We’re doing a virtual drive through the heart of Crawford County on Highway 27, which runs from Rising Sun in the north to Prairie du Chien in the south. Highway 27 was known as the Black River Road. Seneca was the halfway point between Prairie du Chien and Black River Falls and an overnight stagecoach stop. We’re recalling our times in the hill country around Seneca in the 1940s and 1950s.
We’re driving slowly through Eastman, Wisconsin. Eastman holds fond memories of free shows in the summer time. Businessmen sponsored them and Leonard Martin, my future father-in-law ran the 16 mm movie projector. A bed sheet was hung from a rope tied between 2 trees. People brought folding chairs and kids sat on the grass. Western movies were popular, Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Randolph Scott, John Wayne. Tom Mix.
Phillip, Bob, and I got our ice cream cone and waited for the movie to start, which was around 8:30 PM, still quite a bit of daylight in June and July. Of course, it got darker as the evening wore on. I don’t think we ever got through a full movie without the film breaking at least once, accompanied by loud groans. A flashlight, some tinkering and rethreading, and few minutes later and the movie would be up and running, accompanied by clapping, cheers, and hoots.
The smells of popcorn and newly mowed grass and nearby fields of curing hay combined with the din coming out of Slama’s Bar, mixed with passing cars, and occasional bang, bang, as some hot shot teenager made an old pickup truck backfire.
Eastman holds other memories. Dad took us in to one of the bars in Eastman one afternoon in about 1950, when I was 8 years old. He showed us a big dog behind the bar. I have a faint idea that the dog was a Great Dane, the “hugest” dog I ever saw. And I think it belonged to a Doc Lyons. The three Scheckel boys were most impressed by this dog.
There was another dog hopping around Eastman on 3 legs. It was missing a front leg, but could move the good front leg out in front, right in the middle of its body, to keep balance. A marvel to see.
Next week, more Eastman, St Wenceslaus Church where my bride and I were married in 1965. Working on a book about the 1926 murder of Clara Olson in the Rising Sun, Mt. Sterling, and Seneca area. Garnered world-wide attention at the time and was considered the Crime of the Century.