Newsletter - December 2009


Burlington Historian

December 2009

Christmas Program to Feature Author Rochelle Pennington

Wisconsin author Rochelle Pennington (right) will present a slide program on her latest book, An Old-Fashioned Christmas: Tinsel, Gingerbread Men and Billie-the-Brownie at the Burlington Historical Society's Christmas get-together in the Stars and Stripes Room at the Veterans Terrace at Echo Park on Sunday, December 13, 2009, at 1:30 p.m. There will also be a book signing by Ms. Pennington, who has authored other books including "The Christmas Tree Ship" and "The Historic Christmas Tree Ship."

The pages of An Old-Fashioned Christmas beckon a remembrance of Christmas past and capture the spirit of bygone holidays from 1930 through 1960. The book includes 90 images featuring Norman Rockwell paintings and vintage toy ads from decades past — Mr. Potato Head, Lionel Trains, Schwinn Bikes, Howdy Doody — along with authentic black-and-white photographs taken during this period of time — many from Wisconsin!

The book's nostalgic text highlights a period when Christmas dinner was prepared from canning jars lining pantry shelves. It was a time when Christmas shopping meant paging through a Sears Roebuck catalog, and heading downtown to Main Street. Christmas meant the arrival of paintings of Santa Claus on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, and hand-written letters addressed to the North Pole filled with wishes for record players, electric trains, and Raggedy Ann dolls. An entire chapter detailing the Christmases of World War II is included in the book, and also an entire chapter devoted to Billie-the-Brownie.

Billie (at left) was a character dreamed up by advertising executives in the late 1920s at Schuster's Department Store in Milwaukee for a promotional campaign. (The store later merged with Gimbels.) The little elf burst into fame so quickly that by 1931 he had his own radio program, airing daily at 5:00 p.m. between Thanksgiving and Christmas for over twenty-five years! Billie became as much loved as Santa Claus to children growing up in Wisconsin during this time as he brought stories of the North Pole to life. Wide-eyed children listened breathlessly, plopped down on their tummies in front of radios. An Old-Fashioned Christmas includes a CD of an original Billie-the-Brownie radio broadcast archived by the Milwaukee County Historical Society in cooperation with WTMJ radio.

Attendees at Ms. Pennington's program will be able to see an original Billie-the-Brownie mannequin from Schuster's store window and several vintage Billie-the-Brownie buttons from the author's personal collection.

In addition to a slide presentation, Ms. Pennington will be bringing along items from her antique toy collection (Tinker Toys, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Raggedy Ann) and other antiques pertaining to Christmas. A few of the additional items include an original Bing Crosby "White Christmas" album cover, cookie cutters, aprons, vintage Christmas cookbooks, hat boxes, holiday hankies, Christmas cards, tinsel and angel hair (both manufactured in Manitowoc), ornaments and bubble lights — all in their original boxes! Come and take a walk down Memory Lane and re-live the memories that guide our hearts homeward to the much-loved traditions of yesteryear.

An Old-Fashioned Christmas is co-authored by Ms. Pennington's eldest son, Nicholas, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Ms. Pennington also commissioned Wisconsin watercolor artist Cathy Stern to paint eleven original images for the book, which are also available as Christmas cards. Stern's paintings are featured at the beginning of each chapter.

Examples of the paintings and photographs in the book may be viewed at Also visit to view additional books authored by Ms. Pennington.

The program will be preceded by a short business meeting of the Burlington Historical Society. The Veterans Terrace is located near the White River bridge at 588 Milwaukee Avenue (Hwys. 36 and 83) in Burlington. Refreshments will be served. There is no charge for the program.

President’s Message

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a joyous fun-filled holiday season.

This past year has been a fast and very active year for the Historical Society. With the addition to our museum mostly complete, we are looking ahead to the re-opening of our expanded facility.

The word tradition means "handing over" or "passing on." Over the past many years, some holidays, and why we celebrate them, have changed. By sharing our memories with others, we help to insure that precious moments from the past will not be lost.

