Newsletter - December 2014


Burlington Historian

December 2014


Christmas Program to Feature Rochelle Pennington

The Society’s 2014 Christmas program will be held Sunday, December 7, in the Stars and Stripes Room of Veterans Terrace in Burlington at 1:30 p.m. The program will feature Wisconsin author Rochelle Pennington’s presentation of "The Endurance" – the inspiring story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s "Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition," a true account of human strife and triumph. The presentation is a thrilling account of the extraordinary events surrounding one of history’s greatest shipwrecks.

Ms. Pennington and her son and co-author Nicholas Pennington traveled to England and Scotland to research this epic adventure in which Shackleton and his 27-man crew of sailors and scientists were stranded 11,000 miles from home when their ship, Endurance, became trapped in rapidly forming winter ice, 100 miles off the coast of Antarctica. The crew waited for the spring thaw through nine long months of blizzards, gales, and temperatures nearing 100 degrees below zero. With food scarce, the men watched as the ship succumbed to the pressure of the frozen ocean, breaking to rubble before sinking to the bottom of the sea.

Their only hope for survival was to travel by foot, hauling three rescued life boats, across hundreds of miles of broken and jagged ice in search of open waters. The nearly two year journey has been recognized as the greatest survival story of all time.

Journal entries penned by crewmembers paid tribute to the unique and effective leadership style Shackleton used to safely deliver his men. The story has inspired many over the past century and has provoked studies in leadership and motivational principles at Harvard University and corporations across America.

The presentation is complemented by 35 century-old photos documenting the journey. Frank Hurley, a professional photographer on board Endurance, immortalized the events which he said "were so extreme they would have strained credibility without the pictorial documentation."

The presentation by Ms. Pennington, who has also authored "The Christmas Tree Ship," "The Historic Christmas Tree Ship," "An Old-Fashioned Christmas: Tinsel, Gingerbread Men and Billie-the-Brownie," and other books, will be preceded by a short business meeting of the Burlington Historical Society. The Veterans Terrace is located near Echo Park and the White River bridge on Milwaukee Avenue (Hwys. 36 and 83). Refreshments will be served. There is no charge for the program.

President’s Message

With the holiday season upon us once again, it’s a great opportunity to slow down the pace and share our memories of past seasons with friends and family members. Giving gifts is a great tradition but giving thanks is just as important.

The annual Christmas Parade through downtown Burlington steps off at 6:30 Friday evening, December 5th. This fun event is the largest seasonal parade for Burlington and proves to be a great way to get into the spirit of the season.

Being just voted in as the new president of the Burlington Liars Club (if you can believe that), I encourage everyone to send in a "whopper," tall tale, or just plain lie for consideration in the "Best Lie Of The Year" competition. You can read all about it at: /sites/default/files/liars_club.htm

On the Hammiller house, which we have had for sale for the past several months, we have accepted an offer from a person with a preservationist outlook. We plan to finalize the transaction in mid-January.

Don’t forget our Society’s Christmas program at Veterans Terrace on Sunday, December 7, at 1:30 p.m.; and best wishes for a Merry Christmas 2014 and Happy New Year 2015.

          Dennis Tully

Pioneer Cabin Closed Until Next Spring

After another successful season with our faithful docents showing and telling visitors what pioneer life was like in the mid-to-late 1800s, the Society’s popular Pioneer Cabin is closed until next May.

Thanks to Jackie Heiligenthal and her fellow docents for their many hours of service on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons. The happy looks of the children and adults who visit the cabin are a great reward for the docents.

If you or someone you know would like to volunteer as a docent, let the Society know.

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Thanks also to the Burlington Garden Club and the Master Gardeners for their work in keeping the gardens at Pioneer Cabin and the Museum in tip-top shape.

A Pioneer Praises Fellow Pioneers

Rufus M. Billings, who came to the Burlington area with his parents and brother in November 1836 when he was but three years old, wrote a series of reminiscences that were printed in the Burlington Free Press from 1910 to 1915. In one of his 1912 pieces, written when he was living in Texas, he told of life on his family’s farm on Gardner’s Prairie northwest of Burlington near what is now the intersection of Spring Prairie Road and County Trunk DD and of his remembrances of area people and of attending school and going to various stores and businesses in Burlington.

