Clarence Laut with Paul Gilberg

An Interview with Clarence Laut

November 15, 1975
by Paul Gilberg

My name is Clarence Laut. I was born September 24, 1879 to John Laut and Bertha Kelling on West Monroe St. in the brick house beside Plucky's Jewelry Store where Wissman had his saloon. I was born upstairs in that building. The whole house is only one layer of brick. The back was built on afterwards. My uncle was Herman Laut. He had the Hotel.

Dad made cigars up there. When I was only 11 years old, I helped strip the tobacco. I didn't get any pay. Children didn't get paid in those days - they just lived on their allowance.

I had a helluvan allowance. One time I gathered bones and took a whole wheelbarrow of them to old man Thompson at the lock. There used to be a barn there and they cut the bones in there - that iron, you know. In those days, people cooked a lot of soup with those heavy bones. It gave the soup a good flavor.

I didn't have 11cents to buy a fishin' pole and line and hook. Pa wouldn't give it to me - he didn't have the money to give in those days. If you wanted something, you tried to get the money someway yourself or sell something. Things are different with children today, aren't they?

I remember when we moved where Plucky lives now (115 S. Franklin St.). That house was only about 4-5 years old then - a fellow by the name of Bill Thieman built it. It wasn't finished upstairs, just the downstairs.

My parents were both born here, but my grandmother came here from Cincinnati. They had a store at 107 North Main St. where Theodore Doenges was, in that brick building. There was a dance hall upstairs. I played many a dance up there. They had two bowling alleys in the back too. They had a great big barn where people put their horses - it was just across from the Historic Association building.

Grandma used to have two bedrooms upstairs on the south side. When you'd come up the steps, you'd walk right into that southeast corner. She had a bed in there all the time for kids. People would come to dance and bring their babies and drop them on the bed along with coats and hats and everything. It's a wonder some of them didn't die.

There used to be some big fights there. If there was no fight, the dance was no good. One night Bill Waterman and his brother were going down the steps when Herman Fark (he used to be the brick layer) stood at the top and fired a shot right through one's derby hat. Another night, Jake Schlesselman got in trouble with some of the farmers and his friend, Frank Wellman, went in and let them have it right and left and gave Bill Schwepe a blue eye. Ernest Topp was standing on a beer keg watching Bill Waterman and another one fight, when another fellow came out of the side door and with one lick knocked Ernest clear off the beer keg, about ten feet.

I had five children. The first one was born dead. Then there was Lloyd, then came Lorraine (Toots), and next was Arnold. Then there was Nettie (Jeanette). This is her home we're talking in. I have three sisters and one brother. Minnie married Leonard Jordan, Clara married Ferd Paul, and Naomi married Earl Pabst. He died in 1918 and then she married Harold Steinle in 1924. Plucky is my brother - his real name is Melville. He married Leona Nolte.

Plucky was 12 years younger than me and hated school. I would take him to school and he'd always run out and he'd hit the school patroler. One day when he was in first grade, I jumped out of the window and went home and he was there already. He'd hit the teacher, Maud Stone, and went out the door and on home. That was Plucky!

Maud and Bessie Stone were Dr. Stone's daughters. Maud married Theodore Tangeman and Bessie married Otto Boesel. Both men were lawyers.

My first teacher was old man Zwez. His name was Julius. His son, Arthur, used to be a tinner at one time and worked for Charlie Heil. Later, he worked in the freight yard of the depot at St. Marys. Elizabeth Zwez married Walter Neuman.

I went to school in the brick building (Central Grade School) that was torn down. It's a durn shame they tore it away. It would stand when some of them are down to the ground. My dad went to school in a little brick building where they keep the buses now. Deitemeyers lived just across the street from there. Liz Deitemeyer planted the walnut tree that's standing there.

I quit school when I was 15. The only ones I know who went to college were Tangeman and Boesel. Those fellas had money backup, see. John Halsema was one, and Wilson Behm. They all taught school. Wilson used to work for 50¢ a day and walked from here to St. Marys and back every day for 50¢. He was a great walker.

