Newsletter - December 2005


Burlington Historian

December 2005

Christmas Program to Feature String Quartette

     The Historical Society's annual Christmas program and open house will be held at the Museum on Sunday, December 11, 2005, starting at 1:30 p.m. This year's program will feature music of the season by a string quartette, consisting of a cello, two violins, and a viola. The quartette was formed about three years ago with its present members, who had played together in the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Symphony Orchestra as well as many other chamber groups doing benefits, funerals, weddings, and other types of gatherings or parties.

    The group is unique in that the two violinists are mother and daughter and the violist and cellist are mother and son.  Both mothers, Dr. Cythnia Cernak, violinist, and Anita Saunders, violist, had played professionally for 20 years before their current professions.  Dr. Cernak is a Podiatrist in Kenosha, specializing in Neuropathy, and Anita is the owner of Hearts Desire Glassworks in downtown Burlington.
     Melissa Thomas, violinist, is actively involved with the violin, having been a soloist and teacher for many years. She is currently employed by the Kenosha School District. Christopher Saunders, cellist, will be attending University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in January to study the cello.  His goal is to be a cellist with either the Chicago Symphony or the London Philharmonic.  He is the owner of CHS Computers in downtown Burlington and recently opened a new location near Southridge in Milwaukee.
     Society members, as well as the public, are invited to the program and open house. There is no admission charge. Those who bring a can or package of food or a personal hygiene item to be donated to Love, Inc., will be eligible for door prizes. Refreshments will be served.

President's Message

    Imagine this:  A former resident of our community, gone for about ten years returns for a visit. At first shock sets in, followed by confusion and dismay at the altered appearance of the city. Streets where there weren't any, entire blocks of industrial buildings entirely gone replaced by broad expanses of public space, including a riverwalk of a scale unseen before. The next discovery is a railroad overpass, a dream that had been proposed for many decades was realized. Familiar businesses and favorite haunts no longer exist. Huge commercial developments now occupy  the peaceful farm fields on the city's outskirts where corn formerly grew. Traffic lights are seemingly everywhere like those renegade dandelions that appear each spring in your neighbor's yard.

     By now our visitor has calmed down a little though still experiencing what was felt as a loss in the name of progress. In fact, that opinion is very common. I frequently hear the lament of persons who are upset by the demolition of an old building or favorite landmark. I empathize with them but must temper my response with a dose of reality. It is simply not practical, affordable, or even advisable to try and save everything. Our founding fathers of a century or more ago were continually tearing down the old in the name of progress and proudly building the "new."  They did this as a necessity for the community to grow and prosper and today we continue to do so for the same reason.

     Finally, our friend is directed downtown to take a closer look. Slowly, dismay is replaced by admiration as the inviting streetscape becomes a feast for the eyes. Numerous buildings in the historic district have had their facades restored. This is a sure sign that the community cared not only about its past, but more importantly, its future. This begs the question, can we do any less? The mission of the Burlington Historical Society is to collect artifacts of our past and use them to educate our current and future generations. If you are not a member, why not consider joining us? Thank you!

                                                                             - - - - -

On a personal note, and on behalf of the Society, I want to extend our condolences to the family of Walt Gabriel, a long-time member of the Society's board of directors, who passed away early in November. Walt was always ready to help out and participate in Society activities. He will be missed.

                             Doug Lind

Mary Todd Lincoln Appearance Highlighted Annual Meeting

     The Society's Annual Meeting, held October 16 at the Ebbers Room of the Racine County Building on Main Street, attracted a larger-than-usual crowd when Mary Todd Lincoln visited on her way back to Springfield, Illinois.

Mrs. Lincoln, portrayed by Mrs. Jessica Michna, kept the audience spellbound with the story of her life, including reminiscences of her girlhood, her courtship and wedding, and her life with the young lawyer and then politician, Abraham Lincoln.  She talked about their four sons, three of whom - Eddie, Willie, and Tad - died at relatively young ages. She told of the Lincolns' time in Washington and in the White House, and of Mr. Lincoln's tragic death at Ford's Theater.

     Mrs. Michna brought along some mementoes for the audience to view. The Historical Society also displayed some of its Lincoln memorabilia.

     The meeting included re-election of four members of the board of directors - Roger Bieneman, Rose Buse, John Smith, and Dennis Tully.

     In addition, Tully and Don Vande Sand, who collaborated on the Society's new "Burlington" photograph book, held a book signing session.

          Photo by Judith Schultz

Joseph C. Cook's Band Uniforms and Hats Donated to Society

     Mrs. Vivian Cook George has made a donation to the Society of two band uniform jackets and three band hats worn by her father, Joseph C. Cook.

     One of the jackets and a hat were worn by Mr. Cook when he was 8 years old (he was born in 1887) and a member of a Burlington juvenile band.

     The other jacket and two of the hats were worn by him when he played in the Burlington Harmony Band. One hat, with "Harmony" embroidered on the hatband was from the band directed by John Yonk, father of Harold Yonk (who directed the Burlington Kiwanis Band for many years). The other hat has an embroidered "B.H.B." under the top brim.

     Mr. Cook, who joined the Harmony Band shortly after it was organized in 1908, also played with the Woodman band and was connected with various musical organizations in Burlington for a long time. A 1937 Standard Democrat article said that Mr. Cook and three other members of the Harmony Band - Theodore Weyrough, Theodore Korn, and Albert Schumann - had marched in Burlington's Memorial Day parade for 30 years.

     In making the donation, Mrs. George also provided some notes on the gifts and the following reminiscence.

"My Dad was an excellent cornet / trumpet player. He played his way through the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture with $500 and a cornet, playing regularly at the Orpheum Theater in Madison which showed silent films with a live band. He also moonlighted with other bands a lot and I remember, as a 5-year-old, being totally confused seeing Daddy going past the reviewing stand at a Milwaukee parade in three different uniforms. They picked up hired musicians and took them back to go through with another band."

The uniform jackets and hats are a welcome addition to the Society's collection.

Gaede's Hill

                    Standard Democrat, February 12, 1897

     Who in Burlington does not know of "Gaede's Hill" and the pleasure it brings to our young people, and some of the older ones? After the heavy snow storms of two weeks ago the boys shoveled a wide path down the hill. This was carefully iced and made an ideal "slide." Bobs loaded with from two to ten young people would start on the top of the hill (on Origen Street) in the rear of the Zimmer residence, and with a good sleigh and the track in proper condition would go as far as the Blanket factory, a distance of three long blocks and across Lewis and Chestnut streets. The joyous shouts of the young folks were too much for many of the older ones and they were not satisfied until they had taken a ride on the swift-going bobs.

     Of course the coasting is attended with some danger, but fortunately no serious accidents have occurred this winter.

Snowflakes and Memories

          Contributed by Priscilla Crowley

   With Christmas almost upon us, memories of times past come rushing back. The kid in me still responds to the words, "Only 30 more shopping days until Christmas." Christmas – just the word gives me shivers of anticipation. It’s a time to look back and reflect, to celebrate life, love and family.
     When I was six years old, we moved from Burlington to the small village of Lyons. That meant coming to "town" was a really big deal. Never was it more exciting than during the Christmas shopping season. The stores were full of all the things that Christmas Wishes are made of. Many of the stores had special "toy departments" for kids to browse through – Coast to Coast, Montgomery Wards, Sears, Ben Franklin, Kessler’s Dime Store. You could walk down the street and go shopping without spending a dime, just go from window to window and sigh.

     I can remember going to Burlington’s Christmas Parade with my younger brother and sister. The anticipation and excitement would just build and build until you just knew you couldn’t stand waiting one more second. It was total magic – a crisp, clear night with stars shining so brightly you felt you could almost touch them. The magic of the Christmas lights and the excitement of all the children waiting impatiently for the parade to begin just added to the special quality of the night. Finally, after waiting for what seemed like years, the parade could be heard making its way down the street. Fire trucks, floats, bands, and the most important part, Santa in his sleigh, were almost here. I believe that the parents were almost as excited as the children.

     After the parade you could line up to tell Santa what you wanted for Christmas – more waiting, but it was worth it! Santa could do anything!!! I remember waiting impatiently for my turn, both scared and happy at the same time. He was sitting on his big chair at the top of this enormous set of stairs (you have to remember I was only 6 years old). It just didn’t get any better than that! There is nothing like the faith of a child who firmly believes that Santa can make all of her wishes come true.

     Buying the family Christmas tree was something else that meant Christmas was coming even closer. It seems like we always went at night and it was always snowing. Of course, we three always wanted the biggest tree we could find and mom always wanted a tree that was "perfect." Well, we never got the biggest tree and it was never really perfect but, by the time we were finished decorating, we always agreed that this year’s tree was the best one we ever had. One year mom decided we should string popcorn for the tree. She remembered her family doing that and she thought we children were big enough to help with this. So out came the big kettle for popping and out came her darning needle and heavy cotton thread for stringing. She would start the popcorn and it was our job to "carefully" move the popcorn down the line to the end. This worked pretty well for a while until the smell of popcorn just couldn’t be resisted and we started to eat it as we pushed it down the string to the end. We did have popcorn strings on the tree for decoration that year but I don’t think the three of us really helped a whole lot and come to think of it I don’t think we ever had popcorn on our Christmas tree after that one year.

     Putting the lights on the tree was dad’s job. I can remember strings of lights laid out on the floor – more magic. The lights always had to be tested before putting them on the tree. I can remember his frustration when the strings wouldn’t all light up and trying to find out which bulb was actually out. My brother was his chief helper with this task – this was man’s work! Then the moment we had been waiting for – the tree with all the lights on and the special magical star on top. Now it was our turn, we could help decorate the tree, being very careful with the special ornaments and the icicles. Mom would try to encourage us to put the icicles on one at a time to get that shimmery look. We girls seemed to be all right with this concept but my brother was an advocate for the commando style, toss and run. Poor mom, I know after we went to bed so proud of what we had accomplished, she would take the tree apart and start all over again. All the icicles would be hung perfectly one by one. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how come our trees always looked so nice – I was firmly convinced that the three of us did a perfect job every year.

