Stories in a Painting

An old painting that is part of Lutheran history in America fascinates me.  This painting is definitely connected to the history that we attempt to preserve at our museum.  It is a painting that has been displayed in at least one previous post, but I am going to spend more time with it today.  That painting is Rev. Friedrich Lochner’s rendition of Rev. Gotthold Loeber’s parsonage in Altenburg.

Loeber parsonage

I’ve been meaning to write a post like today’s for a while, but it was a death that took place back in 1848 that inspired me to compose it today.  Lydia (Buenger) Lochner died on March 21, 1848.  Lydia was not born in Perry County.  She did not die in Perry County.  She did not marry a man from Perry County.  However, her story is definitely tied to Perry County Lutheran history.  For one thing, she was one of the first pupils in the Log Cabin College which opened in December of 1839.  The home shown in the above painting was also built in 1839.

Lydia Buenger was the daughter of Jacob and Christiane (Reiz) Buenger.  Her father had died in Germany before most of the family came to America as part of the Gesellschaft in 1838-1839.  We do have this drawing which is said to be of Lydia, and it was probably drawn by the same artist that created the above painting.

Lydia Buenger
Lydia Buenger

Let me start by giving you a timeline of some events that occurred around the time of Lydia’s death.

  • June 1, 1846 – Wedding of Rev. Friedrich Lochner and Lydia Buenger in St. Louis.
  • August 5, 1846 – Birth of Liddy Neumueller, daughter of Lydia’s sister, Clementine.
  • January 15, 1847 – Lydia’s family moves to Pleasant Grove, Illinois (near Collinsville).
  • February 23, 1847 – Birth of Walther twins, Constantine and Ferdinand.  They were children of Lydia’s sister, Emilie (and Rev. C.F.W. Walther).
  • September 10, 1847 – Birth of Ernst Theodore Buenger, son of Lydia’s brother Ernst Eduard.
  • February 15, 1848 – Birth of Agnes Lochner, Lydia and Friedrich’s daughter.
  • March 21, 1848 – Death of Lydia in Pleasant Grove.
  • March 29, 1848 – Birth of Gotthilf Buenger, son of Rev. J.F. Buenger, Lydia’s brother.
  • May 23, 1848 – Wedding of Theodore Ernst Buenger and Martha Loeber in Altenburg.
  • June 9, 1848 – Death of Agnes Lochner, Lydia’s daughter.

All of the births above except Lydia’s daughter took place in St. Louis.  I point this out because there were plenty of babies and toddlers in the Buenger family in St. Louis at the time of Lydia’s death.

The above painting by Rev. Friedrich Lochner, Lydia’s husband, is said to have been a wedding present for Theodore Ernst and Martha (Loeber) Buenger, whose wedding is included in the above timeline.  Before he became a Lutheran pastor, he was trained as an artist and musician.  I have always asked myself about when it might have been that Pastor Lochner would have been in Altenburg to know what the parsonage looked like.  About the only clue I have seen is that Rev. Lochner supposedly drew this scene first and painted it later.  My best guess is that he may have attended the Buenger/Loeber wedding in Altenburg and made a sketch of the parsonage and later painted it.  If so, the wedding present was given to the Buengers at a later time.  At the bottom of the painting, you will see Pastor Lochner’s initials along with the date, 1848, so he must have completed the painting before the end of the year.

Loeber parsonage painting Friedrich Lochner signature

I think it is safe to say that 1848 was a year full of tragedy for the artist.  He lost his wife before this wedding and his daughter afterward.

The upper floor of this parsonage was the first “church” for the congregation in Altenburg.  In 1845, a new church was built and dedicated.  That new church sanctuary would have been where this Buenger/Loeber wedding would have taken place.

I know I was surprised when I found out that this original painting is only 6 inches by 8 inches in size.  I figured it was larger than that.

I find several items of interest within this painting.  First of all, there are several people included in the painting.  Here is an enlargement showing these figures.

Loeber parsonage painting people

It is said that the two men sitting are Rev. Gotthold Loeber and Rev. C.F.W. Walther.  Standing behind them was Wilhelmina Loeber, Rev. Loeber’s wife.  Carrying the tray would have been Martha Loeber, the bride in the 1848 wedding, and standing in the doorway was her brother Christoph Heinrich Loeber, who at that time was in his last years of training at the Log Cabin College.  About a year later, Christoph would marry Friedrich Lochner’s sister, Anna Maria.  The little boy with the dog was the younger brother of Martha, Gotthilf Loeber, who also went on to become a pastor.

I guess it’s part of my nature to ask questions like this, but I have to wonder when the early settlers in East Perry County acquired dogs.  I’m sure they did not bring dogs from Germany, but I am certain they would have discovered very early that dogs could be valuable animals to have around.

