want to grip the sides of the podium—this may seem bizarre. You don’t want to seem bizarre, but calm and confident—though every sensation pulsing through your body assures you that, indeed, you are not. Avoid fixating on this.

Embrace the silence of an audience listening. Embrace your friends and family who clap for you. Embrace their hugs and congratulatory words whispered into your ear. Embrace the knowledge that the only reason you are here, in your hometown, reading a book you wrote, is because of their role in your life. Embrace this gratitude. Allow it to sit with you like a kitten curling up next to you, snug and purring. Allow this to glide you home and lull you to sleep. Embrace this tranquility.

Courtney Kersten is an essayist and scholar. A native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, she teaches creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her essays can be found in River TeethHotel AmerikaDIAGRAM, The Sonora ReviewBlack Warrior Review, and The Master’s Review.

 

New Books & New Paperbacks, May 2018

We’re pleased to announce the following books to be published this month.

May 8, 2018
Death Rides the Ferry
Patricia Skalka

“An intricate, intriguing plot in which Door County Sheriff Dave Cubiak can stop a ruthless killer only by finding the link between a spate of murders and a forty-year-old mystery.”—Michael Stanley, author of the Detective Kubu series

“Skalka is equally skilled at evoking the beloved Door County landscape and revealing the complexities of the human heart, as Sheriff Cubiak’s latest case evokes personal demons. This thought-provoking mystery, set in a beautiful but treacherous environment, is sure to please.”—Kathleen Ernst, author of The Light Keeper’s Legacy

 

May 15, 2018
Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet
Michael J. Lazzara

Critical Human Rights

“Original, engaging, and direly needed. Lazzara, one of the leading scholars writing on human rights, memory, and trauma in Chile and Argentina, looks at the many ethical positions civilians have latched onto to save face in the decades since the Pinochet dictatorship.”—Greg Dawes, author of Verses Against the Darkness

“Provocative, conceptually powerful, and fluidly expressed, Lazzara’s book forces a reckoning with the active, ample ways Chileans violently transformed politics, the economy, and the social fabric to lasting effect and amid ongoing denial. The arguments and implications extend well beyond Chile to our own politics and societies.”—Katherine Hite, author of Politics and the Art of Commemoration

 

May 29, 2018
Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia
James R. Dow

“Unshrouds folklore’s manipulation by Nazi leaders, and thank goodness for that, even if it is uncomfortable to confront. Dow has unearthed, and deftly explained, an incredible storehouse of material from Himmler’s cultural commissions, probably the largest organized field collecting project in history. The lessons he astutely draws are critical for understanding the Nazi era and are relevant to today’s cultural politics. A great achievement.”—Simon J. Bronner, author of Explaining Traditions

“Dow analyzes the motives of the protagonists of Himmler’s Cultural Commissions, and his treatment of the ideological preconditions for the field investigations is compelling. A major contribution to our understanding of Nazism.”—Konrad Köstlin, University of Vienna

 

May 31, 2018
Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946

Now in Paperback
James P. Leary

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest

• Grammy Nominee
• Winner, Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Best Historical Research in Folk or World Music

“A stunning work of curation and scholarship. . . . Whether you’re a music-maker or just a listener, reader, and thinker, there’s a surprise on every track and every page.”Huffington Post

“A treasure. . . . Leary’s deep knowledge of the subject matter is demonstrated by thought-provoking facts placing the dance tunes, ballads, lyrics songs, hymns, political anthems, and more in historical context.”Library Journal

“A landmark. . . . Attains the highest standards of folklore studies.”Journal of Folklore Research

The Day that Baseball Died in Milwaukee

Our guest blogger today is Patrick Steele. His new book, Home of the Braves: The Battle for Baseball in Milwaukee, is published today.

For thirteen seasons, Milwaukee Braves fans had gathered to celebrate the opening of the baseball season with enthusiasm, hope, and lots of beer. The secular holiday, still celebrated today near the remains of old County Stadium, was the sign that winter was over and spring was finally at hand. But 1966 was different. Instead, the Braves celebrated Opening Day in Atlanta, Georgia, where they played the Pittsburgh Pirates before a crowd of little more than 50,000 at their new ballpark. One fan in the stands suggested that it was hard to get excited because they “had to go north and import a bunch of damn Yankees from Milwaukee” and that Atlanta “ought to have our own ball club.”[1] Most Milwaukee fans would have taken the team back in a heartbeat, but that was not to be.

