By Kathleen Harris, Ephraim Historical Foundation, ephraim.org
According to Wilson family lore, one long ago Christmas Oscar Wilson (1871-1948) decided to surprise the village children by hanging a giant candy cane in the Moravian Church. Uncle “Oc,” as he was known, was a candy maker by trade who had come from Milwaukee to to Ephraim in 1906 to recuperate from a burst appendix. To pass the time while healing and to earn in a little income, Wilson sold candy and ice cream from the Oneson cottage that he and his family rented. In time, the Wilsons opened a store that still stands today.
Uncle Oc’s Christmas Suprise
Tall, soft-spoken, and often dressed in a white shirt with a bow tie while donning a white apron, Uncle Oc “never seemed upset by the crowd of youngsters who congregated in his shop night after night” in summer, pounding the piano by playing and singing the 1927 tune At Sundown [see Editor’s notes, below]. In December, Wilson made candy canes for the children who lived in Ephraim Village year round. This December would be different, he decided. He’d craft a giant candy cane that stretched at least one foot. Or did it actually end up measuring ten feet? Details have become both more sensational and more obscure with the passage of time.
To make the candy cane, Wilson first gathered ingredients. Sugar. Water. Corn syrup. And, a bit of peppermint flavoring. He carefully boiled the sugar, syrup and water until it reached the soft-crack stage, then separated the mixture, coloring half a deep red. After the mixture cooled, he kneaded it back and forth, stretching it into two long ropes that were twisted together like a shepherd’s hook.
A Sweet Crash
Now to decide where to hang his remarkable creation. From Iverson’s hand-crafted pulpit? From one of the fancy electric chandeliers that were given in 1921, in memory of Wallace Simpson’s brother-in-law? Or should he rig it up on the new stained glass window donated in memory of Fordel Hogenson? Would anyone notice if the Good Shepherd’s staff was swapped out for a red and white striped candy cane?
Nix that last option, thought Uncle Oc. Fordel’s widow Toneta, who had donated the window, might find it shockingly distressing. She’d been through so much already, first stepping in as Fordel’s second wife after Lene passed away, leaving seven children. Then, helping run the Evergreen Beach Hotel, especially after Fordel had that awful stroke in 1920. The surprise of seeing a candy cane affixed to the Good Shepherd’s glass hand might become the straw that broke the camel’s back. No, thought Uncle Oc, he had better think of some place else to hang his sugary work of art.
No one remembers where Uncle Oc hung the candy cane but one thing is certain. It didn’t stay there for long! Midway through the Sunday service, it suddenly crashed to the floor and shattered into a thousand shiny pieces that flew willy-nilly under the pews. Children scrambled happily from their seats to grab a piece of sweetness. The pastor sighed with resignation, quietly putting away sermon notes and giving a muted benediction. And the old pump organ began a resounding rendition of Joy to the World.
And so ends this Tall Christmas Tale of Uncle Oc and the Giant Candy Cane.
Feeling brave? Try making this recipe for homemade candy canes.
Oscar and Martha Wilson are buried in the Ephraim Moravian Cemetery, as are Fordel, Lene Raenertson Hogenson, and Thonette Tonneson Hogenson Evenson. Thonette “was born in Lister, Norway January 9, 1861 and came here at the age of 25. Shortly afterward, in 1889, she was married to Fordel Hogenson who passed away in 1927. In 1928, she was married to Edward Evenson who still survives.” She donated the stained glass window in 1929. Door County Advocate, October 16, 1942.
- Did The Eagle Get You, Dr. Moss? pages 101-102. Author Wiley recalls young people singing a redition of “At Sundown” at 10 PM when Wilson’s closed because Ephraim’s primitive electricity system was turned off for the night.
- Ephraim Moravian Church archives.
- A Wilson descendent heard the story of Uncle Oc’s giant candy cane from one of Oscar’s sons. Details here are imagined by the History Hub editor.