Our Christmas Program on December 13th at the new Veterans Terrace will be a fun and nostalgic look back at some Christmas joys of the past. Remind all your friends and neighbors that this will be a few hours well spent for a Sunday afternoon this holiday season.
           Dennis Tully

Cabin Closes for the Season

Pioneer Log Cabin closed out its 2009 season in October. Many, many visitors were able to enjoy viewing a part of Burlington's history as they entered the 1850s cabin.

Heartfelt thanks go to the docents – Jim Kubath, Kathy Thate, Mary Lueder, and Jackie Heiligenthal – who so faithfully kept the cabin open from May through October on Saturday afternoons and Thursday evenings – weather permitting! October was definitely a challenge this year! Thursday nights saw many visitors who stopped at the Cabin while visiting the Farmers' Market in Wehmhoff Square. Thanks to Don Vande Sand for opening up each Thursday at 3 PM!

Thanks also to Judy Stone, Paula Puntenny, Eddie Krumrey, and other members of the Burlington Garden Club and Master Gardeners who tended the Vintage Garden and Kitchen Garden near the Cabin. The gardens are always popular stops for Cabin visitors.

The Historical Society is always looking for new Cabin docents. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Jackie Heiligenthal, 262-661-4272. Training is free and the rewards are great!

The Cabin will reopen the first weekend in May 2010.










Museum Being Re-roofed

The Roofing Company of Burlington has been re-shingling and improving the venting of the Museum roof. The condition of the old shingles can be seen on the top left side of the roof in the accompanying photo. Ken Burbey of the Roofing Co., who has been a member of the Society for a number of years, is overseeing the project.

The First – And Only – Airmail Flight From Burlington
                    (From the Standard Democrat of May 27, 1938).


Burlington Takes Part in Air Mail Week - Milwaukee Airport Busy Place

Burlington celebrated National Air Mail week by sending 992 air mail letters through the local postoffice. This was the number received from Sunday until Thursday night last week and the air mail continued to come in up to Saturday night. A thousand special Burlington air mail envelopes and several thousand special air mail stamps were sold at the postoffice during the week.

The mail plane, piloted by Roman Eckert, that carried the first air mail from Burlington to Milwaukee last Friday afternoon, carried 789 letters.

Most of these were in the Burlington souvenir air mail envelope that the local postoffice had printed for the occasion.

Postmaster Louis F. Reuschlein and Emmett Raettig, accompanied by a deputy from the Racine county sheriff's department, took the mail from the postoffice to the field. A crowd of nearly 200 interested persons had assembled to see Burlington's first air mail flight. Postmaster Reuschlein and Pilot Eckert posed for the camera man near the plane and then Eckert boarded the plane. At 4:58 his plane lifted from the ground. At 5:18 he touched ground again at the Milwaukee county air port where a temporary postoffice had been stationed to handle mail coming in from points all over the state.

The Burlington plane made the flight in 20 minutes, the time specified in the terms of Pilot Eckert's commission to fly the mail from Burlington to Milwaukee on the day specified for National Air Mail Week. 

Assistant Postmaster Henry Weygand had gone to Milwaukee and was at the air port to welcome Pilot Eckert upon landing. With him were Mrs. Weygand and their three children, and they all enjoyed the experience of watching the planes come in from all points in the state.

The Milwaukee postoffice had erected a temporary office at the Milwaukee air port to receive and dispatch the special air mail. The Milwaukee postmaster together with a staff of thirty clerks, was in charge of the work at the air port.

Right: Postmaster Louis Reuschlein and pilot Roman Eckert
Below:  Pilot Roman Eckert

Just after the arrival of a huge streamlined mail liner from Minneapolis that was to help in carrying mail on to distant points, the Burlington plane landed and taxied up alongside the big plane. The amusing contrast, Mr. Weygand said, brought a laugh from the crowd assembled to watch the planes come in.

