Things That Matter: Howard Nestingen’s White Rabbit
La Crosse County Historical Society

Howard Nestingen survived a series of trips across the Indian Ocean aboard ammunition ships and served in Japan after World War II. He was a member of the Naval Reserves and commander of the Navy Reserve Officers School. In total, Nestingen was a naval officer for 38 years.

Nestingen was born in Westby in 1921, and he played an active role in the La Crosse area. He worked at Dairyland Power Cooperative, and he helped with the nuclear power plant near Genoa.

This stuffed rabbit was Nestingen’s as a child. He received the rabbit when he was about 10 years old, which dates the piece to the early 1930s. The rabbit is white plush, with a suit of colorful wool felt; he has a dark orange pair of trousers, with a lighter orange tuxedo-style jacket. He has white plastic eyes and long ears that are lined with pink velvet. The rabbit is stuffed with wood wool.

With the rabbit’s style of clothes, he appears to be dressed in the style of Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” In the book, the rabbit appears wearing a waistcoat similar to the one worn by Nestingen’s rabbit.

Carroll’s fantasy novel was published in 1865. It was immensely popular, and it changed children’s literature by adding nonsensical amusement to the genre. Carroll’s story is about a young girl named Alice who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world. The White Rabbit is the first character Alice meets, and he leads her into Wonderland. The rabbit appears periodically throughout the novel and acts as a guide for Alice.

The book’s protagonist was based on a young girl named Alice, and it’s believed that Dean Liddell, Alice’s father, may have been the inspiration for the White Rabbit. Similar to the rabbit, Liddell notoriously ran late, specifically to church services.

In the 1930s, the story of Alice remained popular, which explains why Nestingen had his own version of the White Rabbit. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was republished a number of times during this era. A film titled “Alice in Wonderland” was released in 1933. The live-action, 77-minute film featured an all-star cast.

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