Newsletter - June 2007


Burlington Historian

June 2007

New Book Includes References to Burlington, Rochester, and the Spring Prairie Area
      "Finding Freedom - The Untold Story of Joshua Glover, Runaway Slave," written by Wisconsin residents Ruby West Jackson and Walter T. McDonald and recently published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, tells the story of Joshua Glover before and after, as well as during, his capture, escape, and subsequent journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad. That journey, which wove through Racine,
Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Walworth Counties, included a stop in Rochester and stays of one to several days at a farm in Dover, a house in in Burlington, and several farms in and near Spring Prairie township, until Glover was put aboard a ship at Racine and taken to Canada.

While previous accounts have been written on the 1854 incident and its aftermath, they have been, in the words of one reviewer, "a case study of the operation of the Fugitive Slave Law and the Underground Railroad," rather than a look at the flesh-and-blood human being, who was the central figure in the incident.

In the book, the authors tell not only about the previously known events surrounding Glover's capture in Racine, his being forcibly freed from the Milwaukee jail, and his time on the Underground Railroad, but they chronicle, for the first time, Joshua's life as a slave in Missouri before he escaped to Racine; and the 33 years of his life of freedom in rural Canada, after he was "delivered" there on the Underground Railroad.

While doing research for the book, the authors spent time at the Burlington Historical Society Museum in April 1999 looking through the Society's Underground Railroad and related files, and they visited several sites in the area where Glover was hidden, including the Joel Henry Cooper house, which still stands on N. Perkins Boulevard next to Lincoln School, and the Richard Ela house in Rochester, where Glover and his conductor stopped for a change of horses and "a cup of hot tea and lunch." While in Burlington, the authors also visited the monument on the Lincoln School grounds (see Standard Press photo above), which honors Dr. Edward G. Dyer, the "Commander in Chief" of the Underground Railroad in this area.

The book is available at bookstores and on-line, as well as at local libraries. The Society hopes to have the authors back to give a program.

President's Message

      Now that we are well into spring, and with a new growing season, we can again enjoy some of the great assets of the Burlington area, such as the Legacy Garden adjacent to the Museum and the Vintage Garden surrounding Pioneer Cabin in beautiful Wehmhoff Square downtown next to the Library. The Cabin's Kitchen Garden has also been planted and the results will be coming into view as the growing season progresses. Thanks to the members of the Burlington Area Garden Club and the Racine Kenosha Master Gardener Association for taking care of the gardens.

The weather cooperated for the annual Old Burlington Cemetery Clean‑Up on Saturday morning, May 12th. With the help of some energetic high school students and teacher Hans Block (who has ancestors buried in the Old Cemetery), as well as Society members, the work was completed in record time.

Your Board of Directors has approved plans for adding a second floor to the Museum and is sending out requests for bids to several area contractors. More information will follow.

Enjoy the rest of the spring and the coming summer season.

                          Dennis Tully 

Temporary Sundial Placed on Dyer Monument

       Rick Zwiebel, whose mother, Augusta Zwiebel, was of one of the Society's founding members, has crafted a wooden replica of the brass sundial that was stolen in February 2007 from the case in which the Dyer Monument is displayed in front of the Museum.
      Using the original 1935 artist's sketch and photos of the original sundial, Rick created a replica that has been painted a bronze color and placed on the monument until the original is recovered or a new brass sundial is obtained.
      Thank you, Rick, for your excellent craftsmanship.

Appreciation Dinner

      The Society's Annual Appreciation Dinner was held at Veronico's restaurant in March. The dinner is one of the Society's ways of saying "Thank You" to those volunteers who donate their time to help the Society accomplish its mission. Those in attendance included members of the Board of Directors, Pioneer Cabin docents, Museum docents, representatives of the Burlington Area Garden Club, and their guests. The Society appreciates the time and effort so many volunteers devote unserlfishly to our activities.

