Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Boyhood Christmas in Jefferson City

A fourth-century bishop by the name of Nicholas was known for giving gifts to people secretly. He was deemed a saint, and his death date, December 6, has ever since been known as his feast day, St. Nicholas Day, in Catholic and Orthodox churches. For centuries Christians gave gifts on December 6.

In the sixteenth century Martin Luther, the great reformer of the church, insisted on going back to holy scripture, and since St. Nicholas was not in the Bible, Luther said that the date of Christ’s birth should be used for the annual practice of gift giving. At that time, December 25 was the recognized date of Christ’s birth, so Christians in Germany shifted gift giving from St. Nicholas Day, December 6, to Christmas Day, December 25.

But not everyone agreed to this. Some German Christians followed Luther’s lead to use December 25, but others continued with December 6. Some families used both! St. Nicholas brought gifts to children on December 6, and the Christ Child (Christkind, later called Kris Kringle) brought gifts on December 25. My immigrant grandparents, of the German Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, were of this “double tradition.”

This oversimplified background is necessary to understand how Christmas came to a little five-year old boy in Jefferson City: By the 1930s in America, “St. Nicholas” had become Santa Claus, who came on Christmas Eve, and the guy who visited on December 6 was “Kris Kringle,” who still looked a lot like St. Nicholas.

On December 6 my brother and I used straight pins to hang our long socks on the beaverboard wall that enclosed our attic bedroom. We could have set our little shoes outside the bedroom door, but it didn’t take much experimentation to discover that our long winter socks stretched and could hold more than our little leather shoes.

So it was Kris Kringle who came during the night of December 6—but wait! He wasn’t alone! Accompanying him was mean ol’ Knecht Ruprecht. That was the only name we heard. Of course, we never saw these two characters. If we had been good boys, good Kris Kringle left hard candy and maybe an apple or orange in our socks, but we sure preferred the candy. If we had not been good, then that mean ol’ Knecht Ruprecht left us sticks, or maybe pieces of coal.

One December 6, we were shocked to find sticks in our socks! We didn’t know what we had done that was so bad, but it sure scared us. Maybe our aging grandparents, who lived with us, overheard us saying something bad, or maybe we hadn’t done our chores. Whatever the reason, those sticks did the trick, and we shaped up during the next couple of weeks before real Christmas. Parents, you see, used December 6 as a warning for kids to behave during those very busy days before Christmas.

When Christmas morning came, we had gifts galore. All of grandpa and grandma’s children (our aunts and uncles) and their children (our cousins) came to Jefferson City for Christmas. They all converged on our house on Christmas Day. Since my brother and I were the youngest grandchildren in this crowd (during 1938–1941 we ranged from 4 to 10), all those relatives gave us extra attention.

As the years went on, St. Nicholas Day, December 6, was dropped but not forgotten. At least, not by me. Each year, come December 6, I remember those sticks I got in 1939. The image of them in my socks hanging on the wall reminds me to shape up. It makes me think of the real meaning of Christmas and inspires me to give gifts to others.

Today, few remember December 6 as the original day for Christians to give gifts. Absolutely everything is now concentrated on December 25. Christmas celebrations and songs stop the next day, people take down their Christmas trees, and by New Year’s Day, most public traces of Christmas are long gone.

Yet another old tradition is to continue the Christmas season through the Twelve Days of Christmas, which begin on Christmas Day and end on January 6, Epiphany, when the Three Kings arrived bearing gifts (and you supposedly get twelve drummers drumming). Today, marketers would have you think that the Twelve Days comprise the final twelve shopping days before Christmas! Many European countries, however, still celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men on January 6.

Considering how few Americans observe the Twelve Days of Christmas, special congratulations are due to Jefferson City’s Central United Church of Christ, which has always kept its Christmas stars on its tall steeple shining until Epiphany, January 6!

Merry Christmas from the Old Munichburg Association! Consider a gift membership for your loved ones this year. It’s non-cluttering, non-fattening, and gives both the giver and the recipient a warm feeling inside!

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Remembering Francis Joseph Zeisberg, Eminent Jefferson City Musician

Has Jefferson City forgotten one of its most eminent musicians?

Franz Josef Zeisberg, organist, violinist, pianist, composer, and teacher, was born in 1862 in the Sudeten mountains of Prussian Silesia, now part of Poland. Raised on a farm by musical parents, the teenager emigrated to Jefferson City in 1881 (he was only eighteen!) and first worked as a manual laborer in a brickyard where he learned English.

