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Young Auditorium
Community columnists
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Reform plans are just fantasy

October 08, 2015

Candidates for office will often put forward ideas that seem irresistible to many in the electorate. At first they appear commonsensical, with large numbers of people asking, “Why didn’t someone think of this before?”

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Workshop gives look at elected official life

October 08, 2015

If you think you might be interested in serving on the Walworth County Board, attend an informational meeting on the subject in November.

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'You can't beat experience'

October 08, 2015

If there is one thing age does, it sharpens focus on things past.

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Lake Geneva: From railroad stop to tourism town

October 08, 2015

The last quarter of the 19th century was one of the most dynamic periods in Lake Geneva’s history.

Recent Community columnists
Your regular programing will return soon
October 01, 2015

I listened. To hear what those around me were saying. I had opinions of my own. But I kept them to myself. I just listened.
“Oh, no, this is taking too long!”

Life in Lake Geneva during World War II
October 01, 2015

2015, being the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, has been a year in which a considerable amount of writing about the Civil War has appeared, in many of my columns in the Lake Geneva Regional News.

The charm of LG is found in its people
October 01, 2015

Lake Geneva. Typical of moderately populated Wisconsin cities, it lies so near the Illinois state line and the nation’s second city that nonresidents easily mistake us for a suburb of Chicago.

What’s in this year’s preliminary county budget?
September 24, 2015

Walworth County’s 2016 budget process is in full swing.

A question that still resonates
September 24, 2015

Just days ago, three Americans and a Briton tackled a suspected jihadi terrorist and kept him from carrying out an armed attack on innocent passengers aboard a French train.

Under the Friday night lights
September 24, 2015

On four and sometimes five Friday nights in Lake Geneva in September and October from the late 1930s until the early 1960s, the social center of the city was Dunn Field at the eastern end of Dodge Street just east of Sage Street (adjacent to where Eastview School was built in the early 1950s).

Thank Eisenhower for America’s covert debacles
September 17, 2015

This August marked the seventieth year since the end of WWII. As the Allies laid down their swords and prepared to lift up their ploughshares, there was a deep abiding hope for an enduring peace.
But this was not to be.

Lake Geneva was home to sanitariums
September 17, 2015

The Oakwood Sanitarium, long since demolished, was once one of Lake Geneva’s icons. The Oakwood Sanitarium was established in 1884-1885 on the north side of Main Street, three-quarters of the way up “Catholic Hill”­ — where the Havenwood apartments are today — as a “retreat” in which wealthy Chicagoans could warehouse their mentally challenged children.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, such institutions were called “insane asylums.” Its huge, imposing, three-story, 50-room building was constructed of pressed red brick. Its basement was built of granite. The building was completed a year before the village of Geneva was transformed into the city of Lake Geneva. Two years before the construction of Oakwood began, the U.S. Post Office had changed the name of Geneva to Lake Geneva in order to avoid confusing it with Geneva, Illinois.
The founding superintending physician was Dr. O. A. King. He was assisted by a staff, most of whom were local residents. The names of the patients/inmates and the resident staff are recorded in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 U.S. censuses. (The 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed in a devastating fire in Washington, D.C.).
However, by the time that I was growing up in Lake Geneva following the end of World War II, the Oakwood Sanitarium was no longer functioning. Its derelict, abandoned building stood like a ghost in the woods. Its once-spacious, well-landscaped grounds had been overwhelmed by “volunteer” saplings that had grown up after Oakwood had closed.
The once-magnificent, but now decrepit building loomed eerily, especially on misty days, as a frightening edifice. It was known by local residents as the “crazy house.” Its windows were all broken, its doors hung ajar, its floorboards were rotting. It had become, along with Richard Souter’s once-palatial mansion on the north side of the 1000 block of Wisconsin Street, one of Lake Geneva’s two scary “crazy houses.”
My buddies and I frequently visited the decaying building that Oakwood Sanitarium had become, even though we were terrified of the ghosts that we feared we might encounter there. On Halloween nights some of the older boys dared each other to go into the vacant structure. They had to be careful to avoid the horde of rats that pervaded the building.
To youthful residents of Lake Geneva, the forlorn, mysterious, abandoned red brick building in the woods was indeed a very scary place.
Perhaps ghosts did not actually live among the sanitarium’s ruins, but the ruins did encompass one of the darkest chapters in Lake Geneva’s history.
This I learned as a young boy, listening to a conversation between my grandmother, who raised me, and our next door neighbor to the north on Maxwell Street, across the street from the Pioneer Cemetery. Our neighbor was a woman who had worked as a staff member at the Oakwood Sanitarium just prior to World War I and during the early 1920s. She was my grandmother’s closest friend.
As she stood talking with my grandmother next to the lilac bushes that separated our two houses, I listened, mesmerized, as she related a story of horror.
She told my grandmother that all of the inmates/patients in the Oakwood Sanitarium had been allowed to freely roam the building, a practice that she did not approve of. As a consequence, frequent “sexual liaisons” occurred between male and female inmate/patients.

Moreover, there were also “sexual liaisons” between male staff and female inmates/patients.
As an inevitable consequence, a number of the female inmates/patients became pregnant. When their babies were born, male staff immediately took the newborns away from them and threw them down the elevator shaft to the water-covered basement.
The sanatorium’s attending physicians and staff were not about to tell well-to-do Chicagoans what had happened to their mentally challenged daughters.
As a young boy, I, of course, had no idea what the term “sexual liaison” meant, but I was deeply distressed by our neighbor’s account of newborn babies being thrown down the elevator shaft.
As I grew older, my friends and I, after entering through the Oakwood Sanitarium’s broken doors and being very careful not to fall through the rotting floor boards, would peer down the elevator shaft (the elevator itself was long gone) into the darkness at the bottom of the shaft to see if there were any tiny bodies lying there. The bottom of the shaft, of course, was far too dark for us to see anything.
Could this story of horror really have been true? Several times I asked my grandmother this very question.
She said that she had no reason to doubt it, that her friend and neighbor was a person of the highest rectitude.
She said that her friend had vigorously protested what the staff had done, but to no avail.
She ultimately resigned her position. No one will ever know what really happened at the Oakwood Sanitarium since all those who worked there are long dead and like so many Lake Geneva icons, the Oakwood Sanitarium has long vanished into the mists of time.

Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.

Gov. Walker flip flops on immigration stance
September 10, 2015

On Monday morning, August 17th, at the Iowa State Fair, Governor Walker was repeatedly asked by members of the press whether he would end “birthright citizenship."

Reading budgets tedious without short histories
September 10, 2015

I spent Labor Day weekend putting the finishing touches on the first draft of the county’s 2016 budget.

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