Tag Archives: Manitowoc

A timeline of events in the Brendan Dassey case

A judge has overturned the 2007 homicide conviction of Brendan Dassey in a case profiled in the Netflix series Making a Murderer.

At the center of the judge’s decision was a confession Dassey made saying he helped his uncle Steven Avery kill Teresa Halbach in Wisconsin.

The judge determined the confession was coerced using deceptive tactics.

Here are some key events in the case:

Oct. 31, 2005: Teresa Halbach, 25, of St. John in Calumet County, a photographer for Auto Trader Magazine, goes to Avery’s Auto Salvage near Mishicot to photograph a minivan for sale by Steven Avery’s sister.

Evidence later shows Avery called asking for her to come, using his sister’s name.

Nov. 3, 2005: Halbach’s family reports her missing.

Nov. 5, 2005: Halbach’s cousins find her vehicle under brush and auto parts in the Avery salvage yard. Charred bone fragments found in a burn pit later are determined to be her remains.

Nov. 8, 2005: Avery tells reporters he fears authorities are trying to frame him for Halbach’s slaying because he sued Manitowoc County officials for $36 million for wrongful conviction. Avery spent 18 years in prison for rape before DNA evidence cleared him of the crime and he was freed in 2003.

Nov. 9, 2005: Avery is arrested and, based on past convictions for burglary and other crimes, charged with possessing firearms as a felon. Authorities say two guns were in his trailer home.

Nov. 15, 2005: Avery is charged with first-degree intentional homicide and mutilating a corpse.

Feb. 14, 2006: Authorities announce Avery has settled his lawsuit against Manitowoc County officials for $400,000.

March 2, 2006: Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey, then 16, is charged in adult court with being a party to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse and first-degree sexual assault. Prosecutors base the charges on a videotaped statement in which Dassey detailed the killing, saying he and Avery raped and killed Halbach and burned her body. He later recants the statement.

Jan. 29, 2007: A judge dismisses sexual assault and kidnapping charges against Avery because Dassey may not testify at his trial.

Jan. 30, 2007: A judge says defense attorneys can tell jurors that Avery was wrongfully convicted of rape and may use as evidence a vial of his blood found unsecured in the Manitowoc County courthouse. Defense attorneys say discovery of the vial supports their claim that blood was planted to frame Avery.

Feb. 12, 2007: Avery’s trial begins.

March 12, 2007: After the prosecution and defense rest, the judge dismisses the false-imprisonment charge, saying he doesn’t think the jury has enough evidence to find Avery guilty. Avery has not taken the witness stand. Dassey also does not testify in Avery’s trial.

March 18, 2007: After deliberating for nearly 22 hours over three days, jurors convict Avery, now 44, of first-degree intentional homicide and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Avery is acquitted of the charge of mutilating a corpse.

April 16, 2007: Dassey, now 17, goes on trial before a jury selected in Dane County.

April 20, 2007: Prosecutors play Dassey’s videotaped confession for the jury.

April 23, 2007: Dassey testifies in his own defense, saying he lied when he gave the statement but doesn’t know why. Avery does not testify.

April 25, 2007: After 4 1/2 hours of deliberation, the jury convicts Dassey of being party to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse and second-degree sexual assault. Sentencing is scheduled Aug. 2.

June 1, 2007: Avery is sentenced to life in prison with no possible parole.

Aug. 2, 2007: Dassey is sentenced to mandatory life in prison with a possibility of parole set for Nov. 1, 2048.

December 2015: Netflix releases the series Making a Murderer, in which the filmmakers cast doubt on the legal process used to convict Dassey and Avery. Authorities involved in the case have called the 10-hour series biased, while the filmmakers have stood by their work.

Aug. 12, 2016: A judge throws out Dassey’s conviction, ruling that investigators coerced a confession using deceptive tactics. He gives prosecutors 90 days to decide whether to retry Dassey.

Bomb threat at sheriff’s office over ‘getting justice for Steven’ Avery

A caller who phoned in a bomb threat to a Wisconsin county sheriff’s office made an apparent reference to “getting justice” for the man at the center of the Making a Murderer documentary, authorities said Wednesday.

