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Circus artifact uncovered, displayed at Durand bar

DURAND — All Ron Berger wanted was to install a door between two buildings.

Instead, much to his astonishment, he opened a window into the early history of Durand on Labor Day weekend 2015 when he cut a hole in the wall separating the family business from the property next door to accommodate an expansion.

Initially baffled by the green and brown colors he spotted on a long-buried wall, Berger assumed they must be old water stains. But he eventually uncovered enough of the wall to recognize he was looking at the image of a buffalo, with a puff of steam rising from its nostrils, charging right at him on a grassy plain.

Further inspection, by removing electrical outlets along the wall and shining flashlights into the gap behind, revealed the vibrant colors extended the length of the wall.

By the time Berger was done excavating and researching, he had unearthed a 9-foot-high by 55-foot-long, multi-sheet, full-color paper lithograph circus poster advertising the Great Anglo-American Circus and Menagerie performing in Durand on Aug. 17, 1885.

“It’s one of the oldest and best preserved circus posters in the world,” Berger said. “It’s considered a one-and-only type of thing.”

While Berger immediately recognized the discovery would throw a wrench into his plan to quickly connect the Corral Bar & Riverside Grill at 318 W. Main St. with the adjacent building to create a banquet facility, he felt a duty to preserve the historical artifact.

“It was such a rare thing, I just had to show it to the public,” he said.

His sisters Lori Snapp and Sharon and Karen Berger, who own the business, supported the decision even though they knew it would delay the expansion project.

“It’s an awesome, rare piece of art, and we’re so glad we found it,” Snapp said.

Ultimately, it took two years for the special events room to open, complete with a mirror-backed bar and metal ceiling that Berger believes date back to the 19th century. But, ladies and gentlemen, the main attraction undoubtedly is the massive circus poster that covers an entire wall. The artwork is enclosed in special glass to protect it from being damaged by light and prying fingers.

The banquet hall is named the Orton Room in honor of Miles Orton, a world-renowned performer who owned and managed the Great Anglo-American Circus. Orton was famous for stand-up horseback riding with his children on his shoulders — an act breathtakingly depicted in the Durand poster.

Large words across the top of the poster read “ALLIE & BERNARD (Orton’s children), TINY AERIAL MARVELS, MILES ORTON RIDES WITH US!”

Rave reviews

As word has gotten out about the slice of local history served up as a sideshow to the eatery’s pie slices, curiosity seekers from around the globe have made the trek to Durand to see the spectacle for themselves.

A glance at the guest book reveals visitors from Malaysia, France, Kenya, Canada and across the United States from Florida to Alaska. Among the words most repeated in the comments are “awesome,” “cool” and “fantastic.”

Such superlatives are not limited to amateurs. Pete Schrake, archivist at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, made the pilgrimage to Durand to see the discovery and was duly impressed, particularly because the find involved a Wisconsin-based circus in a Badger State town.

“This is a standout piece,” Schrake said. “What really made this one stand out is its size — it’s the longest one I know of — and that it’s an amazing poster.”

That’s high praise from a historian for a museum with an inventory of about 9,000 circus posters.

Schrake said the Durand poster is a relic from the golden age of circus, when the shows toured via railroad and advance teams would paper the towns on the schedule with posters and handbills promoting their acts.

“Circuses, in their day, were pioneers of mass media and in-your-face, bombastic advertising,” he said. “That bill stand is really a perfect example of that kind of approach.”

Terry Mesch, manager of Durand’s Old Courthouse Museum and 1895 Jail, also was thrilled to learn of the poster’s discovery and its display in the downtown business.

“It certainly is a significant historic artifact, and it adds a very nice story to Pepin County history,” Mesch said.

Perhaps more importantly for the city, it represents a new reason for people to visit Durand.

“It’s definitely an attraction,” Mesch said. “I know people from Eau Claire who bring friends down to see the circus poster, and everyone I’ve taken to see it has been impressed.”

On Wednesday, friends Marilyn Qualley of Arkansaw and Robin McCorison of Altoona made the trip to the Corral Bar to have lunch, enjoy the expansive Chippewa River views and, of course, admire the circus poster.

