February 2, 1938 – After the Conclusion of the 1890 Convention in Milwaukee I Traveled Across Lake Michigan to Michigan

This article by Rev. G. Birkmann, Pastor Emeritus, first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt on February 2, 1938. It was translated from German by Ray Martens.

Last time [1/27/38] I told something about the convention and its important proceedings, but now I would like to report further experiences which I had afterward. But first I need to mention that my lodging during the convention was with a Mr. Hilgendorf, the brother of the Rev. Hilgendorf: future vice-president of the general synod. My brother-in-law, Teacher Christian Braun of Saginaw, Michigan, was my lodging partner. Hilgendorf, our host, owned a lending stable [for horses and buggies] and was an undertaker with a flourishing business and a very nice home, which was kept in the best of order by his wife. We had it good. The people who put us up were always friendly and pleasant. Hilgendorf had a horse and buggy in his business, and, as he showed them to me, he asked whether I could drive. Naturally, I could say yes, for I had already driven very often with my Texas ponies. He said, “Well then, I shall give you the opportunity to look around the city somewhat.” Then he harnessed a beautiful large horse to the conveyance, and I climbed up into the buggy quite confidently and drove away. The horse ran proudly and quickly, but, since I did not want to drive quite so fast, I pulled on the reins in order to slow it down. Yet, the more I pulled, the faster it ran. It could be guided, however, and I could yield where necessary and also turn into other streets. But my horse maintained its tempo, obviously a fast one. Some of my former fellow students were surprised, as they told me later, that I was such an able buggy driver. But this had nothing to do with my skill and free will; instead, my well-trained horse had to be given the credit for it. When I arrived back at the lending stable in about half an hour, I said that I could not restrain the horse, but that it ran away with me, as it were. Then he explained to me that I should not have pulled the reins, instead should have slackened them, and the animal would have gone slower. I learned something new. It was different with my horses in Texas.

After the convention, Braun, my brother-in-law, traveled to Minnesota to his mother’s home, but I wanted to visit my sister, Braun’s wife, in Saginaw, Michigan. A trip across Lake Michigan [an overnight trip] from Milwaukee to Grand Haven, Michigan, was a pleasant diversion in the summer. Traveling with me were a number of others who wished to return to their homes in Michigan.

We did not all find room in the cabins, but a group of us had to be satisfied with a place in what was called the salon, that is, the room which extended the whole length of the ship between the cabins on both sides. This room was . . . . with nice carpets . . . . on the walls there were . . . . [A printing error caused excess ink to obscure many words here.] and this room turned out to provide the necessary protection, for not a small storm arose that night and brought pain and misery to the passengers and, yes, as was reported, not a small amount of danger, for that night our ship was loaded with grain, which shifted from side to side as our ship swayed, and this caused more than a little anxiety about the danger of capsizing.

The passengers at first were in a happy mood, for they thought they had protected themselves from seasickness with all kinds of devices, but, as the storm continued and became stronger and stronger, their faces became serious and thoughtful. Some displayed the more serious evidence of illness, vomiting, and so the ship’s employees brought out containers, finally carefully provided for all of us, for the carpets before us were expensive.

Those in the cabins were no better off then we. From their rooms one could hear grunts and groans, whimpering and complaining. I thought to myself that they might be worse off than we inspite of the beds that they had because they had to make do in such small quarters.

In the midst of this distress, the Rev. Karl Frinke of Grands Rapids, Michigan, an old acquaintance from our time at Fort Wayne, stopped in front of me and said while laughing, “What is actually wrong with you, Birkmann?” It certainly was no laughing matter for me. I answered, “You can see for yourself How is it that you can walk around so happily and cheerfully?” He said that he often made the trip across the lake and never became seasick.

