Mina Satory's Evening Gown

Emily Patwell

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Catalog Number: 1981.063.04

Mina Satory (née Meincke) was born in Lake City, Minnesota, on Aug. 2, 1906 to Henry and Margaret Meincke.

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

She attended the Winona Teachers College and the University of Michigan School of Nursing, later teaching at Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. While in Minneapolis, she met and married Dr. Perry T. Walters, with whom she had three sons. Mina was widowed in January 1943, but later married Dr. John J. Satory in 1948 after she moved to La Crosse. With John, she had two more children, a son and a daughter.

Through her contributions to society, Mina proved herself to be a woman to be reckoned with.

A civic leader as well as an educator and a nurse, she was heavily involved with the La Crosse community through organizations such as the Women’s Auxiliaries of the State Medical Society and the La Crosse County Medical Society, the La Crosse County Association for Mental Health, and the La Crosse chapter of the American Association of University Women, among many others.

For her work in the community, she was awarded the outstanding contribution award by the State Association for Mental Health in 1958 and the woman of the month award by the La Crosse Tribune and the Greater La Crosse Chamber of Commerce in February 1971.

As a lifelong Republican, Mina was also heavily involved in politics, rubbing elbows with influential political figures such as Bob Dole and President Richard Nixon. She served as the fourth vice president of the Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women and was the co-recipient of the Everett Yerly Memorial Award in 1978 for her “devotion and dedication” to her party.

Along with her passions for civics, politics and community service, Mina had a refined taste in fashion.

She owned many beautiful and luxurious dresses, including this seafoam green, sleeveless, plissé silk evening gown with white flowers around the neckline and hem.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on June 1, 2019.

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

Eloda Beach's Monkey Fur Jacket

Susan Hessel

Catalog Number: 1975.007.02

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

If you look into Eloda Beach’s background, her monkey fur jacket isn’t surprising.

It may not be politically correct today, but no one gave furs a second thought in the 1920s – except those who were jealous they did not have a fur.

Beach was beloved in La Crosse as a theater star, a celebrity. She lived on the quirky side of life, but had a kind and generous heart.

Beach worked as a bicycle messenger for Western Union before becoming an actress. She came to La Crosse to perform in a play during World War I, while her husband, Guy, served in the Army in Europe.

After the war, she and her husband decided to make La Crosse their home base for what became the Beach Stock Company. Eloda said the city was the nicest place she had ever lived.

The Beaches actually kept monkeys in the garage of their home at 205 Losey Boulevard North. They were used in the Beach Stock Company shows at the Majestic Theater on Main Street.

This silk satin evening jacket, trimmed with sleek black monkey fur, was made in New York, and donated to the La Crosse County Historical Society in 1975 by Eloda’s daughter.

After her marriage ended in divorce, Eloda sold the North Losey Boulevard house, and moved to Minnesota with her adopted daughter, Eloda Mae.

While performing in theater, she met Minnesota state Sen. William Roepke, who she married in 1935, moving with him to Rochester, Minnesota, in 1942. After he died in 1945, she married for a third time, to fellow actor, Addison Aulger, but they soon divorced.

After that, she worked in a variety of jobs, including at the Rochester State Hospital, an asylum for patients with mental illness. During her nine years there, she created and ran a recreation program. She later said those years were among the most pleasant in her career.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on May 25, 2019.

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

Nannie Colwell's Dress

Amy Vach

Catalog Number: 1965.003.11

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Treasured articles of clothing are sometimes saved and repurposed so that they can be worn again.

Wedding dresses can be made into christening gowns, T-shirts and baby clothes can be made into patchwork quilts.

Special articles of clothing have meaning, and sometimes we want to keep those memories alive. This black and blue velvet dress worn by Nannie Colwell Dorset and later her daughter Nannie Colwell is an example.

In April 1861, La Crosse Mayor Wilson Colwell left his position to lead the La Crosse Light Guards into service for the Civil War. Wilson’s young family, his wife, Nannie, and his daughter, also named Nannie, followed as Company B went to Madison and then Washington, D.C.

During their time at the Capitol, Capt. Colwell and his wife were invited to a presidential reception at the White House where the couple met President Lincoln and his wife, Mary. Nannie wore a fashionable blue and black silk velvet gown. According to the family, the dress was made in Pittsburgh, and the floral velvet cutwork fabric came from France.

Later in life, Mrs. Colwell would recall the president as “tall, gaunt, loveable and big-hearted and kindly to all in his conversation as he moved about the crowd.”

After a bout of illness, Nannie and her young daughter returned to La Crosse to be with family and friends. While in La Crosse, she learned that her husband was killed at the Battle of South Mountain in September 1862. Capt. Colwell was never returned to La Crosse, but his sword was sent to his young widow.

Five years later, Nannie married Rev. Charles Dorset and they had three children, Marian, Helen and Bernard. The family moved around over the years but eventually returned to La Crosse.

In the 1890s, Nannie Colwell Dorset still had the dress that she wore to the White House 30 years earlier. It was during this time that she repurposed the skirt from her dress and had it remade into a more fashionable dress for the time, with leg-of-mutton sleeves and a bustle.

