by Emmett R Smith
ANY Attempt to discover a former life brings one up against the question of private and anecdotal, family, evidence, as opposed to the public record; more, it exposes to us the central problem of how much we may be able ever to claim we ‘know’ about an individual life; or, the historical past. It is very much a part of our contemporary attitude to claim that the personal must be brought forward in juxtaposition to, or even in advance of, the ‘official’ and public record—the result being that everything becomes ‘public’. In any event, without significant amounts of the private and the personal to be made public, a life-story is likely to be regarded as ‘uninteresting’. I agree with historian John Lukacs that History increasingly is poorly taught, even as the public appetite for ‘histories’ is increasing; so poorly taught that we probably do not have now an adequate public idea either of what history may be; or, of how history might aid biography, perhaps giving us some ‘feel’ for an individual life even in absence of what my late mother called the ‘juicy details’. Quite apart from the new difficulties historians begin to encounter in trying to perceive the essence of lives now separated from us not by a mere seventy or one hundred years, but also by the final and irrevocable end of the modern age, I am all the more glad to report that we, of the Schippel-descent, here in Blue Earth County and Mankato, Minnesota, DO have a family-saga!
It is The One and The Only Story now extant here, in oral-memory specifically, about Albert Schippel and how his mother Wilhelmina very possibly saved both Albert and his older brother Henry from injury and death during the Dakota Conflict of 1862. The tale was first told to me as a small boy forty-seven years ago, visiting in rural Eagle Lake, Minnesota, in the hot summer of 1956; by my Great-Aunt Leona Magly (b 1901), herself never married and a niece of Albert Schippel through her mother Mary Schippel Magly. Its setting is the “Great Sioux Uprising” which marked the beginning of twenty-eight years of warfare between northern Great Plains tribes and the US:
‘WELL, Buddy, their Dad was away and the Indians came and told [their] Mommy that others were coming and there was trouble, because the Sioux were on the warpath. So Mommy got the kids in the wagon and harnessed up and they headed for the fort.
‘Some other Indians rode up and they wanted my grandmother’s rubber ladies’ overshoes. [Then, sometimes: ‘These Indians were drunk!’ But, not always, although liquor was one of my great-aunt’s megrims.]
‘She wasn’t having any of that, Buddy, and told the Indians none of that now! and whipped up the horses and galloped away. The one Indian had a rifle pointed at her, but it wasn’t much and he shot her as she shook the reins….
‘It hit her in the face but healed up after.
‘Anyway, she got away with the kids, and when Albert Schippel grew up he became an architect and designed half the buildings in Mankato!’
AND That’s all, seven (or, sometimes, eight) sentences:
If not a miraculous birth, then at least a remarkable childhood escape. And sure evidence that Schippel in August 1862 was the three-year-old little boy of a determined and stubborn mother. As a small boy myself, hearing the story repeated many times through childhood, I had no doubt whatsoever about who was Albert Schippel! Implicit in the tale of being saved by his mother from Indians was the whole later outcome of his life; given the failed at-gunpoint attempt to rob his mother, Albert Schippel positively could NOT have failed to grow up to design ‘half of the buildings in Mankato’.
It is a barebones narrative in a scant 159-164 words, as heard again and again in mymemory. My great-aunt had a whole repertoire, a family-litany, of word-for-word tales; all stiff with pre-postmodern assumptions, values, codes. I delighted in all of them! And as she told me her stories over and over, she would answer patiently my endless child’s intrusive questions—just as she would never tolerate childish interruption and bad manners by me, if we had company! Her tales were word-pictures of another world; and, the ‘Schippel Story’, as I soon dubbed it when asking to hear it for the nth time, was the jewel in my Great-Aunt Leona’s crown of family-accounts.
