The Face That Piloted a Thousand Steamboats?

Could this be a portrait of William L. “Steamboat Bill” Heckmann?

Reverse of carte de visite portrait of an unidentified young man.

Sometimes you buy photographs in ignorance and only later realize their significance.

This carte de visite portrait of a young man, taken at the studio of Robert C. Mumbrauer, was not identified. But when I sat down to look at it, the face reminded me of someone I had seen in another Mumbrauer photograph.

It was the face of one of the four young men who posed with an African-American boy in a Mumbrauer and German  card photograph belonging to the Western Historical Manuscript Collection.

That photo was taken at Chamois in 1895. It came from the William L. Heckmann Jr. scrapbooks at the WHMC.

Only three complete names are given, and it is unclear which name goes with which individual. The names written in the scrapbook are “George Patton, Bill Heckman, Pumpkin Patton, and Andy.”

The man in this photo looks an awful lot like one of the two men on the left side of the photograph. Could it be that I have stumbled upon a portrait of the well-known steamboat pilot, “Steamboat Bill” Heckmann (1869-1957)–author of the classic 1950 memoir of river life, Steamboating: Sixty-Five years on Missouri’s Rivers?

I wrote to  The Museum at the German School in Hermann, which has significant holdings on steam boat history on the Missouri and Gasconade rivers, including a complete pilot-house in their River Room.

They referred me to the Gasconade County Historical Society. Here is my correspondent’s response:

“I asked a colleague to look at two group family photos that we have, which I did not identify to her, to see if your subject, at another stage of life, might be in either of the group photos. In both cases, she picked out the man identified as William Heckmann, Jr. In her words, ‘It was the nose.’ “

I’ve also sent the photograph to the Herman T. Pott National Waterways Library, to which Dorothy Heckmann Schrader, daughter of steamboat Captain Ed Heckmann, has donated a substantial archive of texts and images.

Stay tuned.


Portrait of a Young Child by Robert Mumbrauer

The usually workmanlike Robert C. Mumbrauer created an unusually sensitive portrait of an unidentified young child in this cabinet card photograph.

Although faded and marred with foxing, the child’s face, dramatically lit from the side, remains clearly discernible. Her large eyes and sad expression are haunting.

The card mount’s pink back and elaborate advertising are typical of the 1890s. Note the conventional association of photography with reflected nature (fern fronds; clustered swirls representing a stylized mirror of water) and with painting (the easel and palette).

Also notable: the spelling of the town’s name has been anglicized from “Hermann” to “Herman.”





St. Paul Catholic Church, Berger Missouri

Although the photographer who created this image of St. Paul Catholic Church in Berger, Missouri is not identified, it certainly belongs on a site dedicated to images of the Hermann area. Berger is only eight miles southeast of Hermann, across the Franklin County line.

On the back is written “Berger Catholic Church.” A childish hand has added “Miss Gatzemeyer Berger Mo.”

I acquired this photo along with a portrait of a Franciscan nun and friar. A friar can be seen standing in front of the church doors, to the right of two little girls and an older man.

A brief history of the church posted on the web by Geneaology Trails says this building was dedicated in 1888, and that Boeuf Township farmer August Gatzemeyer (b. March 1825, Germany; d. 1901) was among the trustees. The founders of St. Paul were originally part of St. George, a Hermann congregation.

Hermann’s St. George Catholic Church was served by the Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart (St. Louis) until 2002, so perhaps the same order served St. Paul.

It seems likely this photo was owned by one of Mr. Gatzemeyer’s descendants. August’s son Richard Gatzemeyer (b. August 1866, Missouri) became a photographer; perhaps he took this photo, and the two little girls might be two of Richard’s daughters, Josephine (b. 1890), Amanda (b. 1892), and Lulu (b. 1896).

Mark Scott Abeln has a contemporary photograph of St. Paul, taken head-on, on his excellent blog “Rome of the West.”

See also Abeln’s informative and beautifully illustrated post on St. George Catholic Church, Hermann.