Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Saint Mary’s Der Mutter Gottes Kirche

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” –December 2010 No. 73.) 

In 1824, Martin Bargus, Fort Wayne’s first German-born Catholic, arrived in town during the days before the Wabash & Erie Canal having followed the route from New York City to Fort Wayne which would be followed by many other Germans: Hudson River to Albany, Erie Canal to Buffalo, Lake Erie to Detroit, ox team to Maumee, Ohio and pirogue up the Maumee River to Fort Wayne.  No German-speaking clergy settle in Fort Wayne until the Rev. Louis Muller arrived in 1836.  By 1846, Fort Wayne’s German community, of which at least a third was Catholic, had now grown to a significant size.  Three German Protestant congregations had already erected church buildings, namely St. Paul’s German Lutheran, St. John’s German Reformed, and Bethel German Methodist.  Meanwhile the German Jews were busily organizing a congregation.  Most German Catholics wanted to attend Mass and hear the sermons in their native language.
Swept along with these ethnic sentiments was the Rev. Edward M. Faller, the twenty-two-year-old German-speaking assistant pastor who had come to St. Augustine’s in October 1846.  There he found thirty German Catholic families eager to build their own schoolhouse, orphanage and church. He soon established a church council, organized a school society (Deutscher Romisch Catholischer St. Josephss-Schulvereins), erected a frame schoolhouse and meeting hall on Calhoun Street adjacent to the church and purchased lots on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Lafayette streets for the site of its future church building.  In order to guarantee the $1,700 cost of the property, five families mortgaged their farms.
A local editor, after praising several of the new Protestant edifices in town, concluded, “but the handsomest situation in the whole City is owned by the [German] Catholics, and when they shall have built their new Church, they can justly boast of the most beautiful place in the State.” A brick church 32 by 64 feet was gradually erected, as well as a small one-story residence for the pastor, behind which their schoolhouse was soon relocated. Finally, in November 1849, the German congregation moved in a solemn procession from St. Augustine’s Church to their new facility. The celebrated Jesuit missionary the Rev. Francis X. Weninger, who had been conducting a week-long mission to the congregation, then dedicated the church “to the service of God under the tutelage of Mary,” and named it Der Mutter-Gottes Kirche, The Mother of God’s church. English speaking residents of Fort Wayne, however, seldom used this title, and thereafter spoke of the “German Catholic Church” or “St. Mary’s Catholic church.”
In 1854, a school and a convent were built on the site. Three years later, the growing parish announced that it would build a larger church with a 165-foot steeple, the tallest in town. This 1858 structure, described by a local editor as, “the most magnificent church in the state,” was destroyed in 1886 by the explosion of its boiler. Within months, the cornerstone of a new, larger church was laid by Bishop Joseph Dwenger; a year and a half later, in December 1887, the finished church was dedicated. The name of the church was changed to St. Mary’s Church in 1900.  On September 2, 1993, an afternoon lightening strike sparked a fire which gutted the church. Millions watched the dramatic spectacle of the great steeple falling to the street in flames on national television.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Megan's Mystery Monday - Fort Wayne Daisies

Hello fellow mystery seekers, I’m back again with another Mystery Monday for your viewing pleasure! Today’s topic is on a subject near and dear to my boss’s heart, the Fort Wayne Daisies.

Some of you Fort Wayne natives out there may be familiar with the city’s professional female baseball team. From what I’ve been told, there’s even a movie on it (along with the documentary it was based on. Check out the History Center’s news page, there’s going to be a showing of it here November 4th at 6 p.m.) But if you’re anything like me, you most likely haven’t heard of it, making this iconic Fort Wayne team our mystery of the week. 