Another question comes to mind.  There is another building in the background, and it appears to be made of logs.  Could it be the Log Cabin College that was moved into Altenburg by this time and was said to be relocated closer to the Loeber parsonage?  Could it be the cabin that was built for Christiane Loeber, Rev. Loeber’s unmarried sister who helped care for the Loeber children during the first year in Perry County?  She died in 1840, so she would have no longer been alive at the time of this painting.  Or was it just some sort of outbuilding?  Or did Rev. Lochner just put something in the painting to fill up the background?

Next, here is an enlargement of the roof of the parsonage.

Loeber parsonage painting birds on the roof

I guess I like the fact that Friedrich decided to add some birds to his painting.  There are even some that feel safe enough to perch on the top of the roof while people are sitting below.  I wonder if Friedrich saw birds around the parsonage when he first sketched it.  There are two chimneys on the painting.  Later photographs show only one chimney.  Were there originally two, and one was eliminated, or did Friedrich get it wrong?  I will include some of those photos later.

Another interesting characteristic of this image is the fact that Rev. Lochner placed some names and birth dates around the margins.  They are the names of the bride and groom (on the left side), along with their parents and siblings surrounding the picture.  I will show enlargements of these names.  First of all, here is what you see in the upper left corner of the painting.

Loeber parsonage painting Buenger family members 1

Christiana was the groom’s mother.  Friedrich was Rev. J.F. Buenger, who was at that time a preacher in St. Louis.  On the left, you see the names of Emma and Liddy (Lydia).  Emma (the horizontal line above the “m” means that letter should be doubled) was a sister of the groom who remained in Germany when the rest of the family left for Missouri.  The story is that she was in poor health and was left with someone in the Buenger family in Germany.  She was the youngest sibling in the family.  Liddy is Lydia.  If her husband created this painting at the time of this wedding or later, she would have already been deceased.

Next, we will move to the upper right corner.

Loeber parsonage painting Buenger family members 2

Emilie was the wife of Rev. C.F.W. Walther.  Ernst was a medical doctor who later moved back to Altenburg to serve as a doctor in this area the rest of his life.  In the right margin you see the names Agnes and Clementine.  Agnes was first married to Rev. Otto Herman Walther, and after his death in 1841, she married Rev. Ottomar Fuerbringer, who had earlier taught in the Log Cabin College.  If Agnes attended this wedding, she would have come from Venedy, Illinois where Ottomar was the pastor.  Clementine was married to Gottlob Neumueller, and they would later move back to Altenburg from St. Louis.

There is one more Buenger name on the right.  His name was Herman.  He was unmarried at the time and became a druggist in St. Louis.

Loeber parsonage painting Buenger family members 3

Next, we find the bride’s family…..the Loeber’s.

Loeber parsonage painting Loeber family members 1

Above we find Martha’s parents, Wilhelmina on the left and G. Heinrich on the right.  The lower right corner shows her siblings.

Loeber parsonage painting Loeber family members 2

Heinrich was the brother I have referred to as Christoph Heinrich, and Gotthilf is the youngest brother.  You also see another signature by the artist, F. Lochner.

Another question that I have asked is which of the members of the Buenger family that lived outside of Altenburg attended this wedding.  There is no definitive answer to this question.  I attempted to tell my version of this scenario in my book, Mama Buenger: Mother of a Synod.  In that book, I speculated that all of the Buenger men and “Mama Buenger” came to the wedding.  I thought that the mothers of the young babies in St. Louis may have had trouble traveling with those young ones.  I also think that Friedrich’s motherless infant may have been left in St. Louis with some of those sisters-in-law.  That, of course, would assume that Friedrich himself attended the wedding in Altenburg, as I have guessed.  Agnes may also have come from Illinois, and I think it is a safe conclusion to say that Rev. C.F.W. Walther came to Altenburg for this event.  That may be why Rev. Lochner put him in his painting.

It would have been only a little over a year after this wedding that both the bride’s father, Pastor Loeber, and the groom’s mother, Christiane Buenger, would die.  After Pastor Loeber’s death in 1849, the parsonage would have been vacated by the remaining Loeber’s when Wilhelmina and young Gotthilf moved to St. Louis.  Christoph Heinrich had become the pastor in Frohna in 1850.

I still have a lot of questions about what happened to this parsonage over the years.  It is reported that the parsonage finally collapsed in a storm in 1929.  I am going to close this post with a gallery of old photographs that were taken which show the parsonage in its latter days along with a few scale models we have on display at our museum.  The thumbnails can be clicked to enlarge.





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