Take a pile of sliced onions, several dozen tennis ball-sized wads of ground beef, pour on some water, turn up the heat, add a hundred years and you have another Tale of Wisconsin Hystory.
In 1909 Pete Gokey pushed out a cart full of "just good eatin'". In 2009 the members of the Gokey family are still flipping these quarter pound (or so) morsels of Hystory. Truly Prairie du Chein has a lot to offer. In previous blogs you've heard about the "Fountain of Blueth" and the "New Years Eve Carp Drop". Now let me introduce you to Pete's. My Story: In July 1909 Pete Gokey and some of his buddies were playing around down on Blackhawk Avenue, Prairie du Chein. Being a painter, Pete didn't have a lot of pelt. (fur trading was still the big business in '09) The guys were in the mood for a good game of baseball but with the high value of pelts, leather was very rare and not to be wasted making baseballs and mitts. But, there was plenty of the stuff that was left over after the pelts were removed. The boys tried a lot of substitutes, loins, chops and even some filet mignon (Prairie had a large French population back then). The effort was fairly unsuccessful. First of all it was very messy and secondly it was hard to make an accurate throw with the odd shaped missiles. (although you can really throw a wicked curve with a pork chop) Putting their collective noggins together they found, what they thought was a solution to their hankering. Pete recalled watching a group of Italian traders who had come up the river from St Louis. They would grind up hunks of meat, form it into balls, (about regulation major league size) and cook them up in tomato sauce with a lot of garlic and serve them with long thin loaves of bread. Are you starting to see where this going? Well, Pete did. He ground up hunks of meat. He found that beef chuck worked best because it had just the right amount of fat to hold it together. The long thin loaves of bread were hard to come by but there were plenty of bones leftover from the pelt biz. Voila! The bat. Without taking time to cook the balls up the kids took the field. Wouldn't you know, on the very first pitch Pete whacked a burger ball across the field, straight into a pan of onion soup that one of the French fur traders was cooking (french onion soup?). In anger the Frenchman smacked the beef ball flat with a big wooden spoon. When he fished out the patty some of the cooked onions came out with it, he flipped it all aside where it landed on some bread he had set out to eat with his soup. The burger and onions barely landed on the bread when a passing traveler grabbed it up, flipped the French guy a dime and bit into the very first Pete's Burger. Soon folks from all over the area came looking for the new food sensation that they had heard about. The enterprising Pete, got busy trying to duplicate the accidental process that spawned the tasty treat. In no time at all he figured it out and ta da, a hundred years later, Pete's Hamburger lives on. You might look back and realize how significant this event was. Pete's Hamburger was born. The the long thin bread inspired the shape of today's baseball bat. Baseballs are wound with string around a solid core, very similar to spaghetti and meat balls. The Arch in St. Louis may been the model for a very, very large hamburger chain. And the dime burger is now three bucks. (Not a bad increase in a hundred years)
Here's what others will try to tell you:When you eat at Pete's Hamburgers, you have a choice -- plain or with onions. Forget about the lettuce -- they don't offer it. Don't ask for cheese -- they don't stock it. Don't expect a pickle -- there aren't any. And don't look for a menu. For 100 years, Pete's Hamburgers has had only one menu item. They sell hamburgers, grilled with water just as they were when Pete Gokey first set up his pushcart in Prairie du Chien in 1909.In the decades that have followed, nothing much has changed. They are still grilling the hamburgers with water, they are still only open on weekends, and the Gokeys are still flipping the hamburgers. And people are still flocking to the cart. It must be the hamburgers that bring them back because it can't be the ambiance. There is little shade available and nowhere to sit but the sidewalk. The cart has been a summer fixture that draws hamburger lovers back to Prairie du Chien year after year. Every once in a while, you get a newcomer to the cart. They are easy to spot, because they will ask for a hot dog or something else besides a hamburger.The next thing you will notice is that no one gets served before the entire batch is cooked. Then one by one the customers, in orderly fashion, file up to one of the windows and order. "one with", "two with", "four, two with, two without" and so on. Cans of pop and bags of chips are available as well as ketsup and mustard if you like. You pay up and grab your bag of goodies and head off to an empty bench or curb along Blackhawk Avenue. Or, you can jump back into your car and drive down to The River where you can find a bench and watch the "Mighty Miss"roll by. Friday, with this blog in mind, I drove over to Prairie to take some photos of Petes. As I approached I caught a whiff of the familiar burger aroma and I was hooked. I shot a few pics and headed home, waited for Jo to arrive home from work, gave her a little while to wind down from a hectic week at LE, suggested that we go out to dinner and................
