The Washburn Expedition

Madison-based writer and cartoonist Jay Rath uses historic photos he finds online to create The Washburn Expedition, a serial novel he’s presented on Facebook since 2009. This spring, we invited Jay to delve into Recollection Wisconsin’s collections and create a new adventure for Dr. Allenby, Rita Rennebohm, young Reggie and Billie the Cowboy. In this segment, the team regroups in Madison for graduation — until word of a new and mysterious foe arrives by telegram . . .

Read more about how Jay Rath creates the world’s first Facebook novel here. Click any of the images below to see the item’s source and original caption.

Aldo Leopold Foundation

WASHBURN MUSEUM – Dr. Allenby’s commencement speech was very well received yesterday. Everyone laughed and laughed – the chancellor and dean were still chuckling this morning!
Unfortunately, the speech was meant to be serious.


University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

WASHBURN OBSERVATORY – So good to be home in the spring! Rita, young Reggie, Billie the Cowboy and Dr. Allenby are well-pleased. Sadly, in our absence the curator, Prof. Watson, left the great dome’s portal open all month. While observing the stars last night, Dr. Allenby mistook a bee’s nest for a honey-bearing comet.

Oshkosh Public Library

WASHBURN OBSERVATORY – There is no surer sign of spring than the return of the motorcar moths. They return each year at this time, and always seem to have a strange attraction to Dr. Allenby’s sedan, which they bedevil – curiously, just as semester grades are posted.


UW-Madison Archives

WASHBURN MUSEUM – Tougers, all! Reg, here. Good to be home, but I wish my frat brothers didn’t initiate me each time. I don’t mind the raw eggs so much, but goldfish give me the fantods! The boys say they do it ’cause they love me so. Three cheers and a tiger for rummy old Omega Lambda Chi! A bene placito! – REG


UW-Madison Archives

WASHBURN MUSEUM – Hello, loves! It’s me, Rita Rennebohm! The girls and I went swimming by the dorms today!! Gosh, the water is cold!!! Dr. Allenby held the camera. Billie the Cowboy was shy and held his breath underwater!! Young Reggie still is!!! I suppose we really should go back for him… Um! – RITA


Milwaukee Public Library

WASHBURN OBSERVATORY – We inspected the museum this morning and found it in fine shape, although we were concerned that the great tusk was out of place. But Rita explained that she had merely taken the initiative and brought it home overnight to polish. Plucky girl!


Carroll University



Hedberg Public Library, Janesville

WASHBURN EXPEDITION – The strange news is true! An underground explosion has released a gargantuan species of beast from the Old Bear Cave. For reasons unknown, these antediluvian giants are bent on taking over The Milwaukee Road!


University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries

WASHBURN EXPEDITION – These giants are becoming more and more brazen. Young Reggie and even Dr, Allenby are frankly terrified! Thank goodness Rita retains a scientific outlook; she’s curious to learn “if the giants are giant throughout.” Plucky girl!


Hedberg Public Library, Janesville

WASHBURN EXPEDITION – Ever since the slumbering race of giants awakened, deep in the Old Bear Cave, they’ve inexplicably been bent upon conquering The Milwaukee Road. And now Billie the Cowboy reports that they’ve moved on to the Great Northern! Where will it all end?


Milwaukee Public Library

WASHBURN EXPEDITION – Allenby reporting. Rath away; likely chatting up Women’s Dean – again. Not a true leader, op. cit. Race of giants persists, marauds, etc. Take up one railway after another. Interest by gargantuans in public transport laudable, civic-minded, et al. But ruinously hard on locos – very. – ALLENBY


Ripon College Archives

WASHBURN EXPEDITION – This is yrs trly Billie the Cowboy and Them Giants is in a Heep of Trouble U bet. I sent for my ol Pards @ the Miller Bros 101 Ranch We R settin up a Posse. If U want to come good leave Ur Irons @ Home We need all the Lassoos U can git tho. Your PAL – Billie


Lester Public Library, Two Rivers

WASHBURN EXPEDITION – The giants’ inexplicable fascination with railroads shall be their downfall. They will be lured back into the Old Bear Cave by a decoy locomotive driven by Roy, our unpaid summer intern!


Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

WASHBURN EXPEDITION – We hope to lure the giants back into the Old Bear Cave. If our attempt fails, we may yet take up arms. The very idea disgusts us, but Rita is preparing for the worst. “Though I’m a mere slip of a girl, I’m still an American!” she cries, her blue eyes flashing.


Milwaukee Public Library

WASHBURN EXPEDITION – Success! We lured the giants back into the Old Bear Cave from whence they originally issued. We then dynamited the entrance to the Old Bear Cave!
Now we just have to figure out what to do with the Old Bear.

The images in this feature come from the following digital collections. Follow the links to browse and search the full collections. Click any of the images above to see the item’s source and original caption.


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