One of Beaver Dam’s more recent landmarks isn’t going anywhere.
For close to 10 years, a feature of Park Avenue has been a beaver statue standing tall in a front yard near the street. The Schlafer family moved to Beaver Dam in April after spotting the old white house, 328 Park Ave., beaver statue and all.
“We were looking for a whole year,” Janet Schlafer said. “We were kind of looking for the house. We were downsizing, but it wasn’t just the town. We were looking for the house that grabbed us.”
Janet Schlafer, who works in health care, and her husband Ron, who does commercial work, came to town from Sun Prairie, which they said was getting too big for them. They bought the house from Gene Kirschbaum and Mickale Carter, lawyers who now live in Montana.
Kirschbaum and Carter put up the carving and turned it into a local, costumed attraction, often to commemorate historical figures and events, whether Johnny Cash or the anniversary of the first published appearance of the word “OK.”
The Schlafers were in a bit of “panic mode” when they found the Park Avenue house and knew it was the one for them.
“It just had a lot of character,” Janet Schlafer said, adding that Kirschbaum and Carter “saved the house.”
“When we looked at the house online, we saw that there were more pictures probably of him decorated than of the house,” she said. “We were like, ‘Huh, this beaver is a thing.’”
The Schlafers are now featuring the beaver as Mr. Rogers, red sweater and all, in light of renewed media interest in the life of the children’s television icon. Janet Schlafer said that she would love to keep the costume tradition going, but that she’ll need some help from the community to gather Beaver Dam gear and uniforms.
“I’m so happy that Janet took it over,” Kirschbaum said by phone, fresh off enjoying a sailing trip in Canada. He said he originally thought of donating the beaver to the high school.
“I think it’s better right where it is as a gateway to the community,” he said.
The beaver was carved by a chainsaw out of a blue spruce that was causing issues with moisture and mold on the siding. Originally, Kirschbaum said, he wanted to make a totem pole, because he met his wife in Alaska.
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“She said, ‘This is Beaver Dam; make a beaver,’” Kirschbaum said.
Around Halloween one year, Kirschbaum and Carter put a conehead on the beaver, reminiscent of Saturday Night Live skit, and it evolved from there.
“We thought people were really tuned into this beaver and I started doing it every week, dressing it up, sending out emails, stupid little stories, sometimes historical, sometimes topical,” Kirschbaum said.
The beaver on Park Avenue isn’t the only statue about to see a second life.
Henry Derleth, the football coach at Beaver Dam High School from 1943-57, had a beaver statue of his own. The statue ended up in the hands of the family, which recently decided to donate it to the high school.
The statue is being stored in plastic for now due to issues with bugs, but current Golden Beavers football coach Steve Kuenzi said the hope is to restore it for future display.
With renovations at the high school came new beaver images, but the school has been able to save old ones, too, like one painted on an old gym floor and a small statue made by an art student decades ago.
The Beaver Dam Area Chamber of Commerce used to have a wooden beaver statue of its own, facing Spring Street, but the piece was infested by carpenter ants and couldn’t be recovered. The chamber is accepting donations for a new statue, possibly fiberglass or concrete, and is about halfway to its funding goal.
Janet Schlafer said Kirshbaum and Carter left a few costumes behind, including Milwaukee Bucks gear, a surfboard and a pair of angel wings that was a bit startling to see draped on a chair in the dark. She recently put out the call online for ideas about the future of the beaver.
“If they want me to keep it going, I might need a little help,” she said.