The History of the Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, N.Y. - Part I, pages 147 - 151

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The admission fees were according to the means of the audience, very small. Reserved seats cost 2 shillings (25¢). The general admission fee was 1 shilling. The performances were advertised by a procession of Turners, headed by a music band, and almost without exception were very well attended, netting the treasury of the Turn Verein a considerable sum.

At the close of the performances, dances were held. Willing hands cleared away the benches and chairs, the orchestra took possession of the stage, and whoever sacrificed 25 cents could take part in the dances.

Besides Kotzebue's plays, their repertoire included: "Die Räuber vom Maria Culm, oder die Kraft des Glaubens," "Die bekehrte Sproede, oder der weibliche Trompeter," "Griseldis, das Musterbild der Fraune, oder die Ritter der Tafelrund," "Das Kind der Liebe, order Strassenraub und Kindespflicht," "Des Räuber's Liebe und Verzweifluing, oder die Ahnfrau des Hauses Pasotini."

Occasionally a drama of Schiller's was attempted, especially when a visiting actor wished to be heard in some star character, and "William Tell," "Die Räuber" or "Kabal und Liebe," were put on the boards.

In the winter of 1855, the actors Strasser and Seitz took charge of the theatre in Gillig's Hall, and to them is due the credit of being the first teachers to give a certain easy stage presence to the local "artists."

During the following season, W.G. Adlersberg, guided the followers of Thespis. He may be properly considered the founder of Turn Hall, on Ellicott Street, for it was on his recommendation that a stock company was formed, which bought the piece of property, upon which the present Turn Hall (now National Hall) was built. In the meantime the theatre performances in Gillig's Hall were continued without interruption. The new Turner's Theatre was opened on January 18, 1858 with "Uriel Acosta", which had many a time before been put upon the boards. Hugo Fulda, stage manager at that time, played the title role, Karl Knauer, "de Silva", Fred. Zesch, "Spinoza," Conrad Beischer, "Ben Akiba," and Mrs. Burckhalter, "Judith."

The prices of admission were: Reserved seats, 25 cents, parterre, 15 cents, gallery 10 cents and the house was completely sold out.

On May 1st, 1858, the Turners' theatre was rented to Poppenberg Brothers, and for a time bore the name of Poppenberg's Theatre. The winter season of 1858-59 was inaugurated on the 12th of December

Caption under picture at center reads Conrad Beischer

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with a performance of "Othello," under the stage management of Adlersberg.

The German theatre in Gillig's Hall continued to exist, and after the opening of the Turners' theatre was known as the "Stadt Theater". It was under the guidance of Eduard Fuerst, who towards the latter part of January, 1859, also secured the management of the theatre located in Turn Hall. On Monday performances were given in Gillig's Hall and on Thursday in Turn Hall, while one could enjoy a "sacred concert" in either place on Sunday. In Turn Hall Otto Schugens swung the baton, while in Gillig's Hall Poppenberg's Orchestra furnished the music. It is only with a feeling of envy that the present theatre directors can look back upon those "good old times". That almost a "craze" for theatre going must have existed at that time among the German population of Buffalo is shown by the fact that on Christmas day, 1858, which day fell on a Saturday, performances in both theatres were not only given on that day, but also on the Sunday and Monday following, and that the six performances drew crowded houses.

Owing to the bad times immediately before the civil war the attendance at the theatres decreased very materially, to the loss of the managers; the civil war itself put a temporary stop to the undertaking, so far as the Turn-Verein and the Turn

Picture at center is of the Buffalo Turn Verein and the National Hall, 385-387 Ellicott Street

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Hall were concerned, for a number of years. After the war J.G. Gentzsch rented Gillig's Hall for a period of three years, and started a new theatre under the stage management of Carl Graefe. In the course of time performances were also given in the Turn Hall theatre by local amateurs, who had secured laudable proficiency by years of assistance to former managers. In the fall of 1873 a theatre society of fifteen members, with Julius Rieffenstahl as president, was formed for the purpose of putting the German theatre in Turn Hall upon a solid foundation. William Lautz was engaged as stage manager, and by procuring a few out of town actors and actresses a capable ensemble was formed with Miss Amelia Schultz (later Mrs. Lochmann) as leading lady. The undertaking, although sucessful, was, however, short-lived, owing to the unfortunate envy of the Turn Verein, which society wished to reap the harvest itself. The lease of the theatre society was cancelled and a committee, consisting of members of the Turn Verein, with Dr. Wm. Meisburger as chairman, was appointed for the purpose of starting a similar undertaking. The company of Mr. Rieffenstahl's society moved to Kehr's Hall, formerly Gillig's Hall, but soon lost its former drawing power. The result of the splitting up of the theatre patronage was the gradual decline of both stages. The theatre society ceased to exist, and the Turn-Verein left the management of the theatre in its hall to directors, who met with more or less success, some of them remaining for less than a season, others for two or three seasons. No one undertaking German theatre enterprises in Buffalo ever left the city laden with worldly treasure.

