Sunday, July 21, 2013

Nits and Lice and Cooties

My father was a barber, so I learned about head lice very early. Here’s how it happened.

While my family sat at the supper table eating, we always talked about what happened during the day. One evening while eating, Dad related that while he was cutting a man’s hair that day, he discovered lice on his scalp. Dad, holding his fork in his hand, pointed to the back of his head to show exactly where.

Mom interrupted, “Oh, Walter! Not at the table while we’re eating!

For the benefit of his young sons, Dad continued to describe how tiny the lice were and how they laid eggs, called nits, on hairs close to the scalp.

Following his training at barber college (and state law), Dad had to immediately stop cutting the hair of anyone with lice and ask the customer to leave the shop. He had to disinfect in formaldehyde his electric shears, cutting shears (scissors), comb, and anything else that had been touched.

He took the customer’s hair cloth, carefully folded it inward, and put it in a sack in his closet. While he did this, the next customer waited patiently on the bench and wondered if the disinfecting really worked. Nits and lice, as everyone knows, can be easily spread.

My own head suddenly seemed itchy, and I scratched it.

About that same time, Cole County Nurse Hetty Joach (pronounced Jo-ack) made her annual visit to Broadway School, where I was an eight-year-old in Miss Ruth Longan’s third grade. We pupils went singly into the cloakroom and sat on a stool while Nurse Joach looked at our teeth, throat, and a lot of other things and, of course, took a comb to examine our scalps for head lice.

I don’t remember if she found any in our class that year, but if she did, it was revealed privately to the pupil, the teacher, and parents. Nurse Joach told us all about head lice and reminded us to wash our hair often, which some kids didn’t do in those days. But my Mom and Dad made sure my head got washed more than I wanted.

We kids found out that cooties was another word for lice. It was common to tease someone, especially girls, by saying, “You’ve got cooties!” Teachers and parents frowned on this, because they knew it could be hurtful. People believed that contracting head lice was a sign of dirty, shameful housekeeping, and families were embarrassed when it happened.

Then one evening Mom’s bridge club met at our house.

I was allowed to stay up for a while and watch the “girls” play several hands. At one point, I heard one of them exclaim, “Oh, all I had in my hand was nits and lice!”--meaning that she held low cards, but I didn’t know that. I puzzled why anyone would be holding lice and their eggs in their hands.

I wanted to look, because I had never seen a louse, dead or alive, but I didn’t. Soon after, I went to bed and started imagining my head itching.

Then, the next Christmas, my Aunt Esther and Uncle Emil Kaiser came to visit. She told us about a group she belonged to in Kansas City called the Cooties of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Uncle Eme had served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, and the Cooties were veterans who brought fun and entertainment to sick and wounded veterans in hospitals. Women formed Cootie auxiliaries and had just as much fun as their veteran husbands did. My Aunt Esther was always singing, laughing, and cracking jokes, so I knew she could make vets in hospitals happy. The group was called “Military Order of the Cootie” because it poked fun at the lice that tormented troops living in trenches during the war.

When I learned all this, I started thinking of "cooties" as neat people who had lots of fun!


And in the early 1940s, this is how an eight-year-old found out about nits and lice and cooties!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Broadway School’s Last Day!

Broadway School, located on the northeast corner of Dunklin and Broadway streets, opened in 1904.

In the next half century, some 1,600 children in the Old Munichburg neighborhood of Jefferson City’s Southside attended the elementary school. They read Dick and Jane books in the first grade reading circle and had spelling bees in the second grade. In the third grade, they learned to write in longhand (now called cursive) by the Palmer penmanship method, using a scratchy ink pen dipped in an ink bottle. In the fourth grade, they memorized multiplication tables and then added long division and fractions in the fifth grade. By the sixth and final grade, they were sprouting bean seeds in glass jars on the window sills and drawing pictures of the sprouting process in their tablets.

After World War II, Jefferson City schools grew overcrowded. In addition to classrooms being cramped with thirty or more pupils, Broadway’s playground was much too small and bordered on two busy streets. When the school was built in 1904, Dunklin and Broadway streets carried horses and buggies, but by 1950 the same streets carried a couple thousand cars daily. Traffic posed a serious danger for pupils who ran into the streets to avoid being tagged during a game of “it” or to chase softballs.



In 1952 Jefferson City citizens voted by an astounding 86 percent to approve school bonds, which included the replacement of the Southside’s two historic schools, Broadway and Central, with two new schools. Broadway would be replaced by the new South School, four blocks father south on Broadway. South School was finished in February 1955 and ready to be occupied.

