Hidden History

Photo Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Website

If it wasn’t for the area Boy Scouts, I might never have discovered that the Eureka Boat Landing in the Winnebago County Parks Department in Wisconsin was the site of a cabin where a movie was filmed that described the true story of a family that once lived there.

All Mine to Give (British title: The Day They Gave Babies Away ) is a 1957 Technicolor melodrama starring Glynis Johns, Cameron Mitchell, and Rex Thompson. A historical marker designates the site, but there isn’t much in the way of information. In my quest to learn more, I discovered a sad tale of orphans left alone at Christmas time.

While undertaking a mission to supply information for kiosk signs created by area Boy Scouts for their Eagle Scout projects, I discovered this marker as well as a treasure trove of fascinating information relating to the park properties. After all, those kiosk signs are huge, and I wanted to provide more info than just the standard rules and regulations, path maps, etc., that usually dominate information kiosks. Plus, I needed to take up some room!

My first thought was to take information from the website and print it out for the kiosks. Although the website contained good basic descriptions, it lacked the depth of what was available for each individual site. So I started delving into the history of the individual sites. Boy, did I strike gold!

Investigatory Research

Luckily, I was privy to some investigatory advice courtesy of the chairpersonship of the city’s Landmarks Commission. The local museum and library are great choices to start, but with minimal budgets and fewer operational dollars, I decided to do what I could online. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has an abundance of historical information that can be viewed in the archival reading room, but copying and checking out materials is not permitted. While surfing these university archives, I discovered the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections website, which contains “thousands of images, texts, and sound recordings from across Wisconsin and the world.” Wow, does it ever!

I discovered that by using numerous searches of this enormous database and a great deal of patience, I was able to garner some interesting information on a number of parks sites, including photos. While information was not available on all of the sites, by using various spellings, terminology derived from local history, and just plain luck, I came up with history information on three-quarters of the department’s properties.

Colorful Stories

I found that at the Black Wolf Boat Landing, there lived a famous chief. “On a point of land now known as Black Wolf point (Sec. 21), in town of Black Wolf, jutting out into Lake Winnebago, at a distance of seven miles south of the City of Oshkosh, there was formerly located Black Wolf's Winnebago Indian village.” A battle between the French and local Native Americans took place not far from this village. ( History: Winnebago County, Wisconsin: Its cities, towns, resources, people . Archive.org by Publius v. Tawson/ ll. B)

Photo Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Website

Another source of information was the Wisconsin Historical Society website. There, I discovered the true meaning of the moniker for our Boom Bay Boat Landing. “At the turn of the century there were loggers on all of the branches of Wisconsin's WolfRiver. They all put their logs into the river—millions of white pine logs—to be floated to the sawmills at Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. But as the logs of the ’lumber barons’ floated down the Wolf, they got all mixed up. At first, the loggers followed their timber into LakePoygan, then sorted the logs as best they could for towing to the mills. After a year or two, a group of lumbermen organized the Bay Boom Company, a nonprofit outfit, to sort each man's logs from those of the others.” ( WISCONSIN Magazine OF HISTORY SUMMER, 1953 THE BAY BOOM AT OSHKOSH .)

I also found an abundance of information from the historical society’s website on the LakeButte des Morts Boat Landing (Lake ”Mound of the Dead”). “The larger of the two lakes named Butte des Morts is just northwest of Oshkosh, between the city and Winneconne. It was named not from a massacre (see Little Lake Butte des Morts), but rather from the use of a hill on its banks as a cemetery by local Menominee, Sauk, and Fox Indians during the 18th century.”

Repurposing History

After much surfing, digging, cutting, pasting, and even more editing, I came up with fascinating stories to adorn the new kiosks at these sites. I also used the information to put together Power Point presentations on each site that are available on the Facebook page, as well as for use in presentations to community groups and classrooms.

The ability to make a site come alive with history was very refreshing and, hopefully, park users will look at this information and see what treasures lie within the public domain for their enjoyment. In doing this research, I hope to have erected a bridge to the past where park users can travel to find out the histories of these gems. So the next time you ask, “Why is that particular site called _______ ?” take a little time to find out! You just may discover a little treasure of your own and become quite a sleuth in the process.

Vicky Redlin is the program manager for the Sunnyview Expo Center/Winnebago County Parks Department in Oshkosh, Wis. Reach her at (920) 232-1962.