Newsletter - September 2013


Burlington Historian

September 2013

Society’s Home Page Revamped and Updated

If you haven’t taken a look recently at the Society’s website, you’ve missed a remarkable transformation of our home page to a more colorful and eye-pleasing format. The transformation is both the idea and the handiwork of Jeff Kiekenbush, the Society’s webmaster, who has revamped and updated the home page at ""

Following our securing of a new internet host after our previous one "lost" a server, took our website with it, and couldn’t tell us when we would be back online, Jeff thought it was time to modernize the website. We had had the previous format since we went online about 2002.

You can get an idea of the new format in the following "screen capture" of the top portion of the home page. However, because the image cannot do full justice to the artistic quality of the site, you’ll have to visit the site to appreciate the transformation.

President’s Message

As we approach the end of summer, we find that the seasons seem to change faster every year.

A "not so warm" summer weekend put sort of a damper on the Society’s annual "Ice Cream Social" at Wehmhoff Square at the end of July. We just about broke even for the event which found a few brave souls wandering around in jackets and extra layers of clothing to keep warm.

Looking back in the publications and newsletters of our Society, which can be found on our re-designed website (, I found an article used to promote an open house at the museum many years ago that I thought was worthy of a "re-print":

Have you ever wondered . . .

. . . what main Native American tribe populated the Burlington area in the 1800s and what their Indian name for Browns Lake was.

. . . what Burlington’s name was just prior to becoming Burlington.

. . . why the city streets do not run true north and south.

. . . what the names Origen, Perkins, Whiting, Gardner, Lewis, and Conkey have in common.

. . . where the oldest building in the state that has continuously housed a bank is located.

. . . what houses in town were part of the underground railroad for fugitive slaves before the Civil War.

. . . how many bottling companies (breweries included) were started in Burlington.

. . . what is the oldest business in Burlington.

. . . what patented inventions were manufactured here in Burlington.

. . . what the Town Pump, Purple Cow, Skyscraper, and Carousel have in common.

A visit to our museum almost any Sunday afternoon will give you the answers to those questions. Also, we ask our members to share our newsletters with others that may have an interest in the history of the Burlington community and may consider becoming a supporting member.

          Dennis Tully 

Christmas Program to be Held December 1

The Society’s Christmas program this year will be held on Sunday, December 1, at Veterans Terrace. Featured will be Rochelle Pennington’s presentation of "Stories Behind Our Most Loved Christmas Hymns and Carols."

Ms. Pennington – a church organist / pianist / guitarist for over 30 years – will explore the fascinating history of dozens of our most memorable Christmas carols.

Ever wonder about the origin of your favorite holiday hymn or song or what events inspired its lyrics to be written? Ms. Pennington will offer factual perspective, behind-the-scenes trivia, and little-known insights into well-known carols.

The audience will be invited to sing with gusto (or simply hum along) during the program’s musical conclusion.

The program will start about 1:30 p.m. It 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.

"Dollar a Day Boys" Program to be Held at Public Library on September 21

Author / songwriter Bill Jamerson will present a music and storytelling program about the Civilian Conservation Corps at the Burlington Public Library on Saturday, September 21, at 1 p.m.

He will share stories about the CCC, a federal works program that operated during The Great Depression. During its 9 years, about 92,000 young men worked in Wisconsin camps earning $1 a day, with $25 a month sent home to their families.

In Wisconsin, they planted 265 million trees, built 483 bridges, erected over 4,000 miles of telephone poles, constructed 4,300 miles of truck trails, stocked half a billion fish, fought forest fires, and built several state parks, including Rib Mountain, Interstate, Devil’s Lake, Peninsula Park, Copper Falls, and Wyalusing. They also worked with hundreds of farmers terracing hills, putting up fencing, and repairing gullies.

Indelible Memories of Burlington

Urban J. Prasch, son of Martin G. and Elizabeth Kaas Prasch, was born in Burlington in July 1894 and graduated from St. Mary’s grade school in 1908. Soon after graduation, Urban moved with his widowed mother and several of his siblings to Washington State. After his death in March 1955, Urban’s sisters found among his papers the following memories of his boyhood days, which he had jotted down several years before his death.

Re: peddling the papers: Up at 4 a.m. on Sundays with the little wagon to meet the train, haul the papers to the store basement (Prasch Bros. Drug Store – now site of The Shy Violet) and insert the funnies. Then stuff the bag and man the bicycle on the "route." The saloons were the popular places to tarry. The "free lunch" under the screened sliding cover tempted a small boy with all kinds of meats, cheeses, breads, relishes, and it was all free. How did they do it? I still wonder.

