REVISED 31 Jul 2023
This post was first written and published on 8 Jan 2016. I have learned so much more since that time and rather than write a new post, I have decided to revise the existing one.
In late 1898 60-year-old Peter Fassbender returned to Oedekoven, Germany for a visit, traveling with his friend and neighbor, Joseph Tennie. We know his approximate time of departure as it was reported in the newspaper upon his return that “Mr. Fassbender, who has been visiting relatives in Germany since the first of Jan…”1 It must have been hard for Elisabeth to see him go, although she had only been six years old when her family left Oedekoven for America in 1846.
This was his first visit home since emigrating in 1856. It had been 43 years since he had stepped foot in his native land, had much had changed. A fire in 1864 had changed the appearance of his former home, Tempelhof, as the farmyard was gone, and the damaged chapel and been decommissioned. [Blog Post: The Chapel on the Hill]. I wonder if one of his first stops was to the Oedekoven Chapel, St. Mary’s Marriage, to look at the altar and statue of Mary that had once been sheltered in the Tempelhof Chapel?
All that we do know about this trip is that Peter was gone for two months. He traveled from Oedekoven to Bremen to board the Kaiser Wilhelm der Große on February 28, 1899.2 The top-heavy ship known as “Rolling Billy” by her regular passengers could hold 332 First Class passengers, 343 Second Class passengers, and 1.074 in Steerage.
The return trip home started in Bremen, Germany. I believe that Peter and Joseph were traveling 2nd class, as they were not manifested with the 3rd or steerage class passengers who needed to be cleared by a physician who stated that he had “…made a personal examination of each of the passengers named,” before they were allowed to board. The passenger list does not designate the classes, and it appears to me that the even-numbered pages are missing. What would they have paid for this ticket? All I know is that shortly after their return it was announced that the minimum rates for steamships bound for Southampton and Bremen had been reduced by $10.00 to $25.00. First-class cabin rates were reduced $25.00 to $75.00 from April 2 to May 9th, and between Jun 6 to July 7th, the rate was set at $100.00.3 Which is $3,676.01 in today’s  money.4
Traveling from Bremen they stopped on March 1st in Southampton, England, picking up 2 passengers, before heading to Cherbourg, France, and then to New York. I do believe that there are missing pages to this passenger list, which makes me realize how lucky we are that we do have a record of Peter and Joseph’s return trip. The Chicago Daily reported on March 8th on the return of J. P. Morgan “from London on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse,”5 yet his name does not appear on the passenger list, and he most likely boarded in Southampton.
The trip was made in record time, the Baltimore Sun reported that they had made “the run of 3,148 knots to Sandy Hook light ship [Sandy Hook, New Jersey Lighthouse] in 5 days 21 hours and 8 minutes, at an average speed of 22.33 knots per hour, lowering her best previous record from Cherbourg by 1 hour and 12 minutes. The trip is remarkable from the fact that it was made in the month of March, in winter weather…”6
I wonder what Peter thought as he sailed into New York Harbor on March 7th. Much had changed since that day 43 years before when, after a trip of one month, two days the Ship Chimborazo entered the harbor. The skyline of New York City was different, much larger. This time the Statue of Liberty was there to greet him, having been dedicated just 12 years earlier. Beyond the statue stood Ellis Island, open for just seven years, he would not be passing through Castle Garden on this trip. And certainly, there was a sense of comfort in knowing that, unlike the passengers who were newly immigrating, he could freely walk off the ship, enter the city, and travel home to his family in Wisconsin.
The passenger list was manifested at Ellis Island. For the manifest Peter states that he is a naturalized citizen, he had been in the U.S. for 43 years, he was in possession of a ticket all the way back to Appleton, Wisconsin, he had paid for his own passage, and that he was currently in possession of more than $30.00.7 The passenger list goes on to ask the following questions: Ever in Prison or Almshouse or supported by Charity: No, Whether a Polygamist: No, Condition of Health, Mental and Physical: Good, Deformed or Crippled, Nature and Cause: No. While I believe his statement of “No” to all of these questions was a true answer, would anyone actually answer these questions with a “Yes?” Well, other than if there was an obvious deformity, that could not be hidden.
His exact date of arrival home to the farm in the Town of Ellington is not known. A notice in the Appleton Evening Crescent dated Tuesday, March 21st stated that he had “returned a week ago…” So, it is safe to say he arrived home sometime before March 14th.
What I find most fascinating about this trip, is the ship that he chose to return home on, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Große. The ship was built for Norddeutscher Lloyd by AG Vulcan Shipyards. The ship, named for his grandfather, was launched by Kaiser Wilhelm I, on May 4, 1897. It was the first ship to have a four-funnel design, representing size and safety for the next decade. It consumed 560 tons of coal per day.
In 1898, traveling at 22.5 knots, it was the fastest merchant ship in the world, carrying 24% of the First Class passenger revenue on the North Atlantic to New York.
In 1913 the ship was rebuilt to carry only 3rd class passengers, and when the First World War broke out, she was requisitioned and turned into an armed cruiser. The Kaiser was sunk on August 26, 1914, off of Rio de Oro, Africa.
- “Bungert and Wittlin,” Appleton Evening Crescent, 17 Mar 1899, Friday, p. 4, col. 5; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 2 Sep 2018).
- National Archives, “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database and images, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. 2010, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed October 2002). Microfilm serial: T715, 1899, Kaiser Wilhelm der Große, p. 9, line 15, Peter Fassbender; citing The National Archives at Washington, D.C.
- “North German Lloyd’s Cut,” Naugatuck Daily News, 7 Mar 1899, Tuesday, p. 1, col. 4; digital images, NewspaperARCHIVE.com, (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 1 Jan 2007).
- “Coal Interests in Great Pool,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 8 Mar 1899, Wednesday, p. 1, col. 1; digital images Newspapers.com, (www.newspapers.com : accessed 7 Sep 2018).
- “Topics in New York,” The Baltimore Sun, 8 Mar 1899, Wednesday Morning, p. 2, col. 7; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 8 Sep 2018).
- National Archives. ancestry.com, Microfilm serial; T715, 1899, Kaiser Wilhelm der Große, p. 9, Line: 15, Peter Fassbender.