The last day of school at Broadway was Wednesday, February 9, 1955. It was an unusually balmy day for February, and during recess, pupils played in their shirtsleeves.

Boys made one last assault on the cinder pile next to the coal chute and played on the school’s back steps.

Mrs. Bonnie Haigh posed with some of her fifth grade pupils.

And for the final time, the janitor let the boys ring the handbell to signal the end of recess before they filed through the front doors.

During that night an unexpected cold front moved in, dropping temperatures below freezing! It had snowed! Moving day would have to be done in the snow! Boys and girls arrived at school dressed in coats and caps with earflaps and wearing sturdy shoes and galoshes, because they knew they had to hike in snow the four blocks south to their new school.

Grade by grade, starting with the youngest first graders, the pupils filed out of the school carrying their books and tablets, pencils and erasers, pens and ink bottles, as well as scissors, rulers, paste, and other school supplies in brown paper bags. (There were no plastic bags or nylon backpacks then!) Boys put their marbles in one pants pocket and their pocketknives (for whittling and playing mumblety-peg during recess) in the other. Each class of thirty or so pupils was led by its teacher, assisted by a few mothers.

Some classes sang as they marched through the snow. The schoolboy patrol halted Dunklin Street traffic for the procession of about two hundred persons to cross over. While they marched, the wind and snow started again and became, according to the newspaper account, “a near blizzard.”

The last to leave the old school were Miss Frances Elizabeth Smith, the current principal, and Miss Lily Andrae, who had been Broadway’s first principal in 1904 and had continued in that position until 1926. Miss Andrae had the honor of locking the front door and shutting down the school. To celebrate the new beginning, Miss Andrae presented to South School a set of the complete works of Charles Dickens.

Broadway School became a white elephant. What do you do with a fifty-year-old elementary school? That question was answered when the Carpenters Union 945 bought the building and lot a few months later, in August 1955, for $32,000.

The Carpenters converted it into an office building, but they retained some of the original furnishings. The original wooden stairways and banisters are still intact and polished, and the century-old wooden benches used for seating in the lunchroom remain in that same room, which is now a meeting room. The Old Munichburg Association occupies the former fourth grade room.

Thanks to my mother, Mrs. Edna Schroeder, for taking the photos of the last day and moving day of Broadway School. Her youngest son, my brother Tom, was in the fifth grade at the time. My mother, two of her sisters, and her three sons were among the approximately 1,600 who attended Broadway School.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Boyhood Christmas in Jefferson City

A fourth-century bishop by the name of Nicholas was known for giving gifts to people secretly. He was deemed a saint, and his death date, December 6, has ever since been known as his feast day, St. Nicholas Day, in Catholic and Orthodox churches. For centuries Christians gave gifts on December 6.

In the sixteenth century Martin Luther, the great reformer of the church, insisted on going back to holy scripture, and since St. Nicholas was not in the Bible, Luther said that the date of Christ’s birth should be used for the annual practice of gift giving. At that time, December 25 was the recognized date of Christ’s birth, so Christians in Germany shifted gift giving from St. Nicholas Day, December 6, to Christmas Day, December 25.

But not everyone agreed to this. Some German Christians followed Luther’s lead to use December 25, but others continued with December 6. Some families used both! St. Nicholas brought gifts to children on December 6, and the Christ Child (Christkind, later called Kris Kringle) brought gifts on December 25. My immigrant grandparents, of the German Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, were of this “double tradition.”

This oversimplified background is necessary to understand how Christmas came to a little five-year old boy in Jefferson City: By the 1930s in America, “St. Nicholas” had become Santa Claus, who came on Christmas Eve, and the guy who visited on December 6 was “Kris Kringle,” who still looked a lot like St. Nicholas.

On December 6 my brother and I used straight pins to hang our long socks on the beaverboard wall that enclosed our attic bedroom. We could have set our little shoes outside the bedroom door, but it didn’t take much experimentation to discover that our long winter socks stretched and could hold more than our little leather shoes.

So it was Kris Kringle who came during the night of December 6—but wait! He wasn’t alone! Accompanying him was mean ol’ Knecht Ruprecht. That was the only name we heard. Of course, we never saw these two characters. If we had been good boys, good Kris Kringle left hard candy and maybe an apple or orange in our socks, but we sure preferred the candy. If we had not been good, then that mean ol’ Knecht Ruprecht left us sticks, or maybe pieces of coal.

One December 6, we were shocked to find sticks in our socks! We didn’t know what we had done that was so bad, but it sure scared us. Maybe our aging grandparents, who lived with us, overheard us saying something bad, or maybe we hadn’t done our chores. Whatever the reason, those sticks did the trick, and we shaped up during the next couple of weeks before real Christmas. Parents, you see, used December 6 as a warning for kids to behave during those very busy days before Christmas.