To begin with, let’s delve into the history of the team. The Daisies were a pretty big facet in the Fort Wayne community in their heyday, during and following the World War II years (1945-1954). With the men all off at war, women found themselves branching out into new social spheres, including the ball parks. And let me tell you, these ladies could play. The Daisies made it to the playoffs every year from 1947 to 1954, ending in first place from 1951 through 1954, won the final five batting championships of the league and two Player of the Year awards, and, with Helen Callaghan leading all hitters in 1945, the Daisies amassed six batting crowns to set a league record. These ladies were ferocious on the field and they accomplished all of this while wearing skirts. Imagine sliding into base bare legged. I’m in awe.
So why are the Daisies such a mystery? If they accomplished so much, why haven’t more people heard of them? Well, the answer falls in two parts, one social and the other technological. After the war ended and the men returned, many of the players hung up their caps and mitts and settled back into their pre-war routines. In the book Belles of the Ballpark: Celebrating the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the son of Helen Callaghan explained, “The way she says it…is that it was a part of her past. When she started raising a family, that was on her mind, and so she wanted to do that.”[1] Some players continued to play ball, but the prevailing era of the Daisies ended as the women settled down and began families. There are a lot of other contributing social factors, but it’s a similar story to the women working in industry and other male-centric areas during the war.
The other reason stems from the availability of older information within museum settings. In this day and age, many museums and institutions have begun to make the move from paper to digital. This transition is very costly, in both money and labor, so the process can be slow. A lot goes into making a digital catalogue and sometimes things just fall through the cracks, people forget an artifact exists, or it just isn’t considered a priority. We only just recently stumbled upon the archival box holding the brunt of our Daisies’ photos (due to my boss’s sudden interest in promoting them sparking a memory of a dusty box existing in the archives room) and have begun the process of converting the collection to digital. While a daunting task, it leaves me excited for the other mysteries hiding in the collections. Who knows what could be stumbled upon next?

We have high hopes of creating an exhibit on the Daisies and their awesome exploits to bring these ladies back from the depths of obscurity and into the limelight where they belong. If you’d like to help us with this project, we’re looking for donations and contributors! If any of you out there know of some Daisies memorabilia and would care to share, contact my boss (Karen Butler-Clary) at  260.426.2882 (ext 312) or email at karen.butler-clary@fwhistorycenter.com. We’d love to add it to our exhibit!
Keep an eye out for the cool events the Center will be hosting to honor the Daisies, because there is much more to come!

[1] Helmer, Diana & Owens, Thomas S., Belles of the Ballpark: Celebrating the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (Sumner Game Books: New Jersey, 2015), ix.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

John Bass

(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” -  Nov  2010, No. 72)

John Henry Bass began an industrial career in Fort Wayne at the young age of seventeen.  By 1900, Bass was known as Fort Wayne’s greatest industrialist.  His mansion called “Brookside” on the west side of town was the finest residence of its kind in the region.  On its grounds was a livestock menagerie including elk, buffalo, huge Clydesdale horses and imported Galoway cattle.  Today, the esteemed estate serves as a campus administration building for the University of Saint Francis.
John Bass, born in Salem, Kentucky in 1835, was the son of Ohio Valley settlers from Virginia and North Carolina who had strong sympathies for the South.  In 1852, Bass arrived in Fort Wayne with a few dollars to his name, and took a job working as a grocery clerk while studying bookkeeping at night school. He audited books for Samuel and William Edsall during the time they were building the Wabash Railroad from the Ohio Line to the Wabash River. The next year he joined his younger brother Sion Bass in a machine shop operation doing business as Jones, Bass and Company at the site of the present-day post office on South Clinton Street where from 1854 to 1857 John worked as a bookkeeper.  
By 1857, John Bass had used his small amount of capital from the machine shop to buy and sell land on the Iowa frontier.  When he returned to Fort Wayne, he had $15,000.00 in cash and land holdings worth more than $50,000.00.  Jones, Bass and Company was sold to the railroad, marking the beginning of the huge Pennsylvania Railroad Shops.  With the profits, the Bass brothers, with Samuel Hanna, started another small foundry and machine business.
While leading his regiment in the opening battles of the Civil war, John’s brother Col. Sion Bass was mortally wounded at the 1862 Battle of Shiloh.  That same year, John Bass purchased his partners’ interests in the company and established the Bass Foundry and Machine Works, locating the first plant on the southern side of what was later known as the Pennsylvania Railroad.  This company at first specialized in the manufacture of axles and wheels for the railroad, which were used across the tracks in the construction of cars and locomotives at the Pennsy Shops.  Because of the war, huge profits came to the Bass Foundry.  Within ten years, the company and its affiliates had become the nation’s largest manufacturer of rolling equipment for trains.
Soon after the war ended, Bass married into the respected old southern family of Lightfoot.  Laura Lightfoot was a descendant of seventeenth century settlers of Virginia and was closely related to the family of Robert E. Lee, the great Confederate general.  Laura was thirteen years younger than John and a resident of Falmouth, Kentucky, near Cincinnati when they met.
Laura and John Bass rose to the top of Fort Wayne society in the four decades after the Civil War.
Bass founded the St. Louis Car Wheel Company in 1869, and in the next two decades, sought to extend his control over his competition by seizing the natural resources that supplied his raw materials for production.  So, by 1875, he also owned high-grade iron ore mines in Alabama and Tennessee, and established a major ironworks in Chicago in 1873 taking advantage of the ideal building opportunities following the great Chicago Fire of 1871.
In addition to foundries, machine shops and mines, John Bass was one of a group that purchased the Wabash Erie Canal Saint Joseph River feeder line as a means of conveying water to the city when the topic of waterworks was first considered.  He was also one of the organizers of the Fort Wayne Organ Company later known as the Packard Piano Company, and the Citizens Street Railway Company, the first trolley company in Fort Wayne.  For thirty years, from 1887 to 1917, Bass was president of the First National Bank of Fort Wayne, a precursor of the Fort Wayne National Bank the present-day PNC Bank.
The center of his fortune, however, was the great Bass Foundry.  At its height, the company employed 2,500 workers who produced not only railroad axles and wheels, but also everything from huge steam engines, entire power plants and boilers to vaults and jailhouse doors.  When John Bass died in 1922 at his country home of “Brookside,” he was hailed as Fort Wayne’s greatest industrialist.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Megan's Mystery Monday - Teaching Textiles

