A voyage back in time
Museum open house on Sunday will feature reading from journal of Carroll girl's 1912 trip to Germany
April 25, 2013
Kuemper Catholic Schools extended learning teacher Mary Koester (left) invited Kuemper junior Sosie Gehling to perform the journal Lena Mattes wrote on her trip to Germany in 1912. The program will be part of Carroll County Historical Society’s annual open house, which will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. The reading will begin at 2:30 p.m. in the downstairs meeting room. Admission to the open house is free.
Just two months after the Titanic disaster, a 19-year-old Carroll girl and her family set sail on another cross-Atlantic voyage. And they set sail on a passenger that crossed paths in history with the Titanic.
That trip is bringing some fame to Lena Mattes, who kept a daily journal of her travel and stay with her father's family in his homeland of Germany.
A reading of selections from that journal will be featured at the Carroll County Historical Society's annual museum open house on Sunday, April 28. Open house will be from 2 to 4 p.m. at the museum, located on the northwest corner of Highway 30 and Court Street, and the reading by Kuemper Catholic High School junior Sosie Gehling will begin at 2:30 in the downstairs meeting room. Admission is free.
Mattes titled her journal "Our Trip to Europe" and it begins Tuesday, June 11, 1912: "A crowd of us went to Europe for a trip. Those that went were the following, Mr. Bachus, Donnelson, Greif, Kliengses, Papa, Mother, Lucy and myself."
Lena was the second youngest and Lucy the youngest of Jacob and Luzia (Mayer) Mattes' 10 children. Lena was born Jan. 27, 1893, in Carroll. while Lucy was 41/2 years later. The trip to Germany was her father's third return home but Lena's first and only trip to Germany.
Jacob was born in Ingendorf, Germany, in 1840 and came to the U.S. in 1871. Two years later he returned to Germany and married Luzia Mayer. They settled on a farm near Carroll in 1874, after living in Mendota, Ill., for a year.
In 1902 they retired from farming and moved to a home in Carroll at Adams and First Streets (northwest of the current Southside Park), where he cultivated roses imported from Germany. The 1912 trip to Germany was Jacob's third, following visits made in 1873 and 1891.
About 25 years ago, Ruth Lux of Lidderdale, a great-niece of Lena, received a typed copy of the journal. Lux says she doesn't know who typed the journal and the family has not found the actual journal.
Last year, which marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, Lux presented a copy of Lena's journal to the Carroll County Historical Society. Museum director Barb Hackfort says there wasn't sufficient time then to prepare a program or display of the journal, so it will be the showcase for Sunday's open house.
She commented at a recent dress rehearsal for Sunday's program, "It's 101 years later, and she (Lena) still touches our lives."
Lena, her parents, sister and family friends sailed on the SS Lapland. The Lapland was launched in 1908 and took its maiden voyage in 1909 between Antwerp, Belgium, and New York. The Lapland was nearly 607 feet long, could travel at 17 knots and had capacity for 1,500 passengers. The ship was owned and operated by the Red Star Line, and in April 1912 the White Star Line hired the Lapland to carry back surviving members of the RMS Titanic's crew to England after they had been detained in the United States for investigations. The Lapland arrived in England on April 28, 13 days after the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, killing more than 1,500 people.
Lena's writing doesn't describe a glamorous trip. It's filled with brief descriptions of what happened every day and frequently her feelings and moods, ranging from excitement to boredom to homesickness. She writes about visiting grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins; taking walks into the woods to pick berries; going to Mass regularly; attending dances; playing cards and dominoes; Germany's cold, wet weather that year; visiting nearby small towns, making many of those trips on foot; and the area's farm life.
Following are samplings:
Train trip to New York begins in Carroll
"We left Carroll, June 11, 1912, at nine fifteen p.m. for our journey. The cars were quite crowded, so we had to ride backwards till Boone. I began to get quite dizzy, but got over that well before long."
Accommodations aboard the ship
"Went to our little room. It's is only 4x8. I didn't believe it isn't any bigger. If one goes to bed the others got to say outside till one is in bed. If more than one go in at a time, you can hardly turn around."
A day aboard the ship, June 23
"Got up early, was on deck before seven o'clock this morning. Saw quite a few ships before breakfast. It was showery this morning, saw some rainbows, ate quite a bit for breakfast, saw some more ships and about 500 sea birds. Ate a big dinner, had ice cream all colors of the rainbow. Saw land after dinner. This is quite a lonesome Sunday. Today we sailed 388 miles. Had a good supper."