I still remember when the street was built on Monroe Street. They laid all those good heavy bricks in there. I believe the pavement was laid right over them. I believe the sidewalks were made with paving bricks at one time too. Just a few weeks ago, they put new cement down and the old paving brick was still there.

I used to walk to work at Dad's every day from the house here on the Vogelsang's street. There were no sidewalks, just a path where you walked along. When they paved those sidewalks with brick, the women were so particular with them that Grandma Speckman used to run bare-footed. She painted them red clear around the corner where they lived (Mousa lives there now) in that brick building. When it started to rain, she'd crawl backwards to the house and carry all that red paint in the house, Yeh, the kids won't believe that stuff, but it's true.

I started taking music lessons when I was about 18 years old from Cornelius Hengen. He used to be in St. Marys. Of course, he was a man that used to be on the road. He traveled with the Golden shows for years. He had the City Band. I started playing with the Little Six Band first. There were four Lauts - there was Ferd, Christ, Dad, and Plucky. They all played band instruments, all of them. I started with the City Band when Hengen came in there, when I was 18. Henry Weinberg used to be the base player, then he got old and got out of there. Then they got a new horn for me. I played a tuba. I took my lessons on a string base - tuba, I didn't hardly take any lessons at all. I could read music, you see. Paul, I remember when your Dad and Charlie Lanfersieck used to get together to play and sing. They had a lot of fun playing together - I know Charlie did, anyhow. We also had a Laut Band. We used to play just outside the edge of Lima. Once we played at Mendon. We had to travel seven miles of mud road through Neptune. The horses would walk to their belly in chuck holes. We used to drive that with a hack. We wouldn't come back till the next morning at 1:00. [See a related story in “Dear Old St. Marys Forever”about Clarence’s band playing.]

There used to be a hotel in that old big gray house where the plumbing shop is now right across from Zion's Church.

On June 10, 1901, I married Luetta Speckman. She was the daughter of Fred Speckman. Her brother, Irvin, was the undertaker who started me out in life. I guess I met her at the dances. My wife used to enjoy dancing, you know. They had some awful good waltzes. Herb Trautwein, Ferd Rabe, and Ed Thompson were some of the finest waltzers you ever saw in your life. A crippled man who used to run the livery and Thompson - by golly, when they got a chance to dance, they just enjoyed it. They knew how to dance and did a lot of dancing. They don't know how to dance at all today. They don't! They take a partner and just slide all over the floor.

Did you know Ed Allen? He was Tony Schwieterman's wife's brother. Once I was playing for a masquerade ball. Adeline Schroeder (she was a pretty girl) was dressed like Fred Schroeder. Ed Allen had a big round hoop skirt on that went clear to the floor, you know, but no pants! He went up to the dance and the lady went up and... Down the steps he went for home! I'll never forget that. They used to have some good masqueraders there, I'll tell you. Romeo and Juliet - that was wonderful.

I was in the K.of P. Lodge when I was 21 years old. (I'm 96 now.) I was the past Chancellor and the Grand once. That was quite an organization - they were quite lively in town. Oh, boy, that was wonderful. They had a drill squad one time and their own orchestra at one time.

For initiation, they put a bunch of spikes and you'd have to stand up there and jump on them. That was a test to see how brave you were. We had a large membership. I just cashed, a few weeks ago, a $500 K.of P. policy. I carried it till now. I couldn't draw the money, I had to die to get anything out of it. So they gave me a little over $500 and called it a paid-up policy. That was the best thing I could do, you see. Emil Laut had a policy, too. So did Ferd Rabe and Bienz. Bienz and I kept ours. I believe Ferd Rabe cashed his in. Emil Laut had a $1000 policy and, you know, Emil was getting hard up for money, by golly, and he cashed in his policy. He should never have done that. He made a mistake there.

