The Reminiscences of All Cuffel
Written by Virginia Zuck
Al Cuffel remembers when there was a deer park at Winona. Feeding the deer was part of his job for several years. He was also responsible for the zoo where monkeys, foxes, pheasants and coons lived in cages.
One year are Winona Director, J. M. Studebaker, of automobile fame, sent 10 or 12 pairs of squirrels to the park. At first they were kept in pens, but after they became somewhat tame, Cuffel pondered a way to give them more freedom.
He designed nesting boxes which were hung high in the trees. The squirrel entered through the hole at the lower end and climbed zigzag fashion past alternating, slanting shelves that served as storage pockets for food. A cotton layer padded the top shelf where the squirrel family lived.
Happy in their new homes, the little rodents prospered mightily and even became a nuisance, some people thought. Sighting a boy with a bag of peanuts in his hand, the squirrels would follow him around, begging for a nut. They persisted until sure no more treats were forthcoming, sometimes jumping onto the boys shoulder, and scampering down his arm to investigate the paper sack themselves.
Behind the lights
Among the pictures in Al Cuffel's collection are several showing children costumed for operettas given regularly every summer at Winona. Although each production of "The Lost Princess" "The House That Jack Built" and many other favorites, had a few parts for grown-ups, most of the large casts were boys and girls of varying ages. One way to start an animated conversation in any gathering of people who grew up in this community, is to ask a question about their experiences in the operettas. A good many of them participated and had a lot of fun, it seems.
They remember that Bill Collison, Foster Jones and Mrs. Lincoln Dickey played the humorous adult roles with mirth-provoking enthusiasm and that James O. Heaton was Old King Cole many a time in "The House that Jack Built".
Heaton began his 30 years of service to Winona in 1908, greeting the multitude of visitors at the entrance gate of the park. Possessing a fine tenor voice, he was chosen by Capt. Reddick for the Gateman's quartet whose other members were Ray Upson, Lew Kemper and Fred Calvert. The popular foursome appeared often on Winona programs.
Heaton's ability as a platform speaker and program director was recognized by Lincoln Dickey, chautauqua manager for the assembly. The two worked together until 1914 when Dickey joined the Redpath organization and went on to manage several large musical and convention organizations.
From then on, full responsibility for the chautauqua features was in Heaton's capable well-trained hands. When the noted celebrities came-Sousa, Galli-Curci, and the rest-they were introduced to their audiences by Heaton. He was also in charge of a similar program series for 15 winters at Daytona Beach Fla.
From 1929 until 1938, Heaton was executive manager of love assembly, working closely with the president of the board of directors, William P. Carmichael, of St. Louis, who shared his devoted determination to bring to Winona the best artists and the most inspiring speakers to be found in the country.
Those were also the days of fine productions of Biblical plays and operas, rich in great music, beautiful costumes in dramatic effects. Heaton saying the title role in "Joseph" many times and appeared year after year in "Ahasuerus" playing the villainous Haman, enemy of the Jewish Queen Esther.
Probably the most impressive single scene ever presented at Winona, old-timers declare, had Rollin Pease as Elijah, his deeply tan body clad in animal skins, taunting the worshipers of Baal as they vainly implored their God to make his power known. When Elijah prayed to his Jehovah, bright flames were seen to rise from the sacrificial altar.
Always at Winona there have been camps for children in young people. It was the custom, at graduation services, to "walk through the Golden Gate." Cuffel remembers building a fine new gate for one of the camps. It was metal and glittered with gold paint. The old gate of wood, had gotten too rickety to represent achievement satisfactorily, in his opinion.
Before the days of buses, visitors to Winona had a motor launch taxi service from the park entrance. A prospective guest of one of the boarding houses or camps along the canal or the edge of the lake could enjoy a breezy ride directly to his destination.
Passengers getting off the train at the Winona Depot entrusted their baggage to Bill Kirschbaum, official trunk man for many years. He had a couple of wagons pulled by horses and mules.
Among the famous people who came to Winona frequently was John Wanamaker, the great New York merchant. One day he gave a quarter tip to Dennis Daley his favorite shoe shine man, who worked at the Hotel Hays. Daley framed the gift and treasured it always. The usual tip than was five cents.
William Jennings Bryan is well known as an extremely fluent speaker. Warm weather didn't faze him a whit. He just picked up a fan and wielded it while maintaining a steady flow of vigorous oratory.
Glen Curtiss, aviation pioneer, was here with a hydroplane. Because the lake was a little rough, he had to wait a few days before conditions were just right for a safe takeoff.
Next year came Lincoln Beechey, who demonstrated his prowess as a daring stunt man by doing the "Dangerous Dip", making his little plane swoop up and down as though it were on a roller coaster. His reputation was further enhanced when word came back from the West that Beechy had performed the first inside loop on record, risking the incredible danger of flying upside-down for an instant or two.
