Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Descriptions of Sohrweide vary, but a few details stand out, including odor

Chapter 3, The Old Goat Man of Rosedale

Sohrweide’s actions in chaining up his truck were not the only example of his growing paranoia. Joel Anderson, brother of Joan Anderson Adler, said he recalled Sohrweide expounding on various conspiracy theories and saying he was afraid that the Freemasons were out to get him. When Sohrweide’s shack caught on fire in 1961, he first blamed it on my uncle, Ed Elford, who was the one who discovered the fire.

“Ed was the one who saw the smoke and went over and saw Mr. Sohrweide working outside,” Linda said. “Ed ran to tell him, and he thought Ed had done it. Sohrweide said, ‘Why did you put my house on fire? Why are you burning my house down? What have you got against me?’ ”

Ed Elford
Apparently, Ed successfully pleaded his innocence. The neighborhood consensus was that some firewood or other flammable material had been placed too close to the woodstove. However, Steve Spadoni, son of Al and Gloria, recalls going to look at the burned ruins after he came home from school and hearing Sohrweide now blaming the fire on an unidentified group of enemies.

“I remember being at his place after it burned down with some of the adults from the hill,” Steve said. “I don’t really remember who all was there, but I remember Sohrweide saying, ‘The gang did it, the gang burned it down.” He didn’t say anything about kids or anything like that, and I don’t really know what he meant. But I definitely remember him saying that.”

Here are some of the neighborhood children who grew up on Spadoni Hill and had the privilege of seeing the old goat man Mr. Sohrweide. Top: Maize (Patty) Elford,  Ginny Spadoni, Darlene Elford, Steve Spadoni, Paul Spadoni. Front: Teresa Spadoni, Greg Spadoni.

Fire fighters were hindered from their duties because the road from Spadoni Hill to the cabin had grown over with vegetation and was only a narrow trail.

“Dad had one of the bulldozers at home, and he poked a road in so the fire trucks could come in to put out the fire,” Linda said. “And Mr. Sohrweide was very angry about that, too. Now there was a road right to his property, and anybody could drive in there.”

Presumably, Sohrweide developed a more favorable view of Dad when he and uncle Roy used their sawmill to cut the lumber needed for a new shack, and then Dad, Roy, Grampy and perhaps uncle Claude Spadoni built Sohrweide a new home.

“The neighborhood got together and got lumber and built him a new shack,” Linda said. “And Grandma gave him a broom, and he looked at it and said, ‘Well, the last one lasted me 50 years. This one will probably outlast me.’ So you know he probably didn’t do too much housekeeping.”

Jim Langhelm recalls another example of the goat man’s eccentric nature. Prior to Sohrweide’s purchase of the property, Pierce County had obtained a 60-foot right-of-way to build a road, Ray Nash Drive, along the waterfront, cutting through the western portion of Sohrweide’s parcel.

“One time the power company was going to replace some poles on Ray Nash,” Jim said. “They were on Sohrweide’s side of the road, and they put in some new poles, but Sohrweide was unhappy about it and cut them down with his axe before the power lines could be installed. I remember seeing the cut poles lying against the hillside.”

Unfortunately, no one I spoke with had any photos of Sohrweide, and trying to get a description of him led to some fairly vague and sometimes contradictory statements. It may be best if I just provide some quotations and save my own comments to the end.

Marjorie Spadoni: “One day he came over, knocked on the door and said hi. He said, ‘Could I have a little water?’ He was unkempt, with white bushy hair. I can’t remember if he had a beard. He was about my height (5-4). He didn’t look malnourished. Maybe he ate a goat once in a while.”

Carol Spadoni Parker: “He was not very tall. He wore a funny hat, but I don’t remember what the hat looked like.”

Gary Michaels: “He dressed in ragged clothing and was bearded with straggly hair.”

Maize Elford: “He had a long white beard.”

Steve Spadoni: “He seemed so big, but we were just little kids. It seemed to me like he was wearing an old rawhide jacket or something and a goofy old hat.”

Rosemary Land Ross: He had a beard, as I remember. His standard mode of dress, like so many people in that era, was overalls. I never saw him in anything but overalls. I can’t say that I remember him wearing a hat.”

Joel Anderson: “I don’t think he had a beard. My picture of him is that he had kind of reddish or tan skin, and he wore a hat.”

Sohrweide’s 1918 draft card lists him as of medium height and medium build, with blue eyes and brown hair.

Probably one of the best descriptions came from Joan Anderson Adler, who was older than any of us who grew up on Spadoni Hill: “He’d appear sometimes at the Rosedale church, after the service, and he’d be without a shirt. He had on a one-piece underwear, and he didn’t cover the top. His undershirt was so gray and dark. He never washed it, apparently. It was a single piece underwear kind of thing, but he had pants on over the bottom part. He smelled like his goats. He didn’t go to the church service. He’d appear afterwards, maybe when he wanted to see mother, or maybe when he knew he’d need a ride to Gig Harbor.

“I remember his shirt so well, but I don’t remember his face, except that his hair was gray and messy. I don’t picture him with a beard. I’m 5-6. He was taller than me. I was that height by age 12. He probably was medium, but not unusually tall. I don’t remember him being stooped, just that he smelled. He smelled like his goats. I kind of think that maybe he slept with them in the house or something, but we didn’t know.”

Banashree Das art
Sohrweide’s odor seemed to be one remembrance that stood out to most people. That, and the fact that his goats were free-roaming and often went into other people’s yards, led to him being referred to as the goat man—even long after his goats were all gone.

After listening to all the descriptions, relying on my own memories, and making some executive decisions, I compiled a composite description and sent the information to an artist friend. She came up with the drawing that I’m including on this page. It shows Sohrweide as I remember him, coming to get water from Grampy’s well with a bucket and an old wheelbarrow.

Beverly and Sohrweide's kid
While no pictures of Sohrweide exist, I was able to run down a photo of one of his goats, being held by Beverly Abel Jackson. “I grew up in the house across from the Rosedale church, and I have a picture of me holding one of the baby goats that had escaped from the goat man,” she said. “They got out occasionally and went to the cemetery to eat flowers. One wandered down to our place. I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, and I held the goat while somebody took a picture. I really wanted to keep it. Most of what I knew about Mr. Sohrweide is that we didn’t know much. We were told never to go up on his property because he had bear traps, and we might step on one and be caught there.”

While Beverly may have appreciated the chance to play with a baby goat, other people did not appreciate having their gardens trampled and eaten. Since Sohrweide had no telephone, people had little recourse other than chasing the goats away repeatedly. Or shooting them.

“My uncle Bob (Langhelm) told me that Bob Abel (the brother of Beverly) shot one of the goats,” Jim Langhelm said. “He didn’t relate many details about the incident, nor did he say why it was done, but the goats were known to roam the area and pester the neighborhood, and it’s possible that it was done in an effort to trim the herd.”

Beverly said she never heard that story and questions whether it is true. “My brother wasn’t mean,” she said, “but he did have a gun and he used to hunt for the family.”

The goats were obviously a menace to more than one neighborhood garden, and Dick Meyer Sr., father of Kevin and Dick Jr., found a creative way to express his displeasure, in this story told by Greg Spadoni.

“In late summer 2005, I was at Mom and Dad’s,” Greg said. “I asked Dad what he remembered about Sohrweide. He said that one time someone had hung one of Sohrweide’s goats on a fencepost. Sohrweide was so angry that he was roaming the neighborhood with a rifle, vowing to find and shoot whoever was responsible. Julius got wind of it and went to talk to Sohrweide and took his rifle away from him.

Dick Meyer Sr.
“On my way home, I stopped at the Meyer farm and asked Dick Meyer (now deceased) what he could remember about Sohrweide. Dick had grown up on the farm, so he had known Sohrweide for many years. He got a twinkle in his eye and a half grin on his face and replied, ‘Well, I’ll never forget that time I hung one of his goats on a fence post.’ Sohrweide always let his goats roam free, and they would all too often raid the crops at the Meyer farm, so they were a big problem. Just to set the record straight, Dick didn’t kill the goat, or even injure it. He simply immobilized it.”

Greg Spadoni
In case anyone thinks that hanging a goat on a post might be cruel and unusual punishment, Greg added the following tale: “I know from personal experience, goats have incredibly strong necks. I was making a crushed rock delivery in Crescent Valley and had to drive uphill on a long, one-lane community road to reach the end, where I was going to start the spread. Going in, pulling a full load uphill in a low gear, I had to keep the engine wound up tight. I noticed at a house ahead on the right a full-grown goat tied by a leash to an overhead dog run cable about fifty feet long. When I got close, he ran full speed from one end of the run to the other and never slowed down when he reached the end. He was jerked violently off his feet by the leash on the collar around his neck, and I thought he’d broken his neck. But he immediately got up and ran full speed to the other end, coming to an equally violent stop. When I got to the top of the hill and talked to the neighbor about it, he told me the goat did that all the time, just for fun. So it wasn’t the noise of the truck. He was just living his normal life.”

In any event, the goats were all gone by the early 1950s, and for a time, Sohrweide replaced them with dogs.

Jim Langhelm Jr
“The dogs stayed closer to home than the goats,” Jim Langhelm said. “but they terrorized us kids on bicycles that passed by his place along Ray Nash Drive. We as kids played with kids that lived near the Island View Market on Ray Nash, and we always feared running the gauntlet in front of Sohrweide’s because we never knew when the dogs would chase us on our bikes. We also never knew where they were going to come from, because they would ambush us from above the road or come up off the beach, because Ray Nash at that time bordered the beach. As a result, we would load our pockets with rocks to throw at them to fend them off. Looking back at it now, I don’t think they were vicious because they never made physical contact with us. I think they just enjoyed the thrill of the chase.”

One thing many people today remember is that their parents would give Sohrweide rides to Gig Harbor.

 “He’d walk all the way to Gig Harbor with a gunny sack to go shopping,” Linda said, “and you’d see him walking up the road. Grampy said he’d go there when his pension check was due. He’d get his check and cash it, and then go buy groceries and walk back.”

“My dad used to give him rides to the store when Dad saw him walking,” Dave Langhelm said, “and Dad’s car would then stink of goats for a while.”

Greg said his dad, Al Spadoni, “would never give Sohrweide a ride in the car because he smelled so bad, but he would in his old pickup because it had no side windows, so it had maximum ventilation.” Vivian remembers that Al sometimes avoided the problem of Sohrweide’s peculiar odor by giving him rides in the truck bed. But perhaps the truck bed was already full during one incident, related by Greg.

“One time I went with Dad to Gig Harbor in the old 1933 Chevrolet pickup,” Greg said. “I don’t know if it was the time we went to Austin and Erickson’s lumber yard, but we did end up in the parking lot in front of the Thriftway store, where the post office is today. Sohrweide came out of the store with either one or two big bags of groceries, and Dad pulled up next to him and offered to drive him home. He accepted, put the groceries in the back and climbed in the cab with us. There was room for only two adults in that little truck, so I was wedged between the two of them. I don't know if I’m remembering or imagining that I smelled an odor of dirty, musty clothes. So many people have said that he stunk, it might just be the power of suggestion that makes me think I smelled something. I also recall Sohrweide bringing fruit to our house in a wheelbarrow. I wonder if that was in return for the occasional car ride.”

Continue to chapter 4

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