Grouped about the hangar were gatherings of people whose interest centered in the arrival of certain planes, Mr. Weygand noticed. As loudspeakers announced arrivals of mail planes, they surged forward, watched the mail unloaded and then departed.

The arrival of a woman pilot caused considerable excitement. Newspaper and amateur photographers crowded around her for pictures. People in the crowd tried continually to get the autographs of pilots as they came in. Mr. Eckert obligingly gave his signature to several souvenir hunters.

A tremendous amount of work was entailed at the air port in getting the air mail off, Mr. Weygand said, and it kept the big force busy until late in the evening. The postoffice department issued orders that every letter had to be back-stamped at the port on account of the postponement of local air mail day to Friday. Storms and bad weather generally throughout the state caused postponement from Thursday to Friday.

As fast as the mail was stamped and sorted it was loaded onto two big air liners, the regular Milwaukee mail planes and the special plane from Minneapolis. This modern, streamlined mail plane is one of the newest and finest in government service.East bound mail was loaded on the plane that flew directly across Lake Michigan to Detroit, Mich., and from there was dispatched to points east. West and south bound mail was carried to Chicago and dispatched through the regular air mail routes.

After sending the mail off safely at this end, Postmaster Reuschlein drove to the Milwaukee airport and spent the remainder of the afternoon at the office on the field.








Above:  Some of folks that gathered at the Eckert farm
surround Louis Reuschlein (center in white hat)                                                          Photos from Aloysius Vande Sand collection

Right:  Roman Eckert checking propeller

Cornering the Market at a Box Social

      From Lyons Locals, Standard Democrat, December 19, 1913

A large and very appreciative audience attended the box social given in the school house on Friday evening. The program was excellent . . .

Hugo Heiligenthal obtained a corner on the boxes at the social, having in his possession at one time no less than six.


Auctioneer William King at a Duckett School basket social in February 1949.  Al Breske at lower left.


Chug A Chug A Choo-Choo and HO! HO! HO!

                     Contributed by Priscilla Crowley

It's hard to believe that another year has come and gone and Christmas is right around the corner. As adults we're never too old for that special feeling that comes with Christmas. Looking back I can't help but remember how much fun Christmas always was. The hustle and bustle of preparation was as much fun as the big event itself. One day, like a bolt out of the blue it suddenly dawned on me who Santa really was. How could I not have seen this before? It was all clear to me now. I felt so old, so wise and so scared to death!! This was a tough one – every kid knows that if they admit they know, the presents stop. Who in their right mind wants the presents to stop? Certainly not me! What to do? I couldn't talk to the twins, they were too little and of course, as the oldest, I knew I had to keep my mouth shut around them. It's hard being the oldest – people always expect you to set a good example, keep an eye on the little ones and if they do something wrong its, "Didn't I tell you to watch them?" (Sigh) It just never ends. My only choice was to fake it. Well, I guess I'm no good at faking it, because the parents figured out pretty darn quick that I wasn't quite as innocent and unknowing as I was pretending to be. I wonder what tipped them off? I'll probably never know.

My parents made me a part of the conspiracy and that turned out to be a great adventure and made the Christmas Season more fun than it was before. I got to see the twin's presents before Christmas and help with all kinds of stuff. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed keeping secrets from the twins, and didn't at all mind being a stinker by smiling at them in a special, secretive way and humming softly to myself, but just loud enough for them to hear, "I know something you don't know." It drove them crazy.

My Uncle Dick used to send us great Christmas gifts every year and one year he sent my brother a toy gas station. It was made out of metal and had gas pumps and a service bay, little cars and all kinds of neat accessories, but it came with directions that stated, "some assembly required." One afternoon after Mom put the twins down for their nap, she asked me to help her try and figure out how to put the thing together. There we sat in the middle of the dining room floor with pieces and direction papers spread everywhere trying to figure out how to slide Slot A into Slot B, attach section D1 to D2 at juncture EF and attach the elevator cable at QR. Somehow ours didn't quite look like the picture, it was a little lopsided and the elevator would go up but wouldn't go back down. I think Dad wound up taking most of it apart and putting it back together again, but not without a lot of mumbling and talking to himself.