The Manitowoc Police Department said in a statement a male caller made the threat around 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, warning of bombs inside the Manitowoc County sheriff’s office building and a vehicle in the parking lot “packed with explosives.”

The caller also mentioned “getting justice for Steven,” something the statement described as an apparent reference to Steven Avery, the Wisconsin man whose prosecution in a 2005 killing was the centerpiece of the 10-part Netflix series issued in December.

The series questions whether Avery, who was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of photographer Teresa Halbach a decade ago, was treated fairly. It suggests the possibility that Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputies planted evidence in the case, a claim authorities have denied.

Avery had been wrongfully convicted years earlier in a rape case and served 18 years in prison. He sued Manitowoc County for tens of millions before he and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, were arrested in Halbach’s death.

Authorities deemed the area around the sheriff’s office all clear around 9 p.m. Wednesday, and the courthouse was checked as a precaution. No suspicious devices were found.

A second “very similar” threat was received about 20 minutes later, the statement said. Manitowoc police responded to provide security for dispatch and sheriff’s office employees who were about to go through a shift change. Again, no suspicious activity or items were discovered.

Manitowoc police and the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation are working to determine the origin of the call and identity of the caller.

Prosecutor in Steven Avery case to write a book

The man who prosecuted one of the cases featured in the Netflix show “Making a Murderer'” says he’s writing a book.

Ken Kratz tells WBAY-TV that he’s writing about the case because the voice of slaying victim Teresa Halbach has been forgotten. Kratz said he’s grateful to tell the “whole story.”

Steven Avery served 18 years in prison following a wrongful conviction of rape and two years after his release was charged in Halbach’s death. He was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide. 

The “Making a Murderer” series questions whether Avery was treated fairly and suggests the possibility that Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputies planted evidence. 

Authorities have denied that.

Kratz has defended the prosecution and says evidence was left out of the series. 

The filmmakers have stood by their work.

Making a phenomenon: Netflix series shines spotlight on Steve Avery murder case

“Did he just reference the O.J. Simpson case?” the armchair juror asked, looking sideways at her co-juror, sunk deep into the couch after hours of binge-watching Making a Murderer, the Netflix series about Wisconsin’s prosecution of Steven Avery for a rape he did not commit and the murder of a woman for which he is serving a life sentence.

The 10-part series, a runaway hit that debuted on the streaming service in mid-December, has Netflix subscribers taking on the roles of juror and judge, prosecutor and defense attorney, cop and criminologist in the State of Wisconsin’s cases against Avery for the rape of a Manitowoc woman in 1985 and the murder of a Calumet County woman in 2005. Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, also was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 2005 murder of 25-year-old freelance photographer Teresa Halbach at the Avery’s 40-acre property and salvage yard near Mishicot.

The reference to the Simpson case is apt because, like the televised proceedings in that trial, Making a Murderer leads the audience into deep, disturbing debates about guilt and innocence while questioning the integrity of the criminal justice system. Since the series launched, more than 250,000 people have signed petitions urging the president to pardon Avery and Dassey, which is not even an option in state cases.

The story may be new to Netflix’s audience, but Steven Avery’s trials and tribulations are familiar to Wisconsinites. He’s been known in the state as a small-time thief, a defendant, a convicted rapist, a prison inmate, an exoneree, a freed man, an advocate for the innocence project and, finally, as a convicted killer — as “evil incarnate.”

But now, once again, Avery is becoming known as the possible victim of a corrupt legal system, as a repeat non-offender. On Jan. 11, he filed a new appeal. He claims that prosecutors went after him to retaliate for the $36 million lawsuit he filed against Manitowoc officials.

The case recently settled for $400,000.

Avery, despite having alibi witnesses, was convicted of raping a woman jogging along Lake Michigan in Manitowoc in 1985. He served 18 years, exhausting many appeals, before his release from prison on Sept. 11, 2003, after the Wisconsin Innocence Project proved, using DNA testing, that another man committed the crime.

Avery’s wrongful conviction led Wisconsin lawmakers to champion new legislation meant to help the exonerated.

