Kristie Freeman called Wednesday afternoon to say that her stepfather, David Holley, had lost his battle with lung cancer, and to ask if they could use one of my photos in his obit. When I went to see him July 18, 2011, he was actually in better shape than some folks in Altenburg had led me to believe.
Chemo treatment had left Holley gaunt and his beard had picked up some gray, but he was still the same old storyteller with a gentle manner and a twinkle in his eye. “I’m on my third round of chemo,” he said. “I’m hoping I’m in the 60% that makes it, but I haven’t had a whole lot of luck in my life,” he added, matter of factly.
Wittenberg, a once-thriving Mississippi River German settlement community, was down to two buildings – the house Dave and his wife lived in and the former post office. The floods of 1973 and 1993 had pretty much washed the town away.
Wittenberg Bomb Shelter
Back in the 60s, I did a bunch of pictures of the town, including his house, which had been a brewery, and the “Wittenberg Bomb Shelter,” caverns that had been used to cool and store the beer.
Holley and his home
In October 2009, I knocked on the door of the old brewery and a long-haired David Holley came out and graciously gave me a tour of the old caverns.
Part cave, part manmade
Holley said the brewers took advantage of a natural cave in the hillside, then added on to the front of it with bricks and stone.
Caverns are well-preserved
Despite being over a hundred years old and receiving little or no maintenance, the old beer cellars are remarkably well-preserved.
The last train robbery
Holley was a natural storyteller. Without any preamble, he launched into a story about the last train robbery in Missouri that ended in gunfire almost in front of his house in the 20s. I’m glad I was able to capture it on video.
Holley’s stories took very little editing. He had a knack for being able to tell it short and sweet.
Always searching for treasures
He was a storehouse of knowledge. He could talk about train robberies one minute, then point out the scrape marks made by steel-wheeled beer carts in the rocks in his front yard. He enjoyed roaming around the ruins of the German settler community looking for old horseshoes and other memorabilia.
Our last visit
I captured about five minutes of video of Holley talking about recent and past floods and the whirlpool at Tower Rock that could swallow up a 30-foot cottonwood snag. Midway through the account, he tells about how he’d have to put his four-year-old daughter in a boat at midnight to pick up his wife coming home from work when floodwaters had them cut off. She’d start off doing a great job of holding a flashlight so he could pick his way through the trees, but then she’d start shining it around in the air like a coonhunter, he said with a chuckle.
David Holley Obituary
Here is the obituary from McCombs Funeral Home and Cremation Center:
Charles David Holley, 59, of Wittenberg passed away Wednesday, April 11, 2012, at his home.
He was born May 25, 1952, in Memphis, Tenn., son of the late Charles Edward Holley and Ada Ruth (nee Tony) Holley of Memphis, Tn. He and Joanne Byerly were married July 11, 1987.
David worked as a deck hand and laborer until he was no longer able to work due to declining health. He loved the outdoors, especially exploring for Indian artifacts and Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. David enjoyed spending time with his family, friends and always had a story to share or a helping hand for anyone. He also served in the US Marine Corps from 1970-1972.
In addition to his loving wife and mother, survivors include step daughter, Kristie (Dusty) Freeman of Herculaneum, Mo.; daughters Melanie Yount of Imperial, Mo; and Rachel Holley of the home; a brother, Clifford Holley and a sister, Pam Holden both of Memphis, Tenn.; two sisters-in-law, Janet Tyner of Jonesboro, Ark.; Barbara (Fred) Graham of Catron, Mo; two brothers-in-law, Bill (Shirley) Byerly of Fairhope, Al; Rick (Camilla) Byerly of Chaffee, Mo., five grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and many cousins and friends.
He was preceded in death by his father.
26 Replies to “Wittenberg Minus One”
Sincere condolences to the David Holley Family! Story telling is an art, & artful storytellers are drawn to those who do it well! Thank you for his story & peace be with all who will miss the soft spoken “understandings” of the way things were.
I didn’t know David, but I am sure the Holley family and their friends and neighbors will surely miss a story teller of David’s caliber. I express my sincere condolences to the family. RIP.
I am sorry I missed David Holley and my condolences to his family. I plan to visit Wittenberg on Saturday. Jan is showing a quilt at the Frohna Quilt show Saturday so I have time to visit around.
Thanks, Ken to your photos and comments, I have an idea of what expect in the area.
Thanks for protecting our country, Mr Holley!
