Unforgettable People: 2019 Exhibit

Sy Osmer and his dogs

Many unforgettable people have called Woodstock home. This year the Woodstock History Center will once again be celebrating the lives of eleven people who have distinguished themselves in a variety of ways. Some of these people are remembered for their generosity and public service, while others are remembered for unique talents and interests.

One of the people featured this year is Selden Osmer, better known as “Sy.” Sy was a knacker – a person who gathered up road kill and deceased farm animals and rendered their various parts, which could then be used for leather products, pet food, and other purposes. Sy’s work helped to insure that deceased animals’ bodies were used, and not wasted, while at the same time helping farmers to get rid of animals without having to bury them.

Sy lived in Taftsville in a home that had been in his family for generations. His house was filled with many unusual pieces including some, like a powder horn, that dated back to the pre-Revolutionary War period when some of Sy’s ancestors had served as scouts and explored what was to later become Vermont. While Sy valued these family items for personal reasons, many others valued them for monetary reasons. On one occasion, two young men from New York attempted to steal some of the items from his home. One of the stories detailed in the Woodstock History Center’s exhibit is how Sy single-handedly was able to apprehend the two culprits.

Another person featured in this year’s exhibit is Olin Maxham. Olin was a local farmer who grew up in Pomfret, but later moved to Woodstock. Like Sy’s, Olin’s story is largely one set in a different era – one where young couples went to the dances at the Grange on Saturday nights, husking bees in the fall, and where marriages were a simple ceremony with no fanfare.

Olin is best known for his oxen, which he took to the pulling contests at numerous fairs, as well as used for farm work. Olin’s love of oxen started when he was a child. In a book entitled Vermonters, which was written by Donald Tinney, Olin stated in his wry Yankee way that oxen had some advantages over tractors. He noted that they “don’t very often tip over” and “they don’t very often get stuck in the mud.”

Olin Maxham and one of his oxen

Olin Maxham and one of his oxen

In addition to oxen, Olin used teams of horses. In an oral history that was completed by the Woodstock History Center, Olin tells about a team of horses that he took to Tunbridge Fair. He states:

“I had one particular pair of horses after I was married that I worked for the Town of Woodstock for a while in the summer time and I drove em to Tunbridge Fair. [I] started at midnight on a dump cart and had my oil stove and a few groceries in the back end and their grain and hay, and I got on top of Howe Hill and give ‘em a pail of water and a feed of oats, 5 o’clock in the morning. And then I put the bridles on and went to continue to Tunbridge Fairground.”

As soon as he arrived at the fairground, Olin entered his horses in a variety of pulling contests, and they won every event. At the end of the weekend, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, he packed everything up, and he drove the horses back home – a distance of about 22 miles. The next morning, he and his team of horses headed back to work by 7 o’clock. That weekend he won $93, which was a large amount of money back then.

To meet more unforgettable people who left their mark on this community, come visit the Woodstock History Center, which will officially open for the season on Wednesday, June 26th. The History Center has new hours this year, which will be Wednesday through Saturday, 11 am – 4 pm. As with previous years, admission to the museum is free.

Matthew Powers