He began his musical career in Jefferson City in 1884 by opening the City Conservatory in the Conrath House on Madison Street in partnership with immigrant Carl Preyer. Zeisberg was organist at the Central German Evangelical Church (now Central United Church of Christ).

In 1887 he married Clara Hugershoff, stepdaughter of Fred H. Binder (who had been elected mayor in 1884). That marriage allowed Zeisberg entrance into the highest levels of Jefferson City society, because of Binder’s prominence in civic affairs. Zeisberg’s career took off.

I wish I could find a photo of Zeisberg. Here, at least, is his physical description at age forty-four, according to his 1906 American passport:

Stature: 5 feet, 11½ inches. Forehead: High. Eyes: Blue. Nose: Prominent. Mouth: Average. Chin: Sharp. Hair: Dark blonde. Complexion: Fair. Face: Average. Thin, full beard.

Zeisberg went to Lexington, Missouri, to teach at the Elizabeth Aull Seminary for women, then to Chicago, where his musical talents became more widely known and appreciated. With a solid reputation in the musical world, in 1892 he began a thirty-year career as conservatory director at Martha Washington College in Abingdon, Virginia.

He retired at age sixty in 1922 for health reasons, and the Zeisbergs returned to Jefferson City, leaving their three grown children in good professions on the East Coast. He retained a home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, to which he returned annually in summers until the 1940s.

In Jefferson City, the professor and Clara moved into the substantial Fred Binder house at 210 East Dunklin, unoccupied after Papa Fred Binder’s death in 1911 and Mrs. Binder’s death in 1920. The Zeisbergs continued to live there in the Southside until their deaths.

The Binder property included the southeast corner of Dunklin and Madison, catercorner from Busch’s Florist. While the Zeisbergs lived there, it was a wooded tract with a small creek running through it before going out of sight into a long tunnel under the street intersection.

This is how the corner looked around 1951. Madison Street is in the foreground; Dunklin is in the distance. The view is almost true east.

Here is the same view, as of September 2, 2012:

Professor Zeisberg gave organ concerts at the Southside’s Central Evangelical Church, where the Zeisbergs were members, and other local churches, always to full and appreciative attendances. He was the first in Jefferson City to broadcast organ music over the new WOS radio station, directly from Central Church’s organ.

He taught students in piano, organ, and violin. His best-known student, by far, was Carl E. Burkel, who received his first organ lessons as a preteen on Central Church’s large Möller pipe organ. Burkel is well remembered in Jefferson City for his forty-one years of teaching music at Jefferson City High School and directing the Jefferson City Symphony and Capitol Caroling at Christmas. Carl later told me about sitting as a boy on the church organ bench with “that old German” teaching him the intricacies of a multiregister organ.

I was one of Professor Zeisberg’s piano students from age nine to eleven. The nineteenth-century Binder house was spacious and had a big, airy sunroom with windows on three sides overlooking the corner woods and little creek.

Mrs. Zeisberg filled the sunroom to overflowing with pots of ferns and other large plants, making it a tropical paradise just as luxurious as Busch’s greenhouses across the corner.

Professor Zeisberg gave his lessons at an upright piano in an adjacent room, and as I sat on the piano bench I could see the great abundance of Mrs. Zeisberg’s ferns and the woods beyond. I imagined I was playing a piano in a park!

You can see the sunroom in this sketch that my wife, Pat, made of the Binder house in 1950 while an art student in high school.

Professor Zeisberg emphasized German music, especially Beethoven sonatas. When I got reasonably proficient in one, the professor uncased his violin and played the melody with embellishments along with me on the piano.

At times he would lean over me to get close to the music to read it, and the backs of his hands showed the huge, bulging veins of an active eighty-two-year old man. When I made a mistake, he rapped my hands gently with his violin bow and slipped into German to say “Es ist nicht so, Walter!” (That isn’t right, Walter!) In 1944 he gave me a manuscript copy of one of his compositions for children, titled “Kris Kringle,” composed in 1922.

Professor Zeisberg promenaded daily throughout the Southside. He was tall, bearded, and very much the proud German professor. He wore an old-fashioned black suit and top hat, which made him look like Abraham Lincoln. Though in his eighties, he walked very erect in long strides, tapping his black cane as he went briskly along.

Professor Francis Joseph Zeisberg died in 1951 at age eighty-nine. Clara, his wife for fifty-nine years, had died five years earlier. They were buried in the large Binder plot in Riverview Cemetery.

