The Legend of "The Hanging Tree"  
Thursday, September 12, 2002
So I've Heard Column

Norma G. Waterhouse of Dudley's Pearle L. Crawford Memorial Library staff was curious: There once was a big tree near a couple of Slater Co. buildings at North, South, and East Main Streets in Webster. There was a stone wall around it, and there was a plaque on the wall.
This is the story Ms. Waterhouse heard as a young person. An aunt, the late Doris Morse-LaRocque, perpetuated the story and also claimed the sky high elm was Webster's hanging tree. A fable, decided Ms. Waterhouse, but people remembered the tree and the wall. It stood near the main entrance to the Webster First Federal Credit Union, to use the current location.
Ms. Waterhouse told the story to one of her library associates, Mary A. Meehan and she, in turn, brought the inquiry to memorabilia collector James J. Manzi, who passed it on to me.
The hanging tree tale was the kind of thing Ms. LaRocque, a fun loving person, liked. Ms. Waterhouse thinks it was concocted to entertain kids in the family. She's probably right. Webster never had a public hanging to my knowledge, let alone a hanging tree. The same holds for its older siblings, Dudley and Oxford. Whether there was a plaque on the wall is conjecture.
I found the story of the tree in a speech by
Spaulding Bartlett, a long time bank president, given when a portrait of Amos Bartlett, his father, was placed in the town high school around 1916, after the name of Webster High School was changed to Bartlett High School.
Amos Bartlett, one of the first principals of the town high school, and founder of the Slater Guards, federalized during the Civil War, was born in 1836 in one of the Slater Co. South Village mill houses. As a boy Amos was friends with Little Tim Callahan who lived in another Slater house near North, South, and East Main Streets.
Now, to quote from the talk:
"One Sunday when the boys were about nine years old (around 1845), Little Tim's father, Big Tim Callahan, took them for a walk in the woods, dug up a small elm seedling, brought it home in a handkerchief and planted it in front of the home where the Callahan's lived. More than 50 years later, Amos Bartlett caused to be built around the base of the elm tree a stone wall to protect it from the march of progress and to preserve it in memory of his childhood friend, Little Tim Callahan." Amos Bartlett was the managing director of the S. Slater & Sons South Village Mills when the wall was built.
Might this have been cause for a plaque? Victor Szczepaniak lived in the apartment building once occupied by the Callahan family, but many decades later, just before World War II. "I was around there a long time but I don't remember any plaque." Politicians hung signs on the tree and a vendor had a pop corn stand there for a short time, he said.
I couldn't find a paper trace to Tim Callahan in town records, but Amos Bartlett died Nov. 20, 1912. The tree and wall remained until 1965, when the Webster Credit Union bought the property. Incidentally, I have the dedicatory information because Janet E. Malser came across the original talk some years ago and was thoughtful enough to send me a copy.
Friend Matt Morway and his WESO broadcast partner, Pete Geanis, will report 25 high school football games this season, starting at 7 p.m. tomorrow with Oxford at Shepherd Hill. They'll pull double duty four of the nine Saturdays between now and Thanksgiving, with a 1 p.m. tilt, Auburn at Uxbridge, and a 7 p.m. contest, David Prouty at Bartlett, this Saturday.
Morway-Geanis also have twin reports carded for Sept. 21, Oct. 5, and Nov. 9. Mr. Morway, of Oxford, and Mr. Geanis, of Dudley, have teamed before WESO sports mikes 10 years. They'll cap booth talk with the granddaddy of all area high school sets, Southbridge at Bartlett, Thanksgiving morning.
WESO will also air a 1 p.m. tape delay of the Auburn at Oxford holiday game. "Obvious
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Telegram & Gazette

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