Arts Sunday Afternoon Death Trip
I stopped by Grant Cogswell’s highly-hyped sale this afternoon and bought the book Wisconsin Death Trip, based, of course, purely on the title. Apparently this book is relatively well known (Josh Feit called it “a rare oddity”) but it’s new to me and I’m completely entranced. The book is actually the University of Wisconisin master’s thesis of a guy named Michael Lesy, who combed through archived copies of the Badger State Banner — the newspaper of a small town in Wisconisin —and combined late 20th century photographs with some excerpts from the paper, whose town/county/state sections reveal the shockingly morbid life in of small town Wisconsin in the 1890s.
As he says in the introduction, “What was strange was that in the seventy years from then to now… in that short time, in one lifetime, all of Charly’s pictures and Cooper’s newspapers were changed from the most ordinary of records of the most ordinary events into arcane remnants, obscure relics, antique mementos.”
Philosophically they’re interesting, for sure, but they’re also hilarious. Here’s some of my favorite:
Milo L. Nichols, sent to the insane hospital a year or two ago after committing arson on Mrs. Nichols’ farm is now at large… and was seen near the old place last week… He has proven himself a vengeful firebug. [8/31, County]
Tramps are overrunning Grant County, raiding sheep and stealing horses. The farmers [are] organizing a vigilance committee. [5/7, state]
Henry Johnson, an old bachelor of Grand Dyke, cut off the heads of all his hens recently, made a bonfire of his best clothes, and killed himself with arsenic. [4/3, State]