Tell It Like It Was - Ellen Berg Mallinckrodt Final Episode
Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date January 24, 2022
Gentle readers, I had an earlier phone conversation with Brent Mallinckrodt on July 30, 2021. Ellen had told him about my request for an interview, and the next day he texted me to schedule a preliminary conversation before I recorded his mom. Now, I hardly know Brent, but I soon realized that he had his father’s propensity to tell stories, but with a certain gravitas that would be proper for a professor. Here is the core of our conversation, and remember, anything in parentheses is my wording.
Brent: One of my prize possessions that I have, that Mom let me have…well, two things, now that I think about it…I have one of Grandpa’s baseball bats from when he was a young player…and I also have mom’s glove from when she was a player…and you know those old baseball gloves look nothing like the modern glove…I think people would be amazed to see that.
B: In World War I Arthur was a soldier…near the end of the war…he actually never served in Europe…but he was on the troop ship headed for Europe…ready to go and fight, and all that that meant…and then the ship turned around in the middle of the sea because the armistice was signed. So, in his time training to be a soldier…they had these various all-star teams like the company and battalion teams…and the story I heard was that grandpa got to hit against a major league pitcher who was also drafted into the army…it wasn’t the major leagues, but it was batting against a really good pitcher. Grandpa always told us he was a great fastball hitter…it didn’t matter how hard they threw; he would hit them…but curve balls would have him tied in knots.
B: When I was 8, 9, 10 years old…with my cousins…grandpa played baseball with us…and whiffle ball…and ran the bases. He was in good shape until late in his life.
B: Mom played…how many kids get to see their parents play ball? But I did…and a lot. She played third base during the time I watched her…and man…she was a great hitter…these screaming line drives…always to the third base side of the field. During a lot of those years, Patsy Baravik and mom played on the same team…with a lot of younger girls…mom led the league in batting with some girls who were half her age. Patsy and mom took their playing seriously…they enjoyed the camaraderie, but they weren’t out there to fool around…and their head was in the game too, like understanding the finer points of baseball…I’m sure my grandpa was part of that.
B: Mom was, and still is, a great mom for education…I remember her reading stories with us…doing flashcards…we always had books around the house…and I don’t think it’s a surprise that she worked for so many years as the school secretary. And as a playground supervisor, she saw the good and bad behavior…she got to see the generations pass their behavioral traits along.
B: Both my mom and dad really helped us to take an interest in the world outside St. Charles County. When we were young kids, we went to the Grand Canyon…it was the idea that there’s other interesting places to see…and there are people who do things differently, but that’s not something to be frightened about…it’s another wonderful thing to learn.
B: And you know my Aunt Anita came back here to live in Augusta. During my growing up years she lived in Washington, D. C. My brother and I went there every summer about four years in a row. We stayed longer and longer times when we were in grade school. We went to the Smithsonian…New York City…we learned that the world is an interesting place. Anita doted on us and sent us a lot of books.
B: Also, I have another story about Grandpa Arthur. It’s kind of a sad story…grandpa’s teammate, Harry Haferkamp was killed in World War I. The bat that I have, although my grandpa used it, is Harry Haferkamp’s. His name is inscribed in the handle. Mom said that Harry gave his bat to Arthur, and he said, “Arthur, I don’t know if I’ll be coming back.”
Gentle readers, at their first organizational meeting on January 17, 1920, the American Legion voted to call itself Harry Haferkamp Post No. 262 to honor the only soldier from Augusta to die on the battlefield in WWI. He is buried in the town cemetery on Jackson Street, and I have included a closeup photo of his tombstone so you can see his portrait. Also, you’ll find a photo of Post 262’s old Bank of Augusta checkbook, and more specifically, the ledger notes on check 618, written in December 1931. It was the last entry. It was the Great Depression. In the book, Augusta’s Harmony, Anita Mallinckrodt states, “In December 1931 the Bank of Augusta failed…” And if this seems apropos of nothing, keep in mind that Ellen grew up during these hard times.
P: I’m learning all kinds of stuff. I often say I want to interview younger people. You’re already full of stories to share, even if you’re not the old, wizened sage of the town.
B: I think you need to get the elders first. The old German guys like my grandparents…they grew up in a time without television. What external entertainment they had was the radio…plays…stories. My dad listened to the Lone Ranger…that Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds…that kind of thing. Really, that’s storytelling, and in a way, that tv is not. It’s entirely oral, where you have to paint a picture entirely with words. My grandparents were great at that. They could take something that happened in real time, like 10 minutes, and turn that into an hour-long story. I think that’s a skill that’s passed on. My dad was a great storyteller. When we brought someone new into the house…well, dad had 10-15 stories he told a lot. Do you remember those old juke boxes that would play a song and there’d be a letter and a number to select? Dad would launch into one of his stories…and Craig and I would look at each other…and say…yep, here comes D2. Craig said one time, “I’ve heard that story so often, I feel like I was there!”
B: But Augusta is a place that still has that tradition of storytelling. And one thing that makes me a little sad and concerned is…with the new developments…I know a lot of people are concerned about what the Hoffmann family is doing. Change is always something that’s hard for a community to adjust to. I hope whatever they do…there will always be a place for people to sit around and tell their stories…like the Cookie Jar Restaurant used to be…or the White House Tavern…or in latter days Randal’s Kate’s Coffee. It'll be a sad day when there’s no place for the old-timers and the young people to get together…for the young ones to hear those stories.