After describing some of his experiences, he paid the following tribute to his fellow pioneers, not only the men, but especially the women.

The days we have passed in review were so long ago, and I was then so immature, that while I am aware I might have added some to the list given, probably I have neglected or forgotten some individuals and some circumstances it would have been profitable to add to those mentioned. In all such enumerations we are quite likely to confine our attentions to the male members of the community considered, when the women who have left pleasant and comfortable homes and cast in their lot with their fathers, husbands and brothers, are frequently more worthy of honorable mention, for what they accomplished in the struggle in a new country to better their condition, than the male members of the families to which they are attached. They necessarily have to endure much confinement, and many hardships and deprivations, and often perform acts of heroism that should be more frequently lauded, and would be if they were men, and I am always glad of an opportunity to give them their due need of praise. As already mentioned, the early settlers in the vicinity of Gardner’s Prairie were a superior class of people. Coming mostly from New England and New York, they were well educated and well informed, and kept abreast of the times, such as they were. There were no daily papers, but the weeklies were well scanned and handed around. Important news was a long time in transit, even in more thickly settled parts of the country where there were no railroads nor telegraphs.

These people were interested in each other, and ever appeared desirous of lending a helping hand whenever and wherever needed. Some possessed more of the fortunes, and more of the comforts of life than others, but as they seemed always ready to share with those who were not so blessed, they were not the envy of their neighbors as so often is the case in some communities, but rather were their pride, and whenever help was needed to do what could not well be done alone, they were ever ready to drop their own interests to render such assistance as they could. They pulled together, regardless of their political, religious or personal views, and expressed a mutual interest in whatever was going about them to a degree I have never seen equalled anywhere else. In such a community, life could not seem a weary burden, devoid of true happiness, though deprived of much we now look upon as necessary to our comfort, not then considered because not known nor thought of. It has been said that "Life consists in a great measure in what we get out of it."

What could be more inspiring to the aspiration for a noble and worthy life, than just such altruistic efforts on the part of those immediately about us, and it is not surprising that we so often heard the remark by the participants that "Those were the most enjoyable and happiest days we ever spent."

Eagle Scout Service Project Preserves a Piece of Burlington History

Burlington High School senior Tedman J. Yonash recently completed a project that was not only intended to earn him an Eagle Scout ranking, but also to preserve and display an important piece of Burlington history.

Looking for a service project that would benefit his community as well as give him an opportunity to plan, develop, and provide leadership to others, Ted contacted Historical Society president Dennis Tully (himself an Eagle Scout) to inquire if the Society would be interested in participating in such a project.

Knowing that the Society had been offered a century-old printshop letterpress that had been used at the local office of the Standard Press (and its predecessor, the Standard Democrat), Dennis suggested the possibility of cleaning, rehabilitating, and preparing the letterpress for display at the Museum. Ted eagerly accepted the challenge.

He arranged for the letterpress to be picked up at the Standard Press building and taken to a facility to be cleaned by "soda blasting." Ted researched the history of the letterpress and, with the help of fellow Scouts and adults of Boy Scout Troop 335, restored the machine to near-original condition.

The result is a beautifully restored Chandler & Price New Series Letterpress manufactured in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1913.

Ted also made a display sign that will hang over the letterpress to tell Museum visitors that the project memorializes Freedom of the Press, a key component of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The sign, made from a print frame used with the letterpress, together with print trays and type, also expresses thanks to those who participated in the project.

The project gave Ted the chance to put into practice what he has learned as a Scout and to gain valuable project management and leadership experience.

The Society thanks Ted and his helpers for their contribution to preserving an important piece of Burlington history.





Time Flies . . .

Contributed by Priscilla Crowley

As I write this, we are in mid October. Soon the leaves will be off the trees, fall rains will cascade down upon us and then will come colder and colder weather and the rain will turn to snow. If fall is here you know winter is not far behind. It seems like just yesterday that we were talking about looking forward to spring with the fresh smells of newly turned earth, the cheerful appearance of spring flowers and the appearance of sunshine and warmer weather.

