Perry County Servicemen

I was spending some more time up at the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum this week interviewing some folks for an exhibit and book I’m working on. The museum volunteers were scurrying around getting ready for their annual Christmas Tree display, so I prowled around looking at other exhibits. My eye was drawn to a set of uniforms worn by servicemen from the Altenburg and Frohna region. It looked perfect for a Veterans Day post.

I thought one of the men looked familiar. It turned out he was Robert Fiehler, who died Nov. 10, 2009, not long after I had spent some time talking with him in the museum. A nice guy. I photographed Mrs. Fiehler setting up the Christmas tree exhibit last year. (She’s in the first photo on the page.) His son, Gerard, has been my guide to area landmarks and people.

“Hell, SOMEBODY’S got to go”

Gerard has a lot of Bob’s mannerisms and gestures. It’s easy to see the father in the son. Gerard said, “I remember when Dad found out he wasn’t going to make it much longer, he said, ‘Us World War II guys are going at 1,500 a day. Hell, SOMEBODY’S got to go.'”

Gerard said his dad was the last of the World War II vets from the area to have served in Germany; the other survivors – and he thought there might only be three –  had been in the Pacific.

Good German names

The East Perry County boys who went off to serve had good German names like Fiehler, Schlichting, Gerler, Schmidt and  and Petzoldt.

The Cape Girardeau and Perry County German-Americans went off to defend a country that didn’t take kindly to their heritage. During World War I, many of the churches stopped having services in German and families spoke the language only at home because of anti-German sentiments.

The Deutscher Volkfreund, a German-language newspaper in Jackson, which eventually became The Jackson Pioneer, was forced to switch to English when a mob gathered at the office and threatened to destroy all the German type. (The Pioneer hired me as a reporter / photographer /engraver / all-around flunky when I was a junior in high school. I wasn’t hired for my German surname; I was hired because I’d work cheap and was a Barry Goldwater Republican.)

Altenburg Militia: “Better bring your lunch”

The men of Altenburg, hearing of mobs burning German books in churches and schools in the area, formed the Altenburg Militia. When the word came that the community was going to be attacked, they responded, “You better bring a lunch, because it’s going to take all day.” The attack never came.

Photo Gallery of Service Uniforms

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery. This exhibit moved me much more than a lot of similar displays. Maybe because I actually knew one of the men whose uniform I was looking at or it might have been the pairing of the actual uniform with a photo of the man who wore it. Take a few minutes to thank a veteran for his or her service.

Here’s a link to my post from last Veterans Day.


Tower Rock Quarry Exposed

When this aerial photo of Tower Rock was taken April 17, 2011, the river gauge in Cape was at about 43 feet and heading higher. The half-moon bay downstream and to the right of The Rock was a big circular corn field until the Flood of 1993, Gerard Fiehler of the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum said. The flood created a huge scour basin that’s a good 25 or 30 feet deep and several football fields across. Trees that grew along the basin are probably in the Gulf of Mexico today.

Click on any photo to make it larger.

We climbed Tower Rock in 2003

Brother Mark and I climbed to the top of Tower Rock in 2003. When the river stage in Cape is about six or seven feet, it’s possible to walk across to the rocky island. (It’s about 14 feet and falling on Nov. 7, 2011)

BE CAREFUL.  If the water’s more than a few inches deep, it can sweep your feet right our from under you. Missionary Father Marquette, who explored the area by canoe in 1673, said the “savages” believed Tower Rock to be “the demon that devours travelers.”

This view to the south shows the remnants of a quarry that was worked off and on for 135 years until almost all of the rock was exhausted in 1972. At normal river levels, only a little rock, if any sticks out of the water.

Low water uncovers artifacts

Despite the tremendous volume of water that sweeps over the area even in normal times, traces of track and tipple car wheels survive. These wheels could date to the late 1800s, Tower Rock, a book distributed by the Perry County Historical Society, says. The author thinks they may have been buried until the 500-year floor of 1993 uncovered them.

Acme Stone Crusher survives

Tower Rock identifies this rusting metal object as a steam-powered Acme rock crusher. A similar or the same crusher was used across the river in Grand Tower in the mid 1870s.

Steamboat tieup

Not far from the crusher is this dual-ring steamboat tieup. There are several different styles on the jetty, the  oldest dating to the 1830s to 1850s. The quarry was most active from the Civil War through the Great Depression.

Now’s the time to see Tower Rock Quarry

If you’re going to go, go while the weather is nice and the river is low. This opportunity doesn’t come often.

Tower Rock isn’t some place you stop on the way to somewhere else. You have to REALLY want to go there. You start by passing through Altenburg on Missouri Hwy A. (It’s worth stopping at the excellent Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum. In fact, I printed a couple dozen scenic photo books for their gift shop to sell to gauge if there’s a demand for them. They’re going for $14, a steal.)

Might be longest suspension pipeline in world

After going up and down some steep hills, just before you get to what’s left of the German pioneer village Wittenberg (Population: two buildings and three people), you’ll see a small sign off to the right pointing to Perry County 460, a steep and washboarded gravel road. As you drive along that road, you’ll spot what may still be the longest suspension pipeline in the world, that carries gas from Texas to Chicago. Not far from there, the road narrows and you pass through an area of fallen trees. I’ve spotted a momma deer and her two fawns twice on this stretch.

Stop, Look and Listen

Now things get interesting if this is your first trip. You’ll make a sharp 90-degree bend to the left and cross over the BNSF railroad tracks and make an immediate right-hand 90-degree turn paralleling the river. After not seeing any trains at the crossing for years, two have passed on my last two visits: Stop, Look and Listen.

The stretch along the river is narrow and there’s a steep drop-off to the water, but you seldom meet a car. Eventually, you’ll come upon a parking area at the Tower Rock Natural Area, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bussen to the Missouri Conservation Department.

If there are any persimmons left, give them a try. You won’t find any anywhere else that are sweeter.

Shameless Plug: Buy My Book

{Shameless Plug: don’t forget to stop in at the Altenburg Museum to pick up a copy of my Tower Rock book. The museum folks are nice and they’re going to be setting up their Christmas Tree exhibit in the next week or so. It’s worth seeing.]




Pipeline and Perry County Photos

I played hooky last night. Son Matt and I were out late working on a couple of prototype books for me to bring back to Cape next week when we celebrate Mother’s Birthday Season. We printed up about 25 copies of Tower Rock: “A Demon that Devours Travelers” to see if there’s any market for a small, inexpensive photo book about Tower Rock in Perry County. We’ve been working with the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum on a bigger project, so we’re going to see if they think there is a market in the gift shop for this.

Longest Suspenstion Pipeline

On the way to photograph Tower Rock, I have to pass what has been called the longest suspension pipeline in the world, carrying natural gas from Texas to Chicago. Over the years, I’ve shot it from the air, from a ferry underneath it and from the Missouri and Illinois sides. It’s an interesting structure that looks different under every lighting condition. I haven’t done the layout and copy for it yet, so it may get folded into the Grand Tower book if my critics tell me that it needs more “weight.”

If things don’t change, I expect to be northbound toward Cape Tuesday. That means you may have to go back to reading some of the older pages for your morning fix if I don’t shoot something on the road. A good place to start is to go to the bottom of the page where it says “Sitemap” in tiny, tiny type. Click on that and it’ll take you to a listing of everything that’s been published.