Cuffel remembers a conversation with his wife many years ago when he remarked that someday people would be flying planes every where. She thought his imagination was working overtime. It has all come true with flying farmers landing in their own backyards and helicopters using small strips on top of city buildings.
An annual thrill at Winona was the coming of a professional troop of the Indians who staged to "Hiawatha". This usually inspired all the younger fry with imitative zeal.
One picture of which Cuffel is especially fond shows a line of little Indians headed by Bill Laurien, who now lives in Colorado. Bill and a pal, Fred Nagler, used to ride to Warsaw often with Cuffel who had a pass for the street car. Once in town, it didn't take much persuasion for the youngsters to put on their own version of an Indiana war dance. The entertainers earned lots of pennies which were promptly spent for peanuts and candy.
Two of the people mentioned frequently during Cuffel's reminiscence were Mr. and Mrs. Billy Sunday whose kindness and warm friendliness he remembers well.
He Knew Him When
One day a hobo or "floater" applied for job with Cuffel's maintenance crew and was put to work raking leaves and cleaning up the grounds. He caught sight of Billy Sunday strolling through the park and inquired his name. The hobo, who said he was John Hudson, claimed he had played baseball was Sunday many years previously. He recalled various teammates both had known and made a witty appeal for some of Sunday's old clothes to replace his own tattered garments. Hudson was restless after a few rainy days and wanted to hit the road again. When Cuffel went to get his money from Sunday the latter instructed him to take Hudson to town and buy him a complete new outfit of clothes. The transient headed southward looking thoroughly respectable in a suit from Marcus Phillipson's store, new shoes and hat, and a fresh haircut.
Another special friend of Cuffel's was E. F. Yarnelle, of Fort Wayne, who built a home across the lake. For many years Cuffel was caretaker and helper around the place in his spare time. One day Yarnelle's daughter and another young woman were drowned while sailing in the deep water on that side of the lake. For long time afterwards there were no sailboats on Winona.
Warsaw Times Union July 17, 1951
The Reminiscences of Al Cuffel
Written by Virginia Zuck
As Cuffel sorted the pictures he came finally to a group far different from the rest. Dated April 18, 1914, they showed blocks of desolate ruins-with jagged chimneys rising a few feet above ugly heaps of rubble and twisted metal. They reminded one of newsreel photos of bombed villages in Europe during World War II.
The pictures are mementos of Winona's great fire. More than a score of homes were destroyed within two hours of a bright spring day 37 years ago.
Three or four workmen were raking and burning leaves in the park that Saturday morning shortly before 11 o'clock. A southwest wind had begun to blow and the men were busy watching the bonfires.
Suddenly someone noticed smoke pouring from the Chicago cottage which was up on the hill between the present Olmsted and Bowser homes. Embers, carried by the wind, had ignited leaves under the cottage which soon was enveloped in flames.
Sounding the Alarm
Bill Collison, who was in the park, ran to ring the fire bell, mounted on a platform near the grocery store. The alarm brought every volunteer available. Cuffel, caretaker of the Winona hotel, stationed himself on the roof with wet gunny sacks to beat out flying sparks. Fred King, working in the greenhouse, southwest of the Mount Memorial building (now the Free Methodist Publishing house) hurried to the storage shed where the town's hose cart was kept. Bent on the same errand, John Hammond, Phil Laurien and others helped rush the hose line to the scene of the fire.
All attempts to use the pitifully inadequate equipment proved futile, however, because the water pressure was too low and the fire had spread with fantastic speed. Even the hose cart was consumed, reports say, although it appears in some of Al Cuffel's pictures of the fire.
Men of the Warsaw fire department, responding quickly to a call for help, and hundreds of volunteers worked desperately and heroically. Sometimes it would seem for a little while, that they were winning the fight only to discover that still another dwelling was doomed.
Bucket brigades were formed to douse the sparks and embers which showered the roofs of the closely packed cottages. Other people worked frantically to save whatever could be carried from the threatened buildings. Young and old shared the danger. Mothers entrusted their babies and children to friends who lived in a safe area, then turned to the job of rescuing household valuables.
Carrying a pile of bed clothing, an elderly woman, Mrs. Nancy Snepp, was severely burned as she was almost trapped inside a burning house. Several firefighters were overcome by the gases and smoke and two of the men suffered heart attacks.
And Then the Blast
When it was apparent that drastic measures were needed, Phil Brown was dispatched to the John Grabner farm at the south edge of the lake for some dynamite. Two cottages were blown up, the second being a small frame structure on the site of the Ball home at Fourth and Chestnut streets.
George Gill, working in a house adjoining the Newell cottage where the charge was set, had not been warned. He stepped out on a porch just as the explosion came. Hurled backward through a section of plate glass he was deeply gashed in his left arm.
