Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Hiding in Plain Sight

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

We’ve known for many years about the tobacco advertising on the buildings around the railroad tracks in Edgerton, Wisconsin. Edgerton became the center of tobacco growing in Southern Wisconsin when dozens of warehouses were built in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

On Labor Day, 2011, we decided to spend the day photographing locally. Our first photos were of things on our list around Madison, Wisconsin. Often, we do this when we read in the paper that some historic business is closing or is in danger of being torn down. Such was the case on this day. But we finished in town early and decided to hit the highway and head for tobacco country to the south.

As we cruised down Highway 51 towards Stoughton, I was looking down at my notebook and the map, as I am often doing, trying to formulate a plan. And suddenly, Joann braked hard and told me to “hold on.” She was going to take the first opportunity to make a U-turn, but she didn’t tell me why. When I asked what I had missed, she told me that she had seen the word “CHEW” on the end of an old tobacco barn.

Well! All these years we had been discussing how odd it was that we didn’t find any tobacco ads on barns around southern Wisconsin, especially considering it had been the state's center of tobacco growing. And now, here was one that had been hiding for years beneath a coat of white paint. And it was along a state highway, which is where we had found them in our travels in other states.

We took a few photos and then continued on our way. As we drove the highway, we discussed that we should get the photos processed soon and report this find to the Mail Pouch Barnstormers group, which tracks all the Mail Pouch signs and their locations across the country.

For some reason, Joann didn’t get around to processing the photos and we didn’t revisit this barn until March 2017 when we were running an errand to Stoughton. Even though it wasn’t our normal route, we decided to take the highway again to check on the barn and snap a few photos.

After we finished our errand in Stoughton, we talked about taking a different route home, but something made us decide to go back up the highway. And boy, are we ever glad we did!

As we approached the location of the barn, we saw what we had missed driving south -- a large Mail Pouch ad painted on the long side of the barn. In the years since our last visit, more of the paint had flaked off all sides of the barn and this sign could be plainly seen. Again, we discussed that we really needed to report this to the Mail Pouch Barnstormers. But somehow, life always seems to get in the way.

We visited the barn again in January 2019 to check on its status and to get some pictures in the snow. Luckily, the barn has a relatively new roof, but hadn’t been repainted to cover up the signs. We took more photos of both the end of the barn, which had the words “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco” and the long side of the barn, which had the words “Mail Pouch” in large letters.

We feel the need to get as many photos as possible in case something happens to the barn. It might get torn down since it doesn’t appear to be used, or it might get painted over and the sign would again be hidden as it had been for many years.

This also makes us feel like we should travel more of the highways around the tobacco towns in southern Wisconsin. What if there are other barns like this one? We usually try to stick to the backroads in our travels because highways are getting so dangerous and wide shoulders often aren’t available, but this sign definitely piqued our interest.

We know tobacco was grown in many counties of southern Wisconsin, so as you travel around on Wisconsin highways, keep an eye out for Mail Pouch advertising signs bleeding through on any old barns or buildings. If you find one, please let us know. And now that we finally have all the photos of this barn processed, we’ll be sure to let the Barnstormers know.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

How did a young woman born in Virginia become a Confederate spy in the Civil War at the tender age of 17? And how did she end up buried in a cemetery in Wisconsin? After visiting her grave in October 2014, we knew we had to find out.

Maria Isabella "Belle" Boyd was born on May 9, 1844 in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) in the Shenandoah Valley. She was a tomboy in her early years, climbing trees, running through the woods, and riding her horse. She was the oldest child and dominated her younger siblings. At age 12 she was sent to Baltimore’s Mount Washington Female College. She graduated at age 16 and returned to Martinsburg.

At the start of the Civil War, many residents of Martinsburg supported the Union, but Belle’s father was sympathetic to the Confederates. Belle was just 17 at the start of the war, but she decided to do anything she could to assist the Confederate cause.

Belle started out as an informal spy. She flirted with Union officers, garnering information and writing it in letters which she delivered to the Confederate side with the help of her slave or a young neighbor. When one of her deliveries was intercepted, she got off with a warning because she was so young.

After this, she decided to make her work more official and became a courier, delivering information and medical supplies. By the time she was 18, she was somewhat of a celebrity and was known by several names including “Cleopatra of the Secession,” “La Belle Rebelle," the “Siren of the Shenandoah" and the “Rebel Joan of Arc." This celebrity soon led to her first arrest. She was only held for a week, and immediately upon her release she returned to her work.

On one occasion while she and her mother were staying at a hotel in Virginia, she eavesdropped (through a keyhole or knothole) on Union soldiers in the room next door and delivered the information to Confederate officers. She is said to have received a personal note from Stonewall Jackson thanking her for her immense service.

During the war, she was arrested six times, imprisoned three times, and exiled twice. In 1862, a warrant was issued for her arrest. She was captured and taken to Old Capitol Prison. While there, she continued her exploits. She waved Confederate flags from her window, sang Rebel songs, and sewed messages with information she gleaned from the guards into rubber balls which she tossed out the window.

Belle lived for a time in England where she wrote her life story in a book she titled “Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison.” She was married three times, two of those to ex-Union officers. In late 1866, she returned to the United States after President Andrew Johnson’s amnesty proclamation.

