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Archive for the ‘Things Deep’ Category

At lunchtime on Wednesday I sat on the terrace behind the Memorial Union theatre. The wind was strong, so the lake was rough (the lone duck that was in the water and feasting on a buffet of lake weed looked sorta green), but the sun was out so it felt much like swimming in Washington Harbor: a brief engulfment of cold followed by the ahhh of serene warmth followed by another brrr of cold again.

A heavyish 50-something guy sporting a dark a moustache and wearing a baseball cap who looked like he might be a maintenance worker at the university on his lunch break walked by with a white five-gallon bucket and a fishing rod. He strolled out to the end of the wooden pier Gone Fishingand stood so casually as he fished, his uniform shirt tucked neatly into his pants but still unsuccessful at keeping his belly from hanging over his belt. He tried either side of the pier, but it didn’t look like he ever caught anything. Inbetween the drags on his (homemade?) cigarette and the sailboats approaching and leaving the pier, he stopped now and again to pull up his line to try a different lure. A pair of families on vacation walked onto the pier, the alpha ten-year-old daughter leading the way. The girl noticed the fisherman in the distance and momentarily halted before resuming her journey, to where exactly? The fisherman sidled closer to the edge of the pier to let the intruders pass, then returned his concentration back to the slack line that dangled in the water. Despite the bustle of activity on and around the pier, his face remained expressionless. I could tell that he was having a grand time.

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Wedding Bells

We jumped with both feet into the sea of ambiguity. On Friday the 13th no less. In some ways, it feels like it all happened so fast and so unexpectedly. In reality, it was years in the making.

On November 7, 2006, voters in Wisconsin approved by a 59-to-41 margin a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and the recognition thereof as well as the recognition of any same-sex relationship deemed substantially similar to marriage. That action was a continuation of a nation-wide trend and the culmination of years of efforts by state republicans in particular and by conservatives in general to ensure that no gay couple in the state would ever be permitted the same legal protections as heterosexually married couples. Two years earlier, a wave of similar constitutional bans had begun in earnest to wash over the nation, a direct reaction to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state of Massachusetts on May 17, 2004. In 1998, Alaska was the first state to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. When Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage five and a half years later, just two other states had since passed constitutional bans. But in less than six months after the historic action in Massachusetts, the number of such bans in the U.S. exploded, passing in 13 more states. When Wisconsin’s turn came two years later, it joined the company of 25 other states where same-sex marriage was constitutionally banned. The republicans and conservatives who led and pushed the effort in Wisconsin believed that by enshrining such a ban in the state’s constitution, they would ensure for all time that same-sex marriages would not become reality here. Yet remarkably, it took less than eight years to prove that belief wrong.

On Friday, June 6, 2014, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued an opinion and order in Wolf et al vs. Walker et al, a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage. In her 88-page ruling, Judge Crabb wrote the following:

Two motions are before the court: (1) a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted filed by defendants Scott Walker, J.B. Van Hollen and Oskar Anderson, dkt. #66; and (2) a motion for summary judgment filed by plaintiffs. Dkt. #70…. Having reviewed the parties’ and amici’s filings, I am granting plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and denying defendants’ motion to dismiss because I conclude that the Wisconsin laws prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples interfere with plaintiffs’ right to marry, in violation of the due process clause, and discriminate against plaintiffs on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of the equal protection clause.

And with that decision the weddings began.

Delivering Wedding Cake

Madison police Officers Zach Kimbrew, Matt Kenny and Sue Carnell deliver cake to people celebrating same-sex marriages outside the City-County Building in Madison, Wisconsin on Friday, June 6, 2014. Photo by Gail Chondron.

The story behind the viral photo of Madison police officers delivering cake

Other federal judges have ruled similarly on bans in other states, so Judge Crabb’s decision was not altogether surprising. What made her approach unique, however, was action that she did not take. Other federal judges have stayed their decisions so that the appeals process could run its course. But Judge Crabb, by not immediately issuing an implementing order, could not in turn issue a stay of her decision since the absence of an implementing order meant the ruling was not final. The absence of an implementing order also meant that the state of Wisconsin likewise could not file a stay with the appeals court. Judge Crabb scheduled a hearing for Thursday, June 19 in order to hear from the plaintiffs what relief they sought from the injury caused by the ban.

In the meantime, county clerks were left without explicit instructions regarding the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. When asked at a hearing the following Monday whether clerks could legally issue these licenses, Judge Crabb simply responded, “I never said anything” about whether county clerks should grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “That hasn’t been decided.” But neither did she say that the marriages should not be going forward. She reiterated that, while she found Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage a violation of the U.S. Constitution, she had not yet ordered the state to stop enforcing the ban. Opponents of same-sex marriage, in particular the state’s attorney general, interpreted this to mean that the ban was still intact because Judge Crabb did not issue an injunction barring the state from enforcing the same-sex marriage ban. Conversely, supporters of same-sex marriage interpreted Judge Crabb’s ruling to mean that the ban was no longer in effect, having been declared unconstitutional, and that county clerks no longer had legal standing to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And so the weddings continued.

