Submitted by Paul Ovaitt
Gentle readers, recently, Sally Heining, treasurer of Friends of Historic Augusta, recommended that I do an interview with Shirley Nolting Osthoff. Well, why not? So, I called Shirley, but Shirley insisted it was imperative to first interview her sister, Ruth Nolting Fuhr. She told me Ruth had a better memory, and besides, she knew more about Augusta. She even hinted that Ruth was puzzled that I hadn’t already spoken with her.
Hence, I told Shirley that she was off the hook for now, but like a cat who had been fed a morsel…I’d be back. I believe everyone has a story.
On December 23 and again on December 28, 2022, I spoke with Ruth. In the latter conversation, Ruth’s daughter, Jane, briefly joined us.
Paul: I didn’t prepare any questions, but I think we can just have a conversation… but I would like to know when you were born.
Ruth Nolting Fuhr: 1933 in Beaufort, MO to Oscar and Laura Nolting. Oscar was my daddy.
P: How long did you live there?
R: Well, we did live there 3 years, then my sister…we moved to Washington…Daddy had employment at International Shoe Company. And mom worked there with piece making, and he was a top stitcher.
P: They were both working there at the same time?
R: Yeah, my mother was a piece-maker…these little things you put in your shoe… Mom and dad met at Campbellton…at a dance.
P: I guess you were too young to remember much about Beaufort but tell me about Washington.
R: Washington, yeah…I know a little about Washington; I lived there for a while. We was on 313 Jefferson Street; it’s not there anymore…the house we rented. We would put our clothes on and go to downtown Washington to Miller’s and look in the window, or Krual’s downtown, or go to Mattingly’s (dime store – we had one in Jeff City too) and see what we could buy, but we didn’t have no money, so we walked back home.
P: Bocklage’s was down there too. But who’s we? Were these your friends?
R: No, my sisters and I.
P: Did you have brothers too?
R: We had Gladys, Kenneth…and Charles…and Shirley (who married Roger Osthoff and lives off Highway T), and Laverne.
P: Hey, while I think of it, are you one of the gals that go to Elaine’s Coiffures?
P: There were still a lot of mills and feed stores in downtown Washington in the 30s. George Bocklage (see TILIW story https://www.augustamomuseum.com/post/tell-it-like-it-was-crossing-the-big-muddy-for-george) told me there was a serious rat problem there, and a man from Gerald, MO was hired to exterminate the rats with ferrets. Did you see any rats running around?
R: No, we never had no rats, or we would smash them really quick. And that’s what bait is for, you know? Well, some of them downtown businesses had water in the basement too…it was leaking, you know… from the back water, or whatever they call it. My one girlfriend was living down there, and she said she walked in her room and there was a mouse on her baby…and boy, she said, I killed it quick.
P: Was there anything that you were scared of in Washington?
R: Not really. Oh, there was a little place there between the Old Dutch Tavern and the…there was a crack in there that we always thought something might jump out of there. That was…we were scared of there…we’d go on the other side of the street.
P: What was your favorite thing you owned when you were a kid?
R: Good God, that’s the dumbest question (I think that’s what she said). I don’t know…we never got much…we didn’t have no dolls or nothing like that.
P: In that downtown area were there still people that had chickens or anything like that in their yard?
R: No…I don’t think so…down by the river…there was Front Street down there. They didn’t have much down there, but there was a lot of people lived down there, but I didn’t see any chickens.
Gentle lovers of local history, this seems like an auspicious time to share a bit of Washington history. Does anyone remember that in part 1 of my Doris Fuhr story, I spoke about a fascinating memoir by Gert Goebel? No? Well, anyway, the name of the book is Longer Than A Man’s Lifetime In Missouri. And it was recommended to me by Walter Kamphoefner of Defiance, MO and Texas A&M University. (Walter co-edited the book.)
Gert immigrated to Franklin County in 1834. On page 239, he reveals that there once was a city called Bassora right next to Washington. During Gert’s lifetime, it was incorporated into Washington. In the editors’ footnotes, it reads, “The old site of Bassora covers most of an area seven blocks long and five blocks wide extending from the river to Fifth Street between Penn and Boone streets. Although the Missouri River bridge, leads directly into the Bassora site, the main business district remained farther west; the site does, however, include a major hospital.”
