When John Hughes'* daughter Elizabeth Van Deuser died, she made history. Elizabeth, the wife of Horace Van Deuser, was the first white person to die in what became Algoma. The year was 1852 when the place was called Wolf River. Elizabeth was thought to have been buried along the river. During the next few years, the few who died were buried at what is approximately 5th and State Streets, however those bodies were exhumed a few years later and moved to Defaut Cemetery, the first section of what became the Evergreens.
In the early days of the community, when folks died, their families built simple box coffins and prepared their bodies to meet the Lord. Then came the undertakers and finally today’s traditions.
In his 1980 Inventing the American Way of Death, 1830-1920, J.J. Farrell writes that most died at home during those years, and funerals and burials were handled by family and neighbors. After a death, the women were responsible for preparing the body for burial while the men built a plain wood coffin or, perhaps, bought one from a local carpenter. The men dug the grave and often made a headstone.
What is today known as a wake was traditionally held in the home. During the 1800s a lack of scientific knowledge often made it difficult to know if one was dead or in a deep sleep. Following the presumed death, the body was closely observed for three days to make certain the person was truly dead and did not awake from a deep sleep. Thus, the term “wake.”
As cities swelled with rural populations seeking employment, space became a premium and often there was no room for a wake in the households of the working man. Embalming became popular, offering expanded roles for undertakers. Farrell writes that cities meant longer distances were traveled from the home to the cemetery, necessitating someone do the organizing and seeing that all formalities were followed. In efforts to portray a more professional image, the term “funeral director” came into vogue sometime after 1900. As the years went on, the funeral directors assumed duties previously held by family and clergy. It was also said that when funeral homes proved the services, the words “living room” came into being because the in-home parlor was no longer used to display the dead. Funeral homes were known as funeral parlors as recently as a generation or two ago.
Deceased loved ones have always mourned, although until the last 70 or so years, there was a mourning period when family members did not engage in social pursuits that could be construed as fun. Some wore black clothing, or at least a black armband, to indicate there had been a death in the family. At the time of the Civil War, a widow was expected to observe a 2 or 2 ½ year mourning period for her husband. In some places it was customary to shroud mirrors and stop clocks while one was lying in state.
The practice of embalming caught on during the Civil War era. Touted mainly for men of higher ranks, embalming was advertised as a way of preserving the body to appear as if one was sleeping. Developments in photographic technology brought gave rise to photos of the deceased. It was not unusual to have pictures taken of the deceased lying in the coffin surrounded by flowers. Small children were often held in the mother’s arms for such a photograph. Others appeared to be sleeping
in a child-sized chair or perambulator. Many families saved locks of
hair to be made into such wearable items as rings and watch fobs, but the hair
was also made into flowers and decorative items placed in a glassed shadow box.
The floral tributes of today had their roots in the flowers, rose petals and
other fragrances that were thought to minimize the odors of deterioration.
|Hair watch fob, ca. 1854|
While it seems like a stretch of the imagination at first glance, Ahnapee, as other places, had a connection between death and furniture stores, and even harness makers. In the early days of furniture construction, it followed that coffins be built in furniture manufacturies and sold by furniture stores. Most of the coffins sold in Ahnapee/Algoma were made in town and advertised in the paper. In the early days, the coffin was usually set up in the parlor of the family of the deceased where much of the funeral took place. Often the wake was followed by a service at church, although such services were also held within the home.
It is thought Franz Schubich was Ahnapee’s first professional undertaker. His Steele Street furniture and undertaking establishment was an outgrowth of the Paarmann furniture business just west of the southwest corner of 4th and Steele. Schubich’s long-time business gave rise to what became Haucke’s and then Schinderle’s today. Another of the early businessman with undertaking in connection with his furniture business was M.A. McCune who was advertising as early as 1884.
Both Frank Jirtle and William Krueger ran harness shops in the 200 and 300 blocks, respectively, of Steele Street and were advertising coffins before 1900. On November 11, 1901, the Record announced that Chilton parties were considering opening a new furniture store in Algoma. Anton Egerce and Hugh Eldridge said if they did decide to open in the city, they planned to purchase the undertaking and furniture business of Perlewitz Bros., conducted by William Krueger**, and the undertaking business of Frank G. Jirtle. Their plans included opening in the Charles building on the southwest corner of 1st and Steele, however for some reason the men decided against the Algoma purchase. It was John Perry who went forward.
John Perry’s 1902 store at the northwest corner of 4th and State was one of the businesses advertising coffins. Perry concluded a deal with F.G. Jirtle for the purchase of his undertaking business, also purchasing the undertaking and furniture business of the Perlewitz Bros. Perlewitz’ were best known for their blacksmithing, and wagon and carriage making, while Jirtle was known for his harness making. It was Perry’s intention to leave his grocery and dry goods business to devote himself to his new pursuits. In the early 1900s, Perry’s ad included something new - services offered by a woman.
