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A tribute to "Tom and Jerry"

Kate Lawler Perry stands with her painting of trees dubbed Tom and Jerry that once stood along Bass Lake Road in southern Douglas County. Courtesy of Jan K. Jenson

Once upon a time — in the year 1799 to be precise — twin trees sprouted from the earth along what is now known as Bass Lake Road in the town of Wascott, Wis.

Their birthdate, determined by counting 216 rings in sections of these trees, coincided with the arrival of Michael Cadotte, a fur trader from La Pointe. An employee of the British Northwest Company, he expanded his territory into what would someday become the Gordon-Wascott area.

Tom and Jerry grew to adulthood, standing proudly, as a crude road was carved through the wilderness — separating the brothers — in the 1850s. They watched, from opposite sides of the road, as stage coaches lumbered past, beginning in the 1860s when a route was established from St. Paul, Minn., to Bayfield, Wis.

By the early 1900s, Tom and Jerry towered over the winding Bass Lake Road, welcoming summer residents, locals and tourists who came to enjoy the lakes and woods.

"Tom and Jerry's presence was the essence of this area we loved, welcoming us home once again," according to Kate Lawler Perry. Her great-grandparents, Theodore and Rose Lawler, homesteaded on the Eau Claire River east of Gordon in the early 1900s.

"When I was a little girl, we'd drive along Bass Lake Road to get to our cabin," she said. "My dad would always stop to say 'hello' to Tom and Jerry. I'm not sure how or when they were christened with their names..."

According to legend, the trees were named back in the lumberjack days, when the lumberjacks apparently decided to adopt them and spare them from their logging operations. Patrick Wolf recalls his grandfather, a child in the early 1900s, telling him that they all called the trees Tom and Jerry in those days.

Ellie Connelly, a member of the Rockford, Ill., summer gang on Whitefish Lake, remembers calling them "The Twin Pines" or "Hank and Rusty." Hank and Rusty, the Taylor twins, were the grandsons of Hank Williams who lived in a log cabin on the shores of Lake Deborah.

Regardless of the origin of their names, we can all agree that these majestic old trees were known and loved by all. Their fame has spread far beyond the Gordon-Wascott area, including Australia where former Gordon resident, Jeffrey Klein, is currently honoring them. Using a photo of the trees that was sent by his sister, Wendy Katzmark, he is preserving this image in his historical photo collection utilizing new printing technologies and processes developed in Japan.

It was a sad day in 2016 when red bands were painted around the circumference of these dying trees. These giants would be coming down soon, for safety reasons.

Kate Lawler Perry, an accomplished artist, felt compelled to capture the essence of Tom and Jerry on canvas. She scoured the community for photos and then began painting her amazing tribute. She has captured the collective emotions that these pillars of history have evoked in many of us: love, nostalgia, sadness at their demise; and a profound sense of the continuity of nature and of life itself. Little Toms and Jerrys will soon be sprouting from the ground where their ancestors once stood.

Kate's painting is hanging in the Historical Museum in downtown Gordon. She also has a display of note cards of this painting and several others. They are free with a donation to the museum. This is her way of supporting the museum and our local history.

"I would like to thank the Gordon-Wascott Historical Society for allowing me to hang my paintings here, and for their hard work and dedication over the years as they maintain our wonderful heritage," she said.

Kate's love of art began at an early age. Her love of this region continues even now as she lives with her family on the Mississippi River in Wabasha, Minn. She comes "home" to her roots every chance she gets.

"This is my 'happy place,'" she said, "just being here with a buck muffin from the Buckhorn Tavern in hand."

When you stop at the Gordon-Wascott Historical Museum, you will not want to miss the section of Tom (or Jerry) preserved by Ron Seningen, along with a detailed history of major events that these trees would have witnessed during their 216 years of life.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday until Labor Day. Several fascinating books on local history are also available for sale here including "Mr. Gordon's Neighborhood," by Ron Seningen; and "Back the Road a Bit," a collection of the history, photos and family stories of our Wascott and Gordon communities.

The public is also invited to the annual meeting of the Gordon-Wascott Historical Society at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Gordon Town Hall.

Les Watters presents a session on "The History of Logging, 1882-1935."

I think Tom and Jerry would be pleased.

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