Still, Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, in an investigation of how Avery ended up in prison, did not find cause to bring criminal charges or ethics violations against the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, which arrested Avery and ignored information that should have led to the arrest of the actual rapist, or against the Manitowoc District Attorney’s Office. In October 2004, Avery filed a federal suit for his wrongful conviction, seeking $36 million in compensation.

A year later, and shortly after several key players in the 1985 case were deposed in the lawsuit, Avery was arrested for the murder of Halbach. In her professional capacity, she had visited the Avery property on Halloween. Her burned remains were found behind Avery’s trailer. Her SUV was found in the Avery salvage yard. And the key to that vehicle eventually was found in Avery’s bedroom.

Months later, investigators obtained a confession from Dassey, 16 at the time, who said he participated in the rape and murder.

It was DNA evidence, which led to Avery’s exoneration in the 1985 crime, that sent Avery back to prison in the 2005 homicide.

Making a Murderer makes a compelling case that Avery was framed by at least two officers at the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, who allegedly planted Avery’s blood and other evidence. The series also contends that Dassey was coerced and tricked into making the confessions he later recanted.

The filmmakers, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, say the 10-part series took nearly 10 years to complete and is solid.

Wisconsin authorities say the series is slanted. They warn that viewers are seeing just 10 hours of film about a story that spans 30 years. They point out that testimony in Avery’s murder trial lasted 19 days, with more than 50 witnesses taking the stand.

Manitowoc County Sheriff Robert Hermann, who said justice was served in the Avery murder case, called Making a Murderer “a film. It’s missing a lot of important pieces of evidence.”

But for many viewers, the evidence trail isn’t ending with the conclusion of the series. Old news stories and clips are recirculating on the Internet as fans-turned-investigators are creating reddit and wiki pages.

In the first week of January, the Manitowoc County Clerk of Courts office announced a flood of requests for transcripts, exhibits and other records that fill six banker boxes. One Australian woman requested copies of the entire Avery trial transcript, which cost her $6,000.

‘MAKING A MURDERER,’ MAKING A HIT …

WHAT DOES THE SERIES CLAIM?

The documentary strongly suggests the possibility that Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputies planted evidence against Steven Avery, including a key found in his bedroom and blood found in the vehicle of homicide victim Teresa Halbach.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE VICTIMS?

Teresa Halbach’s brother Mike declined comment since releasing a statement from the family before the documentary became public. “Having just passed the 10-year anniversary of the death of our daughter and sister, Teresa, we are saddened to learn that individuals and corporations continue to create entertainment and to seek profit from our loss,” the statement read. “We continue to hope that the story of Teresa’s life brings goodness to the world.” Other relatives have claimed the series is one-sided.

 

WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN LIKE?

It’s been all over the map. Celebrities have tweeted about how into the series they are, late night talk show host Seth Meyers spoofed it and fake Twitter accounts have been set up for some of the main players in the case. However, Manitowoc County sheriff’s officers have received threats in emails and voicemails.

Dan Auerbach, lead singer of the rock bands The Black Keys and The Arcs, posted a song on The Arcs’ website inspired by the documentary series. Proceeds from the sale of the song will go to the Innocence Project, a legal organization that uses DNA evidence to exonerate prisoners. The song, called “Lake Superior,” includes several lyrics that reference the case, such as: “Your alibi will never do when the whole town’s got it out for you.”

 

WHAT ABOUT AVERY?

Steven Avery filed an appeal to overturn his conviction on Jan. 11. His attorney is confident that the appeal will succeed based on new evidence.

 

 

— from AP and WiG reports

 

Popularity of Netflix series overwhelms records custodian

The popularity of the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” has resulted in a barrage of requests for records in the homicide case.

The custodian of those records, the Manitowoc County Clerk of Courts office, has been inundated with inquiries from local citizens as well as others from across the country who want to see the transcripts, exhibits and other documents.

Clerk Lynn Zigmunt says there are more than six banker boxes of material. She’s assigned an employee to handle the requests each day. Zigmunt tells WBAY-TV that on Jan. 5 a woman from Australia requested copies of the trial’s entire transcript, and at $1.25 a page, she will be billed $6,000.