The Fremont Street property older Algoma residents remember as Weisner-Massart Funeral Home was owned by Mathias Melchior – of the shoemaking family - in 1895. Ten years later, Henry J. Wunderlich built a home on the site, and in 1907 Mary Parker was living there. Joseph Wodsedalek owned the property until June 1934 when Merlyn Foley bought it and remodeled the building for use as a funeral home which opened in August that year. After he died in April 1935, his widow Agnes, a licensed embalmer and funeral director, became the owner of the Foley Funeral Home, assisted by Harry Kinnard, also a licensed funeral director. After Kinnard was called to military service, Mrs. Foley announced in April 1942 that she would be assisted by Elmer Monard of Luxemburg. About six months later, William Weier of Oconto joined the company which became Foley-Weier Funeral Home.
Weier wasn’t there for long and early in March 1944, Nelson Massart of Weisner-Massart of Casco announced taking over the Foley Funeral Home, saying all Weisner-Massart funerals would be conducted from Algoma because of the fire that destroyed the firm’s Casco furniture store and funeral parlors nearly 10 months earlier.
Following Harry Kinnard's 1946 military discharge, he returned to the funeral home. His newspaper advertising promised that he’d be there at all times, and offered 24-hour ambulance service. A few months later, in August, Kewaunee County real estate transfers indicate that Community State Bank officer X.H. Naze, guardian, sold the funeral home to Pauline Weisner and Nelson Massart who owned it until 1955 when Massart became the sole owner of the property. In 2000, Weisner-Massart built a new facility at 1617 Flora Ave.
Schinderle Funeral Home has its roots in the business originating in 1878 with Edward Franz Schubich. Schubich began business in the Paarmann Cottage and relocated a few years later, in 1881, to the McDonald building at the southwest corner of 2nd and Steele. A few years later Schubich moved to the Toebe building at the northeast corner of 2nd and S. Water St., the street which later became Navarino. The location served as Schubich’s undertaking parlors for years, however he also conducted his business in the Swaty building in the triangle of Block 6, and in the Danek building on Steele..
Schubich, in 1916, leased, and then purchased, the Busch-Cohen building, on the south side of Steele between 3rd and 4th. The store later became Haucke’s furniture store, but Clarence Haucke operated his funeral home from 800 4th Street. With the exception from about 1900 when Franz Schubich died to Carl F. Schubich's sale to Clarence Haucke, the Schubich name was synonymous with funerals in Ahnapee/Algoma. Haucke Funeral Home was sold to William Schinderle in January 1967 when the new Haucke-Schinderle Funeral Home opened in the 1600 block of Jefferson Street. Although the business changed ownership in the last 140 years, Schinderele’s is Kewaunee County’s longest continuously operated funeral business.
Schubich, Haucke, Krueger, Weisner-Massart and other undertakers operated furniture stores in connection with the funeral business. I40 years ago most of Ahnapee’s furniture was made by hand, although chairs generally came from factories.
William G. Malcore’s undertaking business was a bit different than the others, however. By 1927 Malcore was operating a music store with an undertaking establishment in connection. In October his newspaper advertising said he was a licensed embalmer located in the Guth Music Store building where he was also a dealer in pianos, phonographs and radios. Malcore listed his phone number – 443 - saying it was answered 24 hours a day. Twenty years earlier, Schubich also provided a telephone number in his ads.
John Cepek seemed to restrict himself to his undertaking business, at least in his newspaper ads. He provided a funeral car. When William Duescher opened an undertaking establishment in 1931, he rented the LuMaye building on the south side of Steele Street in the space previously occupied by the A & P grocery. Duescher didn’t remain in Algoma long. Leo Wochos, of Denmark, Wisconsin, arrived in June 1932 and moved into the flat above the funeral home William Duescher established the year before. Following his graduation from the undertaking and embalming school in Chicago, Wochos worked in Chicago and Milwaukee for some time.
Duescher and Wochos never had Algoma furniture stores. Neither does Schinderele. Wesiner-Massart has one in Algoma today, and has been operating a furniture store in Casco for over 100 years. But, they aren’t building their own furniture and they aren’t building coffins either.
*John Hughes was one of the three “founding fathers” of what became Algoma.
Graphics are from Ahnapee Record/Algoma Record Herald. The photo is the blogger's.
**William Krueger conducted the furniture and undertaking business for Paul Gablowsky & Co., Perlewitz Bros. and John Perry, respectively.
Sources: Ahnapee Records/Algoma Record/Algoma Record Herald; Commercial History of Algoma, Wisconsin Vol. 2, c. 2012; Inventing the American Way of Death, 1830-1920, J.J. Farrell, c. 1980.
Graphics are from Ahnapee Record/Algoma Record Herald. The photo is the blogger's.