It is hard to grasp in 2018 what it must have felt like in April 1966 when the major league baseball season began without Milwaukee represented among its ranks. County Stadium was ready for the new season, but the grandstands and concourses were empty. Stadium workers had groomed the infield and even went so far as to put the tarp upon it, in case of rain. William Anderson, the stadium manager told reporters that they could not risk leaving it off because if it rained, “you would have had mud. It’s just a normal precaution.”[2] The outfield padding was placed upon the walls and crews continued to prepare for games, and frankly, a season that would never come.

 

County Stadium employee Eugene Sabinash listens to

County Stadium employee Eugene Sabinash listens to a baseball game on his transistor radio while sitting in the grandstand on what was supposed to be the Milwaukee Braves’ 1966 home opener on April 12, 1966. Amid battling court orders, the Braves played in Atlanta instead. This photo was published in the April 12, 1966, Milwaukee Journal. (Photo: S.Niels Lauritzen/Milwaukee Journal)

Rather than live baseball at County Stadium, Milwaukee fans were to get their baseball fix through television. Twenty-five Saturday games were scheduled to be broadcast throughout southeastern Wisconsin on WTMJ television, in addition to three holiday games and the All Star game.[3] This was a sad consolation for an area that had supported baseball in record numbers. Even worse, this would be the first season without professional or minor league baseball since the late 1800s.

Milwaukee would miss out on Opening Day celebrations until 1970 when major league baseball formally returned to the city with the introduction of the Milwaukee Brewers. The team was greeted warmly when they arrived in Wisconsin, but they were not out of the shadow of the Braves. Many fans were excited about the prospects of the new team, but others still reminisced about the 1953 opener between the Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals. Even Milwaukee County Board chairman Eugene Grobschmidt opined that the crowd that greeted the Brewers when they arrived in Wisconsin was bigger than the crowds that had met the Braves after their arrival from Boston. He was optimistic that the team would draw at least one million fans in 1970 because the people are “sore, and they are going to show the world we are a baseball city.”[4]

Image result for Brewers opening day

It would not be until 1973, however, that attendance reached the million fans per year mark, although since then the Brewers have failed only twice to draw at least one million, in 1974 and in the strike-shortened year of 1981. But every year, regardless of the team’s standing the previous year, Opening Day has remained a special celebration across Southeastern Wisconsin. It will be celebrated soon, but one cannot escape the ghosts of the Milwaukee Braves that day. You will still see Braves caps emblazoned with the white “M” worn proudly amidst the sea of blue-and-gold Brewers gear.

 

Patrick Steele

[1] “Braves Draw Light Yawn”, Milwaukee Sentinel, April 13, 1966.
[2] Alicia Armstrong, “Stadium Deserted”, Milwaukee Journal, April 12, 1966.
[3] “Area to Get Baseball TV”, Milwaukee Journal, April 13, 1966.
[4] “Games Expected To Draw Million”, Milwaukee Sentinel, April 7, 1970.

 

Patrick W. Steele is an associate professor of history at Concordia University Wisconsin. He is a member of the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association.

New Haunted Heartland book features eerie accounts from 10 Midwest states

HAUNTED HEARTLAND IS PUBLISHED TODAY.

For decades, journalist Michael Norman has been tracking down spine-tingling tales that seem to arise from authentic incidents in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The young woman dead for more than a century haunting a section of famed Sheridan Road along Lake Michigan north of Chicago. A farmhouse in rural Iowa sheltering the ghost of a teenage boy killed in a freak farm accident. A ghostly workman in a plaid shirt playing peek-a-boo with unsuspecting staff at a famed Minnesota theater. The sly, invisible cat snuggling up against overnight visitors to a very old Ohio inn, while perfume of the feline’s ghostly mistress permeates the night air.

Those perplexing events, and over 80 more, are featured in Haunted Heartland, a collection of Midwest stories of the supernatural available just in time for Halloween from the University of Wisconsin Press.

Author Michael Norman has included eerie, entertaining and often baffling tales of ghosts and hauntings; possessions and exorcisms; phantom animals; puzzling, bobbing mystery lights; and more from 10 Midwestern states—Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

Norman’s previous books include Haunted Wisconsin, Haunted America, and an earlier best-selling edition of Haunted Heartland that he co-authored with the late Beth Scott. Many of the original book’s stories are included and updated. Other stories are new to this 2017 second edition.

