Sunday, June 30, 2019

Mr. Accordion, Roy Bertelli

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In 2015, Joann and I planned our photography trip so we could end up in Springfield, Illinois, to witness the Lincoln funeral reenactment. After the final ceremony at the cemetery, we waited for crowds to clear and then returned to the cemetery for a few more photographs.

Just as we entered the cemetery through the front gates, we saw that Lincoln’s horse-drawn hearse had been loaded onto a truck and was being transported out of the cemetery. We pulled over and waited as it made its way out through the gates.

Then, in front of us, at a fork in the road, we saw a burial spot with the gravestone of Roy Bertelli, “Mr Accordion.”

Roy loved the accordion and had over 5000 arrangements for the accordion and organ to his name. He also performed many times with Lawrence Welk, famous American musician, accordionist, and bandleader. Since Roy was a Springfield, Illinois resident, he was very familiar with Oak Ridge Cemetery.

He admired the cemetery but had long thought that all plots had been sold and there was no chance of getting a plot there. But one day he decided to stop in and ask. To his surprise, he was told there was one plot available. It was near the entrance and was within sight of Lincoln’s tomb. He purchased the plot on the spot.

A couple of weeks later, he received a letter from the cemetery, stating that the plot had been sold to him in error. That was followed up with a letter from the cemetery’s lawyer demanding that the plot be returned.

Roy fought for his plot and won. To spite the cemetery, he built a crypt above ground with a large tablet behind it with his name, an engraved accordion, and the words “Mr. Accordion”.

It is said that, periodically, he would visit the cemetery, climb onto his crypt, and play his accordion to the horror of the cemetery officials and the amusement of cemetery visitors. The music could be heard by visitors waiting to tour Lincoln’s tomb.

Roy died in 2003 at the age of 92. Rumor has it that he had himself buried at Camp Butler National Cemetery because he was a World War II veteran, and had his accordions buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery to spite the officials who did not want him there.

I’m not sure that’s true, since I do find his burial record for Oak Ridge Cemetery on Find a Grave and no listing for him at Camp Butler National Cemetery.

Either way, it’s an interesting story, and if you make your way to Springfield to visit Lincoln’s tomb, make a stop at Roy’s grave near the main entrance. I’m sure he would appreciate it.

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, June 18, 2019

Barbershop Pickin' and Grinnin'

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In April, 2013, on our way to photograph for a week in Ohio, we stopped in the small town of Markleville, Indiana. Unfortunately, the vintage advertising sign we had hoped to capture was gone, but then I saw a big Coca Cola sign on a building down the street. So I walked down to it and discovered Sam’s Soda Fountain Café.

I set up my tripod across the street and took a picture of the café. And then a man in a red pickup truck pulled up and parked in front of the soda fountain. He got out of the truck and grabbed his guitar case from the back. I thought maybe there was going to be live music at the soda fountain that afternoon, but the man walked right past the soda fountain and entered the barber shop next door. I figured he was in need of a haircut before performing.

With the truck parked in front of the soda fountain building, I turned my attention to McKinley’s Barber Shop. It had an old-fashioned barber pole out front, which is a nice vintage item to find. As I snapped a photo of the barber pole, the owner of the barber shop, Richard McKinley, came out and started up a conversation. When I told him that I liked photographing old things, like the barber pole, he said, “Well, if you like old stuff, you have to come in here.”

I followed Richard into the barber shop and was immediately hit with the sound of old-fashioned country music. Over in the corner sat two older gentlemen, each with a guitar. A man sitting in a chair by the window of this very small barber shop whispered to me, “They do this every week.”

As I stood enjoying the music, Richard pointed out his antique barber chair from the 1940s. When I asked him if I could take a picture of it, he said, “Let me straighten it up first.” He folded the towel hanging off the side of it, straightened out the footrest, and then stepped aside to let me photograph it. I thanked him for his kindness. If you look closely, you will see him reflected in the mirror in the upper left corner of the photo below.

Then I turned back to the musicians, who were pickin’ and grinnin’ and having such a good time. I asked them their names and the man on the left said his name was Harold. After some good old-fashioned country humor, the man on the right said his name was Ray. I thanked them for the entertainment and then left this wonderful small-town barber shop.

Before heading back to the car, I decided to check out the soda fountain which, I discovered, had not officially opened yet. But the owner, Sam, was there working on getting it ready for the grand opening, so he let me look around inside. He was creating the look of a 1950s-era soda fountain and café. There was still a lot of work to do, but all the fountain glasses were on the shelf behind the semi-finished counter, along with a sign that said, “No spitting.”

After assuring Sam that I would do no spitting, I took a few photos of the glasses and wished him good luck with his soda fountain business. I left Markleville that day with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. Thanks, Markleville, for making my visit so enjoyable!

