Recipes from the Spence-McCord Drug Co.

Hailey Hudzinski

Catalog Number:  2017.020.01


The Spence-McCord Drug Co. was formed after the 1905 merger of the James McCord Drug Co. (founded in 1864) and the T.H. Spence Drug Co. (founded in 1874).

The company first occupied a four-story brick building in downtown La Crosse that was destroyed in a May 4, 1905, fire. The building next door, then home to the Funke Candy Co., was badly damaged.

The Funke Candy built its factory in 1898 on the site of the first building in La Crosse, a log cabin constructed in 1842 by Nathan Myrick. He established a trading post here and is generally recognized as the founder of modern La Crosse. The candy company operated in this building for 35 years until its closure in 1933. In 1937, Spence-McCord moved into the vacated building and operated there until 1963, when it expanded into a warehouse and office building at 1502 Miller St. The downtown building was sold to the owners of Ross Furniture. Since 2014, the building has been home to the Charmant Hotel.

The expansion and success of Spence-McCord was not just limited to La Crosse. Although the company was founded here, it operated offices in Mankato, Minn., Green Bay and Madison.

Spence-McCord also played a significant role in efforts to eliminate polio. In 1958, Spence-McCord published a series of ads in the La Crosse Tribune reminding citizens to receive the vaccine. In 1961, Spence-McCord’s Green Bay office received the first shipment of the Sabin oral polio vaccine in northeastern Wisconsin, which was then shipped to area doctors, hospitals and drug stores. In 1963 and 1964, Spence-McCord aided in polio immunization programs in both La Crosse and Green Bay. In Green Bay, the clinic offered the vaccine free of charge but encouraged a 50-cent donation to cover the cost.

Not only did the company provide essential vaccines, it also created recipes for a variety of items. The La Crosse County Historical Society received a donated Spence-McCord recipe box from Shirley Lesky, who worked in the company’s accounts payable department for more than 20 years. She kept the box as a memento when the business closed in 1973 — and we’re glad she did.

It contains recipes for a variety of balms, lotions and ointments, some more conventional than others. A recipe for bedbug exterminator calls for corrosive sublimate and wood alcohol. Spence-McCord’s grasshopper poison requires bran, molasses, Paris green or crude arsenic, amyl acetate and water. Mosquito dope (my personal favorite) calls for olive oil, sassafras oil, spirit of camphor, citronella oil and eucalyptus oil.

For more original Spence-McCord recipes, visit our website,, but, please, don’t try them at home.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on February 18, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Girl Scout Sweatshirt

Hailey Hudzinski

Catalog Number: 1990.004.08


La Crosse area Girl Scouts will sell cookies door to door — and at local establishments — during the next several weeks.

If you were buying Girl Scout cookies back in 1953, you would have been purchasing a sandwich-type cookie — with the option of four flavored fillings — at a cost of just 40 cents a box.

We recently came across a Camp Ehawee sweatshirt in the collections of the La Crosse Historical Society that made us curious about local Girl Scout history and the development of Camp Ehawee north of Mindoro.

Phoebe Sorenson, who donated this sweatshirt to the historical society in 1990, was in the Girl Scouts for several years. She also served on the Riverland Council board.

The history of the Girl Scouts in the U.S. dates to March 12, 1912, when Juliette Low created the first troop in Savannah, Ga., for her daughter and friends. The first Girl Scout troop in La Crosse was created in 1919, when Mrs. J.E. McConnell began a troop for her own daughter.

The first cookie sale in La Crosse, however, did not take place for a dozen years after the first local troop was created. A local bakery made the cookies for the Girl Scouts in 1931, and they were then packaged and delivered by the Girl Scouts themselves. That first year, La Crosse Girl Scouts sold 4,834 dozen cookies.

All of the money earned by local Girl Scouts through cookie sales stays with the local council and troops. Girl Scouts are then able to choose how to use their earnings. Girl Scouts have the opportunity to go on trips with their troop, experience the outdoors at camp, fund a local project to improve their community and even donate to a cause of their choosing.

In the early 1950s, local Girl Scouts had a specific goal for their funds: to earn enough money to build a local camp. They relied on cookie sales and funds from rummage sales to pay for the project.

The local Scout council bought the land in northern La Crosse County in 1951. That same year, the Girl Scouts conducted a naming competition. Jacqualine Kramer won the contest with the name Camp Ehawee, meaning Camp of the Laughing Maidens.

Although the land already had been purchased, the Girl Scouts still needed to raise enough money to begin development and build facilities. La Crosse Girl Scouts were so dedicated to their goal of having a developed camp that they sold 12,951 boxes of cookies in 1952 — the largest number in local history at the time. The La Crosse Tribune printed an article on May 16, 1952, stating the Girl Scouts were “building their camp with cookies.”

Even though La Crosse Girl Scouts this year won’t be concerned with building a new camp, they are as invested in community improvement now as they were in 1917.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on February 10, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

1920s Football Referee Uniform

Ben Hudrilik

Catalog Number: 1987.062.03

Before the 1920s, football officials dressed much differently than they do today. A New York Times article from 2013 reports that football referees wore a beret, bow tie and white dress shirt. They also used horns, not flags, to signal penalties.

This look could cause on-field confusion, because football players often wore white uniforms, too, and they could not easily distinguish a teammate from an official.

The striped uniform we see today was introduced about 1920 after an Arizona quarterback mistook referee Lloyd Olds for one of his teammates and threw him the football. This mistake drove Olds and friend Greg Moe, who owned a sporting goods store, to design a black-and-white-striped uniform that would stand out.

Football fans hated this new look at first, but it stuck around because of its distinctive style. Many people tried to change the uniform in a variety of ways — such as adding red stripes when color televisions became popular — but none of them could dethrone Olds’ design. This design later was adopted by other sports, including hockey, basketball and soccer.

The uniform for football referees has changed little over the years. According to ESPN, the most recent change came in 2006 when NFL referees selected new uniforms to accommodate a wider variety of weather. This also was when wider white stripes and thinner black stripes were introduced.

This uniform was donated by Leon Miller, who attended, taught and coached at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse for more than 40 years. He was widely praised for his officiating work, and he served as associate director of the university’s Physical Education Department.

Fans will be able to see the almost-century-old referee uniform still on the field at Sunday’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on February 3, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Ann Kenyon’s Red Cross Uniform


Ivy King

Catalog Number: 1991.013.01

The Red Cross uniform pictured here was worn by Ann Kenyon during World War I, while she worked at the La Crosse Red Cross headquarters. Kenyon was a native of Winona, Minn., but she moved to La Crosse after marrying William Kenyon. She was born Dec. 26, 1874, which would have made her 43 when the United States entered the war in 1917.


La Crosse’s Red Cross chapter started in December 1915 after President William Howard Taft visited the city. Taft attended a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting, and there he helped create a strategy to form a local chapter, which officially began in 1916. One of Taft’s friends from college, George Burton, became the chairman of the La Crosse chapter.

After the United States entered the war, the Red Cross became a huge institution, nearly overnight. With the help of the Red Cross, the United States sent a series of commissions to Europe to administer help to the Allied military troops and civilians in need. Through the Red Cross, women knitted winter clothing for soldiers and wrapped a vast number of surgical dressings. The Red Cross also helped civilians on the home front during WWI, including responding to natural disasters and aiding many after the influenza pandemic hit the United States in 1918.

Nearing the end of the war, the La Crosse chapter had more than 12,400 members and 6,757 Junior Red Cross members, and nationally almost one-third of Americans either served as a volunteer or a donor to the Red Cross.

This white cotton uniform, with a red cross patch that reads “La Crosse,” is representative of other uniforms of the period and illustrates La Crosse’s involvement during the war. It would have been worn over either a nurse’s uniform or street clothes while working in the Red Cross office.

