Newsletter - December 2013


Burlington Historian

December 2013

Rochelle Pennington to Present "Stories Behind Our Most Loved Christmas Hymns and Carols"

Have you ever wondered about the origin of your favorite Christmas hymn or song, or what events inspired its lyrics to be written?

Rochelle Pennington, who has been guest speaker at the Society’s Christmas programs for the past four years, will present her latest program "Stories Behind Our Most Loved Christmas Hymns and Carols" at Veterans Terrace at Echo Park on Sunday, December 1, 2013. The program will start about 1:30 p.m.

Ms. Pennington’s past presentations – including those on "The Christmas Tree Ship" and "An Old-Fashioned Christmas" – all proved to be crowd-pleasers and were well-attended – even when the weather may not have fully cooperated.

A church organist/pianist/guitarist for over 30 years, Ms. Pennington will explore the fascinating history of dozens of our most memorable Christmas songs. She will offer factual perspective, behind-the-scenes trivia, and little-known insights into well-known hymns and carols.

During the program’s musical conclusion, the audience will be invited to sing with gusto – or simply hum along.

Ms. Pennington’s program will be preceded by a short business meeting to elect four members to the Society’s board of directors.

The program is free of charge and refreshments will be served. Ms. Pennington, who has written a number of popular books, will be available after her program for book signings.

Society Planning Lincoln Statue Program

Burlington’s one-of -a-kind Lincoln Statue, created by noted sculptor George E. Ganiere, passed its 100th birthday in October 2013. The Society is planning to have a celebratory program in May 2014. Watch for details in the next Historian.

President’s Message

This is the time of the year to "take stock" and give thanks for all the good things in our lives and to remember those that are less fortunate so that we all may enjoy the holidays this year with family and friends.

It has been sort of a quiet year for our Society although we are still receiving many donated items and photos pertaining to Burlington’s past and are busy with the day-to-day tasks at the Museum, and the occasional tasks at the Pioneer Log Cabin, the Whitman School, and the Society’s other properties.

As we are into the 100th anniversary of the placement of the Lincoln Statue on Kane Street, plans are underway for a complete cleaning and restoration of the statue. Our Society is in the process of preparing for a public program of re-dedication, which is tentatively set for next May. We will keep all members informed of the progress of those plans.

I hope to see many of you at the annual Society Christmas Program at Veterans Terrace at Echo Park which this year will be on Sunday, December 1st, at 1:30 P.M. The attendance keeps growing every year and remember to ask friends and neighbors to join you for a memorable afternoon of Christmas memories of the past.

Hoping all of us have a great holiday season and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

          Dennis Tully

Student Group Continues Cemetery Work

Wisconsin Lutheran University students, under the leadership of Professor Ned Farley, returned to the Mount Hope Cemetery on Spring Prairie Road in October to continue their archeological work there. Previously, Professor Farley and the student groups had helped clean up the cemetery, mapped the cemetery boundaries and graves, and arranged for a ground radar scan to identify burial sites.

Professor Farley, his parents, and some of the students also started clean-up work at the Rooker Cemetery near the intersection of Bieneman and Spring Prairie Roads. They were joined by Society members Roger Bieneman and Don Vande Sand in cutting and removing small and downed trees and branches from the grave area.

The students plan to return in the spring to continue their clean-up and archeological studies at the two cemeteries.
                                                     - - - - -
After several years of volunteering his caretaker skills at Mount Hope Cemetery, Society member and Walworth County historian Ken Amon has decided to "retire." The Society appreciates Ken’s dedication to keeping the cemetery in tip-top shape.

Pioneer Log Cabin Closed Until Next Season

After another season of providing visitors with a glimpse of how their ancestors lived, Pioneer Log Cabin in Wehmhoff Square closed at the end of October. It will reopen in May 2014.

During the past season, Jackie Heiligenthal and her cohort of docents welcomed many visitors to the Cabin on Thursdays in conjunction with the Farmers Market and on Saturdays. The docents, in addition to Jackie, included Bernard Walli, Deborah Schlitz, Jim Kubath, Priscilla Crowley, Don Vande Sand, and Ray Ziebell. Our thanks to each and every one of them.

If you would like to join the docent group next season, please get in touch with the Society.

A Burlington Soldier’s Visiting Angel

Joe Fransquet, a recently retired Belgian police officer, visits the grave of Burlington native David M. Fratt two or three times a month. Yet the two are not related and never met. In fact, Joe was born nearly a decade after David – a Private First Class in General George S. Patton’s Third Army – was killed in action in Germany near the Luxembourg border on February 24, 1945. He is buried in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium along with nearly 8,000 other American military dead from both the First and Second World Wars.