The Buffalo Turn-Verein

Turn-Vereins in general are entitled to occupy a very prominent place in the history of the Germans of this country. Although ostensibly devoted only to physical culture, they have always taken an active interest in all progressive steps in social and political circles, and have stood up for the rights of the naturalized citizen and indeed all humanity. Hypocrisy and Knownothing ideas have always found decided and ever ready antagonists in the Turn-Vereins. The Buffalo Turn-Verein in its earlier years, at the most active period of the Knownothing movement, and also later proved itself a bold enemy to puritan fanaticism and nativistic intolerance.

The Social Turn Verein, as the Buffalo Turn Verein was called at first, was organized on March 3rd, 1853, by twenty members of the German-American Workingmen's Society: its founders were: Louis Allgewaehr, Gustav and Friedrich Duehrfeld, Herman Weber, Heinrich Nauert, Gustav Spitznagel, Marton Ruehling, Karl and Gotthard Krech, Ed. Gerstenhauer, Wilhelm Moeser, A. Luesenhopp, John Haffner,

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Anton Heilmann, George Hirsch, J.H. Friedrich, James v. Arx, G. Bachmann, G. Besser and A. Kaltenegger.

On the seventh of March a permanent organization followed in Roth's Hall by the election of these officers: Speaker - Louis Allgewaehr; secretary - Martin Ruehling; treasurer - J.H. Friedrich; turnwart [squad leader] - Karl Heel. The young society established headquarters at Roth's Hall, at the corner of Michigan and Cypress Streets. In the beginning of the summer a place for exercising was established in the roomy garden back of the building and it was opened with proper ceremonies on June 24th, on which occasion the Rochester Turners were invited. After the guests and their fair companions had partaken of a lunch at the festival headquarters, both societies paraded with flying colors and with the popular Union Brass Band at their head, through the principal streets. Having returned to the hall Turner games, intermingled with dancing and songs were started, which however were somewhat interrupted by a rain storm. The singing section of the "Arbeiter Verein" [Workingmen's Association] entertained the crowd with several well rendered selections. Towards six o'clock the president mounted the platform, erected for the occasion in the open air, and made of green boughs, to bid the visitors a hearty welcome after having previously given a short sketch of the condition of the society, which at that time consisted of ninety members. Following, Dr. Brunck made the principal speech and the Turnwart [squad leader] of the society, H. Weber, finished the order of speech-making with an impressive appeal for unity, faithfulness and perseverance.

After the dedication of the new flag and an exhibition of fireworks, a jolly ball, liberally patronized, concluded one of the pleasantest celebrations that Buffalo had ever witnessed.

The local society in the beginning of October undertook a two days Turner Excursion to Rochester, giving an exhibition on the afternoon of the first day. At the gymnastic competition on the second day, the Buffalo participants Weitzel, Weber, Heel and Haffner carried off prizes.

Caption under picture at right center reads Louis Allgewaehr

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The first evening entertainment given by the Turn Verein, took place on October 31, 1853, on which occasion a comedy entitled "Some One Must Marry" was performed, after which according to custom at that time dancing followed.

Owing to differences of opinion with John Roth, up to that time their landlord, the Turn Verein decided to move to Gillig's Hall, at the corner of Genesee and Ash Streets, where a large frame building, situated in the rear of a big yard was fitted up as a gymnasium, which was opened with a theatre performance on January 30th, 1854, followed by a hop. As the performances proved to be a strong drawing power, the society formed a permanent amateur theatre. The stage was moved into the gymnasium, next to the restaurant proper and was so arranged by its builder G. Seyfang, that it could be hoisted after each performance in order to gain room. Fortunately the society flourished. A male chorus consisting of Turners was formed by Joseph Hipelius, the leader of the Union Brass Band, who had performed praiseworthy service in promoting music and songs in Buffalo, and whose efforts gave more variety to the evening entertainments. Unfortunately the untiring activity of Hipelius was ended too soon, his death occuring on May 7th, 1854. The Turn Verein, the Liederkraenzchen (later called Saengerbund) and several church choirs escorted the remains of the esteemed musician and amiable man to their last resting place.

Captain H. Schirmer organized a company of Turner sharp shooters, a drawing class was formed, lessons in the English language were introduced and a debating society was organized. With the rowdy element, which attempted to disturb the theatre performances and the picnics of the society, the Turners used such energetic measures that they were soon no longer disturbed by these loafers. On February 3rd, 1855, the society was incorporated under the name of "Turner's Association of the City of Buffalo." At that time it had a membership of 160.

Caption under picture at center reads The first issued Turner Certificate.


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Revised April 9, 2005
Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks