"Wisconsin Death Trip" was published in 1973 to critical acclaim and a cult following among college students. The book was referenced in an article on American film in the '70s so I thought it was high time for me to check it out. Michael Lesy's book chronicles the years 1885 - 1900 in the small town of Black River Falls, WI. Lesy lets the past speak for itself through newspaper clippings taken from the "Badger State Banner", accompanied by the photographs of Charles Van Schaick.
America was experiencing what some historians refer to as a "psychic crisis" during this period. A severe economic depression coupled with a diphtheria outbreak decimated families. "Wisconsin Death Trip" contains notices of suicides, insanity, and home invasions by hungry hordes of tramps. Ghost stories were also reported as fact. The emotional toll these years enacted on ordinary citizens is evident on every page.
The movie, released in 1999, was directed by James Marsh. I don't think it creates the same empathy or impact that Lesy's book generates. Marsh also prefers live re-enactments and uses few of Schaick's astonishing photographs. It is available on DVD and I was able to procure a copy from my local library.
Since we are coming up on Halloween, I would recommend the book for your October reading list.