Thursday, October 22, 2020

In 1950, the town of Mosinee, Wisconsin staged a pretend coup to warn of the dangers of the red menace

Brett Rosenberg looks at fear politics and playacting:

The “pageant” began with a “Communist Combat Team” of costumed volunteers “arresting” the mayor and chief of police at their homes and placing local clergy and business leaders in a “concentration camp.” The organizing committee issued ration cards and entry and exit passes, erecting roadblocks and questioning those who came through. Local businesses got in on the action, too; the movie theater played propaganda reels; and merchants raised their prices, served only Russian fare, or otherwise made market transactions a nuisance. A sweet shop placed a sign on its shelves: “candy for communist youth members only.”

At the end of the day, according to the official Schedule of Events, the entire town would “cast aside their subversive roles and join in the raising of the American flag.” Boy Scouts would “burn all Communist banners, etc. in a huge bonfire” before the whole crowd would join in singing “God Bless America” and “start peacefully home, thankful to God that they live in AMERICA.”


Though it was considered a wild success, the day ended in tragedy. As the Wasau Daily Record-Herald blared, “Two Mosinee Men Who Had Roles in ‘Red Coup’ Program Are Dead.” The mayor and a local reverend died within days of the coup, and both deaths—variously reported as heart attacks, cerebral hemorrhages, or stroke in different publications—were attributed to Mosinee’s day under Communist rule. As Life’s coverage concluded, this was an unfortunate coda to “Mosinee’s most exciting day since the business district burned in 1910.”