Who Operated the Telegraph?

I have now published my new book, Wittenberg ’04: Coming of a Railroad. I assure you that my intent in telling you this is not to sell my book. This book is classified as historical fiction, but I did attempt to tell the stories of real people and give an accounting of real events. Not every detail in the book is completely accurate. I confess to that. The story you will read today gives evidence that at least one of the characters in this book could not have been doing his job in 1904. The main character in this tale is Otto Fassel, who is today’s birthday boy.

Otto Theodore Albert Fassel was born on October 11, 1888, the son of Edward and Josephine (Lueders) Fassel. That leads me to another confession. The fact that Otto Fassel’s mother was a Lueders makes him a nephew of one of the main characters in the book, Otto Lueders. I chose not to include that connection as part of the book. I not only left out details such as this, but also did not include some characters that would have lived in Wittenberg in 1904. It was done in order to keep the number of characters manageable and make it easier on the reader to keep track of the people in the story.

Back to Otto. I have been told by one of our regular readers, Roy Fassel, that the Fassel family that entered the East Perry County scene were originally Roman Catholics. I think it was when Edward Fassel married Josephine Lueders, this branch of Fassel’s became Lutherans. Otto Fassel was the firstborn child of Edward and Josephine. The German Family Tree lists 6 children in this family. The first two were boys, followed by 4 girls. Otto’s baptism record is included in the books of Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg, but there is a good chance that his baptism took place in the church/school that was located in Wittenberg. Below is an image of his baptism record.

Otto Fassel baptism record – Trintiy, Altenburg, MO

Otto is found in his first census in 1900. Judging by his neigbors, the Fassel family was living near Wittenberg. Otto was 11 years old, and his father was a cooper.

1900 census – Brazeau Township, MO

My book places Otto as an apprentice telegrapher working for the new railroad that began running through Wittenberg in 1904. I claimed he was learning the trade from Henry Steger, who does show up in the 1910 census as a telegrapher. However, in 1904, Henry would have been only 19 years old, and he, too, was not likely to have been teaching someone else to use a telegraph in 1904. I needed some telegraphers in the story, and I chose to use both Henry Steger and Otto Fassel.

In 1910, we find Otto still living with his parents. This time, he is called a house carpenter at the age of 21. His father is called a salesman in a general store. He likely was working in the Lueders Store because that store was operated by Josephine’s brother, Otto Lueders.

1910 census – Brazeau Township, MO

The Fassel home was located on what is now called Highway A leading into Wittenberg. On the map below, their home is one of the ones found on the left side of the road…7,8, or 9.

Aerial view of Wittenberg area

An article appeared in the Perry County Republican in 1914 that mentions Otto’s new job move to Pascola, Missouri.

Otto Fassel – PCR article 1914

Otto Fassel had his World War I draft registration completed in 1917. His address is given as Powe, Missouri. It also states that Otto was working for the railroad as a depot agent. Depot agents would also operate telegraphs.

Otto Fassel – WWI draft registration

Powe and Pascola are located in Southeast Missouri. You can see their locations on this map.

Powe and Pascola, Missouri map

When the 1920 census was taken, we find Otto back in Wittenberg living with his parents. He was working as a station railroad agent. His father was called a flour packer at the flour mill. By 1920, Otto Lueders had sold his store and had become the operator of the flour mill that had been run for many years by his father-in-law, Joseph Weinhold.

1920 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Another article appeared in the Perry County Republican in 1925 that says Otto became a lumber inspector at the swing factory in Wittenberg.

Otto Fassel – PCR article 1925

Otto Fassel never married. For most of his life, he lived with his parents and other siblings. When the 1930 census was taken, we find the Fassel’s living in St. Louis. Otto was a janitor at an electrical company, and his father, Edward, was a handy man at the Anheuser Busch Brewery. Two sisters, Laura and Florette Fassel, were also still living with their parents.

1930 census – St. Louis, MO

The last census we can view is the one taken in 1940. Otto was a shipping clerk for a paper company, and his father was a laborer at a brewery.

1940 census – St. Louis, MO

Three death records for members of this Fassel family can be found in the books of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in St. Louis.

Fassel death records – Holy Cross, St. Louis, MO

Otto Fassel died in 1977 at the age of 88. A social security death index says his last place of residence was Perryville, Missouri.

Otto Fassel Social Security death index

Otto Fassel is buried in the Our Redeemer Cemetery in St. Louis. Otto and two of his sisters are buried together there. Findagrave uses this same photo to indicate where Edward and Josephine Fassel are buried.

Fassel gravestone – Our Redeemer, St. Louis, MO

Otto Fassel had many jobs in quite a few locations throughout his life. But, was he learning how to be a telegrapher in Wittenberg in 1904? Perhaps, but he would have been only 16 years old.

Now, I will attempt to confuse you further. In the photo below that appears in Mary Dillon’s Wittenberg book, it says the young man in the middle of this photograph was Otto Fassold who was an apprentice telegrapher in 1904.

I found an Otto Fassold on Ancestry who was living with his family in Cape Girardeau in the 1900 census. However, that Otto was only 9 years old at the time, and it is even more unlikely that he was an apprentice telegrapher at the age of 13. Could this have actually been Otto Fassel? I’ll let you decide.


I published this post this morning, but later found a few photos that might add some interest. First, here is a photo of the Fassel home located on Highway A as it appeared in about 1970.

Fassel house – Wittenberg

Also, I located this photograph of the Fassel family including Edward, Josephine, the two boys and four girls. I am not able to identify each one for sure.

Edward and Josephine Fassel family

One thought on “Who Operated the Telegraph?

  1. This is wonderful. Especially the photographic map leading to Wittenberg! I wish there were more old photos like that from the area. Fascinating.


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