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 twenty-year period, the doomed residents of Black River Falls basically 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, a local photographer who captured images of the town and its residents, combined with newspaper clippings from the time. 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 unfortunate story. Fortunately, the town of Black River Falls recovered eventually, but this small town will always be remembered for the many terrible events that took place in the span of just 20 years.
Buried Alive, A Woman Bit Off Her Own Fingers
A suspected botched burial led to an investigation at the Rosedale Cemetery. It was discovered that a woman had been accidentally buried alive while she was in a trance. Her body was found turned over and her hand held up to her face. It was also discovered she had bitten her fingers half off when she realized her fate.
Two Young Brothers Murdered A Farmer And Claimed His Property
Two brothers, aged 10 and 13, ran away from home and murdered the owner of a remote farm, shooting him in the heart and then again in the head at close range. They took over his property like true outlaws until the farmer's brother paid him a visit. The younger of the boys confessed to the crime but the older boy ran away, leading sheriffs on a manhunt. An officer was killed during the chase, but the boy was eventually caught and sentenced to life in prison.
A Woman Set Herself On Fire To Cure A Sore On Her Back
A woman found a sore on her back and believed it would kill her. To cure her problem, she promptly doused herself in kerosene and set herself on fire in her back yard.
A Young Mother Drowned Her Three Young Children
Mrs. John Larson, the wife of a farmer, took her three children out to the beach and then drowned them, one by one, in Lake St. Croix.