Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The biggest mystery in my collection of historic photos

I love a good mystery, and that’s exactly what I stumbled upon in early 2006 when Joanne Lochte Redden brought by a group of old photographs.
Part of the group were three photographs are of a parade. It’s the parade that’s the mystery. What were the people of our community celebrating?
Click on any image to enlarge
Mountain Street (now called Earl Garrett Street),
looking north from Heritage Star
Let me give you the clues I see in the photographs – saving the most important clue for the very end.
Looking at the photos, you can tell they’re taken of the same parade. A man on horseback and wearing a sash leads the parade, followed by two other horsemen, one bearing a flag. Just behind them, marching on the unpaved and dusty streets is a band. In the midst of the band are more flags and a strange metallic object. This metallic object is horn-shaped, with the bell facing downward; it also sports two pom-poms, drooping like a puppy’s ears on either side.
Click on image to enlarge
Water Street, taken from the Heritage Star, facing East
One of the most useful clues is missing from the photos – there are no automobiles in the scenes. Automobiles are useful because they help date the photo – you can look at the autos and guess roughly when the photo was made. Horses do not provide the same helpful clue.
Click on image to enlarge
Water Street, taken from Heritage Star, looking East.
So we know the photo was taken before 1908 when Jack Hamlyn brought the first automobile to the community. Mr. Hamlyn was the first auto dealer here, and in one short year Kerrville’s streets were clogged with eight motor cars.
The second clue I can infer from the photos – whatever they were celebrating, it was a really big deal.
Two of the photos show the parade marching on Water Street. In one, the group is heading west; the lead horse is about to Francisco’s Restaurant and the Heritage Star, the giant star in the roadbed at the intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets. Yet in the next photo, the group is on Water Street in front of Pampell’s, heading east. In the third, the group is heading south on Earl Garrett street (then called Mountain Street). In all three photos the parade is heading directly for the Heritage Star. In all three photographs it appears the same people are in the parade.
Even in my more creative moments I cannot figure out how the throng went in these three directions without circling around the small community several times. A parade that circles on itself seems (at least to me) to indicate a large celebration.
That, and the street is elaborately decorated. There are flags on almost every building, there is bunting on facades and there are two large arches erected on Water Street, large enough for the parade to pass beneath. Both arches are decorated with greenery; one sports a star at its zenith, the other a lyre.
In all of the pictures it seems more people are in the parade than observing the parade. The sidewalks lining the parade are not filled with people though there are a few. Most of the sidewalks are clear except just beside the approaching parade. People are walking along with the band and the horsemen.
I would assume it’s a July Fourth parade except for two additional clues: first, not all of the flags appear to be the Stars and Stripes. A large tri-color flag hangs from Schreiner’s wool warehouse (which stood roughly across the street from today’s Arcadia theater). Because the photo is black and white, I cannot tell what three colors decorated this large flag; it certainly could have been red, white and blue. But another clue in the same photo makes me wonder if it could have been a different flag.
This is the clue that gives me the biggest problem: the archway with the lyre, which was erected about where Pampell’s and the corner of the Sid Peterson Hospital are today has a large banner which simply reads. “Willkommen!”
Why would you offer this German greeting on July 4th?
I’ve had a lot of comments, and one very nice letter from Ms. Esther B. Wiedenfeld of Comfort. Of the parade photo, she wrote, the photo “tells me that it was when there were any number of German-Americans very active in civic activities in Kerrville.”
This is true. Many of the leading citizens of our community’s early days were of German descent; some, like Charles Schreiner, were born in Europe. Looking over a list of early Kerr County citizens, many bear a German-sounding surname.
Ms. Wiedenfeld also writes “the backdrop looks like a design from Comfort’s early parades.” This backdrop, or archway, is unique, and there are two, one each shown in two different photographs. These two large arches were erected on Water Street, large enough for the parade to pass beneath. Both arches are decorated with greenery; one sports a star at its zenith, the other a lyre. I noticed today the lyre is also made of greenery.
Still, the one confusing clue is a word emblazoned on a huge banner beneath the archway decorated with the lyre: “Wilkommen.”
Why did the archway say ‘Welcome’ in German?
I think the community was celebrating a big event, and I think the community was expecting visitors. Further, I think the community was expecting visitors for whom “Wilkommen” would have been a normal, every day greeting.
What events might meet these criteria?
Looking through old newspapers, I see the community celebrated several ‘trades days’ when the merchants banded together offering special pricing and incentives. Several of these were organized by J. E. Grinstead, an early newspaperman who was an early booster of the area.
But none of the accounts mention a parade.
There was one event, in 1887, that would qualify, but I’m not sure there were cameras in Kerr County at the time. While photography had been invented much earlier, cameras took a while to reach the frontier, and in 1887 Kerrville was still a frontier town.
But it is possible. Photography had become a hobby as early as the 1850s, but the process was much more arduous than simply clicking a disposable camera. Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), who wrote ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘The Jabberwocky,’ and several learned treatises on logic, was an amateur photographer in England, and his photographs date from the 1850s to the 1870s. George Eastman founded the Kodak company in 1881. So it’s within the realm of possibility that an event occurring in 1887 in Kerr County would have been the subject of three photographs.
Except there's a problem with this theory: the old Masonic Building, which now houses Sheftall's Jewelers, was built in 1890, 3 years after the railroad came to Kerrville.
So... I'm back to square one.  I have no idea what these three photos of that old parade are about.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who hopes a reader can solve the mystery.

