Our Nation's Capital's Historic German-American Cemetery
In 19th century Washington, DC, few German immigrants became rich and famous. Those who did usually chose to be buried in a more upscale cemetery. Yet Prospect Hill did become the final resting place for many who contributed significantly to the growth of the city and the German community. These persons include:
In 1849 Schoenborn immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York in November of that year. From there he traveled by canal to Wisconsin, but found it afforded no employment for me except as a mason, plasterer, painter and farmer.
Two years later he left for Washington, DC, traveling by canal and stage as far as Cumberland, Maryland, and from there to Washington by rail. He arrived here in May 1851.
By the following month he had found employment in the Office of the Architect of the Capitol under Thomas A. Walter, and was soon making all the original drawings for this office. He had the highest regard for Walter s skills, and noted that Walter treated me as his son.
On December 24, 1851, the old wooden Library of Congress became engulfed in flames. It was early in the day, and as I was boarding nearby, I hurried to the fire and helped to save as many books as possible. In April 1852 we commenced the rebuilding of the present iron Library.
In the following years Schoenborn made architectural drawings for Montgomery Meigs, including ones for the Washington aqueduct, which would provide parts of the city with safe water.
In March 1855, the old wooden dome of the Capitol was taken down. Schoenborn made the original drawings for the new iron structure. He noted that although Mr. Walter was a first-rate architect and a good draughtsman, he had little experience in iron construction. Thus it was that Schoenborn's design for the dome s skeleton was chosen and subsequently adopted as the only feasible one...by which the interior architecture could be properly developed.
In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, the Office of the Architect of the Capitol was closed for nine months. During that time Schoenborn spent time drawing maps for General McDowell, and then drawing plans for forts, barracks, hospitals and other temporary buildings for the Quartermaster General s Office. In May 1862, Walter notified Schoenborn to return to the Capitol.
It was in November 1864 that the new dome was finished and the headpiece of the bronze Statue of Freedom was lifted in place. Mr. Walter requested me to go and represent him, and so I and my brother William were the only ones who stood up there some distance above the [statue s] head to witness the crowning ceremony amidst the firing for 35 guns from the surrounding forts. It was Schoenborn who placed a dedicatory wreath at the foot of Freedom.
Walter resigned in fall 1864. Schoenborn noted that during the 13 years I spent with Mr. Walter I have learned a great deal from him, as he was not only an architect, but also an excellent draughtsman and a good watercolorist. His father was a bricklayer and of German descent.
Walter's replacement was Edward Clark, whose abilities Schoenborn felt were far below those of Walter. Unlike Walter, Clark's love was politics. ...He is a smart lobbyist before Congress, always spending most of his time in this capacity, and this is all.
Some of the works Schoenborn planned, drew and executed include the Monument of the Un known Soldier and main gates at Arlington National Cemetery; E Street Baptist Church; Corcoran's Mausoleum at Oak Hill Cemetery; wings of the Patent Office Building; portions of Congressional Library; extensions of the Treasury, Post Office Department and DC Reform School buildings; repairs and alterations to the Smithsonian Institution; many buildings at the National Soldiers Home; engine house and Senate stables; two complete plans for the new Government Printing Office; the Medical Museum; two wings of Providence Hospital; additions for Columbia Hospital; and quite a number of private houses, including those for Senators Morrill, Edmunds and Sherman. He designed the original gatehouse at Prospect Hill Cemetery, as well as his own gravestone. In addition to his home at D Street, he designed and had built two town houses on East Capitol Street which still stand and are inhabited today.
Schoenborn married Helen Klee on December 10, 1851. She was a native of Heubach, Hesse, born there on March 9, 1828. Together they had 9 children.
Schoenborn remained with the Office of the Architect of the Capitol until the time of his death on January 24, 1902. His wife died two years later, on January 30, 1904.
[The quoted material in this article come from one of Schoenborn's journals, dated August 21, 1895, recently donated to the Office of the Architect of the Capitol by his descendants.]
At age 26 Julius sailed from Hamburg, entering the United States at New York City on October 8, 1848. Six months later, on April 13, 1849, in New York City, he married Fredericke Duhring, a native of Hamburg
Shortly after their marriage the couple moved to Washington, DC. Establishing their home at 121 D Street north (the before-1870 Washington numbering system), they both worked diligently to sustain themselves, Viedt as a cabinetmaker and his wife as a dressmaker. Throughout his life, Viedt remained a skilled cabinetmaker.
