The Shocking Death of Arthur Esler

The Esler family was prominent in Kaukauna city history. They were among the earliest settlers, and went on to become a fire chief, a Chicago White Sox trainer, school bus company founder and much more.

Peter George Esler was himself a well-known man in Kaukauna, having worked at the Thilmany mill, two decades with the city street department, and also as a member of the volunteer fire department. In 1908, at 35 years old, he married Katherine Killian, the widow of his uncle Louis Reichel. Together, they had two sons and a daughter in addition to Katherine’s other children.

Around 8:15pm on September 30, 1926, 14-year old Arthur Esler of 207 Elm Street in Kaukauna was playing “Run My Good Sheep Run” with other boys, and made a serious attempt to escape.

He climbed a 65-foot girder tower on the new Wisconsin Avenue bridge connecting the Island with the Union Bag and Paper Mill. Once partially up there, he crawled on to a beam and touched a high tension power line, which shorted. 12,000 volts entered his body. A flash occurred that was so bright, it could be seen throughout the city. There was also a great noise. Arthur’s clothes caught fire, and several holes were blown through his body as the power surged through him, including a large hole in his neck.

Although probably killed instantly, the power caused his grip to become tighter and he held firm to the girder for approximately three minutes before falling on to the bridge. Arthur’s sister Pearl was on the bridge below. Their father was nearby at the home of Jacob Licht, making a telephone call to Appleton to check on the time for the funeral of Frank Meyers. The bright light had Esler look outside and realize he was now going to be attending TWO funerals. A doctor was summoned immediately, but it was already too late.

The short caused the power to go out on Kaukauna’s north side. This circuit connected to Little Chute and Combined Locks, as well, meaning they were also without power. Power was able to be restored to the north side and Little Chute around midnight by rerouting the circuits, but Combined Locks remained in the dark. The paper mill there was forced to shut down and send countless employees home.

An inquest was held in the office of Elliot Zekind, lead by Dr. H. E. Ellsworth, coroner. Those who viewed the body at the Leo Feehan mortuary on Second Street and then hearing witnesses were Henry Wittman, Frank Wittman, John Gerhartz, Julius Lindermuth, Martin Hermans and Jacob Licht. Their conclusion: accidental electrocution.

The funeral was on Monday, October 4, with Rev. PJ Lochman of Holy Cross leading the procession and burial in Holy Cross Cemetery. A large group of students attended, as well as the newsboys from Gantter’s newsstand.