Maxwell the cat walked across the living room at Terri Olsen’s house and set off pandemonium.
A fake black feline popped out of a black frame and started to yowl. A mummy on the floor thrashed and moaned. A life-size witch cackled and stirred her cauldron.
“She’s one of my prized possessions,” Terri said, referring to the motion-sensitive robot in black. “She’s one of my more expensive possessions.”
At Terri’s Janesville home, the month of October is anything but normal. But what would you expect from a woman who calls herself the “Queen of Halloween”?
Beginning in mid-September, she and her husband, Morris, bring up from the basement more than 20 totes filled with Halloween creatures and decorations.
Terri joyfully puts them up in almost every room, and she needs 20 minutes to turn on all the nerve-wracking, battery-operated ghosts and goblins.
“I want everything up by Oct. 1, so I can enjoy it the entire month,” she said. “Once I get it all up, I look at everything and smile. I don’t have to go to Halloween stores. I have a better one here.”
One of two bathrooms is out of commission for 31 days when Terri fills the bathtub with fake, charred bones. Next to the tub is a make-believe chainsaw that thunders like the real thing.
In the dining room, blood-spattered roses and a bloody candelabra decorate a table where a book of spells opens and closes by itself. Be careful as you move forward: A giant, hairy tarantula waits to pounce at whatever gets in its way. Then there’s a creepy hand that slinks out of a woven basket and waggles a finger.
“Here are my babies,” Terri said, showing off an assortment of sinister-looking dolls.
Baby Pinhead from the movie “Hellraiser,” Baby Leatherface from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and Baby Michael Myers from “Halloween” are a few specimens in her prized collection.
Some people treasure Christmas villages, but Terri prefers a Department 56 Halloween village with at least 50 spooky pieces.
In the living room, a graveyard with nine headstones spreads across the floor. Two large, fake rats squirm in traps when activated, and a full-size skeleton hangs from the ceiling. Atop the television perches a large gargoyle with menacing eyes.
Beyond the couch, another larger tarantula prepares to pounce; a life-size singing skeleton croons, “Have You Changed Your Evil Ways,” and the Grim Reaper waits quietly with a baby gargoyle at its feet.
“People will say: ‘Terri you are twisted,’” Terri said. “I say ‘thank you.’ I’m just a big kid when it comes to Halloween.”
A passerby would never know that Terri has transformed the inside of her home into a house of horrors because there is little sign of it from the outside.
The Olsens share their bone-chilling abode with only a few guests. Morris belongs to the Tuesday Morning Optimist Club and challenges members to a walk-through. Otherwise, only family and friends get a peek inside.
Terri, who works as an X-ray technologist, said she has favored Halloween since she was a child.
Her husband does not touch any of Terri’s decorations.
“It’s her thing,” Morris said.
Sometimes, he doesn’t know what to expect.
“There are times when she forgets to turn things off,” Morris said, explaining the strange noises that may occur in the night. “It’s really interesting around here for a month.”
Rose M. Goetz
Benjamin L. Griswold
Thomas W. Schneider
Clementine “Clem” Turnmire
Rollin K. “Rollie” Wescott
Standing in front of a beer pasteurizing tank at a Milwaukee manufacturing company, Gov. Scott Walker watched as former Gov. Tommy Thompson exhorted a friendly Republican crowd to help Walker prevail in his surprisingly precarious race for a third term.
“I know the recipe works,” declared Thompson, waving his arms and wearing a bright red sweater under his suit coat on a cool October day. “The recipe is Scott Walker. You know like a good chocolate chip cookie, it sort of melts in your mouth? You know it really feels good.”
But the old recipe for victory may not be working in a midterm election where Democrats appear poised to do well across the country. Ominous polls have Walker in trouble, and he’s sounding the alarm to supporters. Democrats, after years of failure and frustration, are daring to hope that they may finally slay their political white whale.
If the onetime presidential candidate and Republican rising star loses, it would qualify as one of the bigger upsets of the midterm election because of his record in difficult situations before—winning election and re-election despite two victories in his state by Barack Obama, and turning back a 2012 recall attempt by Democrats incensed by his attack on public-sector unions.
A Walker loss to Tony Evers, the bland 66-year-old state education superintendent who enjoys Egg McMuffins and playing the card game euchre, would also give Democrats hope for the future in a state that Republicans have had a firm grip on for eight years.