**US Marine Corps from 1970-1972**
so sorry to hear about dave he will be missed
Dave Holley was and is the last man to live in Wittenberg, its only fitting that he was, he was a giant among men. I run a local winery near Wittenberg. When my mother and I were barely done unpacking Dave Holley came knocking asking if we needed some help, no matter how small it may be. He showed up with his long hair, which drew to his native American ancestry. Over the next three years he came to help process the grapes every September even while stricken with cancer. I still remember the row of grapes me and him were trimming when he told me he had cancer, three years ago. 2011 vintage was his last. His lasting memory will be whenever a customer remarks they like the 2009, 2010, 2011 wine, for if not for Dave’s love to help out I doubt the wine would of turned out as well. He will truly be missed at Tower Rock Vineyard & Winery, which will be closed on Saturday April 14th, 2012, in memory of Charles David Holley. RIP
Dave Holley was original, and because we were so enriched by knowing him, we are diminished by losing him. He was our first friend in East Perry County, and we referred to him as “the last man standing” in Wittenberg. He was a friend, adviser and helper at Tower Rock Vineyard & Winery — and to Ben and Nancy.
I would like to thank everyone for your prayers and thoughts. I am daves youngest daughter and my father was an a amazing man. I would like to ask Ben if you could set 3-4 bottles aside of the 2011 for my mother my sister and i would like 2myself if you would please.
Rachel, are you the daughter he was talking about on the video who would get him lost in the trees on those midnight runs?
He loved telling that story.
yes ken thats me. thank u for everything you have done i no my father enjoyed talk with u.
thank you for sharing Ken, although I did not know David, in the video he seems like a man worth honoring…sincere condolences to his family and friends. They are blessed to have him in their lives.
Ken, please email me at embarqmail address re publishing a book on Wittenburg and David Holley’s stories in a series of books on Missouri History. Thank You.
We should talk. I sent you an email.
R.I.P Dave, you will be missed.
So sorry to hear about Dave’s passing! He was a great man and his stories were incredible. I use to be a “resident” of Wittenburg and enjoyed living there for many years. Everyone was so close and I always missed that after moving away. Dave will be missed by many people and friends!! May God’s blessings help Joanne and their family during this time! Just remember the next time you see an Eagle, it may be Dave’s spirit keeping an eye over you!! He will always be remembered as the Last Man of Wittenburg!! RIP Dave! May your spiritual journey go on forever!!
I did not know David Holley, but his wife, Joanne, is the receptionist at the Cape Girardeau Career & Technology Center. There is not “a nicer person on the face of the earth” than Joanne. My deepest sympathy to you, Joanne, and your family.
I can not believe i left the east end so long ago. Unfortunately i did not know tha he was sick until it was too late. I am truly sorry i couldnt listen to his stories one last time. I took for granted the fact he would always be there to ask about this or that. His passing has made me step back take a look at my life and return to my roots. I do not want to look back and say i wish i had done this or that like i am saying i wish i had made time to visit more. His passing is something that shook me to the core because now the last man of wittenburg is standing with god just waiting to tell us all those stories and more when we make that final journey. Dave u will be missed by so many and Rachel hold your head up and stay strong in the knowledge that your father was a great man.
Rachel, we definitely was set aside some of Tower Rock Winery’s “Dave Holley vintage” for you and your family
David shared pictures he took of the train wreck which happened in 2005 near his home in Wittenberg by the trestle which crosses the Brazeau creek. I used these in the book I wrote about the town in 2006. He was always ready to show visitors the brewery caves next to his house and his collection of artifacts inside the old Post Office. He was Wittenberg’s Chamber of Commerce.
Thanks for close captioning this! Now can understand what David talked about!
I didn’t know what you were talking about until I pulled up the video. YouTube attempts to close caption it. Some of their interpretations are pretty far off the mark, but it’s neat that they’ve done them at all.
Didn’t have a chance to get to know David personally but work with Joann. Tower Rock and Wittenberg are new to me as I spent some time there last spring and summer. It is a beautiful place and I enjoyed watching the wildlife and eagles. I wish I could have listened to all his stories.
He was a Missouri treasure…
I think there was a Greyson tavern once, I was from crosstown,mo I used to go to wittenburg and frohna when I was a young man I remember my grand mother took me a couple of times to 76 we took the train from menfro to 76 I was about 10 then t [ wish I could go back to them good old days I am 78 now I made a trip last week to wittenburg to fish in the river.i would love to buy a few acres of land in wittenburg does any body know of any for sale
Dallas Golden: My father and cousins played country music in 1930s-1950s in small dance halls/taverns around Wittenburg/Frohna/Pocahontas. Do you recall any of these places or musicians?
My dad’s mother Emma Weber Huttegger grew up on the ridge in Wittenburg or Neely’s Landing, but I don’t know where this was exactly. anyone know? My uncle Del Hutteger and I often drove to Wittenberg to watch the river at Tower Rock–fond memories here.
Ken Steinhoff-Thank you for the great articles on Charles David Holley. He was a distant cousin and we never met, but he sounds like a fasinating man. Great job sir!