Photo: The Society's immediate past president Doug Lind and wife, Carol, at the Appreciation Dinner. In the background (from left to right) are Steve and Lisa Wagner, Joyce Becker Lee, and Priscilla Crowley.

Family History Corner

      Lenz and Molitor:  Society member Mary Bohn, of Footville, Wisconsin, wants to hear from people interested in the Lenz and Molitor families.  A Lenz family history has been published, and Mary is compiling a mailing list for a Lenz newsletter.  She is also seeking people interested in Molitor genealogy.
      If interested, send your name and address to Mary Bohn, P.O. Box 78, Footville, WI 53537-0078; or e-mail her at

      Zwiebel:  Society member Lew Zwiebel, of Louisville, Kentucky, tells us that the Zwiebel family is holding a "ReOnion" (Zwiebel is German for onion farmer or dealer) in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, from August 2 to August 5, 2007.  Before coming to Burlington in 1856, Anton Zwiebel, ancestor of the Burlington Zwiebels, first settled in Pottsville after emigrating from Alsace in 1848.
      If interested in attending the Zwiebel ReOnion, contact Joanne Carlson at for reservations and further information.

Pearls Once Found in Burlington Waters 

For a period of about 25 years ending in the early 1930s, pearl fishing in the Fox river was a summer-time occupation for a number of Burlington area people. In some years, starting usually in June, every day would see dozens of people - with up to 100 reported on some weekends - making a systematic search of the river bed for the clams and mussels that lived in the river north to Waterford and south to Wilmot. The success of some of the persistent fishers in finding pearls was remunerative, while others spent a few days at the work and then quit in disgust.




The mound of clam shells shown in the accompanying photo was taken from the Fox River near Burlington, probably around 1915. Only one of the "clammers" has been identified -- Fred Kayser (1902 - 1995) is the young man sitting second from right with the large hat.


In 1909, the local papers reported that people from Milwaukee, Chicago and Waukesha were in Burlington, Rochester, and Waterford buying up the pearls at from $1 to $15, with the highest of those prices paid for one found near the electric line bridge on the Reesman farm. In 1910, local jeweler Leroy Crawford bought over $400 worth of pearls from the fishermen. In 1912, Hermina Bulgrin found a pearl said to be valued at $100, quite a tidy sum in those days.

The clam shells were also a source of revenue for some of the "clammers." For many years, the shells were shipped mainly to a button factory in Muscatine, Iowa. Sometimes, however, the shells traveled much farther. In 1910, for example, two railcar loads were shipped to Germany and one to Holland. The prices varied from year to year. In 1910, the clammers received about $6 a ton. In 1926, Fred Steffen reported shipping 25 tons for which he received $50 a ton. Fred and his brother, Charles, not only clammed themselves, but they hired about 10 boys each season and they bought shells gathered by other people.

In 1919, a new state law required clam fishers to obtain a license; state residents paid $5, while non-residents were charged $50. In 1921, two Burlington boys, Ray Heck, age 12, and James Willick, age 14, were arrested by the Racine County sheriff for clamming. The case was eventually dismissed, but not before the boys were obliged to go to Racine and show a judge that they had applied for the necessary license.

As cheap plastic buttons made inroads on the button industry, the demand for clam shells diminished and clamming fell off. By the early 1930s, it had all but died.

In 1944, there was talk of starting a "pearl farm" in the Fox River in Burlington to develop cultured pearls as the Japanese had done since 1902. But the project never got off the ground.

The Couple That Clammed Together

In 1930, the Free Press printed the following article on two of Burlington's most dedicated clammers, Julius and Johanna Redjewski, who lived in "Canada." 

Julius Redjewski sat placidly on the end of his wheelbarrow at the edge of Fox River. He was tending the cooking of his day's catch of clams. Beside him on the ground was a huge stack of shining clam shells, the total of his summer's "sport." "Clamming," he said, "is my way to have fun."

