Monday, February 26, 2007

Top o' the Mornin' Oshkosh

St. Patrick's Day will be here sooner than a leprechaun's twinkle o' the eye, March 17, which just happens to be on a Saturday this year. UWO recesses on Friday March 16 for spring break. Let your imagination take it from there.

Whoa! Wait a minute! Don't connect UWO with past disturbances in Oshkosh on St. Patrick's Day.

I have done my homework on this and can say up front that;
  • Arrests on this day in the past have been typically 1/2 -out of town non-students, 1/4 -city residents, and 1/4 -(or less) UWO students.
  • The university may have acted as a focal point (I hate the word magnet) for young adults seeking to be around other young adults.

The UWO students have a right to 'youthful exuberance'. That locals and out-of-towners joined them and at times took it beyond the legal limits of exuberance, surely can't be blamed on the university. Thanks. Now, where did I set that bottle of Guinness?

Oshkosh did have that reputation for imbibing on March 17 some years. There's no question about that. Wisconsin has that reputation. Other people come to Wisconsin to have an excuse to drink. (Ask someone from Iowa or Illinois and they will tell you that.) Wisconsinites drink so they have an excuse to do other things!

Back in the '60's Stevens Point had a corner on this. The students commandeered a beer truck one day. The driver's bosses told the gendarmes in short order to let the students have the beer in order to save the truck. At least that's the way I remember it. The end result was some very cheap advertising and lots of good will for the beer company. (Don't get any ideas kids!) Oshkosh stole that title from Stevens Point in the '70's. The early 1960's gave Lake Geneva notoriety due to the number of Chicagoans who came across to drink there. The lure: a lower drinking age. That peaked when the governor called out the National Guard to patrol Lake Geneva on a July 4th weekend. I remember it well. I watched the footage on the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite and hoped it would still be as exciting a few years later after I had my driver's license and was out of high school. (It wasn't.) Sheboygan held the 'party' connotation for several years with it's Bratwurst Festival with beer stands every half a block and people passing out on blankets along the Lake Michigan shoreline. That party had no choice but to cool down. The Stoughton Syttende de Mai (May 17 Norwegian Independence Day) celebration reached the point of being an excuse to drink sometime in the '60's and early '70's. They toned down the emphasis on alcohol and it is a great family style festival to this day. The La Crosse Octoberfest continues to be a drinking party. How about Halloween on State St. in Madison, not to mention the springtime Miffland Block Party?

Highlights from the Past

Previous to 1700 the English Protestants who were murdering native Americans refused to allow Roman Catholics into New England and routinely murdered entire settlements of them, men, women, and children. No Catholic blood was to mix with the English, Irish or otherwise. After 1700 they eased up on this practice, realizing that the country was big enough for all, but more likely came to the conclusion that they couldn't bring in slaves fast enough and needed a cheap labor pool.

Large numbers of Irish were in cities such as Chicago circa 1900. They had a rough time. Newspaper Want Ads of the day routinely were tagged: Irish need not apply.

The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh) of Monday March 18, 1901 had this headline on page 1: "No Disorder Reported on St. Patrick's Day." It detailed that no drunken arrests occurred on Sunday the 17th implying that this behavior happened in other years.

A Century Ago

The Daily Northwestern of Monday March 18, 1907 had a headline: "Many Wear the Green." The sub-headline: "Patron Saint of Ireland is Honored in a Quiet Way." It noted that the 17th was a "rather cold, raw day", "Main Street was crowded with people during the afternoon and early evening." "Many wore rosettes or streamers of green ribbon, or else a tiny shamrock out of respect to the good saint of Ireland." It also noted that the wearin' of the green was not limited to folks of Irish descent.

"Sermon On St. Patrick" was another headline with "Work of Irish Saint Is Praised" as the sub-headline. Rev. J. W. Greenwood, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, "regarded the work of St. Patrick as fully as great as that of any other religious worker of the early Christian days." He described "the early life of the boy, his kidnapping by pirates, his studies for the priesthood in Paris, and his return to Ireland to preach the gospel to all." "St. Patrick, he said, although not dying a martyr's death, lived the martyr's life, enduring privation and persecution for the sake of the call."

Next to that article was a large block ad which proclaimed: "Drink BEER". "Doctor's declare that the great prevalence of typhoid fever in the city at present is due to impure water. We therefore recommend you to drink beer. Our beer is absolutely pure, healthful, and wholesome." Oshkosh Brewing Co., Office No. 31 Doty Street. Tel. No. 11.


