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Archive for October, 2012

In my previous blog about hats, I speculated about the mystery man with the cap and moustache in the display photo for the Wisconsin Historical Society’s exhibit on the history of the state’s brewing industry. Close-up of gentleman in exhibit photograph This man has continued to intrigue me, maybe to the point of obsession. I feel that I have to know who he was.

I stopped by the museum this past Wednesday in search of additional information about the photograph. A lady at the gift shop desk helped me locate the original photo on the historical society’s web site. It turns out that the image in the display window was cropped from a larger photo:

She mentioned the name of the exhibit’s curator, who evidently had just been at the museum five minutes earlier. So I e-mailed him to ask if he had any additional information about the photograph that was not posted on the web site. He said that it was possible that there was more information that did not make it into the online record and referred me to the historical society’s reference service. I sent a message to the e-mail address he gave me and received a reply rather quickly from a reference archivist who said that the historical society tries to include all available information in their image records. He said he looked at the print copy of the photograph that they have but that unfortunately there was no additional information about the image. He surmised that they copied the photograph from an individual or another repository and speculated that, given the information they have on it that it came from the Louis Schreiber family, who passed along the information they had about it. (Note that the on-line record states Louis Schreiber is depicted in the original photograph.) The reference archivist suggested that the La Crosse County Historical Society could have more information. Accordingly, I sent an e-mail to that historical society. So far, there has been no reply.

Meanwhile, the title of the photograph, “Michel’s Brewery Workers,” gave me a starting point to start digging around the internet. I quickly located a research paper written in 1976 by Steven Baier, a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, on the history of the brewing industry in LaCrosse. Mr. Baier’s paper provided terrific detail on fifteen different breweries that had operated in the city, including Michel’s Brewery. It was fascinating to read, although I noticed a discrepancy in one detail between Mr. Baier’s paper and the historical society’s web site. The information from the historical society stated that Michel’s Brewery closed sometime after 1920 over a strike. However, according to Mr. Baier, with the beginning of Prohibition, the brewery changed its name to the “La Crosse Refining Company” and continued to operate by manufacturing malt and malt syrup. Upon the repeal of Prohibition, the brewery resumed making beer, in addition to malt syrup, and changed its name to “La Crosse Breweries, Inc.,” and the brewery remained in operation until 1965. Mr. Baier’s paper made no mention of a strike at Michel’s Brewery.

Another source that was referenced on the internet was a book called “American Breweries II” by Dale Van Wieren (1995). That book appears to cite 1956 as the closing date of the La Crosse Breweries (Michel’s), so there is another discrepancy to resolve. I’ll check out that book from the library to find out exactly what it says about the brewery.

I decided it was important to know the approximate date of the photograph as U.S. census records could potentially help identify the mystery man. Based on the general appearance of the photograph and the little information available, my guess was that it was from the 1880s or 1890s. It could not have been before 1879 since Louis Schreiber, born in 1861, immigrated to Wisconsin at the age of 18. And it could not have been after 1923, which is the year he died. It’s often difficult to discern ages in photographs, especially from earlier time periods, but in this photograph, Louis Schreiber looks to me to be on the young side, particularly in comparison to his contemporaries. He strikes me as being in his 20s or possibly 30s, which would date the photograph to the 1880s or 1890s. I asked Brian, a historian friend, to estimate the date of the photo, and his guess, based on the clothing worn by the workers, was 1900 to 1910. While Brian is very knowledgeable about history, I’m skeptical of that estimate because that would mean Louis Schreiber was aged 39 to 49 in the photograph, and he doesn’t look that old to me.

Another curious item I found was a newspaper clipping from the Prescott (Ariz.) Evening Courier dated July 21, 1903:

LATE NEWS – At La Crosse, Wis., Louis Schreiber, an employee of the Gund brewery, was struck by lightning last night. His right ear was torn clean from his head and his right side was terribly burned. For nine hours he was unable to speak. He will recover.

Gruesome though this account is, it provides two important details. If the article is about the same Louis Schreiber depicted in the photograph, it means the date of the photo is no later than 1903 as Louis Schreiber’s right ear appears to be intact in the photo. Also, he was employed by the (John) Gund brewery. Does this mean by 1903, Louis Schreiber was a former employee of Michel’s Brewery?

