Saturday, August 1, 2015

Outbreak Cemeteries in Garden Valley

Today I took a drive along Route 121 in rural Jackson County near to Black River Falls.

I've always been fascinated by cemeteries as you can learn so much from them --- socioeconomic status, genealogy, ethnicity, medical history, rituals, to name a few. Learning about the medical history of a place is especially fascinating, yet heart-wrenching. I've written before about the ravages of diphtheria in nineteenth century Wisconsin -- the neglected Kongsberg Cemetery (original post and update) has the graves of several children who died of the disease shortly before the church was abandoned. Diphtheria sprung up in heavy outbreaks throughout Wisconsin in the late nineteenth century and many children died from the infection which caused swollen lymph nodes that impaired breathing. The children suffocated in what must have been a horrible, helpless scene for their parents. Given the history of diphtheria in nineteenth century Wisconsin, I wasn't too surprised to find a Diphtheria Cemetery in rural Garden Valley, Jackson County.

Off of a country road and up a small staircase to a flat hill are the scattered stones that record outbreaks of diphtheria among the local children in the 1870s and 1880s. The Jackson County Historical Society reprinted a story reporting the outbreak in the November 22, 1878 issue of the Badger State Banner of Jackson County:

Last Sunday Henry Green, of Garden Valley, this county, an old comrade of ours in the army, had four children lying dead in his house, three of them dying that day and one the day before. This makes five children he has lost with that dread disease -- diphtheria -- within three weeks. Our old friend is very unfortunate, and is entitled to the sympathy of all in his great affliction. The dreaded disease is all around us and may reach this place in a short time.

Henry's children's stones are no longer there, perhaps they were only marked by a fieldstone or by one of the simple, plain stones jutting above the dried pine needles.

Although only the sign and stairs are well-maintained, the cemetery remains a very peaceful spot. Someone still places flowers, balloons, and pinwheels at the graves, which I admittedly find a little peculiar. I prefer the way the roadside lilies ornament these forgotten monuments.

What did surprise me, is that just down the road within a mile from the diphtheria cemetery is a smallpox cemetery. There are a few stones, but most graves are marked with small white crosses without any identification. Smallpox causes fever, lesions, and hemorrhaging; it was declared eradicated in 1980, but a few controversial bits remain in laboratories. This cemetery was established during an epidemic in Garden Valley in February and March 1873. Accounts from the time stated that nearly every house was stricken with the illness. In mid-March, a local minister recorded seven funerals.

Perhaps the saddest story connected with the cemetery is that of the House and Peters families. Isaac and Eliza House are the only marked stones in the cemetery. Isaac and three of his children were stricken with smallpox. A local woman, Mrs. Peters, was called to the house to care for the sick. When it was clear that the House family was surely dying, Mrs. Peters returned to her own home --- quarantines came later. She soon fell ill, as did four of her own children. All nine of them are buried here.

These cemeteries are explicit in telling us about the medical history of rural Jackson County in the 1870s and 1880s. Yet, as intimated earlier, cemeteries have more to tell. While driving back to Route 121 on the way to Alma Center, I passed "Swedetown Road" --- Swedetown? Back when I was more active in folklore research, I delved into onomastics (the study of place names), connecting them with language and culture. I love discovering a "Swedetown Road" and I love discovering remnants of European immigrants in Wisconsin, so I turned into the road leading to even more rural environs of Garden Valley.

The Swedes didn't disappoint. Their mark left plainly for us -- removed by the twentieth and twenty-first centuries --- with characteristic -sons (not -sens) and Swedish language stones dotting the small cemetery along Swedetown Road.

Enough of the cemetery detours, I headed back to Route 121. I decided to check out Alma Center. It probably deserves its own post, but I'll just get it started. Worthy of an "On Wisconsin," it's a quaint village complete with an American-flag-lined Main Street. The old brick saloon is still there, but falls flat today and rather awkwardly insular on the street corner:

There's an old opera house right next door to the saloon. Here's how it used to look in its simple, small town grandeur:
© Alma Center Historical Society
It probably wasn't used much for operas --- the term was used in the Midwest to "upscale" any performance venue. Today it's an apartment building and could use some serious "upscaling" --- perhaps a good restoration.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sun Valley Fibers high twist

At Minnesota's Yarn Over event I had a great time catching up with the wonderful Jeanette of Sun Valley Fibers. She brought a new base with her: high twist merino/nylon fingering and super high twist merino/nylon fingering. I bought a skein of each: Pumpkin Patch and Gone Fishin'. Pumpkin Patch is a lovely mix of deep orange-yellow with variegations of lighter yellow, cream, and green. It resonated well with my summer obsession of gardening! Gone Fishin' is a medium blue, deep bottle green, and green-yellow.

I knew that I wanted to knit up some socks with the super high twist Gone Fishin'… but the Pumpkin Patch was more difficult. It's variegated --- and although I'm not overly fussy about color pooling, I still wanted the final product to mirror the beauty of the color way in the skein. I searched Ravelry and found the Multnomah shoulderette by Kate Ray. It was perfect --- plenty of garter stitch through the main body to accentuate the variegation and just a bit of simple lace work at the bottom to keep my interest in knitting and add to the complexity of the finished piece. Like I've said, I love variegated yarn, but I always keep a guideline of an equal distribution of lacey holes and garter stitch / bias / etc to avoid losing both the pattern and the yarn in the finished object.

I love it! It's a really quick knit and handles variegated yarn so well. I definitely recommend the pattern and the yarn.

For the SUPER high twist yarn, I was looking for a sock with some needed stitch definition. Cables would be nice for super high twist, so that they really pop when they're blocked. With variegated yarn, I like thick and heavy cables to break up any pooling that might be happening in the rest of the stockinette and to add some texture to the piece to draw attention away from any weirdness happening with the color scheme… but heavy cables on socks? No, thanks. I've had the skyp rib sock pattern by Adrienne Ku in my queue for a while and the pattern forms kind of a mock-cable along the leg and insole of the sock. Success again! The variegation actually formed a striping effect given my stitch count and tension --- so it might not look like that every time. The super high twist added to the stitch definition which really made the patterning compete well with the coloring AND they plumped up nicely with blocking. I'm really pleased with my new socks!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kongsberg, Update

As a genealogist, I have long enjoyed using for family history research. In my previous post about the abandoned Kongsberg Church cemetery in Trempeleau County, Wisconsin, I wrote about the diphtheria deaths among the children in the congregation. I was able to preserve their stones by uploading them onto findagrave. Someone had already uploaded the names and dates, so uploading the photos was simple enough. As I deciphered the engravings on my photographs and matched them with the online names and dates, I realized that a lone stone propped against a tree was left over.

In a close-up, it's only partially legible. Part of the name and the dates. The clearest etching in the stone are the parents names Iver and Emma.

The stone is puzzling, because all of the others are written in Norwegian while this one is in English. The parents' last name was also a puzzle. I could make out Johnson, but it looked as though the surname continued. Was it hyphenated? That's strange for a nineteenth century tombstone in rural Wisconsin. Was the surname a longer form of Johnson? That also didn't seem plausible.

I needed to find out more about Iver and Emma. I came across quite a bit about Iver Johnson. He immigrated to Wisconsin from Hafslo, Norway --- Hafslo no longer exists as a place name, but was in Sogn og Fjordane county in western Norway. Emma's name was actually Ingeborg, but she changed it to Emma when she arrived in America. 

Here's the interesting bit --- at least for me, a lover of language, family history, and hyphenated Americans. As Iver was from Scandinavia he had a patronymic --- a surname to show kinship to his father: ____-sen (for son) or ____-datter (for daughter). He was son of Jan, so his patronymic was Jansen. His father Jan's was Halvorson (Halvor would be Iver's grandfather). So Jansen is where the Americanized "Johnson" comes from. Patronymics are falling out of favor in Norway. Most now are either frozen in families, or taken from geographical landmarks. It seems Iver had an additional surname "Veum" --- in fact, there's an old Veum School near the abandoned cemetery. Both his Americanized patronymic Johnson and his surname Veum are recorded on the stone. It's a wonderful mixture of American and Norwegian culture.

Iver and Emma married in February 1885. In December of that year, their first child, a son, was born. I believe his name was John Herman. It's interesting that Iver didn't continue his Norwegian patronymic naming custom for his first born son in America. It must have been an poignant moment and new beginning for the couple --- a new birth in a new country. Sadly, the son died shortly thereafter and was buried in the Kongsberg Cemetery. They had three more children.

Emma died in 1893. Iver remarried to Theodora Chistopherson. She was a bit of local legend as her mother was pregnant while making the sea voyage to America. Theodora was actually born aboard the immigrant ship Mercator somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean in 1870. Iver and Theodora had four children.

I felt as if the young child of Iver and Emma has been saved from forgotten history. While his stone remains --- I'm certain with time the cemetery will be swallowed up by the surrounding woodland --- I hope that I've documented his existence and preserved a memory of the often painful pioneer experience on the Wisconsin frontier.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Seedlings: All grown up

I remember one spring when I was maybe 10 or 11 and my parents were cleaning out an old cupboard in the basement. Inside were many forgotten implements: old kitchen utensils, bowls, canning jars, etc. My mother held a handful of seed packets ready to throw them away. I protested… I wanted to plant them and start my own garden. She replied that the seeds were too old and nothing would grow. My stubbornness got the better of me and took them, carefully read the entire packet and sowed them outside next to my mother's raspberry bush. A carrot sprouted… but in my impatience I pulled it too soon and daintily bit at a one inch root. Since then, I've never lost my love of plants, but I've never ventured to plant seeds again until this year. I decided to start all of my balcony flowers from seed in the early spring --- especially given a Wisconsin winter, I needed to touch soil and see some green. I must admit feeling a bit paternal over the marigolds that sprouted. They're my favorites. They keep away the mosquitoes, they're easy to grow, and they have the most vibrant shades of orange. I had so many by late spring that I planted the rest around the border of my community garden vegetable allotment.