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National

50 Years Ago, Small Wisconsin Town Made Plans To Secede From The State

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's an anniversary party going on this weekend in the town of Winneconne, Wis. Fifty years ago, the town decided to secede, to quit the state of Wisconsin and the United States of America.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today, we'd call it a Win-nexit (ph).

JORDAN DUNHAM: We created an army, a navy. We had our own flag with a dodo bird, poison ivy, skunk and sheep head on it.

SIEGEL: That's Winneconne resident Jordan Dunham recalling the turbulence of 1967. It started with a perceived slight. Residents were insulted when they noticed that their town was not on that year's official state map.

CORNISH: This snappy observation was made.

DUNHAM: The map makers might have a napping when they should have been mapping.

CORNISH: And a proclamation was issued...

LORI MEYERHOFFER: (Reading) whereas the location of the village of Winneconne is missing from the 1967 state of Wisconsin highway map...

CORNISH: ...Read here by town resident Lori Meyerhoffer.

MEYERHOFFER: (Reading) ...And whereas the governor of the state of Wisconsin acknowledges by official communication from his office that the State Highway Commission goofed.

CORNISH: It's a long proclamation. Most of Winneconne was really perturbed.

MEYERHOFFER: (Reading) The board is to take whatever action it deems necessary to protect the best interests of its citizens and to take such action within 10 days after petitioning the state for immediate remedial action.

SIEGEL: Within 10 days, the deadline came and went. State officials refused to right this cartographic wrong.

CORNISH: The town held a contest to bring attention to their cause. Jordan Dunham said over a thousand responded.

DUNHAM: The winning idea was to secede from the union and become the Sovereign State of the Winneconne.

SIEGEL: So at 10 a.m. on July 22, 1967, they lowered the Wisconsin state flag, and they raised the one with the dodo bird, poison ivy, skunk and sheep head on it.

CORNISH: Speeches were made. The prime minister of the Sovereign State of Winneconne was introduced. There was a gun salute. The drum and bugle corps played.

SIEGEL: All of this was apparently too much for Wisconsin's governor. By 4 p.m. that day, he caved.

CORNISH: In a phone call, he promised to get Winneconne on the next state map. He also agreed to put up signs for the town on two state highways and place the town's promotional brochures in visitor's centers all over Wisconsin.

SIEGEL: Bloodshed averted.

CORNISH: And a new town holiday created. Every year, Winneconne celebrates sovereign days with a parade and a pig roast.

SIEGEL: This year, for the 50th anniversary of Winneconne's withdrawal, the parade and possibly the pig will be bigger.

CORNISH: Fireworks.

SIEGEL: Bounce house.

CORNISH: A tractor pull.

SIEGEL: And there's also a new musical. It's called "We Like It Where? The Secession Of Winneconne."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "WE LIKE IT WHERE? THE SECESSION OF WINNECONNE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) They may think that it's absurd, but we won't compromise. Our new nation under us is starting to arise when 1,273 people (unintelligible) mind and keep their eyes on the prize.

SIEGEL: You heard it first. That was a sneak preview of "The Secession Winneconne" by Corrie and Steven Kovacs of Winneconne, Wis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.