Thanks for Asking | May 17, 2012

our local Jack-of-all-Facts tells you how it is

Frank Smoot

In a previous article, you mentioned the neighborhood on the west side was called “the bloody Ninth.” I actually went to Ninth Ward School in the ’40s and didn’t realize it was called that.  How did it get that name?

Thanks for asking! County Board supervisor Colleen Bates, who lived in the Ninth as a child, said it started long, long before she was born, and went something like this: braggadocio or not, word spread that when the toughs among westsiders (from the Ninth Ward) fought the toughs from “Paper Mill Village” (roughly the First and Eighth Wards) they always left the paper mill boys “bloodied.”

The Ninth was (and is) a big ward, and was crowded with big families — six or eight kids, or more, in many households. One family had twenty kids. A tough, working-class, immigrant neighborhood, without, as we say now, “enough parental controls.” For example, as Bates walked to school dressed nicely for the first day of sixth grade, a neighborhood boy beaned her with a rock. Blood came streaming from her head down the back of her new dress and into her new shoes. She ran home to her father, who marched her to the boy’s home to confront the parents. When the mother opened the door and Bates’ father got a look at the chaos inside, he said, “You have enough problems already,” and turned back toward home.

Just as it stretched east, the Ninth’s reign of terror stretched south, too. Norway’s favorite son Waldemar Ager lived in the Sixth Ward near Luther Hospital. In an interview with Tim Hirsch, Ager’s son Eyvind remembered a hazelnut grove in the Ninth, rich with nuts for gathering. “One time there were these ninth warders waiting for us. And we knew this ’cause we saw one of them stick his head up from [under] the bridge ... we got away from them  ... [but] there’s always a bunch that, that were pretty mean you know. Make trouble whenever they want.”

Even the press called it the bloody Ninth as a matter of course. One example, from a gossipy bit in the Eau Claire Leader, 1898: “The guardian of the peace in the [Ninth] Ward, congenial police officer Frank Reinhart, is stricken with the Klondike fever. Frank says he would go [to the Yukon to pan for gold] if he could find anyone competent to handle the boys in the bloody Ninth.”

Got a local question? Send it (17 S. Barstow St.) or email it (mail@volumeone.org) and Frank will answer it!  Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 43 years. He is an editor and researcher at the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is open all year just beyond the Paul Bunyan Camp Museum in beautiful Carson Park. You should go there.

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