Article #21- Old Houses
Article #22- Thanksgiving
Article #23- History
Article #24- The Blacksmith's Shop
Article #25- Christmas
Published Nov.19, 2003
Published Nov.26, 2003
Published Dec. 3, 2003
Published Dec. 17, 2003
Published Dec. 31, 2003
Article#21- Old Houses
I love old houses. I love wood floors that squeak and big wide woodwork with a few dings and scrapes. Maybe it's the onset of middle age that causes me to find charm in walls that no longer stand perfectly straight; walls that hold the echo of families past. I don't think there's a time that I drive down Main Street that I don't lament the loss of the wonderful houses and trees and sidewalks that used to line it. They were majestic to me as a child, though I saw the inside of very few of them.
I don't know anyone who remembers O'Fallon's old homes as well as Marie Orf does. Born June 9, 1912 to John and Emma Gentemann, Marie can recall every building that lined Main Street and Elm, every old home and every business that made up her little world. Recently I sat down with her and took a tour of O'Fallon through her eyes.
The house Marie was born in stood at the corner of Main St. and West Elm and belonged to her grandmother, Caroline Talleur, a lady I've mentioned to you before. Her family then moved above Westhoff Mercantile until they bought a beautiful two-story house on Main Street sometime around 1928. That house stood right where the entrance to O'Fallon Plaza is now. It had previously belonged to a Dr. Emmond, the town veterinarian. "He had a little office building in the front, kind of to the south. And there was a picket fence all across the front-oh, it was pretty. The picket fence was gone when we bought it. I remember when I was a kid and we'd go for a walk. I always admired that house with the fence around it." Inside was pretty standard; four bedrooms upstairs and downstairs a living room, dining room, kitchen and "oh, kind of a sitting room." Like every other house at that time, there were no indoor bathrooms. "Those pretty little houses out in the back-that was a cold place to go in the winter! And then we had a long porch all across the back and the cistern was right off the porch." Behind their house was a barn with a big garden in the back and lots of fruit trees.
Caroline Talleur's home at corner of Main St. and West Elm.
Photo courtesy of Marie Orf.
Marie remembered Ozzie Maher's parents' home at the corner of West Pitman and Main and the Keithly house next door, but the one that seemed to capture the little-girl gleam in her eyes was Dr. Glosemeyer's home next to the Keithly's. "That was a big white house with a blue roof that had, well, it had kind of a tower. That was part of their attic up there. "I remember that house myself. There was a turret that jutted up on one corner of the roof and my five-year-old self was certain it was a castle. I remember the porch that spanned the entire front of the house and, as Marie said, "I always wanted a porch like that."
Marie was a frequent visitor to many of the homes on Elm Street as well, particularly Alex Westhoff's house that stood right behind Gentemann's store. The house later belonged to the Obrecht's but Marie still remembered every room. "You entered the front hallway and went on back to the dining room. You went upstairs from the front hall and it had one of those pretty railings, you know. One side went into the living room and the other side went into a bedroom. On the west side they had two sitting rooms and then in the center between the front part and the back was a good-sized dining room with the kitchen in the back. And then across the street where that little plaza is now-that was a pretty old house, too. That was Emma Griesenauer's house-she and her mother lived there. She had a good-sized yard and a garden in the back. The porch kind of came around and you entered the kitchen on the west side of the house. I used to go over there quite often, too. She did a lot of quilt-making. Oh, that was a pretty place."
Home of John & Emma Gentemann on Main St. Pictured are Pearl Talleur
Margaret and Tommy Cleveland, c. 1930.
Photo courtesy of Marie Orf.
I so enjoy looking at O'Fallon through Marie's eyes and I'm sure I'll be passing on a lot more of her memories. We both wished we had pictures of the old houses in O'Fallon and I'm pleading with some of you to clean out those old boxes of pictures you've got stashed in the back of your closets and let me know what you found! Like she said, "You don't think they're ever gonna' be gone-you think they're gonna' stay there forever."
