Sunday, January 24, 2016

2015 in Review

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

During the first three months of 2015, we didn’t go photographing even once, so we were quite eager to finally hit the backroads for our spring photography trip to Missouri toward the end of April. We began the trip photographing in towns along the Mississippi River. At first light on the second day, we visited the historic Snake Alley in Burlington, Iowa.

Although San Francisco claims that its Lombard Street is “the Crookedest Street in the World, Snake Alley is touted by "Ripley's Believe It or Not" as the "Crookedest Street in the World." I traveled Lombard Street from top to bottom in 1994 and, I have to admit, it scared the heck out of me. When we visited Snake Alley, we parked at the bottom and I walked up to the top and back down, photographing as I went.

Three days later, we were in western Missouri searching for a vintage Yellow Cab Company sign. It took us quite a while to find it, but eventually we did.

We spent the last three days of our trip in Springfield, Illinois. Our reason for the extended stay in this city was to attend the events of the 150th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. We will be writing about these events in the near future. After an extremely long and exhausting day on Saturday, we got up early on Sunday and headed to the center of the city. The capitol building was beautiful at first light.

After a full day of photographing in Springfield on Sunday, we ended the day at the Old State Capitol building as the light faded to darkness. This building served as the state house from 1840 to 1876, when it proved too small to serve its original purpose. From 1876 to 1966, it served as the county courthouse of Sangamon County. The Old State Capitol is the site where both Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama announced their candidacy for president of the United States.

When we returned home, I needed a few days to recover from the exhaustion of the trip, but I didn’t want to miss spring here in Wisconsin. So three days later, I headed to the UW Aboretum’s Longenecker Horticultural Gardens. After photographing the blooming magnolia, lilac, and crabapple trees, a fellow photographer pointed out a robin’s nest in a beautiful pink magnolia tree.

In mid-June, we took a trip to Iowa and Ruth surprised me with a visit to the Little Brown Church in the Vale, a church made famous by the song “The Church in the Wildwood,” written in 1857 by William S. Pitts. Mr. Pitts was a young music teacher from Wisconsin who traveled by stagecoach to Iowa to visit his future wife. On the way, the stagecoach stopped in Bradford, Iowa to change horses, giving Mr. Pitts time to enjoy a walk through the area. When he saw an empty wooded lot, he thought it would be a charming setting for a church. When Mr. Pitts returned home to Wisconsin, he was inspired to compose the song “The Church in the Wildwood.”

The Little Brown Church in the Vale, Chickasaw County, Iowa
The Little Brown Church in the Vale, Chickasaw County, Iowa

Meanwhile, members of the parish, who had been holding services in abandoned buildings and parishioners’ homes, began making plans to build a church. They started to quarry limestone and the church foundation was completed in 1860. By 1862, in spite of being slowed by the Civil War, the building was enclosed. Up to that point, all materials and labor had been donated. To protect the wood of their new building, they needed to paint it, so they purchased the cheapest paint they could find, which was Ohio Mineral Paint. To their dismay, it was brown.

In that same year, Mr. Pitts and his new wife decided to move to Iowa to be near her aging parents, and Mr. Pitts began a teaching job at the Bradford Academy. Imagine his surprise when he discovered a little brown church being finished on the very lot where he imagined his “little brown church in the vale.” In 1864, the church was finally completed and “The Church in the Wildwood” was sung by his class at the dedication.

We also visited Motor Mill, one of our favorite Iowa historic sites. The six-story limestone grist mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Due to its looming stature and being built in a small space between the Turkey River and a rocky cliff, it’s difficult to find a good place from which to photograph it. After a lot of experimentation, I found a great angle at the corner of the stone cooperage building.

In July, we photographed close to home, and discovered a beautiful farm scene framed by orange daylilies.

In August, after years of wanting to do this, we finally made it to Amish country to photograph the oat shocks. We were also looking for Amish schools that day, so it was a bonus when we discovered a scene with both.

Because it was a weekday, there were a lot of Amish farmers working in the fields, which meant a lot of beautiful horse teams to admire. As we passed one farm, the farmers were pulling a load of loose hay into the farmyard. I asked if I could take pictures of the load of hay and the horse team. As I snapped my photograph, a small Amish boy walked into the scene. He was so little compared to the very large Belgian workhorses hooked up to the wagon.