Articles in The Northwestern and it's competitor The Paper told of Wisconsin St. being closed from about 4-7pm on March 17. Young people were throwing snowballs, cans, and bottles at motorists and broken glass was a threat to tires. Zero to four arrests were reported.


Saturday March 16, one arrest, four hurt. Police called to Tosh's, 122 Wisconsin, Mar's Restaurant, 150 Wisconsin, Mr. Lucky's, 539 Pearl, and Dino's Titan, 667 N. Main.

The Monday, March 18, Northwestern reported a litany of weekend antics: 19 arrests, 5 policemen injured, 4 squad cars damaged, and a Courthouse window broken. Arrests were made on Wisconsin Street, the crowd followed the squad carrying the arrestees' back to the courthouse and demanded they be released. Cops were heckled and pelted with firecrackers, bottles, cans, and snow and mud balls The taverns on Wisconsin St., with police assistance, closed around 10pm Saturday night. One tavern on Main St. closed for the weekend around 3pm Sunday afternoon citing 'diminishing returns' due to wear and tear. They had sold 10 cases of liquor, 100 cases cans, and 200 half barrels. Many tavern owners were afraid to open Sunday. One arrest was at The Dilemma, 25 N. Main - a nude man dancing on the bar. An ambulance was called to the dorms. They couldn't get to the patient and had to call police for backup. The police had to move partiers who had passed out in the hallway so the ambulance crew could get the stretcher through. That the floor was sticky and slippery with beer, paper cups and cans didn't help. Mercy Hospital Emergency Room recorded their busiest night ever!

1975... 27 arrests but split up around town. Much quieter than '74. A new law had been passed outlawing drinking off premises (on sidewalks).

1976... March 17th was a Wednesday, a yawner.

1977... The 17th was a Thursday, snow and ice balls and few arrests.

1978... March 17th was on a Friday. The weather was nice and there were 15 arrests.


"Wildest in Five Years" was The Northwestern's headline. The 17th was Saturday with a heavy concentration of revelers in the area of Irving and Main St. Out of the weekends' 38 arrests, 9 were students at the university.


March 17th fell on a Monday. The party began on Friday the 14th. The drinking age was still at age 18. 50 were arrested Friday night. By Monday morning that number had risen to 350 with one more night to go. Someone managed to break a window at Scott Hall. The crowd cheered. About thirty windows later the damage ceased.

On Tuesday March 18 The Northwestern reported that over 400 people had been arrested! City Manager Wm. Frueh suggested the city work with the university to allow for spring break over March 17th in the future.

The Milwaukee Journal of Monday March 17th had a page one story on Oshkosh which was a bit different than The Northwestern. They said that there were 343 arrests and counting. One witness told of a woman with two children being arrested for jaywalking when she stepped into the street to retrieve her child's toy. The woman pleaded with the police to wait to take her to the station until she could find someone to care for her kids. By the way, 93 of those 343 arrests were for jaywalking. The Oshkosh Chief of Police was quoted as saying he had no pity at all for anyone who was arrested.

The St. Pat's holiday quieted down after that year.

I welcome readers responses and stories about the various years. Most of the people I interviewed could remember events but couldn't associate them with a given year. Maybe it was the green beer?

The best way to end a St. Patrick's party is to hire a Bagpiper. Ever heard one of those indoors? Oshkosh has one. You can watch and listen to him at this link. Who is he? Where can he be found? This guy's got a future.

Circa 1975-77 around St. Patrick's day the Tonight Show's Johnny Carson said that there was only two places in the world to celebrate it: Dublin, Ireland and Oshkosh! Would anyone know the year and the date (or have a tape)?


Sources: Unless otherwise noted I used the Oshkosh Northwestern which can be found on microfilm at the Oshkosh Public Library.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro

The party recipe goes like this...

Take a couple million of the poorest people on the planet. Spend 51 weeks planning the most outlandish all-out party. Let the drums begin. A week later, haggard, broke and lucky to be alive, go home and live in misery and poverty for another year. Repeat.

Why is it that the poorest of the poor own the recipe for the best party on earth?

Such color, such dancing, and the music pounds on for days.

Way back in 1975-76 I studied and absorbed what I could and put it to work for me. The Disco craze had begun to sweep the country and sound systems for DJ's began to sound respectable. My work in the gin mills demanded that I study it to stay viable in the live music tavern business.

Disco music (1976-79) virtually drowned out everything else on the air waves. It eventually led to the saying: Disco Sucks.

