Over the past several years, I’ve done restoration and cleaning of many grave monuments across Wisconsin. Since the special chemicals used to clean the monuments can take a month or more to take full effect, I don’t often see the final, final product. So I was very impressed with a photograph of the monument of my great-grandmother, Mary Helen (Ladick) Treutel, sent by a dear cousin, Shirley (Ladick) Oleson.
I treated and cleaned this stone at St. James Catholic Cemetery in Vesper, Wis., in the summer of 2017. Mary Treutel’s monument was badly stained by black mold, which was even more apparent on the white stone surface. During the cleaning process, this became apparent with the many color changes caused by the cleaning chemicals. Many people don’t realize that mold, lichens and other growths are very harmful to the often-delicate headstones.
When I last saw this headstone in August 2017, it still had a bit of an orange glow. The D/2 cleaning chemical (the only one approved for use at Arlington National Cemetery) continues to work with rain and sun for three to four weeks. You can see the progression in the photo gallery below:
The “before” photo shows deep staining by black mold.
The cleaning chemical quickly attacks the harmful growths.
After a few minutes, the stone turns a brown-orange.
After treatment, the stone has an orange hue, which will fade with time
Nearly two years later, the stone looks almost flawless.
The video below shows how this monument looked as it was given a final rinse:
The rectangular grave stone sits quietly among thousands of others at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Racine, Wisconsin. Its granite lettering pays tribute to the man who lies beneath it, but his real story has never been fully told. Lt. Edmund Richard Collins was a young lawyer and Knight of Columbus who went to war in 1917 as a leader of men. He returned home 100 years ago in a casket, a war hero with the distinction of being among the first U.S. soldiers to engage Communist Russians on the battlefield.
Most people do not know that an expeditionary force of American and Allied troops were diverted from World War I’s European theater and sent to North Russia and Siberia to fight the Bolsheviki, the Red Communist Russians who seized power during the Russian Revolution. It became known as the Polar Bear Expedition.
American and Allied troops landed in August 1918 at Archangel, a key port on the White Sea in the northern part of European Russia. The Allies were commanded by British Maj. Gen. Edmond Ironside. When Allied forces took Archangel, the Bolsheviki fled south. Over the next nine months, American troops faced brutal conditions such as minus-20 degrees Farenheit temperatures and chest-high snow. Troops moved on foot and equipment moved via sled or sleigh. Before the winter set in, commanders urgently requested 1,000 pairs of skis, 5,500 pairs of snow shoes, and 7,500 pairs of moccasins to aid the men in advancing on the battlefield. Other requested equipment included 50 long cross saws and tongs for obtaining ice blocks for drinking water, and 100 sledges with dogs and harnesses.
Just as the Armistice ended World War I in Europe on Nov. 11, 1918, the action in North Russia was just getting started. The U.S. Army’s 339th Infantry Regiment brought more than 4,000 soldiers to the many battlefields across North Russia. They fought an enemy that was often well entrenched; defended by batteries of machine guns. The Bolsheviki used the deep snow as cover. U.S. patrols reported Bolsheviki suddenly emerging from massive snow banks to open fire on Allied troops or take prisoners.
Allied troops fought and died in places with names like Obozerskaya, Chinova, Onega and Bolshie Ozerka (also spelled Bolshie Ozerki). Collins led his men in some of the fiercest fighting of the North Russia campaign. On March 17, 1919, Collins and some 30 men and one Lewis gun left Chekuevo and a traveled all night to reach Chinova. They advanced toward Bolshie Ozerka and had come within 1 verst (about two-thirds of a mile) of that place when they were fired upon by five or six machine guns at once. “It was only through the enemy’s high shooting that the whole detachment was able to slowly withdraw, crawling through the deep snow,” wrote Lt. Col. N.A. Lawrie in his battle summary.
