Sunday, July 15, 2018

Birds in the Attic, Interesting Inheritance part I

Ladysmith  Wisconsin is a large small town in Northwestern Wisconsin.  It is the county seat of Rusk County and was platted in 1885 along the Soo Line main line, but was first named Flambeau Falls and four names later was renamed Ladysmith on July 1,1900.

I do not have any specific memories about Ladysmith. I never played them in sports and I never birded there.  I had a room mate from Ladysmith for a week during a leadership camp when I was 18, but other than that it is just a dot on a map, but one with some color.

It was back in  1926, when two loggers, Art Charpin and Walter Latsch,  were scared out of their wits on a February day. It was first told by a Rusk County weekly newspaper. The day started out innocently enough. The basswood had been marked by a timber cruiser for cutting and Charpin and Latsch were wielding the saw. They noticed a large hole in the tree some 30 feet above the ground, but they felled it anyway, figuring they’d get a 20-foot log out of it. The trouble started when they tried to saw through the trunk. The saw bound up against something hard. They came in from another angle. The saw again hit a rocklike center. At this point they were curious about a rock inside a tree, and turning the log as needed with a cant hook, they managed to saw all the way around the “rock” and pull the end of the trunk away. The wrinkled face of a man stared up at them. Shaking, they hightailed it back to town.

Eventually their story was believed and a party of four went into the woods to investigate. Sure enough, when the trunk was completely removed, they found the body of a man, fully clothed in coarse homespuns and buckskin, which fell away when touched. The head, covered with long hair, still wore a coonskin cap. With the mummified body the men found an old muzzle-loading flintlock rifle and a fancy muzzle-loading pistol. Pieces of paper found on the body at first seemed to identify the man as a Captain D’ Artagon who had been with the Marquette-Joliet party seeking a route to the Pacific Ocean in 1673. This seemed totally implausible, however, as the exploring party never came near Rusk County, and if the man had been lost, it is not likely that he would have continued to travel westward, away from the Wisconsin River. The finders of the grisly surprise finally theorized that the man, whoever he was, had been pursued by Indians, had taken refuge in the hollow tree, and unable to get out again, had died there. According to the Rusk County weekly, the body was supposedly shipped to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The two loggers vowed never to return to the haunted forest near Ladysmith.

Some how this story got forwarded by telegram and appeared in Duluth, Madison, Chicago, and within days, thousands began to appear at the Historical society in anticipation of the arrival of the "Petrified Man."  Unfortunately, this was always intended to be a work of prose, like the later War of the Worlds. The story just got out of hand
The buzz around Ladysmith had died down by the next year, when unrelated, a worker at the Flambeau River Lumber Co.named Walter Evans fell off a scaffold at the mill and severely hurt himself.  After he healed up enough, he learned that he could  never work again.  Undoubtedly dejected and needing a way to support himself.,he carved a couple of duck decoys, and sold them. Then in a burst of entrepreneurial spirit, he formed the Evans Decoy Company in 1927 and bought a lathe machine from the Rhinelander Boat Company to make duck bodies as it had never been used for production.  Duck Decoy history began in earnest that summer and for six years some of the finest most desirable duck decoys were made. When Evans, got too ill to lead the employment of  six women making wooden ducks, his son in law, the local mortician, led the company until it closed in  1934 after just 7 years.

I was working on my Grandmother's estate this past week.

Packed away in large box, covered with "postage due" stamps, postmarked on my Grandmother's birthday, March 14,1972 and sent from somewhere in West Germany was a surprise.  The box was located in a closet no one ever visited and was a stash of old duck decoys I had never seen. In the middle of them, were three "field fresh" Evans Decoys classics.....

Birds with history.  I have no idea where they came from. They still even had their anchoring lines attached.   Did my grandfather confiscate them when he was a game warden in 1942? Did they buy them at an auction?  Certainly,they weren't sent to them from Germany in that box in 1972, but who knows?

Cool 90 year old rare decoys,with a mysterious past, but that is what interesting inheritances are. In my grandmother's will, the decoys go to my son Tyko, I hope his grandchildren don't find them in a box in 90 years.


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