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Artifacts found in Sons of Norway Hall open door to the past


Photo courtesy of Jill Williams

Two large, interactively designed beer bottles found in the walls of the Sons of Norway Hall in May during an upstairs remodeling project. The labels date back to 1906.

The Sons of Norway Hall has given Jill Williams plenty of good times and fond memories during her lifetime. And now, artifacts recently found in the local landmark have her sifting through old newspaper articles in an attempt to learn more about individuals that called Petersburg home during the early-1900s.

Three carpenters remodeling the upstairs of the community hall started finding the artifacts in May, and immediately called Williams.

"I think the first thing they found was the board, with the writing on it and Hans Wick's signature," she says. "Then they found the beer bottles, so I got really excited about that, too."

The board is her favorite find, by far, but a close second is the two dusty beer bottles dating back to 1906. One was made by Rainier and the other sports an Olympia label, but both are tall and made of thick glass, with intricately designed labels.

The three men also found an empty Stanford's Blue Blacks Premium Writing Fluid ink well, a couple crumpled receipts, a small black leather bound notebook, a handmade leather tool holder used by halibut fishermen and a portion of a Tacoma newspaper dated August 19, 1911. All of the artifacts are now featured in a display case in the hall.

"It's obvious that someone left these things here intentionally," Williams says. "It opened a huge door into the past."

The finds opened more than just a door for Williams, who now spends hours combing through the recently digitized archives of local newspapers available on the Public Library's website. In fact, she finds herself searching the archives almost daily with her iPad or desktop computer at home. The artifacts have become treasures to Williams, and helped introduced her to Hans Wick (pronounced "Vick").

Wick was born in Norway in 1882, and crossed the Atlantic to come to the United States in 1903. He ended up moving to Petersburg in 1908 after living in Wisconsin. In 1913, Wick was elected Town Marshal, he would later become the Fire Chief and town Health Officer, before ultimately becoming a U.S. Deputy Marshal.

"I definitely feel like I know Hans after reading about him and what his personality was like," she says.

The board found by the carpenters bearing Wick's signature also had an inscription: "Som man rofer i h køyel, så får man soar sier den gamle Hans," which is what started Williams on her journey. She had it translated with help from Bridget Wittstock, who had Norwegian family members visiting for the summer, because hardly anyone in town speaks fluent Norwegian anymore, she says.

The inscription says: "As you mess around in a couple of bunks, you'll get the answer, so says the old Hans."

Williams says she has gotten to know Wick through articles documenting his Town Marshal reports about various dealings in Petersburg. Like the time dishes were being taken from private beach homes, or when there were a large number of unlicensed dogs running around town. One of her favorites is the time a group of five boys under the age of 12 were caught attempting to take an automobile joyriding.

Wick will always have a special place in the heart of Williams. On Memorial Day, she found his grave in the cemetery and had a moment of reflection before placing flowers on his headstone.

Photo courtesy of Jill Williams

The board signed by Hans Wick that inspired Jill Williams to start researching residents that lived in Petersburg during the early-1900s.

"It's just really a lot of fun and very rewarding," Williams says. "This is my passion."

For Williams, a member of the Sons of Norway Hall for over 40 years, anything she learns adds another piece to the puzzle of Petersburg's history. She gushes while talking about how wonderful the Public Library's digital archives are, and cannot stop commending library director Tara Alcock and those who gave their time and resources to create them. The best part of the archives, by far, is preserving local history and allowing people the opportunity to discover interesting new facts about the community, she says.

"I'll read something about Hans and I'll find something interesting in the article next to it. It's fascinating," Williams says with a smile and hint of laughter. "Just today I found out stuff about Sandy Beach I didn't know; at one time they were planning to put in a concrete swimming pool out there."


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