On March 23, 1919, Collins led a detachment that engaged the enemy at Bolshie Ozerka. His men covered a front of about 300 yards, most of which ran through the woods. During the battle, the Bolsheviki laid down heavy machine gun fire, striking Lt. Collins and a sergeant from Company H of the 339th Infantry. Collins was shot through the lungs, while his compatriot suffered wounds to the shoulders and arms. Another lieutenant took command and advanced the troops 500 yards under heavy fire in waist-deep snow. The Allies returned heavy fire and held their ground for five hours until reinforcements arrived, according to a summary written by Capt. Richard W. Ballensinger of the 339th Infantry.
Badly wounded, Collins was evacuated to a dressing station. On March 24 he was being transported toward the hospital at Chekuevo. “He died from the effects of his wounds before he reached this station,” Ballensinger wrote. “I consider it my duty, since the weather permitted, to send his body at once to Archangel.” Lt. Edmund Richard Collins would be forever 28.
“Officers and men in this engagement did extremely well under trying conditions. I am sorry that I am forced to report the loss of a good officer.” –Capt. Richard W. Ballensinger
Collins was one of nearly 100 Americans killed as a result of combat before the campaign ended in May 1919. The men, who had been buried in various places around North Russia, were retrieved and sent to Archangel for transport home to the United States. Word of his son’s death reached Dr. William P. Collins in Racine over the weekend of April 5, 1919. The Racine Journal-News account said Collins died on March 29, five days after being shot. However, battlefield records indicate he died March 24, the same day he was wounded. The family would have to wait seven months for Collins’ body to return home for a funeral and final burial.
Dr. Collins would have his heart broken again in November 1919, when a series of mistakes resulted in the wrong body being sent to Racine for burial. More than 100 soldiers’ bodies were aboard the Army transport Lake Daraga when it docked at Hoboken, N.J. on Nov. 12, 1919. Collins’ body arrived at the train station in Racine just before midnight on Nov. 19, surprisingly without military escort. When Collins’ casket was opened the next day, a mistake became immediately apparent. The man in the casket was much taller than Collins and was balding. Collins had a full head of hair. The man’s dog tag read, “Charles O’Dial 2021851.” It was the wrong body. Reports came in of incorrect soldier bodies being received in several other cities. Collins’ funeral was postponed.
In Carlisle, Indiana, the funeral and burial of Odial had already taken place. The body was exhumed and discovered to be that of Frank Sapp of Summitville, Indiana. A frantic Dr. Collins wired military officials in Washington. “Body sent to me belonged at Carlisle, Ind. Body exhumed at Carlisle at my request belonged at Summitville, Ind. Body exhumed at Summitville on my request was not right body,” Collins wrote. “All bodies so far proved to be misplaced. Is it not time to get busy?”
The War Department issued a statement that did little to clear the air, blaming the mistakes on a rush to load the ships when pulling out of Archangel. In the end, Dr. Collins was the one to solve the mess after obtaining a list of the bodies on the ship and the numbered caskets. As it turned out, Collins’ body was still in Hoboken. On Nov. 25, the body was finally shipped via rail to Racine.
The tragedy took on another sad dimension when it was learned the officer who accompanied what was thought to be Collins’ body was killed in an auto crash in Chicago on Nov. 19, 1919. Further muddying an already confused story, the Chicago Tribune reported the dead man was Raymond R. Collins, the brother of Lt. Edmund R. Collins. However, according to U.S. Census records, Edmund Collins had no brother named Raymond, nor a brother who served in WWI.
The city of Racine was finally able to say goodbye to its fallen hero on Nov. 28, 1919. His funeral Mass was held at St. Patrick Catholic Church. “When the flag was sent to north Russia, Lieut. Collins unhesitatingly followed, and heroically gave up his life for his country,” said Father John Landowski, chaplain of the 339th Infantry Regiment. “When he was sent out on a hazardous expedition, he hesitated not, for he fully realized that the lives of his men depended on him. He recognized in that order, which proved fatal in the end, the call of the Most High. He fell in service, fell as a martyr of his land.”