Dr. Edward Evans, first chief of staff at St. Francis Hospital, served six months overseas in the Red Cross. He also was the first director of the Young Women’s Christian Association during that same era. The local chapter of the YWCA was founded in 1903 and was housed in the top two floors of the Coren Building, 420 Main St.

Today the building houses a street-level business, The Wedding Tree, and the top floor is a beautifully restored event venue, The Court Above Main. The hardwood floor still shows the markings of the basketball court from the days when it was a YWCA gymnasium. You also can see the door to Evans’ office, which still has his name stenciled on it, incorporated into the front of the small serving bar.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on January 27, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

1912 Victrola


Robert Mullen

Catalog Number: 1972.006.02

People who find their favorite songs on an online service probably don’t know much about music recorded under the brands Victor, Columbia or Edison. Yet, those names were the major players in recorded music 100 years ago.

In 1918, musical offerings didn’t come from wireless devices — they were recorded on hard rubber discs or wax cylinders. And these discs and cylinders were designed to be played on machines that were manufactured by those same companies.

The phonograph’s power came from a spring that was wound up by turning a crank on the side of the cabinet. The music was acoustical, played by a stylus that mechanically reproduced vibrations engraved or pressed into the revolving record, and the sound was amplified through a metal horn.

After the first phonograph was developed by Thomas Edison in 1877, other inventors played with the technology. They changed it, improved it and fiercely competed with Edison for a dominant position in the market, much like the music-streaming industry of the 21st century.

By the early 1900s, phonographs had found their way into many U.S. households. Two record formats — the flat disc made by Victor and the wax cylinder made by Edison’s company — were pitted against each other for some 20 years. Columbia used both disc and cylinder formats.

The companies offered many styles of music, from classical to ragtime to marches. They competed to record popular musicians and entertainers like operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, band leader John Phillip Sousa, or singers Sophie Tucker and Bert Walker. Because of their size, records were limited to two or three minutes in length, and artists were forced to shorten longer pieces of music, and new music being produced was composed to fit to that short time frame. This was the beginning of the standard length of pop tunes that is still used today.

Early 20th century phonographs were housed inside large standing cabinets that cost up to $300, too expensive for most people to purchase.

However, the disc phonograph, shown here, is an early tabletop model that was priced at $25, affordable for many families. It is a 1912 Victrola model VV-VI that was donated to the La Crosse County Historical Society in 1971 from the estate of Edith Wooley. It has an internal metal horn placed behind the two doors in the front. Opening and closing the doors helped to control the volume of the music. This model was a popular phonograph, with more than 700,000 manufactured between 1911 and 1925 by the Victor Talking Machine Co.

One-hundred years ago, someone in La Crosse was enjoying their own musical library with this Victrola. While they didn’t have a digital playlist in their mobile device, they had a choice of many records, with popular songs such as “Over There,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Peg o’ My Heart.” Whether living in the 20th or 21st century, everyone loves to listen to their favorite music. Only songs and technology have changed.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on January 20, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

1910s Bathing Suit

Carole Mullen


Catalog Number: 1987.051.33

This modest woolen swimsuit would have been considered quite modern — even daring — for women of the 1910s. Unlike heavy bathing costumes a decade or so earlier with puffed-sleeve dresses, bloomers and long black stockings, it fit the body and allowed for actual swimming.

In Victorian times, most women took dips in the water rather than swimming or diving. Women visiting the ocean jumped through waves while holding onto a rope attached to a buoy. But a growing trend toward athleticism in the early 20th century made more practical swimwear for women necessary.

Form-fitting swimsuits for women were initially controversial. In 1907, swimmer Annette Kellerman from Australia visited the United States as an “underwater ballerina,” a version of synchronized swimming involving diving into glass tanks. She was arrested on a Boston beach for indecent exposure because her swimsuit showed her arms, legs and neck.

Kellerman adapted her suit with long sleeves, long legs and a collar. It became known as “the Annette Kellerman,” and, despite opposition from some groups, it became quite popular. One-piece swimming tights became accepted swimsuit attire for women, and radually the long sleeves and legs were shortened.