After her mother’s death, the younger Nannie and her half-sisters wore their mother’s refashioned dress at various La Crosse functions of the Daughters of the American Revolution and other organizations.

A 1948 La Crosse Tribune feature about the Colwell Dorset family described this dress as a prized possession of Nannie and her half-sisters.

Upon the death of Helen Dorset in 1965, this dress and Wilson’s Civil War sword and other items from the Colwell-Dorset family were bequeathed to the La Crosse County Historical Society.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on May 18, 2019.

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

Stropone Inc. Razor Sharpener

Rebekah Schoos

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Catalog Number: 2017.074.01

Pictured here is a circa 1937 Stropone razor sharpener.

The company’s name, Stropone Inc., is a play on the word strop, or stropper, which was a strip of leather used for sharpening straight razors. Strops were extremely popular before the invention of disposable and safety razors, when straight razors were the main shaving tool.

In 1900, King C. Gillette invented the first safety razor. It was very different from the previously popular straight razors, which consisted of one long blade hinged to a handle.

The safety razor was more like the disposable razors of today, the only difference being that only the blades would be replaced, not the entire razor.

Because of this new invention, many believed that sharpening methods were no longer necessary. However, many companies invented hand-held stroppers that could be used to sharpen the safety razor’s blades to make them last longer.

The Stropone Inc. stroppers were occasionally advertised in the La Crosse Tribune. Their rival company, Twinplex, had both mechanical stroppers and safer hand stroppers that were specifically made to be used with the more popular Gillette razor blades.

In a 1920s paper advertisement for Christmas shopping, three different stropper companies advertised because of their uses with different blades: Twinplex strops specifically for Gillette blades, Warner Jones for safety razors’ blades, and Zig Zag for all types of razors, including Gillette and safety blades.

The stroppers from Stropone Inc. were invented by Herbert C. Wilkinson to use with all disposable safety blades, not just Gillette. Wilkinson describes the invention in the patent: “The present invention relates to blade-sharpening devices and the primary object of the invention is to provide an improved honer and stropper for use in sharpening safety razor blades of various types.”

Instructions for use of the Stropone Inc. stropper are located on the back of the box.

Some of the instructions are unreadable because of the condition of the box, but the main idea of the Stropone stropper was to place the blade inside the holder and use the side handles to move the blade up and down the stropper to sharpen the blade.

This stropper was about $2 when bought in 1937 and therefore a more accessible and affordable stropping device compared to others.

One of the most intriguing things about this sharpener is that the engraving on the tool’s handle says STROPONE, La Crosse, Wis., and the front of the box also identifies this as having come from La Crosse, making it yet another example of the myriad items once manufactured here.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on May 11, 2019.

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

The Key and the Fire Truck

Peggy Derrick

Catalog Numbers: 2017.fic.361 & 1962.002.01

This key and this fire truck are both in the artifact collection of La Crosse County Historical Society.

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

While small, the key is certainly not the smallest item in the collection, but the fire truck is one of the biggest. Probably Historic Hixon House itself is the only thing that could be considered bigger.

A relatively large key, 5.5 inches long, it folds in half for convenience — not a feature we often see on keys these days. But handy for keeping it safely in a pocket.

It’s been in the collection for a very long time: so long, the documentation about who donated it has been lost.

But we know it was a key to the old La Crosse Courthouse because it still has its original tag, with very old writing in script that has turned sepia with age, reading “key to court house square, please return to Central Police Station.”

We presume this refers to the La Crosse County Courthouse, which opened in 1904 and was torn down in 1965.

The fire truck is a chain-driven 1922 American La France pumper ladder truck, used by the La Crosse Fire Department.

This truck was actually maintained and used as a back-up until 1962, when the Southside Businessmen’s Club bought it for $250 and donated it to the Historical Society.

A few years ago, it was on display in our exhibit “All Fired Up: The History of Firefighting in La Crosse.”

At that time a retired firefighter told me he remembered riding in the open back of this truck and bouncing down city streets “like the keystone cops.” He was the last of a generation of firefighters who rode on the outside of their vehicles. I’m sure it’s safer this way, but possibly not as much fun.

In terms of size, the key and the fire truck represent two extremes of the roughly 10,000 local historic artifacts that LCHS preserves and shares with the people of this region.

Proper storage and cataloging are priorities, and we share our treasures as best we can: at our house museum, Historic Hixon House; at our small local history museum in Riverside Park, Riverside Museum; in our online database; and every Saturday through this newspaper column.

Despite our name, LCHS is not a part of any branch of government: we are a private non-profit corporation and have been 1898.

We are very grateful for the $18,100 grant we receive every year from the La Crosse County commissioners, but as you can imagine, it doesn’t begin to cover our costs.

From year to year we are dependent on our members and donors to fill in the gaps left by grants and museum admissions, and “do more with less.” Our computers are second hand, our staff of 2.5 receive no benefits, and there are no stipends for devoted volunteers who give guided tours or make Silent City possible year after year.

So why am I telling you all this in a Things That Matter column?

Because people keep asking me what we are raising money for. It is to keep our doors open, and to keep people caring for our artifacts. La Crosse County Historical Society is a public trust: we collect, preserve and share these artifacts on behalf of you, the people of La Crosse County.