A break-through in my search came when I happened across a digitization of LaCrosse city directories from 1880, 1885, 1890, 1895, 1900 and 1905. These directories contain an amazing wealth of detail about the city’s residents – or at least about the adult males and, if working outside the home or widowed, adult females – including name, occupation, employer and residence. I realized that dating the photograph was no longer merely important but was now crucial as it would be possible to compile a list of individuals who were employed at Michel’s Brewery around the time of the photograph – concrete information that could potentially lead to the identity of the mystery man in the photograph!

For example, Louis Schreiber’s name appears in the directories from 1885 onward. In 1885, he is listed on page 291, noting his occupation as a butcher, working at Frank and August Semsch’s meat market:

At the time, Louis Schreiber was boarding at Frank Semsch’s home.

In the 1890 directory, Louis Schreiber is listed on page 227, now as an employee at the John Gund Brewing Company:

In the 1895 directory, Louis Schreiber was listed at yet a different employer, C.L. Colman Manufacturing:

Then he was back at the John Gund brewery in 1900…

and was still there in 1905:

I had expected to see at least one listing that identified Louis Schreiber as an employee at Michel’s Brewery. Certainly he could have worked there in any of the intervening years, but it was disappointing not to find a direct link between Louis Schreiber and Michel’s Brewery.

While discussing with my partner what I had found, he made a comment about this Louis Schreiber moving around a lot from one employer to another. Indeed, three different employers within ten years seemed like a lot. And considering there was a fourth – Michel’s – that hadn’t yet appeared in any directory listing —

Then Bam! It hit me – what if Louis Schreiber had not, in fact, moved from Gund to Michel or vice versa? What if he never worked at Michel’s Brewery at all – and the attribution in the historical society record was in error?

Immediately that possibility began to explain a couple of things, one of which was the lack of a directory listing identifying him as a Michel’s employee. Of course, without directories for any of the years inbetween, such a lack is inconclusive. Certainly Louis Schreiber was at Gund in one of those inbetween years, namely 1903 when he was struck by lightning. But there isn’t enough information about the other inbetween years to say definitively. Still, it raises the possibility.

The second thing an attribution error could explain is the discrepancy between the historical society’s notation that Michel’s Brewery closed sometime after 1920 over a strike and Steven Baier’s account of the brewery remaining in business until 1965. Mr. Baier’s paper also gives the history of the John Gund Brewing Company, and according to the paper:

In 1920, the Brewery Worker’s Union in La Crosse went on strike to outlaw open shops (businesses in which both union and non-union men could work). Being the largest employer, Gund’s was the hardest hit. Notices were run daily, advertising jobs for men, women, and children….

Later in 1920, complete Prohibition closed the John Gund Brewing Company once again*. This, along with the strike, proved to be too much for the Gund family. They packed up and moved East. The city of La Crosse thereby lost one of the most important businesses it ever had.

* The Gund Brewing company had closed briefly in 1919 when Prohibition was initially implemented

So now, in addition to identifying the mystery man in the photograph, I had another problem to solve. How could I confirm that the photograph was of workers at the John Gund Brewery and not Michel’s Brewery? This was a critical question to answer because if I am to rely on information in the LaCrosse city directories to compile a list of brewery employees, I need to be certain I’m looking for the correct subset of names.

I recalled seeing in the original photograph a man in the center, standing and appearing to be pouring a bottle of beer into a mug. I had not previously noticed him in the window display cropped photo and wondered why, since the man is so obvious in the original photograph. In any case, I wondered if the bottle could provide a clue as it should belong to the brewery that made the beer. In searching the internet for information on Michel’s Brewery, I had seen images of bottles from the various breweries. Not knowing if the shapes/styles of the bottles were unique to the brewery, it seemed like a potential identification tool.

So I headed back downtown to have another look at the display window photograph. I saw that indeed, the man standing and pouring the bottle is there but is partially obscured by large poster lettering over his some of his face and upper body, which is why I hadn’t noticed him earlier. However, much of the bottle, including all of the neck, is visible, which made me more optimistic about identifying the brewery.

