“Jumped headlong from a window of the Confederate Home…”
The line made me gasp out loud.
To back up a little, I was in search for background information about Christian Henry Thieme before a recent trip to Austin to locate his grave.
The Galvestonian was born in Germany in 1827, immigrated to Texas in 1860 and was a member of th e Catholic church He enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 34, once telling an interviewer that he had been “a private in Company B, in Cook’s heavy artillery. My first captain was Coura, and first major was Cook.”
I knew that he and his wife Elizabeth had a family of three daughters, and they all had survived the 1900 Storm. Yet at some point, Christian ended up in the Confederate Men’s Home (for disabled veterans) in Austin.
During the 1900 Storm, Christian and Elizabeth lived with their daughter Selma Nelson and her family at 710 Church Street. Although they didn’t lose any family members in the tragedy, they were sure to have witnessed grievous sights.
The traumatic events caused him to become mentally unbalanced, forcing his family to send him to the home in Austin the following April.
Suffering from rheumatism and old wounds far from home, he was dealt an additional blow when his wife died in November. She is buried in Galveston’s Oleander Cemetery, but her marker has been lost to time.
I thought I may have found all available information about him, and then came the discovery of a newspaper account of his death on June 23, 1910.
“Christian Thieme, an aged Confederate soldier, killed himself today by jumping headlong from a window of the Confederate Home. Thieme became mentally unbalanced at the time of the Galveston storm. Melancholia caused him to talk constantly of killing himself. Formerly an express man at Galveston, he lost all his property in the tidal wave and was force to come to the Confederate Home. None of his relatives can be located.”
Stunning. And infuriating…because his family still lived in Galveston and couldn’t have been too difficult to locate.
So I went to visit him and find his marker.
It stands in a sea of military markers in Confederate Field at the Texas State Cemetery, with his last name misspelled as “Thiemer.” Gleaming white as if wanting someone to remember his story.
And now he has had at least one visitor from home.
Texas State Cemetery, Confederate Field, Section 1 (F), Row B, No. 18.
Many gravestones don’t begin to tell the story of a life or death, just listing the barest of facts. But every so often I see one that illustrates a chapter of the life (or end of life in this case) that ensures the marker was created just for this specific individual. These are the type I wish every grave had, to help us appreciate the person memorialized.
This spectacular carving portrays a father holding a young child in his arms and standing at his wife’s gravesite. I’ve never seen one like it in person.
Even with over 150 years of weathering, the details are astounding. He holds a top hat in his left hand and his child in his right. The drapes of the child’s dressing gown hang down behind it’s father’s arm. Facial features of the man are still somewhat discernible, and his wife’s grave is marked with a headstone and footstone. One knows immediately that he has been left alone to care for their small child.
It marks the resting place of Clarissa Wells Collins in Austin’s historic Oakwood Cemetery.
Clarissa, a native New Yorker, married Travis County constable and farmer Thomas C. Collins in January 1856, when she was 30 years old.
They were blessed with a daughter, who they named Clarissa Ann (“Annie”), in July 1860 but just four months later Clarissa passed away.
On Halloween 1864 Adelaide “Addie” Swisher, Clarissa’s sister who had married James Monroe Swisher at her sister’s home in 1857, died as well presumably from postpartum complications. Her name is listed on Tom’s gravestone, along with the name “Little Lillie,” their three year old daughter who died the same year.
The following year Tom enlisted in the military and was stationed in Austin.
He joined his wife in death in April 1871.
Their young child, who is referred to in documentation alternately as Annie or Clara, ended up being raised by her aunt Ann Marie Wells in Brooklyn far from where her parents were laid to rest. She lived the rest of her life on the east coast, and I wonder if she ever came to visit their graves and stood before this stone. It’s doubtful.
So much sadness in such a short time.
But Tom’s love, and grief, is immortalized here in marble and encourages those who pass by to learn their story.
I came to Oakwood specifically to look for this marker, and made an additional discovery that made my day.
As I was photographing it, I looked at the bottom right corner and found the signature of the carver… Allen & Company Marbleworks of Galveston. Especially thrilling, since Allen owned the state’s first marbleworks, founded in Galveston in 1852 on Center Street between Strand and Mechanic. His business has now been owned by the Ott family for five generations.
The gravestone had traveled a long way to come here.
I love a good connection to Galveston history, and somehow seem to find them wherever I go.