Wow! And look what Find a Grave says: “Within this block, known since 1959 as Krog Park, lie the bodies of many early settlers of Washington. The town of Bassora was founded October 8, 1836 and this block was set aside for the city's cemetery in 1847. This cemetery received the remains of bodies disinterred from an early Washington cemetery, located near the present city hall. Eventually Bassora was annexed by a rapidly growing Washington. Burial of dead human beings within the city limits of Washington was prohibited by an ordinance passed in 1880. Bassora Cemetery was officially closed in 1883. In 1926, the city agreed with directors of the new hospital that the cemetery had become derelict and should be eliminated. The majority of the remains were not moved and remain buried here. Grave markers still visible in 1959 when the cemetery was dedicated as Krog Park were buried at that time. Washington Historical Society in 1997 began a drive to obtain monies for the monument for those who remain buried here. Of special note, the founders of Washington, William and Lucinda Owens are buried here. The list of names on this monument is the result of extensive research by the Washington Historic Society. It is unknown exactly how many persons may still lie buried here. Therefore we dedicate this monument to the memory of those known and unknown early settlers of our community who lie buried beneath the sod of this beautiful park. Their determination and foresight was the foundation for the enterprising spirit which continues in our city today.”
Who knew? I asked Ruth. She told me that that area was known as Goose Town. She wasn’t sure why, but she said there was a popular restaurant east of the hospital called the Blue Goose. Hmmm. At any rate, I’m attaching a photo of Krog Park, courtesy of the City of Washington. Wait…what’s a Krog?...
P: I guess you went to grade school in Washington.
R: I went to Washington Lutheran School. It was a four-room school.
P: Where was that at…what street?
R: Fifth Street, where it is now, only a little bit different. I went to Lutheran Kirche (I think she said). I was baptized in St. John’s Lutheran Church in Beaufort when I got born.
P: Were you born at home?
R: No…there was a doctor…that’s where mom took me…that’s where they had me…in Beaufort.
P: So, she went to the doctor’s house or…
R: Yeah, that’s what we did.
P: Before your parents went to work at the shoe company, were they farmers?
R: No. My mother was a farmer…she was an Ellermann from New Melle, but she worked on a farm…that was her dad’s farm.
P: Were the Ellermanns Lutheran?
R: No, they were E and R. (Evangelical and Reformed.) My dad was Lutheran…Oscar.
P: So, your mom had roots in New Melle…was their farm in Cappeln? (I pronounced it more like a German would.)
R: They call it Capplen…
P: Is that where the farm was?
R: Yeah-uh? (Somewhere in my psyche it sounded like duh?)
P: There used to be an old store there in Capplen, right?
R: It’s still there; they opened it up again…for the tourists to get something to eat.
P: Do you remember that store back in the day?
R: No, I don’t remember it; mom used to go there.
Gentle Augustaphiles, once again I must offer you a lesson in speaking proper Augustan. Don’t let the position of the L in Cappeln fool you. Put the L in front of the E and you’ll sound like a native. Which reminds me…in my Aloys Struckhoff stories the word “threshing” turns up several times. https://www.augustamomuseum.com/post/tell-it-like-it-was-aloys-struckhoff-part-2 Don’t be tempted to use a short E sound. It’s THRASHING! And Professor Walter Kamphoefner will back me up on that. Any questions? 😊
P: When you were a child, the 1935 MO River bridge was still pretty new…
R: Oh yeah, we walked across it for a quarter. I walked all the way to Dutzow with my friend, and it was hot. We got to Dutzow, and they had…well, there was a tavern there…we went in there and got a sodie…and we started to go back, and that one man said you can’t go back in the dark. And I said why not. And he said, you get in my old car, and I’ll take you home. So, we got in that old car, and went across…and he paid the fee…what it was to get across there. (Laughing.) He took me home with my friend. (More laughter.)
P: How about that?
R: Yeah, I thought it was pretty neat. You couldn’t do that these days.