Joe, the father of two and grandfather of four, is fond of history and interested in the Second World War, especially all that concerns the battles led by the American Army. He has been visiting David’s grave since about 2004. The circumstances leading to Joe’s "adoption" of David’s grave are recounted below. But first, David’s story.

On the Saturday he was killed, David, a 1941 Burlington High School graduate, had come forward with some officers and non-coms on reconnaisance for a position for the Americans’ big mortars. As they reached the top of a hill that was to be their location, they began to receive fire from the enemy’s large calibre rockets. The rest of the officers and men fell to the ground but David was evidently just getting out of the jeep and was killed instantly by a rocket shell that landed nearby. His was the first death in his company

His parents, Seth and Martha Fratt, of Burlington, were informed of David’s death with the usual telegram, stating that confirmation would be made by letter, but giving no details. The day before, they had received a letter from David dated February 17, telling of his experiences in Luxembourg and saying that he was driving a jeep with a heavy machine gun battalion in Germany.

Shortly after David’s death, his brother, Lt. George Carter Fratt, who was with the First Army in Germany, secured permission and drove to the unit David had been a member of. He was informed of the details of David’s death and talked to the officers and men about David. They all had complimentary things to say about David. He was well liked and was considered a fine driver and had the reputation of taking good care of his vehicle. The men all said that they enjoyed David’s pleasantness and good sense of humor.

David, born in Burlington on January 23, 1923, was one of five Fratt children. His only sister, Marjorie, who would later marry Paul Coughlin, was a student at the University of Wisconsin at the time of David’s death. His brothers, in addition to George, were Homer, a Lieutenant with the air corps at Tucson, Arizona, and Walter, who was then a sophomore at Burlington High School.

After graduating from high school, David had attended Racine Vocational School and worked in Racine for a short time as a lathe hand before getting a job at the Rock Island Arsenal at Rock Island, Illinois. He was living across the Mississippi River in Iowa when his draft number came up, and he was inducted from that state in July 1943. He was sent to Camp Callan, California, and later to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he worked with a searchlight battalion. He was then transferred to the infantry and sent to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin.

David left for overseas in November 1944 and, after a short stay in England, was sent to the western front with the 304th Infantry Regiment of the Third Army’s 76th Infantry Division. He was with that Army on its steady drive into Germany when he was killed.

Joe Fransquet, who worked as an investigation officer for the Belgian police, entered the story in 1999, when hhad the opportunity of meeting Charles "Chuck" Marion whose granddaughter was studying in Belgium. Chuck was a veteran of the same unit that David Fratt had served with. Joe took Chuck to Bastogne where they visited the surroundings where one of the engagements of the Battle of the Bulge had taken place. They also went to the Luxembourg American Cemetery at Hamm in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg where Chuck’s best friend rests. (That cemetery is also the resting place of General Patton.)

In 2003, Joe decided to adopt the grave of a soldier who had served in the same unit as Chuck and who, Joe has said, "gave his life for my freedom in World War II." Since then Joe has visited the grave of Frank T. De Marco, who rests in the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupre (Neuville-en-Condroz), near Liege, Belgium. According to Joe, that cemetery is about 5 minutes from his home.

Later on Joe got in touch with the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, located about 45 minutes from his home, and decided to adopt the grave of David Fratt, the only soldier in that cemetery who had served in the same unit as Joe’s friend, Chuck Marion.

Using the internet, Joe contacted the Burlington Historical Society, which sent him a newspaper photo of David and some articles about David’s life and death. From the articles, Joe learned of David’s brothers and his sister Marjorie, wife of Paul Coughlin. Finding the Coughlins’ telephone number in Madison, Joe phoned them in December 2004. "The lady who answered," says Joe, "was Marjorie . . . you can imagine the emotion for both of us! I told her all about my activity and then we got in touch through the internet. Since then, we are in contact regularly. I dare say I see David as my ‘older brother.’"

In November 2011, Aaron Mittelstadt, David's nephew, met Joe and they went to David’s grave. In August 2012, John Crittenden visited Joe and they, too, went to David’s grave. John was a friend of David. Both had served in the same regiment and both were jeep drivers. John told Joe that on the day of David’s death, John was driving his jeep a few meters behind when David’s jeep exploded. John said that David died at once.

