Frank Wellington Carter

Frank Carter Sr was born in Eagle River on February 3, 1892, the first born to Lester and Geneva (McIntyre) Carter. After high school (1910) he taught at Bohemian School for one year and then attended Marquette Law School. On March 6, 1913 he married Alida Cook also from Eagle River. After law school they returned home where Frank practiced law and Alida taught piano.

In 1918 he was elected Vilas County Judge at just 26 years of age. He served 43 consecutive years as county judge until compulsory retirement at seventy years of age. This is still a Wisconsin record for length of time as a judge. Alida worked at the courthouse with him.

He fathered eight children. The first two died in infancy; then followed Lyman, Frank, Robert, Florence, Merilyn and Colyn. Frank Sr was raised by a very strict father who found it difficult to show affection to his children. Lester’s childhood was abruptly shortened. He had to go to work at age ten to support his mother and sister after his father abandoned them. Frank wanted his children to have the good childhood that neither he nor his dad had. He gave them toys and pets and played with all of his children.

Frank’s hobbies were music, magic and ventriloquism. Ester Austin, who graduated from Eagle River High School with Alida and Frank, commented that his hobbies bordered on full careers. All six children took music lessons and the Carter family had band practice every Sunday afternoon. At one time Frank had the largest collection of musical instruments in the United States, over 800 instruments.

He had a magic stage built in his basement with permanent seating for fifty. The stage had theater curtains, full lighting and a series of tunnels underneath for disappearing acts. In an adjoining room he kept his musical instruments and magic apparatus. Frank was a personal friend of The Great Houdini and a charter member of the Houdini Club. He was also a charter member and the first president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists.

His magician friends from the Houdini Club began having magic shows on his home magic stage for the local children. When it became too big for his theater stage, they moved to the stage in the Catholic School basement and when it got too big for that, they moved it to the Jug (Croatian) Hall from the 1930s until 1947. It finally got too big to handle and the last show was in 1947.

In the 1960s Frank organized a local UFO club. An event that attained national prominence occurred on April 18, 1961 when Joe Simonton of Cloverland alleged that a flying saucer lit in his yard. The beings gestured that they wanted a jug of water from him and exchanged four pancakes with him and left. Frank sent three of the pancakes in to be analyzed at the national level and received several phone calls from Washington D.C. The official word on this incident is “Unexplained.” It sure put Eagle River on the map!

After his retirement and until his death he wrote a column for the News Review called the Old Timer’s Column which related stories of the good old days in Vilas County. It was well received. He had organized Eagle River Old Timer Reunions in 1929, 1940 and 1951 and had great knowledge of the area history. Frank was a charter member and Director of the Eagle River Historical Society, as well as the founder of three local Rotary groups.

Family lore has it that the News Review received calls from readers who were unhappy with some of the Judge’s memories in his Old Timer Column. Frank would drop off his column, written on yellow legal pad, at the News Review office. After he left someone would hand carry the column next door to the office of Frank’s oldest son, Lyman. Lyman would remove any inflammatory items and return the edited column to the newspaper for publication. The Historical Society has a digital copy of these columns.

Alida died in 1963 shortly after their retirement. Frank died with his seventh heart attack in 1969 at his cottage in Phelps.

Written by son, Colyn E. Carter

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