We pay for core mission support through memberships, appeals and events. I cannot overemphasize the importance of membership. Members receive free admission to Hixon House and they stay abreast of LCHS events through an excellent quarterly newsletter that also publishes well-researched articles on local history. We are a member-governed organization, with the membership electing our board of directors.

LCHS members are engaged with our goal of creating a new local history and cultural center for the region, where we will have the opportunity to display many more of our historic treasures and share stories with more people. We are eager to be able to display more cool things, such as fire trucks and memorabilia from the old Courthouse.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on May 4, 2019.

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

Ray Bluske's Accordion

Ken Brekke

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Catalog Number: 2010.009.01

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

The accordion sits quietly now, but it doesn’t take much of an imagination to hear the lively tunes that spilled out of it when it was being played by the late Ray Bluske.

It’s a fancy instrument, featuring mother-of-pearl, gold-colored plastic and a scrolled design on the grill that displays an eagle and two American flags decorated with red and white rhinestones.

Red and green floral sprigs are engraved on the plastic, and there are ornamental inlays around most of the edges. The musician’s name, "R. Bluske," is prominently displayed in blue rhinestones on the front of the accordion, which was donated by Bluske’s family to the La Crosse County Historical Society.

Bluske, who was born on April 20, 1914, grew up on his family’s farm near Chaseburg.

His father died when Ray was 12, which meant he had to drop out of school and work on the farm.

Ray displayed musical talent at a young age, and he and his brother, Willard, plus some of their youthful friends, formed a band and played at barn dances and weddings in the Chaseburg area.

Despite being busy with farm work, Ray always found time for music, and that talent really blossomed after he and his wife, Lil, were married in 1935 and moved to La Crosse.

Bluske, who began working in Wittenberg’s Cigar Store on La Crosse’s North Side, formed "Ray’s Royals" in the 1930s. The band was sponsored by the Old Style Lager label of G. Heileman Brewing Co., and played for festivals, weddings, Saturday night dances and parades in La Crosse, the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and many other cities.

Besides his own band, Bluske was also a member of Tom Tronic’s band in La Crosse, which is where Lil and Ray had two children — Monte and Lana.

The family next moved to Gilmanton, where Ray accepted a job as a creamery accountant. In the late 1940s, the Bluskes relocated to Blair, where the family operated Bluske’s Grocery Store. The couple’s youngest daughter, Marcia, was born in 1948. Ray retired in 1976, which is when he and Lil moved to Eau Claire.

Their daughter, Lana, has many fond memories of her father’s accordion, which was made by the Traficante company of Minneapolis. That accordion, and her father’s nimble fingers, were at the heart of many "family jam sessions," she recalls.

Ray continued to play his accordion for the family and at church gatherings until he was in his early 80s. He died in Chippewa Falls on July 10, 1997, at age 83. Lil died in November 2000.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on April 27, 2019.

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

La Crosse's Fastest Button Cutter

Amy Vach

Catalog Number: 2014.008.02-18

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

These button cutting tools were used by La Crosse’s fastest button cutter, Peter Brunner, at the Wisconsin Pearl Button Company.

At the turn of the 20th century hundreds of people along the Upper Mississippi River made their living from the pearl button industry.  The process of pulling a mussel from the Mississippi River and turning it into a useable everyday item required a variety of workers and skills.

It started with the clammers, the people that caught and collected boatloads of mussels in the river. Once the mussels were brought to shore, they were boiled to open the shells. Clammers hoped that the shells would reveal precious pearls inside, but that seldom happened.  After checking for pearls, the meat was removed and sold to farmers for hog feed and to fishermen for bait. Finally, the clammers sold the shells to local button companies like the Wisconsin Pearl Button Company.

At the factory, the shells were sorted and soaked in vats of water to make them pliable for cutting. Next, it was button cutter’s turn to work with the shells.  At its height, the Wisconsin Pearl Button Company employed 75 button cutters.

Peter Brunner used these tools, various hole saws, and clamps, to get as many button blanks per shell as possible. He excelled at his work and was known for having hands that worked well in the wet conditions for very long lengths of time. In a 1906 La Crosse Tribune article, Brunner was announced as the fastest button cutter in the Mississippi valley.

After the button blanks were cut, they were sorted by size. Thicker buttons could be carved with elaborate designs, while thinner buttons remained plain. Several machines were used to smooth the rugged edges and scrape off the rough exterior of the shell. Either two or four button holes were cut into the center of each blank. Then the buttons were placed in an acid bath to bring out their luster and tumbled in pumice and sawdust. Finally, some of the buttons were dyed. Once the buttons were finished, women sewed the buttons onto cards for retail distribution.

In 1933 the Wisconsin Pearl Button Company closed its doors due to the depletion of mussels in the Mississippi River and the competition from cheaper plastic buttons.

Peter Brunner’s tools were saved by his family and were donated to La Crosse County Historical Society in 2014 by Brunner’s first cousin once removed, Robert Halseth.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on April 20, 2019.

