This year's Historic Haunts walk was a grand success, with 190 people learning about some of the interesting events that occurred "under the hill" on the South side of Baraboo. Below are some of the highlights of that event.
WELCOME SPIRIT SEEKERS
Listen! If you listen closely you can still hear the elephants as they make their way across the high bridge signaling that they are home.
This abutment is about all thatís left of Barabooís high bridge which once spanned from here all the way to Lynn Street on the south side, a distance of about 600 feet. The bridge was 26 feet above the water and allowed travelers to go from the depot to the square without descending down to the river. The bridge was a seemingly sturdy iron truss bridge that would stand forever.
But looks can be deceiving. The bridge was built in 1890 and somewhat on the cheap. Eventually speed on the bridge had to be limited to a walk. Soldiers crossing the bridge during World War I broke lock step in order to keep the bridge from swaying too much. By the 1920s the bridge was deemed dangerous and not even foot traffic was allowed. Traffic was eventually rerouted with the completion of the new Broadway bridge.
In 1929 the bridge was dismantled and sold for scrap. Once Barabooís pride and joy, the high bridge was here for less than forty years before it was torn leaving only this abutment and the memory of the elephants that used to cross it once they were home.
The Cardiff Giant
Come in, come in and shut the door before anyone finds out Iím here. Iím not really welcome around Baraboo ever since my tobacco warehouse burned. People accused me of setting the blaze intentionally to collect the insurance money. Well isnít that what insurance is for?
My name is George Hull. I imagine youíve heard of me. Who hasnít with the discovery of the Cardiff Giant? Iíll admit Iím the mastermind behind it.
I was originally going to bury him around here back when I lived here in Baraboo for a short time on East Street. It seemed perfect with all of the ancient mounds around and all. I was originally thinking of making him out of quartzite from the lake too but it seemed too hard and heavy. I settled on gypsum from Fort Dodge, Iowa, my sister lives down in that area. I hired a German carver in Chicago to make it. Then we stained it and poured sulfuric acid on it to make it look old.
I decided to bury it on the farm of my cousin, Stub Newell, near Cardiff, New York just south of Syracuse. That area is known for its discoveries of other ancient relics. October 16, 1869 will be a day that will live in history. For it was on that day, nearly a year after we buried the giant that Stub, my cousin, hired two men to dig him a well, and they discovered the giant.
The idea came to me some years before when I had an argument with a preacher named Turk. He said that the Bible said that in the early days there were giants on the earth. I thought that this scheme would show him up as well as earn me a little money. I spent about $2,600 getting the whole thing off the ground but it was worth it, at least in the beginning.
Well, after Stubís men discovered the giant news spread quickly and soon people were lined up and paying 50 cents a head to see it. Soon several businessmen in Syrcacuse wanted to buy it, so we let them have a three quarter share for $40,000, although we never got all the money. Some people thought it was truly a petrified man and others thought it was an historical statue carved by the Jesuits. I really didnít care what they thought as long as I could keep my involvement quiet. Barnum even wanted to buy it but after he couldnít he decided to make his own. A hoax of a hoax!
Things started to unravel when people began to suspect that the large iron bound box they had seen in the vicinity a year before might have been the giant. Then when word got out to Iowa about the giant people there remembered the large block of gypsum we took from the quarry there. Articles from the Sauk County Herald here in Baraboo didnít help either. Well I finally had to confess but I still did make about $20,000 on the deal, I couldíve made more if things had gone right.
Well, now you can tell your friends you met the famous Giantmaker. Who know maybe Iíll make another one? The tobacco business is far too boring.
Hello my name is Sharon McArthur and I would like to welcome you to the McArthur Mill building which was constructed in 1914 by the Baraboo Commercial Association for my husbandís great grandfather, George McArthur who owned the McArthur Textile Mfg. Company. George McArthur came to Baraboo from Appleton in 1892 after meeting a local banker who suggested Baraboo would be a good place to find water power for his linen mill operation.
Until recently there has been a dam at this spot on the river since 1844 when George Brown put in the first one. He built a grist mill on this side of the river but was killed when adding an addition to it. Later that mill was destroyed by fire in 1852, probably the work of an arsonist.
A few years later gentlemen named Bassett and Sanford constructed a large four story flour mill here that was the pride of the town. It was painted a chocolate brown and had a white crinkly cornice and even a walkway along the ridge of the roof.
