MOSINEE - The headline 50 years ago screamed "Mosinee Seized by Reds!" and for a day this small industrial town was in the national spotlight for staging a mock communist takeover designed to "teach Americans the meaning of good Americanism."
There was a coup to oust the mayor; Russian flags hung along Main Street; townspeople who sang religious songs were arrested and ushered to a mock concentration camp; a menu at a local restaurant was changed to Russian fare.
It was all dramatically designed to warn of the threat of communism and its danger to America as the Cold War intensified.
Michael Kronenwetter was only 8 on May, 1, 1950, when Mosinee's communist day attracted media attention from many Midwest newspapers and Life magazine, then the equivalent of what CNN is today.
"I remember the feeling - the paranoia that was around at that time," Kronenwetter recalled. "The sense that, 'Gosh, it could happen here' was very strong. We really thought that they were poised and ready to take over, if we let them."
Grace O'Connor, a former high school English and Latin teacher in Mosinee, remembers much about the day, promoted as the "Mosinee Americanism Plan."
Students wore "communist youth" attire - a white top and dark pants or skirts, she said.
"They even changed the menu at the restaurant," said O'Connor, now 85. The new menu featured Russian rye bread and borscht, a hot soup made with beets and cabbage, she said.
The city became part of the "United Soviet States of America." Two ex-communists were brought in as consultants. "That was really a big deal at the time - ex-communists tell all, you know," Kronenwetter said.
Francis F. Schweinler, editor of the Mosinee Times and an active member of the American Legion, organized the mock takeover of his town by the "Reds," as communists were routinely called back then.
"The basic idea behind the event is stated quite simply - to teach Americans the meaning of good Americanism by demonstrating what privileges and rights we would lose if communism took over," Schweinler wrote at the time.
For its role in the coup, his newspaper printed a pink edition named "The Red Star." It featured a picture of Soviet leader Josef Stalin and "instructions" for the city's citizens.
"Legion Now Is Entirely Dead" read the headline for one story.
The Wausau Daily Herald, then called the Wausau Daily Record-Herald, printed an edition with a huge picture of Stalin and the banner headline, "Mosinee Seized by Reds!"
The mock takeover was three months after U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., gave a speech in Wheeling, W.Va., charging that the State Department employed 205 communists.
The mock takeover even had a real tragedy. Hours after he was removed from his home in slippers and a robe, Mosinee Mayor Ralph Kronenwetter, Michael Kronenwetter's uncle, suffered a major heart attack and died a short time later.
An unfortunate coincidence, perhaps aided by the stress of the day, Michael Kronenwetter said.
James Lorence, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, said nationalist pageantry was common during the late 1940s and through the 1950s.
"The domestic red scare - anti-communism at home - was a direct reflection of the Cold War abroad," he said. "Communism seemed to be a threat here in the United States."