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

Bellpull from Steamer Kit Carson

Robert Mullen

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Catalog Number: 1923.011.01

This steamboat bellpull is a fantastic example of folk art from the upper Mississippi River.

Its maker is unknown, but its history, form and function are unmistakably products of the steamboat era in La Crosse.

Ropes and rigging have been essential elements of navigation for thousands of years.

A sailor’s knowledge of various styles of knots often led him to create decorative and useful items with rope during his down time on long voyages. Knotting, rope braiding and macramé became a part of sailing lore that still endures.

This seaman’s heritage carried over to river navigation, even into the steamboat age, though Mississippi River boats never required as much rigging as sailing boats. The person who made this bellpull was showing off his creativity and his knowledge of knots to fellow shipmates.

About 50 inches long, this pull features a tightly braided rope nearly an inch in diameter in the form of a ring.

The thick rope continues to the center of the pull where it separates into three thin strands of braids for 10 inches before coming back together, and then finishes with several more styles of braiding. Spread along the way are 13 decorative knots known as Turk’s heads, each one painted gold. The rest of the bellpull is painted in red, yellow and green, and then coated with a thick sealant.

It is a real masterpiece of rope braiding and knotting.

This bellpull was used on board the steamboat Kit Carson, a lumber rafting towboat that worked out of La Crosse for much of its life between 1880 and 1916.

At the turn of the century, it was operated by the local McDonald Brothers shipyards and piloted by Capt. Harmon Bresee of La Crosse. This pull was probably tied to a rope that connected to the clapper of the large bell which sat several feet in front of the pilothouse. Pulling on the ring, Bresee could send signals to the deck crew that could be heard clearly over the clamor of work.

How do we know that this was the bellpull that Captain Bresee used? It must have been special to him, and possibly it was even made by him, because he removed it from the Kit Carson and kept it as a souvenir.

Eleven years after he died, this elaborate bellpull was donated to the La Crosse County Historical Society in 1923 by his widow, Esther Bresee.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on April 13, 2019.

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

Hebberd Drug Store Medicine Bottle

Ivy King

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Catalog Number: 1990.078.01

This small glass medicine bottle with a screw on cap reads, “Essence of Peppermint Hebberd Drugs 4th and Main, La Crosse Wis, Prescriptions since 1852.”

The exact date of the bottle of the essence of peppermint is unknown, but peppermint has been used as a medicinal remedy for centuries. Today, peppermint is mainly used to flavor baked goods and candy. But, peppermint has also been used to allay nausea, relieve stomach pains, and even to cover the taste of other medicines. It was also used to relieve headaches, toothaches, and arthritis.

Essence of peppermint differs slightly from peppermint extract or oil. Peppermint extract is created by distilling dried leaves and flower parts of the plant in water whereas, essence of peppermint was prepared by mixing peppermint oil with alcohol. Essence of peppermint holds all of the medicinal properties of other forms of peppermint, but it was marketed to heal colic, stomach pains, low spirits, and loss of appetite for both adults and infants. Essence of peppermint was sold across the United States for its medicinal properties, so it is not surprising the local drug store carried it as well.

Hebberd Drug Store began in 1852 when La Crosse was still a relatively small town of a few hundred people. The business was owned by George Hoare (later changing his name to Howard) and S.D. Hastings. The drug store’s first location was near where the Charmant Hotel is today. However, the business moved multiple times over the years.

Howard was the predecessor of the Hebberd business. He was born in Gloucestershire, England in 1832, and he emigrated to the United States at 18 with his family due to an economic depression in England. He opened the La Crosse business after settling in the area. After Howard’s death, the business was sold to the Hebberd family in 1894.

In the years under the Hebberd Family, specifically Edward Smith Hebberd, the Drug Store changed considerably. A soda fountain was added, and they began making ice cream. Eventually, in the 1920s a lunch counter was added to the store.

Edward’s son, Arthur became a partner of the Hebberd Drug Store after graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Pharmacy. During WWII Arthur’s interest turned to the production of cosmetics. During the summer of 1957 Hebberd closed the historic La Crosse business to focus his time on the Dumont Company, which produced hand creams such as “No Crack,” and other cosmetic products.

At the time of closure, Hebberd Drug Store was the oldest business in La Crosse still in operation. The Dumont Company still exists and still makes “No Crack” hand cream, which has a devoted following.

The bottle was donated to La Crosse County Historical Society in 1990 by Arthur’s wife, Mary Hebberd.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on April 6, 2019.

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

Listman Mill’s Marvel Flour Bag

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Robert Mullen

Catalog Number: 2011.009.01

While most Americans today purchase their bread at the grocery store, that wasn’t the case at the turn of the twentieth century. A person could purchase a loaf of bread at the local bakery, but a less expensive alternative for most households was baking bread in their own kitchen. The homemaker of 1900, whether living in a rural area or in town, had various duties and expectations, and among them was the baking of bread for the family.

This week’s artifact is a paper bag from about 1912, that once held twenty-four and one half pounds of flour made at the Listman mill in La Crosse. The brand name “Marvel Flour” was Listman’s trademarked brand. It was marketed and sold nationally, with agents in several eastern cities. Locally, a bag of flour like this one could be purchased by a family at one of many small grocery stores in the city.