And then I looked carefully around the rest of the display window photograph and discovered the answer staring me in the face. The tapped barrel on its side between the mystery man on the left and the other hatted man on the right has lettering around the top rim, and one can barely make out the letters “JOHN GUND B…” Further, the barrel standing upright on the ground between the two men’s feet has very clear lettering that reads “J. Gund B…”

Closeup of barrel in display photograph showing lettering spelling JOHN GUND B…

Closeup of barrel in display photograph showing lettering spelling J. GUND B…


There was the convincing evidence I needed, right in the photograph itself! This was indeed a photograph of workers at the John Gund Brewery and not Michel’s Brewery.

I contacted the archivist at the historical society again and asked about estimating the date of the photograph based on clothing or other objects depicted in the photo. I also told him I was fairly certain the title of the photograph was in error and that it actually depicted workers at the John Gund Brewery. The archivist examined a high-resolution version of the photo and, noticing the lettering on the barrels as well, concluded that the scene was at the John Gund bottling department. He also consulted with the historical society’s textile curator, who frequently dates photographs for them based on clothing and hairstyles. The archivist speculated that estimating the date could be tricky because the men in the photo were dressed in work clothes, and those fashions didn’t change as frequently. The textile curator estimated the date to be c. 1890 based on jackets two of the men were wearing. Of course, I liked that estimate more than Brian’s because my own feeling is that the photo is from the 1880s or 1890s. The archivist updated the on-line record to reflect this new information:

This history detective work has been quite fun and most interesting, although I still don’t know who the mystery man is. But I’ll keep searching, and if I’m eventually successful in identifying him, I’ll post an update to this blog.

To be continued, maybe…

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I’ve never worn a hat as part of my daily wardrobe. There are a number of reasons why, but this summer I set aside those reasons and went in search of a hat. In July, I visited Sacred Feather on State Street and looked around to see what they had. I sampled many different hats and, frankly, hated how they looked on me. Some made my head look like a mushroom. Others exaggerated my extreme verticality. I was about to leave disappointed when I spotted a shelf with a style of hat that appealed to me. I selected one to try on, and although the size was much too large, I liked the look of the hat and how it looked on me. I inquired at the desk about other sizes of that particular hat, but they had no more in stock. They would be ordering more around Halloween.

Patiently have I waited for fall to come so that I could purchase an Aegean fisherman’s cap. Aegean Fisherman's Cap On Friday, the store called to tell me the caps had arrived, so I stopped by after work. The first one I tried on was too large, but they had one about two sizes smaller that seemed to fit about right. So I bought it and wore it on the way home.

As I passed by the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum on the capitol square, I noticed their window display for the current exhibit called “Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin’s Historic Bars and Breweries.” Wisconsin Historical Society Exhibit

The seated gentleman in the lower left sporting a great moustache, holding a mug in his right hand, and wearing a cap, caught my attention: Close-up of gentleman in exhibit photograph

I wonder if the man in the cap was an immigrant and what his life was about. Most of the other men in the photo are hatless, so why did he choose to wear that particular cap?

Wearing a hat after not having regularly worn a hat for 44 years takes some getting used to. Wearing my new hat But all in all, I’m quite pleased with how it looks. The cap is gray and made of wool. When I’m wearing the cap, I almost feel like I should be carrying around a fishing net or pole. There is no danger of the cap transforming me into a seafarer, though.

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This week’s NPR Weekend Edition Sunday puzzle challenge went like this:

“Draw a regular hexagon, and connect every pair of vertices except one. The pair you don’t connect are not on opposite sides of the hexagon, but along a shorter diagonal. How many triangles of any size are in this figure?”

I suspect a mathematical formula exists to determine the answer. But as I don’t know of such a formula, nor do I know how to find one, I resorted to the manual method of counting.

This turned out to be not as simple as it sounds. I spent the better part of the week counting and re-counting and counting again, coming up with many different answers. Of course, there is only one answer, hence my determination to keep counting until I found it!

I began by drawing a hexagon and randomly connecting vertices, leaving just one pair unconnected (depicted here circled in red):

Then I began to look for triangles of any size. The first time I counted, I found 50. Figuring there could easily be some that I missed, I counted again more carefully and found 76. The third count yielded 84.

I then took a more careful and systematic approach to counting. It occurred to me that there is a symmetry in the figure that can be readily seen if the hexagon is rotated slightly:

Notice now that the left and right halves are mirror images. Knowing this made counting easier because if I found a triangle on one half of the image, that meant a corresponding triangle was on the opposite half of the image, making it less likely that I’d miss counting a triangle.

