Pig fairs and suicide by dynamite

Beth Dippel

 It’s not often that a community’s claim to fame is its pig fair. The relationship between pigs and people is one of the longest in our human history, nearly as longstanding as our relationship with dogs or horses.

Postcard noting Cedar Grove’s success as a successful pig fair center. Dated Aug. 8. 1980.

The one difference is that although pigs are smart, they are also delicious, and in Cedar Grove, they became the center of a brisk business economy. For more than 75 years, Cedar Grove hosted a pig fair on the last Thursday of every month. Farmers from more than fifty miles brought their small pigs to bargain with buyers for good prices. The marketplace was held on Cedar Grove’s Main Street, a normally quiet street.

Pig day brought with it crowds of farmers and their trucks, light and heavy pouring in from all over, loaded down with grunting porkers. A news article described the event like this, “Bickering such as is heard in the noisy marts of the Orient takes place on the streets of Cedar Grove as these modern shrewd farmers hold out for what they consider a fair price.”

A similar pig event was tried in Oostburg, but failed miserably, so the pig fair came home, and Cedar Grove enjoys the honor of hosting one of the longest running pig fairs in the state of Wisconsin.

Grisly discovery

The search and subsequent discovery of a missing person in the Kiel area made the headlines back in 1929. On or about April 22, 1929, Jacob Ramminger, 54, a successful farmer from Kiel, disappeared.

Quite wealthy, Ramminger's fortune was thought to be near $100,000, yet he was terribly worried about his financial state near the time of his leaving. Search parties scoured the underbrush and woods near Ramminger’s farm. A posse of Boy Scouts and farmers searched further afield. A Milwaukee seer claiming to possess occult powers was even consulted. No success. Jacob Ramminger was in the wind.

The upper part of his body was found several weeks later by two kids fishing on the Sheboygan River about a mile south of Kiel.

Newspapers loved to report grisly facts in those days, so the description and supposition were graphic. After two months in the river, the body was certainly not in good condition. Identification was established by a missing finger on the right hand of the body.

According to the Manitowoc Herald News, July 6, 1929, four young boys, discovered the lower part of the Rammiger's body. The boys told the sheriff they were engaged in picking water lilies when they noticed a shoe protruding above the water line and the investigation resulting in the pulling up of the lower extremities of Ramminger’s body.

Because the lower part was held beneath the surface by part of a rowboat the theory was advanced by Deputy Sheriff A. F. O’Leske that Ramminger was in a boat in the stream at the time he discharged the dynamite sticks which killed him.

Local farmers living along the river posited the idea that Ramminger may have used dynamite to end his own life. Coroner Kemper said the case looked like a suicide and an inquest would be held. One wonders how that suicide determination was made. Perhaps neighbors knew more about Ramminger’s personal life.

No matter, it must have been quite a shock for the young men out for an afternoon of fishing and picking water lilies, and isn’t dynamite a rather unusual mode of suicide? 

Beth Dippel is executive director of the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center