By using dynamite to clear spaces in the path of the fire the fighters were finally able to gain control over the conflagration. The explosion shattered the windows of nearby homes. Among these was "Felsenheim," aptly named "The Stone House," which is the Brethren missionary residence today. It was the home of the Fluegel family and had been constructed of cement blocks and roofed with asbestos shingles. Window frames and other wooden parts were charred badly, but it stood like a fortress when all the homes about it were burning furnaces. Later, the roofing company showed movies of the Fluegel home calling it, "The House That Stopped the Fire."
Marvin Howe, Pennsylvania tower man, on duty near the Boyer factory, had called for reinforcements from Fort Wayne and watched his own home burned to the ground as he remained at his post.
Seven fire companies were alerted, but before they left Fort Wayne, word was sent that since the fire appeared to be under control at last, probably most of them would not been needed. A single company of 13 men did arrive in 40 minutes by special train bringing a steam engine on a flat car.
Cuffel has a picture showing the big steam engine on the old pier pumping water from the lake up to the area of smoldering debris.
Assistant fire chief George Jasper, surveying the tragic scene of burned homes, said he would naturally have expected to find the women weeping. Instead they worked calmly and quietly beside the men, lugging heavy burdens beyond their strength, accepting the inevitable loss of many treasured belongings.
A watch was kept all night and the next day to make sure the fire did not break out again.
After the Blaze
Down in the park and along the sidewalks were scattered the household goods from many homes. As is often the case after a disaster, there were a few looters, who came in rigs and took away some of the things, pretending they were acting for the householders. Many valuables saved from the fire, disappeared afterwards.
Figures compiled on all losses from the disaster amounted to more than $100,000. Winona residents learned that farmers living a mile east of the town had put in strenuous hours beating out the fire brands that landed on their barns and other buildings. Some embers, still glowing, were carried as far as Barbee lakes.
As he finished showing the pictures, Al Cuffel shook his head and said "It should never have happened".
Within a few years, Cuffel's long service in the park drew to a close. He was employed for a while at the Hugro factory on North Detroit Street (now Playtime) where vacuum cleaners were manufactured. Later he took care of lawns and gardens for various families until increasing age and stiffness in his joints finally made this work too difficult. His last regular job was as night watchmen at Robinson's slaughter house. When Cuffel is feeling well enough he likes to talk about the old days. His mind is keen, the names don't always come quickly out of the past. He certainly hasn't lost his interest in life.
Several times during the interview he expressed the wish that he could go for a leisurely ride all through Winona to look for the things he remembers and the changes time has brought.
He says it is unlikely that he will ever be able to make that trip again except in memory. His greatest pleasure nowadays is having old friends drop in for a chat.
Peaceful Winona has a fascinating history that dates back to the days when Buffalo trod a path to the northeastern shore of the lake. The Indians walked that way too. Old settlers tell of farm wagons following the same trail along the high ground, skirting the swamps and stopping near Tripps for the oxen to rest and drink.
In Cuffel's childhood a large area at the entrance to the park was public property. There the travelers on the old Fort Wayne Road would drive their rigs into the water to soak up the tires. There also small circuses would set up their shows.
It's a long time since... the lovely spring fountain delighted the visitors... young couples dance to "Skip to My Lou" in the administration building... sleek horses pounded down the homestretch... the miniature railroad puffed its way to Kosciusko lodge ... a professional photographer did a thriving business at the grotto spring... the people staying at the Heights hotel filled their water pitchers at the Studebaker Springs... tennis and croquet courts in the center of the park were favorite haunts of the sports minded...George Clen had a chop suey restaurant and Oriental goods shop in the Arcade... the curfew bell warned everyone to hurry home.
Ninety years of living is a remarkable record these days. Looking back, Al Cuffel finds great satisfaction in the memory of his more than 30 years at Winona when he helped to build a beautiful town.
Many details and anecdotes in this story of Winona were contributed by other residents of the community, including Mrs. Guy Outcelt, daughter of Al Cuffel, Vincent Gaddis, George Nye, Carl Kratzsch, Harold Beyer, Hap Breaks, Phil Laurien, Charles Hapner, Miss Olive Fluegel, Mr. and Mrs. John Hammond, W. H. Collison, Miss Leah Power, Mrs. Lois Gochenour, Mrs. F. C. Lynch, Miss Estelle Lynch, Mrs. C. C. Dubois, James Heaton, Mrs. Ruth King, Arthur Konold, Mrs. Carl Beyer, Mrs. Robert M. Hoppus, Elmer Funk, Allan Widaman, Miss Elsie Pfeiffer, Rex Richcreek, R. O. Nusbaum and Ronald Sand. Assistance in research was given by Mrs. Mary B. Brown and members of the library staff. The old photographs were restored in special processing by Clarence Cox. Their help is gratefully acknowledged. V. Z.
Warsaw Times Union July 23, 1951
[Marge's note's - according to notes on these clippings, Al Cuffel died August 20th, 1951. I would have included an obituary, however this roll of microfilm of the Warsaw Times Union unfortunately does not include the newspapers for August 14th - August 22. Thus no obituary can be found.]
Back to YesterYear in Print