Susan Lundy's Reviews > Wisconsin Death Trip

Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy
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Jul 23, 12

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in December, 2011

This out-of-print book is so good that it was my only Christmas/Anniversary request a couple of years back. I read it when it first came out in the 1970's and have never forgotten the structure and premise: glass negatives were found all dating from the late 1800's in Wisconsin. Some were death pictures (especially the children, as pictures were rarely taken then). Others were just portraits of everyday citizens. Side-by-side to these pictures were excerpts from Wisconsin papers; that society's definition of obituaries. What was most moving and thought-provoking was the fact that the custom was to be brutally blunt: "Eva Sounder threw herself down a well, distraught at the loss of the Sounder farm". (I made that up, but I do remember there was a description of suicide-by-well-jumping in the book.) The essay at the beginning describes how the Wisconsin farmers could not understand the worldwide depression. Why, if their crops had produced a certain dollar amount the year before, did something going on in Europe suddenly made their crop worth so little this year? The pictures, the author's essay, and the news clippings came together to make a book worth reading, thinking about, and remembering for forty years.
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