A VISIT WITH BEATA ISERN
November 12, 1976 - by Annabel Wagner
[Portions of this ‘interview’ were published in the July 1999 issue of “The Towpath”.]
[At the end of Beata’s ‘interview’ are some of Annabel Wagner’s memories.]
My name is Beata (Klanke) Isern. I live at 11 North Main Street in New Bremen. I have lived here most of my life. I was born June 15, 1896 to William Klanke and Adelia Purpus. I have a sister, Hilda (Mrs. Harry Nussmeyer). I was married to Homer Isern in 1923.
When we got married, times were hard, so Dad said "Why do you want to move away? Why don't you come and stay with us?" So we stayed here three years, and of course Grandpa (August) Isern passed away in 1925 and Grandma wanted to go to California, so Homer said "We'll go over there." So we went in the house just as it was, and, oh boy, we thought we were sitting on top. The carpet was worn out, but we used it just as it was, and Homer painted the kitchen furniture. That was at 214 South Washington St.
In April of 1934, Homer was killed in a freak automobile accident. His arm was torn off when the corner of a two-wheel trailer hit the driver's seat and his spleen and heart were injured. He was conscious when I got to the hospital, but he died of a heart attack at St. Rita's in Lima. Our son, Don, was seriously injured when he was thrown to the front seat. He was about 8 years old.
After Homer died, Don and I stayed on Washington St. for several months, but we finally decided to come home with my Mother and Dad. I sold some furniture and they sold some furniture and we moved back to Main St. On June 16, 1948, Dad died. In the meantime, I had sold the house, because Don was in the Army and he said "Mother, don't keep it for me. I don't want to stay in New Bremen." When Dad died, Don was either working or going to school in Dayton, and he said "Well, Mother, what are you going to do? What if something happens to Grandma? You won't have a roof over your head." All at once, the idea struck me to fix an apartment upstairs. That's the best thing I could have done. It's an income, and I'm not alone and it's centrally located.
My Uncle Ed Klanke built this building in 1896 (11 North Main St.). Uncle Ed owned both this building and the one next door until he got divorced in 1907. Then he wanted my father to buy both buildings. We moved from 5 North Franklin to the stuccoed building next door when I was 4 years old (1900), and lived there for 3 months before we moved to this building. On Franklin St., we lived in what is now the garage. I remember when we moved to Main St., I pushed my doll buggy up the alley between Franklin and Main. It is now all in grass.
The building where the IGA is now was built by my mother's Uncle Ed Purpus in 1892. He had a music store there. That was the time when pianos came in - pianos and other instruments. I often wondered if he had enough business - where he got his money, I don't know. When he died, the building was sold to The Stern des Westlichen Ohio. That was a German newspaper we had here years ago. It meant The Star of Western Ohio. Clara Luebkeman worked there, and Otto Schneider. In later years, it became The New Bremen Sun. We had this German Club and Esther Quist could read those German papers to perfection. We had the biggest kick - we'd get together and read them and we'd laugh.
After the Sun office moved out, the New Bremen Telephone office was up there in the southwest corner and the other rooms were rented out as a residence. I don't know who bought the building then, but Kroger's rented it. They had had a little store down on Monroe St. (106 West Monroe) next to where Jackson's Jewelry Store is now. There was a couple from New Knoxville - they had a little grocery store there. She was a Kuhlman girl and she married Bill Thieman. Tony Varno also ran that.
After Kroger's left (October 1949), IGA came in, and then they bought that old frame building to the north of it. Emil Schneider had had a barber shop in there and they lived upstairs. There was also a butcher shop and a gift shop and a restaurant in it. When Gilberg & Hegemier had it, Paul and Pauline Gilberg lived uptairs. I remember when Erma Landwehr had her restaurant in there because we lived up above. After the IGA took it over, I don't think anything went into that building. It was torn down a few years back. It was so old. When they tore it down, Elmer Ende was right there, and he saved several pieces of the lumber because it was walnut.
My father and mother owned and operated a boarding house and saloon next door (9 North Main) after we moved in this building. Those rooms were large, and I think Papa divided them into four rooms. When the streets were put in, they had a lot of boarders who stayed for quite a long time. Lots of times the workers would have to work out of town. Then we would have to pack their lunch pails for them. We had two hired girls to help us. One time, when I was quite young and Hilda went away, I helped Dad take care of it. We had 18 boarders, but that was a drop in the bucket. I just wonder how many we actually had. Papa had a free lunch. When you bought a glass of beer, you got a free lunch. Mama always had to have enough on hand, you know. She'd maybe get a leg of veal and roast that with gravy. There was always free cheese, and pretzels, and crackers.
About once a year, a band would come from Germany and stay for three or four days. Dad would take the pool table and push it aside and I guess he put boards over it and a cloth, and that was the musician's stand. Everybody would come to Bill Klanke's saloon because a German Band was there. That was a drawing card. I really don't know how they got here, if they came on the dinky (railroad)? They must have - there were no cars and they couldn't make it with a horse and buggy, you know. Then there was a little corner and they had a screen around that, and that's where the bathroom was.
There used to be a hotel up here on the corner (24 North Main). It was called the French House. It was a great big building. Next to it on the south (20 North Main) is a real old house that used be owned by Carman Hirschfeld.
I think there were about seven saloons. There was one at Fritz's, where that telephone building is now; and Wolf's - that was in the middle of the block; then Papa; and then Schwepe; and then Schwers - that was five; then the Hotel is six; and I don't know who owned that place before Fred Kamman; and down farther, I believe the Rabe Store had a saloon too, years ago.
I'll tell you about this one fella. You know, there were tramps and they would stop. This one fella asked for crackers, then he asked if we had some vinegar, and he wanted a soup bowl. He put vinegar in the bowl and then he put crackers in it, and that was his soup. That way, he didn't have to pay anything either.
The tramps that came through would lay out on the ground all night. They'd beg for newspapers and they would cover up with them. They would congregate over there where Jim Cooper lives, by the light plant. Then one would have to beg for this and one for that and they'd put that all in a kettle and then they'd have soup. I was always afraid of them.
When I was 18, I went to work at Dayton off and on. I'd go for about three months, and then in a couple of years, I'd go for about three months again. I had different typing jobs - for the Hayner Distillery, the Detrick Distillery, the Republican party, and the raincoat company. I stayed with a relative, but I'd never do that again. Dad had a typewriter, and I taught myself how to type.
Across the street from the IGA south, across the alley from Rump's is the house where Dr. Fledderjohann used to live. The house had belonged to Ed Conradi. Dr. Fledderjohann built his office there, too.
The whole area of South Main St. used to belong to the Vogelsangs. I remember when I was pretty young, it was Halloween, and these boys removed Mrs. Vogelsang's step, and the poor soul didn't know the step was gone and she fell and broke her hip. I'll never forget that.
These streets used to be dirt. In the summertime when it was dry, it made a lot of dust when the farmers used to bring their cows in from the east and down Monroe St. to the dinky to be shipped out. A lot of people in town used to have cows and chickens in their backyards. I remember there used to be Jungs living in this neighborhood and Lorine Isenberger - she was a Schwaberow. She had a cow, and over there where Verona Huenke's house is (304 West Monroe) - there were several there. I can remember when they made the brick streets. I was about 10 to 12 years old at the time. I think they put the electric in at the same time.
There used to be a swing bridge across the canal. When the boats would come through, the bridge would open up to the sides. The post office used to be across the canal where Ivan Koeper had his shoe store. You'd have to go to the post office then to pick up your mail. I used to get scared green when I would go there that I'd be on the other side of the canal and the bridge would open up and I wouldn't be able to get back across the canal.
I remember when Dierker's Store blew up on the corner of Washington and Monroe Streets (1905). It was a very nice dry goods store. There was a gas leak, and this fellow went down and lit a match - he didn't know what the problem was. That was quite an explosion.