“It is a gem. It’s just something that people would not believe,” said Qualley, who already had seen the artwork and recommended the idea to McCorison, who was not disappointed.

As the women mused about a section filled with depictions of sea life, Berger explained that the Great Anglo-American Circus incorporated a rare traveling aquarium.

“I can assure you those fish aren’t found in the Chippewa River,” Berger said with a chuckle, pointing out that some of the species appear to be prehistoric fish and sea monsters.

Survival story

The artwork, originally displayed on an exterior wall facing the river to promote the circus to boat traffic, was printed on paper intended to weather away after a month or two.

The story of how it survived is a bit of a mystery, although Berger feels confident he has figured it out.

Shortly after the show, he assumes someone erected a building over the wall — installing wooden studs less than half an inch from the artwork — and never bothered to remove the poster.

The circus performers, ranging from aerialists and elephant riders to lions and giraffes, were entombed behind a wall for more than a century until Berger serendipitously freed them.

“It should never have survived,” said Berger, who has become somewhat of a circus historian while researching the poster’s background.

In another stroke of luck, though the building’s basement fills with water nearly every year, Berger noted that the only time Durand’s annual Chippewa River flooding would have been high enough for the above-ground artwork to be underwater was in 1884 — the year before the circus stopped in the city.

A signature indicates the artwork was printed by Russell, Morgan & Co. in Cincinnati, which Berger called the greatest lithograph city in the world at the time. Lithographs were created by carving images out of wood, applying colors and stamping paper.

“It’s remarkable to think of that whole thing being carved out,” Berger said.

A key to unraveling the lithograph’s history was a large stamp indicating the circus would exhibit at Durand on Monday, Aug. 17. But with no year shown, Berger had to make like Sherlock Holmes to sleuth out the answer. When investigation revealed the Great Anglo-American Circus only exhibited in 1884 and 1885 and only 1885 had a Monday on Aug. 17, he had his answer. Further research uncovered articles from the Durand newspaper discussing the circus coming to town on that date.

“It was kind of like reading a good book doing the history on it,” he said. “It took you back to that time.”

Painstaking process

Reaching the point of displaying the artwork may not have been a circus act, but it was no simple task.

After methodically removing the wall concealing the former exterior wall, the bar owners enlisted a team of experts to microvacuum the artwork, repaste some peeling pieces and then meticulously wash the 500-square-foot poster by hand using cotton balls and distilled water.

Berger also had to figure out how to remove the old studs and put up new steel ones without the building collapsing.

Tom Airis, a retired glass specialist with Esser Glass in Eau Claire, helped Berger figure out how best to display and protect the artwork. Airis, a railroad history buff, was happy to be part of the preservation of an artifact from when the circus arrived in Durand via train cars.

“I think it’s absolutely amazing,” Airis said. “I’m over the moon about the way it turned out, and they’ve done a wonderful job on that whole room.”

Another challenge, Berger said, was walking the tightrope of completing all of the work without ending the family’s streak of keeping the business open every day since his mother, Marge Berger, bought the bar on April 15, 1977. As the circus performers might say, the show must go on.

“I must admit it was the biggest pain in the butt I’ve ever dealt with,” Berger said, although clearly it has been a labor of love, as the renovation ringmaster relishes the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the poster and tell the story of its discovery.

Berger still hopes to put the finishing touches on the room, including finding some 19th century mementos to display under the glass-topped bar.

And then there’s the matter of the buffalo that started the whole restoration stampede. Eventually, Berger plans to display the buffalo art, cut out to created the door opening, somewhere in the room. He will include the tail he originally cut off and threw in the trash before he realized the treasure he had stumbled upon.

Undoubtedly, Berger got more than he ever imagined four years ago when he cut out that door — just as Miles Orton surely hoped Durand area patrons would feel after buying tickets when his circus came to town 134 years ago.

Mother, daughter resemblance keeps going after 25 years

Much has changed since 1994 — video stores and telephone cords are now nearly extinct; taking pictures of ourselves has become not only accepted but celebrated behavior; and the number of Starbucks locations has increased from 425 to nearly 30,000.