Starting with triangles comprised of once piece, I carefully labeled those triangles with a ‘1’. Next, I looked for triangles composed of two pieces and labeled those triangles with a ‘2’. I continued this method up to ‘10’, which is the greatest number of pieces I could find that formed a triangle. Adding up the subtotals for each number of pieces came to 80 triangles.

I went over all of the labeled images again and found some that I had mislabeled and some that I had missed. This time, adding the subtotals yielded 82 triangles. After double- and triple-checking my labels and arithmetic, I settled on 82 as my final answer:

[click image to enlarge]

On tomorrow’s Weekend Edition Sunday program, I’ll find out whether I counted correctly!

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Monday I learned that President Obama will visit the UW-Madison campus on Thursday and will speak on Bascom Hill. In 2008, I felt privileged to attend an appearance he made in Madison in February as a presidential candidate. In 2010, the president visited our campus in September, and I sat on Bascom Hill with the overflow crowd (Library Mall, where he spoke, was filled to capacity) to hear his speech. Overflow Crowd on Bascom Hill Listening to President Barack Obama Both times I felt excited to be part of his inspiring visits. In 2012, I’m just annoyed by the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good for an elected president to make the rounds and be visible amongst the people of this country. It’s just that this time, the visit affects me personally. But the more significant reason for my annoyance is that things have changed around here since September 2010.

Logistical Interruptions

The building where I work, Bascom Hall, is perched atop Bascom Hill and looks east over Bascom Mall. (Dr. Seuss could work wonders with that sentence.) Monday we were told that all of the buildings around Bascom Mall would be closed the day of the presidential visit, meaning employees would either have to work from home or take vacation. That annoyed me because at present, I’ve got too much going on at work to be told I wouldn’t be allowed to come to my office, and working from home isn’t possible. Tuesday, though, we were told that Bascom Hall won’t be among the buildings closed. However, here is what we learned:

Entry: The event will be held on Bascom Hill on campus, and entry to the hill will begin at noon. The event is free and open to the public, though registration will be required. Note: Registration does not guarantee entrance to the event.

The line to enter the event will form on the sidewalk on Observatory Drive to the west of Bascom Hall. Observatory Drive will be closed to traffic from Babcock Drive to Park Street. All who enter the event must show their registration on their mobile phone or a printout and undergo screening by metal detector.

Carry-In policy: All attendees should expect to pass through airport-like security and should bring as few personal items as possible. No bags, sharp objects, umbrellas, liquids, or signs will be permitted into the venue. Small cameras will be permitted inside.

Parking: Daytime parking is extremely limited around Bascom Hill, and attendees from the campus and Madison community are encouraged to walk or use public transportation. A limited number of spaces are available in the city’s Lake Street Parking Ramp. UW Lots 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 26 will be closed beginning at midnight Wednesday and all day Thursday, Oct. 4. Campus permit holders in affected lots will receive information about parking.

Traffic: Downtown traffic will be affected by street closings throughout the day on Oct. 4. Campus streets that will be entirely or partially closed include:

Observatory Drive, closed from Park to Charter. Observatory Drive will be west-bound only from Charter to Babcock.
Langdon Street will be closed west of Lake Street.
Park Street will be closed north of University Avenue.
Charter Street will be closed north of Linden Drive, except for ADA drop-off.

All those travelling in the campus area should be prepared for delays. Attendees are encouraged to carpool, bike or use public transportation. [Except that they’ve taken away my bike rack!]

Madison Metro: The Route 80 bus will be re-routed until after the event. Extra buses will be added to Metro routes after the event.

Cell phone coverage: Due to heavy anticipated use in the event area, cell phone coverage is expected to be spotty. [However, note that the second paragraph above states “All who enter the event must show their registration on their mobile phone or a printout….” Better bring that printout!]

Water: Water will be provided for free inside the event area.

Accessibility: A drop-off site for the disabled is available at the intersection of Observatory Drive and North Charter Street. The drop-off area can be accessed via Charter Street. Additional ADA parking is available in Grainger Hall, the Fluno Center, Lot 36, 46, the Union South ramp, Engineering Drive ramp and Madison’s Lake Street ramp.