As an example of oral-tradition, much edited by my great-aunt I am sure, in her decision to choose a particular word or phrase, to make a certain emphasis, these stories all seem to me now to have been characterised by the persistent awareness of future outcomes. My great-aunt said that her stories about ‘Indian days’ were told to her in childhood by the ‘old Germans’, the old people of her grandparents’ generation. An interesting matter is the alleged curse on Mankato; my Great-Aunt Leona said that when she was a little girl the ‘old Germans all’ said that there was a ‘hex’ on Mankato:
‘Because of hanging the Indians’.
In the summer of 1958, or 1959, in the rural Eagle Lake home of retired farmer Lewis J Compton, a neighbor and friend of my mother’s taciturn Swedish father Joseph Jacobson (for whom Leona Magly, sister of my deceased grandmother, kept house), I listened with rapt attention on a hot July Sunday afternoon in Compton’s shut-up and shaded parlor, as my great-aunt, Mr Compton’s daughter “Marthy” and the elderly Mrs Sybil Johnston reviewed the matter of this putative, but clearly potent, hex:
‘And all that snow in ‘51, my God, yes! Those dreadful floods that spring…of course it was a bad thing to do [the hanging by the US of thirty-eight Dakota captives on 26 December 1862 was the conversational context], and we pay the price for it.’
‘Of course! And what about the ‘Green Gables’ twister [a ferocious summer 1948 tornado; some experts, today, consider it to have been an F5 storm, in the severest category], that wasn’t natural….’
ALTHOUGH My mother’s mother’s forebears, unlike Grandfather, were not Scandinavians, being several species of German, the stories Leona Magly (vindictive, but usually without malice!) told me were family-sagas in the best sense; they are as richly satisfying as the best of the Icelandic sagas, which I began to read and love in adolescence as my great-aunt all-unwittingly worked to lead me to appreciate such literature!
I am grateful personally to have been given these stories—the voice of Leona Magly, in memory, is a voice of the former age. And, the ‘Schippel Story’, with its intersection of family-lore and a verifiable life, has made me lifelong a passionate lover of story, saga, history, of the perhaps ever-unanswerable question:
What ‘really’ happened?
If, now that we all are passed under the lintel of the postmodern, and on the threshold of my own old age, I blunder into emeritism and historianship, caveat lector! All of this is the merest beginning of an attempt on the question:
Who was Albert Schippel?
THE Chronology of Albert Schippel, as far as I have been able to reconstruct it from local county and Mankato informants and archival resources, follows. He was born in1859 in Wisconsin, to Anton and Wilhelmina Schippel, Saxon and Prussian émigrés to Minnesota. The events in the ‘Schippel Story’ took place during the ‘Great Sioux Uprising’ of 1862, when Albert Schippel was eight months old (thirty years later he would have another mad waggon-gallop to save his life!).
It should be noted that my Great-Aunt Leona Magly, the first person to tell me about any of this as stories about her family, occasionally spoke of Albert’s siblings, evidently numerous; but, she mentioned to me by name only Henry, the older brother of Albert, her own mother Mary Schippel Magly, and Caroline Schippel, ‘Aunt Carrie’, who apparently never wed and kept house for the Magly family. Otherwise the local record is not immediately clear about the relation, to Albert, of other Schippels shown, although the names George and Gustave both appear. George Schippel may have been a brother, as he is listed after some years in lieu of Anton Schippel on the same plat, in Mankato township of Blue Earth county.
Otherwise, as to Albert Schippel, in young manhood on his own he is first mentioned in his twenty-sixth year in 1885, in the Mankato directory, as boarding with architect George Pass (b 1848) and working as a carpenter. By 1888 Schippel is in his own home, built by himself it was said, at 804 N 6th St, at Vine. Then in 1892, at 518 Vine Street, Schippel has what appears to have been a carpentry-shop, near his house.
Also, in the 18 March 1892 Free Press Weekly, there is a report that Schippel sawed off accidentally three fingers of his left hand while doing scrollwork with a ‘buzz saw’. After being carried in a waggon-bed at a dead gallop (evocative of being carried to safety by his mother Wilhelmina thirty years before) to the office of Dr Andrews, Schippel, weak with blood-loss, was carried upstairs into the dispensary, where he was ‘skillfully’ treated. (This same year, the good doctor would deliver Maud Hart [Lovelace], not a block away from where I write this account, in January 2003.)