By the 1912 Olympics, women were swimming competitively, wearing swimsuits with short sleeves and legs ending at mid-thigh. Twenty-seven women from eight countries (though none from the United States) participated in two events, the 100-meter freestyle and 4X100 freestyle relay.

In the United States, the term “swim suit” was first coined in 1915 by Jantzen Knitting Mills, a former California sweater manufacturer. Wool was the preferred fabric because it was opaque in water. Although many women still wore long matching stockings with swimsuits, legs were no longer completely hidden. Stocking lengths varied from almost touching the swimsuit to knee-high or shorter — depending on the discretion or daring of the individual. Jantzen also developed a popular unisex swimsuit similar to this one.

This full-length charcoal grey swimsuit by Gantner & Mattern of San Francisco featured buttons at the shoulders, and it ended in boy-leg drawers covered by a tunic. Sets of black, gray and white stripes accentuated the chest and hem.

The swimsuit was donated by the Quincy Hale family of La Crosse. Hale was a prominent La Crosse lawyer and community leader. It’s likely his wife, Helen, once wore this suit, marking the progress of women while gracing a La Crosse beach with the latest in swimwear fashion.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on January 13, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Dr. Edward Evans' WWI Uniform

Sophie Olson and Peggy Derrick

This uniform belonged to Dr. Edward Evans, former chief of staff at St. Francis Hospital and one of the most prominent surgeons in the Midwest during his time.

He wore it exactly 100 years ago, in 1918. Evans, who was originally from Canada, moved to La Crosse in 1888 to work at Marine Hospital, La Crosse’s first hospital, established and operated by the Franciscan Sisters. He quickly rose to prominence in the medical community and became chief of staff at the newly named St. Francis Hospital.

When World War I broke out, Evans served as the U.S. base hospital surgeon in La Crosse during the first years of the war. In 1918, he offered his medical expertise to the Army but was refused by the regular army medical corps because he was older than 55. He then offered his service to the Red Cross and was enlisted to go to Europe.

A La Crosse Tribune article from May 1918, headlined “Fightin’est Family Has Been Discovered in Wisconsin Town,” states: “Dr. Edward Evans is the father of the ‘fightin’est family’ in La Crosse. The surgeon, who has a wide reputation, has three children in the war. Sometime this month he will go to Europe himself to work for the cause of democracy, sacrificing his practice which is netting him a large income, for a position which carries no salary with it.”

It turns out that not only did Evans serve in the war, but so did three of his children. His eldest son, James, served on the Western Front driving ambulances for the Red Cross until he was wounded in action. His daughter, Mary, also went to France as part of a medical unit. Evans’ other son, Arthur, would go on to serve in the Italian Army as an ambulance driver.

According to his obituary, Evans served overseas for six months. He was the captain of a French operating team behind Chateau Thierry during the Allied counter offensive. From the three black bars on the sleeves of his uniform, we can tell he achieved the rank of captain. We also know that Evans acquired this uniform while he was serving in France, as it has an inside label that reads “Macdougal & Co. Rue Auber Paris.” Both the wool jacket and its striped lining are high quality and in excellent condition, leading us to believe that Evans paid for this himself and appreciated its fine tailoring.

Among the many civic roles Evans held in La Crosse was his service as director of the Young Women’s Christian Association. The local chapter of the YWCA was founded in 1903, and was housed in the top two floors of the Coren Building at 420 Main St. In 1905, the organization moved to the Mons Anderson house on Cass Street (today the Le Chateau restaurant), but by 1919 the YWCA had moved back to the Coren Building.

Today the building houses a street-level business, The Wedding Tree, and the top floor is a beautifully restored event venue, The Court Above Main. The hardwood floor still shows the markings of the basketball court from the days when it was a gymnasium. You can also see the door to Evans’ office, which still has his name stenciled on it, incorporated into the front of the small serving bar.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on January 6, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.