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As I approach my 80th birthday on Aug. 22, I find myself frequently pondering the changes in Lake Geneva that I have witnessed over the past eight decades. Being an historian I am aware that recalling various aspects of Lake Geneva’s “recent” history is necessarily a subjective endeavor.
I recall standing at the Lake Geneva railroad station with my Aunt Frances Malsch in September 1945 as the train from Chicago pulled into the station and my uncle Tom J. Wardingle, wearing his Army Air Force uniform, getting off the train. He retrieved his foot locker from the baggage car and loaded it into my Uncle Bill Malsch’s car and my Uncle Bill drove my Uncle Tom and me to our house at 512 Maxwell St.
I recall the summer day in 1950 when my grandfather Thomas Wardingle took my cousin Billy Malsch and me on the train from Lake Geneva to Williams Bay. In Williams Bay my cousin and I pushed the turn table on which the train’s engine was turned around so that the train could make its return journey to Lake Geneva and then on to Chicago. My grandfather took us across the street to the Williams Bay pier where we boarded the “original” Walworth excursion boat which, after a stop at the Fontana pier, took us back to the Riviera pier in Lake Geneva.
I recall standing at the entrance to the blacksmith’s shop on the east side of the 500 block of Broad Street watching the blacksmith use his tongs to pull a red hot horse shoe from the blazing fire, and hammer it into shape on his anvil. Five or six horses tethered outside the blacksmith’s shop waited patiently to be shod.
I recall my grandfather placing me on top of a pinball machine in Basil Rafter’s tavern on the west side of the 500 block of Broad Street and handing me a bunch of nickels so that I could play a pinball game while he drank whiskey standing at the bar chatting with his buddies.
I also recall playing the pinball machines in the Penny Arcade, which had once been a livery stable, on the west side of the 100 block of Broad Street. I spent a lot of time at the Penny Arcade as a youth playing the pinball machines.
As an underage teenager I recall drinking beer at the bar in the basement of the Geneva Hotel. Beers were handed to me by the bartender, John Moran, the son of the notorious gangster “Bugs” Moran.
I recall black Cadillacs full of gangsters holding tommy guns driving west on Main Street on their way to the Lake Como Hotel where they hung out.
As an underage teenager I recall drinking beer in the Clair Lounge above the bowling alley at the southeast corner of Main and Broad streets, gazing at the large color photographs of various scenes of Lake Geneva that had been taken by Vern Hackett. Joe Payne eventually moved the photographs to Mars Resort where—except for one displayed at the Geneva Lake Museum — they now repose.
I recall sitting in the dentist’s chair in Dr. Richard White’s office on the second floor of what was then called the Trinke building at the northwest corner of Main and Center streets, dreading the drill that Dr. White was about to use to torment me.
I recall as a high school student going to “Teen Town” dances at the old YMCA on the southeast corner of Main and Cook streets every Friday night.
And during the late 50s, I recall as a high school student going to Bandstand dances at the Horticultural Hall that Jack Huntress held.
I recall watching the Lake Geneva High School basketball team “stars,” including the Chironis brothers, Alex and Jim, Tucker Rote, Bruce Bullock, Rex Newcomb and Tom Curran, among others, play against Elkhorn, Delavan, Burlington, and other area high school teams on the basketball court at the front of the large auditorium in the Lake Geneva High School from 1947 to 1958, when Badger High School replaced Lake Geneva High School.
I recall as a Boy Scout attending the two-week summer sessions at Camp Offield on the south side of Geneva Lake.
I realize that these recollections may bore readers who did not grow up in Lake Geneva during the 1940s and 1950s. Hence it might be best if I consign my other recollections to the historical dustbin.
Here is a look back at the former Geneva Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.
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