“The line between reality and legend in these stories is imprecise at times,” Norman said. “Some are clearly rooted in the folklore or storytelling tradition of a particular locale.”

He cites the Ozarks as an example of a region known for its storytelling tradition. And in southern Ohio there is the locally known folktale of a ghostly wolf that has been heard for well over a century. He and his mates are hunted until one by one they make their way to the “dying place of the wolves.”

“Some of these ‘true’ ghost stories have been told and retold so many times—each recitation adding its own twists and turns—that it’s hard to know for certain where, when or how each one originated,” he said. “But they all have one element in common: they are said to have originated with an actual event, as far as I can tell.”

Other stories in the book may fall more within the controversial realm of parapsychology dealing as they do with people who claim to have had perplexing encounters with something they consider of supernatural origin.

“That story of the Iowa teenager is an example,” Norman points out. “His sister was one of the sources. She heard his voice and felt his presence in their family home many years after his death. She had very specific, very credible encounters with her deceased older brother. I believe she believed in what happened to her.”

Michael Norman

Norman is an emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. 

He acknowledges that as a writer, as a journalist, one can’t always prove the stories are “true” in the strictest sense of the term. 

“I try to work with the ones that are most verifiable,” he said. “I like witnesses and first-hand accounts, not ‘my cousin’s best friend had a friend who said she saw a ghost outside her window.’”But that can prove to be difficult, not always possible, Norman admits.

“How does one ‘prove’ the existence of ghosts that might walk among us or that a particular place is ‘haunted’ so that skeptic and believer alike are satisfied?”

Although Norman had one encounter with a ukulele that appeared to play all by itself, he said he’s never personally seen a ghost. However, he’s interviewed hundreds of people over the years who say they have.

Norman thinks that by not taking a position as believer or non-believer he can more fairly approach the stories. He also depends on archival research and public sources such as newspaper accounts and first-hand accounts written by observers of the alleged haunting.

In some cases, Norman said, the ghost story is well known locally so there are both a number of witnesses and some written records.

“That’s the case with the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota. The ghost of the workman clad in a plaid shirt has been sighted off and on by staff for many years. But who he is and why he lingers still isn’t clear,” Norman said. His research into the theater’s long and colorful history didn’t provide an answer.

“I don’t take a hard position,” he said. “In the end I hope they are compelling stories of events we can’t easily explain or understand in a satisfactory manner, that they are meant to remain mysteries.”

Haunted Heartland and Haunted Wisconsin may be purchased from any local or online bookseller, or directly from the University of Wisconsin Press at the links.

The Driftless Reader: a literature of place

Today, we publish THE DRIFTLESS READER, a remarkable anthology of writings about the ancient and unique unglaciated region that encompasses southwestern Wisconsin and adjacent Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. More than eighty excerpts from Native people, explorers, scientists, historians, farmers, songwriters, journalists, novelists, and poets, augmented by paintings, photographs, maps, and pictographs, comprise the anthology. In this post Keefe Keeley, coeditor of the volume, writes about the challenges and rewards of creating the Reader.

It never ceases to amaze me that the tops of these hills were once the bottom of the sea. When I see the exposed bluff faces and roadside cuts stratified in layers like haphazard stacks of books, I almost can’t believe that sandstone and limestone is formed of ancient beaches and shells of sea creatures. Lower layers, older oceans, hundreds of millions of years old . . .

Assembling The Driftless Reader didn’t take hundreds of millions of years, but it took a few.  And geology was just the first chapter. Co-editor Curt Meine and I had our stacks of books and papers about Driftless plants and animals, waterways, early humans who hunted mastodons here, the mounds built by their descendants some ten thousand years later, and the sweep of history from fur trading to organic farming, all the way to a fly fisherman musing about the future of the Driftless area.

The publisher told us we had to fit it all in a hundred thousand words.  So we axed Steinbeck.  We abridged Leopold.  We groaned over Twain.  We scoured our bluffs of books, and we gave thanks for poets as we struck gold in the rich thrift of Driftless verse.

