Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day - A Day to Remember

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Monday, May 30, 2011 is Memorial Day – a day to honor the men and women who served in the American military and died for our freedom.

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, as a result of a proclamation by General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (a fraternal organization of Union Civil War veterans). This first national celebration was held to honor the Civil War dead.

General James Garfield, who fought for the Union and who would later become our 20th U.S. President, gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. Following his speech, 5,000 ceremony participants decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried at Arlington.

By the late 1800s, many communities around the nation had begun to observe Memorial Day. After World War I ended in 1919, Memorial Day celebrations began honoring those who died in all of America’s wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday and it is now celebrated each year on the last Monday in May.

Every year, the celebration continues at Arlington National Cemetery with this year marking the 143rd observance there. This year’s patriotic ceremonies at Arlington include an Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, followed by a remembrance ceremony, hosted by the Department of Defense.

Two years ago, Ruth and I decided to go photographing on Memorial Day and we stopped at many local cemeteries to visit and photograph the gravestones of U.S. soldiers who had died in various wars. At a small cemetery near Mineral Point, shortly after I finished photographing the gravestone of a Civil War veteran, a bus pulled up with several uniformed veterans. We stood in silence as they lined up, played Taps, performed a 21-gun salute, and raised the American flag.

In recent years, many Americans have forgotten the true meaning of Memorial Day. On May 2, 2001, President Bill Clinton established the National Moment of Remembrance program asking all Americans to observe a moment of remembrance and respect at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day. Please remember those who have died in service to our country.

In 1915, during World War I, the following poem was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a medical doctor who was serving in the Canadian Army. “In Flanders Field” has become one of the most famous and memorable war poems ever written.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Have a good Memorial Day!

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!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Shunpiking with Sheila

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

About six months into our labor of love – this backroads blog and our photo website, we received one of our most gratifying comments. It was simply signed “Sheila K” and it said “Wonderful, amazing pictures and stories. Traveling the countryside with a sister and enjoying the beauty around you is a blessing. I look forward to Monday for only this reason - your blog. You are both very gifted ladies.”

Joann and I eagerly read any comments we receive, and often question each other about the author of comments. Did either of us know a Sheila that would have left such a nice comment? We couldn’t think of anyone we knew.

Several months later, Joann called our sister Linda about something unrelated, and the subject of the blog came up. Joann told her about the nicest comment we had received from someone named Sheila K. Linda said, “That’s my friend Sheila from work.” As the conversation progressed, Linda said that Sheila would like to go shunpiking with us, and that she would like to come along, too.

Finally, the following September, we made a plan for a Sunday morning. Joann told Linda that we were pulling out at 5 AM, so they had to be at Joann’s house or miss the “bus”. They both arrived on time and we left at the appointed hour.

At close to dawn, we were nearing our first stop when Sheila said, “We’re almost to LaValle; you should check out the old mill there sometime.” We laughed as we told her that this was to be our first stop. We have been there several times, but locations are different depending on the season, time of day, and weather.

After the mill, we started our normal meandering along backroads. We usually go out with at least a half-baked plan. Sometimes it only includes our first stop and the general direction we will take after that. This was one of those days.

Shortly after sunrise, we could tell that it was going to be a sunny day. We knew it wouldn’t make for the best pictures, but you have to take the day you get, so we decided to make the best of it. Along one of the backroads, we found a fence that had a boot on every post. We’ve seen this several times in different states and it always makes us laugh. Where do they get all of these styles of boots from, and what makes them want to do this?

When we were all hungry for breakfast, we found ourselves near the Juneau County Fairgrounds. We had our muffins near an old schoolhouse on the grounds. The sun was already up and there were butterflies visiting a stand of woodland sunflowers next to the car.

In a small town where we stopped for a coffee refill, we came across an old phone booth. Joann and I had been to the town before, but somehow, we had not noticed the old phone booth. If it wasn’t for a coffee stop, we might have missed it again. Linda had to try out the phone booth, and Joann snapped several pictures. She told Linda she could show her kids since they have probably never seen an old fashioned phone booth.