When Christmas morning came, we had gifts galore. All of grandpa and grandma’s children (our aunts and uncles) and their children (our cousins) came to Jefferson City for Christmas. They all converged on our house on Christmas Day. Since my brother and I were the youngest grandchildren in this crowd (during 1938–1941 we ranged from 4 to 10), all those relatives gave us extra attention.

As the years went on, St. Nicholas Day, December 6, was dropped but not forgotten. At least, not by me. Each year, come December 6, I remember those sticks I got in 1939. The image of them in my socks hanging on the wall reminds me to shape up. It makes me think of the real meaning of Christmas and inspires me to give gifts to others.

Today, few remember December 6 as the original day for Christians to give gifts. Absolutely everything is now concentrated on December 25. Christmas celebrations and songs stop the next day, people take down their Christmas trees, and by New Year’s Day, most public traces of Christmas are long gone.

Yet another old tradition is to continue the Christmas season through the Twelve Days of Christmas, which begin on Christmas Day and end on January 6, Epiphany, when the Three Kings arrived bearing gifts (and you supposedly get twelve drummers drumming). Today, marketers would have you think that the Twelve Days comprise the final twelve shopping days before Christmas! Many European countries, however, still celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men on January 6.

Considering how few Americans observe the Twelve Days of Christmas, special congratulations are due to Jefferson City’s Central United Church of Christ, which has always kept its Christmas stars on its tall steeple shining until Epiphany, January 6!

Merry Christmas from the Old Munichburg Association! Consider a gift membership for your loved ones this year. It’s non-cluttering, non-fattening, and gives both the giver and the recipient a warm feeling inside!

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Remembering Francis Joseph Zeisberg, Eminent Jefferson City Musician

Has Jefferson City forgotten one of its most eminent musicians?

Franz Josef Zeisberg, organist, violinist, pianist, composer, and teacher, was born in 1862 in the Sudeten mountains of Prussian Silesia, now part of Poland. Raised on a farm by musical parents, the teenager emigrated to Jefferson City in 1881 (he was only eighteen!) and first worked as a manual laborer in a brickyard where he learned English.

He began his musical career in Jefferson City in 1884 by opening the City Conservatory in the Conrath House on Madison Street in partnership with immigrant Carl Preyer. Zeisberg was organist at the Central German Evangelical Church (now Central United Church of Christ).

In 1887 he married Clara Hugershoff, stepdaughter of Fred H. Binder (who had been elected mayor in 1884). That marriage allowed Zeisberg entrance into the highest levels of Jefferson City society, because of Binder’s prominence in civic affairs. Zeisberg’s career took off.

I wish I could find a photo of Zeisberg. Here, at least, is his physical description at age forty-four, according to his 1906 American passport:

Stature: 5 feet, 11½ inches. Forehead: High. Eyes: Blue. Nose: Prominent. Mouth: Average. Chin: Sharp. Hair: Dark blonde. Complexion: Fair. Face: Average. Thin, full beard.

Zeisberg went to Lexington, Missouri, to teach at the Elizabeth Aull Seminary for women, then to Chicago, where his musical talents became more widely known and appreciated. With a solid reputation in the musical world, in 1892 he began a thirty-year career as conservatory director at Martha Washington College in Abingdon, Virginia.

He retired at age sixty in 1922 for health reasons, and the Zeisbergs returned to Jefferson City, leaving their three grown children in good professions on the East Coast. He retained a home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, to which he returned annually in summers until the 1940s.

In Jefferson City, the professor and Clara moved into the substantial Fred Binder house at 210 East Dunklin, unoccupied after Papa Fred Binder’s death in 1911 and Mrs. Binder’s death in 1920. The Zeisbergs continued to live there in the Southside until their deaths.

The Binder property included the southeast corner of Dunklin and Madison, catercorner from Busch’s Florist. While the Zeisbergs lived there, it was a wooded tract with a small creek running through it before going out of sight into a long tunnel under the street intersection.

This is how the corner looked around 1951. Madison Street is in the foreground; Dunklin is in the distance. The view is almost true east.

Here is the same view, as of September 2, 2012:

Professor Zeisberg gave organ concerts at the Southside’s Central Evangelical Church, where the Zeisbergs were members, and other local churches, always to full and appreciative attendances. He was the first in Jefferson City to broadcast organ music over the new WOS radio station, directly from Central Church’s organ.

