By Myra Lee Adams Goff —
It’s the same business, in the same place, run by the same family for 100 years. That’s Doeppenschmidt Funeral Home, now involving the fourth generation. And it doesn’t look like they are going to run out of clients any time soon.
In the early 1900s, on the corner of Seguin Ave. and Mill St. where Doeppenschmidt’s is located, Balthesar Preiss operated a livery stable, feed store and transfer service. They met trains and rented carriages for shopping, balls, and weddings. By 1912, a new building housed Baetge & Stratemann livery, transfer, feed and stable. Also in the same building on the left-hand side was Ed. Baetge and Gus Stollewerk working for Balthesar Preiss & Co., undertakers. By 1916 the double business advertised Ed. Baetge and Mrs. Otto Stratemann running the B. Preiss & Co. livery and feed stable and Baetge and Curt Ruedrich as undertakers for B. Preiss & Co.
Oscar Doeppenschmidt bought out Baetge and bought the building from Otto Stratemann in 1923. Up until that time Doeppenschmidt had a “pressing parlor” (cleaning and pressing) on W. Castell St. located in a building in the parking lot across from the Convention Center. He also operated an auto service station at 400 W. Seguin Ave. which was the vicinity of the former Hollmig’s Drive Inn. There he advertised as an agent for Chandler and Hupmobile cars, oil and gas.
After Doeppenschmidt took over the business where it is now located, he hired A.C. Moeller in 1928 for the first remodeling of the building for $10,000, no small amount at that time. Now look at the photograph dated 1927 and you can see what Doeppeschmidt’s business included. The man on the far right is Oscar Doeppenschmidt in front of a hearse. Notice the curtains and urn in the window. Next to that is an ambulance. It looks like the hearse, but has a red cross on the window. Originally these vehicles could be changed from hearse to ambulance and vice-versa. The other vehicles in the lineup were used as taxis and buses. Bus service was provided daily between San Antonio and Austin. In the center of the building are two archways and inside is a waiting room. Drivers of the vehicles were Richard Moeller, Marvin Rheinlaender, and Alvin Winkler.
Notice also the two gas tanks with the Magnolia Oil Company display. The two story building was constructed with apartments upstairs. Possibly there was also a saloon, not at all unusual in New Braunfels.
Another remodeling took place in 1972. The business by this time was solely Doeppenschmidt Funeral Home. Doeppenschmidt’s advertisement in the Herald was “Everybody wants a neat funeral for a small fee, a blessing to the poor and a help to the rich.” The advertisement claimed, “No commercialism, a chapel for 200 people and has the appearance of a quiet corner of a cathedral.” And it claims that the embalming room is not the gloomy den Dickens pictured in one of his novels, but has white tiling and bears the resemblance of the operating room of a modern hospital.
Why is the building called a home? An advertisement in the newspaper shows that “home is a real concern to their patrons.” You enter the parlor, like in a house for an atmosphere of homelike comfort. Services held as if they were held in one’s own “home”. Wonderful floor covering was laid out by Johann Jahn. Otto Rabenaldt was the licensed embalmer, assisted by Alice Dickerhoff.
Some old-timers and some not so old remember some of the funeral practices here in New Braunfels. Before television and radio, a rather ominous looking notice was printed on a small 4×7 inch white card with black borders. These cards with the deceased name were distributed around town. The early, early ones were in German script. Homes were draped with the colors of mourning – black or shades of dark grey. Funeral wreaths were hung on the outside door and inside the house over pictures, doors and windows. Sometimes mirrors and portraits of the deceased were covered with light veils.
Thousands of years ago all over the world, there is evidence that black was the color of funerals. Fear of the departed, not respect for them, was the reason. Covering oneself with black garments protected the person from spirit possession by the deceased. Widows wore a veil and black clothing for a year to hide from her husband’s spirit. These color practices have been all but forgotten by the younger generation and a majority of the older generation say “thank goodness”.
Going against these customs of wearing black brought social ostracism to the widow. Remember how Scarlett O’Hara was ostracized in “Gone with the Wind” when she abandoned the black clothes for brighter ones? Customs influence many of our actions and sometimes we don’t even know why, but I would never wear a red dress to a funeral, but not because of fear of the spirit possession.
Since the spirit domain was darkness, candles were lit to keep the dark spirits away. This practice comes from ancient people’s use of funeral torches around the body. The word funeral comes from the Latin “fumus” meaning “torch”. Doeppenschmidt used to turn on a light outside when there was a body inside.
The term “funeral home” no doubt comes from the importance of the home for funerals long before funeral homes. When a person died, the family would lay the body somewhere in the home, usually the parlor. Relatives and friends were invited to view the body. Then a casket was chosen from the undertaker’s supply or one could be ordered. The first NB undertaker, Balthesar Preiss, made his caskets. Some caskets were closed and some were open with a glass covering. By the way, the word “casket” comes from the Greek “kophinos” meaning basket. You can guess why, can’t you? The body was restrained in a basket with a rock on top to keep the spirit from escaping. While burying six feet under was thought to be a good practice, the basket, and finally the coffin was even safer. After the six feet under practice, a large stone was put on top of the coffin to keep the soul inside, hence we have the word “tombstone”.
Four generations of the Doeppenschmidts have run the business started by O.A. Doeppenschmidt in 1923. After he died, his wife, Emmie, and their son Bennie and wife Ruth, ran the business. The last two generations are Carl and his daughter, Michele.
In celebration of 100 years of business in the same place, Doeppenschmidts have again remodeled the funeral home, taking it back to the pre-1972 stately historic look.
Sources: Around the Sophienburg, by Myra Lee Adams Goff; Sophienburg Museum and Archives