Among the things I will be grateful for this Thanksgiving-besides home, hearth, health and love-are all the modern conveniences that make Thanksgiving Dinner, and any other dinner for that matter, so much easier to prepare. I confess I like to cook. I'm no Martha Stewart, mind you but I do a pretty good job in the kitchen and I love wallowing in the smells and textures that go into Thanksgiving Dinner. It starts the night before, toasting all the bread and letting it dry overnight to make the dressing, my favorite part of the meal. It's old-fashioned dressing-no stuffed birds in our house--made from a recipe that doesn't really exist, handed down from my grandmother to my mother. Learning how to make it became a rite of passage for each of us girls as we learned to prepare our own Thanksgiving dinners and I'm going to toot my own horn here and say that mine comes closest to Mom's. Mostly that's because I'm willing to cook and cut up the turkey giblets just like she does. And I make sure I buy fresh sage every year, an ingredient that's never measured, just added a pinch at a time "until it smells right."
Thanksgiving was always magical for me as a kid. I loved spending the morning in my pajamas watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (which has changed so much I don't even watch it anymore) waiting for Mom to give me the signal that she was ready for me to polish the silverware. My Uncle Harland's family always joined us and dinner was at alternating households. I loved seeing our table set with the good dishes Mom had bought years ago from the Jewel Tea salesman, the special glasses and silverware; long tables for the adults and card tables for the kids. After dinner settled, we'd pack in the cars and drive along Main Street to see the rows of colored lights that had been hung cross the street to mark the season. For my own sons, Thanksgiving meant the annual Webster-Kirkwood Turkey Day Football Game, but no matter what your tradition is, part of the magic of Thanksgiving is the cool, crisp air and a layer of golden leaves spread over the yard. In my mind, it's officially the first sweater-day of the year and holds the promise that soon it will be time to go out and cut down a Christmas tree.
Gloria Ohmes shared a scrapbook that her mother had kept with me. In it were countless newspaper clippings of folks marking special occasions or doing everyday, ordinary things. I thought I'd share some of them with you and if you look carefully, you can feel the crispness in the air and the smell of wood smoke rolling by. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Bad roads for James Garner. Photo courtesy of Gloria Ohmes.
J.B. Muschany spins a yarn. Photo coutisy of Gloria Ohmes.
History, like most things, is in the eye of the beholder. We just came back from a trip to the Grand Canyon where geological history is recorded in terms of billions of years. After you spend a couple of days thinking in those terms, the period of time we normally think of as history turns into a mere blip, a single heartbeat, on the radar screen.
What is historical, then, becomes a very relative thing. To me, the horse and buggy days are history; radio shows are history as are blacksmiths, the Pony Express, and irons that had to be heated on a wood stove. To my sons, black-and-white TV's, or any TV without a remote control for that matter, is history. I rest my case.
So to those who say we've already lost a lot of our history in O'Fallon, I say this: Yes, we've lost some of it; but some of it is still here-we just have to scratch the surface a little bit to unveil it. Let's take the two buildings that sit side-by-side on Main Street-the buildings that now house Sportsprint and Lancaster Glass.
When I was a kid, the two-story building where Sportsprint is now was Clyde and Alice's, a sort of soda fountain/drug store/five-and-dime type of place. It was where we took our nickels to buy a Hershey bar or a Three Musketeers, which we took home, divided into pieces and served as the main course at our elaborate tea parties. Later, it became the first location of the O'Fallon Branch of the St. Charles City/County Library.
Harness maker John Brunnert. Photo courtesy of Gloria Ohmes.
When Marie Orf took me on a mental tour of Main Street in her younger days, besides remembering every home and the people who lived in them, she recalled the shops and businesses that lined Main Street. I mentioned Clyde & Alice's and this is what she told me: "Well, when I was a kid, that was a house and the Erdmann's lived there. He fixed horse collars and all that kind of stuff. There was a little building next to the house where old Mr. Erdmann had his shop and then in the front of that shop he had a store and he sold, oh, lots of different things. That's where the kids would go if they had a penny and everyone called it 'Penny Pete's.' We called him Penny Pete because he sold that candy for a penny. You could get quite a few pieces for a penny if you had one." There was no doubt in my mind as I watched Marie's face, she could still taste Penny Pete's candies.
At some point, the Sportsprint building was also owned by Clete Brunnert who ran a shoe repair shop out of it. And later, Leo Fierling bought it, moved his family in the upstairs and converted the downstairs to a drug store. The pictures Charlie Fierling shared with me, some of which have been used in these articles, were views of Main Street taken from the upstairs windows of that building. As far as I've been able to tell, Clyde and Alice were the next occupants and the rest is, well, history.