He taught students in piano, organ, and violin. His best-known student, by far, was Carl E. Burkel, who received his first organ lessons as a preteen on Central Church’s large Möller pipe organ. Burkel is well remembered in Jefferson City for his forty-one years of teaching music at Jefferson City High School and directing the Jefferson City Symphony and Capitol Caroling at Christmas. Carl later told me about sitting as a boy on the church organ bench with “that old German” teaching him the intricacies of a multiregister organ.

I was one of Professor Zeisberg’s piano students from age nine to eleven. The nineteenth-century Binder house was spacious and had a big, airy sunroom with windows on three sides overlooking the corner woods and little creek.

Mrs. Zeisberg filled the sunroom to overflowing with pots of ferns and other large plants, making it a tropical paradise just as luxurious as Busch’s greenhouses across the corner.

Professor Zeisberg gave his lessons at an upright piano in an adjacent room, and as I sat on the piano bench I could see the great abundance of Mrs. Zeisberg’s ferns and the woods beyond. I imagined I was playing a piano in a park!

You can see the sunroom in this sketch that my wife, Pat, made of the Binder house in 1950 while an art student in high school.

Professor Zeisberg emphasized German music, especially Beethoven sonatas. When I got reasonably proficient in one, the professor uncased his violin and played the melody with embellishments along with me on the piano.

At times he would lean over me to get close to the music to read it, and the backs of his hands showed the huge, bulging veins of an active eighty-two-year old man. When I made a mistake, he rapped my hands gently with his violin bow and slipped into German to say “Es ist nicht so, Walter!” (That isn’t right, Walter!) In 1944 he gave me a manuscript copy of one of his compositions for children, titled “Kris Kringle,” composed in 1922.

Professor Zeisberg promenaded daily throughout the Southside. He was tall, bearded, and very much the proud German professor. He wore an old-fashioned black suit and top hat, which made him look like Abraham Lincoln. Though in his eighties, he walked very erect in long strides, tapping his black cane as he went briskly along.

Professor Francis Joseph Zeisberg died in 1951 at age eighty-nine. Clara, his wife for fifty-nine years, had died five years earlier. They were buried in the large Binder plot in Riverview Cemetery.

The Zeisbergs’ unmarried daughter Elsa had returned to Jefferson City to care for them when they were aging. She continued to live in the house in the woods at 210 East Dunklin until 1958 (she died 1985), when the property was sold to the Milo H. Walz family, which saw an opportunity to develop the corner commercially.

Here is another view of that corner. This time the view is almost true north, toward the intersection of Madison and Dunklin. The brick building at the left is the Madison side of the Wel-Com-In. The horizontal white structure to its right are the greenhouses for Busch’s Florist. The upright storefront for Busch’s is to the right of that.

Here is the same view as of September 2, 2012:

The beautiful, sturdy Binder/Zeisberg house is now encased within a modern commercial building at 210 E. Dunklin, with its nineteenth-century brick chimneys projecting bizarrely above a flat, modern roofline. Here are some views of the building.

. . . And the shady woods has been totally cut down. The pretty little creek now runs underground as a drainage sewer.

That corner of Madison and Dunklin became the Bolten Southside Conoco and most recently is Doug’s Blvd. Motors. Fred Binder’s well-preserved 1800s black surrey (with a fringe on top!), which was still housed in a carriage house on the property when it was sold in 1958, was given to the Missouri State Museum in the Capitol, where was on exhibit for many years. Most recently it has been displayed at the museum at Lohhman’s Landing, but as of Labor Day weekend 2012, that museum is closed for renovations and the surrey will be placed into storage indefinitely.

Professor Zeisberg’s legacy endures not only in the huge number of students he taught in Jefferson City and Virginia, but also in his enormous volume of compositions. He began publishing in the 1890s with the Theodore Presser Company of Philadelphia. He composed numerous children’s songs for both piano and violin, transcriptions of well-known American melodies like Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe,” and other, longer works.

He composed secular and church music for male and mixed choruses. Central United Church of Christ still uses some of the anthems and choral responses he composed or arranged for it more than eighty years ago. Most impressively, he composed two full-length masses and at least eighty-five—yes, eighty-five!—fugues for the organ.

His immense trove of compositions, some published and others in manuscript, was given to his star student, Carl Burkel. A few of the organ fugues are in the music library of Central Church.

Special thanks to Albert Case for sharing his personal memories of Professor Zeisberg. Mr. Case drove the “Dutchy” professor to his summer home in Virginia in the Zeisberg touring auto. Thanks also to Shirley Klein, organist at Central United Church of Christ, for sharing the manuscript copies of Zeisberg’s fugues. Thanks also to the late Don Walz for his photographs of the Binder woods. The photo of Carl Burkel is from Carl’s collection and was made by Bob Elliott; it is used with permission. And thanks to my wife for sharing her schoolgirl artistic talents. I cannot find a photo of the Binder house!