Marvel flour used advertising to great effect. Its advertisements called the flour “the great bread maker.” Made of Minnesota hard spring wheat, the Listman Mill ads claimed that their flour was “wonderfully light and white” and could make more loaves per barrel of flour than any other brand. In addition, every retail bag contained coupons inside. Some local agents even set up contests offering prizes for the best loaf of bread made with Marvel flour.

The Listman mill was located on the riverfront between King and Jay Streets. Begun in 1879 by William Listman and his partners, the new mill could produce up to 550 barrels of wheat flour each day. After it burned in 1889, the mill was rebuilt and then produced 1500 barrels a day, and in a few years increased that production again. After 1893, the mill continued under different management until 1918, when the non-local owners shut it down during a strike. The building continued to be used for wheat storage and shipment until it burned in 1935. It stood for another 40 years until it was razed in 1995.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on March 30, 2019.

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

Dr. John Callahan's Medical Bag

Kyle Willoughby

Catalog Number: 1990.081.01

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

For this week’s “Things That Matter,” we are traveling back in history with a doctor’s bag that belonged to Dr. John Callahan, a local physician who began his medical practice in La Crosse in 1891 and retired 52 years later.

Dr. John Callahan was born in Appleton in 1859 and received his medical degree from Rush Medical College in Chicago.

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

After graduating, Dr. Callahan came to La Crosse to begin his medical practice. A few years later he set up office within his residence at 933 Rose St. This house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

From his home office, Dr. Callahan held appointments and made home visits for about eight years before he sold the home to Dr. George and Eva Lueck for $5,000.

In the years leading up to his retirement in 1943, Dr. Callahan and Dr. Lueck were both physicians and likely partners holding offices at 422 Main St. and at the Rose Street address. It was during this time, that Dr. Callahan served as the city physician for La Crosse for several years.

Dr. Callahan’s medical bag is a hard-shell case lined with black leather. It would have accompanied him on his house visits. Included in the case are a series of sterilized bandages, doctors’ gloves and medical supplies. However, most of the case is occupied by more than two dozen glass vials for liquid and tablet medicines.

Some of the medicine bottles still have the paper label with Dr. Callahan’s name and the original contents.

These handwritten labels are difficult to read, but you can make out some. There are “Sal Hepatica,” and “Phenolax,” both early commercial laxatives, and one vial is simply labeled “tonsillitis.” We can only wonder what those pills contained.

Callahan, like many other physicians during his time, made house calls when a patient was too sick or injured to travel. Carrying this bag to patients’ homes would have assisted him in providing a quick cure for the sick, or a brief remedy for more ailments in which more serious practice was required.

This method was considered less expensive as patients did not require expensive health insurance or funds to travel to a physician in another town or city. People, including the doctors, also felt that personal attention in the home was less stressful and more effective.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on March 23, 2019.

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

The Purple Leona

Amy Vach

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Catalog Number: 2018.015.02

A previous installation of Things That Matter has featured the Leona — an undergarment invented and produced in La Crosse by Leona Foerster Linker.

This week’s Things That Matter is a Leona that was repurposed with a splash of color.

In 1905, Linker named her combination creation after herself.

The Leona is a 3-in-1 early 20th century women’s undergarment that combined three necessary women’s undergarments, the chemise (worn under the corset), bloomers and drawers into one convenient article of clothing.

A lady would put her corset on over the Leona, and then a corset cover, or camisole, and petticoats would be added.

Leonas came in various sizes and degrees of fanciness. Some were very simple, while others were trimmed with fancy laces and made of fine fabrics.

Although the garments varied in design, they were all white. The price of the undergarment ranged from $1 to $12, depending upon the material and degree of decoration: most Leonas cost about $2.

The Leona soon became obsolete as women’s undergarments and outfits drastically changed in the 1920s, and a minimum of three layers was no longer necessary.

About 50 years ago, the Leona pictured here found a second life on the beaches of Hawaii in the 1970s.

The Satory family purchased a box of brand-new Leonas at the Linker estate sale.

The Leonas purchased at the estate were along the lines of the company’s basic product and were trimmed around the neck and sleeves with a narrow band of lace. Christine Satory took the Leonas to Hawaii and tie-dyed them various colors. After they were dyed, she sold them as swimsuit cover-ups.

According to a sales catalog from the Leona Garment Co., the Leona is “wonderfully convenient — on and off in an instant.” This quality of the Leona made it an ideal swimsuit cover, for a generation that was unfamiliar with the article’s original purpose.

John Satory, brother of Christine, donated this purple Leona and a brand-new white Leona to La Crosse County Historical Society in 2018.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on March 16, 2019.

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

The Hanscomes' Bed Warmer

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Amy Vach

Catalog Number: 1956.005.10

Throughout these cold Wisconsin winters, I know that at the end of the day I can go home to a pleasant, warm house.

However, during the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not as easy to heat one’s home.

Homes were damp and the beds were cold.

This is where the bed warmer comes into action. This brass bed warmer once belonged to one of the city’s founding families, the Hanscomes. The Hanscome family came to La Crosse in 1853 from Maine.