But for Lana Anderson and her daughter, Megan, at least one constant has remained: their likeness to each other. It was on Sunday, May 8, 1994, when the Andersons won a Leader-Telegram Mother’s Day contest, which asked readers to submit photos in which mothers and daughters looked alike. With blond, curly hair, Lana, 30 at the time, and 5-year-old Megan took first place.

“My mother took the photos of us and I got them submitted just one hour before the deadline,” said Lana, now 55, who lived in Eau Claire at the time of the contest. “In fact, I had to ask off early from work to do so, but it was worth it.

“That was back in the day when we had to run and buy film ... then take the photos ... then get them developed ... and then run the print to the Leader-Telegram.”

Judges at the time described their resemblance as “uncanny.” Although they’re brunettes in a current picture, the adjective still applies.

“The resemblance between us is so powerful that people often ask me if I am related to Megan Anderson if they happen to know her,” Lana said. “My daughter will cross paths with people I went to school with in the 1970s and they’ll ask her if she is related to me. It’s pretty fun.”

Megan agreed that second glances are common when the two are together.

“I grew up with everyone saying my mom could be my older sister or even twin,” she said, “which is kind of nice knowing I should age gracefully.”

• • •

Lana, who now resides in Elk Mound, worked in health care in 1994 and today owns Music To Your Ears, which provides entertainment for the senior community. She’s also the caregiver of her 92-year-old mother.

Megan, now 30, is a hair stylist and makeup artist for Saylon Seven in downtown Eau Claire. A passion for the craft started early for Megan, who at a young age would put on makeup and wigs to lip-sync to songs for her parents and style her friends’ hair and makeup for proms and dance team competitions.

“During college, I would have different colored hair every other month and got a lot more experimental with makeup, and that’s when I knew I wanted to for sure go back to school and get licensed,” she said. “I had an amazing opportunity to be trained at our local Sephora, working on many different faces with a variety of brands, eventually gaining my makeup artist certification from them.”

• • •

Winning the Leader-Telegram contest 25 years ago came with a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant of the Andersons’ choice. Lana and her husband, Jeff, went to Stafne’s nightclub.

“The dinner was fantastic,” Lana said. “I then had Megan choose where she would like to have her meal and treated her to the Dairy Queen. Then she got to go to the park and we went shopping for a toy of her choice.

“So, she got to have a ‘Megan day’ with her winnings.”

Megan recalls the contest fondly as well.

“I for sure remember getting all dressed up and having my grandma take our ‘glamour shot’ pictures that day,” she said. “I was a pretty theatrical child, so it wasn’t out of the norm for me to play dress up and do makeup with my mom.”

With today being Mother’s Day, Megan offered a few words that any parent would welcome.

“I would like to thank my mom for loving me unconditionally, allowing me to explore my talents and for nurturing my creativity my whole life,” she said. “Because when you’re growing up and learning about yourself, the best thing is to have family around you who are accepting and supportive of your dreams.”

Contact: 715-833-9215, or @marlaires on Twitter

Activists give jailed moms a Mother's Day gift: bail

PHOENIX — Mother of six, Paz Lopez, was set to spend Mother’s Day behind bars. The 42-year-old has been locked up in a Phoenix jail for the past month on forgery and other charges. She couldn’t post her $2,050 bail.

But on Thursday night she walked out and into a car waiting to give her a ride home, thanks to a drive to bail out moms so they can spend Mother’s Day with their kids. In a tearful video made immediately after her release, Paz said it was a privilege that she would now get to see her children. She welled up when speaking about the coming birth of her first grandchild.

“There’s just no greater feeling than being a mother,” Paz said. “I’m grateful for both of you to help me be able to spend the day with them and be able to see my grandchild be born.”

Lopez had her bail covered by Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, a social and racial justice group. The organization said they were inspired to do this for a second year by an initiative known as “Black Mama’s Bail Out,” which is posting bail for dozens of mothers of color for the third straight year.

The effort is organized by the National Bail Out collective, a coalition of various grassroots groups, attorneys and activists nationwide. The campaign hopes to bail out more than 100 women in 35 cities in time for Mother’s Day. The objective is not just to reunite families but to push for change in the cash bail system.