I started making cigars when I was 16 years old in the building right aside of Wint's. It used to be a hotel (American House). Old Bill Thieman was a lock tender and he had a hotel for a while too, and that brick building, above where the bakery used to be. I made cigars until 1924, when I was 45. I worked for Dad until all the cigar shops went bad and had to quit. I worked in Lima for 4 weeks for Henry Deisel (Deisel-Wemmer Co.)but he didn't pay anything. I made over 700 cigars in the first day. They sent me a check for $2.80. I had a friend who made $24 or $25 a week, but the rent in Lima was $60 a month. That was way out of proportion. Then I came back and started myself in 3 years. After that I went to work at Wint's.

From the New Bremen Sun – 2/12/1922: A strike was in progress today among some of the employees of the Deisel-Wemmer Cigar Co. following the visit of a delegation of strikers from Lima and Wapakoneta at the local plant yesterday. The company reported about half of the employees were “out”, while the strikers claimed three-quarters of the workers were on strike.

Everybody talks about the hamburgers I made at Wint's. First there were the breaded veal sandwiches and then the hamburgers. People used to come from Dayton on Friday and Saturday nights and get 10 or 15 sandwiches and take them back to Dayton. I worked for Ferd and the boys for 27 years. Those are days I like to look back at. The worst thing in that dining room was the women and their chewing gum. They were worse than hogs. Mrs. Wint came once in a while to clean the tables, lights, and hall. She'd look under the tables and find 50 to 75 pieces of gum under them. I used to laugh about it - she'd take a knife and chisel it off.

I rode on a canal boat from here to Fort Loramie, twice to the feeder, clear to the bulkhead. One time we were on the upper deck with the band and when we reached the feeder, there were tree limbs across there. One of them caught Pet Laut and knocked her into the feeder. I grabbed her, but I grabbed in the horn of her belt. I got hit above my eye and I had a nice blue eye. Below the deck, they had mules, and a kitchen and beds. George Thompson caught a big turtle once.

I remember the packing houses. There was some packing done in the cheesequarters (west of the canal), and on the north end of town Spitz had two of them right close to that bridge across from Mrs. Wissman, where Mrs. Brucken lives (N. Walnut St.). Kuennings had a packing house where Rairdon had his livery barn afterwards. They used to buy hay and seed and stuff. There used to be a packing house at Busse's next to the corner where Shirley had his saloon. Then there were three warehouses across from Koeper's Shoe Store by the Budget. That was all warehouse from the bridge to the lock. I used to go under there and fish. Oh gee, I used to catch some nice fish there.

My father-in-law had that big house back of the Arcade that was about four stories high. That was a big packing house. I saw hogs loaded on hay wagons, all dressed, coming from Indiana. The whole street was lined with nothing but hogs. They put them in there and then old man Steinebrey and three or four other men cut them up and piled them up in the basement. The basement was deeper there and they'd pile them up one on top of the other. They used nothing but salt.

When spring would come, they would ship them out to Cincinnati. They'd go by boat or they'd ship them by railroad. Henry Mader was a truck driver then and he'd haul for two or three weeks. Two drays would haul them to the depot and load them up. New Bremen was the leading pork-packing center for 23 to 30 miles west of here. I've heard it said there was more pork packed here than there was in Chicago, the pork packing center of the United States.

Do you know how they operated the locks when they let the boats through? They have two gates that come together. There's a big end on one side and a big end on the other side that they'd have to push on and two wickets that let the water get into the locks. The north one closed and the south one opened, you see, and the wickets let the water come in and fill up the lock. When the boat got in there, they'd pull at the gate and lower it to the wicket on the other side and let the boat down on that level till it got across. That's how they used to do that. There'd be boats standing from this canal bridge (Plum Street) down there to Doenges. It took a long time for them all to get through. There were 14 locks between here and St. Marys.