Zigmunt expects the requests to wane in the future because someone who has purchased the documents will likely put them online. 

Wisconsin-set ‘Making a Murderer’ tops winter streaming recommendations

Steven Avery.

It’s a name you might not have known a few weeks ago, but one that’s now almost inescapable thanks to Making a Murderer, Netflix’s answer to viral true crime sensations such as the podcast Serial and the HBO series The Jinx. Released in full on Dec. 18, the 10-episode documentary, rated “binge-worthy” by Time magazine, has captivated streaming audiences everywhere and is perhaps one of the most-watched original series released by the streaming service in an already-strong year.

Perhaps nowhere is the show more polarizing than here in Wisconsin. Avery, who’s from Manitowoc County, served 18 years in prison beginning in 1985 after being convicted of sexually assaulting a Manitowoc woman. He was ultimately exonerated of the charge, thanks to the efforts of the Wisconsin Innocence Project and DNA testing, and released in 2003. But a few years later, Avery was arrested again and charged with the death of photographer Teresa Halbach — a crime for which he’s currently serving a life sentence. Making a Murderer suggests the sheriff’s department and prosecutors mishandled the case at best and, at worst, could have framed him for it.

The response to that suggestion has been varied and often visceral. Two separate Internet petitions calling for the pardoning of Avery (and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was also convicted for the crime) have already amassed at least 160,000 signatures. A petition directed at the White House has the 100,000 signatures necessary to require President Obama to respond.  Prosecutors maligned by the documentary have come out harshly against it, with Manitowoc County Sheriff Robert Hermann telling Appleton’s The Post-Crescent that the series skews evidence, takes it out of context, and should be considered a “movie” rather than a documentary.

Make up your own mind. Netflix and its competitors both in streaming and traditional TV may be flooding the market with a glut of quality fictional programing, but even with its veracity challenged by those it condemns, Making a Murderer stands out as a vibrant examination of real life, raising real questions about the inner workings of our criminal justice system.

Some of the other top offerings from streaming services to watch for this winter are:

NETFLIX

Making a Murderer is going to dominate the conversation about Netflix for the next few months, but by March 4 the streaming service is poised to shift into campaign mode. That’s when its first success story House of Cards returns, with now-President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) embarking on a re-election campaign that’s sure to be as cutthroat as his original path to the White House.

This winter will also see the long-delayed arrival of the final season of Parks and Recreation on Jan. 13 (although it’s been on Hulu since airing), Chelsea Handler’s four-part documentary series Chelsea Does on Jan. 23, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, the delayed sequel to the 2000 martial arts film, on Feb. 26.

Netflix’s reboot of Full House also shows up on Feb. 26, but the more we hear about Fuller House, the more we want to tell everyone involved to “Cut It Out.”

AMAZON PRIME

The final months of 2015 were big ones for Amazon’s original programming. Transparent, the company’s first breakout success, turned in another exemplary set of 10 episodes in December, taking the story of transgender family matriarch Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) and her family in fascinating new directions that explored the family’s past tragedies and attempts to heal themselves in the present. Amazon Prime got another boost from The Man in the High Castle. Based on Philip K. Dick’s alternate historical novel of the same name, it explores what happens when Germany and Japan occupy and divide the United States after winning World War II. The series’ pilot was the most-watched in the history of Amazon Prime’s original programming when it premiered last January, and the full 10 episodes subsequently became the company’s most-streamed original series.

The second season of the classical-musicians-behaving-badly dramedy Mozart in the Jungle dropped on Dec. 30 and continues into 2016. Come for the resoundingly attractive Gael García Bernal, stay for national treasure Bernadette Peters.

HULU

Hulu’s value still resides primarily in the content it gets from other providers — with next-day streaming available for most network TV shows and an increasingly large library of Hollywood’s most popular films. 

But this winter marks the premiere of one of the service’s few original programs to date: 11.22.63. Based on a Stephen King novel, the nine-hour limited series follows a schoolteacher (played by James Franco) who travels back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK but finds his mission more complicated than he expected. The J.J. Abrams-produced series will start airing weekly episodes on (when else?) Presidents’ Day, Feb. 15.

