Oshkosh – famed in realm of fun and sports

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Win, lose or tie, Wisconsinites have always supported their home teams – the Green Bay Packers, Badgers, Milwaukee Brewers and the Bucks, and now the Wisconsin Herd. Many of our ancestors loved to reminiscence about their days playing or watching these sports, among others such as fishing, bowling, golfing, swimming, boating, sailing or trap shooting, just to name a few. Today, recreation continues to be a major part of our lives.

Conceptual planning begins early next year with Split Rock Studios to develop a new long-term exhibition at the Oshkosh Public Museum to replace the current logging and lumbering room on second floor. Oshkosh has a long, rich history tied to various sporting and recreational activities, strongly supported by the Museum’s collections.

Lake Winnebago is the largest fresh-water inland lake in the U.S., attracting yachtsmen from throughout the Midwest. The first recorded yacht race was held in Oshkosh in 1860, and in 1869 the Oshkosh Yacht Club sponsored its first annual regatta on the lake. Since then sailing and ice boating have remained major competitive sporting events on area lakes.

Baseball has long been considered America’s pastime, and the sport stretches way back to the “Oshkosh Everetts” 1865-1872 baseball team. The Amateurs dominated the ball fields from 1874-1885, reigning undefeated the final eight seasons after Charles Nevitt developed the new “curve ball” pitching technique. The Oshkosh Amateurs entered the league of professional baseball for two seasons (1886-1887), with William “Dummy” Hoy helping to lead the team to the 1887 championship.

Baseball continued to flourish in Oshkosh, but in the early 1890s other team sports started to gain in popularity among high school boys – primarily football and track. Since the seasons were consecutive, a larger number of boys were able to participate in both sports. School administration organized the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association in 1896 to regulate the rules of play.

Arlie Mucks, Oshkosh’s star high school football player, led his team to win the state football championship in 1911 and 1912. He also won titles in discus and shot put in the Oshkosh Normal indoor track and field meet in 1912, setting a world record for the 12-pound shot at 55’ 9”. Mucks earned a berth on the U.S. Olympics team in shot put and discus that year, the first American high school athlete to participate in the games, placing second. He set another world record for discus in 1916 and would have gone to the Olympics again had the games not been cancelled due to World War I. Mucks won the Olympic trials in 1920 and 1924 as well, but he did not compete in the games.

In the early 1900s, sports for females was rather limited due to a fear that strenuous activity was harmful for their “more delicate features.” However, around 1916 a progressive concept of government encouraged municipal recreation programs to improve the lives of U.S. citizens. Sporting programs became increasingly popular and the city began a number of parks leagues which continue today through the Recreation Department.

Basketball quickly became a favored indoor sport to stay active during the winter months, and Oshkosh sporting fans took to the courts to watch their beloved Oshkosh All-Stars championship team. Founded in 1929 by Lonnie Darling, they are the only team to play all twelve seasons of the National Basketball League (1937-1949).

The city also ran four lighted ice skating rinks in the 1930s, where Maddy Horn developed her skills to become the #1 women’s speed skater in the U.S. She won the national indoor and outdoor championships in 1936, 1937, 1939 and 1940, setting seven out of ten possible women’s records. Horn qualified for the 1940 Olympics and was about to board the ship when she got word that the games were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II.

The Paine Lumber Mill model is a much loved display, however the Museum simply does not have the floor space to keep it on view. The model will be dismantled and returned to storage, but first it will be digitized for use in a different second floor exhibition that will continue the story of Oshkosh’s rich history. The digital format will enable people to explore the model along with historic images of the Paine, film and tools from our collection, while in the process learning far more about this important facet of our history.

The new Sporting & Recreation exhibition will be a lively display of sports and leisure artifacts and historic photographs of local people participating in these fun activities. The Museum’s goal is to complete construction and installation in 2020.

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Karla Szekeres Oshkosh Public Museum Civic Contributor

The Oshkosh Public Museum is a non-profit regional history museum entrusted with the care of more than 300,000 historical photographs, documents, and artifacts that represent the history, culture and heritage of the region. Housed in the historic Sawyer home since 1924, the Oshkosh Public Museum is an amazing resource for research and discovery of Oshkosh and the Lake Winnebago region. Situated just off the Fox River near historic downtown Oshkosh, the Museum’s mission is to preserve the area’s colorful legacy, and to bring history to life through innovative exhibitions and educational programs that will both inspire and entertain guests of all ages and interests.

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