Whitewater collectors show off relics at 'Whitewater Collects'

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Neil Johnson
Saturday, March 15, 2014

WHITEWATER—Somewhere, on a lot in Whitewater where Judy Wildermuth's parents home used to stand, is a trove of stone fragments—pieces of ancient Native American smoking pipes.

Wildermuth knows this because when she was about 5 years old, she and her brothers would find the pipe fragments in her parents' garden. Theywould take the 2-inch-long tubes of white stone and hide them under the porch steps as treasure.

The porch and house are long gone, and Wildermuth has tried made several times in vain to dig in the yard to find the pipe pieces.

Yet, Wildermuth still has one pipe piece she saved, along with several arrow points and a mysterious, diamond-shaped stone she found as a child at her grandparents' farm on Cold Spring Road north of Whitewater.

Wildermuth brought the relics Saturday to Whitewater Collects, a collectible showcase organized by the Whitewater Historical Society at the Cravath Lakefront Pavilion in Whitewater.

She had aimed to have Ron Neumeister, a town of La Grange collector who has unearthed hundreds of Native American artifacts around Whitewater, identify some of her collection.

Neumeister was one of several Whitewater area collectors who showed off collections Saturday. A few collections—such as Neumeister's sets of arrow points and stone tools, some of which came from around Whitewater and his Christmas tree farm in the town of La Grange—were hyper-local.

Other collections had less of a connection to Whitewater.

The event showcased, among other collections, an antique metal wind-up toy collection owned by Whitewater Collects organizer and Whitewater Historical Society member Alan Marshall. He showed toys including a wind-up set of table-tennis players, a moving Popeye figure and a duck with a moving bill that rides in circles on a tricycle.

“I still get these things out and play with them sometimes,” Marshall said.

Other collections included an array of sock monkeys, a Star Wars memorabilia collection, a set of antique Borden Collectibles featuring “Elsie,” Borden's iconic smiling cow with her necklace of daisies.

Saturday was the third year of Whitewater Collects. This year, the event included appraisals for collections. Marshall said the first few showcases had about three collectors, but this year there were nearly a dozen collectors, and dozens of people like Wildermuth brought in their own items for appraisal or to learn more about them. 

Neumeister spent time showing Wildermuth and others his collection, and flipped open a book of maps and a reference guide he has compiled himself that shows areas where Native American artifacts have been unearthed in Rock, Walworth and Jefferson counties.

He explained to Wildermuth that a diamond-shaped stone she brought in was probably a ceremonial or decorative item that could date back to the Woodland tradition, a group of nomadic Native Americans who lived around Whitewater between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago.

He said it was clear the item wasn't a tool, because someone took pains to smooth and sculpt the edges, and it has what appears to be a rudimentary design etched on it.

Wildermuth said she's no expert on Native American relics; she's just had the items since she was a little girl, and never had an expert look at them.

She wishes she hadn't left the dozens of pipe pieces under the porch as a child, but she can't be too hard on herself.  

“When you're five or six years old, you don't think of the importance of those things. You don't think to save them,” she said.

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