At one stop, we found a llama and several donkeys in a field. The llama was very protective of the donkeys and we enjoyed their antics. The donkeys were curious about us, but the llama didn’t want them getting too close.

In another small town we stopped to check out an old creamery. We found the creamery, but the lighting wasn’t very good, so we made a note to return and continued on. As we were trying to leave town, we found that the planters along the street were antique items. We loved the rusty old wringer washing machine planted with pansies and vines.

During the remainder of the day, we visited more farm scenes and old buildings. In one old building in Vernon County, as Joann was taking her photographs, Linda and Sheila couldn’t resist peering in the windows of the office to see what they could see inside.

It was one of our normal long days of photographing and Linda and Sheila said they were exhausted when we got back to Joann’s house.

Now that the weather is nice, meet up with some friends and hit the backroads. There are a lot of cool things to see.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

“B” is for Bicycle

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Saturday was a dreary day here in Wisconsin, but Ruth and I decided to do a little photographing despite the chilly wind and intermittent drizzle. So we headed to Richland County, which is our favorite county here in Wisconsin. At one point, we passed a home with a whimsical yard and decided to turn the car around and have another look.

The driveway was lined on both sides with birdhouses and there was a picket fence with two bright pink bicycles in front of it. Photographing the pink bicycles reminded me that May is National Bike Month. So, in honor of that, I decided I would share a few childhood memories involving bicycles.

When I was four years old, the two-lane US Highway 151 north of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was constructed. This highway consumed a portion of our farmland and my older brother and sister and I watched as the huge machines moved the earth and the concrete was poured. When the concrete was dry, but the highway was not yet open to traffic, my brother and sister got permission from our parents to ride their bikes on the new highway. I, not wanting to be left behind, but not having a two-wheel bicycle, took the only option I had – an oversized rusty tricycle with a ragged-edged seat that seemed to tear my pants every time I rode it (much to my mother’s frustration). Being able to ride “forever” on the smoothest road around was an absolute thrill (in spite of the hole in my pants).

Tearing my pants is the only bicycle (I mean, tricycle) mishap I remember for myself. However, I do remember a few bicycle mishaps for my siblings.

When my brother David was first learning to ride, my dad, thinking it would be an easy way to learn, told David to take the bike to the end of the driveway, which had a slight incline to it. So David walked the bike up to the end of the driveway by the road and hopped on. The driveway slowly declined as it passed the barn and milkhouse and then it curved around in front of the stone chicken house. As the rest of the family stood in front of the chicken house watching, David began his inaugural ride. Things were going well until he came to the curve in the driveway and failed to make the turn. At this point, all we could do was watch as he careened into the side of the stone chicken house. Luckily, nothing was hurt but his ego.

Then there was the time that Ruth was riding her bike down that same slight driveway incline on a sunny summer day. As she passed the barn and milkhouse, our border collie, Laddie, decided to chase a cat from the barn into the yard. The cat ran across the driveway and Ruth managed to swerve enough to miss hitting the cat. What she didn’t know was that Laddie was right behind. As she slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting our beloved dog, she was hurled from the bike face first onto the driveway. She ended up having to get stitches, and she still has a small scar to remind her.

As some of us kids got old enough to ride our bikes on the road, we would ride down to a nearby gas station to buy bottles of soda pop for ourselves. This gas station had one of those driveway hoses that went “ding-ding” whenever a car drove over it. This would alert the gas station owner that someone had pulled in and would need their gas pumped. On one of our “pop runs” to the gas station, David rode his bike over the driveway hose expecting to hear the familiar ding-ding. But at this gas station, the bell was inside the owner’s home and you couldn’t hear it outside. Thinking his bike wasn’t heavy enough to trip the bell, David rode over the hose again and again and even dismounted his bike and stomped on the hose. Well, you can imagine what the owner was experiencing inside, and soon the owner was shouting at us to leave the property. Needless to say, we didn’t get our soda pop that day.

