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FAMILIES and BIOGRAPHIES
SEIBERT - SIEBERT
by Dave Cisler
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,
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
"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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