The couple had four children Henrietta Hermina; Julius, Jr.; Flora; and Amelia who survived childhood. (At the time of the 1900 census, Fredericke Viedt indicated she had given birth to 13 children.)
Viedt applied for naturalization on July 6, 1854, and became a citizen of the United States on December 31, 1856. During the Civil War he joined the Union Army, serving in Company K, 1st Infantry, Maryland Regiment, where he attained the rank of second lieutenant.
Viedt, who enjoyed singing, joined with other Germanic immigrants in forming the Washington Sängerbund, serving as the group's first president. He played a very important part in its establishment as an organization known for the excellence of its repertoire. The Sängerbund is still in existence today.
At age 73, on January 8, 1893, Viedt died at home of tuberculosis. His Washington Journal obituary, printed on January 17, 1893, stated: 'On Tuesday, the coldest day that we had here in Washington since 1881, the Sängerbund members sang a funeral dirge in front of the tomb in Prospect Hill Cemetery for the oldest active member, Julius Viedt, 72. Another funeral hymn they had sung before in the house where he died, 121 D Street, NW. Pastor Drewitz preached a funeral sermon in the home and read the interment service at the grave...'.
Fredericke Viedt died on March 31, 1906, at age 77.
One of the first things he did upon coming to Washington was to join Concordia Church. He had been a member there for only one year when he founded the church's Sunday School, serving as its superintendent for 30 years during the ministries of Pastors Finkel, Rietz, Kratt, Schneider, Miller, Drewitz and Menzel. He also served as president of the church council for 20 years.
It was the dream of Pastor Kratt that our city should have a German orphanage. It was Imhof whose warm German heart drove him to energetically engage in this project and serve as Pastor Kratt's right hand in acquiring property for the orphanage. Once it was built, Imhof continued to work for its welfare, serving many years on its Board of Trustees, including four years as vice president and ten years as president of the Board.
Imhof married three times. His first wife, the former Carolina Schneider, apparently died in child birth and was buried with her child on February 15, 1870. His second wife, died ten years later. His third wife, Pauline, was buried in April 1898. He had six daughters who reached adult hood, and one son, rederick W. He also had three children who died young. However, it was the sudden death of his son Frederick who died in November 1904, when the youth came in contact with an electric wire and was instantly killed, [that] was definitely the heaviest blow...that he, in his long life, suffered. Son Frederick, age 16, was trying to help a horse who had become entangled in live electric wires that fell during a storm.
For 25 years Imhof served on Prospect Hill's Board of Trustees.
At age 87, Imhof died in the home of one of his daughters on April 26, 1916. On the anniversary of his birth, April 29, after his funeral service at Concordia, the mourners processed from the church to Prospect Hill. Speaking for the Board of Directors of the orphanage, president Martin Wiegand read a proclamation, which concluded 'Furthermore it is concluded that Mr. Friedrich Imhof was in every relationship a model citizen and worked throughout his life for the welfare of the orphans; that the Board of Directors of the German Orphanage bring our condolences to the family of our late friend along with a copy of these resolutions; and that these resolutions be incorporated in our record and become in the Washington Journal a testimony of the regard with which we honor our friend and colleague.' Other participants in his burial ceremony included representatives from the trustees of Prospect Hill, members of the Concordia church council, and members of the Knights of Pythias.
The children of the German Orphanage adorned the grave of Papa Imhof with flowers. Washington's German-American community had lost a great man.
On September 13, 1852, at Concordia Church, Friedrich married Caroline Maria A. Gebhardt. Caroline was born in Germany November 10, 1825. During the first years of their marriage the couple buried three children in the Old H Street Cemetery, whose remains were transferred to Prospect Hill on December 2, 1859.
During the 1850s, Friedrich was employed as an architectural draftsman by Robert Mills. By the time of the 1860 census, he and Caroline had two sons, Leon, 3, and Albert, 1.
In 1862 Friedrich designed a major addition to Gallaudet University's first building. It was in this building that Abraham Lincoln signed legislation establishing the then-named National Deaf Mute College as the third educational institution to receive federal funding (the first two being West Point and the Naval Academy). Several years later he designed four more buildings for the college: a brick and brownstone building for older students, a carriage house, a shop, and a gasworks building, During the 1860s Friedrich worked as a draughtsman for the Navy Department. He also worked in the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, along with August Schoenborn for a short time. He lived in the shadow of the Capitol at 91 East Capitol Street.
By 1870 Friedrich had his own practice as an architect. Among his works were two neighboring row houses at 321 and 323 East Capitol Street; he made house number 323 his home for the rest of his life. Next door to these two houses are a pair of townhouses designed by August Schoenborn. All four houses still stand, in excellent condition.