When asked about the adoption of American soldiers’ graves, Joe said that he knew that this activity takes place in Belgium as well as in The Netherlands. He said that, at the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten, all 8,300 graves are adopted. He added that every year the Belgians celebrate Memorial Day at the two American cemeteries in that country.

Personally, Joe said, he takes care of three graves in the Ardennes American Cemetery: those of Frank DeMarco, Morris Rubinstein, and an Unknown Soldier. In Henri-Chapelle, where he adopted David’s grave, he has also adopted the grave of Norman Kenney, father of Mrs. Carol Ziebell of Burlington. Private Kenney was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. Joe says that he visits the cemeteries two or three times a month, adding "I really need to go and meditate at their graves."

That Time Again . . .

                       Contributed by Priscilla Crowley

It’s that time of year again – Daylight Savings Time is over, cold weather is here, the leaves are mostly off the trees, and we’ve even had a minor snowstorm. Winter is almost upon us. If the sun doesn’t shine, the great outdoors looks a little bleak and barren. I personally think that’s why Christmas was invented.

I know the Holidays drive everyone a little crazy. It seems like there is so much to do, so many places to go, gifts to buy, cookies to bake, cards to write, decorating – inside and out – the list goes on and on. We all get caught up in the craziness, but we all need to slow down just a little and think about what’s really important. If the cookies are a little lopsided and decorated kind of funky or the decorations are a little off or maybe not as elaborate, and the cards don’t all include those letters that tell everyone what fantastic things your family has accomplished throughout the year, what’s it going to hurt? Not a darn thing! Sure we all like to think we’re going to have "the perfect holiday season", but what is perfect?

When I was a child, the perfect Christmas was when our family did things together. I have some great memories of the Christmas lights spread out all over the floor and Dad and my brother testing the strings to make sure they worked before putting them on the tree. When they were sure a string was in perfect working order, Jon would help Dad put the string on the tree. It never failed – by the time all the lights were on the tree; at least one string would go out for some reason or another. That was back in the day when, if one bulb went out, so did the whole string and you had to be patient and test each socket with a bulb that you knew worked so you could find the bad one. When they finally got everything working, it was worth the frustration – what started out as a humble little fir tree had been turned into a work of art – you could just feel the magic that came with the lighting of that tree. Suddenly it didn’t matter if the trunk was a little crooked and there was a bare spot or two and maybe the angel wasn’t sitting perfectly straight at the top of the tree, it was the most beautiful thing in the world. Nothing is more enchanting than a Christmas tree that has been decorated with the help of little hands.

Christmas cookies were a special highlight of the season. Nothing was better than cutting out the different shapes and being able to decorate them with sprinkles and frosting. Cookies warm out of the oven are a special treat and when you know that you personally have been responsible for decorating those cookies, nothing else in the world could ever taste as good. How much fun that was! I can see us all now, standing around the table and concentrating so hard on getting the frosting and sprinkles on just right and making up special cookies just for "Santa." Never were we more proud of ourselves than when we had "helped" to bake all the cookies and decorate them for family and friends to enjoy.

As Christmas drew nearer and nearer, so did our excitement accelerate to a frenzied and semi-out-of-control level. The secrets that were shared, the giggles and laughter, the feeling of well-being and warmth cannot be duplicated anywhere or at any other time of the year.

I admit I am a sucker for the Christmas lights and decorations and cookies and cards and all the trimmings. I like these things more than presents under the tree and I consider these things to be wonderful – but the best present of all comes when I take the time to enjoy just being alive and sharing all of these wonderful things with the people I treasure the most.

I have probably watched the "Grinch" 100 times or more but it still thrills me when I hear the narrator say, "The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day." When you see all the Whos down in Whoville standing together in a circle holding hands and singing Christmas songs, you just know that they have found out that Christmas isn’t really in all the trimmings and things; it’s in the heart and the sharing of special memories and experiences with others.

So the bottom line is, what is your idea of a perfect Christmas? Christmas is many things to many people. To some it wouldn’t be Christmas without the fancy decorated tree and prettily wrapped gifts for everyone to open. That’s part of it, but is it the whole package? Is it rather a feeling of sharing and giving that comes from the heart and creates memories that everyone will carry with them for the rest of their lives? I suspect that the truth is somewhere in-between. All of these things are good things; we just have to learn to balance one with the other.

Like the Whos down in Whoville, we need to enjoy all the trimmings of the holiday and remember to combine this type of celebrating with the celebration of the heart. I think there is room for both – we as individuals need to learn how to balance our hearts and our heads. When things get over-the-top hectic this year, take a few minutes to indulge in some memories of Christmases Past. Take a deep breath and remember to keep Christmas in your heart this year and every year.