Hello history lovers! I’ve got something a bit different for you all today. Part of the point of this blog is to showcase the many tricks of the trade being taught to me over the course of my internship. While I mainly focus my attention on the Center’s fine arts collection, occasionally I venture forth from the art racks to delve into other areas of work. For instance, textiles! 

The History Center is in possession of a truly impressive number of dresses, spanning not only decades but centuries. We’ve got a wedding dress on hand that’s from the 1840s even. Something I’ve noticed in historical preservation is that people hang on to what they deem important. Our story this week revolves around a formal dress with a very noteworthy life and the work we did to showcase this important piece of history.

A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to help out my boss with photographing a long-trained formal dress, this one from 1885. What makes this dress a bit different from others is that it was worn at President Grover Cleveland’s inauguration. It’s a pretty awesome find and I got the chance to help coax this dress on a mannequin. 

The thing you have to keep in mind about working with dresses from this time period is that the women who wore them were tiny. I’m talking less than 5 foot 5 inches and a size 0, if that. Charlotte Lowry, the woman who owned this dress, was slightly taller than the mannequin we used (we know this based on how the train lay) and with a smaller bust. If you look at the pictures I took, you can get an idea of how small women were back then.
The tiny forms are only part of the difficulties that come with displaying an old dress like this. A lot of care has to go into handling and navigating the dress with as much care placed on avoiding stress to the fabric as possible. This dress for example, has a very long train attached to its bustle (the bump on the butt). It took three people to lift the dress over the mannequin’s head so that the weight of the material wouldn’t stress the seams. A lot of artifact handling is built upon patience and care because once it’s ripped, that’s it. Thankfully we managed just fine with no casualties to speak of. 

Once the dress was finally on the mannequin, half the battle was won. A cool fact about these dresses is that most were customizable. Fitted dresses were pretty expensive back then and even the wealthy could only afford so many. To save money and get the most out of what they bought, many dresses came with different inserts and removable trim so as to make one dress look like three. The pale pink apron, bust, and trim all had to be attached separately from the main dress. Using a lot of care, ingenuity, and a few well-placed hat pins, we were able to get a good idea of what the dress looked like when it was worn. This actually came with a second set of attachments too, a beautiful gold and black rose patterned themed set, but we were unable to get photos of it fully inserted. Regardless, the creativeness of dress makers back then is very commendable. 

While this isn’t much of a mystery, it was a really fun learning experience for me that I wanted to share with all of you out there. It definitely made me think back on my childhood, seeing my mom’s wedding dress neatly stored and full of memories. 

Museum work is keyed toward preserving the past for the future, and I think this formal dress resonates with all of us who have held on to precious memories in all the ways we can, be it through memory alone or in the clothing we wore when living it. Just think, one day that one concert t-shirt or that signed jersey might be on a mannequin, preserved for the occasions it witnessed and the memories it held.