At the farmer’s market on Saturday morning, June 7, Don asked Al and me if we had gotten married. No, we said. Despite the previous day’s court ruling, we didn’t rush to the county courthouse. I felt no sense of urgency, and besides, although the two of us had previously talked in the abstract about whether we would get married should the opportunity arise, we hadn’t arrived at a decision. I felt, not ambivalence exactly, but … a lack of inspiration? It’s hard to put into words. Then Don told us that Timmo and Eric had gotten married the day before. And a little while later, we learned that Dan and Charlie had also gotten married. The heretofore abstract concept of same-sex marriage was now presented before us as a concrete reality … and my lack of feeling started to turn, to become aroused, to tap me on the shoulder, to smack me upside the head and ask, “Why not?”

For all intents and purposes, Al and I were already married and have been for almost twenty-three years. We have arranged our finances and set up our wills and powers of attorney so that the other is taken care of as much as is legally possible should one of us become deceased. We have named each other as beneficiaries in every place where one may designate such. In 1993, we registered as domestic partners when the city of Madison passed its ordinance. That summer we celebrated our relationship with a formal ceremony outdoors in the presence of friends and family, complete with thunder and lightning and tornado sirens. In 1996, we purchased together the house where we still live. When the state of Wisconsin passed its domestic partner law in the summer of 2009, we were early enough in line at the county clerk’s office to be included in a photograph that was published in USA Today. Somehow, Al has all these years put up with my quirkiness and unpredictability. He has talked me through periods of intense difficulty, frustration and anger. We have had our moments of sadness. But the joy that we have experienced together – that joy will forevermore be ours, legal marriage or no. Seeing Al smile and laugh is truly and thoroughly uplifting. What more could one want from a relationship than to see one’s partner be glad?

In our county, 63 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples on the day that Judge Crabb struck down the state’s marriage ban. The next day, Saturday, 69 more such licenses were issued. The clerk’s office was closed on Sunday, but 36 more such licenses were issued on Monday. On Tuesday, 14 more. On Wednesday, 10 more. Al and I were not counted in those statistics, and still we had made no effort to be added. But then a few things happened that nudged us toward action.

On Thursday, June 12, Al happened to speak on the phone with Brian, and Brian mentioned that he and Ken had married the day before. Wow. Hmm. The state’s attorney general was publicly encouraging same-sex couples not to apply for a marriage license while the legality of those licenses was in question. Oh, really? Judge Crabb moved up the date of the hearing to Friday, June 13. What? Suddenly it seemed that time was no longer on our side. The expectation was that Judge Crabb would issue a stay on her ruling and thereby end the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples for an indefinite time. There was now an urgency that was previously absent. “Do you know where your birth certificate is?” I asked Al while we were having dinner that evening.

Friday, June 13 was a whirlwind of a day. While I juggled my morning work schedule in order to accommodate an 8:15 a.m. standing meeting, Al went to the county clerk’s office to find out what we needed to do to obtain a marriage license and to arrange for an officiant to conduct the ceremony. After my meeting ended at 9:30 a.m., I phoned Al to ask if the wedding was still on. Yes, he had been to the county clerk’s office and had scheduled a 10:30 a.m. meeting at an attorney’s office where the ceremony would be conducted. So I sped-walked from campus to the Capitol Square, in and out of the multitude of construction zones Construction on Campus that have sprung up all over town this spring, making my way around oversized orange barrels and through the maze of orange plastic fencing, detouring hither and yon from closed sidewalks to open – not unlike a laboratory mouse eagerly searching for its cheesy reward.
Construction Maze

I arrived at the city-county building in only about 15 minutes, an impressively speedy accomplishment. Two other same-sex couples were already seated in the waiting area of the county clerk’s office. The county clerk himself greeted us in person, asked if we had the necessary documents and whether we needed an officiant. Since Al had already made the arrangements, we were good to go. At 10:10 a.m., we were called to the desk of the next available representative, and by 10:30 a.m., the county clerk’s staff was congratulating us on receiving our marriage license. We had no time to celebrate just yet because we had to hustle to the attorney’s office several blocks away, marriage license in hand, because our appointment was at 10:30 a.m.

We readily found the building where the attorney was located and took the elevator to the ninth floor. An empty reception desk greeted us when the elevator doors opened, so we stood at the desk and waited patiently for someone to return. After a few minutes, someone appeared and apologized for not being there when we arrived, but she knew instantly who we were there to see. “The happy couple is here,” she said into the phone. Happy couple? Us? Well, I guess she was right. We were feeling happy. This was an exciting moment, an historical moment, a moment we were proud to witness and to partake in. (Sorry for the dangling preposition.) We felt, well, real. The implicit (and sometimes explicit) dictum that marriage was for other people but not for us had gone away.

We were invited into the spacious library of the law office where the attorney would conduct the ceremony. When she arrived a couple of minutes later, she greeted us and congratulated us on our marriage. The ceremony was brief, yet deeply significant to Al and me. Our Wedding An attorney acquaintance, whom we didn’t previously realize worked in that same law office, happened to walk by and came in the library to witness our marriage. Afterwards, I asked the attorney who conducted our ceremony what was likely to happen at Judge Crabb’s hearing scheduled for 1:00 p.m. that afternoon. The attorney said she expected the judge to stay her decision and that the state would file its appeal. But Wisconsin would now be in a long line of states where other appeals were making their way through the court system, and it was probable that decisions on those appeals would be made well before Wisconsin’s case would be heard. Still, she reassured us: “You are legally married.”