Mr. Redjewski lives on Main street and is known to many people in Burlington. Years ago he was a beer brewer, but with the advent of prohibition his occupation was gone, and he had to turn to other labor. Clamming appealed to him, so he started over to learn a new trade. Now at seventy-eight years of age he continues to be a clammer because it is a way to pass the long summer days. Besides, it is a profitable form of sport. Mr. Redjewski and his wife, Johanna (shown in the photo), go out on the river in their boat and spend a leisurely day on the water picking clams out of the shallows. The clams are brought home and put in a large cooker which holds six bushels of the bivalves. After an hour's cooking they are done, the shells are thrown on the pile and the clams are fed to the chickens and the dogs.

Pearls? Mr. Redjewski chuckled. "I have no luck now. I guess it is not meant that I should go on the river anymore." Last year he found one pearl worth $25, the year before he found one worth $80, but this year none at all have appeared to reward his efforts.

Pointing the stem of his pipe at the pile of shells, the old clammer said that there were four tons ready for market. He ships them to a button factory in Iowa and last year received $100 a ton for them. Maybe the price is lower this year, he isn't sure.

The Redjewskis began clamming this year July 5. They will continue until about the middle of September. After that the water gets too cold to wade in and the clamming season will be ended for them. Some folks clam all winter, but the clams go down into the ground then Mr. Redjewski explains.

Last year Mr. Redjewski sold two tons of the clam shells, and all of the clams were taken from the little stretch of river in the immediate vicinity of the tourist park (now site of Riverside Park). This year the water has been unusually low and it has been possible for him to work six or seven miles up the river. Danger of depleting the stock of clams seems remote according to this man who is an old hand at the game. Years ago, he said, it was thought that there surely would not be enough for another season, but every spring they come up out of the river bottoms in the usual quantities. This year there are too many clammers on the river, he says. Men out of jobs take up the work hoping to coin a little money during the idle times and as a result the rivers are all crowded with clammers. Many of them use hooks to drag the clams in, but that is too hard work for Julius and Johanna Redjewski so they are content with the slower, but less laborious method of picking the little animals up by hand.

Sold to the Lady with the Big Yellow Hat ... 

                         Contributed by Priscilla Crowley 

A sure sign of spring and summer is the appearance of the farm or household auction notices in the paper. Auctions, especially auctions held in a small town, are a true slice of Americana. It is an experience like no other -- if you have never attended an auction, you have to go at least once.

In our small village whenever there was an auction, the streets would be lined up one side and down the other with cars and pick‑up trucks. About the time I turned 8 or 9, a little old lady who lived down the street from us passed away and, of course, the relatives decided to hold an auction to dispose of her belongings. Soon the lawn was covered with furniture, boxes of stuff, old pictures, frames, crocks, kitchenware, dishes, glassware, old silverware, tools, linens, curtains, quilts, anything and everything. It was wonderful! You can only imagine how fascinating this was to a kid like me -- I had never seen anything like it. For a while I sort of stood on the sidewalk and stared in wonderment at the scene that was unfolding in front of my eyes. It was like going to the circus without having to pay admission. There I stood, hopping from one foot to the other, craning my neck trying to see everything at once. Finally I couldn't stand it any more; I just had to see -- so trying to act casual -- I ventured off the sidewalk and on to the grass to see what I could see. It was amazing! I found the people to be as fascinating as the goods spread out on the lawn for all to see. People were looking through boxes, standing in clusters talking to neighbors, exchanging gossip about who did what, calling out greetings to newcomers and just generally enjoying the whole experience. Can't you just see it?

When the auctioneer began to speak, the real action started. Have you ever tried to really understand what an auctioneer is saying? For a while the only thing I really understood was when he banged his gavel and shouted "SOLD, TO THE GENTLEMAN WITH THE RED HAT IN THE BACK ROW FOR $10.00! Now what am I bid for this beautiful set of china B come on now, don't be shy -- who'll give me $50.00? How about $10.00?" And it would start all over again.

