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Wisconsin Death Trip

October 5, 2016


In Wisconsin Death Trip, author Michael Lesy paired late 19th century news reports from Black River Falls, Wisconsin and surrounding Jackson County with extraordinary, haunting photographs taken during the same time by Charles Van Schaick. Lesy also came up with the greatest book title in the history of mankind. The result, published in 1973, touches the subconscious and lingers. The time frame of WDT is the aftermath of the great economic panic of 1893. The lack of economic stability exposes a society adrift – we read terse matter of fact accounts of mental illness, blinding poverty, infant mortality, isolation, disease, roving gangs of unemployed (tramps), lost souls, starvation and murder. Wisconsin Death Trip inspired a 1999 film, a Stephen King story, a musical, endless bands and even more college art projects. In the end, the book has proven to be popular - a moment of discovery - for every generation since its first edition. If nothing else, Lesy’s rediscovery of Wisconsin photographer Charles Van Schaick is a world class event by itself. - Frank Anderson