HBO GO

If you’re a parent with an HBO subscription, this is the month you get to brag to all the other parents at daycare about how your munchkins have already seen the latest episodes of Sesame Street, premiering on the cable station and its streaming component HBO GO on Jan. 16 (don’t worry, the episodes will still air on PBS after a nine-month exclusivity window). After the kids go to bed, you can tag team episodes of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and new ’70s music industry drama Vinyl starting Feb. 14, or wait a week to start half-hour comedies Girls and Togetherness Feb. 21.

See also: Netflix documentary stirs national debate over prosecutorial misconduct in famed Wisconsin murder case

Michigan-Wisconsin ferry to resume operations

A coal-fired passenger ferry is set to return to service on Lake Michigan after undergoing a makeover to meet terms of a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Ludington Daily News  reports the SS Badger is expected to sail on May 15 from Ludington, Michigan, to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It’ll have a new ash retention system as part of a requirement to stop discharging ash into Lake Michigan.

Improvements made to the ship by its operator, Lake Michigan Carferry, have cost an estimated $2.4 million over the last two years.

The 410-foot ferry launched in 1952 and can carry 600 passengers and 180 vehicles. It’s the last coal-fired steamship operating on the Great Lakes.

On the web …

https://www.ssbadger.com.

Manitowoc residents combat monarch decline

Some people raise dogs or cats for their cuddly companionship. Others opt for fuss-free fish. Carol Stokes and Lori Beilke choose to mother monarchs.

Though butterflies are not as loyal as traditional pets, nor are their demands as simple as fish, their love for the insects prompts the women to raise them summer after summer.

Beilke’s been raising the butterflies since she was 7 years old, while Stokes started only a couple of years ago, the (Manitowoc) Herald Times Reporter reported.

Stokes took interest after her sister received a librarian’s grant to open a butterfly garden.

“And then it became an obsession,” she laughed. “I call myself a monarch midwife.”

Up went more than 20 butterfly cages in her sunroom. Out went part of her lawn, which she replaced with a butterfly garden and milkweed plants.

Milkweed is all a monarch needs for sustenance; monarchs lay their eggs on the plant and it’s the only food the larva can eat.

The caterpillar stage is most taxing on Beilke, who checks on her bugs up to four times a day as they munch through leaf after leaf of milkweed.

“The (caterpillars) are at your mercy,” Beilke explained.

***

Over a period of nine to 14 days, the insects increase their body mass almost 2,000 times as it grows, shedding its skin five times to allow for this rapid increase in size, said Karen Oberhauser, a butterfly biologist at the University of Minnesota.

Once they pupate and become a chrysalis – that’s science speak for cocoon — the women wait another nine to 14 days for the butterfly to emerge. After letting their iconic orange and black wings dry for a couple of hours, the ladies release them into the wild.

Stokes transfers the monarchs from their cage to her finger and onto a flower.

“Use your legs,” she instructed them during the release.

Most monarchs only live for a couple of weeks before mating and dying. The last generation, born in late August, gets to live for seven to nine months but forfeits mating in order to migrate to Mexico. The butterflies fly back north in the spring, where they mate and die.

“It’s amazing to watch all the different stages of life and know you helped them along,” Stokes said.

***

Despite the women’s efforts, monarchs are in steep decline across the nation, a disturbing trend that’s persisted for much of the past decade, said Oberhauser.

She attributes this drop primarily to habitat loss, which includes the wintering sites in Mexico but also the mating region, which spans from the East Coast through the Corn Belt.

Farmers spraying pesticides to eradicate weeds have simultaneously eliminated a majority of milkweed plants. Illegal logging in Mexico also contributed to the plummeting numbers.

Still, some experts dispute that the monarch populations are declining at all.

“It’s a difference of opinion on how to interpret the data on hand,” said Andrew Davis, an assistant research scientist at the University of Georgia. “The lower numbers are mostly at sites in Mexico, which is only one of the stages of a monarch’s life cycle.”

