Perry County, Altenburg history told through annual 'walk in woods' event

Sunday, November 30, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com
The Nutcracker Christmas tree is a new addition to the more than 30 themed trees at the annual Luther's Walk in the Woods at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum in Altenburg, Mo.

ALTENBURG, Mo. -- Items belonging to 19th century immigrants and '90s restaurants help tell the history of Perry County in the fourth annual Luther's Indoor Walk in the Woods.

Bob Schmidt, president of Perry County Historical Society, doubles as a docent for the event, a tour through the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum in Altenburg.

"People sometimes come here bundled in heavy coats and all, thinking it's going to be a walk in the woods," Schmidt said.

Instead, the walk includes an indoor tour through Trinity Lutheran Church -- the church Saxon Lutherans worshipped at after their immigration from Germany -- and the attached museum decorated for Christmas.

Luther's Indoor Walk in the Woods was so named because of the story of Martin Luther, which says he saw stars through tree branches while walking. He was inspired to cut down a tree, bring it indoors and decorate it with candles to represent the stars he had seen.

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com
The Nutcracker Christmas tree is a new addition to the more than 30 themed trees at the fourth annual Luther's Walk in the Woods display at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum in Altenburg, Mo. The display will run through January 5, and admission is free. Martin Luther is sometimes attributed with adding lights to a tree, beginning the modern tradition.

Six hundred immigrants arrived in St. Louis in 1838, scouted for land in Illinois and along the Meramac River close to St. Louis and then settled in Perry County, where they bought 4,475 acres. The church was built in 1845; the adjoining museum was built in 2005. Before that, many artifacts brought over from Germany were stored in the church.

The walk also includes 30 themed trees in the museum, including a Scherenschnitte tree made of cut paper, a Nativity tree and a memorial tree displaying the early settlers' names on star ornaments. Those named include the 54 people who died on the Amalia, a ship that carried cargo and passengers.

"They're not sure if she sank from a storm or if the pirates sank her," Schmidt said.

The museum's artifacts include items from the original settlers and the townspeople who descended from those settlers. For example, a box that held the $122,000 they brought with them is displayed.

Another display is a 4-foot-tall arched triptych of the nativity was brought over from Germany. It was illuminated by a candle placed behind it; today, a spotlight shines on German text, which translates to, "For unto you is born a child."

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com
Martin Luther is commonly attributed with beginning the tradition of putting lights on Christmas trees. More than 30 themed trees are on display for the fourth annual Luther's Walk in the Woods at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum in Altenburg, Mo.

Ornate wedding chairs used in the church for the bride and groom are also included, along with baptismal gowns and wedding and confirmation dresses.

Artifacts from the later years in Altenburg, Frohna, Uniontown and Wittenberg include a booth from Pete's Place, open from 1959 to 1996.

"Pete's Place brought cheeseburgers to Perry County," Schmidt said.

Then there is Altheda Schmelig's egg collection -- decorated eggs in a curio cabinet -- in the domestic exhibit. In her 90s, Schmelig filled the case with the help of some friends.

"She was happy to have a place for her collection to be displayed," Schmidt said.

Luther's Indoor Walk in the Woods is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Jan. 5. For more information, call 573-824-6070 or visit www.altenburgmuseum.org/index.htm.

cpagano@semissourian.com

388-3648

Plan to go?

Have a comment?

Log on to semissourian.com

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: