Friday, April 24, 2015

Frank Anderegg Butchers a Calf, 1907

Although this is only an educated guess, I would say that 40% of the old letters I read are strictly business-related, 40% are family correspondence, and the rest are love letters.  Few reach the poetic level of Robert Browning; more are shy queries, gentle pleadings, and separated couples.  And speaking of percentages, 90% of the love letters seem to be from men to women.  It goes on even today, as so many courtships take place by email.  It is a shame for the historian that much of this wooing-by-correspondence will be lost, or buried in unreachable data files.   The jilted or rejected may be just as glad.

            It is hard to track down broken romances after a century.  Take the example of Frank J. Anderegg.  Anderegg  (1882-1957) was born in the Wood County hamlet of Dowling.  Son of Jacob and Anna Maria, he was of German-Swiss extraction.  He was born in Perrysburg township, married Eliza Voland, a German-speaking girl, and raised two daughters.  Anderegg was a farmer in later years.  Frank and his wife are buried in the New Bellville Ridge cemetery in Dowling, which may have been her hometown.

            In a letter dated March 16, 1907, he wrote to a (potential?) girlfriend who also lived in Dowling.  The letter was sent from Lime City, another northern Wood County hamlet.  After some not-very-aggressive lines proclaiming his devotion to the lady, Frank wrote some unsentimental words about his work:
I would have had a fine time coming home in the mud and dark.  Well I hope that I will not be disturbed any more writing this letter, for Butcher Reitzle came and I had to help him kill the calf.  But on account of that, [I] hope it will not clear the love in this letter….
Even a century later, I’m tempted to shout: “Don’t do it, Frank.  Don’t mix butchering and pitching woo in the same letter.”  But I’m way too late.  The only Reitzel identified specifically as a butcher in Perrysburg Township is Chester Reitzel (1895-1974), listed in a 1916 Farm Journal Directory of Wood County, Ohio.  Chester was only 11 or 12 in 1907; perhaps his father Lewis Reitzel  (1855-1938) was the butcher.  Almost every farmer in those days could butcher, so the identification is by no means certain.

Frank’s 1907 love letter was decorated with “copperplate” calligraphy.  Copperplate was a style of handwriting popular in the late nineteenth century and know for its odd slant, frills, curlicues, and use of animals and birds as decorations.  Use of copperplate was considered the sign of a well educated person.  An contemporary accounting book called The Farmers’ Manual and Complete Accountant, distributed by The American Stock Food Co. in nearby Fremont, gave as its very first lesson to its rural readership instructions on copperplate.   Frank Anderegg may or may not have seen this book, but whatever the source, Frank knew about copperplate – or at least knew that it was the sign of a cultured man.

There are few clues to identify Frank Anderegg’s sweetheart beyond her name on the envelope.  Heidtman is a name still found in the Perrysburg area.  But time heals all wounds, and I hope that, as fervent as Frank Anderegg’s love was in 1907, he found happiness with Eliza, and that Francis was happy too.