I’ve been getting quite a few requests to do more cemetery history tours in Galveston in the past couple of months. So…..
I’ve scheduled a tour through Eventbrite to make it easier for individuals to sign up!
This is the cemetery tour that has been featured on “Texas Country Reporter,” “Texas Chronicles,” the local news, magazines and newspapers. I’m ready to show you that the true stories from the past really can be stranger than fiction!
We’ll meet in the Historic Broadway Cemetery District, where I’ll introduce you to some of Galveston’s past citizens, from heroes to villains, notorious to noteworthy. We’ll focus on Trinity Cemetery, where’s something here for everyone: stunning artwork, hidden symbolism, Civil War history, surprising trivia and even one resident ghost.
Follow this link to purchase your tickets, or to find out more details about the tour:
See you at the cemetery!
I almost passed this adorable home by since I was on my way to an appointment earlier this week, but had to turn around to take its photo to share with you!
John Jacob and Wilhelmina “Mina” (Miller) Theobald built this Galveston cottage at 1605 Winnie in 1892, after they had been married 14 years. It’s a bit mind-boggling that something that seems so small and quaint in comparis
on to surrounding homes actually survived the 1900 Storm.
It must have been a lively household, with four bedrooms and eight children!
Daughter Mary Elizabeth married Otto F. Lossow in the home in Oct. 1910.
Daughter Susie married Oscar Milton Scales there in 1913. For the next few years, she ran her cut flower business out of her parents home (probably because they had the luxury of a home phone). She took orders for a wide variety of cuttings for the grand homes and special occasions of her customers, including Easter lilies, hydrangeas, callas, geraniums, larkspur. coleus, roses and more.
Her two other sisters Julie and Alice never seemed to have married, but Julia became one of the first female attorneys employed by Galveston County. There were four sons as well: George, Louis, August and Charles (who was also an attorney for the county).
John owned a large carriage and blacksmith shop on Mechanic, and built many types of specialty conveyances for locals and customers in other cities. He also had a staff of ferries (trained in the horseshoeing trade) and blacksmiths.
Mina hosted meetings of Galveston’s Young Women’s Embroidery Club at her home.
It sounds like their home was filled with beauty and joy. What a wonderful legacy.
Would you attempt to raise such a large family in this relatively small home?
When I give cemetery tours or workshops I get a lot of questions about the symbolism of different hand portrayals on gravestones.
An index finger pointing up symbolizes the hope of heaven. Knowing this causes some raised eyebrows when visitors spot any markers with a downward pointing finger.
Not to worry…it doesn’t mean the person is going ‘in the other direction!’ It just represents God reaching down for the soul (or an unexpected death).
I wanted to write a post for Memorial Day that tells the story of someone with Galveston ties who gave their life in battle. The challenge was that there are so very many stories to tell. In the Broadway Cemetery complex alone there are veterans from every war from 1812 forward. Of course, not all of them lost their life in the service, and many of those who did have stories that are well-known.
So I decided to go with a little more obscure story with Galveston ties that many locals may not have heard.
When people visit the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, they usually visit the impressive star-topped monument and possibly the USS Battleship Texas. But are you aware there are actually TWO cemeteries on the grounds?
The most visible of the two is close to the battleship, and known as San Jacinto Battlefield Cemetery. It is where the handful of Texans killed in the battle were buried near the Texan Army camp. Buried there are Dr. William Junius Motley, Sgt. Thomas Patton Fowle, Lt. George A. Lamb, Lt. John C. Hale and privates Lemuel Stockton Blakey, Mathias Cooper, Ashley R. Stevens, Benjamin Rice Brigham and Olwyn Trask.
Taking the time to read the lengthy inscriptions, the word “Galveston” (of course) caught my eye.
“Olwyn J. Trask…died on Galveston Island… of wounds …received at the San Jacinto Battlefield…”
This is how it begins, folks. I see something like this and I’m off, down the rabbit hole of research. Olwyn’s story took me on a complicated journey that involved his family, his unlikely demise, and even the beginnings of Baylor University. But here, I’ll just concentrate on his story.
Olwyn Trask’s sister Frances was a brilliant educator in Texas. By some accounts Olwyn, a recent college graduate, was sent to Texas during the Revolution by their family in Massachusetts to bring her home. Because he arrived in the Spring of 1835, however, it is more likely that he came to join her and their cousins (the Dix family) to seek out business prospects.
