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Submitted by Dave Cisler

Source unknown

Reminiscence of William F. Siebert - 1970

Even in this day of increasing life expectancy, passing the 90-year mark is still an achievement worth noting. One of those to reach such a venerable age is William F Siebert, 115 LaFayette St, Oconto, who was 93 Saturday, September 5.

Still alert and getting about on his own, Siebert finds the years haven't dimmed either his recollection of events in his own life or those of the town that has been his home for going on a century.

His are memories that go back to the time when Indians were still a part of the town's population, streets were muddy byways bordered by wooden sidewalks, and Main street was a sawdust trail where frame business places sprang up overnight and often disappeared just as quickly in the wake of the ever-present fires.

He remembers that near the house on Elm avenue where he was born in 1877 there was a large rock used by Indians to sharpen their knives and tools. That rock, he notes, is still there, though overgrown now with sod and weeds.

And he recalls when City Park was Bostedt's Park and a band could always be found to provide background music for the age-old pastime of girl watching as the local belles tripped down wooden walks to the water's edge in below-the-knee "bathing costumes". The park's pavilion was built of lumber he delivered, costing $1.50 a thousand board feet.

When he was 18, Siebert - like most young men of the area -went to work in the north woods. His job was boss and cashier at the Lakewood camp of the Holt Lumber Company. Then, in 1898, he he married Amelia Hartman and the couple set up housekeeping on McDonald street, a leading thoroughfare then that had evolved from the Indian trail leading from Lindsey field westward inland. In addition to mills and homes, the first post office in Oconto was located on Mc Donald street, he recalls.

Siebert worked 43 years as a grader for Holt's sawmill operation. Twelve hours a day, six days a week, was the working man's lot in the heyday of lumbering, but somehow there was always time for relaxation and fun, Siebert says. One of the places popular with towns-people was the race track located across from the present Oconto Gun Club. Baseball games were also played there and frequently starred the Merline brothers who called themselves "The Seven Clippers". In summer there was swimming in the creek along the C&NW (Chicago & North Western) railroad tracks (the girls used to do that, Siebert contends) and in winter there was ice skating on the river.

"I got my first pair of ice skates from Ina Young" Siebert recalls. "My dad worked as a chore boy for her father, Colonel William Young, taking care of the family's cows and horses". (Editor's note - Ina Young Gallagher was the mother of William Gallagher , Sr,)

A dream of Siebert's as a boy was to own a horn so he could join the Oconto Concert Band. The money for such luxuries, however, wasn't available and he finds a particular pleasure today in knowing his great-grandson, Gregg Siebert, is learning to play that instrument. But Siebert did become a whiz on the accordian and livened up the proceedings at local events such as the wedding of the late John VanGaals and Frank Rhodes.

The place to go when Siebert was a young man was Turner hall on the corner of Superior avenue and Adams street, now the Great Lakes Shoe Company. The big names on the vaude-ville circuit often appeared there, and sometimes home talent shows were given. The main attraction was usually the dances, with couples paying 75 cents to do the quadrille, schottische and polka - the mod dances of that time. The orchestra charge was $80 or $90, making it apparent that even 70 years ago you had to pay the piper.

* * *

Wall Phillips, one of the town's most colorful characters, is among the people Siebert remembers well.

"he was a big man around town," he says, "with a lot of money and influence. It was said he stole the money in Ohio and got away from the 'feds' by putting the horses shoes on backwards so they couldn't track him. Wherever he got it, I know him to build the addition for the stage at Turner hall."

Although Siebert was born after the infamous hanging of Louis Nohr on the court house lawn, people were still talking about it when he was a boy.

"You know," Siebert says, "that old elm tree started dying right after the hanging but they didn't chop it down for a long time. Used to give you the shivers when you passed by, thinking about what happened there."

Other early events recounted recently by the senior citizen was the fruit boats from New York anchored at the Park avenue bridge, selling apples by the barrel, and how the teams used to cross the bay ice to bring back bales of hay for Al Pierre's feed mill.

He tells of a roadhouse ourside of town owned by the Cook brothers, Wlter and Wilbur, that was patronized by young girls as well as men, a scandulous occurence then.

"I don't know where they came from." Siebert says, "but we had some pretty wild ones - just like now."

Taken as a package, life was better in those days, he maintains, and he regrets some of the changes that have taken place in the world, particluarly in life-style.

The way he sums it up: "We had just as good to eat then and, even though we made only $1 to $1.25 a day, we were better off than people are now. Today, no matter how much they have, they still don't know what they want. That's progress for you."

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