Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes. Just click on the desired photo and look for the blue “BUY” button.

As I write this, it is late in the day on Earth Day, an annual event celebrated worldwide on April 22. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. It was founded by Gaylord Nelson, a US Senator from Wisconsin, who was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work.

So tonight, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite images of this wonderful earth that I’ve had the privilege of capturing with my camera. The beautiful Bloodroot plants have been blooming in my woods for over a week now.

And the Virginia Bluebells are just beginning to bloom. Someday, all the bluebells I’ve planted over the past couple of years will fill in and look like this beautiful wooded garden.

There are also many little patches of Dutchman’s Breeches that are now blooming.

And there are bright yellow daffodils everywhere you look. They can’t help but make you smile!

Last weekend’s opening of the 2017 Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin was a welcome sign of spring.

And soon the crabapples will be blossoming in all their glory. So get out there and shake off those winter blues once and for all! And take a moment to be grateful for this beautiful Earth we share and do what you can to help preserve it for future generations.

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!

Happy Shunpiking!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Searching For an Abandoned School

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes. Just click on the desired photo and look for the blue “BUY” button.

A few years ago, I stumbled on a photo of an abandoned school in Jackson County Wisconsin. And for a while, that’s all I knew about it. When you realize just how many roads there are in a single county, you know that’s not much to go on.

But then, I stumbled on another photo, and this one included a road name! So, now I had a little something to go on.

In the fall of 2012, we decided to spend a couple of days photographing in West Central Wisconsin, so in my planning, I decided to try to find this school on the way. We drove up the interstate in the dark, and at dawn, pulled off to photograph an old mill and school we’ve visited before. (It’s usually my plan to make sure we know where our dawn stop actually is. It’s hard to hunt for something in the dark!)

When the sun came up, we got back on the interstate and headed north. As soon as we hit Jackson County, we got off the interstate again. It was time to start hunting for the abandoned school. We drove quite a ways on the road I thought it was supposed to be on, and didn’t find the school. What we did find was some gorgeous fall color.

Our next opportunity to visit Jackson County was the following fall. We didn’t spend much time there, and again, we didn’t find the school. I’m not even sure that I told Joann we were hunting for it, but we did manage to find a different school. We have to take what we can find.

Along the highway, we also found this old sign for a barbershop. We didn’t see the barbershop in town, or an arrow pointing to where it was located, but it was a cute little sign.

Our collection of Jackson County photographs was growing, but we had to go home again without finding the school.

A year later, as I planned another trip to West Central Wisconsin in the hopes of hitting spectacular fall color, I included more pieces of the road in Jackson County. After all, three times is the charm, right?

And it was! We finally found the school. There was no place to park on the road going past the front of the school, so we found a place to turn around. Then we drove back past the school and pulled off on a small side road a little south of the school. Next to the car, at the end of the road, was this small, cute birdhouse.

Joann walked back down the road to the school, and seeing the condition, decided to take as many photos as possible. The roof is sagging in the middle, and most of the shingles are loose or falling off.

The bell tower is still there, even though the bell is long gone. Just looking at this angle, you can’t tell how badly the school is deteriorating.

Behind the school, at the edge of the woods, is an old outhouse in just as bad of shape. The shingles are covered with moss, and the back is beginning to fall in.

As Joann was processing photos for this blog, she asked me if I could figure out the name of the school. I do have a website I can use, but it only works if I know the exact location of a school. But now, armed with the location, I was able to figure out that this was the Holen School.

If we get near the school again, we’ll check to see how it’s doing, but we’ll know that if it falls, or is demolished by the landowner, we did it justice in photographs while we could.

We are so appreciative of those things we find still standing along the backroads. Wisconsin isn’t especially known for its preservation efforts, especially rural buildings, so we take those whenever we can find them. We hope you also appreciate seeing our history here.

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!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Do You Have a Chicken in There?

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Last fall, at the end of September, Ruth and I took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with a focus on photographing the remains of the copper mining architecture and equipment from the 1800s and early 1900s. The first day, we photographed our way north, taking our last photographs near Hurley, Wisconsin and then we crossed into Michigan, staying the night in Ironwood. The next morning, at first light, we were in downtown Ironwood to capture a few scenes before heading north. One of the first shots I took was of this old-fashioned bakery.

The best part about this bakery was…, not the pastries, which we didn’t sample, but the cat in the window to the right of the door. He was watching every person who walked past or went in or out of the bakery.

After photographing for two or three hours, I said, “Is that it? I hope so because I’m starving.” Ruth then informed me that we still needed to capture a few pictures of the Memorial Building, a Neoclassical building completed in 1923. It houses municipal offices, community facilities, and several veteran memorials. So we drove by the building and pulled onto a quiet side street. Then Ruth said, “Why don’t you get some boiled eggs out of the cooler and I’ll peel them while you photograph the building.”

So I opened the lift gate and started digging around in the cooler for the carton of boiled eggs. When I found it, I took out four eggs and laid them beside the cooler. As I did this, an elderly gentleman strolled past on his morning walk. I nodded Hello and went back to getting breakfast. Suddenly, the man stopped and turned around, asking with a grin, “Do you have a chicken in there?”

