Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Vienna in 1873 as Seen by a Visitor from Little Rock, Arkansas

The November 2, 1873 edition of the Daily Arkansas Gazette contained the following letter describing what a visitor from Little Rock saw while visiting Vienna a few weeks earlier:

Vienna: The German Capital as Seen by a Citizen of Little Rock

We are permitted to make public the following extracts from a private letter to Capt. H. H. Rottaken from his half-brother Mr. E Thuemmler, who left a few weeks since for a European tour:

Vienna October 8, 1873

For some days past I have been doing this peculiarly “mixed” city. I say “mixed” because you have here a little from all parts of the world, human and brute –animate and inanimate. I imagine Babel could not have been a much more confounding place than Vienna is to an American. This is supposed to be a German city, but enter a given crowd of people on any of the main streets and ask a question in German, it as likely to be answered in Portuguese, Spanish, or English as is German. It is utterly impossible by appearance to judge with the least certainty a man’s nationality – faces, dress and manners are as varied as languages, and I very much doubt that the real Viennese is at all times quite certain he is in his own “Kaiserstadt.”

It is impossible to impart, in any degree, an idea of the universal splendor found in the richer parts of Vienna. It is true [that] magnificence is cheap where labor costs next to nothing, and where the commonest laborer who is at all permitted to engage in the production of articles of elegance, must be himself a “master” in his art – but the true secret of the wonderful impression that both the exterior and interior beauties of Vienna produce, is to be found in the correct taste and the constant longing for the beautiful, characteristic, in an eminent degree, of the inhabitants of this place.

The prevalent building is a four-story, broad, white house, in a style of architecture curiously compounded of the modern and antique. Every building, of any consequence, has it porticos (also supported by splendid caryatides) and elaborate ornamentation at every available point – the whole white as snow. The interior of the better houses is all gilt and glitter, and even the lower middle classes are seldom content without a few real oil paintings, and an attempt at sculptural display in the “best room.”

There are more soldiers in the street every day than in St. Louis during the liveliest times of the war. Music, street cars, policemen, fruit and flower-vendors and brilliant cafes are “thick.” At night the brilliancy of the streets is marvelous. Everything possible is done for the comfort of the population. Parks, shaded walks with frequent benches, are found in all parts of Vienna, and really, from the number of people constantly in the streets, one would suppose that the outdoor beauties were adequately appreciated.
Buildings of the 1873 World's Fair are in the foreground;
St. Stephens Church and the walled city are in the middle;
the Vienna woods are in the distance
Picture from Wikicommons
The world’s fair is certainly grand.[1]  I have been there five times, and am only beginning to obtain a clear impression of its extent, its wonders, and its excellencies. I have, of course, a great many notes, and will, in time, make use of them.
This was the entrance to the 1873 World's Fiar
From Wikicommons
Leaving New York on the 6th of September, I arrived at Bremen on the 20th – then on to Leipzig and after two days there, to Selka.[2]  Remaining but a few days, I proceeded to “Miesitz.” I then came to Vienna.


Background of the Letter’s Author and Recipient

The young man who wrote this letter, Eugene Thuemmler (1848 – 1891), had moved from St. Louis to Little Rock in about 1869. Thuemmler was not a German immigrant, but both of his parents were. His father Traugott Edward Thuemmler  (1815 – 1867) was born in Saxony, and his mother Sophia (1812 – 1890) was from Prussia. Edward was born in St. Louis on March 13, 1848 and grew up there.

An 1863 graduate of St. Louis High School, Thuemmler – according to his passport application – was 5’ 10” tall,  with gray eyes, brown hair, oval face, and a “Teutonic” nose.  

