Monday, August 29, 2011


   The origins of the Christmas pickle are shrouded in mystery. Some claim the Christmas pickle originated in Germany. Some claim the Christmas pickle was a tradition born in a prison camp during the Civil War. Whatever its origins, the Christmas pickle survives on Christmas trees all across America.

Christmas Pickle Traditions

    So just what is a Christmas pickle? For the uninitiated the Christmas pickle is a Christmas ornament that looks like a pickle. Sounds obvious, right?
    The pickle ornament is the last thing hung on a Christmas tree. The green ornament blends in with the tree making it difficult to spot. According to tradition, the first child to find the Christmas pickle gets an extra present. Or if no extra presents are available, the finder of the Christmas pickle gets to be the first one to open a present.
That's the only part of the Christmas pickle that almost everyone seems to be in agreement on. The rest of the Christmas pickle story is a tale of conflicting legends.

Origins of the Christmas Pickle

    Most people who are familiar with the Christmas pickle claim that the pickle ornament originated from an ancient German tradition. However, if you were to ask an average German, he or she would have no clue what you are talking about. It seems no one in Germany hangs pickles on their Christmas trees. Some other contending stories vie for the origination of the Christmas pickle.
   One story claims that the tradition of the Christmas pickle begins in the Middle Ages. According to this version of the Christmas pickle legend, two boys were traveling home for Christmas. When they stopped for the night at an inn, the innkeeper imprisoned them in a pickle barrel. That night, St. Nicholas also stopped at the inn, heard the boys, and freed them from the pickle barrel.

    Another story about the origins of the Christmas pickle also has its roots in imprisonment. During the Civil War, John Lower (Lauer) was a prisoner of war in the infamous Andersonville Prison camp in Georgia. According to this story, the Bavarian-born Lower, was starving and asked a guard for a pickle to eat before he died. The guard took pity on the man, found a pickle and gave it to him. According to John Lower's descendents, John said the gift of that pickle gave him hope to live on. Once he was released from prison, Lower began a family tradition of hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree to symbolize the gift that was given to him. This traditions said that the first one to find the pickle would be blessed with good fortune for a year.
   While John Lower's German heritage may be the source of the connection between Christmas pickles and Germany (Lower's non-German neighbors may have mistaken his personal tradition for an overall German tradition, there may be a loose connection of the Christmas pickle story to Germany.

A vintage Christmas pickle

    The town of Lauscha, Germany was renowned for its hand-blown glassware and glass Christmas ornaments. In the late 1840's, glass-blowers in Lauscha began producing glass Christmas tree ornaments in the shape of fruits and vegetables and presumably - pickles. As far Christmas pickles being a German tradition, it seems to be one that is localized and isolated, rather than a widespread national tradition.
    Whatever the origins of the Christmas Pickle ornament, the tradition is alive and well today and can add additional fun to the joy and merriment of the holiday season. If you're looking for a new holiday tradition, perhaps the Christmas pickle is for you.


Hamburger Charlie and the Early Days of the Hamburger
Who was "Hamburger Charlie"?
   Charlie Nagreen was born in Hortonville, Wisconsin in 1870, where he spent his boyhood. He began his ground beef and onion career at age 15 when he loaded up his ox can and traveled 20 miles north to Seymour to sell meatballs at the fair.

Why was Charlie selling meatballs?
   The meatball was easy to assemble and the young lad knew people would be hungry after walking around viewing the agricultural exhibits at the fair. What he didn't realize was that people wanted to keep moving and visit the displays.

The founding father of the Burger
How did the hamburger come about?
   Charlie was a resourceful young man with an outgoing personality. After not experiencing much success selling the meatballs, he had an idea and located some bread. He realized people could take this meal with them if he simply smashed the meat together between two pieces of bread. He called it a "hamburger" and yes, in 1885 the burger was born at the fair in Seymour, Wisconsin.
How did he come up with the name "hamburger"?
   Many German immigrants lived in the Hortonville area. Ground up beefsteak was a popular choice for the dinner table. This steak was named after the German city of Hamburg where it was commonly consumed. Since the name was easily recognizable; "Charlie" used it to get attention. He then spread onions on top and the word spread to taste the gastronomical delight that Charlie had to offer.

Did Charlie visit other fairs?
   Charlie returned to the Seymour fair for the next 65 years, but numerous other fairs were added to his summer circuit. Evidence indicates he brought his meat treat to fairs in Shawano, Green Bay, Weyauwega. Oshkosh, New London and others. "Charlie's" stand was a popular spot and people in neighboring communities came to believe they couldn't have a fair without "Charlie".