The mill pond was our playground, winter skating, summer swimming and the big hole below the dam in the White River.

Those Wisconsin winters. Skating Thanksgiving to March. That White River, the ice like glass, rocker skates strapped on, a sail fashioned of an old bed sheet and we were off on the breeze – the ice boats, home-made with huge sails, the more daring ventured up the pond and over the river in zero breezes. At night the bonfires on the shore, young and old doing the fancy turns and twists on the pond – small fry playing shinny with an old tin can, and twisted sticks.

Coasting on the hill beside the house (corner of Lewis and Conkey streets). Up the four blocks to the high school (later called Cooper School), a shove and down the ice-covered street. On the bobsleds, up and down. The long walk back up, the swift ride down over and over until exhausted. Then sleep under the feather bed.

Dad was a druggist with his brother Frank (Prasch Bros. Drug Store). I remember the soda fountain – soda water, chocolate sundaes, and what chocolate – we made our own. I remember the cigar counter, the dice box, Peruna, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Compound – big sellers. Edison records, the cylinder kind. The squeaky tin horn on the phonograph spouting the latest hits from the rear of the store, the big single register hot air furnace in the middle – the anthracite coal, the thing had a huge appetite for it.

Once a year Dad hired the livery stable hack (a horse-drawn hackney carriage) for a day at Brown’s lake. There was a shed for cooking, and everyone, old and young, piled into the hack for the two mile drive and all-day picnic on the hill above the lake. The fireflies on the way home in the dark. This was our annual outing. Later with our bicycles we rode out the dusty road to the lake, sat on the pier with long cane poles and hooked perch. An old kerosene stove – frogs caught in the shallow reeds. Frying frog legs and devouring them there on the shore of the lake. Overnight camping in a tent there. The square rowboats, flat bottomed for fishing perch, crappies and sunfish. Doc Fulton’s sail boat. A huge affair it seemed with all the grownups and kids aboard sailing around the lake, dodging the boom as it passed back and forth, tacking the wind. No outboard motors or other power craft – you rowed or sailed . . . period.

The summer resorts all around the lake. Dancing Wednesday and Saturday nights, the warm breezes, the sound of music across the lake on the other side.

Packy Curtis’ big car (The Rambler O) first one in town. Gasoline? We had it in the drug store. Drag it out from the rear in a five gallon can – strain it through a shammy skin into the tank. Crank her up Packy. Down the street headed for the lake in a cloud of dust. We’d give our right arm for a ride in it, and one or the other of the little wire wheel one-lunger "Old’s." First one by Reuschlein, I think. Dad had the garage and "get out and get under tools." Hold the horses – they were scared to death of the smoke exhuming noisy things. You had to stop and let the wagons and buggies go by.

The Fair at Elkhorn. The ride on the Milwaukee yellow coaches. $1.00 in our pocket. The harness races, popcorn balls, the hoochy koochy dancers, the cheap souvenirs – the tintypes. Back on the evening excursion train. The annual Fair a memory again until next year.

Fishing in the river below the dam. Red horse, suckers, mostly bones.

Diving off the railroad trestle just before the engine comes across. Spring floods, raging torrents, the Wisconsin Central train on the bridge to keep it from flowing away.

Riding to Chicago with Papa early in the morning on the milk train. The big wholesale houses where he bought – the druggy smells of them. Playing in the toy department of the Fair, waiting till he was through. Back home on the evening train.

All in Our Places with Bright Shiny Faces . . .
                   Contributed by Priscilla Crowley                                                                 

Remember a few years ago when one of the big chains had a commercial that insisted that the beginning of the school year was the "hap – happiest time of the year"? – for the parents, not the children. Mothers were floating down aisles in the store tossing new school clothes and supplies with great abandon into the carts, singing joyfully at the top of their lungs. I have never personally seen any parents act this way in any store before the start of the school year but in my years as a school secretary I have had many phone calls from moms asking frantically for school supply information and when exactly is the first day of school – and these calls would come in the middle of June!!

Thinking back I remember what it was like from the kid’s point of view – we all knew the parents were happy when the end of August rolled around but with us kids, it was sort of a mixed bag. A lot of the girls weren’t too unhappy about school starting; a good share of them had probably been playing "school" on and off all summer long. I think most of the boys were not looking forward to the whole routine of the school year starting. Gone would be the freedom of sleeping late, playing baseball when the mood struck, going fishing with the guys, or just plain lazing around and enjoying life. Not to say that the parents didn’t have chores and special projects for everyone but it was a different feeling from the school year – much more laid back and relaxed and no homework!