The Bassett mill, as it came to be known, had four runs of stone and could produce 20,000 barrels of flour a year. These barrels had to be shipped by wagon to the nearest railroad depot which was in Kilbourn, now known as Wisconsin Dells. Bassettís need for barrels was so great that he had to build his own barrel factory further down on Water Street. Soon Bassett was making more than enough barrels for his own flour and decided to sell barrels. In 1861 they sold for 32 cents each. These were hauled to Madison over the south bluff on a tall framework. Sometimes the load would come loose, especially in the winter, and then the barrels would be in a race to reach the bottom of the bluff. Unfortunately more than one man lost his life falling off the load of barrels on to the icy road below.
The Basset mill building lasted until July 5, 1902 when it was destroyed in a spectacular fire, possibly starting from the remnants of fireworks from the night before. The fire was so big that papers from the mill were found three miles away.
This land was then unimproved until this building was built 12 years later. In 1922 an addition was built to the east doubling the size of the operation. The chase for the water was also rebuilt at the time.
The McArthur enterprise made a variety of linen products including hammocks during World War II out at the other McArthur mill at the Glenville Dam.
The company still exists today as McArthur Towel & Sports, Inc. but doesnít run on water power any more.
Molly Arbogast Cat Cemetery
When the Ringlings started their circus in Baraboo in 1884 most people could not imagine the success that they would have or how quickly the circus would grow. Animals are a big part of the circus and one of the first things that the Ringlings did was build a menagerie. Within a few years the Ringlings had a bear, monkeys, an eagle, two lions, a kangaroo, an anteater, an elk and a hyena which they billed as the ďHideous Hyena Striata Gigantium.Ē Each fall these animals would come back with the circus here to Baraboo.
In 1887 the Ringling Brothers purchased the old Basset factory that sat here along the riverfront and started their winter quarters. Soon the trumpeting of elephants and the roar of big cats could be heard throughout the nearby streets.
Local farmers were engaged to provide food and bedding for the growing number of animals housed here. The animals also left something behind which had to be hauled away. Fortunately the farmers gladly took the manure to spread on their fields. One farmer was reportedly nearly scared to death when he was shoveling manure from the pile and came across a much agitated python. The snake was thought to have died during the cold winter and was tossed on the manure pile and covered. The warmth soon revived the animal and all was well until the farmer came along.
Big cats were also an exciting part of the Ringling Brothers Circus as long as they were safely in their cages. One winter a black panther escaped and found its way into the outhouse of a house across the street. When they old woman who lived in the house went to use the facilities she found the big cat sprawled out across the seat. The old woman reportedly went to the house, grabbed a broom and shooed the cat out of her outhouse. The animal was later captured and returned to its rightful home.
Sadly the exotic animals left Baraboo for good in the spring of 1918 and never returned. The Ringlings had decided to move their winterquarters to Connecticut. The vacant buildings were eventually sold and put to other uses. This building eventually became the Lewis auto body shop. Dick Lewis, the owner, had a big heart for cats, this time little ones. One day the shop became home to a mama cat with seven kittens. All were welcomed. Each time a cat would pass on he would bury it next to the building. Some of the cats lived to be over twenty years old. Little Joe, Midnite, Adolf, Frisky, Boots, Scooter and Sam all now rest in peace where their exotic cousins used to roam. When the building was sold to Circus World a stipulation was made that the cat cemetery was not to be disturbed.
118 Ash Street Elite Theatre
This building was built in 1891 as a general mercantile store for Peck & Cramer. Catering to the needs of south side and railroad men the building was nearly destroyed by fire in 1895 when a young boy was drawing gasoline at the rear of the store. In those days gasoline and other flammable products were often housed indoors and used for lighting systems or were offered for sale. The young boy accidentally stepped on a match and ignited the vapors of the gasoline. The valve was left open and soon the store was a raging inferno from front to back. The plate glass windows in the front eventually broke and the stock in the store was a total loss. The boy was miraculously only slightly burned but two cats in the store were suffocated. The fire department managed to save the building but the first floor was ruined. After it was repaired the first floor became a dye works but by 1907 was vacant. In June of that year the store front became one of Barabooís first silent movie theatres with shows for 10 cents. Called the Elite Theatre the enterprise only lasted a few weeks here before moving uptown. The building later became a soda pop factory and a skating rink.