Disco is good and wonderful happy music and I love it. Yes I do. It died in 1979. It didn't so much die but took a break and peeks through here and there without the 'Disco' title attached.

What is Disco? It was a North American adaptation of Samba from Brazil. To a trained percussionist it is Samba reworked with Paso Doble. This is all time party music! Listened to for several hours with bright colors and certain liquid refreshments it sends you into another world which lasts until the head-throbbing headache the next day (or the next week). It is the happiest music I have ever heard in my life.

The bar owner would say: Keep 'em happy and keep 'em drinking. Disco was the perfect solution to this. 120 bpm (beats per minute) for the most part with a jump to 128 bpm the rest of the time. We never ran out of tunes to play. Any song can be rearranged to fit. The latter 70's saw a revival of standards which dated to the 1920's. Example: Baby Face.

Latin American music just keeps coming back again and again. Perez Prado did it in the 1950's with "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" and then with a tune called "Patricia". Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass did it in the '60's. Santana brought forth another twist with songs such as "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va". "Oye Como Va" was a remake first made popular by Tito Puente. Sergio Mendes and the Brazil '66 was another rebirth.

The death of Antonio Carlos Jobim was front page news for the Chicago Tribune in 1994. Jobim was to Brazil what John Denver was to the U.S. for many years, a national mainstream icon. Jobim's first U.S. hit (1962-63) was "The Girl from Ipanema". His music was exciting in its original format but was diluted for American easy listening formats and what is called 'elevator music'. Any dozen of Jobim's tunes would sound familiar to a U.S. citizen today.

At one point Frank Zappa saw fit to 'pimp' Disco and his "Sheik Yerbouti" (Shake Your Booty) album is still one of my all time favorites.

To take a trip to Rio tonight go to You Tube and type in: rio nesmith. See the guy who invented MTV (Michael Nesmith) in one of the first stereo-videos ever recorded. Very few of us saw it back in '80-'81 since no one had a stereo TV. No need to go to Rio. Just listen to this video.

I'm hearing the lights from the window,
I'm seeing the sound of the sea,
My feet have gone loose from their moorings,
I'm feeling quite wonderfully free.

It's only a whimsical fly down to Rio tonight...


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tuesday's Duty: VOTE!

Ya can't complain if you don't bother to vote.

Bryan Bain will get my vote Tuesday. He takes the time and effort to consider issues. In fact he takes too long. It is my hope that he takes a more authoritive stance in the council this time around, that of a seasoned veteran and not that of a newcomer. When contacted about city issues he responds in a timely manner and takes care of business.

Tony Palmeri will get my vote. To some Tony may appear a bit brash. Horseapples. Tony does not fit into the 1950's Lake Wobegon mode of gentle-mannered dry quips. He will argue passionately for what is right and is a willing listener to boot. Expect Tony to be confrontational at times but also expect him to make unexpected allies. He would be a positive force in any elected capacity and we are very lucky to have him in Oshkosh.

See you at the polls Tuesday.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Race to the Bottom Continues

We hear the term 'race to the bottom' on occasion. This story is local to the Fox Valley and echoed in various forms across the country. Background is important so that's where I start.

After WWII (1945) men came home and worked in paper mills, foundries, and all manner of manufacturing. Good union jobs with benefits were the order of the day. Other groups soon followed: teachers, city and county workers and more. Grocery workers also began to organize. Grocery workers never made much in terms of hourly wages but the union negotiated benefits to compensate for the low wages. Health insurance was always at the top in terms of importance.

Workers in the paper mills were happy to shop at unionized groceries. They knew the value of having their low wage counterparts with good health coverage. It meant that the grocery workers were not a burden on the community, i.e. their hospital stays and ambulance costs were covered and unlikely to raise rates for others.

Grocery stores grudgingly went along with the union demands. It was good for business and good for the communities.

Fleming Inc.

Fleming was at one point in the recent past the largest wholesaler of groceries in the country. They also did retail. In Oshkosh they delivered food to the BP convenience store at Bowen and Merritt. They also delivered to Festival Foods. They partnered with the Skogen family to build Festival here and other places. Fleming's largest account was with Kmart nationwide. Kmart was also their downfall.

Mall-Wart, Kmart, Fleming & Festival

Mall-Wart intensely hurt Kmart, which did not have good management. Kmart became a ghost town. Fleming Inc. continued to supply Kmart and extend them credit, multi-million dollar credit. One day a few years back Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A judge Ok'd slower repayments to Fleming. Fleming in turn was forced to file for Chapter 11 and a short time later filed Chapter 7 (total bankruptcy).