When I was in 7th grade Mom decided to take the bus into South Gate Shopping Center to do some Christmas shopping and she decided that I was old enough to come with her and help her carry packages. Oh boy, a day off of school, Christmas shopping with Mom, lunch in a real restaurant – a visit to the big city – life just didn't get any better than this! I was so excited – I had never ridden on a big bus before – I could hardly wait. The day dawned cold and sunny – it was a perfect day for shopping. Off we went on the "big bus." Mom let me sit by the windowand I watched the other passengers as they climbed on board. I couldn't believe what I was seeing – the next passenger standing in line was Miss Carey! Oh boy, now what? I shrank down in my seat just sure I was going to catch it for something. Maybe if I made myself real small and kept my head down she wouldn't recognize me. I sat all hunched over with my eyes squeezed shut, holding my breath waiting for disaster to strike. What if she told Mom about the snowballs we were throwing the other day? We didn't mean to hit her house, honest! When minutes passed and nothing happened I raised my head to look for her – there she was in the front row – she hadn't seen me. What a relief! She was all dressed up in a fur coat and she had on one of those turban things women used to wear and she was wearing lipstick and her cheeks were all red! I could hardly believe it – I fretted all the way to Milwaukee and no one was more relieved than I was when she got off before we did.

That was the year Santa brought my brother his first electric train and my sister her Tiny Tears Doll. In addition we also lugged home a huge globe, a set of toy dishes, and numerous other assorted bags, boxes and bundles. By the time we dragged everything to the bus stop I was beginning to wish that I wasn't in on the conspiracy of Christmas. Maybe school wasn't so bad after all. We managed to get everything on the bus and there we sat surrounded by our treasures. Dad met us at the bus stop and helped us get everything into the trunk of the car where it would stay hidden until it was time to wrap it all. I have to admit even though my arms ached from helping to carry everything and my feet were sore from all the walking, and I was still recovering from the shock of traveling with Miss Carey, it was a great day. It all made me feel terribly grown up and so superior to the "little ones."

Our family tradition was to open our presents from Santa on Christmas Eve. We would eat supper and Mom would make us go to bed early and told us she and Dad would wake us after Santa left. We weren't allowed to come downstairs and they had better not hear us or Santa wouldn't stop, he'd just skip over our house. Did you ever try to keep two active kids quiet for an hour in the dark when they are so excited they can't sit still or even string whole sentences together and make sense? As I lay in the dark listening to the twins giggling and squirming around, we could hear movement from downstairs, the sound of feet, the tinkling of ornaments on the tree, the crinkling sound of wrapping paper and then came the faint sound of a little whistle and a train chugging down the track. Well that's all it took, once my brother heard that, he leaped out of bed, yelling, "My train, my train! Santa brought my train!" He flew out of the bedroom galloping towards the stairs. I made a frantic grab and caught him before he sped down the steps. Well, with all the thumping and yelling we were doing, Santa very wisely decided a quick exit was in order, we heard a very hurried HO! HO! HO!, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! and a loud slam of the door. My Dad and brother had a great time playing with that train. That was also the year that Tiny Tears became slightly water-logged. That poor thing got cuddled and fed so many times that she was oozing water from everywhere. Not only did she cry real tears, her diapers really needed changing. We finally had to lay her in the bathtub for a couple of days until she dried out. It was a great Christmas!

All of our memories bring back that special magic we all enjoyed as children. Don't ever forget about the child inside of yourself, make sure you let that child out to play once in a while – it's the best medicine in the world and keeps us all young in spirit. Keeping your memories alive helps to keep history alive and it helps family traditions pass from one generation to the next.

Merry Christmas to you all!