Henry Thielman and the Beecher Mausoleum

Beecher Herald November 3, 1996

MUSEUM REPORT

by VIRGINIA BATH

Sandra Thielman called last week, and on Saturday, she and her brother Scott visited Washington Township Museum in an effort to find out as much as they could about the origin of the Beecher Mausoleum, a project spearheaded in 1912 by her ancestor, Henry Thielman and Beecher banker Arthur Struve. The Beecher Heralds of that time contain excellent accounts of the progress of the project. In 1994, when the mausoleum was vandalized, we quoted some of this material.

Sandra, who lives in McHenry County, had made an earlier visit to Beecher recently and was dismayed to see the condition of the building and crypts. Ten places in the mausoleum are owned by the Thielmans, five members of the family rest there now. Sandra’s grandmother is 93 years old, and it is the intention of the family that she should join her relatives at the Beecher Mausoleum when her life is over. For this reason, and because Sandra and her father and brother also expect that Beecher will be their last resting place, she was disheartened by what she saw and determined to do something about it.

Beecher people whose relatives are entombed at the mausoleum can expect to hear from Sandra. She wants to raise funds for its refurbishing. Also, she is interested in landmark designation for the building, and we told her how to obtain forms to make this request.

In 1912, an elaborate campaign of newspaper articles was staged to sell spaces in the proposed mausoleum. The superiority of above-ground burial was stressed.

The article read: “How often have we been horrified at what we see at funerals: the downpours of rain, the watery grave, the sound of earth falling on the coffin lid, and especially is it heart-rending if it is our own loved one that is thus being put from our sight?

“It matters not after a funeral in a mausoleum how fierce the storm, how dark the night, how wet the ground, those who parted that day for the last time from the loved ones can lie down and sleep in peace, feeling that the dear one is beyond the rain, the storm, the wet, lying in peace and dryness, symbolic of the repose in the better world.

Fire and storms, stated the articles, would not be a danger – and no tombstone could fall on the interred. It was argued that a mausoleum of the type proposed required “no upkeep” and that no weeds would grow over the grave, not in a thousand years – but $5 per crypt was set aside for maintenance of the building. This money was to be under the control of the owners of the crypts, which were to cost $200.

The builder agreed to start work on the condition that 100 crypts would be sold. A committee went to Crown Point to inspect a mausoleum there. By the 11th of July, 1913, Mr. Steevens, the editor of the Beecher Herald, wrote that he had visited the site and found “a full force of seventeen men” at work. He noted that reinforcing rods were being laid a few inches apart as the cement floor was poured.

The mausoleum is a cement building with a Bedford stone exterior and marble inside. The 210 crypts were to be formed by July 25th and the rough work finished by August 15th by Christmastime the mausoleum was almost completed.

The Beecher Mausoleum is located at the southwest edge of St. Luke’s cemetery, east of Route 1, Beecher. Families with members entombed there are: Bahlman, Bahlmann, Bergmeier, Beseke, Bielfeldt, Bohl, Brown, Cloidt, Dunlap, Fenske, Fick, Fiene, Freerking, Frobose, Gerhardt, Graham, Guritz, Hack, Hank, Hager, Haltenhof, Heine, Heldt, Hinze, Hoffman, Hoppensteadt, Horn, Hunte, Kaczynski, Kappe, Kilborn, Miley, Monk, Niedert, Ohlendorf, Pansa, Peters, Pralle, Riley, Ristenpart, Rohe, Rust, Saller, Selk, Struve, Thielman, Vagt, Von Engeln, Wegert, Wehmhoefer, Westphal, Wiechen, Wilkening, and Williams.

Henry Thielman was a real estate speculator and Vice President of the German American Land Company, with offices at 84-86 Washington Street, Chicago, and at Stuttgart, Arkansas, where he was one of a consortium who sold “rice lands”. In 1899 Thielman moved to Beecher. His ads for the Arkansas property (“Rice Kind of Cereals, Arkansas the State of Golden Dollars”) ran frequently in the Herald and were sometimes spread over half a page.

When he was pursuing a cause, Thielman was given to writing lengthy articles. We reprinted a portion of his article on hard roads a year or so ago. He was inclined to start his essays in a leisurely fashion, beginning with a sermon-like preamble before approaching his subject, but once he reached his topic he could be a hard-selling salesman. “Here is another fact. The state is holding thousands of tons of crushed rock for you, which will cost you nothing, yet the state is begging you to get this stone to make hard roads. The railroads are begging you to make hard roads and offer to transport the stone at actual cost – that is, just the cost of moving the cars; they are begging you to make hard roads for the mud roads are very costly for them for the reason that the hauling of freight is so unevenly divided on account of bad roads that they must have twice the number of cars in service which at other times stand idle.”

Arthur Struve, Thielman’s partner in the mausoleum venture, arrived in Monee with his father William via the newly-constructed Illinois Central railroad. William set up the first lumberyard in that area. After service in the Civil War, he moved his family to Beecher, where he located a lumberyard next to the railroad tracks. After twenty-five years, this business was passed on to Arthur.

Arthur Struve was married in 1895 and that year sold the yard and turned to banking. He was the first president of the First National Bank of Beecher, formed in 1896. Ten years later a new building for the bank was erected at the corner of Reed and Penfield streets Struve also was involved with the short-lived Eastern Illinois Brick Company.

The Struve’s and their daughter Rosamunda lived in the house most recently known as the “Kirk house”, but also formerly the residence of the Bunte’s. It was torn down several years ago.

We will assist Sandra Thielman as much as possible in her effort to renovate the mausoleum, and we hope others in the village also will help.

Washington Township Museum, a project of Beecher Community Historical Society, is open on Saturdays from 9 until 11am. It is open at other times by appointment. There is no admission fee.

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