I started laughing and then walked toward him, telling him that Ruth and I go on trips to photograph old historical structures. I also told him that we eat all of our meals out of the cooler and that we eat really well – organic fruits and vegetables, and other food that is good for us, and that we never eat in restaurants.

He said, “Good for you. That’s the way to do it!” Then he told me that his parents had driven a Model T Ford from Iron Mountain, Michigan to Seattle, Washington and they didn’t stay in motels or eat in restaurants. Instead, they camped along the way and hunted or fished for their meals. This would have been a trip of over 2,000 miles in the early 1900s, long before there were interstate highways and probably when there were still many dirt roads.

I told him my name and he said his name was John, that he was Swedish, and that he had lived in Ironwood nearly his entire life. Then a nostalgic look of sadness appeared in his face and he said, “Things are just not like they used to be. It’s sad to see the world the way it is now. Ironwood was a nice place to live, and it’s still better than most places, but it’s not as nice as it used to be.”

I asked John about a historical photograph that we had seen in a window in downtown Ironwood earlier that morning. It was a black and white photo of a huge crowd of people in front of the Ironwood Depot, with the US Flag waving above them. He said that Ironwood was such a nice place in those days with community events and picnics held often. He thought that the photo may have been taken at one of those events. According to John, “It was an awesome time and an awesome place to live.” Then he repeated that it made him sad to think about how the world has changed. And then he said, “It’s especially sad for me because I’ve lived through all the changes and I know what it was like in the old days.”

John continued on, saying that he had several children who are now in their 50s and 60s. At one point, they had all moved away, but now he was happy that all of them had returned because of how nice living in Ironwood is compared to other places. Then he told me that he was 91 years old and that he was a World War II veteran. I extended my hand and shook his, saying, “Thank you for serving.” He smiled proudly, and gave me the impression that it was unusual to receive such thanks.

When John returned from the service, he went to Alaska to work in the mining industry there. He stayed for three years and even built his own home there. But Ironwood was calling him back. So he returned and began working in the iron ore mine in Montreal, Wisconsin.

John explained that the Montreal Mine was the deepest iron mine in the world. Every day, he and his fellow miners would pile into a cage and descend over 4,000 feet to mine the iron ore. He worked there for 16 years before the mine closed in 1962. And then he told me that I wouldn’t believe what it was like down there in the depths of the mine.

Knowing what I know about mining and thinking about what I’d seen in the movies, I knew that miners worked in dirty, dangerous jobs. Therefore, what John said next took me totally by surprise. Instead of telling me about the poor working conditions, he said that, every day, he would find crystals among the iron ore. He would stuff them into his pockets and then transfer them to his empty lunch bucket after lunch.

Every day, John went home with his lunch bucket full of crystals. I asked him what kind of crystals they were and he said that there was every kind of mineral down in the mine. Then I asked if all the men were taking crystals home. He said that most of them didn’t because they were more interested in producing as much iron ore as possible. The whole team was paid by how much iron ore they could collectively bring out of the mine. So John had to make sure he was pulling his weight and mining as much iron as the other men on the team. And because he did do his share, the other men would often give him the crystals they found.

I then said to John, “So, I’m assuming that your boss didn’t know that you were taking these crystals home every day. He said that the “big bosses” didn’t know he was finding and taking crystals. If they had known, they might have stopped him. Then John told me that, one day, he discovered a huge bunch of crystals. And with a look of wonder on his face, he said, “It was like looking at a palace.”

John’s immediate boss was with him when he made the discovery, so he asked his boss, “What should we do?” His boss said that they should get some boxes and haul the crystals up in the cage. So they worked together to do that and when they got the boxes of crystals up to the surface, they hid them. Then they returned to the mine and worked extra hard to make sure they were producing enough iron ore for the day.

John continued to collect crystals during the 16 years he worked in the Montreal Mine. And after the mine closed, he continued to look for crystals in the piles of “junk” iron ore that the company had discarded. Some years later, he opened a rock shop to sell all the crystals that he had collected, which he ran for 10 years. He said that he made his living and supported his family with the crystals that he sold in the rock shop.

One day, a very rich man contacted John and bought some of his best crystals that he then took to the annual rock and crystal show in Texas, where they won “best of show.” John said that there is a book about crystals that sells for around $250 and he is mentioned many times in this book for the crystals that he collected from the mine. In researching for this story, I tried to find information about this book, but came up empty-handed. However, I did find on a website by the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy several beautiful crystals in private collections that came from the Montreal Mine in the early 1960s.

I asked John one more time what kind of crystals he sold in the rock shop. He replied, “I never learned all the names of the crystals….I was just selling beauty!” And with that, I could see he was eager to finish his walk, so I thanked him for the delightful conversation and we both went on our way. That wonderful conversation made the whole trip worthwhile and as I walked back to the car, I was so hungry, I could have eaten a horse. But before I could enjoy the boiled eggs “from the chicken we had in the back of the car,” I knew I had to dictate notes about everything John had told me to prevent the details from slipping away before I would get around to writing this story.

Note: Most of the photos of crystals in this blog post are probably not the kind that John would have collected from the Montreal Mine, but were used just to portray the feelings John shared about the beauty of all the different crystals he discovered, collected, and later sold in his rock shop. And my thanks go out to Burnie’s Rock Shop in Madison, Wisconsin for allowing me to photograph a few of the rough crystals they have for sale.

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!