lined up in front of the Nimitz
Hotel on a misty evening in Fredericksburg.
The men, dressed in long-tailed coats, derby hats and bowties, stepped
down first and extended a hand to the ladies wearing bustles, button
shoes and long free-flowing dresses with tight waists and puffy sleeves.
As darkness closed in, the glow of coal oil lamps spilled out the
The occasion was an 1891 Casino Club Ball although it could have been
a scene from a G. Harvey painting.
When the Germans immigrated to America they brought with them the
belief that the arts were essential to the social, emotional and spiritual
well-being of a community. Wherever they went they organized theater
companies and orchestras. Music and drama thrived, even in isolated
frontier towns like Fredericksburg, Texas.
There were no movies or radio in those days. While Vaudeville-style
tent shows sometimes came through the Texas
Hill Country, most entertainment was, of necessity, homegrown.
Thirty Fredericksburg citizens organized the Casino Club in 1886 to
promote the fine arts, especially music and drama. Those citizens
put on their own plays, designed their own costumes, organized their
own orchestras and put on their own concerts. In the process they
created their own form of entertainment that reflected the culture
of America and Europe.
The entertainment may have been homegrown, but it was not crude. Local
playwrights wrote and produced some of the shows, often in the German
language. On other nights Shakespeare or Goethe wrote the plays while
Beethoven, Mozart or Wagner composed the music.
Some nights began with a play and ended with a dance. Chairs filled
the floor space in the Nimitz ballroom as the evening began. If the
crowd was especially large, some people watched from the balcony above
and from the upstairs windows.
| A Fredericksburg
Casino Club production. Date unknown.
Gillespie County Historical Society.
| The audience
knew the play was about to start when the prompter, known as the "Souffleur,"
crawled into his box in front of the stage. The box was just large
enough for a chair and an oil lamp to illuminate the prompter's script.
When the prompter was in place, an usher dimmed the coal oil house
lights along the sides of the hall while turning up lamps that served
as footlights circling the stage.
No one applauded. That would have been bad manners. The curtain simply
opened and the play was on.
Later, when the performance was over, the usher turned up the house
lights, patrons pushed the chairs against the wall and the band, organized
and conducted by H. R. Richter the jeweler, tuned up.
When all was ready, dancers galloped, polkaed and waltzed until the
coal oil lamps burned low. When the lights flickered it was time to
One of the Casino Club's big events was the New Year's Eve dance.
A midnight, as soon as the church bells rang, the entire group marched
into the dining room for a midnight supper.
The Casino Club held a yearly Masquerade Ball on Tuesday before Lent.
Members dressed as crazy characters, legendary creatures and exotic
figures from faraway lands.
On arrival at the Nimitz some members performed short skits, cleverly
written and practiced for weeks in advance. Judge J. T. Estill then
led the grand march into the ballroom. The march was really a fashion
Months of thought, planning and hard work went into the costumes.
Dr. Albert Keidel once came as a stork. Sylvester Kleck and Carl Ransleben
dressed as a horse with Felix Weirich as the rider.
Edward Wahrmund came as hunter with a pack of hounds chasing Max Wahrmund,
disguised as a bear, and Oscar Ransleben, dressed as a deer. August
Schuchard once led in a group of Sing-Sing prisoners chained together
and wearing striped prison clothes.
'Then with the new century the tastes of Americans changed. The pageantry
and pretentiousness of the Victorian Age fell out of favor, suppressed
by the rising power and influence of the middle class.
The Fredericksburg Casino Club was especially quiet during WWI.
It didn't seem right to have fun while soldiers were dying in France.
After the war the Casino Club quietly faded away, replaced by the
movies and radio.
"Life in the Gay Nineties," The Radio Post, May 4, 1946.