“OUR DEAR OLD ST. MARYS FOREVER”
On November 20, 1939, New Bremen historian, Ralph May, wrote to A.C. Buss, then editor of the St. Marys Evening Leader (one time editor of the New Bremen Sun) about his impressions of St. Marys as a youth growing up in New Bremen. The letter was published on 11/28/1939 and again two times later, April/1968 and 7/20/1972. Another similar article was published on 9/24/1970 about Ralph's days of working in St. Marys as the express agent for the Pacific Express Co. and Wells Fargo Express Co., which operated on the Western Ohio Railway.
"Our Dear Old St. Marys Forever" was the slogan appearing on placards announcing the St. Marys Harvest Jubilee in 1910, at which Rajah, an "elephant" walking the high wire drawn tight above Spring Street between the Fountain Hotel (later Ft. Barbee) and the Grand Opera House was a feature attraction. In a letter accompanying the original article when it was published the second time, Ralph talks of the "elephant" as being an Italian man and woman. [See Clarence Laut’s recollections of the ‘elephant walk’ at bottom of page.]
[Photo courtesy of George Neargarder]
"Rajah, the Elephant" walking the tight-wire from the Fountain (later Fort Barbee) Hotel (on the left) to the Grand Opera House (on the extreme right.) A streetcar is standing in front of the station at the Palm Hotel building (below the "elephant"). To the right of the Palm Hotel, next to the Grand Opera House, is Engel's Cafe (later the location of the G.C. Murphy Store.) On the left of the Hotel building is a restaurant (alongside the St. Marys River.) Notice the "arch" street light. The black sign mid-way up the left side says "C.A. Robison - Funeral Director." [Ralph May - April 1968]
Ralph May worked in St. Marys after his graduation from New Bremen High School in 1910, the year of Halley's Comet, until 1912. His remembrances:
"A New Bremen boy could not help but look up to St. Marys as a great metropolis, and our first trips to The City were milestones in our young lives. Later, when I worked in St. Marys, I felt I was making some progress in the world. I never became a resident of St. Marys, however, for I was too much attached to the scenes of my childhood.
Nothing was more delightful than a trolley ride to St. Marys, the round trip costing 25¢. Some of the New Bremen boys had girl friends in St. Marys, and would purchase their ticket and leave on the 8:12 for the big town up north. We were fortunate if, besides our trolley car ticket, we could purchase two tickets admitting us to the Grand Opera House for a performance. If our money (and time) held out, afterwards there were usually fried oysters at Lyman's Restaurant. To miss the last car for New Bremen (around midnight) would have been a catastrophe, for we hardly had an extra 50¢ for a room at the Palm Hotel.
Walking almost the full length of Spring Street on both sides of the street, with the bright lights of the electric arches that crossed at street intersections, few cities of its size could have been more interesting, and we made the most of our time. There were ice cream sodas, chocolate dopes, and the nickel picture shows, with the choice of two theatres, I believe. A Hart, Shaffner & Marx suit in 1910 cost $25 at Victor Brothers. The shop windows at Bamberger's and Heap's also came in for our admiration, but the most that we could purchase before we found regular employment was a shirt, a hat, or a necktie.
One of my first trips to St. Marys was as a little boy, attending a G.A.R. Civil War soldiers' reunion, the trip being made by horse and buggy along the route nearest the canal. There were lots of good things to eat, the talk of the soldiers and their families, and then the long trip back home in the summer evening - there was the canal, the old-time bridges that crossed here and there, and the long stretches of countryside for the seven miles over and back. What a great trip it all was!
The friendship that existed between the families of those Civil War veterans is something I do not want to forget, and I am thankful that as a boy I could attend some of their reunions. My grandfather, Dietrich (Richard) Schroeder, who died in 1895 when I was about 3½ years old, was a corporal in Auglaize County's Co. C, 37th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and was wounded by gunshot in the ankle at the Battle of Missionary Ridge. He served in many engagements under the command of Major Charles Hipp of St. Marys. Once I spent an afternoon and had supper with the wife of Major Hipp. Major Hipp had lost an arm in the Civil War, and for many years was the Postmaster at St. Marys. Mr. and Mrs. Hipp were my first acquaintances there. They lived at 223 S. Main St. (since 1981, the home of the Auglaize County Historical Society's museum.)
