Governor Upham and the Cleveland Diamond: Part I – The politician
Photo courtesy of the North Wood County Historical Society
By Kris Leonhardt
As the city of Marshfield lay in ruins the morning of June 28, 1887, residents sat reeling from the events of the previous day. Many without homes, many without businesses, and some without both, looked for leadership from someone, anyone that could tell them where to go from there.
That leadership came promptly at 6 a.m. that morning as Maj. William H. Upham stood before his flagpole. Upham placed his strength and determination in each pull of the halyard. He would rebuild, and he would rebuild right here, where he had built a system of human capital. He owed it to them, his loyal employees, who had worked so hard to save his home, and those who depended on him more now than ever.
As the stars and stripes hit the sky, Marshfield residents not only found the leadership they desired. They also found hope.
Upham’s leadership and civic service made him popular within the city long before the fire: serving in the Civil War, as an alderman and mayor, and on the school board. His commitment to his workers, helping them build their own homes, also did much to reinforce his local appeal.
It was Upham’s actions following the fire that gave him statewide notoriety.
While a reluctant politician, Upham entered the race for the Wisconsin governorship in 1892. Though he was a favorite among the Republican delegates, he withdrew his name knowing that party leaders supported his competition.
The congenial move gained him a nomination in the 1894 election. During the campaign, Upham’s character came under attack. Marshfield residents quickly came to his defense.
Following a massive attack on Upham’s integrity, employee treatment, and nature, 200 employees — both Democrat and Republican — rose up to defend him. The libelous assault also invoked a party of Marshfield Democratic citizens to come to the defense of the Republican leader.
Following the Nov. 6 election, it was clear the mudslinging had not done much to tarnish Upham’s solid reputation as newspapers all over the state heralded his landslide victory.
In January the Uphams arrived in Madison by train. After the oath of office was administered, Upham and other elected officials retired to their respective areas. A throng of well-wishers advanced toward and overwhelmed the newly elected governor.
During the crowd’s rush, a Chicago thief going by the name of “Kid Thorton” was able to swipe a diamond stud, a gift from Upham’s wife, from the new governor’s shirt. Though the diamond was later recovered, Thorton had missed his opportunity. Later that evening, Upham would put a much larger gem on display.
Next week: Part II – The jewel