He went on to say he has noticed an increased number of monarchs sited at coastal states throughout the winter, which suggests the monarchs are simply adjusting to the temperature change and making a shorter migration.

“It’s not good or bad,” he said. “It just is. Monarchs are adapting to a changing environment.”

***

No matter how the data is deciphered, there are still many questions about this critter with a brain the size of a pinhead. Their months-long migration makes it one of the most beloved insects.

“I would hate to think that someday there wouldn’t be monarchs,” Stokes said.

While Oberhauser said it is unlikely the species will become extinct, the conservation work done by private citizens is boosting butterfly numbers.

Stokes released only 35 monarchs last summer, but this summer is already up to 133 with another month to go. Beilke usually raises up to 600 monarchs each summer. Despite the amount of work the job entails, both said they will be back at it next summer.

“The last release of the summer is always a relief because I know I’ll get a break,” Stokes said. “But it’s also sad because I know I won’t see them again till next spring.”

Published as an AP Member Exchange.

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Sundae scoop | Two Rivers defends title as ‘birthplace of the sundae.’ Stick a cherry on it, Ithaca.

In Two Rivers, an official Wisconsin State Historical Society marker proclaims the Manitowoc County community as the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. But Ithaca, N.Y., disputes the claim, saying the distinctly American dessert originated there.

As a result, a friendly rivalry exists between the two communities. VisitIthaca.com, the city’s travel website, maintains the first sundae was served in its environs in 1892. The website even features a song jabbing Two Rivers’ claim. Sung to the melody of “Moon River,” the lyrics go:

Two Rivers, why live in denial? The story you compile, won’t play.

Your sign maker, a truth faker, without sundae proof your claim’s melting away.

Really, Ithacans? Your tunesmiths haven’t done the math. The first ice cream sundae dates back to 1881 in Two Rivers, and history proves it.

Entrepreneur Ed Berner owned a soda fountain at 1404 15th St. in Two Rivers (or TR, as some local residents refer to the community of 12,000.) Church laws were such that the selling of “immoral” carbonated soda was not allowed on Sunday, which left Berner with little to do on the Sabbath except polish his glassware.

George Hallauer, a local who had moved to Illinois and was vacationing in his hometown, walked into Berner’s shop one Sunday and asked for a dish of ice cream. Spying a container of chocolate syrup on the back counter – the kind Berner used to make his chocolate sodas – Hallauer asked Berner to splash some syrup on his ice cream.

As a confection professional, Berner was aghast at the idea. Chocolate on ice cream? That would spoil the ice cream’s flavor! 

However, Hallauer persisted. Berner finally relinquished, adding the chocolate sauce to the ice cream. The rest, as they say is history.

Berner’s new creation, which cost a nickel, became pretty popular. Clad in an immaculate white jacket with a forever-unlit cigar clenched between his teeth, Berner began experimenting with various ingredients, including apple cider, and giving the dishes colorful names. Soon customers could order a Flora Dora, a Mudscow and a chocolate-and-peanut concoction called the Chocolate Peany, but only on Sundays.

Fast forward a few years to George Giffey, who owned an ice cream parlor in nearby Manitowoc. Legend has it that a 10-year-old girl asked for a dish of ice cream “with the stuff on top” on a day that was not Sunday. Giffey got around the local protocol by the calling the dish itself a “Sunday.”

The changing of the spelling to “sundae” is something generally credited to a traveling glassware salesman who provided the canoe-shaped dishes in which the treat was served. In writing up an order for Berner’s shop, he mistakenly used the spelling “sundae” and the name stuck. On the other hand, it may have been a political move on Berner’s part to appease the local burghers who disapproved of naming the confection after the Sabbath.

Ithaca tells a similar story, crediting Chester Platt of the Platt & Colt Pharmacy as preparing a Sunday dish of ice cream for the Rev. John M. Scott of the local Unitarian Church. Platt topped the ice cream with cherry sauce and a candied cherry. Scott was delighted and, being a more liberal clergyman, suggested the dish be called a “Sunday” after the day of its creation.

