The first time I said to my friends “I’m going to Wisconsin”, all of them said “to do what? There’s nothing there. Just farms and cold.” Well, they couldn’t be more wrong.
It is the second time I visit Wisconsin. Last year I didn’t have much time to see and wander around the State. It was also Christmas time, so the cold winter didn’t give me too much of an opportunity to go and explore and it was also for a short period. This second time around, I’ve had more time not just to see new places and enjoy new landscapes, but also to dig in the history of the place.
I’ve learned and seen a lot by staying in the outskirts of Green Bay and while visiting places like Little Sturgeon, Sturgeon Bay and up to north the touristic town of Sister Bay. From learned experiences this is a very diverse place with kind, humble and hardworking citizens. It really feels great to see people waving “good morning” or “good evening” from their cars or houses when you walk by. Also, the whole State has a rich history, created mainly by people that came from different places of the United States and the world.
I always try to learn the history of the place I’m visiting, or at least some of it. Little while ago, I discovered that it was a black surgeon who studied in Janesville, WI, the first one to perform an open-heart surgery in Chicago. Daniel Hale Williams did his training with doctor Henry Palmer in Janesville, and later completed his career in Chicago, the same place where he treated James Cornish from a stab wound in the chest in 1893.
It was also here where Carl Eliason invented the snowmobile in the early 1920’s, he patented his invention in 1927. Eliason later received offers from the government of Finland for the construction of 200 snowmobiles, and also from the US Army for 150. The first deal fell through, but the second was completed. After these huge contracts, Mr. Eliason decided to sell the patent. In 1937, Ford Motor Co. introduced their own “Snowmobile”.
As a writer I was also surprised to discover that it was Christopher Latham Sholes, an inventor born in Pennsylvania, who worked mostly all his adult life in Kenosha, Madison, Green Bay and later died in Milwaukee in 1890, the creator of the typewriter. He worked as a printer for newspapers like the Milwaukee Sentinel and was an editor for the Milwaukee News, yet his real passion was to invent, and he sold his patent for a typewriter in 1873 to Remington Arms Company for 12,000 dollars.
His business partner, James Densmore, a newspaperman, was a little wiser with the handling of his shares and profited heavily from the invention. Sholes on the other hand couldn’t have imagined what a revolution he had started, and how in the future would help women get into the labor arena side by side with men.
I also found out that the first kindergarten was founded in Watertown, by a German-born woman, Margarethe Meyer Schurz, who employed the teachings of Friedrich Froebel, the creator of this educational system. Margarethe came to Wisconsin in the mid 1800’s, and established herself in Watertown by 1857. The story goes that she used her husband’s political travel opportunities to spread the word of her work with the neighbor’s children and her own.
These are just small examples of the vast history of this Mid West state. There are hundreds more. I’ll be sure to write more about them in the future.
Yet these memoirs or stories are not the only things that fascinate me about the land. I’ve been a “city-boy” all my life and had very little interaction with nature, even though I really love it. Here the landscape is mesmerizing and the wildlife running free everywhere you look it’s really something splendorous. I’ve seen hawks, squirrels, deer, turkeys, cranes, seagulls, pelicans, chipmunks, rabbits and one night even a skunk. I was lucky enough to watch a bald eagle flyby holding a fish in her claws, a big one just like Old Abe (a bald eagle that became a symbol for the infantry “Eagle Regiment” of Wisconsin during the Civil War). I’ve also seen vultures eating roadkill and cleaning the streets.
I am also delighted with the food. The hundreds types of cheese, brats, and of course –being a sport fan- the beer. I already found my favorite, but I keep trying new ones. I ponder if eventually I’ll be able to try all of them.
One of my biggest weaknesses is the meat and corn. Here I can’t get enough of it. Nor can I eat enough shrimp or fish. Not saying that any of these eatables can’t be found anywhere else, but adding everything I’ve said before, it seems like a plus for me.
Now, what many seem to argue and consider a deception, is the cold. I’m still to test a full winter in Wisconsin. Almost everybody has said the same thing: “They are very cold and long. It gets tiring. The snow is very uncomfortable.” I won’t say anything yet, because I haven’t fully experienced it, and maybe I won’t even get to stay for an entire one, but we will see. All I can say in defense of the winter and this great place is: nothing can be completely perfect. Even if it feels like it and it looks like it, it is not. I have lived all my life in humid and hot places, the cold to me is refreshing. It is easier to put clothes on when it’s really cold, than having to take them off because of the heat and not being able to. If I have to choose, I will choose cold every time.
Note: The stories mentioned in this article are from the book “The Wisconsin Story” written by the journalist Dennis McCann.