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How Atchison Street Got Its Name

Today we’re continuing with a short series about street names in the historic Southside.

Brothers Nelson and Oscar Burch moved to Jefferson City shortly after the Civil War. Oscar had fought proudly in the Union Army for years and had been imprisoned by the Confederates for months. He likely had no love for the Confederates. The brothers bought land and built their homes in the late 1860s on the southwest corner of Jefferson and Atchison Streets on the south side of Munichburg.

Here is the Nelson and Gertrude Burch house (115 W. Atchison) (photo taken June 30, 2012). Click to see the National Register of Historic Places paperwork. Click to read an article about historic preservation work done by the current owners.

And below is the Oscar and Mary Burch house (924 Jefferson) (photo taken June 30, 2012). Click to see the National Register of Historic Places paperwork. Click to read an article about the house’s history and improvements made by its current owners.

Did the Burches—who were Yankees from New York—know that Atchison Street, where they built their fine homes, was named in honor of a devoted pro-slavery Missourian who tried his best to lead Missouri into the Confederacy, the very enemy that they had just fought against so long and hard?

Possibly not. Although the street was named Atchison before the Civil War, names of streets and house numbers were not commonly used in the residential sections of town in the middle of the nineteenth century. Atchison Street was the southern limit of the platted city. The Burch houses were built on an outlot, outside the city. They were like country estates overlooking the rest of the small town.

So who was this famous Confederate Missourian named Atchison? Why was a slave-owning secessionist honored with a street name in Munichburg, settled by pro-Union German immigrants?

David Rice Atchison was born in Kentucky in 1807 and graduated from Transylvania University in 1825 at the early age of eighteen. One of his close friends and classmates was Jefferson Davis, who later became the president of the Confederates States of America.

Atchison moved to western Missouri in 1830 and acquired slaves. He was elected to the Missouri General Assembly in 1834 and served in the U.S. Senate from 1843 to 1855, for many of those years Senate pro tempore. He supposedly was the U.S. president for one day, March 4, 1849, when president-elect Zachary Taylor refused to take the oath because it was a Sunday.

As the national debate over slavery intensified, Atchison took the pro-slavery side. He fought hard for extension of slavery into neighboring Kansas and Nebraska as they approached statehood. He personally conducted a raid by pro-slavery men called the Border Ruffians into Lawrence, Kansas, where they pillaged the town. This act led abolitionist John Brown to begin his legendary retaliation of violence.

When the Civil War broke out, Atchison joined with the sitting Missouri governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, a secessionist. He continued to work with Jackson and Missouri general Sterling Price in their fight against the Union.

Atchison’s longstanding friendship with Confederate president Jefferson Davis since boyhood days in Kentucky helped Missouri to be acknowledged by the Confederate States of America as its twelfth state by a star in its flag.

As the war dragged on and the Confederacy’s cause faded, Atchison sought haven in Texas until 1867, when he returned to northwestern Missouri. Politically discredited, the bachelor turned to a quiet life of farming in Clinton County, but now without slaves. He died in 1886. There’s a statue of Atchison at the Clinton County Courthouse in Plattsburg, Missouri.

Atchison Street in Jefferson City was given its name well before the Civil War, certainly by the 1840s, when Atchison was second in leadership in the U.S. Senate. At that time, the Southern-dominated leadership of Missouri and Jefferson City would have been proud of him. His later notoriety as leader of the Southern, pro-slavery cause in Missouri would have been dismissed after the war as no cause for changing the street name.

Still, one wonders whether the fiercely Unionist Burch brothers—or, for that matter, any of the German immigrants who later moved onto Atchison Street and were pro-Union—could be very happy to live on a street named for such an ardent advocate of slavery.

Lincoln University, the historically black university founded by black Union veterans of the Civil War, also lies along East Atchison Street. How paradoxical this is!

Incidentally, David Rice Atchison, slavery advocate and defender, was honored in 1991 with a bronze bust in the Hall of Famous Missourians in the Missouri State Capitol.

Bonus info: David Rice Atchison helped found Atchison, Kansas, across the Missouri River from Missouri, which still bears the name of its pro-slavery, pro-secession founder. The city was originally intended as a pro-slavery enclave, in hopes that Kansas would not develop into the strongly abolitionist, pro-Union state that it did! The city had become anti-slavery by 1859, before the Civil War broke out.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.