This bed-warming pan functions along the same lines as my electric blanket.

Warmed stones, coals or smoldering ashes from a fire would have once filled this pan. The hinged lid is punctured by a decorative pattern of holes that allow oxygen to feed the coals and keep them hot.

Once the bed warmer was filled, it was inserted between the bed sheets and moved about to warm and dry the bed for a cozy sleep.

The person using the bed warmer needed to be cautious and aware of the surroundings so that the bed would not catch fire.

Bed warmers have existed for centuries, with some of the earliest examples dating back to Queen Elizabeth I. Early warmers were made of silver, copper or brass and looked similar to this warmer from the Hanscome family.

According to Annie Hanscome, the bed warmer was used by her maternal grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Abraham Wendell Anderson in Gray, Maine, circa 1830.

The family was relatively well-to-do, and when Annie’s parents, Charles and Anna, came to La Crosse in 1853, they brought their prized family possessions with them. This warmer may have been used to help warm the beds in their family home in La Crosse.

Annie Hanscome was the last surviving member of her immediate family, and she made the home into a memorial to her family: It held many objects and furnishings accumulated and treasured by her family over the years.

In 1949, the La Crosse Tribune described her home as an historical family museum with objects dating to the Revolutionary War. Some of the objects were her parents’ wedding china, furniture and jewelry. Before her death in 1956, Annie Hanscome donated her treasured family mementos to the La Crosse County Historical Society.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on March 14, 2019.

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

Homemade Ice Fishing Rod

Ivy King

Catalog Number: 2010.021.01

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

During these cold winter months if you are driving near or along the Mississippi river you see multiple shanties and people fishing on the frozen river. Ice fishing in La Crosse has been ongoing since before the European settlers came to the area. This week’s artifact, a homemade fishing rod, likely caught quite a few fish in the Coulee Region.

Ice fishing has a long history in this area. Indigenous people throughout the Midwest and across North America originally ice fished by placing a wooden decoy into their ice hole and then spearing fish through the hole. They used chisels to chip through the ice.  Later, Europeans utilized iron ice chisels in a variety of shapes and sizes as their technique of creating the ice hole until the mid-twentieth century.

Today ice fishing is a social activity, and modernity has only helped improve the technology of ice fishing. People have the option to use sonar units to help discover the location of fish, and they can use fast, powered augers to quicken the pace. Even with these advancements, ice fishers still utilize fishing rods.

This homemade pole has been assembled with found materials. It is 22 inches long and has a wooden spindle for a handle, probably a piece of an old chair or tool. The tip of a fiberglass fishing rod, about a foot long, has been imbedded to the end of the handle. The creator of this fishing pole then used electrical tape to fasten a metal cleat onto the handle to hold the extra line. The cleat is stamped with “T&S MFG CO LAX WIS.” The “T&S” likely stands for John Torrance and Son Foundry, a local business begun in 1876 and is still in operation today.

Unfortunately, the pole was dropped off anonymously at the historical society, and we do not know the maker of this cobbled together ice fishing rod. But his or her ingenuity is certainly admirable. The pole represents a beloved winter sport that has stood the test of time.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on March 2, 2019.

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

Bill Lieder’s Ski Patrol First Aid Kit

Kyle Willoughby

Catalog Number: 2013.018.03

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Everyone in La Crosse can look out the window and see an endless blanket of white on the ground.

The Midwest has been hit with a multitude of snowstorms, leaving more than a foot of snow to decorate the landscape.

For those who despise the cold and anything to do with winter, this probably doesn’t sound appealing, but for those who enjoy winter activities such as cross-country/downhill skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling, a layer of fresh powder is like a dream come true.

This is especially true for the people who enjoy their pastime at Mount La Crosse, the local downhill ski slope.

Mount La Crosse offers wonderful blufftop views of snowy La Crosse, while also boasting a total of 18 ski runs. Mount La Crosse has been in operation since 1959 — its 60th year.

The focus of Things That Matter this week is a first aid kit that belonged to William Lieder while he lived in the area and volunteered as a ski-patrol officer at Mount La Crosse.

Bill patrolled the ski slopes for 25 years. His duties primarily included injury prevention by helping beginners on the slopes but also emergency assistance when necessary. It is the ski-patrol’s job to ensure that if there is an accident on the slopes, the injured skier makes it safely to the bottom of the hill for emergency care. This includes the instances in which they may need to be taken down the slope on a sled.

Pictured is a blue canvas first aid kit and its National Ski Patrol patch. The first-aid kit includes various lengths of rolled bandages. The kit would have been attached at the hip to a leather belt through the eyelets on either side. With both the first aid kit and the patches on his jacket, Bill would’ve remained visible to other skiers and be present to help.

While off duty, both Bill and his wife Verlyn Lieder were active members on the slopes of Mount La Crosse. Verlyn was more of a leisure skier but was also a member of the La Crosse Ski team and skied for sport. The La Crosse County Historical Society collections include a pair of personalized skis belonging to Verlyn.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on February 23, 2019.

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

Here's the scoop on a WPA shovel

Ken Brekke

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Catalog Number: 2004.064.01

The shovel is worn and showing some age, but even though it probably is more than 80 years old it still looks sturdy and capable of performing its earth-turning duties.