Arrival in Brussels on June 25 and traveling to her father's hometown
"We got to Trier at half past eight this evening. Went to a hotel right next to the depot. These trains here are beautiful. By every seat there is a door to get in and out of the car. The seats (I call them benches) are made of wood. They are elegant. The conductors they have here don't call the stations, and in Belgium, you couldn't even talks with them. Could not understand them. All they could do was shake their head."
Arrival at Kyllburg, in western Germany, June 27
"Got here at five o'clock. Are staying at Aunt Ana now. This certainly is a Dickens of a town, nothing but hills."
Attending a local celebration, June 29
"There is a dance in the hall that is the right side of the saloon. Went there about five o'clock. I danced like the Dickens. The way they dance certainly is funny. They just keep turning around as fast as they can go. That is the waltz. I got quite dizzy dancing. The music they have is no good at all. But they thought the music was swell."
Some glimpses at daily life
"The people around here are busy putting up hay. It is fun to watch them work. Had dinner. Went to the woods this afternoon. Only walked up one hill that was about a half a mile high. That is hard on a person's legs if they aren't used to it. There are lots of wild strawberries in the woods. On the way back we stopped at grandmother's awhile. We were glad when we got back as I was quite tired, and my legs hurt like the Dickens."
"We weighed ourselves this afternoon. These pounds are a lot heavier. Papa weighed 174 lbs. Mama 148, Lucy 84, and I weighed 107 lbs. We are going to weigh ourselves before we leave so we can see whether or not we lost any. We went to the woods to pick mulberries, picked quite a few. They taste something like wild grapes. We are quite tired as we aren't used to climbing those mountains."
"Everybody is busy working. They get up at half past three or four in the morning and work till eleven in the evening."
"We went to Kyllburg this afternoon (Aug. 7) and bought some woolen clothes. We are getting pretty tired of Germany and cold weather. We were to Kyllburg and bought some woolen skirts and also Mama a new coat. Gee, but she looks sporty now."
On return voyage, Sept 21
"Did not sleep very much as there was too much racket. About half past one they started to sing the 'Wacht Am Rhein,' 'Bring the News to Mother,' 'My Old Kentucky Home' and 'Home Sweet Home.' Then they went to bed."
Lena wrote that the Lapland, on its return voyage, carried 2,200 passengers: 330 in first class, about 430 in second class and 1,440 in third class. "They are as crowded as herring in a keg," she wrote.
About halfway across the ocean, she wrote, "Wish we were in New York. I tell you I will never cross the ocean again."
In her final entry, on Oct. 2, she wrote, "Well, we finally got home this morning at four o'clock. Slept most of the night. Steve and John were down to the depot to meet us. Went to Bachus for breakfast. Then we went home. Thank the Lord."
In Carroll, Lena worked throughout her career as a seamstress for the Light Department Store and Vogue Dress Shop. Meanwhile, younger sister Lucy did the housekeeping and cooking at home. Neither Lena nor Lucy married.
Family members recall Lena enjoyed playing cards, especially pinochle, and then encouraging an outing to a local restaurant.
Family members say Lena was very opinionated, or just plain blunt. "She wasn't afraid to let you know what she thought about anything," great-niece Ruth Lux recalls.
Lux also recalls that Lena "was devoted to her nieces and nephews, and they were devoted to her." She adds, "She was financially generous to them both before and after her death."
Colette Potthoff, who was Lena's niece and goddaughter, says Lena made and redid a lot of clothes for her. After graduating from St. Angela Academy, Colette stayed home to take care of siblings, since their mother had died at a young age.
Gehling, the Kuemper student who will present the journal, says she enjoyed reading Lena's writing because it reflects a woman who's independent, knew what she wanted from life and made a life for herself.
"It's easy to put myself in her shoes," says Gehling, who received 1 ratings at state speech contest and is considering pursuing a degree in teaching. "It's an indescribable feeling. It's kind of like I'm between the past and the present. Here I am reading this, and I'm dressed in this costume. I feel like I'm back in the early 1900s when she took the trip. But I'm not. I'm in 2013 when Apples rule our world."
Museum director Hackfort comments on the program, "It really helps us get in touch with the past. And there are certain things in life that are the same, no matter how much things change over the years."