Consequently, Schippel was put up at the home of George Pass ‘out of the goodness of his heart’; the article states that Schippel had learned the trade of architect ‘of George Pass’ but lately had been working as a carpenter. This last suggests a question: Was hands-on carpentry a part of architectural-apprenticeship? Or was Schippel forced to ‘root hog or die!’ during an early-1890’s down-turn?
THE City-directory entry and news-report above mark the first local public references to the Pass-Schippel relation; in the 1895 directory one sees advertised then the firm of ‘Pass and Schippel’. However, the Minnesota state ‘Historic Architecture’ inventory credits Pass and Schippel with the 1890 (sic) ‘North Mankato School’ at 442 Belgrade Av. Then Pass and Schippel are cited as architects of the 1896 Troendle house in Mapleton, MN.
(All of this early activity bracketing the years of his injury may lend credence to the idea that Schippel did indeed make at least a brief carpentry-return in the early part of the decade as an economic matter.)
In 1901, the record shows Pass and Schippel to have designed the ‘Oleander Saloon’ building, on today’s ‘North Riverfront Drive’ (N Front St, ie); but, per December 1902 news-stories and consequent advertisements, Schippel was in business for himself from January 1903. The press puts such a good light on all of it that one wonders, today and in light of our far more overt gossip-taste for scandal and uproar, whether George Pass and Albert Schippel might not have had a gorgeous row? If so, the later public record implies they got over it….
IN 1903, now on his own, Schippel is the architect to design the new Immanuel Lutheran School, now the ‘Wesley’ building, on N Broad Street at Washington. This building is an understated and beautiful, pure, example of the palladian ‘renascence’ style; the Schippels, of course, were German evangelicals, but I do not know now if Albert Schippel remained a communicant at this time. As success drew Schippel into the Mankato pre-postmodern haute bourgeoisie in the first decade of the new century, he would leave the foreign-accented church of his boyhood.
1904 is the year of the Schippel-designed Brandrup house at 704 Byron, in Lincoln Park, Mankato, and today on the National Registry of Historic Places; it was the palatial home of the proprietor of the successful Mankato business-school. In the 1904-5 directory Schippel is described as having telephone #634, at his offices in the ‘National Citizens’ Bank’ building. By 1906-7, his home ‘phone in Vine Street is #9021.
1907 Was a major year for Schippel in the public eye! As architect, Schippel features prominently in news of the building and dedication of the new ‘Centenary’ Methodist Church (long since wrongly pulled down)—as does Dr Andrews, who’d ‘skillfully’ repaired Schippel fifteen years before. In fact, Andrews is now credited with having raised so much money that the congregation was debt-free in its new temple!
Another major project of Schippel’s was his design of the 1910 German evangelical ‘ladies seminary’, now the Bethany Lutheran College ‘Old Main’ building; it is an utilitarian renascence interpretation, on a u-shaped palazzo plan. At age forty-eight and fifty this was professional success, indeed, and Schippel was by way of becoming a regional architect. In these years Schippel designed part of the old Immanuel Hospital, then on N 4th Street, incorporating solaria at each ward-end; all this sort of work earned him the cachet of an ‘institutional’ designer. The romanesque-revival 1910 Rice County Jail (now county ‘human services’ offices), 128-3rd Street NW, Faribault, is Schippel’s, and he also designed the 1914 New Ulm armoury. The 1916 W J Paffrath house, Springfield, Minnesota, is by Schippel; and, he would re-design the storm-damaged LeSueur County courthouse in 1919, according to state records.
(Interestingly, Schippel and his young partner from the early 1920’s, Ernest H Schmidt [d 25 Feb 1971] would also design the 1922 Mankato armoury on N 2nd Street; it is, of course, the target now of the usual wrongheaded demolition-plans….)
TO My eye, the most intriguing of Albert Schippel’s surviving buildings is the 1913 ‘Kruse Terrace’ on Parsons, just off so-called ‘East Pleasant’ (Clark Street, ie). The Parsons row-houses are based on the Phillipines ‘bungalow’ style, popularized first in California at the 1906 San Diego exposition by the architect brothers Greene and Green; Schippel incorporates ‘bungalow’ detailing, four-by-four beams and brackets, and exposed drip-beams, with elements of Wright’s 1910 ‘Prairie School Houses’, including separate entrance porches, and outside ice-doors on back porches. Also, the broad expanse of the south wall allowed Schippel to use contrasting brick-patterns, interlarded with limestone-detailing, to relieve an otherwise-monotonous visual field.
A Hint of Schippel’s successful social affiliations comes in 1915; in the new year, Schippel won the contract to design the ‘IOOF’ lodge #108 in Windom, Minnesota. Then, in December, Schippel, his family, and a party from state-wide of other Odd Fellows (and hence, of course, NONE of them peculiar in any way at all, at all!) all piled into the noon ‘down’ train for the over-night banquet and dedicatory festivities at the new Windom lodge.
At this writing (February 2003), I’ve not come further in the Free Press archives than the first week of February 1916; and, I therefore cannot claim as yet to settle the question of several outstanding Schippel, or Schippel-Schmidt, ‘possibles’ among our older buildings in Mankato. According to an informant, here, these may include the ‘Once Read’ bookstore-building; and, the old and well-beloved ‘Square Deal Bar’ building of Joe and Jim Lyons fame, and bright memory.
A pleasing note to this yet wholly-inadequate first chronology of Albert Schippel is the news-report of a January 1916 builders’ gathering in Mankato, at which architect Schippel (who delighted in a certain soft orange Mankato brick, and our native limestones) advocated builders’ buying locally; while George Pass, at the same meeting and eleven years Schippel’s senior, reminisced about how poor were the workmen of the 1880’s in contrast to 1916. Finally, the story said that the architect Henry Gerlach (the type of Tib Muller’s architect-father in the Betsy-Tacy stories) did not speak from the podium; but, held forth at the back of the hall, exchanging stories and banter with the other guests.
THERE Remain years of records yet to be explored, of course; but, Albert Schippel did one day die, as must we all. His had been a successful life, the best life a member of the last modern generation perhaps could live, for he enjoyed both professional and social success; he kept his personal life to himself; and, we pious post-modernists, politically correct to a person, do NOT enjoy intrusive odds from the available records to be rooted through, of knowing (sic) whether Albert Schippel was overly happy, or not, in his private-, his family-, life.
Two daughters there were, one of whom lived long at home, aspired to art and music, became indeed a singer of light opera. My great-aunts (Alma, as well as Leona, Magly)told jealousy-stories against their city-cousin and spoke darkly of people at parties ‘chain-smoking’ and ‘social drinking’; and, of an elopement with a minor German ‘count’ (sometimes ‘dook’). Perhaps the father and his beloved daughter quarreled over the more artistic of her ambitions…or maybe not.
In the end, in December 1934, Albert Schippel went away to Dallas, for the winter—a very early winter Texan! Mercifully, the trains then were wonderful, and frequent; and, motorized ‘homes’ were not yet invented to ravage nerves in everybody’s way….
Albert Schippel died in Dallas in his seventy-sixth year, on 22 January 1935.
NOW We are at an end of this first try at deriving an impression of Architect Schippel, my second great-uncle; who of course did NOT design ‘half the buildings in Mankato’. Have any delvings here yielded any answer to the question, who was Albert Schippel?
All History asks its own question, sooner or later:
Where does this event, that life, or I, myself, stand…in the lifetime of the world? About Albert Schippel, here in his old home place we have but one handed-down family story; and, a fair amount of public record, all dignified, uplifting. When we view this ‘Albert Schippel’ we’ve so far been able to pull together out of these odd bits against the larger human field of social struggle and its literature, and world events, then some new planes and vistas do emerge.
For one thing, his parents having emigrated from what would become in 1871 the German Second Realm, we can see clearly what Schippel would not become; precisely, in the 1920’s and ‘thirties he was not an elderly member of the ruined and rhinoceros-like, raging, Hindenburg generation. Rather, Schippel was a child of immigrants who grew up to win respected business-success in the trade of architecture, making his home in a perfectly unexceptionable provincial and upper middle-western, frontier, city, leaving the German evangelical covenant of his boyhood for the Presbyterians; and, whose end was…Glenwood (cemetery). For all I know yet of Schippel-antecedents, this may very well be all of a piece. We do not know how big a climb-down it may have been for the Schippels to come to America and become necessitous soil-peasants. Odds are they were poor and driven; but, to be socially displaced and driven may have been an even surer goad!
Certainly, this is a very American story; and, certainly no one even remotely connected with this family-line in these parts, not even I, myself, have done any better in life than did Architect Albert Schippel. He is a quintessential member of that first American-born generation of German-Americans here in Minnesota; and, of that last entire generation throughout the western world to live its whole lifetime in what was still the modern age.
Very certainly, this is all the stuff of–stereotype. Because, quite apart from the difficulties of defining the ‘whom’ which even can be the subject of any discourse (and, despite the saving ‘Schippel Story’!), all one can adduce of Schippel from public record is a cipher and mere type. Namely that of the self-reliant and successfully friendly provincial businessman of the Warren Harding generation, an ardent shaker of hands and rapt believer in ‘service’. In order therefore to ‘see through’ the statistical Schippel, I suggest that one may read profitably between the lines of Sinclair Lewis (who lived and wrote in Mankato for two months in the summer of 1919…one supposes HE might well have even inveigled Mayme Schippel!); and, the savage lampoons of Henry Lewis Mencken.
SCHIPPEL Is the harder to get at because, now that the modern age is wholly at an end, there is an ever-widening feeling-gulf between us, as devout and politically ever-careful post-moderns; and, our passionately pre-postmodern great-grandparents. They believed, above all, in progress, its inevitability, even as the sons of the Schippel generation went willingly to die, with the whole of the optimistic American nineteenth century, at Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood.
This gap in sympathy, historianship, is mainly a matter of changing narrative-priorities, of style; especially on the thorny point of ‘personal’ versus public life. Privacy—or, if you will, hypocrisy—was in any case one of the chief treasures, and a hallmark, of the bourgeois, European, or modern, age. Now, famously, we hail and rattle on about the ‘information age’, forgetting that much data may not wisdom make; that it means, exactly, that there is now no privacy and little shame. A consequence is that the much of ‘popular histories’ is scatological, psychoanalytic, concerned with flaws and shadows, ‘non-judgemental’:
Oval office sexual dishonesties, bombing off the hands of small orphans in Iraq, all is relative….
My Second Great-Uncle Albert Schippel (one IS one hundred per cent certain about some things) would have detested and resented being the object of such an exposition as I am making, here; or, even of having the question of his private possible (un?) happiness alluded and dragged around in front of an un-believing and un-dressed, descended, public. His generation was old when young Lindbergh flew back to the exhausted Europe which the parents and grandparents of Schippel’s generation had fled in disgust, not in despair; and, above all, in hope of the future, which hopefulness was the heart and soul of modernism.
Conventional starting dates aside, whether set in the Renascence or at first discovery-date of the New World, it cannot be emphasized enough that, certainly for many of us here in Minnesota (the old Minnesotan descendants of émigrés from north and west Europe, Slovenia and Croatia, Italy–and Syria!), our ancestors only infested the modern age for a scant three generations. For them, the hieratic and emotional atmosphere of the middle ages, and the Thirty Years’ War, did not end until someone or other, in each family-line, decided to emigrate to America. Sixty millions throughout the nineteenth century that ran from Waterloo to Sarajevo! Tellingly, perhaps, Schippel’s generation found old age and death after the First World War had delivered the first savage blow to modernism; and, to the bodies of the sons of the Schippel-generation, all piled into the mud and barbed-wire and toiling gas of northeastern France. Most tellingly for the theme of the end of the modern age, Schippel’s generation (Albert Schippel, himself, died in the same year as feldmarschall von Hindenburg) found their deaths on the advent to power of one of the trenches’ son-survivors:
ADOLF Hitler not only proclaimed the end of the liberal modern age, he was the avatar of every form of mass-entertainment to beguile the post-modern mood since the Nuremberg party-rallies; a lot of spectacles almost wholly alien to the nineteenth century; except for the rather showy, and precursive perhaps, public hanging of thirty-eight wretched Dakota Indian captives in Mankato, Minnesota, in December 1862. There were fourteen hundred soldiers on guard that day, three thousand white onlookers; and, an unverifiable number of howchungera Indians, ‘Winnebagoes’, cousins of the condemned, watching from the distant bluffs…. In the one hundred-and-forty-odd years since then mass-attendances have gone up steeply, at our ‘superbowls’ and rock-concerts, and all-in ‘pro’ wrestling-extravaganzas. Next to which the proliferation of ‘histories’, as opposed to an history of us all, at least is not particularly noisy.
ONE Is indebted! not least to Mr Ron Affolter, of this place, who did so much initial ‘digging’ for me (since 1988!). Then there are the staff and resources of the Blue Earth County Historical Society (BECHS), in Mankato, MN, not least the patient and always-careful, painstaking, Ms Shelley Harrison. Mr James Lundgren, Director, has been both encouraging and informative; and, Maud Hart chronicler Ms Julie Schrader has responded most warmly to my initial writing-attempts. Throughout, historian John Lukacs in my thoughts is my most constant guide and mentor! I also must thank especially Mr Charles Nelson, the Minnesota Historical Society’s Architectural Historian; with his help, and that of Ms Schrader and Mr Affolter, I have now verified reliably at least twenty surviving Schippel-designed buildings, seven of which are listed on the NRHP.
Again on the point of architectural enquiries, Mr James Kagermeier, Sr, his sons and the staff of KSA Architects and Engineers, of Mankato, all have been most gracious and helpful, all the more so in consideration of how many of my visits were unannounced blow-ins with “absolutely urgent” questions!
Finally, we come to the part played by Ms Katharine R Dokken, of Virginia, a descendant of Albert Schippel’s youngest brother George; and, whose researches have resulted in a new book in press: The History of the Wichmann, Schippel and Burginger Families in America. Among many other discoveries, Ms Dokken has demonstrated to my certain satisfaction, I think, that Albert Schippel was but an eight-months’ babe-in-arms (born January, 1862, ie), and that his brother Henry was the three-year-old. This stands in sharpest contrast with the (frequently!) repeated account of Leona Magly; and, it is not the least interesting for the light it sheds on the nature of oral memory! Now that I have presented here this ‘baseline’ account, drawn strictly from our south-central Minnesota information-sources, the next step in the work is source-comparison and the knitting together of two long-separated narrative-skeins. Again, John Lukacs reminds us that, while we may indeed never know what ‘really’ happened, our basic commitment to ‘history-making’ still stands, namely the reduction at least of falsehood.
Persons desiring more information about Ms Dokken’s book may contact:
In closing, of course, I would give thanks to that far greater number not mentioned, especially to my family, (step-) children and grandchildren, for all of their help and devotion and love all along the way—and, above all, to my Great-Aunt Leona Magly (1901-1994), without whom the the Schippel Story simply should never have survived!
Emmett R Smith
117 Clark St, Lincoln Park, Mankato, MN
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 25 February 2003]