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Trip To Native American Museum Turns Into Cigarette-Buying Spree

WABENO, WI—A visit to a Native American museum deteriorated into a cigarette-buying spree Sunday, when Milwaukee couple Tracie Hagen and Adam Bersold were lured away from the Potawatomi Historical Center by the chance to buy tax-free cigarettes at a nearby smoke shop.

Hagen and Bersold outside the museum.

"You wouldn't believe the deals they've got up there," said Bersold, 22, clutching several cartons of Marlboro Lights. "And it's all tax-free. If you're anywhere in the area, you definitely have to check it out."

Hagen and Bersold said their original motive for the trip to the Potawatomi reservation was to visit the museum and to climb Sugar Bush Hill, the third-highest point in Wisconsin.

"We thought it would be a nice way to spend a Sunday," said Bersold, who has smoked since he was 15. "It's a real pretty drive up there, and we're both into Native American culture. Tracie has three dreamcatchers, and she once gave me a book of Native American lore. I haven't read it yet, but it looks pretty cool."

Minutes after the couple arrived, their plans were derailed when they saw a sign for the Fire-Up Smoke Shop.

"Adam said we should stop in since he was out of cigarettes," Hagen said. "At first, I didn't want to go in, because I figured all they'd have were American Spirits or pouches of loose tobacco, like Drum. Since I like Newport Lights, I tried to convince Adam to just go to the convenience store up the road. Boy, he won't let me live that down anytime soon."

Upon entering the smoke shop, Bersold and Hagen found a dazzling array of cigarettes, including their respective favorite brands, at deeply discounted prices.

"A carton of Marlboro Lights at the grocery store costs like $50," Bersold said. "At this place, it was $31. It was like striking gold. I told Tracie we should do all our cigarette shopping here from now on. She was like, 'Hell, yeah.'"

One of the many culturally enriching and educational exhibits Bersold and Hagen skipped to buy discount cigarettes (inset).

After buying two cartons each of Marlboro Lights and Newport Lights, the couple headed to the Potawatomi Historical Center. But after only 25 minutes at the museum, they decided to head back to the tobacco store to squeeze in a few more purchases before it closed.

"The Fire-Up was down the road [from the museum] a bit, and Tracie said she thought they closed at 4," Bersold said. "It was almost 3, so we took off just to be on the safe side. On our way out of the museum, I stopped for a second at a display showing how the Potawatomi dried and stored food for the harsh Wisconsin winter, but Tracie said we should get going."

During their brief time in the museum, Bersold and Hagen learned little about the history or culture of the Potawatomi. Instead of focusing on the museum's many interesting exhibits, which include a full-scale replica of a Potawatomi dugout canoe, they spent nearly the entire time on their cellphones calling friends who smoke to see if they wanted to "get in on" a large cigarette purchase.

The response was overwhelming.

"In all, we had to pick up about 20 cartons for people," Hagen said. "About half of them were for my brother Troy, who sounded like he'd won the lottery when we told him about it. And we picked up a couple more cartons each for ourselves. Thank God for credit cards, because we only had about $50 on us. It would've been a real shame if we hadn't had enough money to buy all the cigarettes we wanted."

Though the couple never made it to Sugar Bush Hill, the trip to the Potawatami reservation was "well worth it."

"I learned a lot at the museum," Bersold said, "like, that Potawatomi means 'people in the place of fire.' Also, I saw this map that, I think, indicated that the Potawatomi were once in Michigan. Or maybe that they still are. I'm not really sure. I was on the phone with Brad from work when I saw it."

"Anyway, there's one thing I am sure about," Bersold continued. "I'm never paying full price for smokes again."

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