The letters “WPAC” are stamped onto the face of the shovel, and the letters “WPA” are on the back.

Those letters hint at the historic nature of an implement that must have been used by workers employed by the Works Progress Administration, an enormous federal agency charged with putting millions of employees to work building airports, dams, highways, parks, bridges, courthouses, hospitals and schools all over the country.

Long-handled shovels, like the one donated to the La Crosse County Historical Society by Nick Schroeder, were integral components of labor-intensive projects designed to provide work for unemployed people affected by the Great Depression.

The WPA was created in 1935, was renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939, and was dissolved in 1943. It was disbanded when the U.S. began experiencing a shortage of workers as its young men left to fight in World War II.

A notable WPA project in La Crosse was the park shelter atop Grandad Bluff, which was built in 1938 using stone removed from the southern face of the bluff. The shelter was created so that people could more comfortably enjoy the view of La Crosse and the Mississippi River Valley. Other improvements, such as bathrooms, fencing and a flagpole, have been added over the years.

Other notable WPA projects near La Crosse include:

  • Mill Bluff State Park, which protects several sandstone bluffs near Camp Douglas.

  • The post office in Prairie du Chien.

  • Carson Park in Eau Claire, home to a variety of outdoor activities, as well as ball diamonds and football fields.

The agency provided jobs, and paychecks, at a time when millions of people were unemployed. More than 8.5 million workers were employed by the WPA during its eight years of existence, and most of the projects those workers completed are still in service today.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on February 16, 2019.

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

Murphy Candy Company Chocolate Box

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Carole Mullen

Catalog Number: 1980.045.01

This box from the Murphy Candy Co. was once filled with handmade chocolates that would have been a lovely gift for someone’s Valentine.

Murphy’s Old Fashioned Chocolate assortment, a mixture of chocolate and vanilla creams dipped in bittersweet chocolate, was a popular offering of this La Crosse candy manufacturer, known for its quality confections in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Murphy Candy was heir to a candy manufacturing tradition in La Crosse led by three large companies: Funke, Montague and Kratchwil.

All three had closed by the early 1930s due to decreased demand and the Great Depression. This left many skilled candy makers unemployed. A few chose to go into business for themselves, including Arthur Scherdin, a former employee of Funke, and his brother Henry.

The Scherdins’ business was purchased by Joseph W. and Donald F. Murphy in November 1939, forming the Murphy Candy Company. The Murphy brothers retained Arthur Scherdin as chief candy maker, and Henry as his assistant. Working beside them was one of the owner’s wives, Mrs. Donald Murphy, who was the Scherdins’ sister.

Operating part-time, Murphy Candy began by focusing on its most profitable months of the year, November and December. The firm moved from 712 Cass St. to 114 ½ N. Front St. in La Crosse.

Eight employees were kept busy manufacturing candy bars such as Haystacks and Nut Goodies, chocolate assortments and peanut brittle.

The peanut brittle was made in a large copper candy kettle with butter, cane sugar and fresh roasted peanuts as the principal ingredients.

All of Murphy’s candy fillings for chocolates were hand-rolled, then hand-dipped in milk or dark chocolate.

Some of their popular boxed assortments included Blue Ribbon and Swiss Milk, as well as the Old Fashioned assortment that filled this box.

Donald Murphy bought out his brother Joseph in 1954, becoming sole owner of the firm.

The candy bars were dropped, but the company was doing well, shipping chocolates and peanut brittle to five states.

“We find that it pays to produce good candy,” Murphy said in a 1940 La Crosse Tribune interview, “because we find our orders are increasing rapidly all the time. We wish that anybody who would try some to prove to himself that quality ingredients make better candy.”

By 1962, Murphy Candy Co. went into full-time production of its chocolates, though peanut brittle remained a seasonal item. The firm still employed most of the same candy makers it had 22 years earlier.

Murphy Candy continued to produce chocolates and peanut brittle through the 1960s, but by 1970 had disappeared from city directories.

This red polka-dotted candy box was donated by Robert Funke to the La Crosse County Historical Society in 1980. We can only imagine how delicious the chocolates that once filled it must have tasted.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on February 9, 2019.

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

Marianne Bussell's Tea Cozy

Amy Vach

Catalog Number: 1974.007.04

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Nowadays we use our cozies, or “coozies,” to keep things cold, not warm, and they are usually found insulating a can of beer or pop. But it was not always so.

A tea cozy is a thickly padded cover placed over a teapot to keep the contents warm.

During the late 1800s, fashionable homemakers of the Victorian era who had leisure time were obsessed with covering and decorating almost every surface in their homes. Often beadwork was incorporated onto various domestic items such as fire screens, cushions, and tea cozies. This week’s artifact is an example of this trend in La Crosse, an intricately beaded tea cozy.

Marianne Bussell made this tea cozy circa the 1860s in La Crosse; she and her husband Winthrop lived in La Crosse County for over 30 years. Winthrop worked on and off for the lumber business, and later in life dealt with fancy horses. The Bussells had one child who died in infancy.