We hurried back to campus, wending our way back through the construction maze. The realization that Al and I were now married didn’t take long to sink in. Still, despite my especially upbeat mood, I was feeling guilty because I had told my supervisor that I would probably be back by 10:30 a.m., and here it was nearly noon by the time I got back to the office. My supervisor was all smiles with her congratulations.

The previous week, I had made plans to leave work at 2:00 p.m. on June 13 so that Al and I could drive up to Washington Island to catch one of the evening ferries. Our sudden change of schedule compressed my available work time even more. Then at 1:50 p.m., I felt a sinking sensation as two people stopped in with urgent business, the phone rang, and a few time-sensitive e-mails showed up in my inbox. I did my best to keep calm and carry on and managed to leave by about 2:05 p.m. Not bad considering how fast everything was moving that day.

While driving north, I turned on the radio at 3:00 p.m. to listen to NPR, expecting to hear in the state news segment that Judge Crabb had issued a stay on her now-one-week-old decision regarding the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The reporter only announced that the hearing had taken place and that there was no word yet of the judge’s action. Reports at 3:30 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. likewise had no further word. Then around 5:30 p.m., we stopped in Green Bay to fill up the car. I went to use the restroom, and as I was about to leave, I thought I heard the D.J. on the radio station that was playing in the convenience store announce that same-sex marriages in the state were now on hold. I hurried back to the car and told Al what I had just heard. He turned on the radio to get the latest update, but by that time, the state news segment was finished, and they had moved on to other stories. It was shortly after 6:00 p.m. when the next news report confirmed what I had heard back at the convenience store. Al and I had been married just seven hours before the weddings were brought to a halt.

I had expected Judge Crabb to stay her decision. What I had not expected was my reaction to hearing that news. For seven hours of my life, I had felt different than I had ever felt before. It was a first for me to feel that I belonged to the larger society and that the larger society considered me to be one of its own. I was no longer outside looking in. Curious, huh? Because then when the news came over the radio that Judge Crabb had stayed her decision and that same-sex marriages in the state were to cease, I immediately and unexpectedly found myself back outside looking in.

And so today Al and I are floating, swimming, riding the waves in the sea of ambiguity. Just what is our legal status? No one seems to know. It could be another year before the same-sex marriage question in this country is resolved judicially. Well, we’ve waited before. Now we’ll wait some more. In the meantime, if nothing else, at least we have humour.

Ole lay on his deathbed. He was so weak, he could no longer walk. But then he smelled the beautiful aroma of Lena’s rhubarb pie wafting upstairs from the kitchen. He mustered enough strength to crawl downstairs on his hands and knees. There it was on the table, the heavenly rhubarb pie fresh out of the oven! Ole pulled himself up to the table and reached out to get one last taste before his imminent demise. Then Lena smacked his hand away and scolded, “Ole! Leave that alone. It’s for the funeral.” [Humour courtesy of A Prairie Home Companion]

• As of 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 12, at least 637 marriage licenses for same-sex couples had been applied for in Wisconsin since Judge Crabb’s ruling was issued. Source: Interactive Map-Counties Where Gay Marriage Is Now Allowed

• By the time Judge Crabb issued the stay on her ruling on Friday, June 13, Dane County had issued 215 marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Milwaukee County had issued 230 marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Source: Dane County Clerk, Milwaukee County Clerk

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(subtitle: Politicians Behaving Badly)

Reports of politicians behaving badly are as common as the common cold. Transgressions of politicians span the spectrum from minor (“Throw the bum out!” blogs a self-righteous observer) to egregious (“Today, so-and-so was sentenced to x years in federal prison…”).

There are many individual instances where a larger-than-average ego is a driving force that leads to unlawful behavior. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is one such example. In 2010 and 2011, he was found guilty of and convicted on 18 federal extortion charges for famously attempting to “auction President-Elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder,” – all the while proclaiming his innocence and insisting he would be vindicated.

On the other hand, some questionable actions often times merely reflect a subset of people in society at large. Take former Wisconsin State Representative Jeff Wood, for instance. In 2008, he was arrested (again) for drunk driving and possession of marijuana. Despite efforts by the state assembly to remove him from office, he refused to step down. When his term ended two years later, he chose not to run for re-election. It’s likely that his transgressions were newsworthy only because he was in the public eye. Had he been an ordinary citizen, we probably would never have heard about his troubles.

One of the saddest obituaries I’ve ever read appeared in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago. The text told of the man’s dying from congestive heart failure brought on by years of alcohol abuse. It’s quite unusual for an obituary to be so blunt about the deceased’s shortcomings. The family stated he was a good-hearted man but that he could also be ornery and difficult to deal with at times. But something changed in the last few months of this man’s life, the obituary said. His anger and bitterness faded and were replaced by kindness, sincerity and gratefulness. The family said they were able to spend quality time with him that they had spent a lifetime longing for and that he was a joy to be with.

Unlike Mr. Wood in the public sphere, were it not for the obituary, we would never have known of this man and the difficulties he faced in life because of alcohol. Some people who have difficulty with alcohol lead private lives and some lead public lives. There is a perception these days that the sins of politicians are more frequent than they used to be. Is this perception accurate? Likely not. I’ll introduce you to a Mr. Henry Ernst Nicholas Lexius, elected in 1893 to the La Crosse (Wis.) city council to represent the eighth ward.