Giving fair representation across the roughly 10,000 square miles of the region was another important, if quixotic, goal. In seeking material for the volume, Curt and I crisscrossed the region to meet with friends and colleagues from Winona to Dubuque, Decorah to Baraboo, and a host of points therein. This was one of the most enjoyable phases of the book: broadening our familiarity with the region and making connections with authors, poets, artists, scientists, musicians and others interested in vital expression of our shared landscape and interwoven communities.  I’m looking forward to revisiting some of these places, and new ones, on our tour of events, as we bookend the project by sharing it with others interested in giving voice to our emerging bioregional identity.

Black Hawk. Painting by George Catlin.

Although we searched far and wide, perhaps it is no surprise that Crawford County, Wisconsin, where I grew up, gave rise to some of the most personally meaningful voices of the volume. Chief Black Hawk recounts old men and little children perishing of hunger as his band was pursued through this “rugged country,” the rest of them marching on to what became known as the Bad Axe Massacre. Pearl Swiggum shared her love for living a whole life on Stump Ridge. Ben Logan grew up on a farm, went on to travel the world, returned via remembrances, and eventually came home. Laura Sherry wrote of her memories in Old Prairie du Chien, a book of poetry published in Paris in 1931. Clifford Simak left for a life elsewhere, but his award-winning stories depict alien travelers from other worlds navigating the place he first called home.  And John Muir (although technically the letter we include in the Reader is one he wrote to a friend in Crawford County) described exploring bluffs just across the Mississippi River in Clayton County, Iowa, where my mother grew up.

I wasn’t always so enamored with this place. In my teenage years I thought of the Driftless largely in terms of escape. I wouldn’t say I disliked it. I would say . . . I liked it. But I felt the hillsides hemmed in my ambitions, and sometimes I perceived a shadow of stigma for being a child of long-haired back-to-the-land transplants in Crawford County. As soon as I came of age, I took every opportunity to study and travel afar. In the Reader, others echo my meditations on escape from the confining coulees and isolated ridgetops of the Driftless: Hamlin Garland, Rick Harsch, Bob Wolf.

Eventually, I traveled just about as far away as possible. In rural India, a farmer lent me his copy of Kentuckian Wendell Berry’s book, The Unsettling of America. The situation in his country, this farmer told me, was the same as in the United States: many young people leaving rural areas, family farms becoming scarce, and small-town economies crumbling. Soon after, I moved back near my family, resolved to buck the trend, put down roots, and become a hometown hero.  I lasted about four months, then I was back to traveling.

Before the Heat of the Day. Painting by Kathie Wheeler of Hmong farmers in the Driftless region.

Over the next few years, I bounced between working on farms near home and shoestring trips abroad.  I’d like to say my fresh eyes returning each time helped me realize how remarkable the Driftless is, but who knows?  Maybe I would more truly appreciate the place if I had continued to put down roots throughout the seasons.

I’ve lived in Madison for a spell now, just outside the Driftless. It can be disorienting, to be in an urban environment, pursuing advanced degrees and other accolades of our era, while society seems to teeter, ever more polarized, along the lines of Berry’s Unsettling warning-cum-prophecy. Sometimes I feel like a moth entranced by the charm of the city lights. I am more at home without streetlamps, navigating my way among the fireflies and stars, open roads, and impromptu conversations with gas station acquaintances. Part of me fears that those open roads and rural conviviality will disappear as too many people from “the city” find the Driftless charming and proceed to blanket the land, as the glaciers never could, with floodlit backyard patios.

Farmed Frame. Machinery parts sculpture by David Wells, photography by Katrin Talbot.

My hope is that The Driftless Reader will serve as a sort of antidote to the poisonous polarity fed by fears like these, prompting us instead to fall in love with whatever place we’re in, and to make those shared affections a basis for conviviality and community with others there. In the closing selection of the book, Kevin Koch likens such an antidote to a vow of stability taken by the monks of New Melleray Abbey outside Dubuque. Rather than, as the monks vow, staying forever in the same locale, Kevin suggests for the rest of us, “a call to be in the fields, in the rain, the mud, and the clay no matter where we’re at, no matter for how long. Our dirty hands, wet faces and backs, and sore feet are testimony to our contact and connectedness to the earth that birthed us and will receive us back again.”

