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Local druggist’s bright future dimmed by alcohol addiction

Standing today at 1412 Market Street, Hannibal, Mo., is the building where Fred A. Waelder conducted a drug and toiletries business for some three decades, beginning in the late 1880s. The building was originally numbered 156 Market Street. Photo by Mary Lou Montgomery in April 2022.

Mary Lou Montgomery

Within every old building there are stories entrapped, begging for release. The laughter of children, long since gone to their graves, remains absorbed within the plastered walls. The abandoned dreams of adulthood are still encased within the rafters. The disappointment borne of regret is ultimately reflected within the wavy window panes.

Such a building is vacant, yet structurally intact, at 1412 Market St., Hannibal, Mo. Painted a rusty red and standing a generous two stories, one atop the other, this long-abandoned business house once provided a vital service to its neighborhood. It supplied medicine and toiletries to the German immigrants who lived and worked nearby. At times during the three decades when Fred A. Waelder’s drug store occupied this space, his children in succession played on the stairwells, cried within the rooms cobbled from the building’s second floor, and did their homework by light of those vast windows, south facing over the ever vital business district within Market Street’s Wedge.

River’s influence

Fred A. Waelder was born in 1863, during the most divided season of this nation’s history. At the gruesome war's end, Fred’s father and uncle, Charles and Theodore Waelder (a war veteran), left the river town of Dubuque, Iowa, where they worked as printers, and followed the Mississippi River south to Hannibal. Here, they easily found work in the printing trade, and by the early 1870s, Charles was newsroom foreman for the Hannibal Courier, operated by the Winchell, Ebert and Marsh Printing Company, 115 N. Main. (Joseph R. Winchell, Wm. C. Ebert and Fred L. Marsh.) His brother Theodore was press room foreman. They were joined in this line of work by Charles’ oldest son, C. Morton Waelder.

Young Freddie Waelder, a student of high achievement, prospered at Hannibal’s North School, under the tutelage of Prof. John A.E. Summers. Classmates in 1875 included Lulu Alkire, Carrie Roth, Frank Payne, Charley Anderson and Samuel Hatch.

Fred grew to be a man of dreams. Despite the strong family printing heritage, he chose a different life path. In 1880, at the age of 17, Fred was studying to become a druggist. In December 1885 he took for his bride Miss Mahala A. Hall. They started their family, and by 1888 Fred A. Waelder was operating a drug store in the aforementioned building on the Market Street Wedge, then numbered 156 Market St. His young family at first lived upstairs.

That’s where, at 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, 1890: “The servant girl employed by Mr. and Mrs. Waelder who occupy rooms on the second floor of his old drug store building on Market street, West Side, was awakened … by an unusual noise.”

The Quincy Daily Whig of May 2, 1890 reported: “She awoke Mrs. Waelder and sent for Mr. Waelder who was at the drug store. He hurried home and on entering the kitchen found that two sashes had been cut, the window hoisted and propped up with a stick. All the best clothing that had been sprinkled for ironing purposes and all the silverware in the dining room were found in a sack on the steps. The bread knife was found sticking in the sill of the dining room door. The scoundrel evidently placed the knife in a convenient place in order to use it in case of an emergency. When Mr. Waelder arrived they retreated and escaped before the gentleman could tell whether the intruder was white or black.”

Struggles begin

While in childhood he had been somewhat of a prodigy, in adulthood Fred A. Waelder struggled.

His business failed financially in 1896, and for the next few years, the drug store was operated under his wife’s name, with Fred serving as manager.

Back on his feet by the beginning of the new century, he had moved his family to the respectable neighborhood of 418 Chestnut, and once again he was listed as the store’s owner. During the next decade, he moved his family to 1555 Broadway.

His marriage suffered from past financial downfalls, and eventually ended in divorce.

In 1915, he married a second time, choosing Mrs. Bertha Belle Ort as his bride.

They would have two children together, and, like his first family, made their home on the second story of the drug store building.

Fred Waelder’s behavior became increasingly erratic during the course of the next few years.

Judge V.L. Drain would later describe that Waelder “allowed liquor to make a demon out of him.”

His downfall came to a head on March 31, 1920.

The Quincy Daily Whig reported the next day: “Waelder entered the Hannibal National Bank during the noon hour Wednesday and said that someone had insulted his wife. He first went to the office of Cashier (James P.) Hinton and drawing the gun from his pocket he is said to have declared to Mr. Hinton: ‘You have insulted my wife and I am going to shoot you.’”

Mr. Hinton pushed the gun aside and asked Waelder to explain his trouble. “… then Waelder … started toward the window of Mr. (J. Arthur) Ihrig with the gun in his hand. By this time Mr. Hinton and W.E. Weaver reached Waelder and disarmed him.”

The bankers held Waelder until Policeman Peter Turner arrived to take him to police headquarters.


His arraignment came the following day, April 1. Charged with carrying concealed weapons and flourishing a deadly weapon, Waelder pleaded guilty, before Justice of the Peace John H. Totsch, to both charges and was released on a bond of $600 pending the April term of court.

In June 1920, Judge V.L. Drain of Shelbyville granted Waelder parole on a felonious assault charge, with stipulation that Waelder stay away from alcohol.

In February 1921, Waelder was back before Judge Drain, for violating his parole.

The Macon Chronicle Herald reported on Feb. 9, 1921: “Judge Drain in revoking the parole stated that the evidence shows that Waelder “can’t keep away from whiskey and when he is full of whiskey he has a murderous disposition so there is just one thing to do and that is to revoke his parole.”

He was ordered to serve one year in the Marion County Jail at Palmyra.

But Waelder wouldn’t live to serve out that sentence. In June 1921, he was transferred to State Hospital No., 2, at St. Joseph, Mo., where he resided until his own death on March 22, 1926.

His family brought the body back to Hannibal, where Waelder was buried at Riverside Cemetery.

Family members

The children of Charles and Elenor Jane Richison Waelder included:

Charles Morton Waelder, 1854-1932

Lizzie C. Waelder, 1857-1892

Henry M. Waelder, 1859-1952

Fred A. Waelder, 1863-1926

Lillie Waelder (Mrs. Richard H.) Flemming, born circa 1870;

Alfred A. Waelder, 1869-1942

The children of Fred A. and Mahala Waelder:

Mattie Waelder Harley, 1887

Earl Waelder, 1888

Anna M. Waelder, 1890

Isaac E. Waelder, 1907

The children of Fred A. and Bertha Belle Ort Waelder, who were married in 1915:

Mary R. Waelder, 1916,

Elenor A. Waelder, 1919

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at



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