Why the Watertown senior high
sports teams are called goslings
By Evelyn Rose; annotated by Ken Riedl
Derived in part from Watertown Daily Times, 06 15 1977
Only a newcomer to Watertown would ask, "Why did the high school name its athletic teams the Goslings?" Some newcomers think it has something to do with geese, the V's of handsome Canadas that honk their way over Watertown spring and fall as they follow the Rock River either to or from their nesting grounds near Hudson Bay in Canada and the Mississippi flyway for the journey south. A good tail wind can bring the speed of these flying geese from their usual 40 miles per hour to nearly 70.
Many fly to Horicon marsh, a refuge, within a day's time from Wawa on the north shore of Lake Superior. The Canada goose, Wawa to the Ojibway Indians, is the national bird of Canada. Their flying wedges are of real interest to Watertown residents.
A big goose marker in Wawa, 27 feet high, commemorates a last link in the Trans-Canada highway in 1960.
Other newcomers to Watertown don't wonder about the name "Goslings" at all. They just know all football and basketball teams have a name and think Goslings is the name picked at random by Watertown High School. Not so, and it is for the edification of newcomers and visitors this story is told. Long time residents are well aware of the illustrious place geese have played in Watertown's history.
Watertown's high school's yearbook, the Orbit, in 1919 made mention of the Blue and Whites, but from 1920 on, although they kept the blue and white school colors, the official name was always recorded as the Goslings. Not only the team names, but the Cady Street bridge keeps alive the memory of a once thriving and unique industry centered in Watertown half a century ago. The bridge has the forms of geese in its ironwork.
An old world vocation grew to a great industry in Dodge and Jefferson counties, with the hub of the industry in Watertown. The peak of the industry in Watertown was around 1917. "Watertown Stuffed Goose" appeared on the menus of America's famous gourmet restaurants in the east. It was listed in the dining cars of the Twentieth Century Limited and other cross country passenger trains, and on the elaborate menu cards of ocean liners, which before the jet age carried large numbers of passengers to and from Europe, often in luxurious surroundings.
According to the late Fred L. Holmes, historian and author of "Old World Wisconsin" and other historical books, the method of forced feeding, stuffing or "noodling" of geese, as the method was known, had its origin in Alsace in Europe over 200 years ago. He learned this from Jefferson and Dodge county farmers who were in the ethnic groups who came from Germany in the late 1800's. They brought knowledge of the noodling of geese with them.
Holmes also quotes Dr. William F. Whyte, a long time physician in Watertown well over 60 years ago as saying he believed this noodling was an ancient custom. Dr. White, in his "Chronicles of Early Watertown" published in 1921 and reprinted in the Wisconsin Magazine of History writes: "stuffing geese is an ancient custom. In the tombs of the sacred bulls of Egypt, which are 4,000 years old, I saw carved on the walls a pictorial, representation of the same process which made the Watertown farmers famous."
The call of Woode! Woode! Woode! assembled the flocks in Watertown in the beginning of this century as it did in Europe for generations before. About 25 days before Christmas the goose was penned and force fed with noodles of barley, rye and wheat, to prepare for the Christmas markets in the east. The proper method of noodling was highly specialized and the birds' flesh became firm and the livers large. The livers were the delicacy known as pate de foi gras. The originator of this delicacy was said to be a cook who prepared the noodled goose livers for the governor of Alsace long before the industry came to Watertown.
This method has long since been abandoned, both in Europe and in Watertown. However, it is remembered because it put Watertown at the top of a unique industry 60 years ago.
In order to preserve this interesting ethnic contribution to Watertown's history, The Watertown Arts Council, in 1969, sponsored the preparation of a display for the pioneer barn on the Octagon House grounds, with an accompanying history of a once thriving and nationally known industry. With the cooperation of Fred Rumler, then the city's only remaining person with knowledge of this method used in preparing the geese for market, and Walter Pelzer, a Milwaukee Museum taxidermist, a fine African-Toulouse goose was noodled and mounted for presentation to the Watertown Historical Society. The mounted goose display, shown daily in the pioneer barn on the Octagon House grounds, has been viewed by nearly 150,000 visitors since its presentation in 1969.
The Gosling athletic teams preserve this unique heritage of a Watertown industry in a most hearty and active way. Newcomers and visitors to Watertown, when next you go to a basketball game and see the team emblem near the gym entrance, do not think of the figure as just a merry gosling, but as the emblem of a part of Watertown's heritage. Sometimes at a high school homecoming football game, note a huge paper constructed float of a goose, its head nods and its eyes blink when the home team makes a touchdown for the Goslings and for Watertown's heritage.
09 01 COMPANY E’s GOSLING
Mascots come and mascots go, and where there are envious attempts on the part of rival companies to boost their mascots as the real for-sure-enough wonder of the camp, such attempts are short lived, for Company E’s gosling is the real attraction in the mascot line at Camp Douglas. It was a happy thought on the part of the Watertown Poultry and Pet Stock Association to send us this bird, which will go to Waco with the company, and with his “expert” military knowledge, he will no doubt be an attraction of equal importance there. Watertown REVEILL-“E,” publication of Watertown’s Company E, Fifth Wisconsin Infantry, September 1, 1917
The earliest use of the word “gosling” when referring to Watertown High School students is believed to be in the August 7, 1885, issue of the Watertown Gazette. “A raid by the Marshal on the steps of Union School house No. 2 some evening about 9 o’clock would create a panic among the young “goslings” which congregate there. It has become quite a resort for young ladies and gentlemen of late after dark.”