The Zeisbergs’ unmarried daughter Elsa had returned to Jefferson City to care for them when they were aging. She continued to live in the house in the woods at 210 East Dunklin until 1958 (she died 1985), when the property was sold to the Milo H. Walz family, which saw an opportunity to develop the corner commercially.

Here is another view of that corner. This time the view is almost true north, toward the intersection of Madison and Dunklin. The brick building at the left is the Madison side of the Wel-Com-In. The horizontal white structure to its right are the greenhouses for Busch’s Florist. The upright storefront for Busch’s is to the right of that.

Here is the same view as of September 2, 2012:

The beautiful, sturdy Binder/Zeisberg house is now encased within a modern commercial building at 210 E. Dunklin, with its nineteenth-century brick chimneys projecting bizarrely above a flat, modern roofline. Here are some views of the building.

. . . And the shady woods has been totally cut down. The pretty little creek now runs underground as a drainage sewer.

That corner of Madison and Dunklin became the Bolten Southside Conoco and most recently is Doug’s Blvd. Motors. Fred Binder’s well-preserved 1800s black surrey (with a fringe on top!), which was still housed in a carriage house on the property when it was sold in 1958, was given to the Missouri State Museum in the Capitol, where it was on exhibit for many years. Most recently it has been displayed at the museum at Lohhman’s Landing, but as of Labor Day weekend 2012, that museum is closed for renovations and the surrey will be placed into storage indefinitely.

Professor Zeisberg’s legacy endures not only in the huge number of students he taught in Jefferson City and Virginia, but also in his enormous volume of compositions. He began publishing in the 1890s with the Theodore Presser Company of Philadelphia. He composed numerous children’s songs for both piano and violin, transcriptions of well-known American melodies like Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe,” and other, longer works.

He composed secular and church music for male and mixed choruses. Central United Church of Christ still uses some of the anthems and choral responses he composed or arranged for it more than eighty years ago. Most impressively, he composed two full-length masses and at least eighty-five—yes, eighty-five!—fugues for the organ.

His immense trove of compositions, some published and others in manuscript, was given to his star student, Carl Burkel. A few of the organ fugues are in the music library of Central Church.

Special thanks to Albert Case for sharing his personal memories of Professor Zeisberg. Mr. Case drove the “Dutchy” professor to his summer home in Virginia in the Zeisberg touring auto. Thanks also to Shirley Klein, organist at Central United Church of Christ, for sharing the manuscript copies of Zeisberg’s fugues. Thanks also to the late Don Walz for his photographs of the Binder woods. The photo of Carl Burkel is from Carl’s collection and was made by Bob Elliott; it is used with permission. And thanks to my wife for sharing her schoolgirl artistic talents. I cannot find a photo of the Binder house!

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How Atchison Street Got Its Name

Today we’re continuing with a short series about street names in the historic Southside.

Brothers Nelson and Oscar Burch moved to Jefferson City shortly after the Civil War. Oscar had fought proudly in the Union Army for years and had been imprisoned by the Confederates for months. He likely had no love for the Confederates. The brothers bought land and built their homes in the late 1860s on the southwest corner of Jefferson and Atchison Streets on the south side of Munichburg.

Here is the Nelson and Gertrude Burch house (115 W. Atchison) (photo taken June 30, 2012). Click to see the National Register of Historic Places paperwork. Click to read an article about historic preservation work done by the current owners.

And below is the Oscar and Mary Burch house (924 Jefferson) (photo taken June 30, 2012). Click to see the National Register of Historic Places paperwork. Click to read an article about the house’s history and improvements made by its current owners.

Did the Burches—who were Yankees from New York—know that Atchison Street, where they built their fine homes, was named in honor of a devoted pro-slavery Missourian who tried his best to lead Missouri into the Confederacy, the very enemy that they had just fought against so long and hard?

Possibly not. Although the street was named Atchison before the Civil War, names of streets and house numbers were not commonly used in the residential sections of town in the middle of the nineteenth century. Atchison Street was the southern limit of the platted city. The Burch houses were built on an outlot, outside the city. They were like country estates overlooking the rest of the small town.

So who was this famous Confederate Missourian named Atchison? Why was a slave-owning secessionist honored with a street name in Munichburg, settled by pro-Union German immigrants?

David Rice Atchison was born in Kentucky in 1807 and graduated from Transylvania University in 1825 at the early age of eighteen. One of his close friends and classmates was Jefferson Davis, who later became the president of the Confederates States of America.

