Between 1890 and 1910, horror arrived in the town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Black River Falls had been a pleasant, thriving, small Midwestern town. Then the mines and lumber industries shut down, leaving people unemployed, ultimately causing the banks to fail as well. The cold and bleak Midwest winters and the threat of starvation added to the blight, and talk of witchcraft and devil worship circulated among the residents. Diseases spread and many turned to alcohol for comfort. In this 20-year period, the seemingly doomed residents of Black River Falls succumbed to a downward spiral of suicide, murder, destruction, and darkness.
In 1973, Michael Lesy published Wisconsin Death Trip, which assembled photographs from Charles Van Schaick's 1890 to 1910 collection along with newspaper clippings from the time. Shaick was a local photographer who captured images of the town and its residents. The book painted a grim picture of life in Black River Falls, an extreme example of the hardships of life in the late 1800s.
The book was adapted into a documentary with the same title in 1999 and added re-created live action segments to tell the town's bizarre story. Black River Falls eventually recovered, but this strange small town will always be remembered for the many terrible events that took place in the span of just two decades.
After the banks collapsed, a distraught farmer decided to take his own life. Christ Wold did not use common methods of the time, such as hanging himself or using a gun. Instead, Wold dug a hole in the ground and placed dynamite in the hollow.
Then the farmer stuck his head in the opening and lit the fuse.
In the early 1890s, a diphtheria epidemic ravaged the town of Black River Falls. As a result, many children passed, which subsequently caused schools to close. Citizens also burned down houses of the sick in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading.
The epidemic caused even more suicides and murders due to the grief and panic caused by the deadly illness.
For approximately tw days, an out-of-luck man was given food and shelter by the Wright family. When one of the children referred to the man as a "tramp," he attacked them and ransacked the house, looking for money.
After he fled the home, the drifter wandered into a pond and shot himself in the head.
15-year-old Lydia Berger set fire to her father's barn and house. The teen sought "revenge" because her father had beaten her for taking off to go to a carnival. When a kind neighbor took in her and her family, Berger then set fire to that property.
The vindictive teen continued to set more structures ablaze until she was finally apprehended. She then confessed to arson.