Category Archives: Humor

Want a Prosperous New Year? Eat Cabbage. Avoid Those Talking Cattle.

By Joseph Hanneman
Journal Times

If you want a prosperous new year, make sure to eat some cabbage before going to bed on New Year’s Eve. And be careful not to sneeze.

Oh, and if the first man you meet on New Year’s Day is a priest, make sure your will is up to date, for death may soon follow.

Superstitions? Folklore? Exactly, but if you believe them, you’re not alone.

Humans have practiced and believed New Year’s superstitions for centuries, says a University of Wisconsin-Madison expert on folklore.

“Many of the things we celebrate have their origin in ancient practices,” said Harold Scheub, professor of African languages and literature. “There are hundreds of them. Some of them are really weird.”

“The Old and the New Year,” by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler, depicting the old year 1885 changing to 1886. (Library of Congress photo)

For instance, Scheub said, it is believed a person who drops and breaks a light bulb on Christmas day will face financial ruin in the coming year. If a colored bulb is broken, a close relative will die, he said.

Sneezing on New Year’s is said to bring misfortune.

In many European countries, the first person to set foot in a home on New Year’s Day — dubbed the “first footer” — will determine what the new year will hold.

In Scotland, if the first footer is a redheaded man, the year will hold misfortune. A dark-haired man is preferable, Scheub said.

In years past, a lump of coal brought by a first footer was a good sign. “A lump of coal traditionally was something that was valued,” he said.

Many New Year’s superstitions and celebrations are rooted in the belief that the last week of the year is when spirits, fairies and witches roam the earth and the forces of nature can be influenced, he said.
“The Old Year’s Legacy to the New,” pencil drawing by William Allen Rogers, showing the year changing from 1891 to 1892. (Library of Congress photo)

“At midnight on New Year’s Eve, strange things will happen,” Scheub said, relating the folklore. “It is one of the most magic times of the year.

“These are times nature is going through great stress,” he said. “We human beings are trying to have an influence on it.”

The noisemakers that sound off at parties when the clock strikes 12 were traditionally used to frighten off the evil spirits of the old year, he said.

“Trying to undo the horrors we’ve committed in the past — this seems to be what New Year’s always was,” Scheub said.

It is also said that anyone who ventures into the pasture at midnight will hear the cattle speaking the names of people who will die in the new year, he said.

New Year’s has also been the time that wishes were made for good crops and pregnancy. On New Year’s Eve in Germany, young boys would cut fresh boughs from a tree and ritually “beat” young girls. On New Year’s Day, the girls would reciprocate. It was thought to increase fertility, Scheub said.

Professor Harold Scheub in the classroom in 2013. (University of Wisconsin-Madison photo)

In Java and some African countries, sham fights were staged between people representing the new year and those representing the old. Today’s bowl games are a similar representation, he said.

Even many Christmas traditions pre-date the time of Christ, according to Scheub.

The Christmas tree could have its origin in Norse countries, where people would place lighted candles in pine trees to keep the spirit of the forest alive until spring. Holiday candles could come from an old English tradition of extinguishing the hearth fire at New Year, then relighting the fires from a community bonfire.

“People all over the world practice these things in their own way,” Scheub said.

“All of these in one way or another are filled with hope,” he said. “We seem to need a period in our year when we say goodbye to the past.”

One last thing. If you wake up on January 1 with a splitting headache, what does that foretell for the New Year?

Have a little less to drink next year. ♦

– This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the December 31, 1988 issue of the Racine Journal Times. View the original newspaper pages.

Postscript: After a 43-year career, Scheub retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013.

— The images in the illustration atop this post are from the Library of Congress collections.

Loftus Campaign Hits a Bad Spell

By Joseph Hanneman
Journal Times

Candidates for governor often face tough questions from their opponents and the press, but Thomas Loftus got stumped Tuesday by a third-grader at Johnson Elementary School.

Loftus, the Democratic legislator challenging Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, asked students if they could think of any difficult words he could spell.

“Chrysanthemum,” chimed one student, referring to the flower.

It appeared the Assembly speaker from Sun Prairie regretted ever asking.

He turned to the chalk board and hesitantly wrote, “chrysanthinum.”

Several people in the room shook their heads, indicating Loftus’ version was wrong, but no one offered the correct spelling.

For the record, it’s c-h-r-y-s-a-n-t-h-e-m-u-m.

Loftus, who was in Racine to discuss his plan to reform school financing and cut elementary class sizes, had some other interesting exchanges with the students.

He asked kindergartners what the governor does.

“He tells people stuff,” one boy offered.

“Yeah, he tells people stuff,” Loftus replied, “some of it accurate.”

After speaking with fifth graders for about five minutes, one student raised her hand and said, “I forgot what your name was.”

“Dan Quayle,” Loftus quipped.

He then signed autographs for the students, which helped engrain his name in their minds.

As he left the room, students could be heard saying, “Loftus, Loftus, Tom Loftus.” ♦

– This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Racine Journal Times on June 6, 1990. View the original newspaper page.