P: Right. I was talking to Glen Frank a couple months ago…and you know he had the grocery store after Mel Fuhr, and he said something like “sometimes I feel sorry for the new people in Augusta because they didn’t get to experience what we did.” Of course, there’s a lot we never encountered but nevertheless, we got this sense of what interesting people lived here, and it’s because you actually ran into them. You would see them shopping or sitting…Glen made a bench and put it in front of Frank’s General Store, and guys like Bob Buenemann would sit there…and talk to anybody who walked by. I think we may have been the last people to experience that…I don’t know the word for it, but Augusta had an amazing unity to it. Sure, there were some people who didn’t get along, but that didn’t matter to the overall zeitgeist of the community. (When you are waxing philosophical or psychological, it never hurts to throw a German word in your spiel.)
Gentle readers, I suppose some of you are wondering who Bob Buenemann was, or you might wonder if you even care. Fair enough, but let’s play 6 degrees of separation for a moment. Bob was married to Flora Buenemann. Flora was a sister to Mops (Marvin) Fuhr, my all-time favorite Augustan. Mops was first cousin to Meps (Mel) Fuhr who owned the downtown grocery store for years. Mel is the father of two daughters who currently live in Augusta, Jane Fuhr and Cheryl Wehmeier, and two sons, John and Neal. Some of you have possibly had Neal in your house working on your heating and cooling system. Mel’s wife, Ruth, still lives at Chestnut and Jackson, where the land drops down.
Okay, let’s try a different tack: Bob and Flora lived in the house where Kevin Mossman now lives, which is on the eastern portion of High Street. Kevin’s next-door neighbor is a highly skilled carpenter by the name of Robert (Bert) Carmon.
No…okay, try this: Bob to Flora to Mops…Mops worked for Meps, and when Glen and Pat Frank bought the grocery store from Meps, they retained Mops, my all-time favorite Augustan. Now, I know some of you know Glen, and maybe more of you know Pat because she plays music all over the area, and she’s an educator.
Nothing? Well, I tried.
Brent: As a student of this thing, I can say that there are certain institutions that help bring a community together. And those places where people gather and tell stories are what knit a community together. And talking about storytelling, one of the very earliest memories I have…diagonally across from the White House Tavern…that’s where Mr. (Wilbert) Holt’s blacksmith shop was. Every now and then we had a simple repair…on the farm…something broke down…Dad would give that to my grandpa (Mallinckrodt) and we’d go into town to drop it off. One of my jobs on the farm was to keep grandpa from getting too hot…in the summer. I might have been 7 or 8 years old, and I was paired up with grandpa. Dad would say “make sure grandpa’s not getting too hot.” I don’t know how I was supposed to do that. I’d ask grandpa if he was too hot, and he’d say “ooooh noooo, I’m naaawwwt too hot.”
B: But he, of course, was buddies with all those guys…and I mean guys…there were people always hanging out at Mr. Holt’s. And you could hear his hammer ringing out for blocks, up and down that street. Later Dad would lament “why didn’t somebody just run a tape recorder for 10 minutes?” There was the old German conversation, and that kind of double ring…I don’t know why…blacksmiths hammer in that rhythm. And what a museum that place was. I would go in there with grandpa…and these old guys would be passing around a galvanized bucket of beer…one bucket for everybody. I never got in on this, but I heard they would give a kid 10 cents to go across the street to the tavern to refill their bucket. They ran a tab, but 10 cents for your courier’s fee. Just think of the stories those guys told…they would have remembered their grandparents’ stories…that would be stretching back before the civil war.
B: He also made all the politicians put their…like county sheriff elections…the legend was that he had each new candidate put his sign over the previous sheriff’s sign. He never took them down. He just built the layers thicker and thicker…and over how many years? It was like an archive…that one spot on his wall.
P: Well, that’s on my radar. I’d like to do a blacksmith shop story because Doris Hopen remembers it quite well. She even remembers it as a youngster. She told me of a relative who got his foot stepped on by a horse at Wilbert’s shop. And when I interviewed Lucian Dressel, he had interesting memories of it. Your contribution just now is noteworthy too.
B: So, I know you want to interview some younger people, but that generation of Doris Hopen is slipping away. I have my own regrets. My aunt Esther ran the boardinghouse up at Klondike for so many years with her husband, Uncle Rupie (Rupert Mallinckrodt) …the stories they could have told about workers at Klondike…in the early days of its operation. But Aunt Esther is…
P: Long gone.
B: Yes, it’s all gone, so I’m glad you’re collecting what you can.
Okay my friends, that’s all I’ve got. Check out these other photos: At Camp Chaffee in Arkansas, Ellen and Hubie pose in front of a brick house.
Arthur Berg and fellow WWI vets sit on a float during a 4th of July parade in Augusta. Arthur is three back from the camera in the last row.
If you enlarge the photo of Frank’s General Store you will see a dark colored bench on the right/east. Glen made the bench. Dan Kemner and Nick Baravik built the awning over the entrance. Pat Frank’s father, Larry Forristal, made the store sign over the awning.
Be well, do good work…and be curious,