Burial mounds are, as the name implies, resting places for the dead; effigy mounds are earthworks, just mud and dirt, usually shaped to resemble animals, real and mythological.
In the backyards of a Sheboygan neighborhood, stretching into the woods, up and down gently rolling hillocks, is the Sheboygan Indian Mounds Park. A few feet from backyard swing sets and slides, the public can stroll and survey the hand-shaped earthen images.
Sheboygan mounds – built between 500 and 750 AD – are somewhat unusual in that they function as both burial mounds *and* effigy mounds.
Animals represented in effigy include rabbits, deer and what’s called a panther, but with an extremely long tail. This seems not to be your regular panther but rather Mishipeshu, an Underwater Panther, mentioned in the fireside tales of Ojibwe, Cree and others, portrayed in effigies and rock art all over the Midwest… always with a very long, serpentine tail. Native American folklore relates that a battle between Underwater Panther and Thunderbird created Devil’s Lake.
While you’re in Sheboygan (a name hard to pronounce without breaking into a Jerry Lewis screech), you eat brats. Now, surely, the brats served in Sheboygan aren’t a lot different than what you might find in a grocery store, but calls to local Whole Foods, Carnival Grocery and Jewel revealed that Sheboygan brats have vanished from shelves; guy at the Jewel said, “Oh, yeah, I remember Sheboygan brats. They were great. We haven’t carried them for like four years.”
When in Sheboygan for brats, we go to Gosse’s at the Northwestern House, a restaurant in an old hotel from the early 1900s. It’s a quaint white frame structure, a neighborhood place, full of regulars, with an original old-timey bar, for which I am always a great sucker.
Schwarz Fish Market, by EPA regulations, is one of the last places in this part of the world that smoke their fish on-site; two other local fish-smoking operations are Calumet Fisheries on 95th and Hagen’s Fish Market on Montrose (where my family has been buying fish since the Eisenhower years). From Schwarz, we grabbed a box of fried smelt, once so abundant along the Chicago shores of Lake Michigan, now sourced from Lake Superior.
Charcoal Inn, a legendary Sheboygan diner, closed permanently during the pandemic. Years ago, having lunch, surrounded by classic diner waitresses (“More coffee, hon?”), enjoying simple hand-held fare like burgers and brats, was like stepping back to a time before national fast-food chains put small diners out of business. If no buyer is found, Charcoal Inn may well crumble into dust, becoming yet another piece of Sheboygan’s archaeological record.
Sheboygan is about 150 miles from Oak Park. We recommend going in springtime when the mounds are easily discernible.
Modern America ignores Native America: the remarkable Sheboygan mounds are not even mentioned on the Sheboygan website. Sigh.