The little place next door that housed Penny Pete's (and now houses Lancaster Glass) also saw the beginnings of O'Fallon Gas. Patti Griesenauer Lewis let me borrow a scrapbook that her parents, Corinne and Harry Becker, had used to record events around town and special occasions in the family. I took particular delight in a picture of a little building on Main Street and in the margins, Corinne had written these notes: "Was Penny Pete's in my childhood, this picture of O'Fallon Gas. Nick Westhoff, Louie Bussinger and Dan Soutee formed the Co., now big concern on Service Rd. Building on right O'Fallon Garage. On left was Brunnert's shoe shop and residence."
Penny Pete's. Photo courtesy of Patti Griesenauer.
I can't say for sure, but it seems to me that Corinne (who had to be one of the kindest women to grace O'Fallon's neighborhoods) was recording something for history's sake; something that she feared just might be forgotten. You can look at the picture and see that the front of the building has been changed and it no longer resembles the house it was originally. And Penny Pete's now has Lancaster Glass' solid brick front. Still, that's just the surface, and surfaces can be changed again and again. The history lives inside.
Article#24- Blacksmith's in O'Fallon
Sitting in this age of computers, where everyone appears to be doing the same thing (at least on the surface), I find myself a bit fascinated with the various trades I come across in the old pictures people share with me. Besides the shopkeepers, there were the barbers, the harness makers, the butchers and, the one that interests me the most-blacksmiths. Ever since I learned that my mother's grandfather was a blacksmith, the "village smithy" has come to life for me. I've seen only one picture of this crusty Irishman, taken in the shop that my mother sat outside awaiting her own father to come home from work. Various and sundry iron gadgets hanging overhead, a heavy leather apron tied around him, you can almost feel the heat from the stove that made his magic possible.
What's sort of surprising when you think about blacksmiths, is that it wasn't really all that long ago that they were part of O'Fallon's landscape. Marie Orf recalled she and her brother, Jim Gentemann, visiting the blacksmith shop on the corner of Main St. and West Elm. "We'd go up there once in a while, my brother and I, and watch that man shoeing horses. And when he'd drive those nails in that shoe, I'd think, "Oh, that must hurt those horses!" Such were the sympathies of a little girl for the simple beast of burden.
Main Street, 2-story on left is the Salfen Bros. blacksmith shop.
Photo courtesy of Raleigh Jessup.
Even more recently, Larry Lindemann, whose parents owned (and were) Bill and Mabel's Café, remembers learning to drive the family's 1942 Packard by turning it around in the small area between the back of Bill and Mabel's and the blacksmith's shop. If memory serves him correctly, Dan Schneider was the blacksmith at the time and Larry remembers spending "many fascinating minutes watching him heat, forge and shape the products his customers wanted."
Alas, by 1947, the world had changed enough that the services of the village smithy were no longer needed. That was the year Clem Obrecht built the O'Fallon Food Locker, the same concrete block building that stands at the corner of Main St. and West Elm today. Larry Lindemann's younger brother, Bob, had his own boyhood memories of the locker plant, memories that were so strong he can still tell them in the words of a young boy. "Behind the locker plant were pens where farmers would bring in their cattle and hogs to be slaughtered, butchered and put in cold storage. Why I didn't think the whole process was ghastly, I don't know, except that it was just a fact of life. There wasn't much to watch when they slaughtered cattle. They would put their head in a gate and then hit them in the forehead with a special hammer to kill them. They hooked the hind legs to a bar and hoisted it up on a track that extended from the building out to the killing area. They took the guts out while it was outside and then the whole carcass was rolled inside to be skinned. Now, slaughtering hogs was a whole lot more interesting. First of all, there was a lot of squealing. It took a lot of manhandling and kicking and cussing to get the hog they wanted separated from the rest of the hogs. Finally, the guy would shoot the selected hog in the forehead with a .22-caliber rifle, then hook his hind legs to the overhead hoist and put him into a vat of boiling water. Then they would take him out of the water and scrape the hair off him. The next step was to slit its throat and 'bleed him out,' and then slit him up the middle and take his guts out. Inside, they would butcher, wrap and put him into cold storage. Through the eyes of a 7-year-old it was a totally gory thing to watch-it was just marvelous!"