Atchison moved to western Missouri in 1830 and acquired slaves. He was elected to the Missouri General Assembly in 1834 and served in the U.S. Senate from 1843 to 1855, for many of those years Senate pro tempore. He supposedly was the U.S. president for one day, March 4, 1849, when president-elect Zachary Taylor refused to take the oath because it was a Sunday.

As the national debate over slavery intensified, Atchison took the pro-slavery side. He fought hard for extension of slavery into neighboring Kansas and Nebraska as they approached statehood. He personally conducted a raid by pro-slavery men called the Border Ruffians into Lawrence, Kansas, where they pillaged the town. This act led abolitionist John Brown to begin his legendary retaliation of violence.

When the Civil War broke out, Atchison joined with the sitting Missouri governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, a secessionist. He continued to work with Jackson and Missouri general Sterling Price in their fight against the Union.

Atchison’s longstanding friendship with Confederate president Jefferson Davis since boyhood days in Kentucky helped Missouri to be acknowledged by the Confederate States of America as its twelfth state by a star in its flag.

As the war dragged on and the Confederacy’s cause faded, Atchison sought haven in Texas until 1867, when he returned to northwestern Missouri. Politically discredited, the bachelor turned to a quiet life of farming in Clinton County, but now without slaves. He died in 1886. There’s a statue of Atchison at the Clinton County Courthouse in Plattsburg, Missouri.

Atchison Street in Jefferson City was given its name well before the Civil War, certainly by the 1840s, when Atchison was second in leadership in the U.S. Senate. At that time, the Southern-dominated leadership of Missouri and Jefferson City would have been proud of him. His later notoriety as leader of the Southern, pro-slavery cause in Missouri would have been dismissed after the war as no cause for changing the street name.

Still, one wonders whether the fiercely Unionist Burch brothers—or, for that matter, any of the German immigrants who later moved onto Atchison Street and were pro-Union—could be very happy to live on a street named for such an ardent advocate of slavery.

Lincoln University, the historically black university founded by black Union veterans of the Civil War, also lies along East Atchison Street. How paradoxical this is!

Incidentally, David Rice Atchison, slavery advocate and defender, was honored in 1991 with a bronze bust in the Hall of Famous Missourians in the Missouri State Capitol.

Bonus info: David Rice Atchison helped found Atchison, Kansas, across the Missouri River from Missouri, which still bears the name of its pro-slavery, pro-secession founder. The city was originally intended as a pro-slavery enclave, in hopes that Kansas would not develop into the strongly abolitionist, pro-Union state that it did! The city had become anti-slavery by 1859, before the Civil War broke out.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How Dunklin Street Got Its Name

Today we’re continuing with a short series about street names in the historic Southside.

Munichburg’s busiest thoroughfare, and one of the busiest in Jefferson City, is Dunklin Street. It’s a curious name, and it makes some people think of doughnuts! Have you ever wondered where the name “Dunklin” came from?

When the state commissioners laid out Jefferson City into streets and lots in the 1820s, they came up with an ingenuous plan for naming the streets of the nation’s newest state capital.

The north-south streets, leading to and away from the Missouri River, were to be named for the presidents of the United States in historical order. So we have Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams (for John Quincy), and Jackson.

There was a hitch in the plan: The Southerners who ran Missouri refused to honor Yankee John Adams, the first President Adams, so he was skipped between Washington and Jefferson. Then the commissioners ran out of presidents after Jackson (who was president 1829-1837) and had to turn to other famous persons at the time.

For the east-west streets, running parallel to the river, the plan was to use names of Missouri governors in historical order. So it would be national presidents one way, and state governors the other! What a neat plan for a capital city! It may be unique in the United States.

But there was another hitch to the plan. Missouri’s first governor, Alexander McNair (1820-1824), refused to let his name be used, so the first street along the river was named Water Street instead of McNair. And then, of course, there were no other governors at the time (they didn’t count territorial governors such as Meriwether Lewis and Benjamin Howard).

And then High Street, like Water Street, was named for obvious topographic features.

As the years passed, only two more of the east-west streets received names of governors. Missouri’s fourth governor, John Miller (1826-1832), got his name on the fifth street from the river, the beginning of the 500 block.

John Miller, Missouri's fourth governor.

The seventh street (the beginning of the 700 block) was named for Daniel Dunklin, the fifth governor of Missouri (1832-1836).

So when German immigrants began settling in Munichburg in the 1840s, the main commercial street already had its name.

Who Was Governor Dunklin, and What Did He Do?