Creating this book has allowed me to cultivate connectedness with and within the Driftless, to establish some stability amid the whiplash of modern mobility. Seeing the place through others’ eyes, things quotidian and odd have become more remarkable, personal, and even beloved. Thoreau celebrated redwing blackbirds prevailing on the Mississippi. Robin Kimmerer puzzled out the patterns of mosses on Kickapoo River cliffs. Amish neighbors, normally aloof from politics, rallied via public letter the outcry against proposed low-level military training flights. Truman Lowe, sculpting aluminum lattice into a thunderbird form, linked his Ho-Chunk clan with the mounds that grace the region.  Kathe Davis, who I’m sad to say passed away recently, wrote in the closing line of her poem Things I Love about Where I Am, “All the long-haired men.”  When I was a teenager, my dad’s long hair was a source of untold embarrassment; now, I see things differently.

I hope the rich array of voices in this book can likewise give others a chance to see the Driftless, and any all-too-familiar or otherwise disregarded place, in a new light. For starters, consider that the tops of these hills were once the bottom of the sea.

Keefe Keeley

Keefe Keeley, a native of the Kickapoo Valley, is co-executive director of the Savanna Institute, working with farmers to diversify and perennialize agriculture in the Upper Midwest. He is pursuing a doctoral degree at the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Land Remembers: Refreshing the Memory

This summer, the University of Wisconsin Press released the Ninth Edition of Ben Logan’s beloved memoir, THE LAND REMEMBERS: The Story of a Farm and Its People, with a new introduction by Curt Meine. In this post, Meine reveals a different side of author Ben Logan.

When the University of Wisconsin Press invited me to write an introduction for a new edition of Ben Logan’s beloved memoir The Land Remembers, I thought immediately of the several opportunities I had to meet, talk, and share a podium with Ben. Ben died in 2014 at the age of 94. I did not know Ben well. On those occasions when we did meet I was struck by his easygoing demeanor, understated humor, and quiet intelligence. He seemed a man quite at p  eace with himself.

Although we had only those few direct personal interactions, Ben and I shared a connection through the work and legacy of conservationist Aldo Leopold. Ben had studied with Leopold at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1940s, an experience that would prove to have a durable impact on Logan’s life and writing. I had written a biography of Leopold, and over the years had met and interviewed many of Leopold’s former students. Ben stood out by pursuing a career as a writer, not in conservation. Although Ben never mentions Leopold in the body of The Land Remembers, he briefly alluded to Leopold’s influence in an afterword to a 2006 (eighth!) edition:

“[H]umans are not separated from all the other living parts and places and mysteries of what Aldo Leopold called THE LAND—all things on, over, and in the earth. When I first heard him say that in a University of Wisconsin classroom, it was a moment of great discovery. His definition of land included me, made a place for me in the immense mosaic of life.”

Humans are not separated from all the other living parts and places and mysteries of THE LAND Click To Tweet

Ben Logan

Ben was only twenty years old at the time. His sensitivity to the land, and to the human and natural relationships inherent in land, has many sources in his life, education, and career. But that “great discovery” on campus in Madison would lend a unity to the narrative of Ben’s life and to the story he would ultimately commit to the pages of The Land Remembers. It would also give the book a universality that allowed it to appeal to readers far removed from the Kickapoo Valley ridgetop farm in southwestern Wisconsin where it is set. In remembering his own childhood on the land, Ben tapped into the widely shared human need to re-member ourselves.

In the introduction for the new University of Wisconsin Press edition I sought to fill in some of the details of the story behind the story. Late in life Ben became more open about his painful World War II experience. In particular he was traumatized by the loss in December 1943 of nineteen of his Navy shipmates when their craft hit a floating mine near Naples, Italy. Ben was spared only because he was in a nearby military hospital at the time. The Land Remembers was fundamentally a consequence, decades later, of that tragedy and his resolve to “live both for myself and for those who died.” To pull together a life dislocated by war, Ben returned to the land in his memory, publishing The Land Remembers in 1975—and then returned in his person in 1986 when he and his wife Jacqueline purchased back the family farm.

Preparing the introduction for this new edition thus refreshed my own memory. What I had recalled as Ben’s steadiness and composure gained an edge that I had not appreciated before. Beneath his outer calm I now saw a core of courage: a determination to come to terms with one’s life experience through the power of story.

Curt D. Meine is director for conservation biology and history with the Center for Humans and Nature, senior fellow with the Aldo Leopold Foundation, research associate with the International Crane Foundation, and associate adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work  and coeditor of The Essential Aldo Leopold, both also published by the University of Wisconsin Press.  With Keefe Keeley, he has coedited The Driftless Reader, which UWP will publish in late September 2018.