Fox Footprints: local history

The Appleton Public Library is very interested in preserving local history and collecting our shared stories. Here you will find unique photos and stories, updates on our projects and information on our programs in local history and researching your family history. If you have a great photo or story, let us know!   -Diana

Peshtigo Fire

Fall is suddenly here.  The trees are turning and leaves are falling.  Once Halloween is here, the rest of the year goes by in a flash.  I'm going to try to slow things down a bit and pay more attention to October.  Certainly we're all familiar with the Great Chicago Fire and Mrs. O'Leary's cow.  That fire began on October 8, 1871 and burned for two days.  It destroyed 3.3 square miles of the City of Chicago.  There are volumes and volumes written about that fire.  But there was another disastrous fire that started on the same day here in Wisconsin.  It burned over 1800 square miles and took between 1500 and 2500 lives, but is largely forgotten in many quarters.  It was described as a firestorm; a wall of flame, a mile high, five miles wide, traveling 90 to 100 miles per hour.  The flames even jumped the waters of Green Bay to reach the peninsula.  There hasn't been much written about it.   William F. Steuber, Jr. used the tragedy as the basis for his prizewinning novel, The Landlooker.  What does survive is an eyewitness account from Father Peter Pernin.  He was the parish priest for Peshtigo and nearby Marinette.  His account is called "The Great Peshtigo Fire, an eyewitness account" and it can be found here at the library.  Check it out!

Music! Music! Music!

Appleton Field Artillery BandIt's hard to believe, but summer is already winding down.  Tonight is the last summer concert by the Appleton City Band.  Rumor has it, there will be ice cream.  7 o'clock at Pierce Park. This is a local band made up of your friends and neighbors.  Some are music professionals, some are teachers your kids have at school, some are community members who just play for fun.  It is a local treasure in which we can all take pride.  It also has a long history.  At one time, it was basically the pictured Field Artillery Band.  The library has acquired this terrific photo, but there is no identifying information on it.  Do you know anyone who might be in it?  Do you know someone else who might know someone in it?  We'd like to get the men identified, and hope you can help!  Click on the photo to see the full image.  Hope to hear from you soon, and see you tonight at the park!

Cross and Crown

The library got a gift yesterday.  Someone donated their 1957 issue of the Cross and Crown.  If you’re not familiar with it, this is the yearbook from Fox Valley Lutheran High School.  We do maintain a collection of yearbooks from Appleton schools, but for some reason the oldest we had of this publication was 1991. 

There is a big gap between 1957 and 1991, so of course we’d like to fill it in!  If you happen to run across your old copy of a yearbook from any Appleton High school or Middle school, we would be happy to adopt it.   Spring cleaning is just around the corner.  At least that’s what the calendar says.  Sorry we can’t do anything about the weather!


A new peek into our past

Great news for those of you who have been stymied by that annoying gap of coverage for a City Directory between 1874 and 1884.  We are now able to offer you the 1877-78 Pryor's Appleton City Directory.  It includes many of the standard things you would hope to find.  The bulk is an alphabetical listing of  "2,300 names, an increase of over 500 since 1874".  There is also a business directory which is described as "a complete mirror of the business and manufacturing interests."   I think my favorite part though, is the listing of all of the named streets, with a description of where they are in relation to other streets, or the river.  Each of the six wards is clearly defined as well.  This means you can trace the city streets back two years before the 1880 map.  The directory is kept in safe storage (WR 917.7539 Pry) so you will have to request it from a staff member at the Reference Desk on the second floor, and use it here in the library.   Here's hoping you will find a surprise!

Boomers and basements

I read another article in the newspaper today about Baby Boomers ending up being custodians of the accumulated treasures of their parents and grandparents.  Speaking as someone who currently has a basement full of such things, I understand that completely.  I also understand that some of those things are treasures to me as well because I know their story.  That beautiful etched glass vase was a wedding present 60 years ago.  Someday I will put flowers in it.   But more and more, I don’t have a clue.  Why did Gramma need four dozen salt cellars?  (Probably the same reason I need all 37 of the hymn books I have.)  The next generation will know less and less about these things and will likely toss them away as soon as possible.   My sons and their wives, have already chosen a couple of small things, but continue to ask when we are going to clean out the rest of that stuff.   

There is one thing that won’t be tossed, ever, and that’s the big box of family photos.  Grampa as a little boy on the farm with his pet goat.  Gramma’s graduation photo.  The one single tiny black and white photo from their wedding.  These are priceless, and must be kept!  Luckily there are many ways to do that, and to share those things to keep their stories alive.   Millennials (people under 30) have grown up with everything being available instantaneously on some kind of device.  Heirlooms don’t fit in well in small apartments and moving every few years.  But pictures do.  They can be digitized or scanned and hundreds can be on a single gadget.   So when you do get around to cleaning out the attic or the basement, capture those memories instead of just tossing them out.  Surely your kids have room for a CD or two.  You might even look at them occasionally.

Then think about who else might enjoy them.  Do you have a photo of a building that is no longer standing in Appleton?  Is your family one that has been here in the Valley for generations?  Do you have a picture of the original angels on the Avenue? The Appleton Public Library has a collection of photos, some physical photos and some just scans of photos shared with us.  We'd love to see some of yours!   Check it out at  Plus, let me know if you are interested in a lot of glass salt cellars!

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