Cultural Center’s ‘Lost Ozaukee’ exhibit uncovers bizarre, interesting facts from county’s storied past, like a bank robber’s local doctor and a priest’s bogus sighting
Did you know that Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President Garfield in 1881, lived in the Town of Grafton, at what was then Port Ulao?
Or that in 1934 Dr. Harold Cassidy, a native of Port Washington and son of former Ozaukee County Sheriff James Cassidy, helped perform plastic surgery on famed bank robber John Dillinger and his associate Homer Van Meter. At one point, Cassidy gave Dillinger artificial respiration because he stopped breathing.
Or that Erwin Uihlein, president of the Schlitz Brewery and a Town of Grafton resident, owned the largest sailing vessel on the Great Lakes, a 120-foot, three-masted, steel-hulled yachtnamed Atlantic. He lent the boat to the Coast Guard during World War II, and it sank two German submarines while patrolling between New Orleans and Trinidad.
Or that Ozaukee County was the place to go for a divorce from the 1920s through the 1940s. Port Washington was known as “Little Reno” because, as the county seat, the courts were housed there. By 1942, only 25 of the 250 divorce cases in Ozaukee County involved county residents.
Allen Buchholz, a member of the Ozaukee County Historical Society explained that the county’s reputation as a divorce mill came about because there were so few local court cases that couples could get a divorce rather quickly by filing papers here.
Out-of-town couples also avoided the embarrassment of having their names listed in their local newspaper as they divorced, he said.
Among those who divorced here were famed shimmy dancer Gilda Gray in 1928 and aviation pioneer Thomas Foster Hamilton in 1929.
Buchholz is one of four people who helped put together “Lost Ozaukee: From Dillinger to UFOs...the places and faces time forgot,” an exhibit at the Cedarburg Cultural Center that highlights unusual facts about the county.
He and Sue Gyarmati, coordinator of historic programs at the center, came up with the idea for the exhibit about two years ago, Buchholz said.
“We were sitting around and threw out the idea of doing something with the unusual and crazy things that happened here. Not only whimsical things, but dark things, quirky things, heroic things. Things maybe one person out of 1,000 would know. Urban legends that people may know of, but they don’t really know the whole story,” he said.
“Then we started making files. We’d run across things and throw them in.”
Along with Samantha Bulgerin of the Ozaukee County Historical Society and Trudi Roesch of the Cultural Center — the exhibit is a joint effort of the two groups — Buchholz and Gyarmati put together about 50 unusual facts about the county.
Items are catagorized in five areas — events, people, places, quirky things and dark facts.
“There were some sweet spots for each of us,” Buchholz said.
Bulgerin is fascinated by some of the dark items, he said, while Gyarmati is a Cedarburg expert.
He’s a self-described history nut who’s working on cataloging the Vern Arendt collection at the Luxembourg Cultural Center, Buchholz said, adding he found many things while perusing back issues of Ozaukee Press.
The result is a fascinating look at Ozaukee County. Some of the items are known fairly widely, such as the story of Joe Demler of Port Washington, who made the cover of Life magazine and was dubbed the human skeleton when he was rescued from a Nazi camp during World War II.
Others are more obscure, such as the story of Father Joseph Brasky, who reported in 1947 that a UFO had struck St. Joseph Church in Grafton — a story investigated by the FBI that made the front page of newspapers around the country.
“It was one of very few UFO-related things that came with a photo,” Bulgerin said.
The UFO was found to be an 18-inch saw blade with gadgets and wires attached.
There’s the fact that two Red Ochre Indian burial grounds were found and excavated in Cedarburg — a sewage treatment plant stands at the site today — and that Lime Kiln Park in Grafton was once a garbage dump.
“My brother and I used to go there and shoot rats all the time,” Buchholz said. “It was a regular hobby for local kids to do that.”
One of the photos depicts a man showing off a box of dead rats.
Buchholz said the group has since discovered even more interesting tidbits about the county.
“We’ve thought of a few things since we put the exhibit together,” he said. “Maybe there’ll be a follow-up.”
The Lost Ozaukee exhibit runs through Oct. 13 at the center, W62 N546 Washington Ave. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
Image Information: SEVERAL OF THE unusual facts in the “Lost Ozaukee” exhibit at the Cedarburg Cultural Center have to do with famed bank robber John Dillinger. Checking out a wanted poster before the exhibit opened Tuesday were (from left) Samantha Bulgerin, Allen Buchholz, Trudi Roesch and Sue Gyarmati, who compiled the display. Photo by Sam Arendt