I learned of Mr. Lexius in the course of my research to identify the mystery man from the brewery worker photo. Mr. Lexius’s name appears in La Crosse city directories in the 1880s and 1890s, including as an employee of the John Gund Brewing Company beginning with the 1891 directory. In the 1893 directory, he is listed for the first time as an alderman for the eighth ward:

Henry Lexius, La Crosse (Wis.) City Directory, 1893

Mr. Lexius was born January 25, 1855 in Denmark. He and his wife Katharine came to the United States in 1879, settling in La Crosse. He worked first at the C & J Michel Brewing Company, then for the U.S. Post Office, and later still at the John Gund Brewing Company. He was elected in 1893 as alderman to represent the eighth ward of La Crosse. Early into his term, he was portrayed in the local newspaper as a politician behaving badly. Like Mr. Wood and the deceased man described in the recent obituary, it seems Mr. Lexius may have had trouble handling his alcohol. The following account was published in the Daily Press on September 28, 1893:


WILD AND WOOLY
—–
The Time Had Down in the
Eighth Ward Last Night
—–
AN ALDERMAN A FOOTBALL
—–
Handed Around By Three Men and
Punched By Each – The Whole Neigh-
borhood was Out of Doors
to See the Sport
—–
Talk about wild and wooly times! They had one last evening down towards the Green Bay depot, and half of the city is talking about it today. The principal actor in the affair is an alderman, and on that account the Press would fain suppress the facts; but, as above stated, half the people are talking about it already and it will do no harm to tell the balance.

The hero of the affair is Alderman Lexius, a representative of the John Gund Brewing company. He had been down town during the afternoon and is supposed to have fallen in with a number of friends; for, as he hailed Contractor A. Siebucht [sic], who was driving home, and asked for a ride, it was observed that he was enjoying an exhilarating state of spirits.

Mr. Siebrecht had two of his imployes in the seat with him and a carpenters chest behind; but he granted the alderman’s request and told him to seat himself on the chest. In that fashion they proceeded until Fifth and Cameron were reached; here the horse started forward suddenly and the alderman was as quickly unseated and deposited in the bottom of the wagon.

Finally Mr. Siebrecht and his guest arrived at the latter’s house and in attempting to alight the alderman stepped on a loose board in the wagon and was thrown to the ground. These series of uncomfortable happenings evidently aroused his ire, for he began to abuse his guest and threatened to whip him.

Mr. Siebrecht laughed at the threat and drove on; but the alderman followed him and, it is said, ended by calling Mr. Siebrecht a s– of a b–. Naturally, the sturdy house builder’s ire was aroused at this and he jumped out of the wagon; the alderman, nothing daunted, closed in and struck him a blow on the face.

Mr. Siebrecht then took a hand in the fun and gave the alderman several smart blows on the side of the face. He didn’t try to injure his opponent greatly, but he evidently convinced him on the question of who was the superior. The alderman then broke away and, like the man who kicked his enemy’s dog, ran across the street and attacked Mr. Siebrecht’s brother, who was shoveling dirt.

But he was no more fortunate here than he was in the altercation with the contractor, for the brother easily vanquished him and threw him out of the way. Then a fourth figure came upon the scene; it was that of one of the Darlings, who lives near by. It couldn’t be learned whether there was any bad blood between the alderman and himself, but there probably was.

“Here, you fellows,” he is said to have cried, “step out of the way while I take a turn at this fellow.” And he “took a turn.” The alderman was then taken home and it was thought the riot over, but from all accounts – though just what did happen couldn’t be found out – it was some time before the neighborhood was quieted down.

After supper Alderman Lexius went down town and attempted to have warrants issued for the arrest of Messrs. Siebrecht and Darling but was unsuccessful. By morning he had probably changed his mind, for a reportorial round of the justice offices today failed to find that any warrants had been issued.

The trouble, some believe, is a result of the election last spring, when Messrs. Lexius and Siebrecht were rival candidates for alderman. The ward was much excited at the time, it will be remembered, and the feeling engendered then has not yet subsided.”


What do you know about that – evidently, like politicians behaving badly, contentious election campaigns are not anything new either!

But there is more to Mr. Lexius’s story. The next day, the newspaper published a different account of what happened, according to a witness who wished to remain anonymous:


’TOTHER SIDE TOLD
—–
Second Chapter on the Scrap in the Eighth Ward
—–
ALDERMAN LEXIUS IS DEFENDED
—–
One of His Friends, an Eye-Witness, Tells
His Version of the Trouble – Mr. Sie-
brecht Endorses the Article of
Last Night in Detail.
—–
The story of the altercation between Alderman Henry Lexius and several others as published in the Press of last evening, failed to meet the approval of that gentleman. He claims that he had not been drinking, as the article implied, that he did not use bad language and, instead of being the aggressor, was actually obliged to act on the defensive against the other three men at one time, only the timely assistance of a number of woman neighbors, he said, saved him from serious injury at their hands.