‘Pestle and Mortar’ Carl Hanneman Passes the Pill-Counting Test

In the first half of the 20th century, druggists in America were often called on to literally fill prescriptions, placing medications into gelatin capsules and then counting out the order. Mauston pharmacist Carl F. Hanneman was very efficient at the task. Maybe too much so, opined The Mauston Star in a rather humorous article in December 1953.

“Joe Dziewior and this muser, watching ‘pestle and mortar’ Carl Hanneman throw a prescription together the other evening, now know why pill or capsule counting machines not not necessary to the registered pharmacist,” read the article on December 11, 1953. “With bottle in hand, Carl was pouring capsules into his hands and counting them faster than an adding machine.” 

Carl F. Hanneman taking his suits to the cleaner at Janesville, Wis., on April 5, 1926. Carl and his wife, Ruby V. Hanneman, were on their way to dinner. Carl was a druggist at McCue & Buss Drug Co. at the time.
Carl F. Hanneman taking his suits to the cleaner at Janesville, Wis., on April 5, 1926. Carl and his wife, Ruby V. Hanneman, were on their way to dinner. Carl was a druggist at McCue & Buss Drug Co. at the time. He later moved to Mauston, Wis.

Carl was the registered pharmacist at the Mauston Drug Store on Division Street in Mauston. He had been the druggist there since moving his young family to Mauston in 1936 from Wisconsin Rapids. A graduate of Marquette University, Carl started as an assistant pharmacist, but obtained his full registered pharmacist license in the 1940s.

“After watching him for some time, we entertained a doubt as to the accuracy of the counts and Joe was inclined to agree with us,” the article continued. “But Carl said he could count pills time on end and whistle a tune at the same time, and still come out the a correct count. ‘Come, come, Carl!’ we exclaimed. ‘Isn’t that pulling our leg a bit?'”

Judging by these vials from McCue & Buss Drug Co., registered pharmacists packaged both pre-made pills and medicine capsules.
Judging by Carl F. Hanneman’s vials from McCue & Buss Drug Co., registered pharmacists packaged both pre-made pills and medicine capsules.

Carl told the men a story of a “kindly old lady” who regularly came in for prescriptions and doubted the counts doled out by the druggist. “It never failed, but that after we wrapped up her prescription, she’d sit in the chair out there, undo the package and count the pills in the box,” Hanneman said. “To this day, she hasn’t demanded a recount!”

The article concluded: “Maybe registered pharmacists should be made ballot clerks. Recounts wouldn’t be necessary!”

©2014 The Hanneman Archive
Family Line: Carl F. Hanneman >> David D. Hanneman, Donn G. Hanneman and Lavonne M. (Hanneman) Wellman

A Case of Mooo-nshine: Tipsy Cows Hit the Mash

The Volstead Act that ushered in the era of Prohibition was designed to prevent the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol in the United States. Don’t tell that to the cows.

It seems some of the dairy cows belonging to Robert Hanneman of Portage County, Wisconsin, found themselves in a state of intoxication in July 1922. How? Some mischievous bootleggers thought it would be fun to leave a barrel of mash in the pasture for Hanneman’s cows to eat. When Hanneman arrived at the pasture one mid-July evening, he was shocked to discover a half-dozen hammered Holsteins.

Talk about your mooo-nshine.

Wood County Undersheriff Cliff Bluett responded to the call.  “The whole herd was staggering around and they were in a worse intoxicated condition than any human can get,” Bluett reported.

According to the account in the Wood County Tribune: “One cow was missing entirely, another was dead drunk and could not be moved off the ground, five cows were finally driven into the barn but were so ‘pickled’ that it was found unsafe to leave them inside and had to be turned out and another cow was ‘so bad off’ that she collapsed in her over-intoxicated condition and could not be moved again, the undersheriff said.”

Farmer Hanneman reported one cow was so dead drunk she could not be budged from the pasture. Five bombed bovines stumbled about the barn and had to be let loose. Eventually, most of the crapulous cattle submitted to the evening milking. That left the farmer with a serious quandary: would this unusual “whole milk” put him afoul of Prohibition laws?

“A joke is a joke,” he said, “and we will deal with the culprits.”

No word if those pioneer cow-tippers were ever caught. Undersheriff Bluett was from Wood County, but the Hanneman farm was in Portage County. He sent his findings to his counterparts across the county line.

Couple Sets a Trend with Their 1925 ‘Selfies’

Many decades before the social phenomenon of taking self-portraits or “selfies” became all the rage, a young honeymooning couple in July 1925 predicted the trend by snapping their own photos at a camp site in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Carl F. Hanneman and the former Ruby Viola Treutel were married on July 14, 1925 at St. James Catholic Church in tiny Vesper, Wisconsin. For their honeymoon, they chose to motor to Wisconsin’s North Woods. Part of their time was spent at a cottage owned by friends, Mr. and Mrs. Armand Bauer, in Hayward.

Carl F. and Ruby V. Hanneman took these selfies on their honeymoon in July 1925.
Carl F. and Ruby V. Hanneman took these selfies on their honeymoon in July 1925.