Huck Finn couldn't have enjoyed
the river front any more than this!
A full grill cookin' up another bunch of Pete's "grilled in water" burgers.
Customers patiently wait for the next batch to come off the grill.
Grandma Jo strikes again! Not satisfied with the wonderful little shiny black shoes for Saffy's first Easter, Jo took her quest a little farther, over the rainbow to be exact. Now little Saffy has the means to make that journey. I guess Snoopy and Tina will go by the names, Toto 1 and Toto 2 and join forces to fight off the Wicked Witch of the West and her Flying Monkeys. Jo is rehearsing as Good Witch of The North. (In my research, I found that in the original story it was The Good Witch of The North that gave Dorothy silver slippers. But, to take advantage of the wonders of Technicolor, the movie makers changed them to ruby red) I'll be content staying behind the curtain calling out encouragement to adventurous little traveler. Here are a few pics of Saffy preparing for the journey.
Saffy dons her best Cubs outfit hoping that a "Good Witch" will cast a spell for a World Series Championship for the Boys in Blue.
As I walked by our "guest" room the other day something caught my eye. I should explain that our "guest" room has become the "Saffron" room as it is filled with babysitting paraphernalia and Grandma supplies. Anyway, there nestled in the playpen/portable crib sat the tiniest pair of patent leather (probably plastic) shoes you've ever seen. Seems that Grandma found these little "shinies" and couldn't resist the thought of slapping those babies on the littlest Baby Blume. Easter is coming up in a few days and Saffie is dropping in for a visit. Well that little unsuspecting kid is gonna get those shiny shoes shoved on her little feet. Little does she realize that "Patent Leather Shoes Reflect Up" although at six months old it hardly makes a difference. A peek at a diaper is far from exotic. I was so fascinated by these teeny scuffs that I had to try to photograph them. Remember, I grew up in Catholic schools where any girl that wore patent leather shoes was dragged off by Sister Superior (most likely by the ear) only to return in stocking feet. I feared that word might get out that I was harboring a pair of "Satan" shoes right here in my home and only two blocks from the Catholic Church not to mention the fact that I was blatantly shooting patent leather porn. Would the good Father from St. Marys be heading down the street to perform an exorcism? And this guy is tough. Remember he's the one who is openly a Bear fan in the middle of Packer country. The main thing those little shoes taught me was how inadequate a photographer I really am. Patent leather shoes not only reflect up but but down, left, right, north, south, east and west as well. Or not at all if they decide not to. So after more than a hundred shots and a lot of PhotoShopping the shot above is the closet thing that I have to show off the cutest little shiny shoes around. Maybe Sunday, once they're installed on Saffie, we'll get some proper, cute, shots. After all there will be a lot of other people with cameras taking their best shots. It has taken me three days to finish up this post and I already have the next one ready to go so I guess we'll just post this and move on. By the way, I kept on shooting and finally got a fairly decent shot of those "Shiny Shoes".
I'm a retired commercial artist originally from Chicago now living in Southwest Wisconsin. I spent the better part of fifty years in advertising and related industries.I tend to find humor in most things I encounter so I thought it might brighten up some rather dull boring days if I shared "what made me laugh" that day. Please feel free to join in by sharing things that made you laugh. Only limitation is that the comments are "G"r rated. I have ten grandchildren and some of them can read pretty well. (Especially the ones in college)