On September 14, 2015, the Ephraim Moravian Church and the Ephraim Historical Foundation co-presented the annual Dearly Departed Cemetery Walk. We were lucky to have a beautiful Ephraim Day, and all our guests seemed to enjoy their trip through the early history of Ephraim, as reported through the eyes of long-ago residents.
Most of the personalities who were portrayed were from Ephraim’s earliest history. The most recent personality who was depicted this year passed away in 1970, so if you are 50 years old, or less, you probably don’t remember one of Ephraim’s colorful old-timers. His name was Edgar Goodlet, and his life was quite interesting.
Edgar was born in 1884, the son of Cornelius and Hedvig Goodletson, the third oldest of TEN children! His last name was Goodletson at birth, but as the years passed, the family dropped the last syllable, probably to make it easier to spell and pronounce.
His family had a nice house in the south of Ephraim, and also a large garden, plus a barn with two cows. We can imagine that the garden was immensely important in order to feed such a big family. Edgar had many chores, as did all the children, and his father taught him many things: carpentry, fishing, logging, and farming.
It is interesting that one of our EHF members, (Hedy Heise, one of Edgar’s nieces) currently lives in the house in which Edgar grew up. Another niece and a nephew, EHF members John Hagman and Marilyn Cushing, (our recent EHF President) live nearby, as do a few cousins. It is wonderful to have the family property continually owned through generations.
Edgar, and all his siblings, attended the Ephraim Pioneer School. There was no high school to attend in northern Door County when Edgar finished elementary school, so his was just an eighth education. Don’t feel sorry for him because of that the eighth grade education in those days was quite extensive!
When his school days were over, Edgar began to think of what work he might want to do in his adult life. Farming, logging and fishing were not uppermost in his mind!
He was aware that many teenage boys got jobs sailing on the Great Lakes, so he decided to try his hand at that. It turned out to be a wonderful decision. He really took to life aboard ship.
He began on the Bay of Green Bay, as a lowly ship’s hand, but he advanced rapidly. The other sailors noticed his aptitude, and were happy to give him hints as to how to improve his skills. Soon he had sailed to ports all over Wisconsin and Michigan, completely covering the ports on Lake Michigan. Having accomplished that, he moved on to the rest of the Great Lakes, and began to wonder how he could become a captain.
He discovered that proof of where he had sailed and the types of boats he had worked on were the first things he needed to document his abilities. He studied hard, taking the required courses to obtain his captain’s license on the Great Lakes. When he had accomplished that, and graduated to much larger vessels, he began to dream of sailing on the ocean.
Before you can become a captain, you have to have obtained a series of experiences and increasingly higher licenses. The first captain’s license will limit a sailor to smaller, lighter weight vessels, as well as only certain waters, e.g. how far offshore you may go. Each succeeding license expands your area and type of boat. Eventually, Edgar held a full ocean-going sea captain’s license, allowing him to sail anywhere in the world on any type of ship!
We wouldn’t imagine that too many boys from little Ephraim, Wisconsin achieved this but at least one more did! That was Edgar’s brother Elmer! (His third brother, Wilfred, earned his Great Lakes Captain’s license, preferring not to go any farther away because he had a wife and family.)
Every job has its tools of the trade, and one of the tools most needed by a ship’s captain is a sextant. In the era when Edgar first began to sail, there was certainly no internet communication, regularly updated maps, weather reports, or any other avenues of information that we take for granted nowadays. In order for the captain to know exactly where his ship was on the ocean at any given time while out of sight of land, he needed to take sightings, using the sun in the day and the stars at night. We feel very fortunate that Edgar Goodlet ‘s sextant is currently housed in the Foundation ‘s ever growing collection of items pertaining to the life of Ephraim ‘s early residents.
As Edgar sailed from country to country over the years, he began to purchase some gifts for his sisters. Many of these things are still owned by family members.
When World War II loomed in our country, the government commandeered numerous sailing and motorized ships, to be repurposed for government use. Edgar was required to perform repositioning, that is, the moving of a ship from one place to another at the order of our government. He was often required to sail through dangerous waters.
After all the exciting adventures Edgar had, you might think that he had many frightening moments, but he disagreed. He said he merely did what he was expected to do. However, he did have one fright, and it happened right here in Ephraim when he was a young man. He had come home on a bit of a vacation, and he and 8 other young men decided to go ice fishing near Chambers Island. Suddenly a raging blizzard came up, and the men couldn’t see in any direction. The ice began to crack and they knew if they fell into the icy water, they would perish. They lashed themselves to the ice, began to float into open water, and hoped for a miracle. It came in the form of Mr. Duclon, who had seen them from the Fish Creek Light and came to their rescue after a harrowing 48 hours on the ice.
Edgar never married and was not particularly a conversationalist, but he did love to tell stories of life at sea, and many of his friends were happy to listen. After retiring, he and Elmer spent many friendly hours at the Parkway Bar, swapping stories with other fellows. Don’t you wish you could have heard of his adventures first-hand