Walker’s approval rating remains below 50 percent and President Donald Trump’s is worse, even though Trump carried the state two years ago. Critical independent voters who had favored Walker seem to be leaning Democratic. While Wisconsin’s economy is humming and polls show people believe the state is headed in the right direction, they’re also crossways with Walker on major issues that Evers is trying to exploit, including health care, education and roads.
Evers has pledged to reverse ill effects from Walker’s budget austerity, which Walker credits for boosting the economy.
“I’ve seen on the faces of our kids what the devastation of Scott Walker’s cuts to public education has done,” said Evers, a former school teacher and administrator, referring to $700 million in education budget cuts, some of which was later restored. “I’ve seen parents and families struggling with rising health care costs and stagnant wages.”
Walker insists he can make a strong case for being re-elected.
Sporting a Milwaukee Brewers warmup jacket to celebrate the team’s playoff run, he riffed at the Milwaukee rally about unemployment levels at or near record lows of 2.8 percent and the tax, budget and regulation cuts he pushed through in his two terms. He promised more money for schools.
“The people of this state don’t want to go backwards,” Walker said, “they want to go forward.”
Ted Kieper, 75, a Walker supporter at the event, said he can’t understand why Walker is in a close race given the strong economy.
“I’m hoping the polls are wrong like they were in the presidential election,” he said.
Recent surveys have shown a persistent enthusiasm gap for Republicans, fueling optimism for Democrats who have already won two special legislative elections and captured a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat this year. Adding to the sense of Walker’s vulnerability: No fewer than four of his former Cabinet secretaries have come out publicly against his re-election, and two have cut ads for his opponent.
In the August primary, about 20 percent more voters cast ballots in the Democratic contest for governor than in the Republican primary for Senate.
“When he’s run before they were all in very good Republican environments, where Republicans did well in Wisconsin, they did well across the country,” said Marquette University political science professor Paul Nolette. “This year is much different.”
But Democrats have been burned by false optimism before.
They can’t “spike the football on the 5-yard line,” Democratic strategist Patrick Guarasci said. Victory will require getting every possible Democratic voter to the polls, he said.
In 2014, Walker won by more than five points over Democrat Tom Barrett after polls a month earlier had the race even.
“He will be in every corner of the state between now and November. He will not be outworked,” said longtime Republican strategist Stephan Thompson.
Walker, the 50-year-old son of a Baptist preacher, has led a conservative revolution since becoming governor in 2011. Besides rolling back benefits for public worker unions, he made Wisconsin a right-to-work state, signed a voter ID law, and scaled back environmental regulation, which made him a national political figure, though a 2016 presidential bid faded early.
Walker will be tapping a battle-tested get-out-the-vote operation. He and GOP allies have outspent Evers 2-to-1 on television advertising.
Evers has emphasized improving state services and health care, pledging to drop Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. He has promised to increase school funding by 10 percent, end a tax credit benefiting large corporations, and possibly increase the gasoline tax to repair dilapidated roads.
“Scott Walker has made decision after decision that benefits himself and his wealthy donors and not what benefits us, the people of Wisconsin,” he said.
Last week, SHINE Medical Technologies dispatched two semitrailer trucks to haul its nest egg—a particle accelerator that can whip atoms to the speed of nuclear fusion and create radioactive medical isotopes.
In a separate vehicle, SHINE CEO and founder Greg Piefer followed the semis in their trip, a 45-mile trek between the Madison suburbs to Janesville.
Piefer and the truck convoy were met at the Rock County line by sheriff’s deputies and later by Janesville police. The officers gave the convoy of precious cargo an escort along Interstate 90/39 and through Janesville.
SHINE Vice President Katrina Pitas called the cop escort “extra insurance” that they company’s first accelerator would safely reach its destination—a testing and demonstration facility SHINE recently completed on Janesville’s south side just east of the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
The delivery of SHINE’s particle accelerator has been in the works almost a decade, and it’s the first of several such trips SHINE plans to make as it brings to Janesville eight particle accelerators built at its sister company, Phoenix, which operates a research facility in Monona.
