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The Wiehe family: A switchman, a pampered daughter and an idyllic neighborhood

This house at 1247 Lyon Street was occupied by the Frederick Wiehe family for more than 70 years. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

PHOTO AT RIGHT: Mary Wiehe is pictured in the 1932 yearbook for Kirksville State Teacher's College. She served as president of the art club.


For the Courier-Post

Asa C. Garland, 101 Willow Street, Hannibal, donned a Santa suit on Christmas night, 1893, in order to spread holiday cheer for his children, grandchildren and extended family. The 61-year-old car inspector for the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad shops, relishing the role of Saint Nicholas, cheerfully put on a long coat which was lined with raw cotton, and a mask over his head and face made of a very light material representing long white hair.

The family gathered at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Fred (Fritz) Wiehe at 1247 Lyon Street, Mr. Garland’s son-in-law and step daughter. Also a railroader, Mr. Wiehe was employed as a switchman for the St. L.K. & N.W. at the time.

There, in Mr. Wiehe’s newly purchased, two-story house – just a couple of blocks north of the tracks that led steam locomotives into and out of Hannibal - the children and their parents gathered. The Hannibal Journal reported on the occasion, and the story was reprinted in the Quincy Daily Herald on Dec. 28, 1893: “In fact, all the children present were fully satisfied that he was the genuine old ‘Kris Kringle,’ and he was getting along nicely.”

But then, as the children watched in horror, Mr. Garland’s mask caught fire.

“Then there was great excitement and for some time utter confusion. Before the fire could be extinguished it had entirely burned all the long, flowing white whiskers off his face and his natural hair was badly singed. Asa (Garland) was terribly frightened, and well he might be, for he had a very narrow escape, indeed,” the newspapers reported.

Family home

Frederick Wiehe and his descendants would host many more family gatherings at 1247 Lyon, where his family would continue to live for the next 66+ years. At different times through the decades, the house would shelter up to three generations at a time, as adult children temporarily moved in, along with their own children.

Frederick Wiehe was born in 1860 in Milwaukee, Wis., coming to Hannibal pre-1873 with his parents, Christopher (or Christian) and Rose Wiehe. The 1873 city directory notes that Christian Wiehe was a machinist for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. Twelve years later, in 1885, a man listed as Cris Wieat is in the city directory, and believed to be Chris Wiehe. He was working as a machinist for the Hannibal & St. Joe. That same year, Frederick Wiehe was employed as a switchman for the Missouri Pacific & Wabash yards at Hannibal. Three years later, in 1888, the younger Mr. Wiehe was employed by the Burlington Route, a job he would keep until his retirement.

The Quincy Daily Whig wrote a feature story on Frederick Wiehe in February 1920, interviewing him on the occasion of a party in his honor in recognition of his 60th birthday anniversary.

“Fred Wiehe, one of the oldest switchmen in point of service in the employ of the Burlington railroad a few days ago celebrated his 60th birthday anniversary, the day being capped by a surprise party in his home, 1247 Lyon street, when a number of his relatives and immediate friends assembled to celebrate the event,” the newspaper reported in its Feb. 19, 1920 edition.

“Mr. Wiehe began his career as switchman thirty three years ago in Hannibal and has been foreman of one of the day engines for a number of years. He is one of the best known railroad men in Hannibal and seldom misses a day at work. Outdoor work has agreed with Mr. Wiehe. He is hale and hearty, weighing more than 225 pounds and has had but little sickness during his life.”

Among those who helped him celebrate his birthday were: Mr. and Mrs. Martin Dunbar, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Armstrong, Mr. and Mrs. Asa Garland Jr., and daughter, Miss Loraine; Mr. and Mrs. Paul Burch, Mrs. Huggins, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Spalding, Mrs. Annie Sultzman, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Wiehe, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Wiehe, Mr. and Mrs. Perry Smith, Mrs. Ben Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Earl Huggins, and two sons, Earl Jr. and Montell. Also, Harry LaPlant, Miss Frankie Smith, Mrs. Pearl Davis and little Mary and LaVergine Wiehe.

“Mr. Wiehe is considered one of the most careful switchmen in the employ of the company and his record has been one which he may feel justly proud,” the newspaper article concluded.

Youngest daughter

Mary Wiehe, the youngest child of Frederick and Carrie Wiehe, was born in 1909. The pampered daughter of this railroading family is likely the best remembered of all of the Wiehe family members, having taught art for 40 years with the Hannibal public schools, and starting a second career as a college instructor at Hannibal-LaGrange College, post retirement.

Her destiny could possibly have been predicted at her 11th birthday party in 1920, and its subsequent write-up in the Quincy Daily Herald on Jan. 20, 1920. During the afternoon, the newspaper reported, a dainty luncheon was served at 1247 Lyon Street, Hannibal.

“Those present were: Laverne Wiehe (niece of Mary), Catherine Brown, Helen Amon, Helen Louise Mangels, Maudie Burton, Lila Hubbard, Forrest Mangles, Francis Henson, Mary Margaret Stichman, Imogene Lane, Dora Belle Painter, Norma Henderson, Anna Martine Spalding, Virginia Leonard, Billy Bryan, Frankie Smith and Victor Spalding.”

The event was hosted by Mrs. Fred (Carrie) Wiehe, Mary’s mother, and Mary’s sisters-in-law, Mrs. Harry Wiehe and Mrs. Frank Wiehe.

Idyllic neighborhood

The 1247 Lyon Street house would serve as the extended family’s gathering site for many years to come. During Mary Wiehe’s childhood, her grandparents, Asa Garland and his wife, Mary E., lived at 1311 Lyon, less than a block from the Wiehe home. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Mangles, whose son, Henry Earl Mangels, was a standout on the Hannibal High School football team in 1918, lived at 1223 Lyon. Most families in the neighborhood were blue-collar workers, employed at the nearby shoe factories, the railroads, the foundry or the cement plant. The neighborhood was in easy walking distance of the shopping district located at the Market Street Wedge. It was also strategically located directly across the street from the Quality Dairy.

Mary Lou Montgomery interviewed Miss Mary Wiehe for a Hannibal Courier-Post feature in 1980. Click here to read the story.

Mary Wiehe's niece LaVergne Wiehe was featured in the 1931 May Fete at Eugene Field School in Hannibal. Click here to see a photo and read the story.

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