An important event for the society was the convention of the North-American Gymnastic Union, which was held on September 24th and 25th, 1855. Forty-seven societies represented by 30 delegates took part in the convention, T. Mayer, Louis Allgewaehr and P. Wertsch being the representatives of the local Turn-Verein. C.F. Bauer, the editor of the "Pittsburg Freiheitsfreund" [Pittsburgh Friend of Freedom], and delegate of the Pittsburg Turn-Verein, was chosen a chairman of the assembly. Upon the convention taking a stand against the state of slavery then existing in the Southern States, the delegates from Charleston, S.C., left the assembly, and the Turn-Verein of that city soon after seceded from the Union. The convention assigned to their offical organ, the "Turnerzeitung" [The Gymnastics Club News], the duty of opposition to slave holders, the Knownothings and the Prohibitionists, or more properly speaking the Sunday Hypocrites.
A natural consequence of the attitude of the Turners of all Northern States in regard to the slavery question was that they everywhere, as well as here in Buffalo, joined the infant Republican party, which had been founded in Pittsburg in the beginning of February, 1856, in a convention of delegates of all elements of the people opposed to slavery. Although the followers of the dissolved Whig party formed the nucleus of the Republican party, its platform was liberal and progressive enough to make it possible for the so-called Young Germans, who immigrated after 1848, to join the same. In this class the majority of the Turners could then be counted. At a later National
Caption under picture at right center reads Commanders Headquarters, Fort Porter, formerly the Mackaye House
convention of the new party John C. Fremont, one of the most popular men of the day, was nominated as candidate for the Presidency. No other nomination could have come nearer fulfilling the wishes of the young Germans, and none could have evoked more satisfaction and enthusiasm. Henceforth they were identified with a National political party, and felt it to be their duty to work with great zeal and earnestness for the election of their candidate. That Fremont was upheld with such enthusiasm by the young German element, is due mainly to the fact that in him were recognized qualities of ideal German views of life. Free from egotism and puritanistic manners, he was considered the most suitable man to hold the highest office in the republic, to guide Americanism into broader channels, and to attain to higher standards.
This favorable opinion of Fremont had existed from the time of his explorations in the Rocky Mountains in the service of the Government. The engineer Fremont, with a staff of assistants and workingmen under his direction, had for several years made explorations and measurements in the forests, valleys and ravines of the Rocky Mountains, as well as on their summits and snowy peaks. As there was no lack of romantic episodes and perilous adventures, American fancy, which is very strongly developed, surrounded the person of Fremont with a romantic circle of glory, which made even the heros of Greek mythology fade in comparison.
By the Republican press and on all platforms the fame of the great explorer and pathfinder was proclaimed. The latter named designation was the one that found the greatest acclamation. But not satisfied with placing the political struggle solely upon the basis of Fremont's excellent character, and valuable services, Fremont's wife was drawn into the struggle, and this turned out to be a good move. Mrs. Jessy Fremont, the daughter of Senator Benton of Missouri, was a highly cultivated, amiable woman of energetic character and ideally inclined nature. Her praise was sung by all lips. Shy youths and proud natured people, who had never before interested themselves in politics, plunged head over heels into the election meetings, their example being followed by married men of all stations in life to hear Jessy's praises sounded. It may be said that the romantic vein which ran through Fremont's campaign was undoubtedly the main reason for the enthusiasm with which the recently immigrated Germans entered the election campaign; but more with the Germans enthusiasm rose to a pitch of passion. With a more embittered feeling than that which existed between the South and the North, the Germans of the free northern states fought and made enemies in this election contest, and here in Buffalo as well as elsewhere. Bonds of friendship and relationship were
broken, and even family ties were loosened by the hatred, arising from political differences. The German press of that period furnished a faithful picture of the embittered party feeling entertained on both sides. The principal parts of the editorials consisted of controversies with their contemporaries, but the arguments were in the main personal attacks on their adversaries. Daily in articles taking up the space of several columns, the appalling ignorance and viciousness of the opponent was described and nothing left of his reputation.
This newspaper war of personalities often overstepped the bounds of good breeding, but it also accomplished some good, inasmuch as it unmasked many a scamp who had smuggled his way into the noble profession of journalism, being worthless and incompetent. James Buchanan was the Presidential candidate and representative of the Democratic party; he did not belong to that class of mortals, who allow their heart and imagination any play in politics. Grown gray in the service of the state, where he had played an important part for thirty years, he kept firmly to the traditions of his party, without making the slightest concession to the advanced ideas in regard to the slavery question. He was far ahead of his Republican opponent in diplomatic talents and statesmanship. The nearer election day approached, the higher rose the wave of excitement. Parades and meetings, torchlight processions and fireworks took place almost every evening, uniformed companies and clubs marched through the streets, to the inspiring strains of music, drums were beaten, trumpets resounded and cannons roared. The people came in great numbers to enjoy the sights and shout hurrah. One party strove to outdo the other by the magnitude and magnificence of these pageants, the expenses of which were not taken into consideration. The Turn-Verein also took an active part in the election contest; 200 torches were bought, and at every Republican parade the torchbearers of the Turn-Verein turned out in a body. The election ended with the defeat of the Republican and the victory of the Democratic party. The votes in the ballot box had decided against the Republican party; the ultimate victory of their platform, however, was assured. Thus it happened that the defeat of Fremont, after the first disappointment had been overcome, proved to be only a new impulse to the continuance of the fight against slavery, so that new life sprung from the ruins of a broken hope.
In their new Home
During the fifties, so-called good times prevailed. The Turn-Verein were thereby encouraged to establish themselves in their new home. It was decided, in 1857, to buy a lot on Ellicott Street, between Genesee
and Huron, where the Turn Hall now stands and to build on its rear part, a two story structure. The price of the building lot, and the cost of the erection of the structure, were to be covered by an issue of stock. Every stockholder was to be a part owner in the building, with the right of free admission to the theatre performances and evening entertainments. The initiation fee at that time was $8, with monthly payments of 3 shillings, of which sum, 2 shillings went to the sick fund. In case of sickness, a member received $3 weekly benefit, and in the event of death, the relatives of the deceased received $15 toward burial expenses. At first the distribution of stock had a very promising outlook, but eventually the money raised by these means did not prove sufficient, and the sick fund of the society, which contained between $800 and $900, was added to the building fund.
The building enterprise had found no favor with some members, and the appropriation for the sick fund, for other purposes, found still more opponents. Political differences, which to a certain extent, had up to now, smouldered in the ashes of Turner good fellowship, broke out into bright flames, at the last presidential election. It led to a split, with the result of two Turn-Vereins, instead of one.
The "Social Männer Turn Verein" [The Social Men's Gymnastics Club] remained in Gillig's Hall. Those interested in the building enterprise, who organized as the "Turn-Verein Vorwärts" [Gymnastics Club Onward], held the business meetings, until the completion of their new building, in the book bindery of Paul Wertsch, the president of the society, in the second story of the house, 500 Main Street where later on the "Freie Presse" was published for a long number of years. In the lower story of the house, which was replace by a new structure in 1893, Philip Becker began his grocery business, and laid the foundation of his fortune.
The "Turn-Verein Vorwärts" moved into its new home which was dedicated by a theatre performance, in January 1858. In the front of the property, facing the street, was a small frame building, in which Ludwig Schneider kept a saloon. As the new building, which as a theatre, had a seating capacity of more than a thousand, was furnished with a gallery, also served as a gymnasium, arrangements were made to remove the supports of the gallery, to make room for gymnastics exercises. A very distressing defect of the building showed itself in the spring at severe thaws and during the rainy weather. The floor of the hall was flooded, so that it was sometimes three inches under water. This inconvenience could easily have been remedied by an alteration in the building, if the properous times had continued, but overspeculation and feverish real estate transactions, brought about the financial crash which has been fully described in an earlier chapter, and the bad times following proved disastrous to the society.
Many members who had lost their positions left the city to find work elsewhere, others who were without work left the society, or were in arrears with their dues, so that the payments of interest on the mortgage on the property could not be made, much less the debt be reduced. As the property was on the point of falling into the hands of the mortgagee, Albert Ziegele, the brewer, proved to be a friend in need. He bought the property, and held it under very reasonable conditions for the Turners, so that it was later on again turned over to the society. Of course those who held the bonds of the building fund lost their invested money. Simultaneously with the building plans, a new enterprise was started in the summer of 1857, viz: the founding of a Turner settlement, the impulse to which had been given by the founding of New Ulm, in Minnesota, by Turners from the Western States.
An Emigration Society was formed with Jacob Beyer, Jacob Sehen and George Hollerieth, as a board of directors. A piece of land of several square miles in circumference, was bought in the following Spring, in the south of Nebraska, on the Missouri, and the settlement was christened "Arago."
After the staking out of a piece of land on the river banks as a future city the sale of building lots began. Louis Allgewähr was one of the first pioneers to settle there.
But as in the following year, a great flood of the Missouri ruined the greater part of the building lots and the few settlers suffered privations of all kinds, and no more emigrants following, the settlement fell into decay, and the Civil War put an end to the undertaking.
At the breaking out of the Civil War the Turners were the first volunteers to enlist on the side of the Union. Many joined the Turner regiment, organized in New York City. Owing to the loss of the majority of its members, the existence of the "Turn Verein Vorwärts" was seriously endangered. Throughout the war it existed almost in name only. In like measure the "Social Maenner Turn Verein" suffered under the stress of the times, but it also managed to keep up its organization. In 1864 the members arranged a St. John's Festival in Schneider's Summer Garden, the present Central Park, on Jefferson St.
The front structure on the property of the "Turn Verein Vorwaerts" on Ellicott Street was built during 1861-62. The rear building, which continued to serve its original purpose, was rebuilt. For a time the gymnasium was situated in the basement, under the theatre, then for several years in the rebuilt attic, over the theatre, until a few years ago a piece of property was bought back of the theatre building, where the present gymnasium stands, and which was dedicated
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Revised April 9, 2005