My most heartfelt wish is for all of you to have the happiest of Holiday Seasons and I hope you are able to share it with all of those most dear to you. Merry Christmas to all.

Old Friends At Auction Recall Sisters

Many Memories Spin at Auction of Estate of Alma and Barinka Neuhaus

         This article appeared in the Standard Democrat of February 28, 1947. The Neuhaus home, completed in 1867, was directly across Perkins Boulevard (formerly West Street) from the Museum.

Glimpses into the quiet, cultured lives of two maiden school teachers, who devoted their lives to sharing their literary appreciation with hundreds of Burlington high school students, were opened to the public Saturday and Sunday when the estate of the Misses Alma and Barinka Neuhaus was put up for auction by their niece and heiress, Mrs. Ralph Chamberlin.

The pre-Civil War home of the sisters at 631 West street (now 233 N. Perkins Blvd.)had been bared of most of their personal treasures before the unending stream of visitors which packed the house for three days began to arrive on Friday. The large library containing hundreds of volumes of literature, languages and history had been donated to the 

Burlington public library. Historical music and other rare possessions had been bequeathed to the Burlington Historical society.

But hundreds of remembrances of the personal lives of the literary sisters were left for the appraising eyes of the antique dealers, collectors and casual visitors who flocked into the home. Here and there an old friend or student surveyed with a softer eye the possessions they had known the Misses Alma and Barinka to move familiarly among.

Perhaps the big box of Japanese lanterns brought back memories of a gay, softly-lighted summer evening garden party, and perhaps others were moved to remember by the collection of handpainted fans, many with bases of hand-carved ivory. Then there was the colorful patchwork quilt, half-finished with fine, painstaking stitches, and hundreds of more tiny pieces already cut, waiting to be fitted and sewed. Perhaps the prize French and English Straffordshire dolls awakened in one or two more than admiration and desire for the possession of the one-time playthings of the Neuhaus girls.

Enthusiastic bidding raised the price of an imported French doll, with china head and hair, to $51; while an 80-year-old doll with a brass head, that was perhaps equally loved, was sold for $2. The brass-headed doll will become part of the collection of the Burlington Historical Society.

A plumed, chin-ribboned bonnet may have been recalled as one of Burlington’s early century fashion highlights, and perhaps one of the high chokered Victorian gowns was visualized again on one of the sisters, or on their diminutive mother, Mrs. Henry Neuhaus.

Some among the curious milling crowd may have paused before an antique chair and recalled a member of Burlington's pioneer community whom it held for an afternoon tea or a quiet evening of talk. The sight of an old picture or map of the community may have inspired the memory of the day that it was hung and the excited comment it brought forth then. Or a lavish German dinner of the olden style may have been recalled with the sight of the elaborate china and rich cut glassware.

The 80-year-old house on West Street held many memories Sunday that even the staccato bark of the auctioneer and the tense bidding from the strange faces could not blot out. It was plain to see that, behind many of the wistful, reminiscing old faces, the Misses Alma and Barinka, now dead fourteen years, were alive again.

A Former Burlington Citizen Once Served As Chief Justice of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court

Appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Governor Lucius Fairchild in 1871 and then elected and repeatedly re-elected, 

William Penn Lyon, who had taught school and practiced law in Burlington, served on the Court until 1894. During his last two years, William served as Chief Justice.

William was born in New York in 1822 and came to Wisconsin with his parents in 1841. They settled in Hudson, which is today known as Lyons. William, who, at age 15, had taught school in New York, was one of Burlington’s early teachers in the one-room brick school house now known as Whitman School. At that time, the school building stood on Madison Street near Dodge Street.

William also studied law, and after being admitted to the bar, he became a justice of the peace for the Town of Lyons. Moving to Burlington in 1850, William formed a law partnership with Caleb P. Barns. In 1853 he was elected Burlington’s town clerk, and in 1855, Racine County’s district attorney. Later elected to the Wisconsin Legislature, he served as that body’s speaker in 1855 and 1856.

When the Civil War broke out, he entered the Union Army, rising to the rank of Brigadier General. While still in the Army, he was elected judge of Wisconsin’s first judicial circuit, and served from 1865 to 1871, when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1870.

Toward the end of his life, William moved to California to be near his two children. His wife, Adelia Duncombe Lyon, died in 1910. William died in California on April 4, 1913.