Soon after spirited 21-year-old reached Galveston though, he impulsively joined the Texas Army to fight for independence from Mexico.
He became a member of Captain William H. Smith’s Cavalry Company, after General Sam Houston himself witnessed his horsemanship skills in lassoing a young mustang.
On April 20, 1836, the day preceding the famous Battle of San Jacinto, he was one of 80 men under Colonel Sherman who skirmished against the Mexican Army. Only two men in the Texan ranks were wounded, but Olwyn’s were mortal.
Nicholas Descomps Labadie was an assistant surgeon in the Second Regiment Volunteers under Anson Jones, and treated Trask when he arrived back at camp. The conditions were primitive, and resources limited.
Olwyn was transported to Galveston on a boat with Texan President Burnet and others, where he was to receive further treatment.
The following extract of a letter from New Orleans furnishes details of Olwyn’s fate:
“I called on General Houston yesterday, to ascertain particulars relative to Olwyn J. Trask; he says that he lies dangerously wounded at the Fort at Galveston Island. His thigh was broken in a charge made by 80 of our calvary on about 250 Mexicans, on the 20thof April, in which he behaved most gallantly. He fell from his horse when the ball struck him, but was almost instantly seen again supporting himself on one leg by his horse and had the satisfaction to kill the man who shot him. This was confirmed by one of the aids of General Houston, then present, who remarked that he was in a position to see the whole of it. He said that after Olwyn had laid the man dead at his feet, he sprang on his horse again, in the midst of the enemy’s cavalry, his own corps having retired and immediately urging him to his utmost speed, cutting his way through the ranks, and brandishing his sword at everything that opposed him, when, as the Aid remarked, they seemed to open for him to pass, and he entered the camp with his leg swinging like the pendulum of a clock.”
Olwyn’s thigh bone had been shattered. It was generally believed among those present that if he had received expert medical attention from the start he might have lived. The makeshift facilities are blamed for his demise about three weeks after the battle.
Upon his death he was buried with his comrades “with all the honors that could have been paid to the Commander in Chief; all the troops were under arms, and the officers of the Navy joined in the procession and minute guns were fired during its progress to the place of burial.”
Olwyn J. Trask’s name and gallantry were so revered in his home state of Massachusetts that young men went so far as to legally change their name to his.
In the years that followed, a community cemetery grew around these graves, but now part of the 10-acre site is partially covered by a parking lot for the battleship.
The deed records of Harris County shows that on November 2, 1837, Frances J. S. Trask, Olwyn’s sister, was living at Independence, Washington County, Texas and was on that day appointed representative of Israel Trask of Massachusetts, who was heir to the property of his deceased son. She was awarded the 640 acres of land due Trask’s services at San Jacinto, and used some of it to build a school. This school was the root of what would eventually grow into Baylor University.
Memorial Day seems an appropriate time to remember this young man,
and so many others, who have given their lives fighting for their beliefs and country.
Happy Royal Wedding Day!
Galveston and its port have long had a prosperous working relationship with Britain.
Arthur Thomas Lynn (1812-1888), who was described as remarkably handsome, came to Galveston from England while Texas was still a republic. He was appointed consul general for Great Britain in 1850, and was a beloved member of the community for the rest of his life.
This wonderful cabinet card photo of his grave marker was taken by local photographer Justus Zahn (1847-1918), and appears in my book “Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries.” The marker is still visible and in Galveston’s Trinity Episcopal Cemetery.
There’s nothing that’s more fun than when someone shows an interest in what you do (O.K., maybe a couple of things – but it’s right up there!)…so I was thrilled to be contacted by the television show Texas Country Reporter to talk about the historic cemeteries in Galveston.
This particular show focuses on the people of Texas more than the places, so there were more questions about me than I’m accustomed to…but you better bet that we ended up talking about Galveston history just the same!
I was originally contacted by one of the producers, and we exchanged a few rounds of information via email and by phone. Once the shooting schedule was set I was given a date that my segment would be shot.
What we see when we watch TCR episodes is a series of short interviews, but there are hours of work (and miles of travel) that go into producing each one.
When I asked Quintin, the energetic young producer in charge of my shoot, how the logistics of shooting so many stories come together, he explained that there is more than one team.
The crews group their shoots by area of the state, then line up times each subject has available.
Two sets of production teams are sent out to begin filming separate story segments for the show. After initial footage is shot, the hosts join them for their portion and then leave to join the other team.