P: No, nowadays you wouldn’t trust anybody. Who knows where they’d take you? Those were better times, I believe.
R: I think so.
P: So, you were raised Lutheran. And Mel was Lutheran already, right?
R: Yes, he was. We didn’t have no fights about religion. (Laugh.)
P: That’s good because there’s enough to fight over without that. When did you marry?
R: I got married June 18, 1960.
P: I was nearly 10 years old then.
R: Oh goodness, you didn’t come to my wedding.
P: You didn’t invite me. So, where did you meet Mel?
R: At the T and D beer garden in New Melle. I went with my girlfriend up there. We was going to meet people, you know? We went home…and Melvin came around later and asked for a date. Then we would go up to the Barn at New Haven…they had a dance up there…they had beer and stuff.
P: Beer is good.
R: I’m not a beer drinker, but that’s okay.
P: You know, that’s a long way to go, back then…from Washington to New Melle for a dance, because some people, like Doris…said she didn’t go anywhere…but you weren’t like that, I take it.
R: (Laughing.) I guess not.
P: Did you go there in a Model A…
R: Oh yeah, a Model A.
P: Who drove?
R: Well, sometimes my dad drove us.
P: So, you met Mel at a dance. Was he a good dancer?
R: Not really.
P: Were you a good dancer?
R: Oh yeah! I don’t do the jitterbug, but that’s okay.
P: What kind of music was it?
R: Hillbilly, or whatever they call it, or western.
P: Was there a fiddle?
R: Oh yeah, there was a fiddle, and there was…what do you call it…anyway, we had this girlfriend at Washington High…and we called her “squeak”, because she had one of them cellos. And then she went to STL for the symphony orchestra…and she got to be a cellist.
P: Was there a guitar player?
R: Oh yeah, everything was there.
P: And drums?
R: Yeah, drums and flutes…and trumpets
P: Flutes and trumpets? Okay now you’re getting further away from hillbilly.
R: He used to play a guitar…my dad…and harmonica.
P: That’s nice. Did he sing to you?
R: No…but anyway, Paul Fuhr had harmonicas, and I’ve got two up here. One’s a Bluebird, and I’m not sure of the other one. He gave them to me because he said he didn’t play harmonica. Paul Fuhr…that was Mel and Doris’ dad.
P: Someone told me Paul used to sing a lot.
R: Oh, he did lots of stuff. He went all the way down to St. Charles all the time. He used to sing in St. Charles with all them people…and then in church…the Lutheran church here, they had a whole bunch of people singing.
Gentle lovers of music, look what Cheryl Fuhr Wehmeier dug up for me. It’s a Marthasville Record article from August 31, 1951. “Everyone enjoys hearing some good old German singing and you can hear it like you’ve never heard it before by going to the Wentzville Home Coming Sunday afternoon, Sept. 2, and hear The Schnitzel Bank Singers. Three of our local German songsters, Paul Fuhr, Fred Knoernschild and Rhinehold [sic] Knoernschild will take part in this program.”
Folks, curiosity got the best of me; I looked up Schnitzel Bank. I discovered that is normally spelled as one word…and take it away, Wikipedia… “A schnitzelbank…a short rhyming verse or song with humorous content, often but not always sung with instrumental accompaniment. Each verse in a Schnitzelbank introduces a topic and ends with a comedic twist. Now, get a load of all the performers who used schnitzelbank: Groucho Marx, Cary Grant, Walt Disney, Bing Crosby, Bill Haley and His Comets https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ebw_CrDNrIQ
You can also hear schnitzelbank in The Munsters, The Cat in the Hat, and in Steven Spielberg's popular cartoon show Animaniacs.
But a schnitzelbank is also a handy tool/work bench or a shaving horse if you prefer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiPSe-d02qg
Okay, do I have any readers left? Three? That many! Don’t worry, I’m wrapping this up. Cheryl Wehmeier has flooded me with many great photos and news clips, that I need to wrap my head around before I proceed.
Mel and Ruth
The Fuhr's Home
Bocklage Store and Feed
Old Dutch Tavern