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Project launches sites to hear La Crosse history

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A University of Wisconsin-La Crosse teacher and her students are set to pull back the curtain to reveal their spin on history — highlight the experiences of the hoi polloi instead of the usual high-fallutin’ notables.

“It’s not the rich white man’s history but the history of all of us,” said Ariel Beaujot, an assistant history professor at UW-L, who said the history of La Crosse’s founders and those who achieved fame and fortune are well known.

“We don’t know the average story,” said Beaujot, whose students compiled material for “Hear, Here,” a historical tour in which participants can stop at marked spots in the city and use cell phones to hear stories of people tied to the spots.

Nine students and three community members learned how to record, edit and package oral histories for the project, with the fruits of their labors being unveiled at a party from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday. The launch will take place at the former Pamperin Tobbaco Co. building at 115 S. Second St., a restored 1879 late Victorian building.

The project includes people who usually are under-represented in historical accounts, including homeless people, members of the LGBTQ community, African-Americans and members of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Beaujot said.

The initial rollout features 28 spots highlighting lesser-known figures, such as:

  • Paul Pappas, who lived at the YMCA for $1 a day for five years after World War II.
  • Dan Green, also known as Kera Cho Mani ga, who fights for Native American imagery, such as the big Indian statue in Riverside Park, to be updated to combat stereotypes.
  • Gustave Winter, who was born in 1888 and delivered packages to women at two brothels. He described how the women had doctors’ notes confirming that they did not have venereal diseases. He advanced the argument for brothels over street prostitution as a better form of regulation and protection for women in the sex industry.
  • Jane Doe, who was called to jury duty for a bar brawl case and insisted that such cases shouldn’t be dismissed just because people involved were drunk. No criminal behavior should be dismissed just because of a drinking culture, she argued.
  • Like similar efforts in other cities, the project employs psychogeography, which means that locations, smells or sights remind people of events, Beaujot said.

“Memories reside in spaces,” she said. “Memory comes in or comes up in experiences. Let’s pay attention to this space and our memories of others.”

The stopping points are marked with red signs proclaiming “Hear, Here,” with toll-free numbers to call from cell phones to hear stories of those spaces, she said. Listeners then can add their own memories.

“Part of the point is community stories and contributions,” she said. “People can leave stories on the phone lines.”

Major sponsors for the project include the Wisconsin Humanities Council, the La Crosse City Vision Foundation, the La Crosse Community Foundation, the Metre advertising agency, the UW-L History Department and UW-L’s College of Liberal Studies. It is expected to include 60 stopping points by 2020.

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