As it always does, the Press tried to get the truth of the story before writing it up and there are many reputable persons who will vouch for the truth of the story printed last night; however, Mr. Lexius is entitled to a defence, and we make room today for a version of the affairs as told by one of his friends, who was present at the time, but who would not allow the use of his name:

“Of course I do not know,” said the friend, “what transpired before the arrival of the party at Mr. Lexius’ home; but I do know that Mr. Lexius got off the wagon and started into his house when Mr. Siebrecht called to him. Lexius went back, asking, ‘What do you want?’ I will show you what I want,” answered Siebrecht and picked up a shovel which he held as if intending to strike Lexius. At that point Siebrecht’s brother walked over and took hold of Lexius by the throat. Lexius drew back as if to defend himself but didn’t strike a blow. Mrs. Boeck, a neighbor, then caught hold of the shovel which Siebrecht had, while others parted the other men. Lexius then started to walk away, but Darling followed him, using the most abusive kind of language. Lexius walked on without making reply and Darling was induced to go home by his wife. From first to last Lexius was the aggrieved party. He was sober, didn’t use bad language and didn’t follow anybody; Siebrecht, on the other hand, called Lexius a liar, s– of b–, etc.”

It is only simple justice to Mr. Siebrecht to say that he denies the accuracy of the above and endorses the article of last night in detail.

In support of Mr. Siebrecht, too, Mr. Joseph Riley a prominent resident of the locality and a reputable citizen, authorizes us to state that he was a witness of the trouble, that Alderman Lexius did follow Mr. Siebrecht, did call him bad names and did strike in – in fact, that every word of the article last night, so far as it related to the two men named, was absolutely true. He says, further, that the testimony of one who is afraid to give his name is not entitled to credence.

Alderman Lexius says he has no intention of causing the arrest of his opponents.


The account from Mr. Lexius’s friend causes one to wonder whether the truth lies somewhere inbetween.

Mr. Lexius’s troubles made the papers a few months later, as reported in the La Crosse Daily Press on December 30, 1893:


AFTER HIS SCALP
—–
An Incident Without Parallel in
The City’s History
—–
ALD. LEXIUS ASKED TO QUIT
—–
Mass Meeting of Voters Down
In the Eighth Ward
—–
The Alderman Condemned By a Vote of
Twenty-Eight to Seventeen – The De-
fendant Makes Several Brief
Speeches, But Refuses
Flatly to Resign.
—–
Probably never before in the history of La Crosse was there a parallel to the incident which transpired last night at the Saloon of John Strasser on Denton street between Thirteenth and Fourteenth, when, in answer to a call duly published on handbills, the citizens of the Eighth ward met to discuss the representative of that section in the council, Alderman Henry Lexius. The saloon where the meeting was held is not a large one, and when, at eight o’clock, the meeting was called to order, there was hardly a foot of available space left. Both sides of the case were represented, but it was an extremely orderly gathering.

Without loss of time, Mr. Fred Schnell was elected chairman and Mr. Mont Darling secretary. The first name stated the purpose of the meeting and called for remarks.

C. A. Bartlett said he was a Republican, while Ald. Lexius is a Democrat and he did not like to talk on the subject for fear his motives would be construed as purely political. He would say, however, that the recent conduct of Ald. Lexius had brought disgrace to the ward and to the voters who elected him.

Robert Stogdill was then called up, whereat he replied: “Please excuse me; I am prejudiced. [A voice, ‘We all are.’] I will only say that we have a crank for an alderman, and he belongs to the Prendergast stripe.”1

Mont Darling was called upon to tell what he knew about the matter. He said he knew all about it, but didn’t think it would do any good to tell what everybody else knows. “I think it a disgrace,” he said, “to be represented in the council by such an alderman as we have. I do not attack the voters who elected him, for I know we are all liable to make mistakes. And I do not know what we can do except to express our dislike of the alderman’s conduct; maybe, after he hears from us he will do better.”

Asked to Resign

At this point the voice of Joseph Heffner was heard: “I move that he be asked to resign,” he said. The motion was seconded by C. A. Bartlett, after which it was put and carried with only one dissenting vote.

Merss. [sic] Bartlett, Heffner and Gilles were appointed a committee to wait upon Mr. Lexius and request him to appear. They returned in a few minutes with the alderman, who requested to know what was wanted of him.

“It is to tell you, Alderman Lexius, that it is the sense of this meeting that you resign your seat in the council,” answered Chairman Schnell.

“Then allow me, Mr. Chairman, to ask you a few questions,” rejoined the alderman. “Gentlemen,” he continued, “Never anything so foolish ever passed upon my personality like that I see here tonight. I wish the chairman would give me the names of the men who printed that circular in my name.2 It is my right to know, and I shall know.”

The chairman: “I am one of them.”

Mr. Stogdill: “I wish I had been one of them, too.”

Ald. Lexius: “Now, what am I asked to resign for?”

Mr. Stogdill: “For getting drunk, carousing, etc.”

The Chairman: “It is the opinion of the people of the ward that you resign, or do better.”

He Refuses to Resign

Ald. Lexius: “Gentlemen, in electing me to the common council of this city you elected me to stay for four years and I am going to stay: I will never resign.”

Mr. Darling: “The people elected you, but there is such a thing as people getting sick of a bargain. I have known of such things in horse trades.”

A voice: “I move you, Mr. Chairman, that when Mr. Darling speaks again he get up on his hind legs, as he ought to.”

