Scenes from Silver Creek: City Hall
Silver Creek City Hall is not one of those beautiful old buildings with columns and a dome. It was, and remains to this day, a hideously boring structure with a concrete façade, an ugly sign, and windows that are covered in some brown film that makes the outside look perpetually dirty.
Just inside the door, in the small and dingy lobby, hangs a painting entitled “Washington Crossing the Potomac.” I know this is the title because a greenish-fake-brass-name plate is screwed onto the inappropriately ornate frame. This amateurish monstrosity seems to be a paint-by-numbers version of the better known and more historically accurate “…Crossing the Delaware” painting. As I have never heard of any particularly famous crossing of the Potomac by the Father of Our Country, I always wondered if the plaque was an error or if the paint-by-numbers artist was as bad a historian as he or she was an artist. But for me the best part is not the “pick a river, pick any river” (why not “Washington Crossing the Nile?”) title, but the fact that every man in the painting, including GW, is wearing a huge grin. It’s as if they’re all saying to each other “dude, we just crossed the Potomac!”
The only reason anyone ever went into City Hall, other than to pay their water bill, was to chat with the building’s one and only guard; a man with the glorious name of Copernicus Moran. I never could quite figure out why we needed a guard – perhaps in case someone’s water bill was too high? – but Copernicus Moran did a grand job. Nobody ever broke in, defaced the façade or “caused a ruckus.” He sat all day on a hard wooden chair that eventually molded to his butt and read 25-year old Field & Streams or Popular Mechanics. As a result he could quote the most obscure facts about trout or band saws. He also told the filthiest jokes in town. To anybody. Kids. Cops. The mayor’s wife. Didn’t matter who, the poor guy was so bored that before you got to the reception desk he’d be off with “Hey, did I ever tell you the story about the bishop and the lady wrestler?”
Copernicus chewed enormous quantities of Doublemint gum and collected matchbooks from places he’d never been. Pretty much anyone from Silver Creek who ever went anywhere grabbed a matchbook for him. Of course, this was back when smoking was allowed anywhere and every business from dry cleaners to pancake houses gave out matches. You’d pick up one from a Denny’s in St. Louis or some bar in Reno and make a special trip upon your return to give it to him. He would, of course, pay you back with a dirty punch line or some unwanted bit of trivia about gutting big horn sheep.
A rotating cast of the same 8 city council members who took turns being mayor for my entire childhood ran City Hall itself. My high school civics teacher, Mr. Leach, was mayor every 6 years. Whenever there was an election no candidate ever bothered with signs of leaflets. Everyone in town would just know “this year it’s Arthur Loman’s turn” and people would, surprisingly, turn up to vote.
For city elections there was actually a wooden ballot box at the reception desk, and Copernicus’s most important day of the year as a guard was to watch it with an eagle eye and make sure nobody voted twice.
They always seemed to time city elections around Halloween, so there was a very democratic process by which you’d get a tiny Snickers bar after you voted.