My dad was in the Klanke Furniture Company with his brothers, John and George. Their store used to be where Friemering's is now. I don't know how many years we had that. My dad had to quit at an early age, because he had such high blood pressure. Uncle John passed away (in 1890), and Uncle George wanted to go to Piqua to The Meteor (Motor Car Company, a manufacturer of hearses and ambulances. The company introduced their first hearse in 1915.) He coaxed my Dad to go, too, but Dad said "Nothing doing, I've always made my living in New Bremen and I'm going to continue." Then Auglaize Furniture Factory came in (1914) and they made different types of furniture.
Undertaking went with the furniture business. My father was an undertaker. His brother, John, was older and he taught my Dad. I don't know where he learned how to do it. Then it happened that you had to have a license and Papa said "I bet I can embalm somebody better than these fellas that took it." You should hear some of those stories Dad would tell. They didn't want ice - that was the first thing. Years ago, they put them in ice. In those days, they had the funeral in the home. They'd have to go way out in the country with a horse and buggy and no lights, then they wouldn't have a table or anything, so they would take a big door off the hinges and put that on a box, and then they would embalm them.
Dad had some awful cases. He told of one case where the lady had dropsy, and they had her on this board, or door, at her home. I guess she was packed in ice and then, I don't know why, that water started leaving her, her whole body, and he said it was almost awful to save. It was in the summer, and lamplight, and then he said people had flies, and the flies would get in that water, and then they'd get on his face! Oh, you know, he really went through something. Then inside the casket, to trim it, they'd put smilax. That was some green stuff to make it kind of fancy. It was a real fine plant that came in strips (garlands), like.
Speaking of flies, we used to use branches from the peach tree to shoo the flies - I don't know why a peach tree. We used to have big aprons and we'd wave our aprons to chase them all in a corner of the room, then somebody would open the screen door and out they'd go. And then we had that sticky paper, don't you know.
When we had all those boarders, and they would get sick, I don't recall that we had to take care of them, but I know at least three that we had. I don't know if Dad took them to the furniture store - they had a room back there in later years. I guess that's what he did, and then brought them back. And then we had the casket there and when they had the funeral, they couldn't make this turn. There was a single door and they couldn't make the turn, and then Papa said the best thing we could do is take the window out. I don't know if that happened once or twice, and he said "That's just enough now. I'm going to put a double door in." When Martin Knost took their brick house down and built the frame, Dad knew they'd have this door for sale. Then he put that in.
I guess they buried those boarders in Potter's Field because they had no other home. This was their home. I was so small, I never got to go to the cemetery. There was one - his nickname was Red Henry. He drank quite a bit and he was just like at home here.
Then there was an old man - his name was Langhans. He was just like a Grandpa to me, and he was custodian at our church. He must have gone over there to fire the stove, and during the night the church started to burn. Oh, that poor fella, he felt so bad. So then, Annabel, your Uncle Bill Scheer (he boarded here too) - he said "Oh, I'm going up to bed." His room was right next door to Grandpa Langhans, and then he came flying down and he told my Dad "I believe there's something wrong in Langhans's room." Papa said "I'll go along with you." There he sat, he had died. He had tried to get his boots off and then he died. He was gray-haired and had a gray beard - he was the nicest fella. Well, he didn't have many relatives, so we buried him from here. Whatever he had, we got that all together, then the relative or whoever it was, they got what he had.
Before this happened, he sat there back of the stove and Papa noticed that he wasn't the same and he said "Well, Mr. Langhans, what's the matter? Don't you feel good?" "Oh, yes", he said, "but I worry. I don't know how I'm gonna get along. I don't have much money any more." And Papa was good-hearted. He said "Oh, don't let that worry you. As long as I've got something, you've got something, too." "Oh", he said "thank you." I can just see him now. He was just like a member of the family. On Monday, we'd wash, you know. Then we'd call him for lunch. "Well", he said, "I want to work the washer." He felt like he was earning his keep. At that time, people didn't have much of anything, but they still shared.
Then there would be a funeral. Oh my, just look at those fellas in that picture. There they sit real high on that hearse. They'd go real slow, you know, in the procession. Dad froze his ears a couple of times. He had a great big coat with a cape, and a fur cap. This picture is of Wilson Vornholt and Ferd Nieter. They were in that business in the Arcade building. Isn't that funny how the undertaker and the furniture business go together?
Beata Isern lived on North Main Street most of her life (except for about 12 years) until her death in March 1979. Many people will remember Beata sitting on her front porch swing, always ready to visit with passersby.
MEMORIES OF ANNABEL WAGNER
[from a conversation with Beata Isern - 11/12/1976]
In November 1976, I was asked by the Historic Association to interview Beata Isern about early New Bremen as she remembered it. Doing so brought back many memories of my own. I would like to share some of them with you.
Beata and I talked about how a lot people used to have cows and chickens in their backyards in town. I remember back in 1945, we still had chickens, and everybody had a chicken coop. I also remember when Omer Jordan lived on Jefferson Street where we lived, and his barn had such a huge door. I never knew what that was for, and they said that was where they had kept the horse. That later became the coal bin for everybody that rented that particular place.
I remember when you had to go to the Post Office every day to pick up your mail. They had boxes you had to pay to rent. There were no mail deliveries until Frank Buckloh and Walter Behm started delivering it in 1923. At one time, they delivered it twice a day. When they first talked about changing it to only one delivery a day, that was real upsetting. Now they talk about having it only three times a week.
I remember when Mrs. Witte had her boarding house. I was a girl in High School at the time, and I helped her. I think she probably had like ten people (maybe I'm stretching it a little) and I think she used to pack buckets for her boarders.
My husband, "Pete" (Alvin) Wagner, tells about going to Lock Two as a child with his Dad to take grain to the Lock Two Mill and then they'd go to Wissman's Saloon. He said you'd always get a free piece of cheese or maybe even a sandwich when you bought a glass of beer.
When I worked at Schwieterman's Drug Store during the depression, everyday you'd have any number of transients. They would come in and ask for bay rum or canned heat and they would drink that. If they'd come in a couple of times, then a little later you'd hear that maybe the Marshal had put them in jail and sobered them up.
They would often come in and ask for newspapers, if nothing else. They called them "Hoover Blankets." That's what they covered up with to hold the body heat in. That was back in the early 30s after the crash of '29.
When we were kids, we called them beggars. They'd go house to house and ask for something to eat. We were always afraid of them, but a lot of them were all right - it was just their way of life. During the depression, it was the only thing they could do. I'm sure there were some of them that were just plain lazy and liked that kind of a roaming life, but there would always be an umbrella repairman and a scissors grinder, and those people would probably find places to stay. Most of them, though, probably couldn't afford to stay anywhere. Some of them would stop at the light plant, and if they came all the time and people knew them real well, they just slept there. They would be very interesting people and could tell you some interesting stories. They tell me the fellas would kind of sit around by the railroad track.
I remember when I was a youngster, I would visit my cousins and Aunts and Uncles out in the country. At threshing time, there would be this big table set up with 12-15 people eating and the youngsters would have to shoo the flies. I remember they took a broom handle or even one of those wood things from a window shade, and a paper flour sack cut in strips, and wrapped the sack around the handle. We'd stand over the table and use that to shoo the flies while they were eating. There was also something called daisy fly killers and that sticky paper. We still use that. We also chased the flies out of the house by flapping aprons, etc. to get them into a corner. Then somebody would open the screen door and out they'd go.
The telephone office I recall was upstairs in the Boesel building on the southeast corner of Main and Monroe. That building always looked so nice and I thought it was such a shame that they tore it down. That's where the Post Office was on the east side, Mr. Albert had his funeral home downstairs, and Jim Taylor had his photography shop on the west side. There was also an attorney's office on the west side. Then Jim Taylor moved above where Mack Wellman's Dry Cleaning business has been.
Before the Kroger store moved into the New Bremen Sun building (where the IGA is now), they were in a little store next to where Jackson's Jewelry Store now is. There was a man by the name of Tony Varno who managed that. He boarded over at Mrs. Witte's - I remember that. There was also a Bill Varno who collected garbage and trash. He just had a small four-wheel wagon that was drawn by a horse, and he was our garbage man for a good number of years. I don't know if they were related or not.
I remember 20 years ago, when some popular person died, the New Bremen Sun gave a very lengthy and complimentary write-up. Now, of course, you just get minor details.