Ald. Lexius: “Gentlemen, I am one who takes pride in his friends and faces his enemies. If I have a friend I stick to him, and if I have an enemy I face him. I don’t believe the good, thoughtful people of the Eighth ward feel discouraged over me. There are 400 voters in this ward and there is a very small portion of that number here. This is all politics. I don’t think the people ask me to resign because I don’t know anything; the real reason is that they fear me, because they know I am honest, speak and vote heartly [sic] and stand like a man. The politics now being played in the Eighth ward is not Democratic politics. The free, thinking citizens of the ward voted for me; the Republicans voted for me. They voted for me because they feared me. Calling this meeting, gentlemen, is out of order; it is a scandal upon me and my family, than whom there are no better in the Eight [sic] ward. I ask you to give me and my family the respect due us. It is a shame the way I have been treated by some; but I have friends and they will stick by me.”

Mr. Lexius Suppressed

At this point he was interrupted by Mr. Stogdill: “I don’t think,” said that gentleman “that the alderman has any right to talk here. The meeting was not called for the purpose of listening to a speech from him. He has given us his answer, and the more he talks the deeper he gets in the muddle.”

The chairman sustained the point raised by Mr. Stogdill and told the alderman that they didn’t care to listen to him any longer. Ald. Lexius said that was all right, but he was elected to serve as alderman for four years and he was going to do it. “Moreover,” he concluded, “this is a public place and I can talk as long as I please.”

Mr. Stogdill then moved that the action of the meeting be laid before the council.

A motion was made to reconsider, another to lay on the table and still another to move to a more respectable place. All this time the bulk of the crowd had remained near the bar and refused to leave; so, some bright-minded fellow moved that the chairman move his position to that end of the room, which was done.

Martin Raibold moved that a ballot be taken on the proposition before the house and that it be an aye and noe a [sic] vote. He also moved that the lights be blown out in order that the voters might write their ballots as they pleased. The voters then filed by the table and deposited their ballots.

The Lines Drawn

When the ballots were counted, the chair announced that forty-five votes had been cast, of which twenty-eight were ayes and [seventeen] noes. A committee to lay the matter before the council, consisting of Chairman Schnell and Joseph Heffner, was appointed, immediately after which the meeting quietly adjourned. Ald. Lexius disappeared while he ballots were being counted, with a pleasant, “Good night, gentlemen,” to all.

1 Most likely a reference to Patrick Eugene Joseph (John?) Prendergast who, that very day just hours before, had been convicted of assassinating Chicago’s mayor, Carter Harrison, two months earlier. Prendergast was deemed a little nutty, though not so much so to keep him from being hanged seven months later for the murder.

2 Two days earlier on December 28, the Daily Press reported of a petition circulating in the eighth ward calling for Alderman Lexius’s impeachment.


The news account does not reveal what Mr. Lexius is alleged to have done, aside from being drunk and carousing. It’s kind of humourous, too, how everyone apparently knew what had happened but no one wanted to say it out loud. The petition to impeach Mr. Lexius – “not couched in polite language by any means; it is blunt, out-spoken to almost a cruel degree, and bears charges of a very serious nature” – charged him with “drunkenness, illiteracy, etc.” Again, the ‘etc.’ as though everyone knew what was going on. And illiteracy – really? I don’t understand how that could be construed to be a crime. Yet it strikes me that Mr. Lexius had a strong personality that served him well in standing up for himself.

Was Mr. Lexius impeached? Did he resign? Did he take Chairman Schnell’s advice to “do better”? On the third question I don’t have enough information to say. As to the first two, evidently not. Some ten years later, Mr. Lexius was killed in a freak accident when visiting Milwaukee. While driving a buggy, the horse became frightened at something and took off at great speed. Mr. Lexius tried to slow the horse’s pace by steering into a vacant lot. His buggy crashed into a tree, and Mr. Lexius was hurled over the dashboard, his neck broken upon crashing to the ground. The news article reporting his tragic death states that “he was elected alderman of the Eighth ward and served in that capacity for four years, being succeeded at the end of his term by the late John Falk.” No mention is made of the neighborhood meeting in 1893 or of the efforts to impeach him. Indeed, the article mentions that two years before his death, “he was again nominated on the democratic ticket and elected. He was active in all municipal campaigns and made campaign speeches in foreign languages throughout the county.”

Funeral Notice for Henry Lexius

The report a few days later of Mr. Lexius’s funeral was nothing but laudatory:

“The funeral of Alderman Henry E. Lexius yesterday afternoon was attended by several hundred friends of the deceased, and the line of carriages which followed the remains to their last resting place in Oak Grove cemetery was one of the longest seen in the city in years.

Short services were conducted at the home of the deceased on West avenue south by Rev. Andreas. Among those in attendance were nearly all of the aldermen, city officials and many business associates and old friends of the deceased. The floral tributes were numerous and included a beautiful bouquet from the common council….

Several hundred more people were gathered at the grave to do honor to the deceased alderman. Brief but impressive services were conducted by Rev. Andreas and then the remains were committed to their last resting place and the grave covered with flowers.”

Mr. Lexius and his wife Katharine had six children, five of whom were living at the time of Mr. Lexius’ death.

Probably the thing that fascinates me the most about these accounts is the way a heretofore inconsequential name printed in a city directory a century and a quarter ago emerged before my eyes into a living, breathing person. I found myself unexpectedly feeling an empathy toward this man I never knew.