Ah, the good old days – remember frantically shopping with your children for those all-important items: pens, pencils (#2), notebooks (wide ruled or college ruled??), writing paper, pencil case, rulers, erasers, 1 red pencil (for correcting), colored pencils, crayons, folders, and the list goes on and on and on. Remember arguing with your children about whether it mattered if you had a blue pencil case or a red pencil case and telling them that even if it didn’t say on the pencil that it was a #2 pencil, the pencil would still write? It was a shopping trip fraught with drama, suspense, and tears and in some cases hysterics but looking back – wasn’t it fun? There was nothing like the excitement of bringing home all of those brand new supplies and laying them out on the table and arranging and rearranging your things in your brand new backpack or school bag. I seem to remember that there was always at least one item on the list of school supplies that couldn’t be found and that produced even more drama before the start of school. I can remember mothers frantically calling each other looking for the place to buy the one "item" no one could find.

Even more fun was the all-important shopping for new school clothes. Remember Robert Hall and Atlantic Mills? We did a lot of shopping in those places, especially Atlantic Mills. Buying new clothes for everyone was not only expensive but also extremely painful in many ways. By the time children are out of 1st grade, they have very definite ideas about what’s cool and what isn’t. So, not only did it cost the parents a lot of money, they were met with arguments about some of the things they wanted to buy. Remember when girls only wore skirts or dresses to school – no pants allowed? Boys were a little easier, they could wear jeans but they needed to wear more than just a t-shirt to school, their shirts had to be appropriate for school. We also only wore hard-soled shoes, no tennis shoes. Before you even left the house for school clothes shopping you had to try on all of your school clothes from the previous year to see what fit and what didn’t and what would fit a younger brother or sister and whether it was still in good enough shape for them to wear. What a zoo! Some clothes were deemed good enough yet for school and some were set aside for play clothes and at this point some were only good enough to called "rags." After Mom knew what we had she could make out her list for underwear, socks, shirts, blouses, dresses or skirts, pants – all the necessities. My brother was always the lucky one – the only boy, he always got new clothes for school – what could we pass down to him to wear? We girls very often would get hand-me-downs from our cousins that really helped with the clothing bills. They were new clothes to us and while it’s true that sometimes some of the clothes were a little big, we were usually so thrilled with what we had we didn’t even notice.

The easy part was the underwear – how creative do you have to get with socks and underwear? I can only sympathize with what Mom had to go through to outfit all three of us at one time. Of course, she couldn’t buy whole wardrobes, just enough to get us started and then later she would fill in as needed. Christmas was a good time for replenishing everyone’s stock. When she finally managed to make sure that everyone had at least one new outfit for the start of the school year, had enough whole socks and underwear to last them through a week of school, she started on the shoes. Shoe shopping was different than clothes shopping. These shoes had to last for a while – hopefully through the winter, but you know those darn feet had a habit of growing about 3 months into the school year and then, when you couldn’t squeeze your big toes into them anymore, you would have to do the shoe shopping all over again. Finally everyone would be satisfied – more or less – and we could go home. Poor Dad, because Mom didn’t drive he would have to sit and wait patiently with whatever kid wasn’t being shopped for at the moment.

Now, that the shopping was done, all we had to do was wait patiently for the start of the new school year. The night before the big day was always fraught with a bad case of nerves on our parts. What if we woke up late, what if our new teachers didn’t like us, what if I look like a dork and my clothes don’t look right, what if I didn’t get the right school supplies, what if I can’t remember anything I learned last year and I get asked a question and I can’t answer it, what if nobody likes me? The first day of school was probably the only day of the year that no one had to be forced out of bed – everyone was too excited in oversleep. In spite of all the self-doubts and questions, we all toddled off to the first day of school and, when the bell rang, we were "all in our places with bright shiny facesAnchor," and we all lived to tell the tale. We really aren’t so different from kids today, in houses all over town, the same kind of dramas are going on, the same questions are being asked and the 1st day of school will come and go and everyone will survive to tell the tale. The clothes may have changed and the school supplies may have changed somewhat but kids are still basically the same as we were. I guess that goes to prove that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Note:  Ads from 1956 Standard-Press

Did You Know . . .

. . . that the cuspidors (aka spitoons) used in the Wisconsin legislature from 1911 to 1955 were made in Burlington? The Burlington Brass Works made 24 of them. They were about 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches high, with a removal pot and a cover. Each weighed about 40 pounds and were taken to Lake Mendota to clean. For the sample sent for approval, George Klein created the pattern, Arthur G. Weiss machined the parts, and Charles Brenton, Sr., shined it up.