June 7, 1938 – My Vacation in Ohio, 1871

This article was written in German by Gotthilf Birkmann for the 7 June 1938 edition of the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt. It also appeared on page 285 in Worthy of Double Honor, the Rev. G. Birkmann, D. D. where it was translated by the author Ray Martens.

My Vacation in Ohio, 1871   

I received a letter from home that once again, like two years earlier, I could not spend the summer vacation in my home in Monroe County, Illinois, because the required train fare was not available. Two years earlier, I had stayed in Fort Wayne during vacation time, with the Von der Au family. My wish for a long time already had been to visit my older friend, Jacob Horn, in Holmes County, Ohio. One of my classmates, Jacob Hoffmann, came from Horn’s congregation. The trip there cost something too, about seven dollars, but that much I had. Certainly, I should first have asked Rev. Horn whether I could come and spend my vacation with him, but with my inexperience and lack of inhibition, I did not take it as necessary first to ask. I rode the train with my friend, Jacob Hoffmann, to Wooster, Ohio, where a relative of his picked us up and took us the considerable distance to where the Hoffmann family lived. After an overnight there, we went to the church, a sister congregation to the primary one which Rev. Horn served. There we, Horn and I, saw one another for the first time in a whole string of years. He had by then been pastor at Mount Hope in Holmes County, Ohio, for five years, had married Katharina Wenkheimer a daughter of the congregation there, and already had several children. As I shared my intention of spending my vacation with him, it must not have been easy for him to suppress a real feeling of ill at ease, but he did not let it show. Instead, he received me in a friendly way and took me home to his place of residence and to his family at the other church, and there I received a warm welcome.

Jacob Horn was born in my home community in Illinois in 1845 [nine years Birkmann’s senior]. His father, who had the same name, had immigrated there already in1835 from Altenburg, Germany. He had brought his father with him, but he died shortly and lies buried on the Horn’s property near Waterloo, Illinois. The younger Jacob Horn, with whom I was visiting during my vacation, had studied under [Professor] Craemer at the practical seminary, by that time relocated to St. Louis, along with Phillip Studt, another young man from my home community. The two graduated in 1866, with Studt going to Iowa and Horn here to Ohio. (Just a few years after my visit, Horn with some members of his congregation moved to Iowa, and there, especially in Germantown, served many years. Both Horn and Studt also served as president of their Iowa District for some years. Horn died in 1899, Studt in 1913.

That vacation of mine in Mount Hope was quite interesting for me, and I experienced and saw much which was new to me. The area is hilly and, at the time, had especially productive fields, especially for growing wheat. Wheat was harvested during the first half of July and had to be brought in promptly in order to prevent damage. Rev. Horn, accustomed to such work from his days at home in Illinois, healthy and strong and a mere twenty-six, was moved to help his father-in-law with the wheat harvest that year.

Holmes County was also a coal-mining area, where some farmers I saw had their own coal mines, which is to say, holes they dug in the hills to retrieve coal for their household use. Up in those hills were also wooded areas, both large and small, in which we looked for a certain variety of blueberries and other plants whose names I have forgotten.

Many Amish people lived nearby (Mennonites, a Baptist sect which bears Menno’s name), a people with a number of unusual characteristics, I was told. They wore a unique style of clothes and maintained their own way of speaking (referring to one another as “Thou” [Du], as in, for example, “Pastor, wilt thou tell me….”) Amish have also settled in Iowa in even larger numbers, notably in a place called Amana.

I spent four of my vacations with Hoffmann relatives. There I could be with my classmate, making excursions into the woods and fields or pitching horseshoes, but also helping the men with their work, with threshing, for example, by pitching bundles of grain or by forking the straw to carry it away or the like. Jacob [Hoffmann] certainly was more experienced at these skills than me.

The people with whom we ordinarily stayed had a number of food items on the table to which I was not accustomed, elderberry pie, among others. (One could also make wine with elderberries.) But occasional illness also marked our vacations. Jacob and I both came down with malaria during the last weeks of one vacation and had to be taken to Masillon, Ohio, to get medication. [Of potential interest to the reader is that Wechselfieber, which literally means “alternating fever,” is the German word for malaria, an apparent attempt to describe changes from raging fever to no fever and back again, with the corresponding move from shivering to sweating.] This disease was in earlier years a frequent problem, caused by mosquitoes, though certainly we did not know that at the time, nor did we anywhere have screens to keep out these bloodsuckers. Everywhere doors and windows stood wide open for these intruders. (We had to endure outbreaks of malaria in Illinois, Missouri, and Fort Wayne (very severe at times) especially in the fall, before a hard freeze would kill off the mosquitoes. None of our professors conducted classes for four weeks during the fall of 872 because they were all sick at the same time. During that time, a number of ”primaners” [college sophomores] had to fill in and teach what was necessary for the younger students.)

While I stayed with Rev. Horn (who was almost always busy), I found plenty of occasion to study, especially for several hours in the morning. During tertia [i.e., high school senior year] I had not learned to value Latin grammar to nearly the extent that I did during my vacation with the Horns. It became the occasion for a real turning point, for, from that time on, I pursued my studies at the college with considerable love and enthusiasm, with the ambition of allowing my mother to rejoice over my progress, when and if I arrived home once more. Sadly, however, I never saw her again. Already in March of the following year, she went home. One of our professors informed me of this after a few days and tried to comfort me in my grief.

As my vacation in Ohio came to within a few days of being over, I received money from home and traveled next to Cleveland to the home of my friend and classmate, Heinrich Wischmeyer. The train trip took a number of hours, bringing us finally over the Cuyahoga River, which flows through Cleveland. There Rockefeller, who later became such a rich man, had constructed his first factory and oil-storage site. Wischmeyer, with whose parents I spent a day or two, and I went to an evening service at the church of Rev. H. C. Schwan, who later served for many years as the president of the Missouri Synod. He had a number of sons who were in school with me in Fort Wayne. Paul, the oldest, finished the seminary in St. Louis already sixty-five years ago and is now living in retirement after sixty years of service in the ministry. Two other sons of the sainted President Schwan, Manuel and Ernst, did not complete their studies at Fort Wayne and became attorneys instead.

My friend Jakob Hoffmann, with whom I so often spent my vacations, also did not go back to Fort Wayne. He went, instead, to the practical seminary, then located in St. Louis, where he completed his studies for the pastoral ministry. After his graduation, he became pastor in Battle Creek, Nebraska, where he worked under God’s blessing for about fifty years, I believe. More than ten years ago, he went to his eternal rest.