     What’s Christmas without cookies? The cutout cookies were always a favorite because we would get to "decorate" those. I’m sure we ate more frosting than we put on the cookies and let’s face it – green and red frosting just tastes better than white. Mom would bake several old favorites that she remembered from her girlhood – Icebox Cookies, Cherry Winks, Kolachies, Peanut Butter Cookies, homemade bread – the list goes on and on.

     So much goes into memories of Christmas – the decorating, the baking, the shopping, the wrapping, the sharing of special secrets, and most importantly, the feeling you get – you want to take that feeling and stretch it out for the whole year. It’s true that life is no longer as simple as it used to be but we still have all the basics going for us – we still have family and friends and the spirit of giving that is such an important part of this time of year. In order to make our present holidays special for those we love, I believe that we need to reach into our past and remember some of what made life so special back then and share our past with our present.

 Christmas and Winter Memories

A young man inspects a possible new fire truck while doing his Christmas shopping during the Burlington stores' Open House on December 2, 1952.
Field workers for the Welfare Department of the Burlington Community Chest distributed large Christmas baskets to needy families and small baskets to hospital patients on December 24, 1949. From left, Lena Karges, Mrs. Lois Healy, Otto Koch, Carol Uebele, and Mrs. Otto Koch.




Nick Wagner and Otto Jorgenson place a holiday wreath on one of Burlington's downtown lamp posts in December 1949. Loudspeakers were also hooked up throughout the business section for broadcast of Yuletide music by choirs and soloists of the city's musical groups.





Christmas joy for others means mountains of mail for post office workers. Working to run the cards and letters through the cancelling machine in December 1949 are, from left, Nick Hancock, Walter Riel, Sr., and Bill Rein. The 1949 Christmas rush was a record one for the Burlington Post Office.




The young folks putting in their Christmas orders in December 1949 crowd around Santa Claus. 





Mildred Jacobsen (standing, from left), Myrtle Rimert, and Mrs. Nell Henriott help Annie Waller (seated) prepare Christmas Seals for the 1949 campaign. From 1908, when the drive was originated in Burlington by Miss Waller's mother, Harriet, the city had been among the leaders in the state in per capita sales. Funds from the sale provided free chest clinics for local school children and an annual Child Health Center.

St. Charles students put on a 3-act operetta in December 1951 called "The Legend of the Snow Man." Here, the wooden soldiers make their appearance. From left, Tom Martin, Gene Vande Sand, Wayne Alby, unidentified, Ken DeVoy, Dave Keough, Dan Weis, Jack Weis, Claude Fletcher, and Jerry Alby.
Checking out some of the latest Christmas toys at a local store participating in the Burlington merchants' open house on December 5, 1951, are (from left) Ralph Newbury, Jim Beix, and John "Max" Schmaling. The Burlington School Band and the Fox River Chorus provided seasonal music during the evening activities.


"I hope this little girl chooses me.  She looks like she'd take good care of me," the doll seems to be saying during the Burlington merchants' Christmas 1952 Open House.





After hanging up their stockings, Donald and Douglas Rubach inspect the chimney opening through which Santa Claus is expected to arrive on Christmas Eve of 1953.






St. Nicholas (known also as George Breidenbach) doled out goodies to the first graders at St. Charles school in December 1954.  Waiting their turns are (l to r) Emil Ketterhagen, Daniel Vos, Mike Bowman, Thomas Eckert, Jeffrey Baker, and Larry Probst.


Waller School - 50 Year Celebration

     About 325 guests, including students, staff, and community, celebrated the 50th anniversary of Waller School on October 6, 2005, at an open house and rededication ceremony. Everyone who went to Waller, worked at Waller, or had a special memory of Waller was invited. Guests came from as far away as Door County, and included three teachers who were on the staff in 1955, when the school opened.

     The 50th anniversary committee, chaired by Linda Schiestle, planned not only the program, but a variety of activities for the students during the week. Included were classroom activities using "50" as a theme, trivia from 1955, an all-school ceramic tile mural, drawings for books, a Rap song, and a Sock Hop.

     The evening program included music by the Karcher 8th grade band and the Waller students; and speeches by School Board president Scott Barrett; State Senator Robert Wirch, with a presentation of two flags flown over the State Capitol on September 1; a representative of the school's original architectural firm, with a display of the original floor plans and pictures; and Mrs. Schiestle with a history of George Waller, after whom the school was named.
     After the program, the guests enjoyed cake and punch served by the Waller PTO, and had an opportunity to look over old pictures and reminisce about the "Good Old Days."
(Photos show front and back views of Waller School when it was first opened in 1955.)