Once the twosome in charge of producing and shooting the Galveston segment had time to get the bulk of footage with me in the cemeteries, the show hosts arrived to film their part – which took about an hour.
After the hosts finish, they left to meet up with the other producer/camera team to film their part of another story.
These two teams kind of “tag team” doing stories for a week, and then return to the office to edit the following week while another set of teams goes out. The process is obviously a well-oiled machine.
Quintin and Dan met me at the Broadway Cemetery District to go over ideas for information to include and begin shooting some “B roll” footage. “B-rolls” consist of footage edited in around the main portion of the segment to complement and fill it out.
I had sent out a note to some friends a few days prior that we would need some “faux tour-takers” when the crew needed shots representing the tours that I give at the cemetery, just before noon, and luckily I have great friends and a super sister who braved the heat to join us for a little over an hour. A HUGE thank you to all of them!!
After that, the show hosts Bob and Kelli Phillips arrived. If you watch the show, you will be happy to know that they are just as sweet and thoughtful as they appear on TV.
The producer and I had figured out ahead of time some of the information to include, but the couple had many of their own questions as well. Sitting on the wall of Trinity Episcopal Cemetery, Kelli and I got to chatting right away. Though Bob was standing behind the producer and Dan the camera operator, he asked questions as well, but it soon became apparent that the segment would just include Kelli and I on camera.
The producer at one point laughingly asked Bob, “Are you just going to give Kelli the entire segment?”, to which he replied, “I guess I am.”
They also invited me (as they do all their on-air guests) to take part in the Texas Country Reporter Festival in Waxahachie on October 28. I’m trying to decide if I really want to have a book booth…or just wander around and have fun talking to people! You can find out more about the festival here: http://texascountryreporter.com/festival
After the Phillips left to go on to the next assignment, we took a lunch break with the plan to meet afterward at the Galveston Texas History Center of the Rosenberg Library. It’s one of the locations that I told the crew from our first conversations was important to include. Their resources are invaluable to any researcher interested in local history.
The Head of Special Collections Lauren Martino and Senior Archivist Sean McConnell were wonderful enough to have pulled a wide variety of maps, documents and photos to represent the types of materials that might be used in my type of research.
Once we finished at the library, Quintin and Dan were heading back to the cemeteries to look for particular types of gravestones to shoot, so I went with them to save them from wasting “searching around” time.
It also gave me a chance to talk to them a bit about how they got started, what the favorite stories they worked on were and why. They get the chance to capture stories of all sorts of people: artists, veterans, craftsmen, storytellers and local characters.
The day before they filmed the Galveston segment, they shot a beekeeper in Houston removing a hive from the wall of a home. They all had to wear the protective gear, but said it was still pretty unnerving.
One laughed an said it was obvious that I was usually on the “other side” of interviews. Well…yeah.
I was also very happy that they filmed its story in late April to catch some of the amazing coreopsis that covers the cemetery complex in May. They may not have been at the height of bloom, but they looked beautiful. And hopefully this adorable little girl will be making a cameo appearance!
And just a note…we met at the cemeteries at 7:40 a.m. and left that day at 4:15 p.m. So I probably s-h-o-u-l-d have remembered sunscreen, ha ha!
When Quintin and Dan left they were heading for Beaumont to film the next day. Quintin is single and Dan has arranged to bring his wife along whenever she wants, so they are both at perfect times in their lives for this kind of work. What a great way to see our state.
So when will the segment about Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries air? We’ll have to be patient. It will be part of the new season in the fall, so I should have an airdate by September. I’ll keep you posted!
When you’re a history buff, visiting historical sites is just part of any well-rounded getaway!
My sister and I just got back from a trip to Oklahoma, where we spent part of every one of our childhood summers. My grandparents’ farm was built on my grandfather’s Indian land grant (he was a Cherokee, born in 1899…but I’ll share more about him later).
In addition to that, I had heard of an amazing Catholic church in town built by the Osage Indians. The stunning stained glass windows are the feature that draws most visitors to this historic church.
Before we left on our trip, I called the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and confirmed that we would be able to take a tour on the day we planned to be in town. The lovely lady who answered the phone assured me that she would be there. If you plan to go, you can also check their Facebook page for details.
Pulling into the parking lot, there is nothing particularly grand about the exterior appearance of the structure, but the moment we stepped inside it took our breath away.
The 22 windows in the sanctuary are considered to be among the most unusual stained glass of any church in the United States. Traditional Catholic windows feature biblical scenes, and twenty of those found in this church do as well.
The other two, however, depict images of people who were alive at the time the church was erected – which is strictly against Catholic guidelines. The Pope gave special dispensation for these to be created as an acknowledgement of the special relationship between the Osage and the Catholic missionaries.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I’d like to share just a bit about the history of the church itself, which is as interesting as its details.
Knowing that the Osage in the area may have been the richest people per capita in the world at the time may come as a surprise to many, but definitely explains the exquisite cathedral and its rich details.
In the beginning of the 20th century when oil was struck on Osage land, the tribe suddenly went from one of the poorest tribes to the richest.
The men are said to have driven the finest cars and simply replaced them if they broke down or got a flat tire. The women of the tribe walked the streets of town with diamonds on their shoes.
Their parish priest at the time was Father Edward Van Waesberghe, who laid out plans and designs for the church around 1910. The priest even did much of the brickwork himself, aided by Osage members.
Inside the church, the ceiling is a series of cross-ribbed arches, painted with a pattern that mimics traditional Osage ribbon work.
Ribbon work patterns also appear as details in many of the stained glass windows.
Being created in a country in the midst of World War I held dangers for such fragile masterpieces however, and for a while the German artisans buried the almost completed windows in a local sandy river bank in Munich to protect them from possible shelling.
The artisans themselves traveled to Oklahoma with the 36 foot tall windows, which were shipped in sections to Pawhuska and placed in the church prior to its completion in 1916.
Each of the windows is a stunning masterpiece, with the brilliant red panes achieved through the addition of gold dust.
The ‘Columbus Window’ in the south transept depicts the Pentecost scene on the upper panels, and Christopher Columbus’ first encounter with Native Americans in the New World on the lower panels. It was donated by the William S. Mathews family.
Opposite this window, on the north side of the building though, is the exceptional work of art that many travel from around the country (and world) to see in person.
The ‘Osage Window’ portrays the scene of Jsesuit missionary Father John Shoenmakers, known as ‘Black Robe,’ bringing Catholicism to the Osage Nation, at a time when the tribe lived in Kansas before they were moved to Indian Territory. Shoenmakers was held in such high regard by members of the tribe that his name, as Sho-Mink-Ah, is now used as the Osage word for priest.
In addition to the clergyman, the window depicts the images of actual people in traditional Osage dress surrounding the priest, intently listening to the word of God. Many of the tribal members were still alive at the time it was created. They include Osage Chief Bacon Rind, his wife Julia, Chief Saucy Calf, and interpreter Arthur Bonnecastle and his wife. Photographs of those included were sent to Germany along with the order for the windows. This window was donated by Rose Hill, Angie Bonniecastle and T. J. Leahy.
Two adorable little girls stand out from the rest of those pictured, partly due to their stance of staring directly out from the window. They are actual portraits of two young girls who died tragically young from the devastating smallpox disease. They represent the eternal saving power of God’s words to their souls.
Father Shoenmakers worked for 36 years among the Osage until his death in 1883.
A very small room off the vestibule holds the original baptismal font, as well as a partial view of the ‘Expulsion’ window depicting the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and the ‘Revelation of St. John.’
Only the lower half of the Eden window is visible however, until one climbs to the organ loft to view the upper half, where musical instruments appear in the design.
The same can be said of the ‘Annunciation’ window in the vestibule on the opposite side, which is partially obscured by the tightly winding steps to the loft. The roses at the feet of Mary glow impressively in the late afternoon sun.
My sister spotted the name ‘Juanita Scott’ on the donor section of one of the window, which made us smile because…although we knew it wasn’t the same person…it was our grandmother’s name.
The remaining windows at Immaculate Conception depict traditional Biblical scenes in a highly detailed and theologically symbolic manner, including ‘The Child Jesus Teaching in the Temple,’ ‘Wisdom, Age and Grace,’ ‘The Wedding Feast,’ and other classic biblical portrayals. Each one is beautifully detailed and worthy of study.
When we asked how many people attended mass there now, the guide responded about 80 to 100 people. For a cathedral of this size, that took us aback. But generations of families have been attending since the church was built, and about 80-90 percent of the parish remains a part of the Osage.
This treasure trove of glass masterworks is definitely worth a detour from any nearby trip route.