Being a budding photographer, Carl took lots of photos from their trip, some candid and even playful. Two that stand out are ‘selfies’ taken by Carl and Ruby. Carl’s is at a good distance and quite sharp, while Ruby’s was an ultra-closeup, a bit out of focus. Given the camera technology of the day, these photos were more of a feat than it might seem. Nothing like snapping a quick shot today with an iPhone 6.

Ruby V. Hanneman rides on the shoulders of new husband Carl at their honeymoon camp at Hayward, Wisconsin.
Ruby V. Hanneman rides on the shoulders of new husband Carl at their honeymoon camp at Hayward, Wisconsin.

Other photos from the trip showed Carl walking with Ruby on his shoulders, Carl slinging a pail and Ruby sitting at a picnic table with a youngster who resembles her younger brother, Marvin Treutel (but might have been their hosts’ boy).

He could be carrying milk from the barn, but Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) is actually on a honeymoon camping trip in this July 1925 photo.
He could be carrying milk from the barn, but Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) is actually on a honeymoon camping trip in this July 1925 photo.
Camp scene from near Hayward, Wis. in July 1925. Pictured is the Ford Model T belonging to Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. Hanneman was on his honeymoon with Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman (1904-1977) of Vesper, Wis.
Camp scene from near Hayward, Wis. in July 1925. Pictured is the Ford Model T belonging to Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. Hanneman was on his honeymoon with Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman (1904-1977) of Vesper, Wis.

Carl and Ruby had no way to know that the ‘selfie’ would become a dominant means of communication among young people around the world, or that the practice would spawn social media platforms, a television series, songs and videos on YouTube.

It’s good to be a trend-setter.

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Hannemann, Geh Du Voran! That (in)famous German Saying

Hannemann, geh Du voran! Type that German phrase into any search engine and it will return a mass of entries that make reference to this old saying. One of the more recognizable sayings among German-speaking Europeans uses the Hannemann surname. Pretty exciting, huh?

Not so fast.

As it turns out, the phrase isn’t exactly a compliment. This particular Hannemann, and the other men in the folklore story, are looked at with derision, although perhaps with a bit of envy.

To understand this infamous Hannemann reference, you have to look back a few centuries at an old folk tale about seven Swabian soldiers (die sieben Schwaben). Versions of this tale are said to date to the early 16th century. The Brothers Grimm published their own version in the 1800s.

The lightly armed sieben Schwaben set out into the world and encountered dangers along the way. At one point, they came across what they feared was a hideous beast (but in reality was just a common rabbit). Not wanting to face the menacing animal, one Swabian after the other insisted that the soldier Hannemann step forth to the head of the line.

Hannemann, geh Du voran! Du hast die gröβten Stiefel an, Daβ Dich das Tier nicht beiβen kann. “Hannemann, go forward! You have the biggest boots on, so the animal won’t bite you!” Here the Swabians are showing their inherent cowardice in the face of imagined danger.

In the folk-tale version penned by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the sieben Schwaben venture into the world armed with a single spear to protect them. The bravest man was said to be in front. Hearing a beetle or hornet fly by his head, the now-frightened leader jumps a nearby fence. He lands on the teeth of a rake, and the handle smacks him in the head. “I surrender! I surrender!” he shouts.

The bumbling Swabians eventually drowned in the Mosel River, thinking it was shallow enough to wade across. The leader called to a man on the other side of the river, asking how to get across the mossy river. Not understanding their dialect, the man answered back, “Wat? Wat?” The first Swabian thought he heard the man say, “wade!” So in he went, and drowned.

The others heard the same instructions: “Wat, wat, wat.” So in they went, to the same fate. What they actually heard was a frog across the river, croaking: “wat, wat!” Poor Swabians. It is reminiscent of the antics of Fatty Arbuckle and the Keystone Kops from those famous silent films.

Even today, the old Swabian saying is used routinely in Germany: “Hannemann, you go ahead!” The implication is, “I don’t want to rush into something dangerous. Hannemann, you do it!” “Don’t stick your neck out! Let Hannemann take the brunt of the trouble!”

Why have Germans poked fun at the Swabians for so long? It could be envy. Swabia is a region in southwest Germany near Switzerland and France. The Swabians have been described as strong and warlike, with a history of fighting with their neighbors. For generations they have been panned by other Germans as simpletons, cowards, stingy or prudish. These depictions may actually be the begrudging acknowledgment by neighbors that the Swabians are actually resourceful, clever and hard-working.

We need to point out that this region of Germany is not near the Baltic Duchy of Pomerania, where our Hannemann ancestors came from in the mid-1800s. So the soldier Hannemann of the sieben Schwaben was likely not related to our ancestor Matthias Hannemann, an infantry soldier in a Pomeranian regiment of the Prussian army.

But we should not be so quick to disown our Swabian cousin. For if you believe the explanations for the cheap shots aimed at Swabian Germans, this soldier Hannemann might have been a courageous and industrious fellow. Maybe some envious numskull decided to pen a derisive story about him. A bit of revenge, perhaps?

Let’s think about rewriting the old saying. Instead of “Hannemann, you get in front,” maybe it should read: “Everybody step back. Hannemann has it covered.”