WE strolled into what once was the dim, pretentious library of the old Plantation. This was the room where Willard Velie, after making his first million, would lean back and read Dickens. Some of his books may still be there, after 90 years, wedged on shelves behind leaded glass doors.
We were stunned. There were Christmas songs sung to us by members of the Augustana College choir. A commercial photographer was flashing in our eyes. A long table was spread out, with gold plates and a golden tablecloth covered with candy kisses.
This likely would be our last luncheon in the Velie mansion, a place I still call the Plantation. It was the most storied of nightclubs in all the Quad-Cities before it became Quad-City Bank & Trust.
“This all is for you,” said John Anderson, president of Quad-City Bank. Some little bird had peeped to him that Helen and I were celebrating our 55th wedding anniversary. That is a long time of love.
All the big shots of the bank were there, grinning ear-to-ear and applauding in the walnut-paneled library, with its enormous fireplace lording over all.
“We understand that you two had your first date here when this was the Plantation. We wanted to recreate that luncheon,” said Cathie Whiteside, who is tied into the bank as veep of corporate strategy and branding for QCR Holdings.
It was the exact menu in the exact room where I first courted a young red-haired student nurse. Before everyone’s gold plate was a fancy announcement: “Bill and Helen Wundram 55th wedding anniversary lunch.” It scripted the menu of the day. Somehow, Cathie had learned that we had dined that date on something called “planked hamburger, the size of a meatloaf.”
The bank had found a rare late 1940s or early 1950s Plantation menu. It was arranged for Diane DeBord, a caterer, to prepare an exact version of that meal for all those gathered at the long table. The meals were individually served on pine planks, following the original menu:
“Planked hamburger, freshly ground prime beef, broiled and topped with bordelaise mushroom sauce. All planks are bordered with golden brown duchess potatoes, broccoli and asparagus with hollandaise sauce, baked stuffed tomato, buttered cauliflower. Service for two — $5.75.”
This luncheon was such a perfect duplicate of our first date that there even was banana bread — because four-foot bunches of real bananas always hung in the Plantation’s Tahitian Room bar for a drink called the Banana Cooler. When the bananas began to ripen, they went to the kitchen to be made into banana bread.
At this wistful duplication of our first date, our eyes wandered the room, awed by how Quad-City Bank — in a multi-million remodeling in the late 1990s — maintained the ambience of the original 46-room mansion.
“The library where we sit is exactly the way Velie built it,” said Doug Hultquist, the prez of QCR Holdings. “Once, prior owners dropped the ceiling. We took off the fake ceiling and found a beautiful ceiling of 77 rose-like circles. We had them all repainted and duplicated.”
It was a luncheon of reminiscing. Over in a corner of the library, Nic Chirekos, the Plantation owner, dined nightly. We wandered where the Tahitian Room once was an L-shaped village of huts. We were told (I’ll never reveal the secret) where that life-size rear-lit photo of the bare-bosomed Tahitian maiden that once drew all the attention is today.
We dined, we dreamed, we talked.
We drove home on a sunny afternoon. I asked my wife why she wasn’t talking.
“Be quiet,” she said. “Let me cry to myself.”
Bill Wundram can be contacted at (563) 383-2249 or email@example.com.