I never realized how much more northern Wisconsin was than Ohio. I don’t mean how much farther north it is on a map; that I knew. What I mean is that I didn’t realize how much more northern the culture in Wisconsin would seem than it does where I’m from in Ohio. From winter events like the sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago to weekend getaways in the northwoods, the northern nature of Wisconsin just seems so much more pervasive.
I recently moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, from around a half an hour south of Youngstown, Ohio, about halfway down Ohio’s eastern side, right on the Pennsylvania border. Growing up in Ohio, I was never really sure what region we were generally considered to be a part of. In some ways, my home area seemed very Midwestern, and in others, very Northeastern. Regardless of which of those two ways we categorized it, I think we always considered it fairly “northern.” Ohio is, afterall, on the Canadian border, even if that border runs through the middle of Lake Erie.
To be fair, Ohio is geographically further south than Wisconsin, obviously. Also, although I have known since probably elementary school where Wisconsin was located in the U.S., I did not necessarily realize that Green Bay is at a more northern latitude than Toronto, Canada, and Pierre and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and is at almost the same latitude as Minneapolis, Minnesota. Still, it’s not the geographical latitude or the climate of Wisconsin that’s surprisingly northern to me; it’s the culture.
To me, Wisconsin seems to have a northernness in it’s blood that Ohio doesn’t seem to have. Now, before some Ohio snowmobile fan or cross-country skier gets all worked up, let me ask that you please accept that I’m talking about the general nature of the populations of each state and specifically of the areas of Wisconsin and Ohio with which I’ve mentioned that I’ve had experience. I don’t doubt for a minute that you or your cousin Clem from Defiance, Ohio, is just as northern as any Wisconsinite. As a general culture, though, the Ohioans I have known just don’t seem as northern, or at least not in the same way.
For one thing, Wisconsinites, as a group, seem to embrace the cold and the winter more. The Cleveland, Ohio, area gets much more snow on average than Green Bay, Wisconsin, does, but the difference is more in the way that people react to the winter. While northeastern Ohioans generally spend a great deal of time and energy in the winter complaining miserably about the cold and the weather, Wisconsinites seem to feel more at home in it. Sure, they’ll complain about bad weather or the cold from time to time, but they also seem to take more opportunities to embrace it. Most Ohioans I know take every chance they get to head south to warm up at some point during the winter, while it seems more popular for people in Wisconsin to head farther north and plunge themselves deeper and more actively into the snow.
Perhaps this all stems from the differences in the genealogies of the groups in these two areas. While a significant portion of the people in northeastern Ohio can trace their lineage to some northern European areas, northeastern Ohio as a whole doesn’t seem to have the same degree of strong, direct nordic influence that is surprisingly apparent in Wisconsin. From what I’ve seen, that influence is inescapable in the food, the surnames, the architectural styles, the colors, and the leisure activities in a large part of Wisconsin.
There’s no doubt that Ohio is a northern state. Nearly anyone from the Ohio valley area will tell you that it is much more “northern” than either of its neighbors to the south. I also think that most Ohioans (varying with location, of course) identify more closely with people from Michigan or Pennsylvania than they do with people from Kentucky or West Virginia. But Wisconsin, well,… Wisconsin is on a whole different “northern” level, in my opinion. After my first few months as a Wisconsin resident, I would group Wisconsin much more closely with Minnesota and Canada than I would with states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. The upside for me is that instead of moving 10 hours away to a place I thought would be fairly similar to the place from which I’d come, I ended up landing somewhere with a bit of a different perspective and plenty of new and exciting elements to offer.