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        1. So, I was struck by your description of the horn (though I haven't been able to see it yet), and it triggered an association in my head from both my philatelic and genealogical pursuits - hunting and post horns are extremely common in Prussian heraldry and that empire lasted in one form or another until the 1940's. My family is from Westphalia, so I've run across this a good deal, but you had most of northern Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, and parts of Lithuania all rolled up in there. Here's a listing of heraldic horns that may yield more clues. Also, the Hungarian mail service (Magyar Posta) has used a horn with tassels off of it in one form or another for the last two centuries as near as I can tell. It is the first image that your post triggered, as that's how I learned to identify those particular stamps - a horn, bell pointing up or down, with two tassels coming off of it.
          Maybe there was some diplomatic visit at the time? I don't know if this is any help or just insane ramblings, but I hope it helps.

        2. oh, I just found this at the Handbook of Texas online: "They polkaed in countless dance halls, watched rifle competition at rural Schützenfeste, and witnessed the ancient Germanic custom of Easter Fires at Fredericksburg."
 (pretty far down the page)
          and here: "Germans brought unique celebrations to their new homes in Central Texas. Immigrants came in large numbers between 1845 and 1850 and organized singing societies in most of the German Texas communities. Singers and families assembled on Saturday morning for a Sängerfest (singers' festival), at which they sang and ate sausage, sauerkraut, and potato salad and drank beer. The festivals began with parades, included dancing, and concluded with grand finales of song. An older tradition among the Germans are the Schützenfeste, or marksmen's festivals. These originated as archery contests in Europe several hundred years ago. They developed into shooting fairs and then folk festivals. In Texas a festival of shooting clubs includes an opening parade, competitive shooting, music, dancing, and feasting. The largest current German festival is the Wurstfest of New Braunfels, held in November and featuring German food and music."

          Maybe it was that or a Deutschfest like we have in Pflugerville.
          Ok, I'll stop filling up your comments with links now... :D

        3. I wonder if this had anything to do with the railroad coming to town in Oct 6th if I remember right.
          Maybe with that many people in town...and October Octoberfest... fairgrounds they had at five points maybe they had a celebration of the railroad coming to town all in one event you probably already have thought about this

        4. Here's a possible solution to this mystery.

          I researched the online version of the Texas State Historical Association and learned that a "local boy" graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1905.

          Could the parade have been a way of celebrating his accomplishments?

          Here's an excerpt from the TSHA article:

          "NIMITZ, CHESTER WILLIAM (1885–1966). Chester William Nimitz, who guided Allied forces to victory in the Pacific in World War II, was born in Fredericksburg, Texas, on February 24, 1885, the son of Chester Bernard and Anna (Henke) Nimitz.

          His father died before he was born. During his early years his grandfather Charles H. Nimitz, a German immigrant, former seaman, and owner of the Nimitz Hotel, served as the father figure whom Nimitz credited with shaping his character and values.

          In 1890 Chester's mother married her late husband's younger brother, William Nimitz, who managed the St. Charles Hotel in Kerrville, where Chester eventually became chief handyman.

          Young Nimitz, with little prospect of a college education otherwise, determined to seek appointment to the United States Military Academy.

          On learning that no such appointment was immediately available, he applied for the United States Naval Academy instead.

          He graduated seventh in his class of 114 at Annapolis on January 30, 1905."

        5. I believe that Charleen is correct. These pictures are of a celebration by the Kerrville Saengerrunde (Chorale) of which Nathan Dietert was a member. The lyre and Star and garlands all would have been emblematic of a Saengerrunde parade. For a good read about the Saengerrunde history see "Das Deutsche Lied: The Austin Saengerrunde, 1879-1918" by Nick Roland at

          and for a picture of the 1889 German Saengerfest, arch and streetcars on Congress Avenue looking towards Capitol Building, Austin


          The flag in your pictures Joe is most likely the three color 1901 German flag (despite the black and white photo - it would fit). Can't figure out a date for the Kerrville Saengerrunde. The Kerrville parade going in a circle would make sense since the word Saengerrunde literally means "singing in the round".


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