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Yesterday in La Crosse

Don’t call him ‘Hiawatha’…a big statue goes up, 58 years ago

Brad Williams

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In October of 1961, Anthony Zimmerhakl’s 25-foot-tall Indian sculpture was installed in Riverside Park. The Chamber of Commerce decided that the statue should not be called ‘Hiawatha’ or ‘Decorah,’ but should be known just as ‘that big Indian.’ The pedestal below the statue does identify it as ‘Hiawatha,’ and city leaders to this day are debating whether to move it, and how to repair major cracks in the concrete artwork.

The statue was installed the same week that La Crosse celebrated its first Oktoberfest…a three-day festival outside the Sawyer Auditorium. The first Oktoberfest parade downtown was held late on Saturday afternoon…perhaps to allow for live TV coverage by Channel 8.

A small newspaper story that October said Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn was going to the hospital in Dallas, to figure out why he was having severe back pains. A few days later, it was learned that Rayburn had pancreatic cancer. The popular speaker known as ‘Mister Sam’ died about a month later.

Author and cartoonist James Thurber, who created the daydreaming character Walter Mitty, was having brain surgery that October, and like Rayburn, he also died that November.

The Rivoli Theater in La Crosse was showing a British farce called ‘Dentist in the Chair’…and it offered a 2-for-1 ticket deal for Trane Company employees who were out on strike to see the movie…58 years ago, 1961, yesterday in La Crosse.