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, June 4, 2019

The Wisconsin Hop Craze

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

The first time Joann and I came across a hop field, it was winter and we had no idea what we were looking at. All we saw were rows of tall poles. It was a relatively small area, and pretty close to the farm buildings, which were quite far back from the road. We puzzled about it a little, but then forgot about it.

The next time we thought about hops was on a Christmas bird count, again in Sauk County. As we drove past a farm, I mentioned to Joann that I had seen one of the buildings on a Wisconsin Historical Society list of hop houses in Wisconsin.

After photographing that hop house, which was now used to store farm equipment, it made me curious about other hop houses in Wisconsin, so I searched the Internet for more information. That’s when I found a photo of an old stone building that we had taken pictures of numerous times over the years, thinking it was a stone barn. As it turns out, it also was a hop house!

Hops were first introduced in Wisconsin in Waukesha County around 1837. The first hop farms appeared in Sauk County in 1842 and the county later became the center of the Wisconsin hops industry. In 1860, Wisconsin produced about 135,000 pounds of hops (roughly 1% of the nation’s total). This was a small amount compared to New York, which was the leader in hop production at that time. New York’s production that year was well over nine million pounds of hops (roughly 88% of the nation’s total).

The “Wisconsin Hop Craze,” which is a term often used to describe the feverish increase in hops production, lasted only from 1860 to 1870. It was fueled by several factors, including failed crops in New York and Wisconsin soldiers returning from the Civil War.

In the early 1860s, as the Civil War devastated our country, the New York hops industry also suffered major devastation from a bug known as the hop aphid, which ravaged the crops. Then sooty mold attacked the hop plants and finished off the crop. The shortage created by this caused prices to increase as much as 700 percent.

In 1865, as the Civil War ended, 40,000 soldiers returned to their farms in Wisconsin and were looking for ways to make money. When they left for the war, they were simple wheat farmers. But the decade before the war saw a decrease in the price of wheat as the yields and quality diminished due to depleting soil health. There was also strong competition from neighboring states. Also in the 1860s, the Wisconsin wheat crops were devoured by cinch bugs.

When soldiers returned from the war, many decided to try growing hops and became prosperous hop plantation owners. By 1867, the state’s annual production had climbed to over 6 million pounds.

It took about 900 hop seedlings to plant an acre with a cost to farmers of $15 to $25 ($460 to $770 in today’s dollars). Hop poles were in great demand. Poplar poles would only last for two or three years. Oak poles sold for as high as $15 to $18 per thousand ($460 to $550 in today’s dollars), and tamarack made the most lasting poles. Seedlings were set at each pole; then the seedlings were trained to grow around poles 12 to 15 feet high.

Picking time began in early fall. Homes became boarding houses and gangs of men, women, and children traveled from hop yard to hop yard. The women and girls stayed with the family in the house while the men and boys slept on the hay in the barn. Young men were pole pullers, who stripped the vines and divided them among the pickers. Pickers pulled the ripe hops and filled boxes. They were paid by the box and an average picker could fill two or three boxes a day.

The most expensive part of hop farming was the hop house. There are only a few identifiable hop houses left in Wisconsin. Many others probably still exist but have been modified for other uses. Once a farm changes hands, oftentimes the historic use of the building is, unfortunately, lost.

In 1865, so many farmers in Sauk County were raising hops that the yield for the year was approximately 4 million pounds, or one-fifth of all the hops raised in the United States. The county farmers were paid a total of 2 million dollars (over $31 million in today’s dollars) for their crops that year. Seeing no end to their good fortune, they paid their bills from that year’s crop and then spent money building big block and stack houses, buying touring cars, and treating themselves to other luxuries. Unfortunately, they didn’t see the end coming.

The next year, hop production doubled in Sauk County. But in 1868, Wisconsin had an unfavorable growing season and the hop aphid arrived in the state. At the same time, the New York hop growers recovered, and that year the New York market was glutted, with prices plummeting. Some Wisconsin farmers held back their crop hoping the next year would be better and planted another crop. In 1869, however, the market was as bad or worse, and some farmers sold their crop for only half of what it had cost to grow.

Once again, Wisconsin farmers needed to find another source of income, so they turned to dairy. Interestingly, many of the farmers who settled in Wisconsin in the decades before the Civil War were from New York, which was the leading dairy producer at the time. As the dairy industry grew, Wisconsin (once considered “America’s Breadbasket”) became the Dairy State and hops disappeared from the landscape.

But now, with the push to use locally produced crops, and home and craft brewing, hops are making a comeback. The hop yards we’ve found have been small, but it is so nice to see them returning to the countryside.

If you want to be guaranteed to see a hop yard or garden, visit the New Glarus Brewery in New Glarus, Wisconsin. Their hop garden is right at the entrance. Otherwise, if you’re driving the backroads, keep your eyes open and look for a small field of poles with vines growing up them. Chances are, it will be a hop garden!

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!