Dunklin was born in 1790 in South Carolina and came to Missouri when he was only twenty years old. (The age of a college sophomore today!) He got involved in the booming lead-mining business in Washington County. His interest in politics took him to the legislature in 1822 and then to the governorship in 1832 (at age forty-two).

Daniel Dunklin, Missouri's fifth governor.

During his term Missouri established a public school system to be supported by local taxes. Historians call him “the father of public schools.” As a fitting legacy to Dunklin’s educational efforts, Dunklin Street at one time had three of Jefferson City’s then seven public schools along it: Broadway School at Broadway Street (now the Carpenters Hall); Central School between Monroe and Adams (now the Jefferson City Public Schools Administration Office); and, until segregation ended, Washington School for black pupils between Lafayette and Cherry (demolished and replaced by Elliff Hall of Lincoln University).

The Carpenters Building, formerly Broadway School, corner of Dunklin and Broadway.

Next year, 2013, Jefferson City will mark the 175th anniversary of its public schools, established in 1838 as a result of Governor Dunklin’s state leadership.

In addition to Dunklin’s work in education, the Missouri Penitentiary was constructed 1833-1836 during his term, which was critical in keeping the state capital at Jefferson City. Dunklin presided over the addition of the six counties to northwest Missouri (the Platte Purchase), which gave the state is present boundaries.

After leaving office, Daniel Dunklin had nothing more to do with Jefferson City. He became federal surveyor general for Missouri and a commissioner to adjust the state boundary with Arkansas. He died in 1844 and is buried on family property on a bluff near the Mississippi River near the old lead-smelting town of Herculaneum. His grave is now a Missouri State Historic Site: You can visit it, watch the Mississippi flow by below, and ponder the life of this great man.

When Dunklin was governor, Jefferson City had fewer than one thousand residents, who were clustered between the river and High Street. Dunklin Street existed only on paper, although inlots along it had already been bought by speculators expecting fast growth of the new capital city. Governor Dunklin very likely never had the opportunity to walk on the street that bears his name.

Governor Daniel Dunklin may not be much remembered in Jefferson City today, but thousands of cars use Dunklin Street every day in Munichburg.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How Did Ashley Street Get Its Name?

Ashley Street runs through the heart of Jefferson City’s Munichburg from Jackson Street west to Deeg Street. Central United Church of Christ is on Ashley at the corner of Washington Street. But how did the street get its name? Who has heard of a person by the name of Ashley?

Many famous Americans are commemorated with street names in Jefferson City. William Henry Ashley was one of them and is particularly important to Missourians for his contribution to the early development of the state.

Ashley was born about 1778 in Virginia and came to Missouri in 1802. He witnessed the change from a European colony to United States control. He made his first contribution by discovering an Ozark cave full of bat guano, which he recognized as potassium nitrate—saltpeter. Ashley processed the bat dung into gunpowder, a vital commodity on the frontier, especially when paired with the nearby lead mines for producing lead shot. Local gunpowder and shot—and an abundance of game—made the Missouri Ozarks a hunter’s paradise.

William Ashley had the right connections and was popular enough to be elected Missouri’s first lieutenant governor in 1820. As such he had a role in the selection of Jefferson City as the state capital. He was made a U.S. brigadier general in 1821. He was well-known and popular when Jefferson City was founded.

His real place in American history, however, came in the fur trade, which was then centered in St. Louis. He partnered with Andrew Henry to change the way furs were collected in the West and brought to St. Louis. Previously, Indians brought pelts to trading posts along western rivers, where agents of St. Louis fur merchants traded for them.

But Ashley and Henry did not use fortlike trading posts; they replaced the Indians and French traders with American trappers who acted as independent businessmen. Once a year, these trappers would bring their collected beaver pelts to a “rendezvous” in the Rocky Mountains. At the rendezvous Ashley and Henry’s agents bought the furs from the trappers, who came to be called “mountain men.” Among them were such legendary Westerners as Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Jim Beckwourth, Hugh Glass, and Jedediah Smith.

Ashley and Henry’s enterprise was named the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Their system of using American men instead of Indians and French was hugely successful and greatly contributed to the rise of St. Louis in the 1820s and 1830s. And the mountain men explored the mountains and valleys of the West and populated it with the first Americans.

Ashley, for example, is remembered by the National Park Service at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, in Montana and Wyoming, where mountain men and the rendezvous system played a prominent historical role.

Henry served as point man in the Rocky Mountains, while Ashley was the astute businessman in St. Louis.

William Ashley’s popularity in Missouri never waned. He served in Congress in 1831–1837 and ran for governor in 1836. Then he moved to Cooper County, where he died in 1838.

He was buried, according to his dying wishes, in an Indian mound atop a bluff where the Lamine River empties into the Missouri, a few miles west of Boonville. The site is impressive. From that bluff you can look up and down the Missouri River for many miles and imagine boatloads of furs returning downriver to St. Louis. William Ashley had no children.

It is highly fitting that Jefferson City honors the great Missourian William Ashley with a street name. Although today no one knows who Ashley was, it is certain that he was a household name to the early residents of Jefferson City.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Meteorite in the Southside?

The German Methodist Church of Jefferson City, built in 1874, stood at the corner of Broadway and West Elm, facing Broadway.

The congregation disbanded in 1918 and sold its property to member and neighbor Albert Thomas. In 1930 Thomas converted the church building into a duplex, which is still standing.

While excavating a basement beneath the church, workmen discovered a large, unusual boulder embedded in the dirt seven feet below the surface. Professor Alfred C. Burrill, curator of the Missouri State Museum in the nearby Capitol, was summoned. He thought it might be a meteorite, according to a newspaper article published the same afternoon of the discovery. He noted that it was rounded, “a feature peculiar to meteorites.”

The boulder turned out to be a huge chunk of red granite, clearly not a rock native to central Missouri. The particular granite can be traced to a source in Minnesota or the Dakotas. But how did it get from that northern location to a hill five hundred miles away in Jefferson City’s Southside?

It is much too large to have been carried in the current of the Missouri River, and besides, the hill it was found on is sixty feet above the present Missouri River. And it could not have been transported south by glaciers, because geologists maintain that the great ice caps of the past never spread south across the Missouri River in central Missouri.

Here is what likely happened. This theory also explains the existence of similar granite boulders found in the Osage River valley as far upstream as Tuscumbia.

When the thick ice caps to the north were wasting away, great quantities of water came down the Missouri River for centuries, causing it to run “bluff to bluff” like the great flood of 1993. Floating in the great mass of raging meltwater were huge chunks of glacial ice with boulders and other debris in them. Some of these ice floes got pushed into tributary valleys like Wear’s Creek and the Osage River, where they lodged in quiet water on the hillsides. The ice melted, and the boulders and debris were left behind and later buried in windblown silt, or loess.

These boulders are therefore called “ice-rafted glacial erratics.”

Originally thought to be a meteorite, that piece of Dakota granite is still there, in the hillside rock garden next to the excavated church basement where it was found. Albert Thomas had a whimsical nature, and he placed his unique boulder in the center of his rock garden, surrounded by peonies.

He cemented a German garden gnome, called a knusperhexe, to its top. For decades, the garden gnome smiled down on passersby on the sidewalk.

The boulder of granite still sits in that rock garden on Broadway but lacks its guardian gnome, and it is much reduced in size, due to chipping chunks away for family members and friends.

By the way, this wasn’t the first “meteorite” found in Jefferson City. Earlier, in October 1912, a supposed “meteor” was found where the new High Street viaduct was going up. The newspaper at the time quipped that meteorites were said to have diamonds in them, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Dunklin Theatre

On November 18, 1914, Southsiders learned that a large theater was to be built at 115 East Dunklin Street. The proprietors were George Bartholomaeus, who worked in a state office, and Frank E. Jones, who was shortly to become county assessor. The builder was Carl Franke, and the cost was projected at $12,000–$15,000.

This is how the building looks today.

The building faces about 50 feet on Dunklin and extends 120 feet to the north. The theater had a sloping floor of one inch to one foot, taking advantage of the natural slope of the ground north toward Wears Creek.

The seating capacity was 1,000–1,200, including the balcony (a later estimate, however, was 900 seats). Newspapers reported that plans for “opera chairs, inclined floor and an ample stage, as well as electric fixtures of the latest design, will all go to make the house a thing of beauty, convenience and comfort to guests.” The facade, 22 feet high, was “finished in buff brick, trimmed in light cream and terra cotta.” Windows and doors had decorative framing, and the facade was topped with five ornamental urns.

Photos of the building when it was a theater are lacking, but a slightly later photo, taken in the early 1920s when the building housed the Jefferson Moline Tractor and Implement Company, gives an idea of the original look.

The theater opened to a full house at two performances¬¬—that is, nearly two thousand attended—on May 29, 1915, with the name Southside Theatre. The opening show featured the silent film Damon and Pythias.

The film, six reels long, was one of the first feature-length films produced in the United States. It was evidence that the proprietors were bringing to the Southside the most up-to-date entertainment using the newest technology. Admission was 5 and 10 cents.

St. Peter’s Orchestra and vocalist Mrs. Louis Rephlo provided local musical talent during intermissions, as film reels were being changed. Background music during the silent film came from an Orchestrion, an instrument like an oversized player piano but intended to sounding more like a full orchestra. Orchestrions generally came complete with “bells and whistles” and were attached to organ pipes for greater volume.

Here are a few examples of some vintage Orchestrions, so you can imagine what going to a movie was like back then.

A contest was held in June to find a name for the theater. Four Southside women entered the same name, “Dunklin Theatre,” and had to share the five-dollar prize.

A lot happened at “the Dunklin,” as it came to be known. Two Southside youths, Winnie Bassmann and Otto Busch, rented space in the lobby to sell candy, ice cream, and soft drinks. Harold Doty won the prettiest baby contest. Seventeen-year-old Southsider Carl Walz, later to be county sheriff, won a pie-eating contest. All of this was great fun for Southsiders!

In September 1915 the theater showed the first motion pictures of the laying of the cornerstone of the new State Capitol and also rare “pictures” of bayonet charges in the “Great European War” (World War I) into which the United States had not yet entered.

Bartholomaeus sold his share of the theater to partner Jones in August 1915. The theater closed for a while for repairs, then reopened to a big show on January 3, 1916. Broadway School children attended a special show for them and their friends.

In addition to silent movies and vaudeville, the Dunklin held wrestling matches and other common entertainments of the day, including acrobatic and black-face minstrel shows.

In April 1916 Jones sold the entire building for $30,000 to Starrel McCall, a Fulton banker. The spacious basement was to be fitted up for an overall factory, which would employ a “large number of girls” and “add another splendid industry to the Southside.” However, the factory never came about.

In June 1916 the Dunklin Theatre showed the multiple-reel film The Birth of a Nation, possibly the most famous (or infamous) of all American silent films. It had just been released in 1915 and created widespread controversy because of its racism. In film promoted the growth and popularity of the Ku Klux Klan nationwide, including Jefferson City.

On September 27, 1916, the Republican party chose the Dunklin Theatre for a rally because “this is the largest available place in the city. More people can be seated there than in the hall of representatives.” Judge Henry Lamm, Republican candidate for governor in the forthcoming November election, spoke. Local journalists described the scene: “The spacious theatre was crowded to overflowing and people stood in the lobby trying to get a look at the candidate and hear his speech.”

Later in that important election year, African American Republicans also held a rally at the Dunklin; this event was called “one of the biggest rallies in the history of the city.”

In November 1916, local papers announced that the Dunklin had come under control of the International Theatre Company of Chicago, with David Miller and Edward Mann, both of Chicago, as managers. A grand reopening was set for Saturday, December 2, 1916, with the five-reel silent film Prince of Graustark and vaudeville entertainment. Flowers were given to ladies; admission cost 10 and 15 cents.

For nearly a month, the new owners filled the Dunklin by showing films and vaudeville five nights a week, and playing Charlie Chaplin films in the afternoon for children.

Edward Mann, one of the new managers, must have been a pretty good singer, too:

Here is one of the songs Mann performed, sung by John McCormack, the fellow who made it famous:

The Dunklin was competing with three other theaters in Jefferson City, all uptown: the Jefferson, the Gem, and the Grand. When the Grand on High Street showed The Unborn, Mayor Thomas spoke out strongly against movies that are “simply lascivious and appeal to the sensuous.” “The vamp movie and sex movie must go,” he proclaimed. Already in those early years of movies, local sensibilities were being pushed to the limit. (At least in some respects.)

Apparently, the Dunklin Theatre showed no movies after Christmas 1916. Managers instead turned to hosting popular wrestling and boxing events, promoted by the newly formed Athletic Association of Jefferson City. The first was on January 19, 1917, and featured the world welterweight champion Joe Cutrer against Jefferson City’s own Bill Bemboom. The matches drew a large crowd, and, with no radio yet, the newspapers reported action, hold by hold, and blow by blow.

The Dunklin Theatre could not compete with High Street movie houses, in part because it was not on the streetcar line. In spring 1917 it closed forever as a theater, after less than two years of operation. The big building with its ornate facade became a vacant “white elephant” on the Southside’s main street.

But Southsiders were not totally deprived of movies, which were rapidly gaining in popularity. On July 13, 1920, Central Evangelical Church (now Central United Church of Christ), just a couple blocks away, began showing silent movies in the spacious auditorium of its new Sunday School building and provided orchestra music, minstrels, and vaudeville while reels were changed, just as the Dunklin Theatre had. The Apple Tree Girl opened to a large crowd and was the first of a long series of films at the church during the 1920s.

On July 14, 1920, Southsiders learned the Dunklin Theatre building would become the Jefferson Moline Tractor and Farm Implement Store.

After being a farm implement store, the structure served a variety of other purposes, including Griesedick and Budweiser beer distribution centers; restaurants (where a man was murdered!); a novelty company; the Glad Tidings Tabernacle, an Assembly of God Church; a grocery; and a photography studio. Most recently, the building housed Coleman Appliance. In 2010, Central Dairy acquired it.

Stay tuned to this blog for the continuing story of “the Dunklin”!


Much of the information for this post comes from four Jefferson City newspapers: the German-language Missouri Volksfreund, the Daily Post, the Daily Capital News, and the Democrat-Tribune. Photo of the building as a farm implement store from the collection of Don Walz.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Robert Wadlow, the World’s Tallest Man

Robert Pershing Wadlow, the world’s tallest man, was 8 feet 11½ inches tall, and many people remember when he came to Munichburg.

He visited Jefferson City on September 11, 1939. A crowd was already gathered when his car pulled up in front of Chicken Schmidt’s South Side Shoe Store, 124 East Dunklin. Al Case, who as a teenager worked at the shoe store for his uncle Chicken Schmidt, recalled the visit.

The front passenger seat of the car had been removed, and Wadlow sat in the backseat, his long legs extending all the way under the dashboard. It took a while for Wadlow to “uncoil” from the standard size, four-door sedan.

He stood to full height and walked with a cane to a wooden platform, which he mounted, though for him it was certainly unnecessary! There, he greeted folks and posed for photographs. Here he is with his hand on Chicken Schmidt’s head.

Mr. Case remembers Mr. Wadlow coming into the shoe store. Fortunately, the ceiling was ten feet high! When he went to use the facilities, he handed his cane to young Al to hold—it was almost as tall as he was!

Mr. Wadlow toured for Peters Shoes, made by the International Shoe Company, and Schmidt’s South Side Shoe Store was the local dealer for those shoes. Peters Shoes made custom footwear for Wadlow in exchange for his touring as a goodwill ambassador for the company.(Wadlow wore a size 37AA!)

Wadlow was born February 22, 1918, and grew up in Alton, Illinois. Due to an overactive pituitary gland, he was 5 feet 6 inches by the time he was five. At nine, he was 6 feet 2 inches. By 16 and still in high school, he was 7 feet 10 inches—taller than any of the tall men playing professional basketball today.

He was active in Boy Scouts and in his local Methodist church. He was a DeMolay and became a Freemason in 1939. He attended Shurtleff College in Alton.

His extraordinary height destined him to a life of public appearances, not as a sideshow attraction in carnivals, but for shoe companies. He toured throughout the United States mostly for the International Shoe Company headquartered at St. Louis. When he was eighteen, he appeared at the 1936 Missouri State Fair; by that time, he was 8 feet 4½ inches.

Above all (no pun intended) Wadlow had a gentle nature and was kind to everyone, despite his unusual appearance and difficulty of getting around. He always appeared in normal street clothes and was friendly and courteous with the public, regardless of the gawking and staring.

His father was his escort and manager. After all, he was just a teenager when he entered a life of public appearances. He was only 21 when he visited Jefferson City. Several persons in Jefferson City today distinctly remember his visit on Dunklin Street in 1939.

On June 27, 1940, just eighteen days before his death, doctors at Washington University in St. Louis measured him at 8 feet 11.1 inches. He weighed 490 pounds. He may have grown further before his death.

In July 1940 he experienced a blister and infection from a faulty ankle brace while appearing in Michigan. His condition worsened, and he died on July 15, 1940, at age 22. He was buried in Alton, Illinois. Today, a life-size statue there commemorates the world’s tallest man, certified by the Guinness Book of Records.

The Alton Museum of History and Art includes a special exhibit on Robert Wadlow, Alton’s “Gentle Giant.”

In keeping with the pleasant and unassuming nature of Mr. Wadlow, the exhibit is tastefully done with knowledgeable curators.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Jefferson City 1939 photo provided by Al Case. Other photos by Susan Ferber.