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A night in the Sophienburg Museum

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

You know that new movie about spending the night in a museum and the characters come alive? That would never happen in our Sophienburg Museum. Or would it?

What if I was accidentally locked in our museum at closing time? Everyone leaves and the lights go off, leaving only the faint hum of the dehumidifier. Luckily, inside my purse I have a tiny but strong flashlight. (Just in case I’m locked in a museum)

As my eyes become accustomed to the eerie dark inside, I’m suddenly aware that I’m not alone. I see shadows of ghostly apparitions wearing clothing from the past. Some of these figures I recognize because I’ve hung around the archives long enough to know who they are. I see them but they don’t see me.

Almost stumbling into the bow of a ship, I see emigrants suffering from seasickness. They try to hold on to their belongings while the ship rocks dramatically. The optimism experienced at the beginning of the trip has changed to despair. The food is bad and they are suffering from three months of close confinement. There’s the Reinarz family. Did they bring along an ax and hammer as Prince Carl suggested? Did they bring an iron pot for cornbread even if they don’t know what cornbread is? There’s the Bremer family huddled together. The mother is nine months pregnant and will soon give birth to a baby girl as Cuba can be seen in the distance.

I almost bump into Hermann Seele with a briefcase under his arm moving to the foot of Sophienburg Hill where he will teach his young students in the shade of the elm trees. Next to him is Ferdinand Lindheimer, working on his collection of plants. He walks over to check his copy of the “Neu Braunfelser Zeitung”. He seems to be pleased with it and disappears into his small cabin on the Comal River.

Close by, I recognize Dr.Theodore Koester. Oh no, he is removing someone’s tonsils with a wicked looking instrument. Hanging on the wall are other instruments of torture – a tooth extractor and a bullet probe. Next door, the barber is “letting blood” to get rid of disease. He cuts hair too.

Around the corner, Harry Landa is helping Mrs. Landa into their very fancy carriage. She’s probably on her way to shop in San Antonio.

Check out all those guns on the wall. The immigrants were told to bring along their rifles from Germany that fired lead projectiles with black powder. Pistols were acquired in Texas. Oh look, there’s Betsy von Coll riding sidesaddle on her horse. The saddle was especially made for her.

Johann Jahn is busily working on his furniture orders. He’s holding a piece of black walnut that he gathered along the Guadalupe River. Right next to Jahn is Mrs. Benner behind the post office counter. What’s she doing there? Oh, that’s right; she took over the postman’s job when her husband died.

A bunch of ladies are gathered in the millinery shop discussing the latest hat styles while next door in the saloon, some men are playing Skat (the card game that they brought from Germany).

What’s all the commotion around the corner? Children in costume are happily parading the streets of New Braunfels in the Kindermaskenball. Ed Gruene’s Military band steps out of a picture and marches down the street

More commotion comes from the bowling alley. Nine pin bowling was another favorite pastime. People are singing, shooting guns, and performing gymnastics. What noise, and they are having such fun. On the wall, a sign reads “Spass Muss Sein” or “fun must be”. You bet!

Oops. The lights went on and I’m by myself again. Could it happen? Only in your mind. Summertime is a good time to bring the kids to the Sophienburg. It’s no telling what or who you’ll see.

“A bunch of ladies are gathered in the millinery shop”. Patricia Arnold, artist.