I can't recall the first time I ever saw the reservoir at St. Marys. It may have been the time when we took the latest interurban car out of New Bremen, got off at the feeder and walked the towpath to the bulkhead. Then we had to wait for dawn to get our first glimpse. I recall going up on the bank in the darkness and feeling the spray as it came over the highway. In those days, it was a fearsome thing, and we did most of our fishing in the feeder below the lock.
One of the first things I remember about the reservoir was the old Celina Chautauqua. Jim Moore, of poultry house fame, used to tell me about hearing Sam Jones, the great evangelist, who appeared on its platform.
The Kylo Club of New Bremen had their headquarters on the south bank. This was a group of elder statesmen, which included Julius Gilberg, Henry Elbert, Henry Dierker, C.P. Gress, Louis Huenke, William Schulenberg, Charles Block, William Schelper, Fred Ende, etc.
After graduation from high school in New Bremen, I was looking forward to a job and a somewhat business career. For some three years I had worked on weekends in Schulenberg's Store where I got a little training in the express and ticket handling on the interurban line, all of which was part of the store's business.
I worked in St. Marys in 1910, 1911, 1912 - first in the small location wedged between the Palm Hotel and Young's saloon as agent for the Pacific Express Co. operating on the Western Ohio Railway. Later, it was taken over by the Wells Fargo Express Co. Mr. St. John was the Route Agent for the Pacific Express Co. in Toledo, and he offered me the choice of two jobs - a messenger on the interurban line between Detroit and points south, including the Western Ohio, or the express agency in St. Marys. Being very much a homebody, I could not think of being so far away as Detroit, so I was glad to accept the St. Marys position since I could still live in New Bremen and go back and forth on the interurban cars. My salary when I first started in June 1910 was $45 per month.
There were times when I would stay overnight in St. Marys and I could get a room and bed at the Palm Hotel for 50¢. Mr. St. John, on one of his trips on the road, took me to dinner in the restaurant at the hotel. It was during the summer and I went in the dining room in my shirt sleeves. The waitress asked me to put on my coat, as that was the rule of the establishment. I was a little chagrined and felt that Mr. St. John should have forewarned me.
When the express office was combined with the interurban ticket office, we had our location in the Fountain Hotel lobby on the north side of the street, then later moved back across the street to the east room of the Palm Hotel alongside the river. (C.A. Robison had his mortuary where the municipal building was later located - on the island between the river and the canal.) When the two offices were combined, I was agent for both. I then got $55, but had to work every other Sunday. Express shipments destined for St. Marys arrived on the interurban cars, and in addition to being the agent, I picked up and delivered shipments to all the various industries with a horse and wagon. In that way I soon got to know much of St. Marys. The horse and delivery wagon were kept at Makley's livery stable on Front St. off Spring, back of the old bank building. They boarded the horse for $7.00 per month. They would do the hitching and unhitching and take care of the horse when I wasn't making deliveries. It was a very convenient arrangement, as I had no experience at all in caring for a horse.
The longest ride was out to the Spoke Works (Crane & McMahon). I would sometimes pick up a large wheel there for shipment to Chicago. One time, on one of those trips, one of the front wheels came off my wagon and I was pitched headlong to the street. It was one of those occurrences that make you feel so silly as you get up on your feet. Another time I was delivering a rather large dog that had been enroute for a day or so, and when I lifted the crate down off the wagon, I gave some help in releasing the dog from captivity. The dog, in the excitement, jumped all over me in his newborn freedom.
There was a variety of shipments on the interurban. One of the most aggravating was beer consigned from the Sidney brewery to residents in Muncie, Indiana, where some kind of prohibition was in effect. About every week or so I had a whole wagonload to transfer to the L.E.& W. station for the train to Muncie. The beer was packed in barrels and boxes and consigned to various individuals.
I came in contact with many new people while working in St. Marys, and human nature opened a whole new world to me. There were many interesting people there in those days. I can still see Dan Mooney with his wonderful stature and walk as he brought over a package of securities to be sent to an insurance office in Detroit. Then there was Lem Neely, another imposing figure, and the employees in the First National Bank where I made my deposits of the day's receipts. Whenever I delivered ice cream to Longworth's or Orth's confectionery, I always sat down for a soda while the horse waited outside, a heavy cast iron weight with a strap to his halter which kept him from moving - I don't remember any hitching posts near the express office. I recall, during the hot summer months, how the elite of St. Marys took the interurban after supper and went out to Idlewild or Sandy Beach for a bit of recreation.
