Black River Falls, Wisconsin, is located in Jackson County, in the western part of the state. Population as of 2019 is 3465 people. While Black River Falls is an outdoor enthusiasts ideal destination as it has forested areas, water access and trails; what you see today as a picturesque town was not what you would have seen in the late 19th century. It seems that Black River Falls has a dark past, that may be unexplained.
The 1973 book by Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip, relays the full history of the time, and it was adapted into movie in 1999. The horrors the plagued Black River Falls, began around 1890 and ended around 1910.
A few of the books highlights:
Botched burial leads to woman biting her finger half off. Mrs. Sarah Smith was buried in Rosedale Cemetery and she was buried alive. When exhumed her body was on it’s side and her fingers were half bitten off. It is believed this occurred when she realized her fate.
Teenager steals property after killing landowner. 13 year old John Anderson, ran away from home and shot a farmer at close range. With his 10 year old brother they took over the property until the farmer’s brother arrived. After a chase John was caught and sentenced to life in prison.
Self diagnosis of cancer, results is fire. A 60 year old woman, attempted to remove a malignant sore from her back, by setting herself on fire.
The fear of being possessed causes a woman to drown her three children at a beach. Mrs. John Larson, suffering from mental illness drowned her three children at Lake St. Croix. The bodies of two children were recovered.
Distraught farmer goes out with a bang. Mr. Christ Wold decided to take his own life by uncommon means. He dug a hole and filled it with dynamite, stuck his head in and lit the fuse.
Diptheria epidemic ravaged the town, causing mass murders and suicides. The grief and panic caused by the deadly illness resulted in many children dying. Citizens burned down houses and were plagued by the disease in the early 1890’s.
Pyromaniac destroyed several homes after going to a carnival. Lydia Berger, 15, set fired to her father’s barn and home, after she was disciplined for going to a carnival. When staying with neighbors, she then set fire to their property as well. She set several fires before being apprehended and admitting to the arson.
The infamous Wisconsin Window Smasher was addicted to cocaine and eventually committed to an asylum. Mary Sweeney claimed to destroy over $50,000 worth of glass, while using cocaine to “quiet her nerves”. She was jailed over 100 times and eventually institutionalized.
What caused this twenty years of madness in a small town in Wisconsin? Was there something sinister at work, or was it simply a series of tragedies that eventually ended it death to so many? If you have read the book, or viewed the movie, please share your opinions with me, love to understand this a little bit more.
Be strong, be beautiful, be you