The letter was written to Thuemmler’s half-brother, Herbert Herman Rottaken, who had been born in either Elderfeld (a city now part of Wuppertal) or Aachen, Germany, on July 25, 1839.[3]  In about 1844, while he was still a young child, he had been brought to the United States by his parents. His mother was Sophia Rottaken, later Thuemmler. The first name of his father is lost to history. According to family lore, the Rottaken family, which included father, mother, Herbert, and his younger sister Augusta (born in 1843), lived briefly in Little Rock in 1846.[4]

If they were in Little Rock in 1846, it was a brief stay. Sophia and the two children were in St. Louis in 1847 when she re-married on March 27th. (It is not known if her first husband died or if the couple had divorced.) A year later, she and Traugott, her new husband, were the parents of Edward, their first child together. The 1850 census showed Traugott and Sophia living in St. Louis with Herbert, Augusta, Edward, and a newly born daughter named Emily. Traugott managed the boarding house in which they were living. Later he got a job as the executive secretary of an insurance company

H. H. Rottaken (who opted to keep his father’s last name) moved to St. Charles, Missouri, late in the 1850s, and soon after the Civil War started, he joined the Seventh Regiment of the Missouri Cavalry Volunteers.  He initially held the rank of Sergeant, but in 1862 was commissioned as an officer, rising to the rank of Captain. He had a distinguished war service record.[5]

After the war, Rottaken returned to St. Louis, but in 1868 he and Susan, his wife, moved to Little Rock to open a wholesale liquor store. He quickly established a reputation as a sportsman and hunter, but his business struggled in a highly competitive market filled with well-established merchants.[6]  He was joined in his retail store in 1870 by his step-brother Edward Thuemller, who became a partner. However, the step-brothers ended their partnership in early 1871.

After the split, Thuemller ran the business with a partner (“Thuemmler & Eliot”) for about nine months, then on his own (“Thuemmler & Co,”). He closed the store in December 1872.

After leaving the retail liquor business, Rottaken took a job as a deputy sheriff, appointed by W. S. Oliver, the elected Sheriff, a Republican. In August 1872, he received a political appointment from the Republican governor: he was named head the Pulaski County board of registrars. However, after he figured out that the job entailed registering voters likely to vote for the Republican Party and finding ways to refuse to register other voters, he resigned this post.[7]  Soon after that, he affiliated himself with the Democratic-Conservative Party.

In October 1873, the Citizen’s Party – a stand-in for the Democratic-Conservative Party – nominated him as its candidate for mayor. His Republican-nominated opponent was Frederick Kramer, a German immigrant, prosperous merchant, and well-known citizen of the city.[8]  The election was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5, just four days after the publication of the letter.

The letter was, of course, not political, but its publication so near the election might have been. The newspaper that published it, the Daily Arkansas Gazette, was the Democratic-Conservative Party organ and it strongly supported and promoted Rottaken’s candidacy for mayor. Perhaps the letter was intended, at least in part, to give a boost to this reputation.

Whether the letter’s publication had anything to do with politics, it was likely read with pleasure by immigrants from Europe who knew Vienna as one of the great capitals of the world and by others with an interest in foreign cities they knew they would never visit.

And after the letter was published

After this European trip, Thuemller returned to Little Rock and resumed his life in the city. Like his step-brother Rottaken, Thuemuller was a sportsman and he was president of the local sharp shooter’s club. He also had a strong cultural bent and was a fine singer with the Little Rock Maennerchor. Periodically he wrote a column for the Arkansas Gazette on the Little Rock economy. In 1880, he received patent 226,570 for a thermo-dynamic engine he had designed.

In 1881 Thuemmler, with his wife Harriet (he married her in Washington D.C. on June 21, 1874) and two small daughters, moved back to St Louis and he worked there as a grocer. In about 1886, he and his family moved to Chicago, and he operated a wholesale “notions” business until his death on March 11, 1891.

Rottaken decisively lost the 1873 elected. However, his fortunes changed a few months later when in April, 1884, he joined the Baxter forces in the Brooks-Baxter War. Rottaken was made a captain in the Baxter forces and was first appointed the chief ordinance officer and later the inspector general. 

When the war ended with Baxter’s victory, Rottaken was rewarded for his service with an appointment as the Pulaski County Sheriff.  After the appointive term ended, he was elected for a two-year term in 1876. During his terms in office, he hired his step-brother Thuemmler as a deputy sheriff.

Rottaken’s wife died in 1876. Two years later, in 1878, he married Fredericka Reichardt Miller, the widow of Charles Miller who had been the business partner of Frederick Kramer when in 1863 the two had started a grocery store that grew into one of the most successful in the city. His new wife was the sister of Adelina, Kramer’s wife.
Fredericka Miller Rottaken on the day of
her wedding to H. H. Rottaken, 1878
(Arkansas Gazette, Dec. 10, 1938, p. 63)
Rottaken continued to be active in local public service. In 1881, he was the chief of Little Rock’s volunteer fire department and nearly lost his life in an accident that knocked him off the top of a tall ladder while fighting a fire. From 1892 to 1894, he held the office of Pulaski County Assessor, enraging the city’s largest businesses with a dramatic upward reassessment of their property values. He was elected city alderman in 1901 and served two two-year terms. 

Aside from his public sector work, Herbert and Fredericka were active investors in real estate and various mining ventures.  Over time, their investments made them quite wealthy. Rottaken died on September 17, 1908 following a hunting accident in which he accidently shot himself, nearly severing his left arm.[9]

[1] The 1873 World’s Fair was held in Vienna. In preparation, the city’s infrastructure was improved through extensive public investments. The fair opened on May 1st and closed on October 31th. It featured impressive pavilions constructed in the city’s Prater area. In all, it offered 26,000 exhibitions that were visited by over 7 million visitors. Unfortunately for Austria, this number was far less than expected. The attendance was held down by news of a cholera outbreak in the city and a stock market panic that marked the beginning of a world-wide recession. Because of the relatively small attendance, the fair’s revenues paid only about a third of the cost of staging the event. See http://www.wienmuseum.at/en/exhibitions/detail/the-metropolis-experimentvienna-and-the-1873-world-exhibition.html  and http://jdpecon.com/expo/wfvienna1873.html

[2] Selka is a village about 50 miles due South of Leipzig. It is now part of the Thuringia Province. At the time, it was in the Saxony-Altenberg Province of the newly unified German state. Miesitz in a small town about 40 miles southeast of Selka, also now in the Thuringia Province. (Both Selka and Miesitz were in East Germany after the end of World War II.)  It is likely Thuemller’s father lived in Selka before he emigrated and that Thuemller had relatives in Miesitz. Neither were or are tourist destinations.

[3] The Elderfeld birthplace was mentioned in an undated and unattributed obituary published in a German language newspaper, likely the Arkansas Staatszeitung. This clipping of the obituary is in a scrapbook that is part of the Miller-Rottaken Family Papers in the archives of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. The Aachen birthplace is stated in a short biography written in the 1970s by a granddaughter of Rottaken. This typewritten biography is also in the Miller-Rottaken Family Papers. In the 1870 census, Rottaken told the census takers that he was from Prussia. See the Miller-Rottaken Family Collection, BC.MSS.10.28, Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Arkansas Studies Institute.

[4] The German-language obituary mentioned in footnote 3 says he and his family were in LR in 1848. The typewritten bio says he and family were in LR in the 1850s. See the Miller-Rottaken Family Collection, BC.MSS.10.28 Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Arkansas Studies Institute.

[5] His army service is documented in the biographical sketch mentioned above. See the Miller-Rottaken Family Collection, BC.MSS.10.28 Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Arkansas Studies Institute.

[6] The October 7, 1868 issue of the Daily Arkansas Gazette (p. 3} noted “H. H. Rottaken & Co. have opened a wholesale wine, liquor, and cigar store one door from the Gazette office.”  Soon after he arrived, Rottaken convinced the managers of the State Fair to hold a pigeon shooting contest as part of the fair activities. He won the competitions in 1868, 1869, and 1870, and ran a small business supplying pigeons for such competitions. The publisher of the Gazette was impressed by Rottaken and wrote two stories about him, touting his sportsman skills and his pack of dogs. See Our Neighbor Rottaken. Daily Arkansas Gazette, August 11, 1869, p. 4. And Rottaken, Daily Arkansas Gazette, July 8, 1870, p. 4.

[7] Rottaken testified on his experiences as a registrar at a one of the hearings that followed the Brooks-Baxter War. The Investigation Committee, Daily Arkansas Gazette, July 29, 1874, p. 4.

[8]  For more information on Kramer, see this entry in the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History and Culture:   http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=12300

[9] Herbert Rottaken Dies from Shot. Daily Arkansas Gazette, September 18, 1908, p. 1.