ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Ask For Directions


Written and contributed by Ben Feld


Based on article in Watertown Gazette, 11 1902


In a dilemma,

during the time a man

has been standing like a fool

fumbling for an excuse,

a woman would have invented

ten thousand


They (the women, that is), said it was all the driver’s fault.  If he didn’t know the way, at least he could have asked for directions.  But isn’t it just like a man to think he knows everything and never ask for help of any kind?


On the other hand, he did know the way (sort of).  He had driven it a number of times, but never in the dark as he attempted this time.  And to ask for directions?  Ask who? 


Houses were few and far between in the hilly and sometimes swampy terrain between Watertown and Hustisford and finding the narrow, sometimes crooked drive leading up to a house was extremely difficult in the dark.  And can you blame him for allowing himself to be distracted by the antics of the dozen young people he was transporting to the special banquet-meeting in Hustisford, that thriving little town situated, like Watertown, on the Rock River?


Some time before that late October night, the Watertown newspapers had carried a notice of a special banquet meeting being planned to which the young people of Watertown were invited.  An active group from that place saw the possibility of an enjoyable time and lost no time in spreading the word that arrangements were being made to attend the gala occasion. 


Among the arrangements made was the hiring of a competent driver who the Watertown Gazette later identified only as “Joe” (to protect the guilty?).  Joe, in turn, arranged for the use of a wagon - not, as we might expect, a sleigh, for this was late October and no snow had fallen yet.  Just in case Jack Frost should make his debut that night, Joe also arranged to have the wagon body amply supplied with straw, buffalo robes and blankets. 


The harnesses of the horses had been well oiled  to make them shine, and bells had been attached to those harnesses as was required in the winter time, sleighs being such quiet vehicles their presence often was not noticed (although this wagon was far from a quiet vehicle). 


And so, as the sun was setting, the lively group set off for Hustisford, chattering, talking, singing and, in general having a happy, carefree time knowing they would soon be arriving in Hustisford, and partaking of the banquet which awaited them.  In the meantime they passed the time singing, “Darling Nelly Gray,” “Good Night Ladies,” “I Dream of Jeanie,”  and some of the newer songs recently introduced   by vaudeville troupes  performing in Turner Hall.


Time went by much more rapidly than the group realized as one young man discovered when checking his pocket watch.  Three hours? THREE HOURS??? Shouldn’t they be arriving at their destination soon?


The driver assured them they were almost there.  “Can’t you see the lights?”  Sure enough.  In the distance were the lights of Hustisford.  In the pale moonlight they could make out the ghostly shapes of a bridge.  Soon they would be crossing the Rock River.


In their youthful enthusiasm none questioned how unusual it was that they would be crossing the Rock River in Hustisford when the entire town was, at that time, situated on the west side of the river in the direction from which they were approaching the town.  If it crossed any mind, it was quickly ignored in the midst of the excitement of reaching their destination.


The “bus” pulled by the tired horses had barely begun to cross the bridge when it was noticed by one of the group, that this bridge looked a bit like the North Fourth Street bridge in Watertown.  It looked very, very much like that bridge.   In fact, they realized, it actually was the North Fourth Street bridge in Watertown !


Almost in unison the entire group realized a wrong turn had been made along the way, and instead of traveling to Hustisford, they had just taken a long ride into the country and had come back to Watertown.  Imagine the embarrassment of Joe, the driver.  Who could only hang his head in shame and assure the group he had no idea how this fiasco could have happened.


Convinced that he would be the laughing stock of the Watertown livery stables, and the butt of many derogatory remarks in many of the saloons, he offered the group a bribe.  In exchange for not saying a word to anyone about the botched excursion, he would treat them all to a banquet on the next Thanksgiving night.


Apparently the bribe wasn’t sufficiently large to guarantee complete silence.  The facts of the experience soon became known to the general public although it remained for the populace to deduce who “Joe” really was.  And that made many Watertown women extremely angry, for at another time, when two women from the Milford area were responsible for the same error, their identities were not so closely guarded.  Although their names were never actually mentioned in news items, from certain explicit remarks their identities were easily determined.  At that time in the life of Watertown the only recourse was to lash out at the men, accusing them of ineptness or worse.  Could this have been the very beginning of the “men who are-too proud to ask directions” reputations?


If it was not the beginning, it certainly did nothing to eradicate that reputation. 


If the women, not having been granted any special privileges, are able to make the men feel like a bunch of boobs, what will they do if they are ever allowed full voting rights?