by Emmett R Smith
This is the tombstone of some forebears who are buried in the Good Shepherd Cemetery of the Immanuel German Lutheran Church, in old Mankato, MN. The picture was sent to me by cousin Kathy Brown, herself a Frohrip descendant of Anton and Wilhelmina Frohrip Schippel. It is of the memorial of a great-great-grandfather, Anton, and a great-great-grandmother, Wilhelmina Frohrip Schippel. They were emigrants one hundred-and-fifty years ago, from Saxony and Prussia in what would become that Germany that was to trouble the affairs of the late-modern age for seventy-five years, from the 1870s to 1945. They could have stayed of course and submitted, with yet all the other generations, to the endless warfare so constantly European throughout the modern age now over.
But they did not.
They came to America.
The fact that they got out, and greedy for new lives, a new way of being and, above all, new homes of their own, has swept up the meager remembered facts about them in the epic of the building of a new nation and what was, for a time anyway, a bona fide new world. But the art of remembrance which is the heart of all history-making means we must not forget their very real ordinary human feelings, of tiredness and grubbiness, and the boring tedium of everyday that we of course share with them in our own pampered and sometimes gummy lives. Also, we must remember the distinctly incredible discomfort and suffering of the body and outright pain that they endured, so unlike any misery we will ever know until, as a rule, at the end of our postmodern digitalized lives, living pretty much in denial to the end anyway on Prozac and our professional credentials. To re-member the experiences of those young people in a new land then, their feelings hidden in the heart of our own no matter how gaudy and how glaring the differences, that is the task of love and re-collection between the ages.
In that love and remembrance after all is the whole History of the World.
Born in 1827, in 1859 Anton Schippel was on his way from Saxony to Minnesota when his first wife died. He had a baby son in his arms, Henry. A man in that position could have found himself in a bad way in the wilds of Wisconsin in those days. Fortunately, the floods of immigrant Germans of the lower middleclass and working class surged around him, those thrown-out folk who had won no relief in the 1848 socialist uprisings in Europe, and whose diaspora and wandering-off was now at its height. There were plenty of others around who spoke this bereft father’s language. They were all tossed and wadded and tumbled together on this road to the new American heartland after all. Pretty immediately I suppose the thirty-two-year-old widower was noticed in his trouble by some of these.
They were all together bound for the Minnesota Valley and ablebodied fellow countrymen were always welcome.
So in quick time Anton Schippel was bound up in need and fellowship and the practical love of everyday, all of that with the Frohrip family, somewhat numerous and probably noisy sometimes, a row of married brothers and wagons, and their sister Wilhelmina, all on their way up to the Minnesota country. I do not know if Wilhelmina Frohrip was already once widowed or still single. Born in 1841, in short order she was married to Anton Schippel, and together the Germans followed their star to the West.
Away they trekked, away from the East that one day would claim so many others of them on Russian battlefields. Away from the stew of Irish New York and the constant flu epidemic of Philadelphia, the hideous places of their arrival in this strange big place. Away from the now momentarily-distant and ancient, the unrelieved, horrors and the dirt, and the ancestral and ossified, skeletal, political and brutal social stupidity, of the stinking, rotting, poisoned European death-house. None of these Germans knew then one day as they came up over the Winona bluffs, and stepped out onto the high table of the wide Lord and the southern Minnesota prairie, how many of their distant grandchildren would return in American armies to the old place, to fall in cousin-battles in those farmed-out abandoned European fieldrows and Nazi murder-cities behind them.
Instead they moved dazzled by the heat and light of Summer as men and women in a mosquitoey dream.
Beneath huge skies that overarched this strange and bigger and bigger place that, somehow, they had gotten into they moved panting, in an agony of running cattle-sores and many, many layers of black heavy clothing. Their ears rang in the heat and lightning and they moved as men and women in an endless headache. They did not even know, perhaps, that their dreams had been recruited in the agricultural and industrial building up of a new power soon-to-be in the World. Still less did their witless proprietors, the owner-men of railroads a-building, all asleep in a gaudy dream then of wealth, not power. So still less even did the Germans know soon that as they moved in a miserable stink of unwashed clothing, and too much of it, that they would play their part in the probably unavoidable political and brutal social stupidity, of the destruction of an old race and people and way of talking, and an antique way of life.
In innocence then of the black years just ahead they arrived in a chafe of bloody sweat, and the summer-colic of the babies in their fly-clouds, to live through times as terrifying as any to be visited by the 1940s airraids on the far children of their stay-at-home cousins, back in “the Old Country.” Many though, most of them, would survive and of course prosper. In 1921, the year of her death, Wilhelmina Schippel, eighty years old and blind and sleepy so much of the time now, would be propped up for a last photograph in the clean and mended and cared-for black dress of her womanhood.
Seated there for a moment while the cameraman fiddled, she would feel the chubby three-year-old finger-ends of a great-granddaughter in a starched white pinafore, our mother, touch the scarred-over wad of Dakota Indian birdshot in her brown, her worn, her wrinkled cheek. And, perhaps, before going to sleep again she wondered for just a long second in the way of the very old, what that little girl’s life would be like altogether at home in a new world, now?
(With many thanks to Kathy Brown, of Edina, MN — ERS)
[Emmett R Smith /all rights reserved/ 14 September 2009]