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.