On September 19, 1886, Emil Friedrich, age 58, died at home. His wife Caroline died there ten months later, on July 15, 1887.
When the 1848 revolution began, Schade was a law student at the University of Berlin. Along with other students, he became involved and was condemned to death as penalty for helping erect barriers in the streets of Berlin against government troops. He escaped and came to the US in 1851. After a few months in New Jersey, he came to Washington.
Schade could speak 4 languages and translate with ease 5 others. Initially he secured a position at the Smithsonian Institution as assistant librarian. In 1854, he transferred to the Census Bureau.
A year later Schade became a translator and statistician for the State Department. There he was noticed by Senator Stephen Douglas, who in 1856 induced Schade to go to Chicago as editor of Douglas's German-language "National Demokrat," and English "National Union." Thus Schade became involved with the Democratic Party as a supporter of Douglas, whom he helped campaign against Lincoln in 1860. When Douglas was defeated, Schade returned to Washington and opened his own law practice. At the end of the Civil War, he undertook the extremely unpopular position of becoming the defending attorney for Swiss-born doctor Capt. Henry Wirz, superintendent of the Anderson, Georgia, military prison, who had been accused of killing Northern soldiers. Believing that justice demanded that all citizens be given a fair trial, and coming to believe that Wirz was being unjustly accused in order to implicate Jefferson Davis, with his career at stake Schade represented Wirz before a military commission. Wirz was convicted and executed November 10, 1865, and was carelessly buried in the Washington prison courtyard next to Mrs. Surratt. When Schade was finally allowed to give Wirz a Christian burial, he moved the remains to Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
Schade later let it be known that Wirz had been offered a stay of execution if he would implicate Jefferson Davis as a conspirator. Wirz replied that he knew nothing about Jefferson Davis and would say nothing against him, even to save his own life. Schade spent the rest of his life trying to clear Wirz's name.
In 1867, after publishing his now-famous letter to the American public in which he told his version of the real happenings at Andersonville, Schade returned to Europe to check on the welfare of Wirz's family. While in Stettin, Prussia, on September 18, he married Anna Krieger, who returned with him to the United States. Together they had 6 children. The family were members of Concordia Church.
In 1870, with the help of prominent Washington citizen W. W. Corcoran, Schade established The Washington Sentinel, which he published for 30 years.
When Schade learned, in 1879, that speculators wanted to buy the house in which Lincoln died, Schade purchased it himself, living there and publishing his newspaper until 1896, when he sold his home to the DC Memorial Association to be used as a memorial to the assassinated Lincoln.
Schade died February 27,1903, at age 73. His wife, 69, died on April 22,1912.
In 1849, Petersen constructed a red brick three-story-with-basement townhouse on 10th Street, opposite Ford Theater. A merchant tailor, he had his shop around the corner at 11th and Pennsylvania Avenue and, as did many 19th-century Washingtonians, he also rented out rooms in his home to transients and new immigrants. It was to Petersen's home that Abraham Lincoln was taken after being shot on April 14, 1865, and where he died early the next morning. Julius Ulke, a German-American photographer who was boarding with Petersen at the time, took the historic photograph showing the room a few minutes after President Lincoln's body was removed from the bedroom.
Petersen died on June 18,1871, at age 58 years. His wife died exactiy 4 months later.
On June 10, 1861, he enlisted in the Pennsylvania Reserves, where he served as a corporal in the infantry. On August 30, 1862, he was wounded; six weeks later, on October 13, 1862, he left the service on a disability discharge.
Four years later, on July 17,1866, he was awarded a Medal of Honor for his meritorious actions at Charles City Crossroads, Virginia, June 30, 1862. The citation was "capture of flag."
It appears that Shambaugh returned to Pennsylvania after his discharge, for it is known that a daughter, Jennie, was born to him there in 1873. Another daughter, Lizzie, was born in Kansas in 1877. (We know nothing about his wife, who apparently was deceased by the time the 1900 census was taken.)
By 1890 he had come to the District of Columbia and was living at 6121 Street, NE. According to the City Directories for 1890 and 1891, in 1890 he was employed as a watchman; in 1891 he worked as an elevator operator. By 1900 he had moved to 1108 K Street, NE.
He died October 12, 1913, in Hyattsville, Maryland, at age 73.
Employed as a merchant and innkeeper in Bonn, on October 15, 1842, Gerhardt married 19-year-old Ernestine Leonard. Together they had 4 children.