O'Fallon Meat Locker, mid-1950's.
Photo courtesy of Raleigh Jessup.
So, there you have it-more than you wanted to know, right? From blacksmith to butcher, both provided a lot of entertainment-as well as vital services--for O'Fallon's children years ago. The building next door stood through it all, as a confectionary, café and then tavern, and still remains today.
Next time, we'll remember Christmas Back When. And don't forget to let me know if you come across some old pictures!
How many pictures did your family take during Christmas? Should your family's photo albums be labeled "Christmas thru the Years" as though nothing happens the rest of the year? Ever since I got Lewis a digital camera for his ??th birthday, I find myself sorting twice as many pictures as before. The only difference is that now I sort them on the computer instead of perched on the sofa. We take a lot of pictures, especially at Christmas, but that wasn't always part of peoples' holiday traditions. I went scouting for Christmas pictures from around town and came up empty. That's the only reason I'm willing to embarrass my husband and myself by putting these pictures of us as children in the paper. Can't let the publisher down, now can I?
I suppose it's true that the best pictures are the ones we carry around in our heads. Marie Orf, who has shared so many memories with me, shared her Christmas memories as well:
"Dad would always have somebody bring us a Christmas tree; somebody that lived out of town and had a lot of cedar trees. And when we lived above the store (Westhoff's) we always had it in the southwest corner of the dining room. Christmas was really a joyous time when we were kids. Of course, we didn't get the things that kids get now. If we got a couple toys and some candy and oranges and bananas-oh, that was great! Later, we had a little Christmas scene under the tree. We'd usually get one pretty nice toy-I would get a doll and my brother would get an erector set or something like that. And then we'd get some books or some games. Oh, we looked forward to Christmas then."
Then when her family moved to their house on Main Street, they even had room for company! "Sometimes at Christmastime my uncle and aunt would come. They lived in St. Louis and they'd come out the day before Christmas, stay over and go back the day after Christmas. We had a player piano and all kinds of cylinders and we'd all sing Christmas songs. Oh, it was nice."
If Judy (Obrecht) Sigmund's Christmas memories weren't quite as sweet, they at least rang a little closer to home! What Judy remembered most was the 4-ft tall stuffed Santa that her mother stood in the corner of their dining room. Actually, it wasn't just a dining room but more like a family room where everyone gathered to do homework and listen to the radio. Her mother told all the kids that the stuffed Santa had a radio inside and picked up everything they said and did and then reported it back to the North Pole. Needless to say, everyone behaved very well in the dining room!
Judy also remembered being awed by two things at Christmastime: the Nativity scene at the convent and the windows at Gentemann's store. The Sisters at Assumption School always took the schoolchildren over to the convent to show them the Nativity scene. The pieces were all from Germany and there was a tall mountain in the background, used to depict the shepherds coming down from the hills to Bethlehem. It was very large and expansive and it obviously made quite an impression on the children.
The windows in Gentemann's store always had a toy display, usually BB guns for the boys and dolls for the girls. Inside, the store was decorated with red and gold garlands made of tinsel hanging from the ceiling. The second story at Gentemann's was really a half-story, the balcony overlooking the center of the first floor. Up there was the Ladies' Department full of glass cases that held nice sweaters and handkerchiefs. On top of the counter was the popular perfume, Evening in Paris, in its trademark blue bottle with silk tassels.
One Christmas, sometime during the fifties, Judy's husband, Jerry, went into Westhoff's Hardware store with their son, Phil, who was just a little boy. Phil kept looking at a box on the shelf that had a picture of a train on it. The box was discolored and the drawing on it looked like it was from the 40's. So Jerry went over to Mr. Westhoff and asked him what he wanted for the train and Mr. Westhoff said the price was $4.98! So they bought it and it's still part of their family's Christmas tradition.
We hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and keep the Christmas spirit alive into the New Year!
Pat, age 3 at Christmas.
Photo courtesy of Madelyn Bussinger
Lewis, age 5 at Christmas.
Photo courtesy of Betty Swinger.