When we were kids, we lived next to the Tuschen family and we sometimes played with John Tuschen, who would become Madison’s first Poet Laureate many years later. When I was about five years old and John was about ten, he got a brand spanking new bicycle and rode over to our place to show it off. We were standing in the yard when he rode in and I was eating an apple at the time. As we inspected his new bicycle with envy, I finished my apple and decided to play the apple core prank, which was popularized in the 1952 Disney cartoon entitled “Donald Applecore” and starring Donald Duck, along with Chip and Dale.

The prank went like this:

Joann (holding up her apple core): “Apple Core!”

Phyllis (our older sister): “Baltimore!”

Joann: “Who’s your friend?”

Phyllis (pointing at John): “John!”

So I wound up my arm and, with all the force I could muster, I whipped the apple core at John and somehow managed to hit him smack dab in the face. I think it caught him off guard (and probably hurt) and he started crying and rode home. I felt bad for making him cry, but I also couldn’t help being proud of my strength and skill at only five years of age.

Ruth and I always do our shunpiking by car, but for those of you who enjoy bicycling, it’s also a great way to shunpike. Just hit the backroads and enjoy all the beautiful rural scenery.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just Call Me Sherlock

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Lately I’ve been getting emails from Joann with lines like “way to go Sherlock!” or something like that. I often send her emails of cool things I find in my research. It keeps us excited between the times when we can actually get out photographing. Usually this starts with an email and a subject line of “I wonder where this is”? Often it is followed shortly by another email with the location that I found.

I’ve been perfecting my research skills for years and now sometimes I even amaze myself at how I can figure out the location of something I’ve seen a picture of, when the only information I have is the state. Years ago, my research was done using travel brochures and written books and lists. Now we have the internet, and it is a marvelous thing. I love to visit other photography websites. I enjoy viewing the photos from other areas of the country that we have not been able to visit yet. It helps me suggest some places we would enjoy for our upcoming photography trips.

A while ago I saw a picture of an old burglar alarm in a small town in southern Wisconsin. The picture showed only a small portion of the building and didn’t give any address, just the name of the town. I figured the building had to be on the main street or very close. It would have been an old bank building and I hoped we would be able to find it. On our next trip to the town, we drove up and down Main Street. I kept looking at the buildings until I saw one that looked like it had the same style as the one I had seen in the picture. And there it was – the old burglar alarm!

On a photography website I visit occasionally, I saw a picture of an old one-room school. It was in Sauk County, Wisconsin, and Joann and I have covered almost every road in that county. Why did this school not look familiar? I sent the web address to Joann and asked her if it looked familiar to her. She couldn’t remember the school either. I did some more research and found a picture of an old school next to a cemetery. It looked like the same building to me, and if it was, we were sure we had been down that road just a month or so before but hadn’t noticed the school.

I sent this link back to Joann with the original picture link to get her confirmation that this was indeed the same building. Searching our photo logs showed that we had stopped at the school about 10 years prior and had taken one photo. We returned this winter for more photos and now have the location marked for more trips in other seasons.

One of the bigger mysteries we had was an old gas station I stumbled on while searching the web. We love to visit old gas stations but there was no indication of where this gas station was. Again, all I knew was that it was in Wisconsin. With a magnifying glass, I could see a six digit phone number for a business on a sign in the parking lot. I used the phone number to narrow down the area of the state the station had to be in. There were two small towns next to each other with the same phone prefix, and one of those towns we had been to multiple times to visit an old mill that was owned by the local historical society.

How could we have been through this town multiple times and never seen this old gas station? The town has very few streets, so on our next visit we drove each one we thought it could be on. Finally we stopped a woman out walking and asked her if she knew where the station might be. Of course she did, and it was on a road we had never driven in all of our trips, on the edge of town about a quarter of a mile from the old mill.

On another photography site, I had seen a picture of a tobacco sign. I had never heard of the brand before, but the sign was cool. A little more research revealed that the sign was in a town that we had been to before. In fact, it was in Bear Valley, where our second cousins had grown up and their parents had owned a cheese factory. The sign is old enough that it was probably there when we visited as kids, but we weren’t looking for those things when we were younger.

