WHAT IS THE PRICE of history, of nostalgia, of tradition in a small town?
Folks in Gaylord, a county seat community of some 2,300 in southern Minnesota, are grappling with that question as the city replaces its aging water tower with a new one.
Should the city spend several thousand dollars annually for inspections and $100,000 every 10 years for upkeep of the 1917 tower? Or should the tower be torn down? And, if so, what happens to the siren attached to it?
The issue isn’t simply one of economics. That’s clear in Facebook comments on the City of Gaylord Facebook page. Residents and former residents are discussing not only whether to keep the tower, but whether to continue with the tradition of blowing the noon and 6 p.m. whistles. A siren on the old water tower blares twice daily as it has for decades. The whistle has become a hot topic of discussion.
I understand the small town nostalgia bit. I grew up on a farm near Vesta, a town of several hundred with an old water tower (long gone) and those roaring daily sirens. I also lived in Gaylord where I worked as a newspaper reporter for two years fresh out of college.
The noon and 6 p.m. whistles (and if I remember correctly, even a 9 p.m. whistle) in Vesta alerted residents to the time of day. Time for dinner. Time for supper. Time to get home and prepare for bed.
Do those whistles still hold importance in 2016? Are they necessary? Are they welcome?
In perusing comments from Gaylord, I read of overwhelming support for keeping the whistles.
Folks write of the whistle in terms of small town charm and values, nostalgia, memories, historical importance, uniqueness and more.
One Gaylord native says of the siren:
It was the singular mechanical device that, by itself, taught us Gaylord kids what responsibility meant. If I and my siblings weren’t walking in the door at noon and six, there was hell to pay. It is a legacy.
Another commenter surmises:
I have continued the tradition and taught my children to listen for the whistle. A watch just isn’t enough when you are talking about kids. They need an audible reminder of the progression of time. The noon whistle is a blatant reminder of the time of day, as is the 6:00 whistle. I think it is an important tool for responsibility as we raise the next generations. The matter of $5,000 – $10,000 is actually a small price to pay when averaged out for a big payout. Besides, what is more monumental in a small town than a noon and/or 6:00 whistle. Can’t get that in the “big city”.
The City Council will decide on the 1917 tower and the whistle in several months. For now, they’ve taken this stand:
The council has determined taking it (the old water tower) down makes the most sense in the long run. The City is looking into keeping the whistle in some capacity…An alternative whistle is being explored; an unused severe weather siren (behind the Prairie House), is proposed to be relocated to the old water tower site.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on keeping the aged tower and/or daily whistles? Let’s hear.
FYI: Click here to reach the City of Gaylord Facebook page. Read the comments and even listen to the siren.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling