Tuesday, November 6, 2018
In 1852, when Jefferson City had a population of about one thousand, John Asel established a meat market on High Street. According to a 1964 article in the Jefferson City News and Tribune, his first ovens and smokehouse were fueled by giant logs pulled as driftwood from the Missouri River. The slaughterhouse was along the river just downstream from where the bridge is now. In winter, ice cut from the Missouri River was stacked in a huge icehouse. During the Civil War, the Asel meat market sold sausage sandwiches to soldiers stationed in the city.
As Jefferson City grew after the war, the Asel meat market prospered not only among the large number of German immigrants but also among the city population in general. It gained a strong reputation for fresh and cured meats, especially for its smoked, cooked sausage made from recipes brought from Bavaria.
John Asel died in 1873 and Barbara in 1891, but several of their eight children continued in the meat business. In addition to the main High Street market, which had different locations on High Street, other Asel meat markets were at the corner of West Main and Bolivar and in Washington, Missouri. Among the advertised items in 1915 were pork ham roast, boiling beef, Porterhouse steak, sugar cured bellies, dry salt meat, smoked spareribs, fancy country hams, calf liver, sweetbreads, and homemade bockwurst every Saturday.
In 1915, John and Barbara’s son Christ (Christopher) Asel went into partnership with William Hott to establish the Crescent Meat Market in the commercial heart of Munichburg at 110 E. Dunklin (now a parking lot just east of the ECCO Lounge). A smokehouse was behind the store. A 1915 newspaper article described it as “clean as a pin and finished in oak, marble and plate glass,” with an enameled refrigerator. They carried a full line of meats, lard, and sausage, and the two proprietors were noted for their courtesy. Christ’s son Ralph was a butcher apprentice in the market.
On June 1, 1931, William Hott and Ralph Asel relocated the meat market to a new building at 711 Madison Street, on land that had been in the Asel family since John and Barbara built their log cabin around 1850. William Hott retired in 1940, but Ralph Asel continued to operate the meat market alone under the name of “Hott & Asel” for another twenty-four years. It is this location, on Madison Street, that is so well remembered by Southsiders as the place to go to get their meat, especially the famous Hott & Asel garlic baloney.
Until 1964, a small creek ran behind the Madison Street store and went underground at the intersection of Madison and Dunklin. The wooded land around the creek was “the jungle” to Ralph’s nephews, Bill and Tom Asel, who lived nearby, at the corner of Ashley and Madison. Ralph Asel had no children, and Bill and Tom recall their Uncle Ralph awakening them early in the morning, before school, to chop cloves of fresh garlic and to chop wood for smoking the famous baloney. The boys also tied the sausage links while holding their hands in “salty, briney water that really toughened up our hands.” The smokehouse was just behind the market, along the creek, and the entire Munichburg neighborhood could tell, from the powerful aroma, when Ralph Asel was making fresh baloney. To the locals, “good eatin’” was Hott & Asel baloney, soda crackers, and a bottle of Moerschel’s beer from the Capital City Brewery.
The store was plain and immaculately clean. A single display case surmounted with a large scale was the central fixture. Behind it was a butcher table for cutting and packaging meats and a table where Mrs. Asel would knit and answer the telephone. A lattice-topped partition framed the opening to a large, walk-in refrigerator behind which was a workroom for butchering. Neighborhood boys remember the store by the antlers on the walls and the sawdust on the floor. Women, who did most of the grocery shopping then, remember the friendliness and candid humor of Ralph and his wife, Milburn.
When he retired in 1964, Ralph told the News and Tribune that he and Mrs. Asel were finally going to take their honeymoon trip: “We probably will go to Florida, Cuba, Paris—and other Missouri towns.”
Ralph Asel closed his business on June 30, 1964, ending 102 years of Asel meat markets in Jefferson City. He sold the building to Milo Walz, who cleared and filled the land behind the building, put the creek underground, and build a hardware store with a concrete parking lot. (See the historic photos on this post.)
Old timers recall snacking on Hott & Asel baloney, soda crackers, and beer after a baseball game or in the middle of the day. Though Jefferson City residents could no longer buy their favorite baloney after 1964, the recipes were not lost. One of the recipes was passed on from Ralph Asel to Johnny Wilbers, a butcher who worked at a grocery store on Monroe Street. Johnny Wilbers then passed the recipe on to his son, Dick Wilbers. In 2004, Dick operated Johnny’s Butcher Shop & Bar-B-Que off Route B, where Viet’s Pub and Grill is in 2018. With Dick Wilbers’s cooperation, and the meat processing services of Swiss Meat and Sausage Company near Hermann, Missouri, the Old Munichburg Association was able to bring back Ralph Asel’s Hott & Asel baloney in 2004. We sold 400 pounds of it in one-pound rings at Oktoberfest, so festival attendees could recreate the pleasures of the past. Dick Wilbers passed away in January 2011.
Early in 2005, another garlic baloney recipe was discovered in a book published by William Hott in 1912. His Secrets of Meat Curing and Sausage Making included another variation of the baloney fondly referred to as Hott & Asel Baloney. So in 2005, the Old Munichburg Association again hired the Swiss Meat & Sausage Company to produce a limited quantity of garlic baloney, this time using the Hott recipe. The association sold 1-lb. rings of the baloney at Oktoberfest for $7 each or 3 for $20. We also made 1/4-lb. sausage packages, which we sold as part of an "Oktoberfest Snack-Pack" in good old-fashioned white paper sacks, along with crackers and samples of Munichburg member Jo Meyer's Mama Jo's Gourmet Honey Mustard. It was fun to offer this unique baloney relished by generations of Jefferson City residents.
Updating this story in 2018, we’d like to note that our friends at Swiss Meat and Sausage Company, which produced the association’s recipes for Hott & Asel baloney, sell 8 ounce chubs of their Rhine Valley German Style Bologna that is a LOT like the Hott & Asel recipe. It’s fully cooked, though it must be refrigerated or kept frozen. If you haven’t been to their shop, about eleven miles south of Hermann on MO 19, you should go there sometime. Lots of deals on some tasty meats! If you can’t make it there personally, remember that they can ship anywhere in the continental United States! (Christmas is coming . . . !)
And if you’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, consider sending a contribution to the Old Munichburg Association, for helping keep these memories alive.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Left: Gundelfinger House ca. 1920 (Schroeder family collection); right: Gundelfinger Building, 2018 (courtesy Matthew Holland).
All the other houses in the 600 block postdate the Gundelfinger house and are now on the National Register of Historic Places, but the Gundelfinger house is not. Daniel built the house for his wife, the Bavarian-born Margaretha Hoehler (age 17 when married), and the happy couple moved in. But she became seriously ill, and in a few months, in 1893, she died. Her funeral was held in the parlor of the new house.
Daniel then married Bertha (Bessie) Roesen in 1895, and family life resumed in the big house; they had two sons in short time, Daniel W. and Karl H. But tragedy struck again: in July 1906 a probate jury declared Daniel of “unsound mind and incompetent of conducting his affairs.” He was committed to the State Hospital in Fulton and died there in November 1907. What would become of Daniel’s dream house?
The Roesen family was intermarried with the Moerschels, who had the big Capitol Brewery. Brewery owner Jacob Moerschel lived in the Gundelfinger house while he was building his Villa Panorama mansion on Swifts Highway in 1907–1908. A much smaller home was built on the property, 602 Broadway, for Bertha and sons. (Now it’s a driveway.) In 1916 the “Bertha Gundelfinger property” (two houses at 600 and 602 Broadway) was sold for $2,500 to neighbor Nelson C. Burch. The widow moved to rural Columbia to live with her son Karl, who, incidentally, committed suicide at age 44.
Between 1931 and 1935 the Gundelfinger house was transformed from a spacious single-family residence into four apartments. The Broadway entrance was eliminated, and a new, pointed-arch, canopied entrance was opened facing Elm Street to access the two apartments on each floor. The lintels were removed and all windows made smaller, changing its appearance from Victorian to Craftsman. The mansard roof, dentiled cornice (minus parapet), and turret were retained. Also, a two-story addition was fused to the back of the house, with a matching pointed-arch, canopied entrance for the two new apartments.
Today, the six-apartment Gundelfinger Building looks as if it has been this way all along, but its history is betrayed by the roofline—the addition lacks a mansard roof. The building’s address was changed from 600 Broadway to 301 and 301½ W. Elm. The original brick exterior was faced with tan stucco, mirroring the tan stucco just added to the catty-corner brick German Methodist Church building that had also been converted into apartments. The Gundelfinger’s stucco has since been painted gray.
Since the 1930s the apartments have served as rental residences of Missouri state office professionals, including an assistant attorney general, lawyers at the Supreme Court, state representatives, and professionals with the Tax and Public Service commissions, State Auditor, Education and Revenue departments, Board of Health, and Missouri Highway Patrol.
The 126-year-old building is now owned by Matt Holland and Eric Hemeyer (H&H Property Management), who are renovating it inside and out to make it once again a sought-after residence in Munichburg, Jefferson City’s historic Southside.
©Walter A. Schroeder, 2018
This piece originally ran in the Jefferson City News Tribune as an ad for Oktoberfest on September 23, 2018.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
As the years passed, the School Board never built a school on the Monroe Street land and sold it in 1946 to the Missouri Osteopathic Association to build Still Hospital, which has since become Capital Region Medical Center. The School Board, however, did not sell its playground at the corner of Hickory and Adams—it conveyed it to the City of Jefferson for management as a neighborhood park, an arrangement that continued for many decades. Then, in April 2016, the Jefferson City School District, concerned with potential issues of liability, deeded the land to the City of Jefferson for $10 for continued use as a playground.
Now 99 years old, the Hickory Street Park is one of the oldest tracts of public land in Jefferson City specifically designated as a park. (Charles’s brother Arthur Hough donated the land for Hough Park in 1917.) The well-maintained, shady, popular playground in Jefferson City’s Southside is today a shining example of what a neighborhood park should be.
By the way, Hickory Street was not named for the tree but for the 7th US president, Andrew Jackson, nicknamed “Old Hickory.” “Jackson” was already in use for the next street east of the park. Adams Street is named for the 6th president. The next street south of the park is named for the 10th president, John Tyler. The next street west of the park is named for the 5th president, James Monroe. Children using the playground are surrounded by US history—four presidents!
©Walter A. Schroeder, 2018
This piece originally ran in the Jefferson City News Tribune as an ad for Oktoberfest on September 16, 2018.
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
The six were built before cars were planned for by homebuilders, resulting in them being so closely set on 30-foot-wide lots that the few feet between them allows no space for a driveway. Instead, when their inlot (901) was subdivided, a 10-foot-wide alley was designated behind all of them, from Tanner Way to Ashley Street. The alley—originally used for horses and wagons—still gives the residents access to the back of their narrow properties. Each lot had a wagon shed, now a garage, in the rear. The two houses on the ends were built slightly larger on their back sides than the other four.
The six are styled like many other small houses for working-class families at that time in Munichburg. Each is a red brick, one-and-a-half-story structure with stylized window framings and doorways. Each has a gabled projection on its north side that is complemented by a small inset porch on the south.
Just as human sextuplets will evolve different personalities as they mature, these architectural siblings, under individual ownerships, have also evolved differently over the decades. Some have been enlarged by second-floor rooms, and some have new siding, new porches, or additions in the back. As property values are increasing in Munichburg, several of the sextuplets are being updated and renovated to be comfortable, small, owner-occupied residences or investment properties. Their original similarity as sextuplets continues to attract the attention of people passing by.
©Walter A. Schroeder, 2018
This piece originally ran in the Jefferson City News Tribune as an ad for Oktoberfest on September 9, 2018.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Meet Buddy: a bike-riding, towheaded, everyday kid growing up on Elm Street during World War II. Everyone he knows is a proud American, including his German-immigrant grandparents. Life on the Southside isn’t rosy, but people do what they can to get by—and Buddy and his friends grow up learning to reduce, reuse, and recycle . . . to be self-sufficient . . . and to help others.
Generous with details, the geographer and historian Walter A. Schroeder—nicknamed “Buddy” in his youth—shares his personal memories of growing up in Jefferson City, Missouri. His descriptions will resonate with people who remember those simpler times, and they will cause others to reflect on what we lost as the years went by.
These 42 brief essays cover an array of topics about Jefferson City places, everyday life, the effects of World War II, and expressions of patriotism. How did families make ends meet? How did kids participate in the war effort? What was it like to have bread, eggs, milk, and coal delivered, to make sauerkraut in the basement, to be fitted for shoes with commercial X-ray machines? What did kids do for fun? How did the old Missouri River Bridge rotate, and what was it like to go to the dime store?
Engagingly written, enhanced by the judgment of a professional historian, and illustrated with 72 photos, maps, and scrapbook mementos, Buddy’s Stories is a vibrant perspective on Jefferson City history . . . and a fond commemoration of the way things used to be.
“I helped my grandfather make beer while Doctor Hill came to our house and brought my brother Walter Albert Schroeder into the world. He cost twenty-five dollars. My parents got a bargain, and I got a ‘buddy.’”
—Richard A. Schroeder, older brother
“This book is a real treasure. Buddy treats us to recollections of our community. It is as if he, Richard, and I are sitting together talking about the old days.”
—Thomas K. Schroeder, younger brother
SEPT. 28 AND 29, 2018
at the Old Munichburg booth
Sunday, July 15, 2018
It’s true, and here’s how it happened.
The Nieghorn family of Cole County has in its family history an intriguing story of German immigrants coming to Jefferson City in 1844. This story was told to me by Gary Schmutzler of Jefferson City, a Nieghorn descendant. Gary heard it from his great uncle Andy Nieghorn, who heard it from his immigrant grandmother Hartenstein. It’s so unusual that it could not have been made up.
The Nieghorns and Hartensteins were among the first Bavarian immigrants to Cole County farms. The Hartensteins came through the port of New Orleans, then up the Mississippi by steamboat, then up the Missouri, also by steamboat. For the Missouri River part of the trip, they traveled in small, short steamboats more like a river ferry, not monsters like today’s Delta Queen or Admiral. The immigrants had to come by river, of course, because Missouri had no railroads in the 1840s.
When they reached the little town of Jefferson City, barely twenty years old, the boat left the Missouri River, entered Wear’s Creek, and continued upstream into its East Branch to where Central Dairy facilities are now, and then it moved south one block to Dunklin Street. That would put the boat with its immigrants into what is today the low "backyard" of Busch’s Florist. This is what that area looks like today.
The immigrant Hartenstein party got off the boat, transferred to wagons, and traveled southwest overland a few miles to the Zion neighborhood, where they settled among Nieghorns and other German Lutheran immigrants and became farmers.
If that family account is to be believed, how can it be explained?
The family account says the Hartensteins arrived in 1844. In that year, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Missouri River experienced its greatest flood ever in recorded history, by volume of water. The Great Flood of 1993, though somewhat less in volume, actually rose higher because of later channel engineering and levees. But the 1844 flood happened before the river had been so deeply channeled and walled in. The floodwater created ten-foot-high sand dunes in the river bottoms, and the river channel changed its course in several locations. Historical records tell of river pilots navigating their steamboats over the tops of submerged trees and croplands in the Missouri River bottoms.
With the Missouri River at such a high flood stage, water backed up into Wear’s Creek, as it always does in any Missouri River flood. If you remember the Great Flood of 1993 in Jefferson City, you remember water backing up in Wear’s Creek and flooding the Capitol Plaza Hotel and the parking lots around it. In fact, river backwater continued upstream in the East Branch channel past Central Dairy and even beyond Monroe Street. So the boat carrying the Hartenstein family could have come up into the Southside using the quiet Missouri River backwater just like moving into the arm of a big lake. In 1844 there were no bridges over the creek, either for a railroad or for wagons. The creek was totally unobstructed and would have been open water.
If you stand on the Dunklin Street sidewalk behind Busch’s greenhouse and lean over the railing, you will see how low the ground is there.
A small creek, visible in an 1892 photo, used to flow behind Busch’s greenhouse. Water from a flooded Wear’s Creek readily backed up into that low ground. In fact, the 100 block of East Dunklin, between Jefferson and Madison, was originally at that low level you see behind Busch’s.
It wasn’t until 1912 that the city decided to fill in the north side of Dunklin ten feet or so, to build up the street and make it relatively flat in that block.
If you lean out over that sidewalk railing and look back under the Dunklin Street sidewalk, you will see the original 1912 limestone retaining wall the city built to hold up the dirt fill that Dunklin Street is built on.
My conclusion is that the Nieghorn family story of the Hartensteins coming all the way to Dunklin Street by steamboat in 1844 is entirely believable. It shows that the stories we hand down from generation to generation may not be distorted or inaccurate retellings, tall tales, or figments of someone’s imagination, but actually could have happened, however unbelievable it seems at first.