For SHINE, full-scale commercial production of medical molybdenum-99 in Janesville is still about two years off, and operations are pending full approval by federal nuclear authorities and construction of a production facility that would be tucked in a farm field east of the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
Pitas said SHINE likely won’t be ready to hit the global market—one in which she said SHINE could supply “one-third” of the demand worldwide for medical radioisotopes for medical testing and imaging—until sometime in 2021.
It’s at the facility that SHINE calls Building One just south of the site of its future plant where SHINE will house the company’s first accelerators—the instruments that will power SHINE’s future Moly-99 production.
At Building One, SHINE nuclear engineers will link the accelerator equipment together, and the company’s nuclear engineers will begin testing and running the equipment in the months to come.
SHINE wouldn’t allow photographed images of the accelerator now in Janesville because, Pitas said, its construction is “proprietary.”
But the accelerator now in Janesville is the main part of a complex, 28-foot apparatus of aluminum, wires and vacuum and coolant tubes that when assembled will focus a beam of super-accelerated, blue-purple plasma that’s designed to zap a target of liquid, low-enriched uranium and create Moly-99.
Moly-99 is a radioisotope used to illuminate bone and body tissue in thousands of medical imaging tests a day throughout the U.S. Pharmacists process it into an imaging radioisotope called technetium-99m and inject it into the bodies of medical patients to conduct more than two dozen different types of imaging tests.
Moly-99’s availability for medical use is frequently interrupted in large part because it’s now produced mostly in overseas nuclear reactors that are aging and must be shut down for mandated, routine maintenance. That’s caused periodic shortages for a drug that medical groups consider vital for medical tests.
During a tour of Building One, Pitas talked about the accelerator built in Monona by Phoenix, a company Piefer also founded. The company considers the accelerator finally “at home,” Pitas said.
The pieces of a puzzle SHINE began assembling almost 10 years ago are now coming together in Janesville.
For SHINE, the Phoenix has landed.
“If you think of a Phoenix—the mythical bird—we picture things that way. The accelerator is that bird, and we’ve built a nest here. The bird has landed in the nest. It’s here. That’s where it’ll stay while we care for it and test it and use it,” Pitas said.
SHINE has allowed investors and reporters to view the first accelerator to arrive at Building One. For now, it sits in three main pieces on the floor of a large room in the building that houses a concrete bunker with concrete walls five feet thick and a 15-foot-deep pit that will house a sealed, fission chamber that’s surrounded by thousands of gallons of water.
The bunker, an enclosed room painted white inside with bowling ball-sized portholes for bundles of wires pass through, is where SHINE would initially test and fine tune its fully assembled accelerators. The room’s whole construction—from the accelerator equipment to its housing—in most ways mirrors how SHINE would set up its accelerators in the full scale production plant.
“It’s not a small-scale prototype. It’s an exact copy” of SHINE’s production technology, Pitas said.
Except in SHINE’s full production plant, the company would use not one but eight nuclear accelerators. Another key difference is Building One’s machinery won’t use a low enriched uranium target—the key part of SHINE’s process used to make Moly-99.
Pitas said Building One was designed to operate as a testing, demonstration and staging facility as SHINE builds out its future production site. She said Building One was not designed or licensed for medical radioisotope production.
She said SHINE plans within months to submit to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission an application for an operating license, but that license would apply to SHINE’s future production plant, not Building One.
Construction of SHINE’s production plant was approved by the federal government in 2016. SHINE is on track to start building the plant in spring 2019. Pitas said under that timeline, SHINE could begin ramping up plant operations later in 2020, pending federal operating approval.
Piefer last week said SHINE’s tests in Building One would “prove the (accelerator) technology is ready for production and provided us important maintenance and operational data well in advance of starting up the actual plant.”
Building One will function also as a physical stage for SHINE to pitch its commercial production plans to investors. Pitas said that cameras SHINE will have trained in the bunker room can actually supply live footage or videos of testing of the accelerator equipment.
Pitas, who handles business development for SHINE, is a nuclear physicist.
She said one of the biggest challenges SHINE has in securing private, financial backing for a project with a price tag in excess of $100 million has been breaking down the high-level science behind SHINE’s technology.
Building One, as the company has billed it, would be a staging facility for the company’s own equipment and logistics—tangible evidence to potential investors that SHINE’s technology is on track to scale up.
“People will be able to see what we’re going to do,” Pitas said.