There were stage plays at the Grand Opera House and what wonderful occasions these were - a far cry from what we got to see at Boesel's Opera House in New Bremen during our school days.
A.C. Buss, who at that time had not yet acquired The Evening Leader, had a printing plant near the livery stable on Front St. where he published The Creamery Patron, a small publication sent out to customers of the White Mountain Creamery in New Bremen. Before this, I believe he had a hand in publishing the old St. Marys Argus (Graphic?). Mr. Buss and I used to have our noonday lunch in the saloon which was also near the livery stable, where, with the purchase of a drink (milk or coffee) for 20¢, we could also get a satisfactory lunch.
Street cars regularly ran between St. Marys and Minster, St. Marys and Wapakoneta and Lima, and points north and south out of Wapakoneta and Lima. I always took the street cars back and forth to my home in New Bremen with my Grandmother Schroeder when I worked in St. Marys. The ride home on a summer evening was most delightful, looking over the farmland and the pleasant countryside, but I had to get up very early in the morning to get the first car out of New Bremen. The ticket office in St. Marys would already have been opened by our St. Marys employees.
Always a point of beauty as I came from New Bremen to St. Marys was the big weeping willow tree in front of the Charles McKee residence south of St. Marys on the west side of the Western Ohio tracks. This home later became the residence of the manager of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. Albert Herzing had a German gardener who took care of his yard where I always admired the sweet peas he was able to grow. I remember when the high school building and the clock were still at the corner of Spring and Wayne Streets, and we could hear Big Ben strike, giving us the time of day. Today (1968), this is only a parking place. (Later, United Methodist Church.)
St. Marys, in our estimation, was the 'capital' of Auglaize County, although it was soon replaced by Lima, Dayton, and Columbus in cities of first importance...."
New Bremen Man Had Part In Elephant Wire Walk At St. Marys’ 1910 Harvest Jubilee
[from The Evening Leader - 3/14/1973]
"I played in the band when the 'elephant' walked the wire" recalled 93 year old Clarence Laut of New Bremen at the Valley Nursing Home where he was a patient. "That was back in 1910." His memory was sharp and he had a volume of memories of early New Bremen, Minster, Chickasaw, Rockford, St. Marys and other places where he played in the band and orchestra.
When Clarence saw the picture of the elephant walking the wire, it awakened memories of the three days he played in the band for the elephant walk while hundreds of people stood on the street and sidewalks, holding their breath as they saw the great Granada and his wife, Fedora, walk the wire in the elephant skin.
Clarence played the tuba, playing the beat for the slow but steady walk of Granada and Fedora across the wire strung from the Grand Opera House Block to the then Fountain Hotel block. Clarence could hum the 2-4 tune as he pictured the couple in their daredevil act. He didn't know the couple's name. We got the names from Emil Limbacher.
Emil recalled how the couple always kissed their three children, standing in front of Henry Siewert's shoe repair shop before they went up to do their act.
Clarence started playing the string bass and the tuba when he was just a 13 year old boy. He remembered taking lessons from ‘Old Man Hengen’, an excellent violinist and a college graduate who taught in New Bremen and in other communities about here. Playing in the band for the elephant walk were Clarence’s father, John Laut, cornet; August Mueller, clarinet; Gus Gobrecht, trombone; Adolph Pape, traps; Mr. Hengen and Ben Klute.
Another of Mr. Laut's memories of the past was helping to open the Minster Theatre when Mutt and Jeff played there; playing in the Grand Opera House for stage shows; and for the "extra-fine dances given by the 400s in the Music Hall, the third floor of the Opera House Block in St. Marys." He remembered especially one night’s moonlight dance - everyone came in formals, most of them arriving by horse-drawn cabs. The only light on the dance floor was from a calcium light over in a corner of the room where the orchestra was seated. Out in the center of the floor was a huge arrangement of beautiful wildflowers, Mr. Laut remembered.
Clarence Laut was a cigar maker by trade - he helped his father make ‘Manhattan Puffs’, but his avocation was playing the string bass and the tuba in the band and orchestras. At the Valley Nursing Home, he looked at the picture of the elephant walk and the years rolled back - he was 31 then and in his hey day.
To read more of Clarence Laut’s recollections of by-gone days, see an interview with Clarence Laut (1975).
A "parade entry"? at the St. Marys Farmers' Jubilee (year unknown)
[Photo donated by Lois (Quellhorst) Siferd of Wapakoneta, Ohio.]
For more about the interurban, see The Interurban