But wait! There’s more to the story! When John Nieghorn (1819–1899), who came to Cole County about the same time as the Hartensteins, retired from his business as a tailor and farmer in the Zion community at age seventy-one, he came back to the same place on Dunklin Street where the Hartensteins disembarked from the boat in 1844. He built a three-story brick hotel there in 1892, called the Nieghorn Haus, and he spent his final retirement years living in it.
That hotel building, at 120-122 East Dunklin, and later called the Bassmann Apartments, was thoroughly renovated and updated by Phil Kolb and Steve Rollins in 2010 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places as the Nieghorn Hotel. Thank you, Nieghorns and Hartensteins, for giving us great Munichburg memories!
Monday, April 30, 2018
In 1890 German immigrant Hugo Otto Busch and partner Charles Purzner bought Mathias Nagel’s florist and landscape business on the corner of Madison and East Dunklin. Nagel had been in business there since at least 1873. Busch bought out his partner in 1902 and expanded the business, calling it Capital City Greenhouse. In 1909 he purchased 25 acres of farmland between the 1400 blocks of St. Mary’s Blvd. and Missouri Blvd. to raise plants and flowers. That land today is occupied by Jefferson Plaza and Busch St. In the 1930s Busch had eight large greenhouses: six were on Missouri Blvd., and two were connected to the sales room on Madison Street. He had a total of 50,000 square feet under glass. Busch annually raised thousands of poinsettias, roses, and carnations for his business and for wholesaling. Busch’s Florist served the general public with cut flowers and bedding plants and also decorated for weddings, funerals, and church events and for state government functions at the Capitol and governors’ inaugurations. Busch’s began FTD service around 1920 and rose to rank among FTD’s national leaders. Busch’s has long been considered Jefferson City’s premier florist.
Hugo and his German immigrant wife Lina (Carolina Jung) lived at 117 East Dunklin (part of the business property), where they raised eight sons and two daughters. Six of the sons worked with their father at some time. Son Arthur began working in the 1930s and in 1955 assumed control of the business when his father died at age 89. Art and wife Leota were known for their personal attention to customers and for their friendly, skilled employees. Art died in 1990, and Leota continued until 1997, when the business left the Busch family after 107 years. John Pelzer then owned it, proudly continuing the name Busch’s Florist. The business is now owned by Reid Millard, who in 2018 has renovated the landmark greenhouse on “the most beautiful corner in Jefferson City.”
Hugo Busch was a founding member of Southside Boosters that formed in 1912 to promote the Southside. Busch’s Florist has been an anchor to its business community for more than a century and is an active member of the Old Munichburg Association.
This piece originally ran in the Jefferson City News Tribune.
Copyright 2018, by Walter A. Schroeder
Photo of Hugo Busch, age 79 (1945), courtesy Trinity Lutheran Church, Jefferson City, Missouri
Monday, March 12, 2018
The location of the mural, 117 East Dunklin Street in Jefferson City, originally held the residence of Hugo and Carolina (Lena) Busch and their family of ten children. Built around 1900, the modest-looking brick house was one and a half stories above the street, but it had a full lower floor because the land the house was built on lay ten to fifteen feet below the street level. The house was really a two-and-a-half-story house. It is prominently shown in the mural and labeled as the Busch house.
The building that the mural is in was put up in the 1950s by Milo H. Walz to house Missouri state offices. Later, it was bought by Central Dairy/Prairie Farms and converted into a warehouse, with the first floor removed so that now, if you were able to open the sealed front doors and enter, you would drop ten to fifteen feet to the ground below. The mural is installed in the windows of this 1950s building. This building is not shown in the mural.
The Busch family operated the business continuously until son Arthur Busch died in 1990 and widow Leota sold it in 1997. Reid Millard purchased the business in 2017 and retains the name “Busch’s Florist.” For more than a century Busch’s Florist has been Jefferson City’s premiere florist. The “Busch corner” of Madison and Dunklin is perhaps the most beautiful street corner in Jefferson City.
My mother liked pansies. In spring she always had pansies with their smiling faces in flower boxes at the front door. She and Grandpa sometimes called them by their German name Stiefmütterchen, or “little stepmothers.”
