A Northwoods Moment In History

Every Wednesday at 6:45 a.m., 8:45 a.m., and 5:45 p.m., we turn back the clock on WXPR with local historian Gary Entz to find out what life in the Northwoods used to be like. This is part of a new initiative by WXPR to tell the history and culture of northern Wisconsin.

You can keep track of A Northwoods Moment in History and all of WXPR's local features on the WXPR Local Features podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

Wikipedia Public Domain

Summer is baseball season, and many Northwoods residents enjoy playing the game in local leagues or watching professionals on television.  A few of those professional players have found the Northwoods equally appealing, and more than one has called the town of Three Lakes home.  One of them was first baseman Fred Luderus.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

One of the more colorful aspects of Northwoods history is that 1930s-era gangsters such as Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger spent time in the region.  But they were just visitors.  One famous gangster from that era found the Northwoods so appealing that he made it his permanent home. 

Courtesy of Thomas Dault

An equilibrist is an acrobat who performs daring feats of uncanny balance.  This includes tightrope walkers, trapeze artists, tumblers, or any sort of skilled human balancing act.  A daredevil is a recklessly and often ostentatiously daring person.  When the two are combined you get Rhinelander’s own Daredevil Dault. 

Wikipedia Public Domain

Memorial Day was established to honor those who have died in American wars.  There are many images that people look to when remembering those who served, but few images are more iconic than the Marine Corps War Memorial that depicts the flag raising at Iwo Jima in 1945.  For many years it was thought an Antigo native was part of that photo, but was he? 

Wisconsin Historical Society

Many people in the Northwoods have gotten vaccinated against Covid-19, but a significant minority continues to resist vaccination.  The reasoning against vaccination usually revolves around uncertainty for health and safety, and for reasons of civil liberties.  These are old arguments, and not so different as those used during the smallpox epidemic. 

Wisconsin Historical Society

History can be a challenging undertaking.  To uncover evidence, a historian must be part journalist and part detective. But when historical recollections devolve into myth the historian must become a revisionist and upset local legends to tell a story accurately.  Such is the case of Willie Dickinson and Old Man Mudge in Florence. 

Wikipedia Public Domain

Cold War maneuvering between the United States and the Soviet Union and the cloak and dagger intrigue of American spycraft is about as far removed from the serenity of the Northwoods as one can get.  Nevertheless, during the early days of the Cold War, a CIA program known as MK-Ultra placed one Northwoods native into the middle of the worst of the conspiracies. 

Wisconsin Historical Society

Most of us give little thought to the trash we produce, except perhaps when it is time to take the garbage bucket to the curb for the weekly collection.  Northwoods residents are fortunate to have an efficient system of trash collection and recycling.  Nevertheless, weekly trash pickup is a recent luxury, and in the past things were quite different.

Wisconsin Historical Society

Every year the town of Crandon celebrates Kentuck Days. This local holiday honors lumber camp workers from Kentucky who settled in the area at the turn of the century. But Crandon was not founded by anyone from Kentucky. Rather, Crandon was founded by Samuel Shaw, who traces his heritage back to Scotland.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

Modern telecommunication systems provide the means to contact friends, relatives, and businesses whenever and wherever we want, but historically this is a recent development.  New electronic communication systems often had a dramatic impact on communities, and this can be seen in the Northwoods.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

Train robberies are part of the lore of the American West and the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters.  But what was far more common than robbing a moving train was robbing the train depot, and that happened in the Northwoods back in the heyday of railroading.

Wikipedia Public Domain

Many talented people have lived in the Northwoods, and every now and again one of them achieves national fame.  One such person was Stanley Morner from the town of Prentice in Price County.  Although few people today recognize his name, in the 1940s under the stage name of Dennis Morgan, Stanley Morner was considered an    A-list star and one of Hollywood’s leading men. 

Wisconsin Historical Society

During the Second World War, raw materials were in high demand and difficult to obtain.  This made recycling of metal, rubber, and paper more important than ever.  Oneida County met its scrap collection goal but had to sacrifice an historic treasure to do it.  

Wisconsin Historical Society

Today, travel in and out of the Northwoods can be accomplished by private automobile or airline.  In prior decades, people had multiple options for traveling, including that most mundane of all modes, the bus.  

The National Archives and Records Administration

People interested in polar geography may know about the Eklund Islands in King George the Sixth Sound southwest of the Antarctic Peninsula.  What might be less commonly known is that the Eklund Islands in Antarctica are named for a Northwoods native.  

The southernmost continent of Antarctica is cold, inhospitable, and not the sort of place that most Northwoods residents think about when looking for adventure.  But for one Northwoods native, the chance to live and work in Antarctica was a dream come true.

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