This tea cozy was likely made from a pattern featured in a women’s magazine. It is decorated with thousands of glass and steel beads arranged to create a grapevine and floral motif. The interior is lined with a thick tweed fabric, and there is wool stuffed in between for insulation.

Women’s magazines and books provided the homemaker with guidance for proper etiquette for all social aspects of life. In one book, Manners and Tone of Society, or Solecisms to be Avoided (1897), tea cozies were described as being a “thing that should never be seen in a lady’s drawing-room.” The book further states that hostesses utilizing a tea cozy display a lack of wealth. According to this publication, if the tea turns cold, a hostess should merely ring for fresh tea for her guests.

While the guide suggests otherwise, tea cozies were popular, and generally considered a practical device before the invention of insulated teapots and microwaves. Tea cozies like this one would have been saved for special occasions and used with the best silver or porcelain teapot in middle-class homes. The lining is stained, suggesting that Marianne Bussell, or possibly one of her family members, may have used it while entertaining guests.

Teapots are not the only things that could be kept warm with a cozy cover: the egg cozy is a tiny version designed to top a boiled egg and keep it warm. These could be knit or woven, and were often imaginative and playful in design.

The Bussell’s grandniece, Helen Hestad, donated this tea cozy and other items from the couple to La Crosse County Historical Society in 1974.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on February 2, 2019.

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

Jackie Kennedy Paper Doll

Ken Brekke

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Catalog Number: 1984.041.02

The glamour associated with Jacqueline Kennedy never seems to go out of fashion.

This Jackie Kennedy paper doll set, donated by Virginia Larkin of La Crosse, is part of the La Crosse County Historical Society's collection from the '60s.

Even now, nearly 25 years after her death, the former first lady’s reputation for style, elegance and grace is intact.

The Magic/Wand Corp. of Charlestown, Mass., was among the first companies trying to take advantage of that Kennedy magic when it produced a Jackie Kennedy paper doll in the early 1960s.

Virginia Larkin of La Crosse paid a dollar or two for that paper doll, probably sometime in 1962. The cardboard figure stands nearly 30 inches tall, and the folding support that props the cutout up provides a 10-inch diameter base when the doll is in its standing position.

The “First Lady” doll set, donated by Larkin to the La Crosse County Historical Society in 1984, marks Jackie’s term as First Lady, from January 1961 until the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy, in November 1963.

The doll set includes a wide variety of skirts, pants, blouses, hats, shoes, coats, purses and other accessories.

Rubbing the back of the clothing with the set’s plastic wand triggered an adhesive reaction that caused the clothing to stay on the cardboard doll.

The Kennedy family inspired several other paper dolls, and cutouts featuring Jackie and first daughter Caroline apparently were especially popular, judging by their availability on websites today.

An evening dress, riding habit and fur coat are among the more elegant pieces that came with the doll, but a replica of the pink suit the first lady was wearing when her husband was shot in Dallas is not among the collection of outfits in the box.

The tragedy-touched original suit was donated to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., by Jackie herself shortly after the assassination. The suit, stained with her husband’s blood, remained her property, though it has been stored in the National Archives ever since in an acid-free box in a climate-controlled vault. Ownership of the pink suit, which has never been cleaned, passed to Caroline Kennedy when her mother died in 1994.

The daughter donated the suit to “the people of the United States” in 2003, with a stipulation that it can’t be publicly displayed until 2103, and then only after the Kennedy family has granted permission. It has yet to be exhibited. The outfit’s matching pillbox hat was not part of the clothing turned over to the National Archives and has disappeared.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on January 26, 2019.

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

1960s Record Player

Robert Mullen

Catalog Number: 1990.075.02

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Vinyl records are experiencing a surprising resurgence in popularity in the twenty-first century. Considered an obsolete technology for some thirty years, audiophiles are returning to LP (Long Play) vinyl records because they consider their sound to be warmer and richer than digital versions. Over ten million vinyl recordings were sold in the U.S. last year, but these sales don’t come close to meeting the numbers of fifty years ago, when vinyl was supreme.

Most homes of the 1960s had a record player, either a large console cabinet or a smaller portable player. Some young people, however, wanted to take their music with them when they were away from home with friends. Like most American teenagers, they needed to express some independence, to listen to the music of their choice without parental oversight. Manufacturers saw a demand for a mobile device and began to offer battery-operated record players for sale.

The player shown here is a small, lightweight Solid State Panasonic SB-330 that dates to about 1968. Its plastic case measures eleven by twelve inches including a molded carrying handle. It ran on six C batteries and could play 33 1/3 and 45 r.p.m. (revolutions per minute) vinyl records. In the late 1960s, some of the most iconic music of the era were likely played on this record player: songs like the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” or Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”

While this machine required manually placing a single vinyl record on the turntable, other models were designed to stack several records on a spindle, dropping a new record when the previous one finished playing. This record player enabled its young owner and friends to listen to the latest hits wherever they went, to the beach, the park, or the back yard. The sound quality of this machine, with its small built-in speaker, would likely not satisfy today’s audiophile.

This battery powered portable record player was donated to the historical society by Corinne Martell in 1990.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on January 19, 2019.