Ordinary Lives Provide Stories of the Past

 South Eighth Street, Manitowoc, circa 1900

South Eighth Street, Manitowoc, circa 1900

 R.G. Plumb, circa 1910

R.G. Plumb, circa 1910

Our ordinary lives are so much more than what they seem. As Manitowoc citizen Ralph Plumb sat down to write his memoirs in the 1940s, be began sharing stories of his parents, his childhood, school days, and his community experiences. While he viewed much of his life as ordinary events, these stories give us a picture of the people and places of our community more than a century ago.

Plumb's memoirs, titled "Born in the Eighties" begins with his disclaimer of his seemingly ordinary life. "I am under no impression that the world or any part of it would be at all interested in the life story of an ordinary man who has never had other than ordinary experiences," he wrote. At the time of his writing, Plumb was very active in local business. He was chairman of the board of Plumb and Nelson Wholesale Grocery Co. and had produced 11 books and many papers about Wisconsin and local history. His work “History of Manitowoc County” was published in 1904 and still remains an important resource of our early history.

 

During his time in college Plumb worked for the Manitowoc Daily Herald. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1901 and passed the State Bar exam in 1902. Plumb served six years as city alderman in the early 1900s and was president of the school board during part of the time that Lincoln High School was under construction. Mr. Plumb was a charter member of the Kiwanis Club of Manitowoc and a founder and past president of Manitowoc County Historical Society.

His memoirs begin with a look at his early life. "A pleasant frame house about eight blocks from the center of the city, surrounded by a wire fence, with a brick sidewalk between that and the curb line of trees, was the place of my birth and there I spent all my childhood. Father was a busy grocer and mother did her own work for her many years, the earlier of which were marked by the presence and assistance of her own mother. It was only a block from the old brick school that was occupied on the first two floors by the grades and on the top by one of the high school which on the average supplied the needs of about a hundred or so pupils (page 23).”

"Some experiences that spelled tragedy to me are connected with that school yard and park. One was that two mothers in that neighborhood did not transfer their boys from short to long pants according to their stature but sued age as the proper limitation. As a result I, who was one of the unfortunates, was compelled to go to school when approaching five feet in height in knickers. Big boys who made their headquarters in the park were not always generous in their comment on the matter as I walked as fast as I could past the tormentors (page 24)."

Plumb's memoirs, titled "Born in the Eighties" begins with his disclaimer of his seemingly ordinary life. "I am under no impression that the world or any part of it would be at all interested in the life story of an ordinary man who has never had other than ordinary experiences," he wrote. At the time of his writing, Plumb was very active in local business. He was chairman of the board of Plumb and Nelson Wholesale Grocery Co. and had produced 11 books and many papers about Wisconsin and local history. His work “History of Manitowoc County” was published in 1904 and still remains an important resource of our early history.

During his time in college Plumb worked for the Manitowoc Daily Herald. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1901 and passed the State Bar exam in 1902. Plumb served six years as city alderman in the early 1900s and was president of the school board during part of the time that Lincoln High School was under construction. Mr. Plumb was a charter member of the Kiwanis Club of Manitowoc and a founder and past president of Manitowoc County Historical Society.

His memoirs begin with a look at his early life. "A pleasant frame house about eight blocks from the center of the city, surrounded by a wire fence, with a brick sidewalk between that and the curb line of trees, was the place of my birth and there I spent all my childhood. Father was a busy grocer and mother did her own work for her many years, the earlier of which were marked by the presence and assistance of her own mother. It was only a block from the old brick school that was occupied on the first two floors by the grades and on the top by one of the high school which on the average supplied the needs of about a hundred or so pupils (page 23).”

"Some experiences that spelled tragedy to me are connected with that school yard and park. One was that two mothers in that neighborhood did not transfer their boys from short to long pants according to their stature but sued age as the proper limitation. As a result I, who was one of the unfortunates, was compelled to go to school when approaching five feet in height in knickers. Big boys who made their headquarters in the park were not always generous in their comment on the matter as I walked as fast as I could past the tormentors (page 24)."

"Let us examine what sort of a sight the principal business street presented in those days. Eighth Street was the main thoroughfare and though the north and south portions did not meet exactly at the bridge that was a matter of error in the early days and did not prevent any practical problem. ... The north end of the business section was marked by two Farmer's Homes standing opposite each other with their big yards and rickety barns ready to stall the steeds of their country customers. Outward across from one was a marble yard where numerous tombstones and monuments reminded the passer-by of the final fate of all mortals (page 57)."

"It is hard to realize that a boy in Manitowoc fifty years ago was in daily contact on the street with men who were actual founders or near founders of the town. In other words the span of a hundred years covers but two generations in this particular instance. Many of these oldsters were feeble, tottering, gentleman at that time but their daily musings as they gathered in their wonted corners would have well been worth recording if any one had realized their historic value (page 67)."

Plumb passed away on March 21, 1976 at the age of 95. His memoirs demonstrate that the most extraordinary and memorable stories can come from ordinary lives.