Wisconsin 101 is launching a new project, Your Story in Objects, to showcase objects from students and other community members that tell the history of Wisconsin. We encourage you to submit objects that make you think of Wisconsin or feel like a Wisconsinite. These can range from quintessentially Wisconsin objects, like a Green Bay Packers jersey passed down in a family, to objects that tell a hidden story about your connection to Wisconsin, like a set of dishes that your family bought when they first moved to the state. We encourage creative approaches to what makes an object part of Wisconsin’s history.

Explore our step-by-step instructions, then submit your story below!


Wisconsin Beard Competition Mystery & Victory

By Emily Riewestahl

My grandfather, Erwin Riewestahl, passed away in 2005. He was affectionally known by me and his numerous other grandchildren as “Tootsie Grandpa” because from his pockets came a seemingly ending supply of Tootsie Roll candies. I was just 7 years old when he passed away, and I remember that they even had Tootsie Rolls at his funeral. Given my young age, I have always regretted not taking the opportunity to ask my grandfather questions about his life while he was still alive. Now that I am 25 years old, I have taken interest in learning more about him. While I was researching I found out that my grandfather was a competitor in numerous area beard competitions, which was a surprise to me since I can’t recall ever seen grandpa with a long beard! The main photo was taken in 1965, the year that my father was born. At the time, grandpa Erwin would have been nearly 40 years old. My father doesn’t remember grandpa having a beard very often- but recalled that he grew his beard out for competitions in his younger years. The 1965 Chippewa County Beard Competition was quite controversial- for two reasons. Firstly, my grandpa and another competitor from Sand Creek claim they were told the wrong time for the judging. Secondly, even after disqualifying the Sand Creek guys, the judge’s verdict was that it was a tie between two of the remaining men! Though, that didn’t stop my grandpa from continuing to grow his beard for other local competitions. Below is a photo of him, winner of “Longest Beard” in 1976, during the Liberty Festival, in celebration of the United States Bicentennial in Chetek, Wisconsin.

“Camp Wulva” Shirt

By Suzanna Schulert

This t-shirt commemorates the first reunion my UW-Madison Gender Studies classmates, an event we called “Camp Wulva”.  When I first started as a graduate student, I was a TA for GWS 103 joining a decades long tradition of teaching about gender and women’s health at UW-Madison.  Working on that course I met a group of fellow grad students I still affectionately refer to as my cohort.  Among the various and sundry body-related concepts we discussed in our sections was yonic and phallic imagery, many students being unfamiliar with the term “yonic” before taking 103.  One of the examples we used of yonic imagery, however, was quite familiar to students – the UW crest.  When one member of the teaching team’s mom was visiting, she dubbed the crest featured on many campus buildings a “wulva” and we immediately adopted the portmanteau.  Like so many UW students, 103 was a touchstone of our campus experience and wearing this shirt, sporting the Wulva wherever I might be, reminds me of my dear friends and the good times we shared.  And usually gives me the opportunity to tell a Madison story and show someone the yoni in the crest.

Maple Tap

By Tom Broman

This is a 2-inch aluminum spout used to draw sap from sugar maples. A number of years ago, our family owned some land in southern Juneau County, just north of La Valle. The woods there contained several mature sugar maples, and after reading about how to make syrup I decided I would try my hand at it. On a beautiful, sunny day in late February or early March when the temperature was above freezing, I took a cordless drill into the woods and drilled holes 1 1/2 inches into three large maples.  Doing this for the first time made me quite nervous. Would I drill in far enough, or perhaps go too far and damage the tree in some way? But in the event, it was quite simple. After making the hole, I used a hammer to push a tap like the one shown into the tree. Almost immediately, I began to hear the “plink, plink, plink” sound of sap running out through the tap, down a plastic tube, and into a large plastic water jug. It was marvelous to see. Of course, obtaining sap is only the beginning, because it must be concentrated 30-40 times to get usable syrup. We boiled the sap outdoors over an open wood fire. By doing it that way, some ash got into the syrup that needed to be filtered later, but the syrup also acquired a deliciously smokey flavor that our whole family loved. To this day, I miss that smokiness in the commercial maple syrups we buy.

Ringling Brothers Plate

By Isaac Lee

One of my earliest memories is my grandfather taking me to Baraboo to see the circus. This plate belonged to him – one of many items he collected that celebrated the spectacle  and excitement of Wisconsin circuses. When I was young, my grandfather and I would go through his circus collection and browse old photos, many of him sporting a bright red nose. During the late nineteenth century, circuses brought big-city entertainment to small-town crowds. A typical show included  exotic animals, high-flying acrobatics, and of course clowns. From my grandfather, I learned that Wisconsin was central within the history of circuses in the United States. Many Wisconsinites know the story of the Baraboo-raised Ringling Brothers acquiring P.T. Barnum’s “greatest show on earth”.  My grandfather was born in Sheboygan, the birthplace of the Selis-Sterling circus.  Later in life he became a member of Circus Fans Association of America, Selis-Sterling Tent #79. On our first visit to the circus, a clown (whom I later learned was a friend of my grandfather) ran into the audience and jumped on my grandma’s lap! As a six-year-old I found the whole affair rather alarming but ultimately had the time of my life with the greatest show on earth: my grandfather.

This project took inspiration from the Tenement Museum’s Your Story, Our Story.