Lessons from the grave

Mary Lou Neubauer describes Lena Baker’s life as a socialite in the roaring ’20s. Joe Schulz photo

by Joe Schulz

On Saturday Aug. 24, I decided to watch tombstones come to life at the city of Princeton’s Guided Cemetery Walking Tour.

I’ve always been a bit of a history nerd, so when I heard about an event that would shed a bit of light on Princeton’s backstory, I jumped.

Cemetery Restoration Committee members Cheryle Nickel and Lee Williams guided participants through the cemetery, where volunteers portrayed people buried in the cemetery.

Proceeds from the event went to the Cemetery Restoration Project, which began in 2014.

The project restores gravestones, maintains the cemetery and collects information about the people buried below the tombstones.

The event provided a valuable glimpse into the area’s past.

The first volunteer on the tour was Dave Dugenske, who portrayed Carl Albert.

Carl was born in Manhattan, N.Y. in 1878 to Louis Albert and Catherine Schmitz. When Carl was 3, his family moved to Fond du Lac. Louis was a brewer and Catherine was only 18 when she gave birth to Carl.

Carl had three brothers and three sisters. One brother died during birth and the other passed away when Carl was 9.

He was employed by the Soo Line Railroad as a Boilermaker, and he fought in both World Wars. Carl moved to Princeton in the late 1800s, and saw the area transform into a tourist destination.

After learning about Carl Albert, we moved on to the next gravestone, where Mary Lou Neubauer portrayed Lena Baker.

Lena was born in 1871 in Princeton and married her first husband in Princeton. However, a year later she remarried to William Baker.

Lena and William owned property in Wisconsin, New Jersey and Florida. She lived through the roaring ’20s and the great depression.

“We were able to withstand all of that very well,” Neubauer said as Lena Baker.

Lena would often go out to clubs in a grand fur coat and witnessed the birth of Jazz music. According to folklore, the Bakers were even associated with notorious gangster Al Capone.

Lena developed a heart condition and passed away in 1955 and was buried in her hometown of Princeton.

We continued through the cemetery, stopping to listen to Alana Soweija portray Lena Siepert, who was born in 1881.

She married Fred Siepert on June 4, 1903 and had three children with Fred. He died in 1947 and 10 years later Lena passed.

We then listened to Jim Fraiser portray Martin Van Buren, not the President Martin Van Buren.

This Martin Van Buren was born on the Van Buren homestead in New York in 1805.  Martin was married to Julia Naff Van Buren, who was also born in New York in 1804. She died in 1889 at age 85.

For years he was a boatman on the Erie Canal. That was until 1850, when he moved his family to Pleasant Valley in Marquette County, which is now Princeton.

He lived in Princeton until his death in 1896.

Sue Gorr told the story of Maria Mcintrye, who followed the “call of the west” to Wisconsin.

Maria didn’t get caught up in the gold rush, deciding to settle in Princeton.

She described how disease ravaged folks before the age of modern medicine.

Carol Siddal portrayed Sarah Fowler, who was born in Massachusetts.

Fowler’s husband believed in the American Ideal and fought in the Revolutionary War. Her father took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

“Not giving up is the characteristic of the Fowler family,” Siddal said.

The Fowlers left Massachusetts for Ohio in the early 1800s and finally settled in Princeton in 1850. On Oct. 10, 1851, Sarah died.

John Stelter portrayed Gustave Teske, a Princeton shop owner.

Stelter described how retail workers had to package candies for customers because nothing was prepackaged.

He said Sundays used to be the big day for grocery shopping because farmers would be in town for church, and that after worship would be the prime time to go shopping for produce.

John Stelter portrays Gustave Teske, as he describes the changes in the retail industry over the last 100 years. Joe Schulz photo

Linda Ottmann portrayed Gena Prachel, who would’ve turned 137 this year. She explained that family was very important to Gena.

After telling Gena’s story, Ottmann handed out birthday cupcakes.

The last stop on the tour featured Ron Hatfield and Mary Fritsch, who portrayed Norbert Dahlke and his wife, Louise.

Norbert Dahlke was born in Neshkoro in 1923. Norb graduated valedictorian of his high school class and received a scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison for pre-vet training.

He received his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Iowa State University.

In 1946, after marrying his wife, Louise, the duo established a veterinary practice in Waupaca. After caring for Louise during her battle with Alzheimer’s, Norb died in 2012.

Overall, I found the tour to be both enjoyable and informative. Each volunteer gave us a unique insight into the period they portrayed.

I think it’s important to learn local history because it inspires us while giving us an insight into those who inhabited and improved the communities we know today.