The Shocking Death of Arthur Esler (Kaukauna)


Arthur Esler, 14, died as result of being electrocuted on September 30, 1926 in Kaukauna, WI. He was electrocuted by the high tension wires on top of one of the towers on the bridge between the Island and the Union Bag and Paper mill.

Esler Family Background

The Esler family was prominent in Kaukauna, WI’s history.

Peter G. Esler, Arthur’s father, was born in 1873 in Outagamie County, and was a member of the Menominee Tribe of Indians. Peter was 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. Peter died in 1953, and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery.

In 1908, Peter married Katherine Killian (born 1872), the widow of his uncle Louis Reichel. Katherine and Louis had three children: Henry/Harry (1892-1914), Maria/Mary (1894-1952), and Alvina (1896-1975). Additionally, Peter and Katherine had three children: Elmer (1909-1992), Arthur (1911-1926), and Pearl (1914-2007). Katherine (Killian) Esler died on October 9, 1914.

In 1916, Peter married Katherine Krell (born 1875) at Holy Cross Church in Kaukauna. (Katherine was a widow of Richard Senso (1872-1911), who died in a paper mill accident. Katherine and Richard had two sons: William (1899-1962) and Sylvester (1905-1979). Katherine died in 1962.

Electrocution and Death of Arthur Esler

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.

Loss of Power

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.

Inquest and Funeral

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.

Additional Information and Sources

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