JANESVILLE, WI—The new owners of one of the few sites of national historical interest here in Janesville wasted no time in defacing the property. "You say 'deface,' I say 'improve," laughed Claude Aitken.
Last May, Aitken and his husband, Grant Micheaux, bought a venerable two-story brick colonial house without realizing that it was the birthplace of the onetime US congressman and Janesville native Paul Ryan—a name now synonymous with political corruption, scandal, and ruin that brought the nation to its knees.
"There was a time it might have been a selling point, I imagine," said Aitken. "That was before the tribunals, of course. And long before most people understood what a truly disgusting, treasonous rat of a man he was. Of course everyone knows that now. You can't even say his name out loud around here anymore. Not that I ever would."
When they realized that the house they'd bought was on the Historical Register as the birthplace of a convicted traitor, whose complicity in the 2018 "Crème de la Kremlin" scandal shocked the world and made him persona non grata even among the radical fringe that had supported his political career, Aitken and Micheaux wasted no time in applying for the one home improvement they knew they couldn't live without.
"The plaque," laughed Micheaux. "It had to go. Like yesterday."
They initially tried to remove the commemorative plaque, which read "Birthplace of Paul Ryan, 1970–2020. American Traitor," along with explanatory text about his crimes against the nation. They used a crowbar, a sledgehammer, and a pickax, all to no avail.
"It was like he was haunting us from beyond the grave," said Aitken, no longer laughing. "It only strengthened our resolve."
The couple contacted the National Register of Historic Places, and found a sympathetic ear. Under the terms of the Great Rationalization of 2023, as de facto victims of the discriminatory practices Ryan had enshrined, Aitken and Micheaux were found to be eligible for a free removal of the offending plaque.
"We never expected they'd give it to us as a housewarming gift, though," Aitken recalls. "It was a big ceremony and all. It was kind of sweet, especially considering how horrible the object in question was. They seemed genuinely sorry that we had to live with it as long as we had."
The couple resolved to make lemonade out of their lemons. They took the plaque to closest goldsmith they could find.
"We had to go halfway to hell-and-gone," said Micheaux.
"Well, to Milwaukee, anyway," quipped Aitken.
They had the plaque melted down, only to discover it was genuine 14 karat gold. Then, according to Aitken, it was his husband who came up with the coup de grâce: They had the goldsmith form what was left of the plaque into custom jewelry.
"Intimate custom jewelry," the pair said in unison.
"I just tried to think of something that would make that old villain truly disgusted if he imagined us wearing it," Micheaux continued, opening a button on his Oxford shirt to reveal a large golden ring hanging from a leather strap around his neck. "After that it was a no-brainer."