Just this past week, the five girls in our family went with our dad out to Plain, Wisconsin, and the area where he had grown up. Our two youngest sisters had never been to the area with Dad, so we visited some of the places we had been to on earlier trips. Dad told us stories of when he was growing up and showed us places where he had lived and worked. Our route for the day took us to Bear Valley and, as we drove down Main St., we tried to figure out which building had been the cheese factory. As we stopped across the street from the building I thought was the cheese factory, I told Joann that the tobacco sign was on an old building last used as a garage. This time, finally, we came away with a picture.

You would think with all of my research and with both of us watching closely as we drive down the road that we would catch most things to photograph. You might be surprised to learn of the number of things we find out about later. Yes, we were on that road or in that town, but we must have blinked as we passed by.

If you see us out shunpiking, it’s OK to call me Sherlock. I’m the one in the passenger seat when Mary Poppins is driving.

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!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Into a Nearby Phone Booth

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Today, with the rapid advancement of phone technology and a cell phone in almost everyone’s pocket or purse, the need for public telephones has diminished to the point of no return. Soon, public telephone booths will be only a distant memory for those of us who grew up with them.

When Ruth and I travel to the small towns of rural America, we are occasionally delighted to stumble upon an old phone booth. I think our fascination with these iconic symbols of a simpler time started when we discovered an old phone booth in a small town in western Wisconsin. As we came through this small town and were heading out the other side, we noticed the old phone booth, which was sitting up against the side of a very small local phone company building. It was old and rusty, but it still had a working phone and a phone book inside.

I set up my tripod to take some shots and, as I did so, a couple in a vintage convertible motored past slowly and then stopped. The man backed the car up next to our car and said, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve been through here a number of times and I’ve never noticed that old phone booth before.” We chatted for a while and, after they left, Ruth and I discussed how great it was that a vintage car from several decades ago pulled up next to this vintage phone booth, which was also from several decades ago. We passed through this area a couple years later and the phone booth was still there, but there was no longer a phone in it. And, to our great disappointment, the last time we came through, the only sign of this wonderful old phone booth was a mossy outline in the shape of a phone booth on the side of the building where it used to stand.

In the fall of 2009 while visiting a restored filling station in Minnesota, the owner, Ernie, showed me a 1930s wooden phone booth that he had lovingly restored. This phone booth used to be located inside the local post office, but was now proudly displayed inside the restored gas station. And inside the wooden phone booth was an old-fashioned hand-crank telephone.

“Do you want to see our phone book?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, wondering what he was up to as he pulled a piece of paper off the wall.

“Here it is,” he said, handing it to me.

I looked at it and was puzzled by what I saw. It was a list of names, all right, but there were no phone numbers. Instead, each name was followed by a set of dashes.

“I don’t get it,” I responded. Ernie pointed to the dashes, some of which were longer than others.

“These are long cranks and short cranks,” he said. “That’s what people used before phone numbers came into existence.”

Amazingly, he told me that the phone was hooked up to the local phone system and he could actually use it to call anyone in town.

A few years ago, in the midst of a day of birding for one of the Christmas Bird Counts in central Wisconsin, Ruth and I discovered an old phone booth in a tiny town that was in the center of our assigned block. Since it was cold and snowing and we needed to concentrate on the bird count, we decided we would come back in better weather to capture this old phone booth. About ten months passed before we managed to return to complete this mission, but when we did finally get there, the phone booth was still there with a crumpled, dog-eared phone book and a very old phone that still worked.

In 2009 on an autumn visit to northeastern Wisconsin, we visited a restored filling station that had an old phone booth sitting against the station on the outside. There were many things to look at and photograph, so I was deep in thought as I approached the old phone booth. The first thought I had was to check if there was still a phone inside. So I walked up to the booth, cupped my hands around my eyes to block the light, and began to peer through the glass of the doors.

Well, to my surprise, or rather startlement, someone was sitting on the little bench seat in the old phone booth. I must have jumped a foot because I was hoping to find an old phone, not a person looking back at me. As I regained my composure, I realized that it was a mannequin and all I could do was catch my breath and laugh right out loud.

Next time you’re passing through a small rural town, keep your eyes open and you might just catch a nostalgic glimpse of an old phone booth.

Happy Shunpiking!