It is an Election Day in Perry County today, and I am an election judge. It’s going to be a slow day here today, so I should be able to get this story posted. However, I am working at a slight disadvantage. I do not have access to all the resources in our family research library at the museum. However, I came somewhat prepared, knowing what the topic was going to be. I made sure I had scans of some letters that we have in our library.
I am going to tread on potentially dangerous territory today. I am writing a story about politics. Here in Altenburg, we have an interesting election going on today. There are only two items on the ballot. One is a somewhat contentious school board choice. The other is for the town board, and with no one on the ballot, people have to write in the person of their choice. I know that I have been hearing quite a few conversations around town in which people are debating what they should do. My intent today, as it always is, is to tell a story from the past. Even though political parties are part of this story, I hope you do not think that I am attempting to promote one of them.
First of all, let me tell you about the letters. These letters were kept over the years by Vernon Meyr, a longtime proponent of preserving East Perry County history. The letters were written to his grandfather, Adolph Schmidt, who lived in Altenburg.
These letters that Adolph received were from his friend (and apparently his cousin), Rudi Estel, who at the time was living in Perryville.
Rudi was the son of Emanuel Estel. Emanuel had spent quite a bit of his life as a merchant in Wittenberg, but in the 1900 census, we see him and his family living in Perryville. His occupation was described as county collector. I am reasonably sure that this was an elected position in Perry County. So we see that this Estel family was involved in local politics. These letters indicate that Rudi was also actively involved in politics, even if he did not hold an elected position.
The stationery used in some of these letters also indicate that Rudi and his father ran a farm machinery business together in Perryville. Since some of these letters were written from other cities, Rudi must have been a traveling salesman for this business.
This business specialized in selling Johnston equipment. I am fascinated by this picture which can be found on the reverse side of one of the envelopes that is part of this letter collection.
A race must have developed in 1914 for the position of Probate Judge. The Republicans had nominated a Guemmer to run. This apparently got the political juices flowing amongst the Democrats, who now thought they had a chance to win this office. Adolph Schmidt supposedly had told Rudi Estel that if Guemmer was chosen, then he would be willing to run. In this first letter, which is dated August 7, 1914, Rudi is encouraging Adolph to run based on Adolph’s promise to run if Guemmer was the opponent.
In case you have trouble reading this, here is my transcription (I did not correct Rudi’s spelling):
“So lets get bussy right now. Hope this will satisfie things all O.K. now and that you will do as you told me if Guemmer runs I will make the race.”
The second letter is dated August 26, 1914. In this letter, Rudi gives some advice and suggests how Adolph might carry out his campaign. I found this segment interesting.
“I guess Adolph you will come up to the mission feast at Longtown next sunday, why not come on up to Perryville that night come out and stay with me. Then stay in Perryville monday for you must put in some time around here, and go to the ????(picnic?) at Biehles tuesday Sept 1st.”
The third letter was dated September 7, 1914. Rudi tells Adolph that he should make arrangements to come to Perryville to meet with Judge Hooss, who apparently had some political influence. He also mentions that Adolph could come to Perryville with Dr. Estel of Altenburg.
“Adolph I went and seen Judge Hooss this morning and he told me he wants you to come right in his office so ofcourse you have to go there. Adolph I just happen to think that Doctor Estel told me he wanted to come to Perryville right soon and don’t you think it would be a good idea to just tell him he could come up with you next saturday for I want to get the Doctor right if there is any way to get him right, and that he will vote for you.”
Before I discuss Letter #4, I must show you the envelope it was in. It is another piece of art, and it’s an envelope from another business.
The fourth letter is dated September 21, 1914. By this time, it appears that Guemmer may have dropped out of the race and others were being considered by the Republicans to run for Probate Judge. Several possibilities were being considered, including Goehring from Frohna. Rudi brags in this letter about how he can come to Altenburg and fight both Goehring and Lottes to a standstill. This next letter portion will be better understood if you know that Adolph Schmidt was a blacksmith in Altenburg. So when Rudi says he hopes Adolph can get a blacksmith, he means that he can get someone in to run his shop so he can leave to campaign.
“I hope you will get a Blacksmitt this week so that you can get out and skim the brush for I don’t think that any body can beat you out side of Goehring and he may not be able to do it for we will fight to the last ditch.”
Letter #5 was written on stationery from the Austin Hotel which was located in Potosi, Missouri. It was dated September 29, 1914. When you read this portion, keep in mind that women’s suffrage did not occur until 1920.
“…..skim the brush every day for you got lots of people to see in the next 30 days and I do want to see you elected so bad, so go out after the boys from now on.”
Letter #6 was sent from St. Louis, obviously from the branch office of the Johnston Harvester Company. Here is the envelope.
I’m going to share the entire letter that is dated October 25, ten days before the election. There is a lot of good information in it. I’m going to leave it up to you to decipher the handwriting.
Rudi often referred to getting votes from “good Republicans”. The enclosed letter to Mr. Wilkinson was never sent. Here is that letter.
The last letter we have is dated November 22, 1914, well after the election on November 4th. Adolph did win the election, as is indicated in this selection.
“Well Judge how do you feel any way since the voters of Perry County give you the title Judge seems to me you ought to feel pretty good over it.”
I don’t think politics has changed much over the years. There is still plenty of maneuvering behind the scenes with people trying to get their candidate elected. Despite all the wheelings and dealings, people still ended up being civil to one another when it was all over. People still attended church with folks that were on the opposite side of the political aisle. One thing has always been true about Lutherans. They have always tried to keep the politics out of the church.
I hope you find this story interesting. I know I’m getting a little dose of local political discussion as I work as an election judge today. I find it fascinating.