book burning demonstration

1918 Baraboo German book-burning demonstration

This program has been cancelled. Read below for information about what happened.

Scholar of 1918’s Pandemic Silenced by 2020’s: Feverish Dr. of History Unable to Fly to Speaking Tour

In an ironic twist of historic fate, an expert on the 1918 global pandemic now cannot commence a long-planned speaking and exhibit tour about that or other related topics because of 2020’s viral curse.

When Dr. Michael Luick-Thrams attempted to fly Friday from Germany—where he lives and teaches—to his native Midwest, he discovered at Frankfurt Flughafen that he had a fever, so could not board a plane. Now, a 2.5-month speaking tour across America’s Heartland will have to be scuttled, having already been shrunken from its planned eight-month duration—a schedule shredded by the Coronavirus pandemic.

A local program was to be held August 17 when the Iowa-based TRACES Center for History and Culture that Luick-Thrams directs was to show its “BUS-eum.” The Dwight Foster Public Library was to host that mobile museum, which is housed in a retrofitted school bus. Sponsored by Dane Arts and ArtsWisconsin, the BUS-eum features theme-related lectures.

BUS exterior and interior, pre-Corona alterations

Luick-Thrams and the TRACES team already are working to rescue what they can from the crashed tour: All of the BUS-eum’s theme-related, TRACES-produced narrated videos are now available via YouTube, all exhibit texts and leading illustrations, with related titles, can be downloaded by entering “Michael Luick-Thrams” at Amazon.

Kristine Zylstra-Tabke serves as TRACES’ Operations Coordinator. She met Luick-Thrams “over a crowded dessert table in rural Iowa, at a Winter Solstice celebration last December, as we prepared to go outside and, around a roaring fire, mark the celestial end of one year and start of a promising new one. In a rush, he said something about working with him on a ‘retrofitted school bus, for social change.’ I shrugged and thought ‘Why not?’ That night, however, I never imagined where we would be with that project today.”

Having launched the BUS-eum and shown its exhibit merely five times, the team’s grand plans unexpectedly got put on ice. Now, after an unplanned five-month hiatus, Luick-Thrams and his helpers were about to finally bring out again their all-new exhibit, “Hidden or Forbidden No More: Prequels to the ‘Greatest Generation,’ 1914-39.” When she signed on to organize the original 20-state tour, Zylstra-Tabke explains, “I found the exhibit interesting, but never dreamed that one of its five topics, ‘The Killer: 1918’s Flu Pandemic,’ would become a dress rehearsal for what the world presently is enduring.”

Then, in the wake of some of the cascading repercussions of a seemingly interminable shutdown, a second topic has also become expressly timely: “Cow Wars” tells the story of social strife during the Great Depression, borne of mass unemployment and farmers’ desperate attempts to keep their homes.

Next, George Floyd’s brutal, cold-blooded murder jerked another “Hidden” topic off of the exhibit panels and propelled it into civic discussions: “America’s White Cancer: The KKK’s ‘Second Wave’ of the 1920s” tells the story of organized racism from its inception in the Reconstruction South, with emphasis on its revival during World War I. In particular, it examines the “Forbidden” legacy of tens of thousands of Klan members in the Midwest during that period—a historical fact conveniently struck from public memory.

One of its aspects that Zylstra-Tabke values about this project is “Its first-person narrative approach to revisiting historical forerunners of our current crises—and Michael’s ability to take everyday-American tales and pull macrocosmic meaning out of microcosmic events and experiences. He doesn’t preach, though: He can’t, as in the ‘20s his great-grandfather, and namesake, was in the Klan in northern Iowa.”

Given the current crises, the BUS-eum could not simply set across the country as it was built. All interior exhibit panels are now installed with special hardware to hang them in the open air. And, as staff put all of the exhibit’s text and related programs on-line, no one must go into the BUS if they would prefer not. At the same time, the pop-up bookshop remains inside, with the exhibit catalog and relevant books. All visitors are expected to wear a mask and observe physical distance from others—limited to 25 at a time.

While the BUS’ original tour culminated just before the election, fate relegated it to only 2.5 months in which to reach as many people as safely possible. As described in detail at, new “Listening Circles” were to offer them safe outlets for exchange. As its earlier national tour schedule and usual business model crumbled, TRACES became dependent on crowd-funding-style support from the public, both to finance and find sites for BUS showings. Now, the Coronavirus may have silenced yet another voice—one that has vital lessons to tell of singular value as the world gropes its way forward.

Questions? Contact Amy Lutzke at (920) 563-7790