Back in 1951, David D. Hanneman owned and managed a Standard Oil service station in his hometown, Mauston, Wisconsin. When I wrote about that back in 2014, a few readers raised questions about where the station was actually located. We finally have the answer — and it’s different than any of the locations suggested earlier.
Mauston-based author and historian Richard Rossin Jr. says the Standard station was at 241 W. State Street in Mauston, at the corner of West State Street and Beach Street. It is not far from the current Hatch Public Library. The neighborhood along Mauston’s main drive looked a little different back then. To the left (or west) of the station, there are large trees in the 1951 photos. The lot immediately adjacent to the station was later cleared. That site contained an IGA grocery store at one time and is now home to a CarQuest auto parts store.
“As that station was just down the street from my boyhood home, it was a favorite hangout for me when I was young,” Rossin said. “It was Larry’s Mobil in the late 1970s. Jim Bires ran it from 1982 to 1988. Soon after that, it became a laundromat, and still is today. It’s a real treat for me to see such an early view of the place.” Rossin said in 1965, the business was called Slim’s Mobil, which it remained until Larry Dyal took it over in the 1970s.
Rossin estimated the original Standard station was built in the late 1940s. The situate the corner of State and Beach streets earlier housed a small gasoline filling station, according to a May 1926 Sanborn fire insurance map (see below). Sanborn maps from 1894 and 1909 show no structures on the site. The brick rooming house behind the filling station was shown on all three Sanborn maps. That home is still there today.
A quick look at Google Maps shows the former service station building is still there, now called Golden Eagle Laundry. Rossin said the original laundromat owners added onto the service station building, so it’s the same structure as the one shown in the 1951 photos.
The West State Street location meant Dad probably walked to work. The Hanneman homestead at 22 Morris Street was just a few blocks up State and then a turn northeast onto Morris. I distinctly remember the IGA grocery store in the 200 block of West State Street. I recall going there with my Grandpa Carl Hanneman in the early 1970s — probably sent there by Grandma Ruby to grab a loaf of bread or a dozen eggs. Now I know the building next to it was my Dad’s old service station.
My mother walked into the family room, looking almost sheepish, and said, “I want to show you something.” She was almost beaming as she got out a yellowed sheet of paper, folded into four panels, with a hand-written title on the cover: To Mary. It was evident that this paper, whatever it contained, was precious to her.
She held the document up to her heart and explained that my father had written it for her many years ago. She wanted me to know that they did have their moments of closeness that superseded any of the difficulties during nearly 50 years of marriage. And now, a couple of years removed from Dad’s 2007 death from lung cancer, Mom truly treasured a poem he penned back in the 1960s.
“Go ahead, read it!” she said, turning her head with tears in her eyes. And so I did.
It has oft been said, “Please do not grieve.”
‘Tis far better to give than to receive.
And at this time of love and of cheer,
I think of all about me here.
The loving family with which I’m blest,
And know within, I’m not a guest.
That all about me is real and true,
That what I have is because of you.
Daily you give these gifts of love,
Of which I am recipient of.
And I wonder in my small way,
‘Dear Lord, how can I ever repay?’
This woman who is always ready,
to wipe a nose or wind a teddy?
Who at this time bears the gift of gifts,
A child of God sleeps within her midst.
A child who needs loving care,
To grow strong, to know what’s right and fair.
These few reasons and so many more,
Make it easy to see why I adore.
This woman, who is my wife,
Who will share with me throughout my life,
All the joys and troubles that we will face,
And put them in their proper place.
So I offer my gift at this time to you,
My deepest love, which indeed is not new.
Needless to say, I was very touched. My father, despite his tremendous gifts in public speaking and dealing with people, found it difficult to express thoughts in writing. So this definitely came from the heart. Whenever he had a speech to give or a presentation before the Sun Prairie City Council or the Dane County Board of Supervisors, Dad wrote out a draft and Mom helped him polish it with structure and grammar. She was always the reading teacher!
