Newsletter - June 2009


Burlington Historian

June 2009

Renovation Essentially Completed; Some Displays Being Reinstalled, Others Being Created

The renovation of the Museum has been essentially completed. Except for carpeting the stairways and a few other odds and ends, the work is done. It has taken longer, cost more, and entailed more repair and remodeling than the Board of Directors had originally envisioned, but we are pleased with the results. At the time this is being written, we are starting the process of reinstalling some of our previous displays and creating some new ones. So there is still a lot of work to be done before the Museum re-opens in its entirety.

The Board of Directors has not yet determined when the Museum will be officially re-opened, but is considering the possibility of opening the Museum to visitors in stages as groups of displays are finished.

Ice Cream Social to be Held July 25

The Society is again planning to hold its annual Ice Cream Social in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce's Maxwell Street Days event. The Maxwell Street Days event is scheduled for Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25. Our Ice Cream Social will be held on Saturday, the 25th, starting at about 10:00 a.m. and lasting until about 3:00 p.m.

Volunteers are needed to help serve the ice cream. Spending even an hour or two helping out would be welcome and appreciated.

Improvements Needed on Museum Exterior

Now that the Museum interior has been renovated, including the addition of a second floor and a first floor handicapped-accessible restroom, the Board of Directors has turned its attention to the need for some exterior improvements. Pieces of shingles have been falling from the roof and many of the painted surfaces show considerable wear. We hope to get that work done before winter.

President’s Message

It's a great time of the year with all the fresh scents of new growth around town.

Growth is what keeps this world ticking. One of the goals of local historians is to retain memories and artifacts of the past and promote interest in the history of our great community to all newer generations. Parents and grandparents are reminded to share their memories of times past with their children and grandchildren. History is not only preservation of our past but planning for the future.

With our Museum in the final stages of renovation, we are looking forward to the day we can open our doors again and have many additional items on display that we previously never had the space for. Enjoy this great summer season.

                 Dennis Tully

Mt. Hope Cemetery

Ned Farley, Assistant Professor in Anthropology at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, and his students spent several days in April cleaning up and mapping the pioneer Mt. Hope Cemetery northwest of Burlington on Spring Prairie Road. Mt. Hope contains the remains of over 20 pioneer men, women, and children. Included are Palmer Gardner, the first settler in Walworth County, together with his first wife, Margaret Williams Gardner, and their only daughter, Lucretia May; and Charles and Mary Galusha Dyer, the parents of Dr. Edward G. Dyer, Burlington's first physician and ardent abolitionist.

Plans are being made to search for additional graves using a ground radar device.

Pioneer Cabin Now Open; Docents Needed

Pioneer Log Cabin opened for the 2009 season on Saturday, May 2. Jackie Heiligenthal and her group of dedicated docents are again hosting visitors to one of Burlington's treasures. The Cabin, located in Wehmhoff Square just a block north of the Museum, is open Saturday afternoons from 1 to 4 until about mid-October. It is also open most Thursday evenings in conjunction with Burlington's Farmers' Market.

Additional volunteers to handle the docent duties are needed and would be appreciated. Anyone wishing to join this dedicated group can contact Jackie at 262-661-4272 (home) or 763-4943 (work).

Abraham Lincoln in Wisconsin Twice

              The following article appeared in the February 4, 1916, Standard Democrat.Abraham Lincoln, whose coming birthday will be celebrated by his countrymen as a national holiday, was in Wisconsin twice during his eventful life. He took part in the memorable campaign against the marauding chieftain Black Hawk in 1832, when he and his company of militia moved up the Rock River valley as far as Lake Koshkonong. He never caught sight of the Indians at that time, and later in his life, jocularly described the entire affair as a farce.

In 1859, when Lincoln was already a national figure by reason of his debates with Douglas, he was invited to speak at the Wisconsin state fair in Milwaukee. On this occasion he rightly avoided the subject of slavery, but in an informal talk which he delivered in the evening in the old Newhall house he spoke upon the subject nearest his heart, "The Irrepressible Conflict." Unfortunately no record of this talk, in which he deeply stirred his hearers, was made.

From Milwaukee Lincoln moved to Beloit and Janesville, speaking to eager and enthusiastic audiences at both places. He then returned to his home in Illinois, never again to set foot in Wisconsin.

NOTE: The Burlington Gazette of September 6, 1859, reported, with what appeared to be some enthusiasm, that Lincoln had accepted an invitation to deliver the Annual Address at the State Fair at Milwaukee. The article was as follows:
Honorable Abram Lincoln at our State Fair.--We are gratified to learn that the Honorable Abram Lincoln, of Illinois, has finally accepted the invitation of the Society, and will deliver the Annual Address at the Fair at Milwaukee. This alone will be a sufficient inducement for persons to come from all portions of the State.
Henry Robers’ Shoe Shine Machine

One of the most popular items displayed at the Museum before the recent renovation was a shoe shine machine that stood just to the left inside the door as one entered the main room. Painted bright red, it attracted much attention with its nickel coin slot and signs saying "Tan," "Black," and "For Men's Shoes Only." Many visitors, especially the children, asked whether it worked and could they try it. The answer was usually that it wasn't plugged in and we didn't know if it still worked or not, but we knew that it once did.