During the 1848 revolution in Baden, Gerhardt took a prominent part with Carl Schurz, G. Kenkel and H. Rasler, commanding a battalion of volunteers in the Bodisk insurrection. Imprisoned in the Rastatt fortress, he managed to escape, fleeing to Switzerland. In 1850 he immigrated without his family to the United States. After a brief stay in New York City, he came to Washington, DC. In 1853, in Baltimore, Maryland, he married German immigrant Dorothea Wolff. Between 1853 and 1871, the couple had nine children.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Gerhardt organized a Turner Company, leadership of which gave him the rank of captain. Some of his descendants recall being told that early in the war, Gerhardt was in charge of protecting the old Union Station. In summer 1861, Gerhardt was asked to go to New York to lead the 46th New York Volunteers. Beginning there as a major, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in September 1861, and to full colonel in January 1863. He participated in military operations in Cincinnati, Vicksburg and Petersburg, and was wounded several times.
In Vicksburg, Gerhardt contracted malarial fever; he also had asthma and complications from his war wounds. On August 15, 1863, he resigned from the Union Army because of ill health, and returned to his hotel and restaurant business in Washington. He was breveted Brigadier General by Lincoln for gallant and meritorious service during the Civil War.
Gerhardt's descendants believe that a friendship developed between Joseph Gerhardt and President Lincoln. Oral legend indicates Gerhardt may have visited the dying President at Petersen House (quite close to the Gerhardt Hotel), although this legend has not been proven. It is known that Gerhardt named one of his sons Abraham Lincoln Gerhardt following a formal request to President Lincoln to do so, as was the custom at that time.
General "Joe" Gerhardt died at his home, 1626 14th Street, NW, on August 19, 1881. He was 66 years old.
With the help of the underground, he was able to escape, eventually coming to America and Washington, DC in 1854. Once he became settled here he quickly changed his name to Henry Walther. Taking any job he could get, he finally saved enough to build a small frame house. Wanting to become totally American, he burned his coat of arms in the yard of this house.
When the Civil War broke out, Henry joined the 8th Battalion, DC Volunteers. Eventually he fought with and helped guard General Grant. One cold, snowy morning he was guarding the General's tent when the General took a slug of whiskey to warm himself. Walther said. “I could do with a bit of that myself, General.” Grant granted his wish.
The night Lincoln was assassinated, Walther was on guard duty on the aqueduct bridge in Georgetown.
After the war Walther opened a paint store. He also did fresco art work in the Capitol with Bromedi; the flowers in the come are examples of his work.
Some touched the presidency in different ways:
Frederick Spiess was a tailor for President Lincoln.
Christian Meininger made boots and shoes for Theodore Roosevelt. A friendship developed between the two men and they were known to go bike riding together.
August J. Voehl was General Grant's bootmaker.
William ("Uncle Billy") Wagner, who owned a sporting goods store on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, near the Capitol, had Presidents Cleveland and Roosevelt as regular customers. It was said that President Cleveland would shoot nothing but shotgun shells loaded by "Uncle Billy", and on several occasions sent for him to ask his advice about guns and ammunition, as did Theodore Roosevelt.
Others were involved in the life of the city itself:
August Grass was a gifted cabinetmaker responsible for the woodworking in many fine Washington homes, including the Heurich Mansion.
John Frederick Herrmann opened Washington's first bottling company and eventually became known as Washington's "ginger ale man.".
Jeweler William Kettler was responsible for keeping the mechanical clock in the tower of the Old Post Office in good repair.
Horticulturist Herman Zoellner landscaped Dumbarton Oaks and the Naval Observatory.
Refugee August William Henry von Walt Herr was so happy to be in the United States that after "Americanizing" his name to Henry Walther, he took his coat of arms and burned it in his back yard on L Street, NW. At first accepting any job offered to him, he once worked as a bartender in Alexandria, commuting to and from this job by swimming across the Potomac. He later did fresco art work at the Heurich Mansion and with Bromedi at the Capitol.
Retired shoemaker Christian Feige took a job as a musician at the Knickerbocker Theater. He died while playing with the orchestra when the theater roof collapsed during the blizzard of 1922.
At one time a brickyard employee, John Hensel, using non-sellable rejects, built his home on the site where Union Station now stands.
Peter Wittstatt came to America to accept an invitation to play in the United States Naval Academy's band.
Dr. Amelia Erbach was the second woman admitted to the District of Columbia's medical society. She had a private practice for women and children.