ebook History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Schurz Travelling Trunk (Chest)


A picture containing floor, indoor, wooden, wood

Description automatically generated


Historic Trunk

of Margarethe Meyer Schurz

returned to city


A picture containing text, old

Description automatically generatedIn September, 1852, Carl Schurz and his bride, the former Margarethe Meyer, arrived in New York harbor. In 1856 they occupied their new home in Watertown.


In November of that same year Margarethe Meyer Schurz founded the First Kindergarten in America, now restored on the Octagon House grounds [the first German kindergarten in America, for five students, including her three-year-old Agathe and four nieces].


As a young woman, Margarethe Meyer had learned kindergarten teaching at the German Froebel School, then traveled Europe widely before immigrating to the US with her husband.


Presumably the trunk, the name unchanged after the marriage, was part of her baggage.


Nearly 120 years later the Watertown Historical Society accepted the gift of a trunk, bearing the faintly discernible legend of


"Margarethe Meyer

via Frankfurth M. Bremen

nach New York Amerika"


The trunk, by all indications, once belonged to Margarethe Meyer Schurz, wife of politician and diplomat Carl Schurz. Mrs. Schurz founded this country's first kindergarten in 1856, using its location at North Second and Jones streets to teach her children and the neighbors. The building was moved to the site of the Octagon House in 1956 and restored.


The trunk was appropriately presented by a kindergarten class from the Summit school in Oconomowoc to Miss Gladys Mollart, Watertown Historical Society curator. Twenty-seven youngsters accompanied their teacher, Mrs. Michael Stemper, and the mother of one, Mrs. Gerald Fahl, came by bus to make the presentation.


The story of the trunk, as documented in May of 1971 by the Watertown Daily Times and the Milwaukee Journal, began with a visit Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Fahl made to a neighborhood barn auction in Merton five years ago. They purchased the large square unadorned trunk, with a plan to redo it later. The trunk had been used for storage in the Fahl attic since. Mrs. Fahl decided to refinish the trunk and noticed the lettering under the paint, but thought little about it.


Subsequently, Mrs. Fahl read the book "Margarethe Meyer Schurz" by Hannah Werwath Swart, Fort Atkinson, and soon tbereafter saw a TV program Cheyenne Autumn" with Edward G. Robinson in which Carl Schurz was portrayed. She was reminded again of the printing on the trunk and felt it might have some historical. value. She contacted Mrs. Swart to see if this could be the trunk Mrs. Schurz brought from Germany as a bride in 1852.


As nearly as can be determined with a bit of research it is the same trunk. Mrs. Swart soon afterwards contacted Gladys Mollart.


Its history apparently established, the trunk was given to the Oconomowoc kindergarten class.


Mrs. Fahl, whose daughter Jennifer is a member of the Summit school kindergarten, felt it would be appropriate for these children to present the trunk so it could be installed where she felt it belonged, in the first kindergarten on the Octagon House grounds.


"I thought of how young Mrs. Schurz was when she came to this country as a bride (she was 19) and what dreams must have come with her," Mrs. Fahl said, "and when I looked at the trunk, I felt I knew her."



Description automatically generatedHistoric Chest Finds Home


The presentation was made to Gladys Mollart, curator, Mrs. Swart was present as an honored guest. Pictures were taken, the children were thanked and given cookie treats by Miss Mollart, and then departed happily for home.


Mrs. Fahl, when those present again expressed appreciation, said, "I'm glad, too, that this idea came to me, it was a way of making a lot of people happy, you folks and the children."


On hand for the presentation were. members of a kindergarten class from the Summit School, Oconomowoc. From left with Miss Gladys Mollart, the curator, are Sara Czarnecki, 6; Chipper Pieper, 6; David Berlin, 5; Mary Gagnon, 6; Mrs. Gerald Fahl, and her daughter, Jennifer, 6.


Before the trip to Watertown, Mrs. Fahl joined the kindergarteners taught by Mrs. Michael Stemper. Little Jennifer told the trunk story to the group, then all filed out for the ride to Watertown.


The Fahls, who lived in Oconomowoc, were not able to locate the interim owners of the trunk.


If the run of coincidence continues, perhaps they will turn up among the First Kindergarten's visitors and supply a few more details.


Meanwhile, it was stuffed with children's clothes and costumes of the 1856 period, just as in the time of Margarethe Meyer Schurz.



Schurz Image Portfolio





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History of Watertown, Wisconsin