It was a warm July day 117 years ago this month, when an Appleton Evening Crescent reporter strolled through City Park accompanied by a staff photographer, Le Roy.
They were looking for the men who, for the past ten years , had been spending lazy afternoons in the park. The men, ranging in age from 58 to 85 lived within walking distance and on “sunshiny afternoon[s]” “when the park trees made oasis of shade, and the lawn mower hummed busily away over in some distant corner of the green square,” they would gather. The men were known as Appleton’s “Uncommon Council.”
It started simply. The retired men would “take long rambling walks about the city, and one after the other formed the habit of stopping for a moment at the city park.” Peter Fassbender was one of these men who after his move to Appleton in 1901, found his way to the park, to the northwest corner where there were high-backed red benches, “more comfortable than the usual family of park bench.” “One can’t imagine how comfortable and homelike three plain park benches can be made to look until one has seen those three benches occupied by a group of white-bearded, snow-haired old men, leaning on the cane that rests between their knees, their hats in the hands, their pipe, perhaps, held comfortably in the hollow of the left palm, and their faces full of the look of comfort, and companionship, and now and then wreathed in a smile that is followed by a chuckle, as one of their numbers breaks into a witticism.”
There was a green bandstand in the center of the park. In those days it contained four tables, shiny from years of coat sleeves and card paying, games such as seven-up or Schafskopf. The perfect spot to spend a rainy afternoon.
When they were not playing cards, you might hear them speak of the past. Of their days serving our country during the Civil War, or as they swatted a mosquito, recalling the pests of times past…”’Why, back in Oconto county we used to wear gloves on our hands and veils on our faces when we ploughed…’”
The reporter states that “old age means loneliness, sometimes” as wives pass away, and children marry and move away. But these men found friendship, companionship, and a way to spend a hot summer afternoon in the cool and shady park.1
- “Appleton’s Uncommon Council.”’ Appleton Evening Crescent, 1 Jul 1905, Saturday, p. 1, col. 2; digital imges, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 31 Aug 2018). ↩︎