Bob Schmidt: I’ve known Michael Scott for a long time. Michael is a history buff, but he’s also a storyteller. I’ve had the chance to see him on some of his different walks that he takes around the City of La Crosse. Michael, what do you like best about living in a river town?
Michael Scott: There’s the history. I’m down at Riverside Park often. That is an international port. I could put my kayak in the Mississippi River right there, and I could go to Key West. I could go to the Caribbean. I could cross the ocean if I was so inclined. It’s such a beautiful place. I came here in 1986, and I just fell in love with the river and the bluffs.
Bob Schmidt: The Great River Roadway is known basically the entire country, and perhaps the entire world. What makes, in your mind, the La Crosse area so unique?
Michael Scott: I’ve traveled the whole length of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, and it’s all beautiful. But there is just something about La Crosse, and it could be … Even the native people felt that La Crosse is a sacred place. It’s because three rivers come together – you have the Mississippi, the Black, and the La Crosse River. In Native American culture, that is a sacred place, and they say no mighty wind will blow. Every night I’m down there, I get a sense of that. There is just something special about it. I don’t know if I can put my finger on it exactly, but you know it when you see it.
Bob Schmidt: Michael, you’re a performer and you do a lot of stories and you do a lot of tours. Tell me about some of the things that you do in the City of La Crosse that helps to share the wonderful Mississippi River with those that come to visit.
Michael Scott: It’s called “Dark La Crosse Walk.” We would take visitors through the City of La Crosse and tell them about our seedy underbelly. We would talk about these murders that happened a long time ago. We would talk about the brothels that were here in La Crosse, and there really were a lot of them. I like to point that out in every tour; we just walk them a little bit here and there. Ori Sorensen ran for Mayor in 1913. In his campaign, he claimed to have a list of 40 to 50 brothels that were operating within the City of La Crosse. I tell people we easily could have been nicknamed “Sin City” long before Las Vegas had a hold of it. I also started to do … I call it an active interpiece called “Walking Twain” where we walk along the river and I dress up like Mark Twain. I have the big white hair and the mustache and the white suit. I identify the six different stages along the river, along in the park there. We walk along, and I’ll stop and I’ll do different passages from Mark Twain’s writings. If you want to find out more information, you just need to go to the website footstepsoflacrosse.org.
Bob Schmidt: Michael, I know that you do other tours as well. What are some of the other tours that you personally do?
Michael Scott: The big one is “The Ghosts of Historic La Crosse Walking Tour.” I’m going on my third season from the popularity of the “Dark La Crosse” tours. You know, we figured, ‘Boy, people really like this.’ I am a storyteller, so I knew of several ghost stories in the downtown area. I went to the library, and I said, ‘Let’s do a ghost walking tour, and it will be a fundraiser for the Public Library.’ To build the tour, I went into the archives and found old newspaper accounts of haunting in the downtown. I love it. Over these two seasons, I have met people from all over the world. La Crosse is really becoming a budding tourist location. Lots of people are coming here.
Bob Schmidt: Do you think the Mississippi is one of the things that brings people to the area?
Michael Scott: I think so. I don’t know if I read it or I heard it, but when they ask people from elsewhere – Europe and people from other places around the globe – what they would like to see in America, the Mississippi River is in the top five. And believe me, you don’t want to see the Mississippi River right at the south of us where it’s just barges. You want to see the upper Mississippi River, I think, with the bluffs and inside the refuge that La Crosse sits in the middle of. I don’t think a lot of people realize that La Crosse is pretty much right smack dab in the middle of this huge wildlife refuge, and so there’s all this protected land from Wabasha all the way down to the Quad Cities. There are just so many opportunities for recreation – kayaking and boating and bird watching. We have little sandbars, and you can pull up there and camp for I think 30 days if you wanted to at one spot. It’s free, and they just ask you to keep things clean.