Needing to support her family, Belle took to the stage, giving lectures and performing her own story. On June 11, 1900, she was on tour in Kilbourn, Wisconsin (now Wisconsin Dells), when she had a massive heart attack and died. She was 56.

She was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery and, for a time, her grave had just a simple marker until an anonymous southern man donated a gravestone which reads “BELLE BOYD, CONFEDERATE SPY, BORN IN VIRGINIA, DIED IN WISCONSIN, ERECTED BY A COMRADE.”

Apparently, at one point, some Virginians decided it would be a good idea to remove her remains from Wisconsin and move them to Virginia. To prevent that, a concrete cap was placed over the grave. Stones from every state of the old Confederacy were embedded in the cap. Before the cap was placed, soil from Virginia was sprinkled over the grave by the Daughters of the Confederacy.

I must admit, every source I consulted in my research gave mostly the same story, but small details were different in each. I also had many questions for which I found no answers. For instance, I couldn’t find out what happened to her third husband or her children. And, for whatever reason, she was buried in Wisconsin where she died. Visit her grave if you have the chance. It’s an interesting piece of history!

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

My Favorite Season

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

When I was a kid, winter was my favorite season, probably because, unlike recent winters, there was a lot of snow most of the winter and we went sledding and ice skating, built snowmen and snow forts, and played games in the snow like Fox and Geese. As an adult, however, autumn has been my favorite season and I look forward to the fall colors all year.

In late September of 2012, we spent six days in Northern Wisconsin and the colors were stunning. We found ourselves saying, “Wow!” over and over as we found amazing color around every bend. It was definitely food for the soul! On the morning of September 30, we were in the Turtle-Flambeau Scenic Waters Area in Iron County at dawn. There was a light fog over the wetlands and an unmatched serenity as I stood soaking in the misty fall colors which were reflected in the water.

In 2017, we found some beautiful sumac in late October at Indian Lake County Park in Dane County, Wisconsin. The sumac colors are often finished by that time, so it was a pleasant surprise. It was foggy that morning, too, and the grass was wet. Still, I climbed up a steep embankment to get above the color. Getting up that high allowed me to capture Halfway Prairie Wildlife Area, with the Matz Farmstead stone ruins, in the background.

This fall, it was a challenge to find the expected fall color, which didn’t appear at the usual time. We headed out a couple of times in late September and early October, only to be disappointed by the lack of color. Finally, around October 18, the color showed up in Sauk County so we hit the backroads in search of a few scenes. A short distance from my house, we realized that it was going to be a beautiful sunrise, so we discussed our options quickly and headed down the road about a mile to capture a farm silhouetted against the blazing orange and yellow sky. This wasn’t the type of fall color I was looking for, but it was an awesome start to the day.

Our first stop in Sauk County was near Ski-Hi Orchard. There, a rusty old Studebaker truck sat among the fall grasses. We had seen it a couple days earlier and had planned to photograph it after capturing a historic log cabin, but then had forgotten. After that, I ran into Ski-Hi for some apple cider. And, no, I didn’t buy any apple cider donuts or caramel apples. But don’t credit me with willpower because it was only 8:00 a.m. so those weren’t available yet.

From there, we headed over to Durward’s Glen, a very special wooded retreat that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The trail that begins across from the parking lot immediately forks. First, I took the left fork and headed to the glen. I was grateful for the overcast lighting, which avoided harsh shadows on this beautiful place.

After hiking several trails in that direction, I backtracked toward the parking lot and took the right fork. This trail takes you past the Stations of the Cross on the way to St. Mary’s of the Pines, a stone chapel built in 1866. There is also a cemetery behind the church. The fall color on this trail was wonderful.

We left there and headed over to one of our favorite churches, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. But when we got there, a car was parked in the short driveway and a photographer was taking pictures. We decided to drive past and look at a few other things and then return. I made a mental note of the cornfield to make sure that I captured that view when we came back.

While stalling around to give that other photographer time to finish, we stumbled on a fall harvest scene with a long row of grain wagons parked along the edge of the cornfield. The farmers are having a hard time with their harvests due to all the rain, which resulted in very muddy fields.

We’ve learned not to question the Universe when it delays or reroutes us. In this case, we returned to the church from a direction that was different from our usual approach. This allowed me to spot a very nice composition from a hill that we usually drove in the opposite direction. And the fall color in the Baraboo Hills beyond the church was lovely. There is a sign above the church doors that is in German. It says, “Ev. Luth. St. Pauli Kirche, 1878.”

We decided to have our lunch while we sat in the peaceful surroundings of this historic church. The weather forecast had called for brief rain showers that would move through quickly starting around noon. Just as we finished our lunch, it started to rain. We moved on, counting on the rain to do the same. We drove to Seeley Lake to capture the dam and, hopefully, some fall color. But the rain began to increase and showed no sign of stopping. So, out came the umbrella for this shot.

Still hoping that the rain would pass through as predicted, we moved on, but it continued to rain heavily for the next hour, so we worked our way home. One of the last things I captured, also under an umbrella, was this Halloween display. I hope you got out there to enjoy the fall colors such as they were this year. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!