I was tickled that she not only saved the poem, but seemed to get the same thrill as I’m sure she did upon first receiving it four decades earlier. This was a softer side of Mom we didn’t always see growing up, but which became a central part of her as the autumn years turned to winter. I photographed the card and gave it back to Mom, who put it away again for safekeeping.
I thought of the poem again shortly after Mom died in late December 2018. I was given the black-and-white photo atop this story to scan for Mom’s memorial video. I was struck by how young my parents looked, probably shortly after being married in August 1958. It was easy to see the sentiments of the poem in this photograph.
Dad, thank you for writing something that Mom treasured her entire adult life. And Mom, thanks for sharing it, and showing a side of you that you tried to keep hidden. As we observe the first Mother’s Day without you, we are heartened by the thought of you two, together in the company of the angels and saints. Happy Mother’s Day.
I heard the answering machine pick up a call in my office. Normally they are hangups or some robo-call, but I sensed this was different. I strained to hear what the woman was saying. It was clear it was something I needed to attend to, so I played back the message.
The caller was the owner of Suburban Studio in Sun Prairie, a portrait photography business that has been around for a long time. She had noticed my Mom’s obituary recently and realized she had a large, framed portrait of my late father from when he was mayor of Sun Prairie. The portrait hung in the studio for years as a sample of their work. She was calling to see if I would like it.
I contacted her right away and made arrangements to pick up the portrait. She did not charge for the 16×20 inch print (although I did buy the frame it was in). When I stopped at the studio the next day to pick it up, I was really taken aback. Not just by the size of the portrait, but the look of it. This was similar to the photo we used in Dad’s obituary in April 2007, but it was different. I stared at the image. Dad seemed so close and alive; almost as if he was about to speak. The studio owner agreed, saying the image had something about it. You almost sense the person is there in the room.
I kept racking my brain trying to think where I’d seen this photo before. Then it struck me. Dad used this photo in his literature when he ran for re-election in 2005. I vaguely recalled seeing his brochure back then and thinking this photo had a different quality.
I rarely believe in coincidences, so I chalk up this whole encounter to Divine Providence. It reminded me of the time I was sitting at my desk in my home office in Mount Pleasant in the early evening. I dozed off and was in and out in one of those semi-conscious sleep states. I was jolted awake though, by the sound of my father’s voice.
Hello? Are you there? Yes, it’s me. I’m still alive!
I sat upright and looked around the room. Where was his voice coming from? Dad kept talking and I recognized it as part of an oral history interview I did with him in November 2006. While we were recording in Dad’s room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, he received a call on the cell phone from his brother, Donn (1926-2014). I have no idea how this recording started playing on my computer while I was half-asleep. My tears flowed freely though, as it seemed Dad was really speaking to me from Heaven. I will never forget that moment.
Listen to a portion of the oral history interview I did with Dad while he was being treated for lung cancer:
Now I have this beautiful portrait, a gift from Louise Floyd at Suburban Studio. I look at Dad’s expression and it, too, speaks to me. Funny, it seems to say just about the same thing as the recording from my computer. “I’m still here, son. I am alive!”
UPDATE!!This will be a little hard to explain, but it brought more tears to my eyes. Yesterday I was at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church shooting photographs. The main thing I photographed was the gold monstrance that holds the Blessed Sacrament for exposition and adoration. See my photo below. That holds the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus under the appearance of bread. When I was doing closeups, I kept noticing reflected colors in the glass of the monstrance. So I lined up my camera and shot a bunch of images. Later I sent one to Father Richard Heilman and told him to look at the reflection. I thought it looked like a veiled woman in blue.
When Fr. Heilman looked at that photo earlier today, not long before I published the first version of this article, he saw the reflection of a man in a suit and tie with glasses. When Father later read my post and saw Dad’s portrait, he said, “THAT’S THE MAN I SAW!” I saw the Blessed Virgin and he saw this very photo of my father. Let that sink in. What a blessed day this has been!