• • •

Critics contend the nation’s courts are unfairly punishing poor defendants by setting high bail for low-level crimes that causes them to languish in jail for months, separating them from their jobs and families. In some cases, they remain locked up until their case is dismissed or they take a guilty plea just so they can get out of jail, albeit with a criminal record. There has been a national push to reform bail by advocates who say incarceration should depend on a suspect’s risk to public safety, not the ability to pay.

Mary Hooks, co-director of Atlanta-based Southerners On New Ground, came up with the idea in 2016. She joined with Law For Black Lives, a female-led network of lawyers and legal advocates, to bring together a collective of organizations. It’s been difficult at times to get sympathy, she said, because people often think someone sitting in jail pre-trial must have done something wrong.

“We’re in a political time right now where ‘Barbecue Becky’ or anyone else can call the police on someone and you can get arrested instantly for barbecuing,” Hooks said, referring to the white woman who called police on two black men using a grill in an Oakland, Calif., park. “This notion ‘you’re in jail because you’ve done something horrible,’ we have to remind ourselves we have a Constitution that says ‘innocent until proven guilty.’”

Jaymeshia Jordan, of Oakland, said she would have faced another 10 months in jail if she hadn’t been rescued by a bailout two days before last Mother’s Day by Oakland advocacy group Essie Justice Group. Jordan, who declined to say what she was arrested for, faced a $450,000 bail. She had no way of paying even a fraction of that on her own or with a bail bondsman.

“I would have just sat in custody till my case was over,” Jordan said.

She was in jail for three months. In that time, her 5-year-old son lost his first tooth and learned how to tie his shoes.

• • •

Organizations choose who to assist based on referrals from attorneys and other activists. They don’t take into account whether a woman is accused of a violent or non-violent crime. According to the collective’s organizers, the mothers they help show up at court at “high rates” but the majority of the money they’ve handed out for bail hasn’t been returned.

LUCHA, the Phoenix group, plans to fund as many bail releases as possible with the $9,000 they have raised. Organizers Nicole Hale said they will offer mothers additional support including court date reminders and rides.

“We don’t just hand someone a piece of paper and say ‘good luck.’ They don’t have to go through the system alone,” Hale said.

Several studies suggest that bail amounts are set sometimes as much as three times higher for people of color, said Shima Baughman, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah College of Law. Even a $200 bail for a misdemeanor crime can be beyond what’s in a person’s bank account.

According to a 2018 report from the non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative, roughly 2.9 million women are jailed in the U.S. every year. An estimated 80% are either pregnant or have children.

Women of color are even more heavily impacted, especially if they are working mothers who likely earn lower salaries, according to Baughman. A few days in jail can lead to the loss of a job or child custody.

“When women are the ones that bear most of the burdens in the family, their kids are the ones that are going to suffer,” Baughman said. “Because in many families, women are responsible for working outside the home and also for child care, they can face dire circumstances with their children when they are forced to serve even a couple of nights in jail.”

• • •

Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, said some of these Mother’s Day bailouts are publicity stunts that don’t tackle the larger issue of affordability of bail. It’s unrealistic for organizers to call for a cash-free bail system, he added.

“Not to say these people aren’t doing good work,” Clayton said. “But it’s questionable whether saying they’re an abolitionist and banning all money bail is really the best solution.”

In the past few years, several states have made moves to overhaul their own system including New Jersey, Alaska and New Mexico. There are more than 200 bail reform bills nationwide, according to Baughman. In California, voters next year will decide whether to overturn a law eliminating bail altogether for suspects awaiting trial. Instead, counties would set up their own risk-assessment programs through probation departments.

However, computer algorithms or risk-assessment programs can be biased as well, Baughman said.

Paying for bail has become a growing strategy for local communities to divert the prison pipeline. Last month, rapper T.I. and VH1’s “Love and Hip Hop” personality Scrapp Deleon joined with an Atlanta church to help post bail for nonviolent offenders for Easter. They exceeded their goal and raised $120,000. Sixteen men and seven women got to go home.