As I relive the colorful scene what fascinates me the most now that I am older is what all the "stuff" laid out on the lawn represented. Think about it -- there right in front of you is someone's whole life. That old quilt -- hand stitched and painstakingly pieced together by hand -- who do you suppose spent all those hours piecing it together? Was it a wedding present? What special memories does it hold, how many people were comforted with its warmth and coziness? Was it used by a beloved child, long since grown and moved away, perhaps with a family of his or her own? If it could talk, what would it tell you? Would it tell you stories about a much-loved grandmother who sat quietly, patiently stitching away or would it tell you about a young mother who moved hurriedly from one task to another for her young family, stitching away late into the night to complete the quilt as a surprise for someone special? What did the various pieces of material represent? Were they perhaps pieces from a favorite dress, or shirt B did they bring happy memories?

Or that old set of china -- how many meals were eaten off of those dishes? Were they good china or something that was used every day? If those chipped plates could talk, what could they tell you about the people who used them? Were they a happy family and did the children chatter all through supper about all the fascinating things that children see and hear during the day? Or was papa very stern and not accepting of children's chatter at the dinner table? Did he subscribe to the theory that children should be seen and not heard? I prefer to think they were a happy bunch and that mom and dad thoroughly enjoyed their children and proudly watched them grow and change throughout the years.

What about that old apron? What would it tell you about the lady who wore it? My guess is that this apron was worn from early morning till bed time. It most likely witnessed the preparation of countless meals and saw mounds of cookies baked. Can't you see her in the early morning, bustling about, cooking breakfast for her family and making sure the children get off to school on time, her husband to work, settling the little ones down so she could move forward with the daily routine? My mother‑in‑law was definitely from the old school and I rarely ever saw her without her "Mother Hubbard" apron on. It was a part of her just like your fingers and toes -- you don't always recognize the fact that they are there but you sure miss them when they aren't.

One thing that intrigues me the most is when you see a box of old pictures. Who are these people? They must belong to someone. Why wouldn't anyone claim these pictures of people from long ago -- surely they have people who loved and cared for them? What about the old postcards with messages written on the back -- don't you wonder about the people who sent those messages and the people who received them? It's all so intriguing, like an old fashioned mystery with no real solution.

I remember when my husband's father decided to hold a household auction after grandma passed away, how emotional it was for my husband and his sisters. There on the front lawn were things that they remembered from their growing-up years, not only did all of this stuff represent their parents' lives, it also represented a big portion of their lives. I am happy to say some of these memories did stay with the family -- an old well-used cookie jar, some old fashioned linens, a well-remembered vase that always sat on a certain table B bits and pieces of their childhood memories, things to be cherished and perhaps passed on to the next generation.

I believe that everything you see at an auction represents a story or a memory for someone. I don't believe that we need to save everything -- where would we put it all? I do believe, however, that some special things should be saved and passed on and more important than that, make sure you pass on the story behind the special thing that you are saving. Don't wait until it's too late to share some of these stories and memories with those you hold most dear. Don't hesitate to give your loved ones the most special and priceless gift you can, help to pass on what's important -- pass on a part of yourself.

Ferris Wheel Misnamed; Should be Zwiebel Wheel

                   From the Standard Democrat, July 6, 1901

The Ferris wheel which George Heiligenthal used at the picnic in this city last Sunday and at Lily Lake on the Fourth is a novelty. It should have a name to show that it ante-dates the big wheel used in Chicago, as it was in use long before George Ferris dreamed of that big wheel.

The wheel used here was built by Anton Zwiebel in this city some 16 or 18 years ago and was frequently in use soon after being built. Then it was stored by Mr. Heitkemper at Waterford and nothing was seen or heard of it until this spring. The wheel is 32 feet in diameter and has four carriages. For 5 cents you can make 10 revolutions on the wheel.