The machine was invented by Henry J. Robers, who lived in Burlington and had a barber shop in Lyons. At the time the machine was introduced to the public in 1946, both of Burlington's weekly newspapers published stories on it. The following story, from the Standard Democrat of September 13, 1946, gives the more detailed description of the machine's operation. Some additional information from the Free Press article of September 12, 1946, is included in parentheses.

Machine for Shoe Shines Is Perfected

Henry Robers Develops Juke Box That Gives Neat Mechanical Shine

Drop a nickel in a slot of a machine that looks like a juke box, put one foot on a support in the machine and have a shoe shined.

Put in another nickel, put the other foot in and have that shoe shined.

If you have tan shoes use the support at the left of the machine. If you have black shoes use the support at the right.

Simple, isn't it? In these days when outside of a few places in the larger cities it is almost impossible to get a shoe shine.

The mechanical, automatic shoe shining machine is the idea of Henry Robers and has been developed as a spare time hobby in the basement of his Geneva street (now West State street) home over the past three years. It is now ready for the market. Mr. Robers has had a machine in operation at his barber shop in Lyons for several weeks and will this week put a machine in operation at the Hotel Badger in Burlington. (The Free Press said that two more would soon be put into use at the bus stations at Elkhorn and Lake Geneva.)

Frequent calls for a shoe shine in his barber shop, years ago gave Mr. Robers the idea of a mechanical device. The idea developed on the drawing board and then in the actual building of the machine. He carried on his barber shop and floor resurfacing work, working on the new device in his spare time and making many changes and improvements as he went along.

Finally he was convinced he had a machine that would work and during the past few weeks has finished four of them. He has applied for patents and it is now on record in the patent office at Washington, D. C.

With cams, pulleys and levers, the mechanism carries out the same processes performed by the human boot black.

Dropping the nickel in the slot starts the mechanism. First brushes thoroughly clean the shoe. The brushes then move aside and pieces of felt apply the polish. This is an ingenious part of the machine. A gallon can of liquid polish is placed in the machine. There is a plunger, fitted with a self-sealing top and felt strips which are soaking in the polish. A cam raises the plunger out of the polish, moves it over and applies it to the shoe and then returns and seals the can.

The brushes return and distribute the polish over the shoe and give the shoe a thorough brushing. Then the brushes move aside and the proverbial felt polishing cloth comes into place to complete the shine. The entire operation takes one and one-half minutes – much faster than the average hand shine.

Mr. Robers has made no definite plans for putting the machines on the market. There is little doubt there will be a big demand for them and he has several tentative orders for hundreds of them as soon as they are completed. (The Free Press said that Mr. Robers had orders for 500 of the machines, most of which would be used in bus and railroad stations throughout the country, and that the machines would retail for about $400.) He is now negotiating with manufacturing concerns to make them for him in quantities. He thinks he can get them on the market quicker that way than if he had the parts made and assembled them himself. His present plan is to put them all out on a royalty or percentage basis, much the same as most juke boxes are now operated.

The present machines are for public places. Mr. Robers is also working on a much smaller model that will be suitable for private homes.

Mr. Robers is planning to show one of the machines at the home invention show to be staged at the Auditorium in Milwaukee the last week in October.
                                                                                                        - - - - -

Regrettably, Mr. Robers’ passed away at age 50 on October 27, 1946, during the week he had planned to show the machine at the Milwaukee home invention show. However, hopes and plans for marketing the machine did not end. Shortly before Mr. Robers’ death, M. E. Hoffman of Waukesha had become associated with him in putting the automatic shoe shining machine on the market. In the May 16, 1947, Standard Democrat, it was reported that a new corporation was being formed and an agreement had been made with the H. K. Tool Co. of Waukesha to manufacture the machines at the rate of 150 a month.



Party in a Small Town

               Contributed by Priscilla Crowley

Most of the time Lyons looked like a sleepy little village without much of anything going on -- but looks can sometimes be deceiving. I always found it interesting that Lyons had three churches, a Methodist, a Lutheran and a Catholic. It also had three taverns -- they were non-denominational as far as I know and admitted persons of all religious beliefs. I know it was an active little town on Friday and Saturday nights and everyone seemed to have a very good time. You could usually tell who had the best time by how loud they snored in church on Sunday morning. These were grown-up parties but I'm thinking more about the parties that they threw for the kids.

On Halloween the Fire Department always held a bonfire for all the kids in town and the surrounding area. A couple of weeks before the big event they would start to pile up brush and logs and anything else that would burn and we would watch in wide-eyed wonder as the pile grew taller and taller. Kids would come from all over on Halloween night dressed in their costumes. It's a good thing they held this party outdoors because you never would have been able to stand the chatter and noise all the kids made as they excitedly marched around and around the bonfire. Prizes were awarded for the best costumes and everyone hoped they would be one of the lucky ones. We all got to fill out slips of paper with our names and phone numbers. After we had eaten all the treats in sight and had consumed all the soda we could handle, we were told to go straight home because they were going to draw names from the slips of paper we filled out and the only way you could get a prize was if you were at home to answer the phone. The next day at school everyone would compare notes to see who had received one of those special calls.
They also gave parties at Christmas time for the kids. These parties involved movies, visits and pictures with Santa, candy and more noise than anyone could handle. They stuffed all of us into the first floor of the town hall -- it was literally one person piled on top of another -- wall to wall kids and adults. The noise level was enough to make the windows rattle and the floor shake. We were sent to the party with the directive --  stick together -- don't get separated -- remember to say please and thank you and behave yourselves. Of course that was no problem for us -- it goes without saying that we would never, ever do anything wrong and of course we'd stick together. That stick together stuff lasted about 2 minutes. The twins saw some of their friends -- one took off to the right and one took off to the left which left me standing there trying to decide who to follow. In the end I decided it was no use -- we only lived across the street and I decided they should be able to figure out how to cross the street and go home after the party was over. Things quieted down a little once the movies started but you could see popcorn flying through the air, occasionally someone's hat or coat went flying, you could hear scuffling in the dark, cries of, "I have to go to the bathroom!", giggling and general mayhem. It was organized bedlam. I can still see the harried adults trying to keep order and quiet everyone down. It was an exercise in futility. Then it was time to line-up to see Santa and have your picture taken. I have never seen so many kids crying and excited at the same time. The poor guy who got stuck playing Santa had a sort of wild-eyed look at the end of the night. I don't remember attending too many of those parties and I think the reason for that was because they would have one, decide they were never going to do that again, and a couple of years later after the memories had faded, they would decide to have another one. I am happy to report that all children were reunited with their parents, the Hammes children found their way home -- almost everyone left there with the hats, mittens and coats and the parents that they come with. A few wound up with objects they had never seen before and for some reason they had a few leftover boots, not all the same size or color. All of the adults still had most of their minds still intact and the children were liberally stuffed with sweets and happy memories. It was a great success!
They used to have Square Dancing in the church hall once in a while. If you have never Do Si Do'ed or honored your partner or swung your partner to "Skip to My Lou," you have not lived. Have you ever noticed that the best times you have are very often the ones that contain the most noise and confusion? There is nothing more confusing than trying to follow all the directions given during a square dance. The foot stomping, laughter and good natured teasing that these dances generated was absolutelypriceless. No one cared if you went left when you should have gone right; they just turned you around and sent you in the right direction. Some of the more experienced dancers wore beautiful skirts and fancy blouses and shirts. It was a pleasure to watch them as they swung through the dance with a grace and precision sadly lacking in some of the rest of us. How much fun it all was! 

This really wasn't a dance for just kids, there were all ages present which created a real kaleidoscope of people from the very old to the very young - just another example of small town life.

One town gathering sticks out in my mind. Someone dug up all kinds of old home movies of people who lived in Lyons. They posted flyers and invited everyone to come to movie night. It was a beautiful summer evening and they set the movie screen up on the grass near the railroad tracks in down town Lyons. Everyone was to bring their own lawn chair or blanket and come dark the show would begin. I remember staring in wide-eyed wonder at the grainy images that appeared on the screen. There were shouts of laughter from the audience as they recognized some of their neighbors and friends in the movies. Comments flew all around: "Look at John, look how young he looks and that must be little Bobby he's pushing in the carriage." "Remember that Memorial Day; who would believe that Richard can still wear those same sailor pants." "I remember them, they used to live across the street from us; I wonder what ever happened to them?" I tried to match up some of the older faces in the crowd with the much younger faces appearing on the screen. With some I could very clearly see the resemblance and with others I didn't see a resemblance to anyone. Of course, right in the mid-dle of the movie, a train came thundering through -- I wonder what they thought when they saw all of us sitting around on the main street of town watching home movies? It was a fun evening -- people sat around and talked for quite a while even after the movies were over. I've never forgotten that -- it was an unforgettable experience -- I can't tell you the names of the people who were in the movies -- it's not like the images were burned into my brain forever but what does stick with me was the friendly, open feelings that this get-together generated. It was almost a feeling of family. Some of these people had known each other all of their lives and had seen each other through good times and bad. So in a way it was family, just an extended version.

All of these different "parties" are like snapshots filed away in my memory. Thinking about them brings back good memories of times gone by and it reflects the simplicity of our lives back then. It does seem that the pace then was not as frantic or as hurried as it is now. I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing -- I just know that it was a very special time -- one to be treasured and remembered.