The Frau Erica Project
Muellers in America:
The first 155 years


In winter, three girls from Vivian and Waldorf stayed at the Baker House Monday through Friday, attending confirmation class and Christian day school. Oma organized an outdoor popcorn party. From left: Agnes Blume and her friend Velora, Addie and her sister Frieda, Laura Blume.

Life in the Bakerhouse, 1911 – 1948

Shortly after Opa Mueller’s death in August 1948, Adelheid Nickel mounted a sampler she had stitched as a child. The sampler is on the right-hand page of a folded mat board. She wrote a number of reminiscences on the left.

The Bakerhouse
Named for Oma’s more or less constant baking, the Bakerhouse was home to eight confirmations, one living-room baptism (Norma), two funerals (Opa, Max), and one fire in the attic, for which Opa rang the church bell to summon a bucket brigade. Oma moved to Eagle Lake in the fall of 1948, soon after Opa died. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, the Bakerhouse was sold — possibly to Leonard Rehker — and moved off the site. It was large: five bedrooms, living room, study, dining room, kitchen, full basement and attic, although the wind blew through cracks in the walls.

World War I
During the First World War, local government agents inspected houses and confiscated supplies of flour and sugar in excess of allowed quotas. Farm families needed to store more supplies than families that lived in town, but the homes of German farm families were particularly subject to search. Many members brought flour and sugar barrels to stash in the Bakerhouse, hoping that the agents would not dare search the minister’s home. For his part, Opa was the first person in Waseca County to buy a war bond, which he did with great flourish and maximum effect. He bought a second bond on behalf of the church. It was also during the war that Opa began to preach and conduct services in English — to considerable complaint of the members.

In sickness and health
In addition to the common childhood diseases — chicken pox, measles, rubella, scarlet fever, jaundice and tonsilitis — Oma nursed her oldest children through the 1918 influenza. Oma and Opa set up beds in the living room. Erna was delirious; Gerhard faked delirium. Opa made calls on many members who were ill, taking a swig of brandy before each call (as ordered by the doctor) and avoiding the breath of sick people. The church bell tolled frequently, but funerals were not allowed for fear of contagion. Only graveside services were permitted. One kindly old woman made Opa a garlic bag to wear around his neck.

The pantry
During the winter, there was a barrel of apples in the cellar, plus a large crock of sauerkraut, another of pickles, a sand pit for keeping carrots and other root vegetables, buckets of black walnuts and butternuts, crates of prunes, a small barrel of coffee beans. Flour and sugar were kept in a kitchen closet. Some years, Uncle Paul Hedder would send crates of oranges from California. Opa dug a well in the basement so that they wouldn’t have to go to the neighbors for water. They had a cow and a two-acre pasture, and Opa had a hand-cranked DeLaval cream separator just off the kitchen — a luxury for a household with only one cow.

No heat upstairs, little light anywhere
The stove kept the downstairs livable in winter, but in the bedrooms there was no heat. The featherbeds would be covered with frost, Adelheid wrote. You grabbed your clothes, dressed under the covers, then ran down for breakfast and warmth. Light came from kerosene lamps, some of them quite complex and adjustable for height. The lamps stank, and their glass chimneys needed to be cleaned daily when their tanks were refilled.

The favorite game
Adelheid and her siblings played “Wo wohnt der Schuster?” The kids sat on the bottom of the front steps. One of them — the Schuster — would hold out fists, one above the other, one of which concealed a small matchstick. Kids on the steps would choose a fist — Oben or Unter. Whoever guessed which fist had the stick would advance to the next higher step; whoever guessed wrong would go lower. First one to the top got to be the Schuster.