How do we know that Seymour is truly "the home of the hamburger"?
   Numerous communities from New Your to Texas claim to be the birthplace of the burger, but no one can supply any evidence dating back to 1885 like Seymour. Early newspaper articles, interviews with contemporaries and Charlie's daughter all verify the burger was served at the Seymour fair in 1885.

It was in this setting, the busy Seymour Fair of 1885, where Hamburger Charlie , a young lad of 15 first set up his stand selling meat balls that became "hamburgers."
   Seymour’s First Annual Fair an Unprecedented Triumph
As Printed in the Appleton Post, Appleton Wisconsin. Thursday, Oct. 15, 1885.

   Every Man, Woman and Child in the Realm Exercised a lively Interest in Contributing to it’s Brilliancy.

   Twenty-one miles north of Appleton is located the prosperous little city of Seymour. The county that intervenes is as fertile, and supports as many prosperous farmers as any section of territory, similar in range, within the state of Wisconsin. The elegant homes of the husbandmen surrounded by capacious barns; broad fields undulating and well fenced herds of blooded cattle and flocks of well bred sheep, towering stacks of hay and straw, and granaries filled to overflowing are the evidences that present themselves of the wealth of this area.   The same may be said of the country ‘round about Seymour, and as it is of this particular section, as well as the municipality, and its accomplishments that we wish to treat, we will waste no words in the introduction of our story.
The City of Seymour
   The city of Seymour is possessed of as many men of determined energy as its prescribed limits can well contain. In all things pertaining to the interest of the place they are united, so that when a measure comes up which is in the least calculated to rebound to the public weal it is developed and matured and worked for all the treasure it contains grounds suitable for such entertainments as were contemplated were purchased and enclosed, a half-mile track equal in excellence to any in the county prepared, and a splendid exhibition hall was constructed.

Charlie and his crew back in the day

The First Annual Fair
   Numerous agricultural products were exhibited at the fair -- Fancy stocks of vegetables and grain. The vegetables and cereals made us contemplate with envy the luxuries of the high life. Prize cattle, sheep and hogs were the hit of the fair. Nothing on the grounds attracted as much attention as the bees displayed in glass hives by Mr. John Bull. The little insects appeared to appreciate the admiration bestowed upon them and toiled without rest to maintain their reputation for industry.
Exhibition Hall
   The exhibition hall was the central attraction for all visitors. Here it was that household comforts, ornamental work, flowers, fine art and the products of the factory and the foundry were arranged side by side to demonstrate the diversified industries of the people. Phillip Muehl’s furniture created a desire in spectators to make themselves comfortable while they inspected the hardware novelties and dry goods.

   On the grounds outside there was a very great variety of laborsaving farm machinery. The goods exhibited there our farmers are familiar with, and any essay we might write on them, farther than to say they are the best produced, would be a useless waste of time.
The Races
   The horse trot is a source of income that agricultural societies all over the country have been compelled to take advantage of, but in no instance represents the best interest of the farmers. On the other hand the improvement in the style of travel and speed of the horses is most impressive. The array of fine horses that were on the grounds during the fair is conclusive evidence that this section of the country is well stocked with champion steeds.
General Notes
Of Seymour and its citizens and leading industries we will have something to say in the future. In the meantime we congratulate the town on the splendid success of the first annual fair. May each succeeding exhibition grow in importance until the expositions there held fully equal if they do not excel any in the country.

Grilling the worlds largest hamburger

“Hamburger Charlie” Ready to begin 62nd Tour of Fairs
As Printed in the Appleton Post -- Appleton Wisconsin, 1947
   Back in 1885, ground beef patties were called meatballs, and then they became known as “hamburgers.” C.R. Nagreen 2102 S. Oneida Street, known as “Hamburger Charlie” avers he is the originator of the word “hamburger.î”Beginning Aug. 14 at the Outagamie Co. fair at Seymour and continuing through all the fairs, - Wautoma, Oshkosh, Shawano and Weyauwega, Charlie will dispense his famous hamburgers-this time from a brand new 12 by 14 foot tent and using new equipment. With the awnings up and benches on the side the tent will be 40 feet long.

   When Charlie was 15, back in 1885, he began his career, which has reached its 62nd year this summer. He drove into the Seymour fair with a yoke of oxen in that year, and thereafter made his circuit to the fairs by horse, by train and finally by auto.

The ketchup slide