I live in Wisconsin. Actually I've lived here twice, from the ages of seven to 18 and from the year 2000 until now. Operating under the assumption that many of you have never heard of Wisconsin and many more of you know very little about it, here are a few known and a few lesser-known facts about my home State:
• Wisconsin either is or used to be the most Germanic State in the Union. So much so that German was the official language of the Milwaukee public schools all the way until 1922. The two World Wars were body-blows to frank and open expressions of German pride (I think I'm using the words of John Gurda, local historian nonpareil), but to this day between a third and half of all Wisconsin residents claim predominantly German ethnic roots. (I'm Scottish and English myself, born in Indianapolis, Indiana.)
• Wisconsin has more professional water-skiing teams than all the rest of the States combined. (This was a new one on me.) Sounds odd, but then, the State is pretty soggy—we have 7,446 streams and rivers and 15,074 lakes, and the State's largest tourist attraction, the Dells (where most of those water-skiing teams hang out), is a natural water park, now mixed in with lots of artificial ones. (I can't swim.)
• Door County—the skinny peninsula that sticks out into Lake Michigan—has more shoreline, and more parks, than any other county in the United States. (Never been there, strangely enough.)
• We're also home to the "Bong Recreation Area" (not kidding), which inspires amazed vistors with certain, ah, enthusiasms to stop and have their pictures taken next to the sign.
• Wisconsin is the nation's largest producer of milk. (By the bye, You might think you're being healthy by drinking milk with reduced fat, but what you might not know is that you're probably not getting away with it. Cheese made from the milkfat that's removed from skim milk and 1% or 2% milk is routinely added to other types of processed foods to increase fat content and improve what's called "mouthfeel." In many cases this is done "invisibly," i.e., in products you wouldn't necessarily suspect contain cheese fat.)
• If you're American, you probably already knew that Wisconsin is "The Dairy State"; but you might not know that we're also a leading producer of high-end pool cues...for reasons nobody seems to be able to explain. We just are. Check out J. Pechaur, Schmelke, Viking, Schon, Jacoby and Jackson for starters. (That's the butt of a $1,300 custom McDermott [no, it's not mine!] at left. Here's a link to a McDermott factory tour video.) (My ambition in life is to have a pool table. And there is still time.)
• We host the World's largest annual music festival, Summerfest. (Went once, saw the BeeGees, never been back. Fests in general are not my thing, personally. Car shows excepted.)
• We're the country's leading producer of ginseng. (Don't ask me.)
• There are roughly as many people in the Chicago metrolitan area as in all of Wisconsin. Also, we have half the land area of Germany, but only 1/13th as many people...in case there are any Germans still thinking of emigrating.
• On the day of the famous Great Chicago Fire there was a worse fire in Wisconsin, in and all around a small lumber-producing town called Peshtigo. Wikipedia quotes the book Firestorm at Peshtigo: "...a wall of flame, a mile high, five miles (8 km) wide, traveling 90 to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), hotter than a crematorium, turning sand into glass." It consumed 1,800 square miles, and obliterated so many people (estimates range from 1,200 to 2,500) that there remained no record of many who died because everyone who knew them also died and all the church and government records that once mentioned them also burned up. News of the Peshtigo fire didn't get out for days because all means of communication were destroyed. There's a museum.
• Very few celebrities come from Wisconsin. Lots of deer do, though. Magician and escape artist Harry Houdini, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur are about it (for the celebrities, not the deer). (The guy who invented the electric guitar was born—and is buried—in the town where I live. We think that counts for something...but then, like I say, very few celebrities come from Wisconsin.)
• There are 11 officially recognized American Indian tribes in Wisconsin, including the Ojibwe (Chippewa), Ho-chunk (Winnebago), Menominee, and Potawatami.
• The name "Wisconsin" is an Ojibwe word—an Anglicanization of their name for what we now know as the Wisconsin River. Western Wisconsin is the ancestral home of the Dakota tribe (which is the same as Lakota and Nakota), for some Americans and many foreigners considered the quintessential American plains Indian tribe under their "other" name, "Sioux"—which is also an Ojibwe word. (It means "little snakes," a derogatory term from when the tribes were enemies.)
• People from Wisconsin are called "Badgers" because of early mineworkers who would live in the mouths of mines or in shallow caves dug into hillsides...like badgers, which live in holes. We're also called "Cheeseheads" because of the State's dairy industry. (My only encounter with a badger was when a Bayside policeman had to come shoot a wounded one that a neighbor's dog had done battle with when I was a boy.)
• You've most likely heard of the local motorcyle company. (Thanks to Steve Jacob for the suggestion to add this. —Ed.)
• Wisconsin has a strong progressive, radical, and liberal heritage, stemming mainly from the large numbers of politically radical (mainly German) refugees that came here in the wake of the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe. The last Socialist mayor of any major American city was Frank P. Zeidler, Mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960. The Republican Party was founded in Wisconsin, in Ripon, in 1854.
• Wisconsin's Green Bay Packers, indisputably the best team in the entire National Football League now, in history, and forevermore*, are the only NFL team that have no individual owner or ownership family. The team is a non-profit owned by the people of the City of Green Bay, and by stockholders (who are, according to strict bylaws that prevent the stock from being traded, basically just donors to the team. I have a stock certificate frame in my front hall. Hey, when in Rome...). Green Bay is the oldest city in the State.
• Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, is "the troll capital of the world." (And here you thought it was the Dpreview forums.) All over the town there are statues of trolls carved from sections of tree trunks, and things named after trolls. (I'd say "beat that," but then, you probably can....)
"Open Mike" is a series of off-topic posts that appear only, but not always, on Sundays. The title of this post, "On Wisconsin," is the name of the fight song of the University of Wisconsin Badgers and also our official State song. The name came from a battle cry used at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in the Civil War by Arthur MacArthur, father of Douglas. "On Wisconsin" was believed by John Philip Sousa to be the best of the college fight songs, and some version of it (with different lyrics of course) is allegedly used by other schools numbering in the thousands.
I'm aware that all this sounds a little like I'm making it all up, but, again, not kidding.
*Certain recalcitrant individuals might possibly dispute this appraisal. Including my friend Cynthia, a devout Bears fan who would sooner stick pins in her eyes than root for the Packers. She lives here, but, because of her football loyalties, we have to consider her a guest. (She is currently in mourning over Brian Erlacher, is anguished that she never got to see him play in a Bears uniform in person, and has resolved to travel to see him play wherever he ends up playing next year.)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Scott: "It's Urlacher."
Mike replies: Maybe, but I'm pretty sure Cynthia would not be quite as annoyed with me if I spelled it that way.
Jock Elliott: "Wisconsin has awesome ice cream, about a zillion percent butterfat. It absolutely will stop your heart, but you get to die happy. (When we lived in Ohio, my mom got her master's degree at Madison. It was worth the trip up there to get a double-scoop cone.)"
Mike replies: As I've mentioned before, our local fast-food chain, based in Prairie du Sac, goes by the motto, "Home of the Butterburger." A distinctly Wisconsin touch.
Marshall Richter (partial comment): "Hopefully I am not disappointing you too much, but I'm willing to bet that 'Bong Recreation Area' is named after Dick Bong, a Wisconsin native and one of the leading American fighter aces of WWII. He flew the P-38 Lightning in the Pacific Theater. I know this because I grew up in Dousman, Waukesha County."
Mike replies: Spoilsport.
Cousin Jack: "Coming from Cornwall, UK, I think Mineral Point is worth a mention. The destination of many migrant miners from my home town—and, I believe, some of my family. I have never visited, but my father did when at a trade show in Chicago some years ago. I am delighted that I might be related to badgers...."
Sid: "Harry Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary and came to Appleton, Wisconsin when he was four years old, but always said that he was born in Wisconsin. In addition to cheese and fishboil in Dorr County, you can buy handmade shoes and boots in Berlin, Wisconsin, which was named after a certain Prussian city. As a Chicagoan long resident in the mid-South, I miss the Midwest, the heart of America."
Mike replies: There goes another of our celebrities...cut it out, we don't have any to spare.
Dan in Pleasant Prairie: "Not many celebrities? How about Les Paul, Liberace, Pee Wee King (wrote 'The Tennesee Waltz'), and Orson Wells? I know there are more but a beer is calling and I have some cheese to put away."
Mike replies: Well, there is Pee-Wee King, yes.
Jeff: "Regarding its progressive heritage, Wisconsin ushered in the first worker's compensation (the current terminology) and unemployment compensation laws in the country. It's also the place I experienced the coldest windchill factor in my history...63 below zero. I moved back east soon after."
Steve: "Evan Clarke, owner of Schon Custom Cues, is also a great large format photographer. Unfortunately he doesn't have any of his work online that I know of, but he regularly shows up at the Midwest Large Format Asylum's outings with prints. He's also always willing to help someone else out."
Mike replies: Good to know! Could someone on the MLFA tell him he was mentioned here?
D B: "Georgia O'Keeffe was Wisconsin born and raised."