In late September, we made our annual trek to the Gays Mills area to visit the apple orchards. At West Ridge Orchard, there were crates of delicious apples waiting to be processed.

There was also a colorful display of bright orange pumpkins, waiting to be turned into Jack-o’-lanterns.

On September 27, a clear night was predicted for the Full Harvest Moon. So Ruth and I decided to see if we could capture the moon rising over St. Martin’s Church in Martinsville, Wisconsin. We picked a spot and waited, scanning the horizon for the moon. When it started to appear above the horizon, we realized we weren’t quite in the right place. So I quickly moved the car to a spot that would place the moon next to the church. The moon was a beautiful peach color as it began to rise above the roof of the church.

As it continued to rise alongside the steeple of the church, it began to turn yellow.

We had intended to take a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the end of September, but the fall colors hadn’t arrived up there as they usually do by that time, so we postponed our trip. But as September gave way to October, fall color was very hard to predict and to find. So we decided to stay closer to home.

I can find beauty in the smallest of things, and early one morning as I photographed at dawn in a cemetery near home, I stumbled on some beautiful fly agaric mushrooms. I’ve wanted to find this type of mushroom for years, but never had until that day. It was a different way to find fall color, but I was grateful just the same.

We also visited the state natural area known as Pewit’s Nest where I found a beautiful fall scene.

A few days later, we found some great fall color along the railroad tracks near Devil’s Lake State Park.

In late October, we decided to head to Beloit, Wisconsin to photograph some things in the city that we’ve been meaning to capture for a long time. We weren’t expecting to find much for fall color because most leaves had already fallen, but we were pleasantly surprised to find some beautiful trees in Oakwood Cemetery in Beloit.

It was our first time visiting this cemetery and there were some very interesting gravestones. What we were looking for, though, was the gravestone of Albert Wirz, a victim of the Titanic. This 27-year-old Swiss farmer boarded the Titanic for its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. He was headed for Beloit, Wisconsin, where his step-aunt, Maria Brown, had secured a job for him.
On April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg and Albert lost his life. There were roughly 1,500 victims and only 340 bodies recovered.

Albert’s body was recovered on April 24. According to records, he was wearing a dark suit, woolen socks, and buckle shoes. His effects included the following: two watches, brass chain, one ink pot, match box, knife, memo book, insurance book, passport, keys, purse containing 36¢.

Albert’s body arrived in Beloit on May 11, with the funeral conducted in German on May 12, 1912, in Oakwood Cemetery. His step-aunt and her husband couldn’t afford a marker for Albert and the grave remained unmarked for over 80 years. Finally, on September 5, 1996, through the efforts of the Swiss Titanic Society and the Beloit Historical Society, a gravestone was dedicated to Albert Wirz in Oakwood Cemetery.

In November, the first snowfall of the season occurred on November 20, a few days before Thanksgiving. The roads were still a little questionable the next day, so I just headed to nearby Pheasant Branch Nature Conservancy for a few scenic snow scenes. And it’s a good thing I did because the next snowfall didn’t happen until the end of December.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of our 2015 photography efforts. We have much more to share in upcoming blog posts, particularly the reenactment of Lincoln’s funeral.

Happy Shunpiking!


  1. Loved all the pictures. We lived in Springfield, IL for couple years. My mother painted a picture of the domes of the New Capitol and the Old Capitol along with a Turret of an old hotel. :)

    1. Stephanie, thanks for sharing the info about living in Springfield and about your mother's painting. It's a small world, isn't it? And thanks for reading our blog!

  2. I have loved the "Church in the Wildwood" song for many years but never knew it's story, or that it had a Wisconsin connection. Loved the St. Martin's church and Amish photos too.

    1. Diana, thanks! I am planning to try to get a full moon shot over First Lutheran this year.

  3. Thanks for sharing all of the beautiful photos and stories. I LOVE your harvest moon shots!

    1. Hi Phyllis, thanks for catching up on the blogs you missed while on your cruise. The harvest moon experience was magical. It's hard to find a good spot for catching the full moonrise with a nice composition. We've failed many times at that, but this one worked out great. Glad you like them.