Kyle Opatik Please excuse me for not getting up, you see I died in a rocking chairÖbut first let me introduce myself. My name is George Brown and I guess I could be considered the founder of Baraboo in a sense. I laid out a village plat with the name Baraboo in May of 1847. I had come to the area a few years earlier and claimed the land and water rights along this stretch of the river. I could see the great potential for water power here and I and my brother William set about to improve the place and start a village. At the same time, the county board had a village surveyed adjoining mine just to the north on top of that ridge (point at hill to north) and they called it Adams. They had it laid out around a central square where they would build the courthouse. Later both villages were just called Baraboo.
Eventually most of our family including my parents came to settle here. My sister, Martha and her husband Erastus Langdon were the first settlers married in the Baraboo valley in November of 1844. I remember there was an eclipse of the moon that night and while we were assembled for the occasion news finally reached us that James Polk had been elected president two weeks earlier.
Well, back to 1844 when we built our first dam. The first thing we wanted to construct was a saw mill so we could make good use of all of the timber in the area and make lumber for ourselves and for others. While we were digging the foundation for the saw mill over yonder on the south side of the river we found the bones of a wooly mammoth about eight feet down. The animal would have been about thirty-six feet long judging from the bones.
Two years later I decided to build a grist mill on the north side of the river. This proved to be so successful that I planned an enlargement of it in 1847. On December 15 we were raising one of the great timber sections of the addition but suddenly it fell. I called out to the others to get out of the way but I couldnít extract myself. My head was crushed by one of the timbers, but I survived for a few hours in a neighborís rocking chair where I breathed my last. I had such great ambitions to get married and have prosperous businesses but it was not to be.
My funeral was the first one held in Barabooís first court house which was a large wooden affair on the north side of the square. My death prompted the need for the first official cemetery in the village although later I was moved from there to Walnut Hill.
Iíll never know what might have been, as I, like the wooly mammoth we dug up have turned to dust.
Walnut Street Bridge
"Did you find the body yet?"
"Have you come to help look? Be careful there you might slip off. This rickety foot bridge they put up sure could use a hand rail. We donít want to lose another one. We just about lost Mrs. Stallman last Sunday when she got giddy looking at the rushing water and fell in with her little girl, fortunately they got her out."
"His name was Donahue. I didnít know him really but we almost died together. You see it all started a few weeks ago. I know weíll never forget April Foolís Day, 1866. Mother Nature sure played a prank on us with the first thunderstorm of the season. That would have been bad enough but the snow and ice wasnít melted yet. The river rose in an awful hurry and in a matter of days all the bridges across the Baraboo River were gone. Chunks of ice twelve feet square and two feet thick came roaring down destroying everything in their path. I hear even the bridges at the Upper Town and Lower Town at Sauk were destroyed.
Anyway, a rope ferry was set up here to get across the river while we waited for this foot bridge. On the Friday after the flooding began I got in the boat with Judge Quimby and Donahue and the boatman. We started to cross but the current was still so strong that the boatman lost control and soon the boat was capsized and we were fighting for our lives. Judge Quimby and I and the boatman barely got out with our lives but not poor Donahue.
They still havenít found him and itís already been two weeks. Iím not sure theyíll ever find him but I canít sleep until they do. I hope youíll help me look.
They did in fact find Mr. Donahueís body after he drowned. His body was trapped beneath some brush along the river and was not found for seven weeks. Workers on Deanís dam down stream noticed the hands of the corpse first and then realized Mr. Donahue had at last been found. His body was recovered by friends and interred.
Mark Reitz -- Body Searcher
David Etzweiler -- Body Searcher
Hello, if youíre looking for Dan Kelsey, heís not here on account of the accident. If you havenít heard, the little Seeley boy is dead.
My nameís Webster by the way. Iím just helpiní out while Dan gets over things. He feels just terrible about the accident.
You see he was heating up the butt end of a gun barrel to pull the britch pin and he didnít know the gun was loaded. Well about that time the Seeley boy, you know the one that lives in that shanty over yonder on the edge of the mill pond, was passing by and looked in. He was standing right about where you all are. Well the blast hit him with a full charge in the face. I know some people thinks Dan is kind of rough around the edges but he sure feels bad about it. I donít know when heíll be back to work. Itís odd not to have him here, heís been smithing here since 1847 I think.
Heís really a good guy if you get to know him. Now I know heís stolen a few melons here and there from other peopleís patches, and sometimes heís paid for it with a little lead in the back side, if you know what I mean. Dan just likes to live it up a little now and then.