In reviewing the past year, just look at all the changes that have taken place in this short amount of time – babies have been born; marriages and engagements have taken place; children have graduated from nursery school, eighth grade, high school, college and moved on to making their way in a different world than they inhabited just 12 short months ago. Familiar faces have disappeared from our presence and we are left with the memories that have been left behind. In the twinkling of an eye, just when you think you have it all figured out, something happens and everything changes and our lives are never quite the same again. We have to remember that change is not necessarily a bad thing, most of the time it’s a good thing.

Think back to last Christmas and the things you celebrated last year – now move it forward to this upcoming Christmas and just think about what you will be celebrating this year and what things or people will be relegated to the "remember when" category. Christmas to me is a celebration of life and memories and traditions and people who are near and dear to us. Sometimes these people exist only as memories and sometimes those we hold most dear are not near to us at the holidays but that makes the celebration all the more poignant and meaningful. It’s the one time of the year when we allow the past to merge with the present and what we do this year or next year shapes what will become a tradition 5 or 10 years from now.

Thirty+ years ago, I was worried about getting the kids, the presents and everything else first to my parents’ house and then to my husband’s parents’ house and trying to squeeze everything in so we celebrated with everyone – with assorted kids, presents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and numerous other non-relative individuals and still manage to figure out a way to celebrate with just our own little family at home and make it all work without driving everyone nuts.

Today the celebration is much smaller and not quite so crazy – the kids are grown, the grandparents aren’t with us any longer and we do celebrate with both sides of the family but it’s a much more relaxed version of what once was. But on Christmas Eve as I sit in the living room with the Christmas lights on and a Christmas program playing on television, I think back to those crazy days and I sort of miss all the frenzied activity. There wasn’t one Christmas Eve that I wasn’t frantically trying to wrap presents and divide things up so we could grab this pile for this side of the family for dinner and this pile of things for the other side of the family for supper and, whatever you do, don’t get the piles mixed up. Don’t forget there was always the making of a dish to pass for both sides, make sure the kids knew what time and where we were going and hoping that everything would fall into place and that I would actually get to bed before midnight.

(Norman Rockwell painting)

I know some of our children are going through these same sort of crazy gyrations now. And I know that they are probably as frustrated as we all were in our day but I also know that they are creating some of the best memories they will ever have. These memories will sustain them when life’s path is not very smooth and things look at their worst. I know I am a sentimental so and so but I know I am not the only one. How many of you sit and think about Christmas Past when there were cookies to bake and presents to wrap and hide and cards to write and a tree to decorate and all the million and one things that need to be attended to at this time of the year? Who besides me gets sentimental over some of the music played at this time of the year and maybe even sheds a secret tear or two over "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" or the "Chipmunk Song" or even "Felice Navidad" for the hundred and fiftieth time this week?

I guess my point is this – that no matter where life takes you and no matter what has occurred throughout the year, Christmas is a time of coming together, of sentimentality, of memories, of joy and sorrow and that intangible something that can’t be explained, can’t be bought in a store but can only come from the heart. It’s a feeling of awe and a rightness with the world, it has its roots in family, tradition and that good old-fashioned feeling of having a sense of peace and goodwill toward your fellow man. The true Christmas spirit doesn’t come from the gifts and glitter that we associate with the holiday it comes from the heart and it’s up to us to foster that feeling in ourselves and the people we come in contact with. The season is a short one so don’t waste your time wishing for what was or what might have been, but savor what is and hold on tight to all the memories, the new ones you are creating and all the old "remember whens." Hang on tight to all the blessings you have been given and be grateful, whether it is because someone who was lost to you is now found or whether it’s an old memory that lay forgotten and is now remembered.

On behalf of the Historical Society Board, I want to wish all of you a very happy and memorable holiday season!

50 Years Ago . . .
• In January 1965, Historical Society members were busy redecorating and planning their new Museum located in the former Luther Hall at Jefferson Street and N. Perkins Boulevard. The building and property had been donated to the Society in February 1964 by Mrs. Antoinette Meinhardt Fulton, the Society’s first president. Plans were to have the exhibits ready for public viewing early in fall 1965.

• Phelps Wall and Floor Covering Co. at 226 N. Main Street was destroyed by fire on January 18, 1965. The upstairs apartment of the building’s owners, Mr. & Mrs. Donald H. Burmeister, was also destroyed.

• About 30 "Friends of The Laker" rode from Burlington to Waukesha on the last northbound passenger and freight train to run in Wisconsin. The trip was made in January 1965.