6 January 1911: “Brownie,” a petite sculpted elf with a pointy cap and shoes, holding forth a bowl to ask for a handout, is one of the most beloved sculptures in Houston. Funded mostly through the contributions from children in a penny drive, it was installed in Sam Houston Park in 1907. It was sculpted by Louis Amateis (1855-1913), an Italian architect who immigrated from Italy in 1884 after an education at Turin. Among his other works are the
Texas Heroes Monument in Galveston and the Spirit of the Confederacy to be located in the park the following year.
15 May 2019: “Brownie” was stolen from its park location in 1935, then recovered, but stolen and recovered a second time. For many years it was secured in storage, but in 1968 it was placed in a prominent site within the new Children’s Zoo; since 2001 it can be found in the reflection pool. To modern eyes the former location within the downtown park reveals no evidence of its having ever been there. The stout oaks replacing the spindly Sycamore trees completely obscure what was once home to Houston’s favorite children’s pilgrimage. Only the nearby fountain gives a clue as to where it once was.
Postmarked: 6 January 1911; Houston ex. Trans Clk.
Peori[a] Ill Jan [x] 1911
To: Miss Clara Richter
Just arrived last night. Going down to Mexico. tomorrow.
Clara J. Richter was the 20 year old daughter of German immigrant parents Charles Richter and Anna Wilhelmina Schmidt. Clara worked as a bookkeeper at a farm implement manufacturer, Charles Johnson Hardware in Peoria. Arthur Carl Weers was a little older (22), a partner in his father Anton’s hardware store and tin-shop, A. B. Weers & Son. He was a bachelor at the time, but within nine months he would marry Louise Anna Kohl, daughter of Ferdinand and Rosina Kohl, a brewer from Germany.
Arthur was probably on a business trip to Mexico, and was only passing through Houston on the train. The postcard of a gnome caught his eye while on his overnight trip, and Clara was the recipient; whether he was trying to woo Clara or she was just a friend or business associate can’t be inferred from the brief message. Arthur would have seen Houston as similar in many ways to Peoria. Houston was a thriving metropolis of 78,800 at this time, its population on the way to doubling within 10 years. Peoria was just a bit smaller, 66,950, but second only to Chicago (2,185,283) in the state of Illinois. In 1911 Arthur lived with his parents and younger brother, Oscar Henry, at 305 Barker; nearby was Anton’s brother Theodore at 115 Barker. This street lay above the older warehouse district bordering the Illinois River, and became something of a family enclave when Anton’s brother Henry moved just down the street at 313 Barker in 1914. The neighborhood was upper middle class, beginning to be filled with academics connected to Bradley Polytechnic Institute as it expanded from its origins in 1896 an secondary school academy to a full university by 1920.
The hardware business was started by Arthur’s grandfather, Henry S. Weers, who immigrated in 1854 to the US from Oldenburg, Germany, soon settling in Peoria where he married Regina Frewer in 1856. He worked as a baker (1860), then went into the grocery business with his sons John and Anton. In 1881 his eldest son John moved to Diller, Jefferson County, NE with his new wife Bertha Danner, his son Major Henry Weers was born there in 1885. In his absence Henry S. and his son Anton began to sell stoves and hardware, so when John returned in 1891 it was a surprise when he opened a business as an undertaker. Anton and his father Henry continued the hardware business as controlling partners in the family enterprise, which included Anton’s brothers Henry and Theodore in the tin shop or store. Arthur, as Anton’s son and Henry’s grandson, had become an increasingly important partner by 1911 when he visited Houston.
Arthur and Lulu had two sons: Carl Anton (1914) and Arthur Ferdinand (1916). Upon the death of his mother in January of 1930 and his father 2 months later, Arthur assumed control of the hardware store, and joined his bachelor brother Oscar H at the 305 Barker street house. Arthur Carl remained in Peoria as his sons grew up, and died there in 1945 at the age of 57. Lulu lived until 1964 and she and her husband as well as her Weers in-laws are buried in Lutheran Cemetery in Peoria. Their son Carl Anton Weers studied engineering at the University of Illinois in Chicago and moved to the San Francisco area. Arthur Ferdinand moved to Denver to study electrical engineering at the University of Colorado and had a family there. He later moved to Highland, San Bernardino County, CA; he died in 1996 in Placer County, CA near Lake Tahoe. Carl Anton died in San Mateo County, CA in 2013.
A cousin, Lealand Henry Weers (son of their Uncle Theodore S. Weers), found his first job as an office boy at the Weers hardware store (1910). He attended Bradley University (1916), an education interrupted by service in WWI, but he returned after the war, married fellow student Edna Kessler, and opened an X-Ray radiology office in Peoria. He died unexpectedly in 1931 at the age of 33 leaving a widow and 3 children, obliging Edna to take up teaching at public school to support the family. She founded Global Tours Travel Agency and in 1948-1949 she traveled to Brazil. Edna married late in life (1957) to Dr. Augustus J. Blickenstaff, who only lived another 18 months. Edna died in 1991 at the age of 94, and was buried in 1st Federated Columbarium in Peoria. Lealand was buried in Springdale Cemetery in the Henry S. Weers family plot; Augustus was buried in Peoria’s Parkview Cemetery.
Clara Richter remained unmarried, as did her sisters Martha and JoAnna, living with their parents until they died, Anna in 1935, Charles in 1939. Early on Charles was a blacksmith (1910), but later was not listed as having an employment (1920, 1930), in his stead Clara seems to have been the primary breadwinner. For decades she kept her clerical job at R. Herschel Manufacturing Co. in East Peoria, a farm implement manufacturer, while Martha worked in a mail-order house and JoAnna worked various jobs or was unemployed. The sisters remained in the family home at 810 Linn until they themselves died, Martha in 1964, Anna in 1965, and Clara in 1978. They are buried in the Lutheran Cemetery in Peoria where the Henry S. Weers family plot was also located. Their long-term house has been overlaid by Interstate Highway 74.