Life in a Hard Hat

Today’s story was inspired by a post that was placed on Facebook recently.  That post was made by our friends at the Perry County Historical Society in Perryville.  They posted a letter that was printed in the Perry County Republican on May 8, 1919 that was from Otto Gerler to his father in Altenburg.  Before I get to that letter, let me give you a little background on Otto.

Otto was the son of Christian John and Susanna (Vogel) Gerler.  He was born on today’s date, November 15, in 1894 and baptized at Concordia Lutheran Church in Frohna.  It was not long after he was born that the Gerler family spent some time in Jacob, Illinois.  Two younger siblings were baptized at Christ Lutheran in Jacob.  Then they must have moved back across the river again to Perry County and the rest of the children were baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg.  When the United States became involved in World War I, Otto filled out a draft registration form.  It recorded that Otto was working for a Norwegian farmer in Petersburg, North Dakota by the name of Ole Hildremyr.


Not long after that, Otto enlisted in the Army to go off to war.  The following paragraph gives a summary of his service during the war.

Otto Gerler military record 2

It was while Otto was in France that he sent the following letter to his father in Altenburg.  One year earlier, his mother had died, so his father was a widower at the time.  I find this to be an amazing letter which gives a person a real feel for what it must have been like to be fighting in World War I.


After the war, the 1920 census says that Otto was once again living in Perry County, but then we lose track of him for a while.  I could not find him in a 1930 census.  The next record I found for him was the 1940 census, and it indicates that he was living in Argenta, Nevada in Lander County.  He was in partnership with an Irishman by the name of Patrick Gallagher in the mining business.  That census also indicates that he was already living in that county in 1935.  There was a rather large barite mine located in the Argenta area at one time.  Argenta is now a ghost town.  Here is photo of some Nevada barite.

Nevada barite

When Otto filled out a draft card for World War II, he was still living in that county in Nevada.

Otto Gerler – WWII draft card

Otto must have become employed in extreme Northwest Washington because on August 28, 1944, he married the widow, Nannie (Swanlund) Anderson.  She was of Swedish descent.  Otto was almost 50 years old when he got married.  Nellie had four children by her previous marriage so Otto had some step-children.  Here is the marriage license for Otto and Nellie.

Gerler Anderson marriage license Washington
Gerler/Anderson marriage certificate

They were married in Metaline, Washington.  As of the last census, there were less than 200 people living in that town.  When Nellie died in 1975 at the age of 88, and Otto died in 1991 at the age of 96, they were both buried in the Metaline Cemetery.  Here are their gravestones and the plaque placed on Otto’s grave to recognize his military service.

From what I have been able to tell, Otto spent much of his life wearing a hard hat…..first as a soldier in WWI, and then as a miner in the western states.  There are those around here that will tell you that a German Lutheran from East Perry County would not need a hard hat.  They are born hard-headed.



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