After several hours it was daybreak, and we soon arrived in Grand Haven, where preparations had already been made for our arrival with coffee and cakes. It was known that the passengers would arrive altogether disenchanted, and they had a whole mountain of provisions prepared for us. I found it remarkable that people who previously had been so miserable and despondent had become well and lively as they hurried to the vendors to quiet the hunger which had suddenly overtaken them. The baked goods and the excellent coffee also tasted good to me.

My companions from the convention boarded a train with me which took us through Grand Rapids to Flint, where I had to get off to use another train to bring me to Saginaw. I had to wait in Flint the whole day. It was the fourth of July, but it was so cool, one could say so cold, that I had to wear my overcoat. At the time Flint was not the important, large factory city that it is today, having become one of the centers of the auto industry with thousands of workers. Flint used to be a nice, quiet, little city, and its residents had their fourth of July picnic in the park, and were drinking cold drinks and eating ice cream in spite of the cool weather.

Then, on the following evening, I arrived in Saginaw, and, on the next morning, sought out my sister’s home. My brother-in-law Braun was the teacher of the lower grades and lived upstairs, while the teacher of the upper grades . . . . lived in . . . .[More problem with the ink.]. So it was that the Brauns had to practice climbing the steps loaded with firewood or a bucket of water.

Yet, they were satisfied, he in his calling, and my sister likewise in hers. They had already been given three or four children, the oldest, Theodore, in his ninth year. I was happy to be with my sister again; one whom I had not seen in seven years. [This sister was Pauline, who came to live with him in Fedor in 1879, married Braun, teacher in Serbin, in 1881, and with him moved to Saginaw in 1883.] The following day was a Sunday, and I went to the church which was being served by the Rev. Joseph Schmidt, whom I had already met in Milwaukee. He was president of the Michigan District back then. But Schmidt was not the preacher in Saginaw that Sunday, but, instead, a different person, whom I did not know.

I did not get around much in Saginaw, and not at all in its surroundings, and I later regretted that I did not visit the Franconian colony. Yet, what I did see in Saginaw and elsewhere in Michigan made a favorable impression on me. What struck me especially was how beautiful and fresh the trees appeared there, also those that were present in such numbers in the city itself.

I stayed there another day or two, but before I take leave of that place I wish to add that my brother-in- law Braun did not always live on that upper floor. After some time, the congregation built a new house for their pastor, and Teacher Braun could then move into the former parsonage. He worked another thirty-four years in his school as teacher of the lower grades, and never wanted anything other than to teach the little ones. During February of 1926, he died peacefully, about two years after his faithful helpmeet had preceded him in death. Two of his sons are still in the teaching ministry. The oldest, Theodore, resigned a year ago after teaching in a parochial school in Detroit for thirty-four years. Another son, Martin, is in Saginaw in a civil service position.

My return trip took me back to Grand Haven by way of Flint. Then I boarded the boat again [a day trip] to travel to Milwaukee. In view of my experience on the first trip, I was not without anxiety with respect to seasickness. It was my intention to stay on the deck so that, in case the boat caused trouble once again, I could set my eye on a fixed point, such as a star. Someone had advised me of this earlier, and I hoped for a good result by following the advice­ but, of course, it was a different trip from the one described earlier.

But, as I climbed to the deck leaving Grand Haven this time, I found it fully occupied. The Knights of Pythias had taken over the ship almost entirely, as they traveled to Milwaukee for a convention of their order. They had positioned themselves upon the deck, row upon row, shoulder to shoulder. So I could find no room there. But, even at that, I arrived happily in Milwaukee that night, and then looked up my friendly Hilgendorf another time. They were happy to see me again. The next day, Mr. Hilgendorf took me to the station from which I wished to go to Chicago. Once again, Hilgendorf had hitched up a beautiful horse. He asked me about the time at which the train would leave, and I told him, “In a quarter hour.” We still had some distance to go to the station, and I expressed my concern about arriving on time. Mr. Hilgendorf, however, was entirely sure that we would make it. And we did arrive on time.

The friendliness and pleasantness of these people bas remained unforgettable to me.