The little village of Winnetoon, Knox County, NE is one mile square. On all sides it is surrounded by tall corn fields. It is definitely in “the middle of nowhere, off the beaten path”. An even smaller fantasy village is situated within Winnetoon’s city limits. Winnetoon Board Walk Back in Time is spread over 9 of the 15 lots on West Main Street. Hidden among the wildflowers, prairie grasses and false buildings are creatures waiting to be found.
When asked “Why”, my answer has been, “To commemorate Winnetoon’s history in a fun way. Besides, I had Cowboy Joe to help. This has been my dream and Joe’s nightmare.”
When Dad’s sister died, my cousin, Alan, presented me with a box of old family photos. One depicted an elderly gentleman standing among several trees surrounded by strange creatures. Alan and I were at a loss.
Sometime later, I showed this picture to another cousin, Gary. He had a similar one from his mother, who had mentioned Uncle Claus. Still later, I met a distant cousin. Tom had the answer, along with many more photos. It was indeed Great Uncle Claus.
Claus Seltz (1872-1956), brother to Alan’s, Gary’s and my grandmother, Maria, and Tom’s grandmother, Catharina, came to Nebraska from Germany in 1887. He became an interpreter for the US government during WWI. In 1917 Claus wrote a book Direct Method Physical Development. Claus, who remained a bachelor, worked as an assistant district cashier for the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co. in WA. It was there he purchased half an island in the Columbia River. This he developed into a tourist attraction he named the Forest Glade Zoo. An inquiry to the state of WA shows no record of this venture.
His zoo was filled with fallen trees and rocks made into images of a man, an alligator and many weird creatures. The pictures my cousins had were promotional ones Uncle Claus had taken of his zoo.
After finding Uncle Claus, I have another answer to why I built my village…
“I am Uncle Claus revisited.”
…Gayle Neuhaus, Winnetoon, NE