Mr. Hugo Busch, who by then was almost eighty years old, helped me out personally. His hot beds sat those ten to fifteen feet below the Dunklin Street sidewalk between the greenhouse on the corner and the Busch house on Dunklin. I went to them by walking down a ramp from the street sidewalk. The hot beds, each about eight feet square, were held in by 2 x 12 boards standing upright. The beds had heavy wood frames of glass panes for a cover, much like the roof panes of the greenhouse. The frames would be placed over the top of the beds in winter to protect against freezes. Mr. Busch set out his pansies in the fall, so that in mid-March, he could remove the frames from the hot beds and the pansies would be big enough for transplanting to brighten yards with their colorful stepmother faces.
Mr. Busch helped me pick out the pansies one by one. He sat on a board placed diagonally across a corner and patiently waited while I looked over the dozens of plants in one bed. When I picked out one, he gave his approval with a slight German accent, “Yes, Buddy, that’s a nice one.” He scooped it out with his trowel and carefully placed it with just enough dirt in a shoebox. He kept the shoebox tilted so that the little plant with its dirt stayed in place. Then I chose another and then another. We moved to a different bed and again inspected dozens of plants.
It was so hard to make choices! I wanted the showiest for my mother’s birthday, and I needed Mr. Busch’s expert approval for each. The whole process took at least half an hour. Mr. Busch’s patience was inexhaustible. He knew my family and knew that the pansies were for my mother’s birthday.
After we filled the shoebox with a dozen plants—they cost a nickel each, and I had sixty cents to spend—I walked up to the sales room at the back of the greenhouse, paid the clerk, and walked the four blocks home with my shoebox birthday gift of pansies. When I got home, Mom thanked me and planted her pansies in the concrete flower boxes at the front door so that all who passed by would see the bright, colorful faces of the “little stepmothers.”
Copyright 2013, 2018 by Walter A. Schroeder.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
In the first decade of the 1900s, Katharine and Johann Saar were members of the German Methodist Church on the corner of Broadway and West Elm, in the Munichburg neighborhood of Jefferson City. My grandparents, who lived next door to the church, were also members of that small congregation.
The Saars lived less than a block away in the smallest brick house I have ever seen. It measures not more than 12 x 24 feet. Remarkably, it is still standing in good shape with few modifications, like the addition of an indoor bathroom. It sits alone on its own very small piece of land behind the Schaefer House, 618 Broadway, with hardly any yard; parking and driveways surround the house.
Made of soft, porous brick, this little house was probably built in the 1890s. It had only two very small rooms, each about 10 x 10 feet with separate flues, and a microscopic attic above. Today it still serves as a residence. Sadly, the inconspicuous house was overlooked when the grander neighboring buildings facing directly on Broadway and Dunklin were put on the National Register of Historic Places as the Munichburg Historic District. It should have been included.
Franz Pietsch, reportedly a railroad worker, died shortly after little Paul’s birth. Marie Pietsch was left to raise her son by herself. Those were tough times for a widow. Marie moved with baby Paul into the tiny brick house to live with her also widowed mother. Somewhat later, Katharine Saar moved south to the Brazito community, leaving Marie Pietsch and young Paul alone in the tiny house.
In order to make a living, Marie Pietsch took the job of charwoman, or scrub woman, at the old U.S. Post Office on High Street, which was across the street from today’s Arris’ Pizza Palace. My mother described to me how Mrs. Pietsch not only wet-mopped the rooms of the building but also got down on her hands and knees and hand scrubbed all the steps—cleaning them of spat tobacco juice and whatever else. Those steps were used every day, winter and summer, by hundreds of people. Everyone using those steps literally looked down upon her as just a simple scrubwoman. There was no more menial job in public sight, but Marie had a child to raise.
Paul attended Jefferson City schools and turned out to be a stellar student. He graduated from the high school in 1919 no less than class valedictorian and champion debater. He received the coveted A. M. Hough Medal given annually to the student who ranked highest in scholarship. According to the yearbook, his fellow students voted him the “greatest athlete.” Within a few years out of high school he had a respectable Missouri state government position as an assistant chemist. Marie Pietsch must have taken great pride in her son, having risen from such humble circumstances, and he, in turn, must have thought the world of his devoted mother.
World War II came in 1941. Paul, still single at age thirty-nine, entered U.S. military service. Then no one heard anything more about him. When asked, Mrs. Pietsch, now living alone in that tiny house, said he was doing “just fine” and had not been sent overseas.