The lift bridge on Monroe Street was a swing bridge first. There was another one at Suelters. I believe Sunderman has that house now. I don't know who lives there. The swing bridges opened when the boats would push against them. After the boats were through, the bridges would swing back shut by themselves. Sometimes they didn't close altogether like they should and that was kind of dangerous. Suelter had two boys and one boy got through the bridge when it was open. When the boat went through, he tried to swim back and got his leg caught. It just mashed the whole darn ankle. That was Gus Suelter. They fixed the Monroe Street bridge later so it would raise high enough to let the boats go under.

I guess at one time we had about 13 saloons. Almost every corner had a saloon. Nolte had one that was on the north side. There used to be such big business there, when they had that elevator and that great big warehouse there outside the railroad, and the stock yards, and the coal yards. By God, there was business there, I tell you.

The next one was Adam Fritz. He had one. Then came Wolfe. They had a shoe repair business and sold a little beer in the hall. Greber had one where the IGA Store is that was a two-story frame. Then, between them and Klanke's brick, there was a saloon. And Ed Klanke had one in that brick for many years. Then there was Schwepe’s. That's about all there were on the west side of the street.

There was one across from Becker's store there - old man Schwers had one there. Old man Schwers didn't sell to a man if he didn't see his face. My Dad told me a young fella came and wanted a whiskey. Schwers told him he couldn't have any whiskey. Well, he got mad and pulled out his gun and shot Schwers and Schwers spit out the bullet. That's a fact - I'm telling you the truth. If my Dad was living he would tell it - he was right across the street. Schwers spit out the bullet and the young fella left - he was 20 years old. [This true story was published in the April 2003 issue of “The Towpath” and a response was published in the October 2005 issue.]

Further up, there was another one that Henry Laut had. Wissman had one there, Christ Schnelle, and Kamman. Rabe had a hardware store - they had whiskey in the hardware store.

A lot of younger people don't know that there was a fairgrounds near New Bremen. I played there many a time. The Hengen Band even played there for so many years, we had a motion picture. Most people got out to the fair in Morris Bessel's hack. He'd stop at the bank corner and load them up and haul them out there. I walked out there many a time. I walked out there once when I was 10 or 12 years old. There was a picnic or something going on there, maybe on the 4th of July, and the Luelleman house caught fire and the chimney burned out.

I remember my Dad telling about the barn across from the fairgrounds where a man was shot. He was a gangster from Toledo that robbed safes and everything. He was the main guy that ran the gang. And the Marshal was killed - what the devil was his name? He lived on Vine Street. That's so long ago. One or two got away. They were up in the haymow, I believe. This one fellow came down, and he was full of grain and Dr. Wood and Boesche and Wehrman and another one were down below and all they had was a little 22 revolver. They thought it was their own sons doing that job, you see, but it wasn't at all. When the fella came down, he just let go and shot Wehrman right in the arm. I saw the mark. [This story also appeared in “The Towpath” and can be read in“The Bloody Barn Battle of 1879”.

I was confirmed in St. Paul Church. Old man Buerkle was the pastor. He was later a state official in Kansas or someplace. When Christ Church split away, Wittich was a preacher over there.

You asked me who the politicians were in town. Henry Grothaus was County Treasurer for a long time. Much later, Cade Schulenberg was County Clerk for a while. Christ Rinehart and his brother, Ferd, worked there for years for old John Walters. There was one old judge in there who'd been in there pretty near all his lifetime. Henry Meyer was in there one time, I believe, as Country Treasurer or something. Then, of course, we did have a couple elected to Congress. Old man Mesloh was in Washington. You know, saloons had to keep closed during election, and Fred and I were tending bar, and we left them in at the side door and they didn't close her down.

This is Paul Gilberg speaking. We've been chatting this afternoon with Clarence Laut on a beautiful November Saturday afternoon. The sun is shining brightly and the temperature is about 50º. We are in the home of Clarence's daughter and son-in-law, Nettie and Ray Bertke. Clarence has been blessed with a long and fruitful and good life. I know that those of you who will read this in later years will enjoy Clarence's reminiscences.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Clarence Laut lived to be over 100 years old, passing away on September 14, 1980, just 10 days before his 101st birthday.