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Now that I know the mystery man was employed at the John Gund Brewing Company, I’ve begun looking for information about the brewery in an attempt to date the mystery man photo. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, that photo is dated circa 1890. Is that date estimate reasonable? What range of years might ‘circa’ include? Finding the answers to those questions has proven to be a crucial step en route to identifying the mystery man.

Illustrations of John Gund’s Brewery

I’ve located a number of different drawings of John Gund’s brewery (breweries, actually) spanning more than forty years. A time capsule of such images provides valuable clues as to what the John Gund Brewing Company looked like and how it evolved from its humble beginnings. It becomes apparent when examining these images, however, that the limners often used artistic license generously when creating their works. For the “big picture,” such license might be inconsequential. The challenge in comparing one image to another comes when examining the small details.

According to Steven Baier’s research paper “History of the Brewing Industry in La Crosse,” [1976] John Gund was born in Germany in 1830 and, following his schooling, apprenticed for two years at a cooperage and a brewery. In 1848, he came to America, settling in Illinois. During the next six years, he worked at a couple of breweries in Illinois and Iowa before moving to and establishing his first brewery in La Crosse in 1854. This image of John Gund’s first brewing structure appears on page 106 of “Echoes of Our Past: Vignettes of Historic La Crosse” [1985] by Myer Katz:

John Gund’s brewery 1854

John Gund’s brewery 1854

In 1858, John Gund sold the log cabin to C. L. Colman, who used it for his lumber business. Gund then entered into partnership with Gottlieb Heileman and built the “City Brewery.” Gund sold his share of the business to Heileman in 1872 and began building the “Empire Brewery.”

 

—1873—

Empire Brewery 1873, as seen from the southeast

Empire Brewery 1873, as seen from the southeast

source: Katz 1985

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office
C – dry kiln
D – engine house
E – ice house [The ice house was where blocks of ice that had been cut from the river (or lakes) were stored, often with sawdust around the blocks for insulation. Sometimes a portion of the ice house, or a building separate and distinct from the ice house, was used for cold storage. The cold storage building was where the beer was stored with the ice in the summer to keep the beer cool while lagering. Before refrigeration, cold storage was accomplished by the judicious use of those blocks of ice to keep a storage box or container cold.]
F – reserve ice house
G – stables
H – dwelling (house); not sure if it belonged to Gund Brewery

The bottling house, not depicted in the above illustration, was across the street to the east (to the right).

 

—1876—

Empire Brewery 1876, as seen from the southwest

Empire Brewery 1876, as seen from the southwest

source: Drawing of the city of La Crosse by C.J. Pauli, Wisconsin Historical Society

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office
C – dry kiln
D – engine house
E – ice house
H – dwelling (house)

The reserve ice house and stables shown in the 1873 illustration are not depicted in the above illustration. They were located to the southwest (downward in the above illustration). The bottling house, also not depicted in the above illustration, is to the east (to the right), across the street in the fenced-in tree grove.

The freight depot is to the northeast (upward in the above illustration) of the brew house.

In 1879-1880, a second ice house was constructed on the north (and slightly to the west) side of first ice house.

In 1880, John Gund formally organized the “John Gund Brewing Company.” The original articles of incorporation, dated May 1 1880, consist of two pages of ruled paper measuring 11¾” x 7¼”, handwritten using a fountain pen in beautiful, flowing script on the front and back of each page.

 

—1881—

John Gund Brewing Company 1881, as seen from the northeast

John Gund Brewing Company 1881, as seen from the northeast

source: Murphy Library, UW-La Crosse

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office, sleeping rooms (2nd floor)
C – dry kiln
E1 – ice house no. 1
E2 – ice house no. 2 built 1879-1880 and containing a basement, cooling room, storage room and ice room
F – reserve ice houses
G – stables
H – bottling house

The engine house is not depicted in the above illustration but remained located behind the brew house and malt house.

The dwelling in the 1873 and 1876 illustrations is not depicted here but was located south (to the left in the above illustration) of the bottling house.

 

—1887—

John Gund Brewing Company 1887, as seen from the northwest

John Gund Brewing Company 1887, as seen from the northwest

source: Drawing of the city of La Crosse by Henry Wellge, La Crosse Public Library

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office, sleeping rooms
C – dry kiln
E1 – ice house no. 1
E2 – ice house no. 2
E3 – ice house no. 3
F – reserve ice houses
G – stables
H – bottling house (built since 1884)

The engine house is not depicted in this illustration but remained located between ice house no.1 and the dry kiln.

The building north of the stables (to the left in the above illustration) possibly started out as a reserve ice house but was later used as a wagon shed.

The building south of the malt house (to the right in the above illustration) was a shed.

The building southeast of the malt house (upward in the above illustration) is the dwelling that was depicted in the 1873 and 1876 illustrations.

The building to the north (downward in the above illustration) of the bottling house is the former bottling house, now used for storage.

The building to the east of the bottling house (next to the railroad tracks) is a shed, and the building south of that shed is a sawdust shed.

The partial building across the railroad tracks and to the left of the bottling house is the freight depot depicted in the 1881 illustration.

The elongated structure to the northeast of the brew house and across the street and railroad tracks is the passenger depot depicted in the 1881 illustration.