Mrs. Pietsch died while the war was still raging. She died alone. All alone. According to my mother, the U.S. military would not allow Paul to come home from wherever he was for his own mother’s funeral and burial. Not a single family member was there to mourn Marie, the devoted mother who scrubbed the post office steps on her hands and knees.
You see, Paul had a supersecret job with military intelligence, and he was so indispensable to the war effort that, though he was still in this country, he was not allowed any time off, not even for his mother’s funeral. That bothered my mother very deeply. As a mother herself, she imagined how grieving Paul must have been not to be able to say goodbye to his dear mother.
I think about him and his mother whenever I see that tiny brick house, and I wonder if the devoted mother Marie Pietsch and Paul, her high-achieving son, are ever remembered by anyone else.
Now that I have told you their story, you can remember them, too.
Copyright 2013 by Walter A. Schroeder.
Southside Sketches: Essays on Jefferson City’s Old Munichburg
200 pages, paperback
$12 (available at Downtown Book & Toy, the ECCO Lounge, J Street Vintage, and the Schaefer House, all in Jefferson City, Missouri)
Friday, February 23, 2018
My dad, age 38 when the war began, had been given a 3-A (exempt) classification for military service. My mom jokingly said it was because he had flat feet, but then she quickly added that he was the sole provider for five other persons, including his two young sons (my brother Richard and me) and Mom’s German-born parents who lived with us. With civilian status, Dad was expected to do his duty by civilian service. To do this, he became an air raid warden with the local Office of Civilian Defense.
Looking back seventy years ago, it seems incredible that we believed that Japanese and German Nazi planes could penetrate so deep into the heart of the continent to reach Jefferson City, Missouri, without being intercepted somewhere along the way. Nevertheless, at the time we took the possibility seriously . . . very seriously.
The kids on West Elm Street, six to eleven years old, learned how to identify enemy airplanes from silhouettes of them published in the newspaper and on the back sides of breakfast cereal boxes. (Airplane identification cards also came in packs of cigarettes, but no one in our family smoked.) With our binoculars we surveyed the skies, lying on the steep, grassy terraces or peering out of second- and third-story windows. We were sure we would spot a German Stuka or Messerschmidt or maybe a “Jap” Mitsubishi or Zero and save Jefferson City from air attack.
Newspapers also printed information about what to do when an attack comes. Since gas was a dreaded weapon in World War I, there was fear it could be used again. In case of gas attack, we were to close doors tightly, stuff cracks, avoid the basement, and retreat into the attic. If we were caught outside, we were to cover our mouths and noses with damp handkerchiefs and “walk against the wind to get in the clear quicker. Above all, keep your head. Running around wildly results in much greater danger to yourself.”
To be an air raid warden, Dad had to take a training course. It consisted of eight sessions, taught in evenings at the Junior College (now the Miller Performing Arts Center). He learned about chemical warfare, high explosives, incendiary bombs, and how to keep civilian morale up.
Each session included first aid instruction, including how to care for casualties of gas bombs. “It is the responsibility of the Air Raid Warden to see that everything possible is done to protect and safeguard the homes and citizens within his area from the hazards created by attacks from the air.” On December 12, 1942, the class received certification of membership in the United States Citizens Defense Corps as air raid wardens. Dad was now an official air raid warden!
When an air raid drill was called in the evening, Dad put on his sleeve identification band, picked up his flashlight, and walked the eight blocks from our house on West Elm Street to Lafayette. He looked at all the windows of the businesses and houses to make sure no light was visible from the street. He told those walking on the sidewalk that they should go inside a building and those with cigarettes to put them out or go inside.
My brother and I waited up in our darkened house with all the window shades drawn until he returned to find out what was going on. He never reported anything unusual. He said that everyone was in full compliance with the regulations. We were actually kind of disappointed that no enemy planes had been spotted flying over Jefferson City. It had been just another drill.
As 1942 turned into 1943 and then into 1944, the probability of enemy air attack on the 48 United States greatly lessened, although we kids still occasionally surveyed the skies looking for enemy planes. The Japanese temporarily occupied Attu in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and sent some incendiary balloons over Oregon, and German U-boats were sighted off the East Coast, but we in Jefferson City felt safe from air attack.
Dad, however, retained his air warden status and participated in more air raid drills. It was not until June 4, 1945, a month after Germany had surrendered on May 8, that the Office of Civilian Defense was terminated by executive order and Dad put his air raid warden sleeve band away. Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945.
Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.