Dan is in his glory on Independence Day though. You see, heíll get up real early and take his two anvils up to the square. Heíll set one right side up and put black powder in this little area here and then set up the other anvil on top. Heíll use a long glowing hot rod to set off the powder and boy does that anvil fly! Kids from miles away here that tremendous sound and come in to see Dan do it again and again all day long. It will be hard to do it again next Fourth of July knowing that one of those youngsters isnít around anymore.
If you need any smithing done just let me know and Iíll take care of it until Dan gets back. Nice talking to you, Iíve got to get back to work now and catch up on Danís workÖnot to mention my own.
Southwest corner of Ash and Water Streets
Weíre standing in front of the Urban Hotel which was built by George Urban in 1888 to replace an earlier wooden hotel on this spot. The Urban Hotel offered accommodations and included a restaurant and saloon. While not as upscale as the hotels on the square the Urban Hotel filled a need and was close to the railroad depot.
If youíve ever been scared to death during a thunderstorm youíll appreciate what the residents of the Urban Hotel went through on the night of June 25, 1914. The night was hot and sultry and at about 1:30 a.m. a tremendous wind came up. Those who dared watch saw the sky full of flying objects silhouetted by the nearly constant lightning. Some called it a cyclone, others just wind but whatever it was called it was the worst storm in Baraboo history to that point. The damage was heaviest here along Water Street although all over the city windows were blown out and strange sights greeted residents in the morning light. One house had the bottom of the lace curtains inside the house blown perfectly between the glass and the wood sash of the window without breaking the glass. Another resident on First Avenue found his woodshed crumpled neatly between a touring car and the neighboring house without so much as a scratch on the car.
The residents of the Urban Hotel that were asleep at the time awoke to the most tremendous sound of the tin roof being ripped off in one gigantic piece. The section weighed over a ton and was left hanging from the east side of the building and draped over the telephone wires.
Amazingly no one was seriously hurt or killed during the windstorm, however two young men had a close call when the barn they were sleeping in on Potter Street was lifted and carried fifteen feet before falling on its side. Both men emerged wearing window sashes as collars. They were said to have been almost frightened to death.
The former Urban Hotel the way it looks today. See story above.
East and Water Streets
The Ringling Brothers held their first circus performance in Baraboo in 1884. As the Ringling Brothers Circus empire grew so did the number of employees and their need for housing. In 1890 the Ringling Brothers started leasing the old Union Hotel that sat on this site. The building was an old pioneer era establishment that the Ringlings eventually bought outright for use as employee housing. In 1916 this three story brick structure was built as the new Ringling Hotel. The building had lounges, dining rooms and sleeping quarters including dormitory style accommodations on the third floor for the spring influx of workers. The building was not used very long for this purpose however. The Ringling Brothers Circus left Baraboo in 1918 and never came back. The building was used for less than two years for its original purpose.
Ash and Water Streets
If you study history long enough youíll realize that it has a way of repeating itself, sometimes in odd ways. In the fall of 1850 Joseph Sanford was having a new brick store constructed on this corner for his general store. One day in mid-September shortly after the workmen had left, the front brick wall of the building caved in taking with it the floor joists of the first and second floors. Fortunately no one was injured but the building was seriously damaged and its completion was delayed.
Nearly fifty years later in 1899 this building was being constructed to replace the earlier brick store. In June of 1899 just as the brick walls had reached the top of the second story windows a wind storm came up and blew out part of the east wall. The brick work landed on the house next door knocking a hole through the roof and taking down several rafters and the ceiling. The hotel building was repaired and opened as the City Hotel.
Northwest corner Ash and Water Streets
Although this area and the square developed at the same time, this area of town has had a shadier history than the area around the court house. Known as the "under the hill" section of town some of the rougher taverns and establishments were found here in the early days. One of the early establishments here was known as Hilesí Deadfall after its proprietor George Hiles, who even had an early bowling alley installed. Rough and tumble characters who worked on the river would frequent taverns in this area. As Baraboo developed, eventually better building were built of brick and cement but earlier memories were not forgotten. When this building was constructed in 1924 a man named Charles Hirschinger remembered that as a boy he was passing the former structure on this site and heard weird cries coming from within. When he looked in the windows he saw a man struggling in the throws of death, his throat had been cut. When young Hirschinger went around to the Water Street entrance to the building he was met by some unsavory characters who told him not to tell anyone what he had seen under pain of death. Hirschinger recounted that he never heard any more about the incident.