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'Voices of the Chippewa Valley' to Tell
Listeners About Life in the 19th Century
MAILED: Dec. 19, 1997|
EAU CLAIRE -- As a little girl in the early 1900s, Dorothy Johnson would hide among the brooms in her father's general store in Curtis, watching for customers who stole goods when they thought no one was looking.
One woman in particular, whom she calls Mrs. J, had to be watched carefully, Dorothy says, explaining that her father said these customers had "long fingers." After Dorothy reported to her father that Mrs. J had gone from stealing apples and spools of thread to more costly items, her father confronted Mr. J, telling him he'd have his wife jailed if he didn't control her. Dorothy was proud she caught the woman stealing but admits the idea of sending her to jail was disturbing.
Dorothy's stories of her life growing up in a general store in a small Wisconsin town are among the 18 short programs that will run on WUEC-FM (89.7) throughout 1998. The personal historical accounts are based on letters, diaries and newspaper articles of the times meant to give listeners a taste of daily life in the Chippewa Valley.
"Hopefully, each will give an insight into what life was like around here from 1859 to 1936," said Ken Loomis, WUEC director and assistant professor of communication and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. WUEC, which broadcasts from an on-campus studio, is operated by the university but is affiliated with Wisconsin Public Radio and National Public Radio.
Loomis and Wil Denson, professor of music and theatre arts, began the series after the Wisconsin Humanities Council made monies available for projects celebrating Wisconsin's sesquicentennial. Denson is dramatizing the stories, with Loomis producing them.
Having written two summer theater shows about the history of the Chippewa Valley, Denson is familiar with stories written by the region's earliest settlers.
"The hard part is narrowing it down," Denson said. "Once you get into it, it's all interesting so it's hard to bring it down to a manageable number. The research is so engrossing that it's almost become a hobby."
As of November, they had completed several four- to five-minute segments, and had others in various stages of production. With selecting scripts, mastering and recording voices, selecting music and sound affects, and finally combining them into a single piece, it's a time-consuming project, Loomis said.
Because they want the voice-overs to be as authentic as possible, Denson carefully selected students to play specific characters when a voice other than Denson's was needed. For example, a Native American student did the voice-over for a segment featuring a Chippewa Indian chief's 1850 letter to the President of the United States in which the chief shares his thoughts about the injustices done to his people.
"It was quite moving," Loomis said of the letter. "The complexities of the emotions felt still came through even though the letter was translated."
Junior political science major Rachael Brost's character was Lucy Hastings, a woman who settled in Eau Claire around 1862. Her story touched on an Indian scare in Eau Claire and how people reacted to it.
"It's her recollection of the entire event and how terrifying it was," Brost said. "It's also about how the Civil War was itself a horrible experience, and how it changed so many lives of people close to her."
In addition to Dorothy Johnson, Lucy Hastings and the Indian chief, characters include people such as an Eau Claire soldier fighting in Mississippi during the Civil War; Louie Blanchard who spent his childhood on a homestead 21 miles north of Chippewa Falls; and a logging camp foreman.
It's tricky to make the voices sound authentic to the times and situations, Denson said.
"The voices have to create feelings and emotions," said Loomis, adding that Burt Spangler of the Media Development Center has made his sound affects library available to them. "And it all has to be done with voice -- there are no visuals as on television."
Loomis and Denson say they hope to educate listeners about Wisconsin residents' contributions to the history of the United States. For example, few people realize area residents played key roles in the Civil War, Denson said, noting that Eau Claire brigades fought in some of the war's biggest and most famous battles.
"We're discovering the richness of Wisconsin history," Loomis said. "Not because of specific events but because of the daily lives of people who settled here. Wisconsin may not have an Alamo but it has the richness of the details of every day life. And it's really individual people who make up history."
The programs will be broadcast on WUEC-FM (89.7) beginning in January of 1998 and will continue throughout the year.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Dec. 23, 1997