 

—1890—

John Gund Brewing Company 1890, as seen from the northeast

John Gund Brewing Company 1890, as seen from the northeast

source: 1890 City Directory for La Crosse

The buildings in the above illustration are as follows:
A – malt house
B – brew house, office, sleeping rooms
C – dry kiln
E1 – ice house no. 1
E2 – ice house no. 2
E3 – ice house no. 3
F – reserve ice houses
G – stables
H – bottling house (built since 1884)
I – wagon house
J – office
K – grain storage

The building to the north of the two ice houses (to the right in the above illustration) is either the freight depot for the Chicago and Northwestern railroad or the car shed for the Green Bay, Winona and St. Paul railroad. (The placement of the buildings, street and rail lines are not depicted accurately in the above illustration, so it’s a little difficult to tell which railroad building it is supposed to be.)

 

—1892—

John Gund Brewing Company 1892, as seen from the northeast

John Gund Brewing Company 1892, as seen from the northeast

source: 1891 Annual Report of the Board of Trade for the City of La Crosse, Murphy Library, UW-La Crosse

This illustration looks to be the same as the 1890 illustration from the city directory.

 

Identifying the various buildings in the different images proved to be a challenging exercise. Some of the artists took more liberties than others with respect to perspective, orientation and detail. In addition, new building construction over time occasionally tripped me up. For example, the bottling house in the 1881 illustration is oriented east-west and appears to be frame construction. By contrast, in the 1890 illustration, the bottling house is oriented north-south and appears to be brick or stone construction. Both images turn out to be correct (mostly). A new bottling house made from stone was built sometime after 1884, oriented nearly north-south. Meanwhile, the original frame-construction bottling house was retained and used for storage. Even so, the 1890 image lays out the buildings, road and rail lines in a neat grid, which wasn’t true to life. Based on textual descriptions of some of the buildings, and especially with the aid of Sanborn fire insurance maps, I was able ultimately to identify most of the buildings appearing in the various illustrations.

Employment at the Gund Brewery

Stephen Baier’s paper cites a figure of 25 employees at the brewery, ostensibly in the 1879-1880 timeframe. Biennial reports from the state commissioner of labor statistics Wisconsin Bureau of Labor Statistics First Biennial Report 1883-1884 show fairly steady, if not increasing, employment figures at the brewery over the next fifteen years, although who was counted as an employee is not explained. Further, the dates that the employee counts were tallied are not in the reports:

Report Years Male Employees Female Employees Total Employees
1885-1886 47 4 51
1887-1888 40 0 40
1889-1890 57 4 61
1891-1892 50 2 52
1893-1894 60 4 64
1895-1896 figures not reported

The photo with the mystery man includes 24 workers. If the photo date of circa 1890 is reasonable, it would seem that those men comprised from three-eighths to almost one-half of John Gund’s brewery workforce.

To be continued…

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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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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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Midsummer Reflection

I’m sitting on the porch at Mom and Dad’s house. One of the frequent trains is rumbling by along the river down below. The day is sunny and hot again with temperatures in the 90s, but the low humidity (14%!) does not make the heat uncomfortable. The mountains to the east, covered by the evergreen forests, are gorgeous to gaze upon.
Forested Mountains
The lookout station atop Cougar Peak is a white speck amongst the dark green of the trees.Cougar Peak Lookout If you didn’t know where to look for it, you’d never know it was there. An occasional bird or bug are the only other sounds. This is truly a majestic place, and it is immediately and always apparent why Mom and Dad chose this place to retire to.

Al and I flew (believe it or not) to Spokane on Friday and met up with cousin Frank, who happened to be there on business. We rode with him to Mom and Dad’s place — about four and a half hours all told, including a stop in Coeur d’Alene for lunch. The ride and conversation weren’t as awkward as I had been expecting. Frank is a good conversationalist and is easy to talk to. Still, it’s been years since we talked for any length of time, so I was nervous beforehand.

We arrived at Mom and Dad’s late in the afternoon. Mom’s brother, Rick, had just arrived about ten minutes earlier. It’s been ages since I’ve seen him, and I’ve never spent much time with him in deep conversation either. I was struck by how much he looks like his mother.

On Saturday, the first of two funeral masses for Mom was held at their church in town. Dad was very pleased with the service, and that made me glad. I think he appreciates having all of our company. Sunday morning he was humming and singing to himself, and that made me hopeful that his life from this point forward won’t be devoid of joy even though he misses Mom terribly. He seems to be clear-headed and is being very methodical about all of the various preparations to deal with Mom’s affairs. I don’t think I, in a such a circumstance, would have anywhere near the presence of mind that he has.

Sunday we took a little drive to the hospital in the town about thirty miles east of here. On Friday, a sore had developed on my foot that soon caused my foot to swell and become tender. Seems I have must have developed an infection, likely due to a little athlete’s foot, the doctor suspected. So now I’m taking an antibiotic, and it seems to be helping.

As I reflect on these last several days, I think about my own quotidian existence and how things that heretofore have seemed so signficant to me now seem rather trival or inconsequential. I have spent an awful lot of my time fixated on things that don’t warrant such attention. It occurs to me that I would do well to figure out how to learn to discern when certain aspects of life deserve due consideration while others can be left by the wayside. I suppose that’s an endeavor that nearly every human in history has tried to make. Yet there is something about this awareness that leads me to believe that it may actually be possible to accomplish.

I’m sure that I’ll need to remind myself continually that life is to be lived.

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