In short order the BP on Merritt and Bowen needed a new supplier. Festival's silent owner was in total bankruptcy and the Fleming warehouse closed. Festival was in big trouble. It needed a supplier and someone who could buy into the store.

Supervalu, Cub Foods, and Festival

Supervalu, which owns Cub Foods, was in the process of closing Cub on Witzel in 2003. When Fleming Inc. tanked that same year, Supervalu stepped in and became a silent owner of Festival and began supplying them with food too.

Let it be said that Cub Foods never left Oshkosh. Supervalu just closed up shop on Witzel and moved to the other side of Hy.41 (Festival Foods).

When Supervalu cherry-picked Fleming Inc. during the bankruptcy they also acquired something else. They now own exclusive use of the Festival Foods name.

Appleton: Cub Foods and Festival Foods

The Post Crescent and the Oshkosh Northwestern recently reported that Cub Foods in Appleton will close March 11 and Festival Foods will open in the same location in June. If the reporter would've taken a moment to check web sites they would've figured out that the Cub name would come down, the Festival name would go up, and the trucks parked in back would still say Super Valu!

There are many conclusions that can be drawn. I will dwell on the 'people' one. In Appleton, as in Oshkosh, a number of union jobs will be lost. People with a lot of years toiling for Supervalu will now be figuratively screwed by Supervalu.

Some 47 million Americans are without health insurance and the number increases every day due to corporate greed. The above story is being repeated all over the nation with different names and different players.

Do your part. Don't shop Mall-Wart. Tell Mall-Wart employees and grocery workers that they can have good health insurance. Tell them to call the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) for help. Grant Withers is the guy to talk to in Oshkosh.

Shop where you know the employees are taken care of. That would be Woodmans in Appleton. In Oshkosh shop the Pig on Murdock. The Pig has half-gallons of premium ice-cream for under $2 bucks this week. Try to find that cheaper somewhere else in Oshkosh.

Our nation needs more people with health insurance, and not the other way around.


Here are the links: Cub Foods, Festival Foods, SuperValu, and UFCW.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I am the Father of Anna Nicole's Baby

Just to set the record straight I am the father of that baby. To learn more please click on this link. That, of course, is the most important news I have for you today.

In other news my mechanic told me I had a screw loose. It was later determined that old loose belts were the culprit and I may soon be able to travel minus the jumper cables.

I have a whopper of a story to report. It will appear in full in several days after I have the links and the detail in place. The MSM, namely Gannett operating out of Appleton, the Post Crescent don't ya know, took the Corporate Hook Line & Sinker on this one, without an iota of investigation.

Here's the scoop without the nitty gritty detail...

Cub Foods is closing in Appleton. Big deal. They closed in Oshkosh in 2003.

Festival Foods opened in Oshkosh a few years back. Festival is now opening in Appleton in the old Cub Foods building.

Cub is owned by Super Valu.

The Festival name is owned by Super Valu.

Cub Foods, being union, had good HEALTH INSURANCE for all employees.

Non-union Festival does not!

Watch this space to learn more, and yes, I am the father!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

First Tuesday at First Congregational

Bring on the brass. But first...

The frigid February Gallery Walk is Saturday night 6-9pm. May the brave endure and be rewarded with a taste of wine to warm the soul. It will be remembered as the Art Walk Challenge. Check the link to your left to learn more.

Molly Ivins is gone. I read Molly over the years and never had the pleasure of meeting her. She became required reading in the latter '90's. She had covered the Bush League Regime after they made their move to Texas in an attempt to hide their eastern establishment Ivy League roots. She had the goods on them and nicknamed Dubya "schrub". Her writing inspired me due to her ability to present the most atrocious stories while keeping a smile on her face, and more than that, keeping our attention.

I met many folks who had the pleasure of meeting her. It wasn't all pleasure. She was a big woman (not fat just big) who wore cowboy boots, swore like a sailor, told off color stories, drank whiskey 'till the cows came home, had no inclination to marry, and would yell four letter words at friends across large gatherings of socialites. She also stood up for the poor and disenfranchised every time.

Of all the columns I read about her today I liked Tony Palmeri's take the best!

Thank you Molly.

To learn more about Molly Ivins fighting the good fight go here.

TUBA-RIFFIC is the program this month at First Congregational's First Tuesday Concert. For more go here and here.