While that sounds plausible – Ithaca has an 1892 newspaper ad that supports its claim – history shows an 11-year difference between the two tales. This clearly gives Two Rivers the edge over Ithaca and other would-be sundae originators, a list that includes Evanston, Ill., Plainfield, Ill., Buffalo, N.Y., Ann Arbor, Mich., Norfolk, Va. and Washington, D.C. 

Two Rivers’ claim is further substantiated by writer H.L. Mencken who, in tracing the origin of the word “sundae” for his volume “The American Language: Supplement 1” cites Two Rivers as the source both of the word and the treat. Mencken’s 1929 interview with Ed Berner verifies the fact.

So, in your face, Ithaca! You can sit on your soda fountain stool and spin! Two Rivers is home to the ice cream sundae.

But there’s more. In June 2006, the Two Rivers City Council issued a proclamation formally challenging Ithaca to its claim as the sundae’s birthplace. A package was delivered to former Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peters containing an inflatable dairy cow, an ice cream sundae T-shirt and jewelry.

In addition, postcards were sent to Peters and an ad was placed in the Ithaca Journal featuring a coupon offering free ice cream sundaes to Ithaca residents. The coupons were only redeemable in Two Rivers, and redemption required the bearer’s acknowledgment of Two Rivers as the sundae’s birthplace.

According to volunteers at the Washington House Museum and Visitor Center, more than 80 such coupons have been redeemed and, seven years later, they are still coming in.

Berner’s original soda fountain was torn down years ago, but a replica exists in what was a former tailor shop located in the historic Washington House, 1622 Jefferson St. For $2 volunteers will serve a dish or cone of Cedar Crest Ice Cream and recount the tale of Ed Berner and his creation.

Home-town acceptance

“We are everywhere” is a longstanding motto of the LGBT civil rights movement.

Two decades ago, it was printed on T-shirts, baseball caps and other items to assert that we’ve had a presence in all communities and at all times. Today the message remains critical, both for American society at large and for the countless LGBT people still living in isolation and fear.

The majority of people in the United States now seem to know that “we are everywhere.” The last Gallup poll taken on the subject (2009) found that 58 percent of people in the United States – and more than 70 percent of liberals – had a gay or lesbian friend, relative, or coworker.

Even in societies such as Russia and Iran, where public officials have sought to deny our existence, LGBT people have surfaced to claim their truth, despite facing grievous persecution.

As more people have emerged from the closet, “we are everywhere” has gone from being the claim of a marginalized minority to a social axiom.

One of the reasons it was necessary to emblazon “we are everywhere” on T-shirts was that LGBT people throughout history have migrated to large population centers where they could live in relative anonymity and meet others like themselves. People in small towns and rural areas believed we were rare or non-existent because LGBT people either fled those communities or stayed in the closet.

Happily, that situation is changing. In both the 2000 and 2010 census, data showed same-sex couples living in every county of Wisconsin. In fact, 96 percent of all counties in the nation reported have at least one same-sex couple who were raising children.

But even though we’ve proven that we’re everywhere, we are not treated the same everywhere – not by neighbors and not by the law. For this reason, recent developments in Wisconsin should be considered milestone achievements, even though they affect only a small number of people.

On March 20, the Manitowoc City Council voted to extend full spousal benefits to the registered same-sex partners of city workers. Manitowoc was spurred into action after the Racine City Council took the same action earlier in the month. Appleton adopted domestic partner benefits last fall.

Last month, the Janesville City Council voted unanimously to extend up to three days of funeral and bereavement leave to city workers who lose their unmarried domestic partners, including same-sex partners. Councilmen Sam Liebert and Yuri Rashkin introduced the proposal as an incremental step in an effort that will ultimately seek to allow Janesville city workers to share their health benefits with their partners.

All of these moves toward equality show that our struggle for fairness is reaching smaller cities – the very places that LGBT people felt they had to leave in order to live openly and without fear of persecution. These developments encourage hope that some day LGBT Wisconsinites won’t have to leave their families and their roots in order to live in freedom.

Perhaps some day we will not only be everywhere but will be welcome everywhere as well.