Sign language interpreters will be present inside the event area on a platform. There will be reserved space near the stage adjacent to the stage at the School of Education for wheelchair users and individuals needing sign language interpretation.

If you live, work or study in Bascom Hill area

The visit of a president is a rare event, and carries with it a focus on safety and security.

Secret Service during President Barack Obama Visit September 2010

Keeping Watch

However, to the extent possible, the university is attempting to minimize disruption of a normal school and workday for students, faculty and staff.

Please note, all details listed below may be subject to change ahead of Thursday’s event.

Academic and administrative buildings: Between the hours of 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. the following buildings will be closed to classes, employees and all other activities: Science Hall, Education, North Hall, South Hall, Law School and Music Hall. Students should await details from their instructors on alternative arrangements. Employees will receive additional information from supervisors about work arrangements.

The site: Staging will begin on Tuesday on Bascom Hill and may cause some movement restrictions on Tuesday and Wednesday. The hill will be closed to foot traffic all day on Thursday, but will be reopened after the event on Thursday. Setting Up Stage for Presidential Visit

Overflow: Accommodations for individuals who arrive after the event has reached its capacity on Bascom Hill will be posted once arrangements are completed.

Roof access: Roof access to all buildings in and around the event area is completely restricted. Blinds in buildings facing the event area need to be closed on Thursday.

Papered-over Windows and Doors

They even papered over windows and doors! I’m having doubts about whether a presidential visit is really worth it . . .

Anyone standing in a window facing the event area Thursday can expect to be contacted by police personnel. [Yikes.]

On Tuesday, helicopters were flying overhead and making a lot of noise (secret service, I surmise, scoping out the area). I can’t for the life of me understand why the bicycle racks behind my building (where I park) have been removed; the stage and hill are on the other side of the building, completely out of sight.

No Bike Parking

Where am I supposed to park now?!

And besides, the only entrances to the building open on Thursday will be the back entrances.
Campus Access Map During Presidential Visit

Getting around is going to be a nightmare . . .

Tuesday afternoon, a campus police officer stopped by the room across the hall and said he was “just going to look out the window.” Wednesday, some guy directed us pedestrians to “walk around the tree please.” A presidential visit may be historic,
Tossing a Football

Playing football while waiting for the president’s visit

but it’s also a headache for those who would rather not be collateral damage.

Political Fatigue

Logistical inconveniences and nuisances aside, the annoyance that I feel about this upcoming presidential visit is mostly due to the profound fatigue by acrimonious politics that have invaded my personal space like a virus. I simply wish politics would go away. This is a direct result of bizarre politics in this state that turned wacko in early 2011. That was the beginning of the mean, ridiculous and stupid (not to mention unlawful) actions taken by Wisconsin’s governor, state senate and assembly when they blamed the state’s financial problems on state workers. The three-ring circus (or more like four- or five-ring) that entertained the state for the next year and a half poisoned the state.

Capitol Protest February 2011

Wisconsin citizens protest inside the State Capitol Building in Madison, February 17, 2011

The deliberate efforts of those politicians to pit neighbor against neighbor, to divide and conquer, were (and continue to be) utterly disgraceful. The caustic atmosphere that now hangs over the state like a Chernobyl disaster will take decades to clear. I will never understand the compelling need that some people have to attack, belittle and otherwise hurt others. It comes down to phoniness, selfishness and greed.

Now, perhaps I’m naive and it has always been this way. Yet I don’t remember things being this nasty in my younger years. Of course, I wasn’t around in the early 1800s when elected officials literally dueled with one another. Nor was I here to witness the country’s devastating civil war. And I know from reading history that the 1900s were hardly a time of poppies and puppy dogs. But I’m here now, and even though the country has somehow managed to survive astounding episodes of internal stress and strife, I nevertheless despise what I witness today. By now, we should have learned from history. Moreover, we – and I mean every-one-of-us ‘we’ – know that it does not have to be this way.

I wish you well, President Obama, I really do. Your ability to inspire is amazing and wonderful. Your incredible efforts to make things work are more than laudatory. But I’ve had enough of politics, and I just wish you would visit some other state so that we in Wisconsin wouldn’t have to hear about it. Sorry.

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