I’m still at St. John’s Lutheran Churchyard in Charleston, S.C. It’s not a large burial ground but there are several graves packed into it. Find a Grave lists about 750 memorials, but I’m sure there are several more that are unmarked.
I’ve twice visited a plot on the back left side next to the wall. I have a photograph from a previous trip that shows the wrought iron fencing falling down. Making such repairs is costly so I’m not being judgmental when I mention this. It’s a common sight in many old churchyards around Charleston.
This plot contains graves of the Siegling and Schnierle families. The Siegling family intersected with the Schnierles when Johann “John” Zacharias Siegling, Sr. married Mary Regina Schnierle in Charleston in 1823. The two families would play a major role in the future of their adopted city.
Born in 1791 in Erfurt, Germany, John Siegling was the second of 17 children of mathematics professor Johann B. Siegling. At age 12, John learned the cabinet maker’s trade, and in 1806 he left Erfurt. He worked his way from Germany to Paris, where he arrived in May 1809. That’s when his life took a decided turn.
Playing a New Tune
In April 1810, John met piano manufacturer Sebastian Erard and became an instrument maker. In 1813, he finished his first piano. He remained with Erard for nine years, the last four in Erard’s London establishment. In September 1819, John headed for America and arrived in Charleston in November 1819. His uncle, Johann Heinrich Siegling (1770-1827), had emigrated there in 1798. He is buried in another area of St. Johln’s Churchyard.
After quickly establishing himself at the Corner of Broad and King streets, John began advertising the repair and tuning of musical instruments. Drawing upon his cosmopolitan background, he pledged to satisfy the most discriminating of customers. Thus, the Siegling Music House was born.
As I mentioned earlier, John Siegling married Mary Regina Schnierle in 1823. She was the beautiful, intelligent, and musically accomplished daughter of fellow carpenter Johann Michael Schnierle and Maria Barbara Munsch Schnierle from Germany. I’ll share more about the Schnierles later.
John and Mary had seven children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Two of his sons, Henry and Rudolph, grew up to help him make the Siegling Music House a great success in Charleston.
Tragedy struck when the Fire of 1838 destroyed much of the city center. The Siegling Music House, then located on Meeting Street, was destroyed but John didn’t let that keep him down. He rebuilt his business at the corner of King and Beaufain Streets. Another tragedy came as a result of this fire in the Schierle family, but I’ll get to that later.
Born in 1825, John Jr. was the second of the Siegling children. Most of them got their early education overseas in Germany. John Sr. and Mary also traveled back to their home country often during those years to visit their children, see family, and conduct business.
“Rare Union of Talent and Integrity”
John Jr. studied law in Charleston and completed his degree at Harvard University in 1846. He returned to practice law in Charleston and served in the South Carolina legislature. In the prime of his life, John Jr. became ill and after three weeks, passed away on Oct. 18, 1857 at the age of 32. The cause of death listed in records was paralysis.
John Sr. and Marie’s eldest child, Marie Regina, was as accomplished a musician as her mother and studied music in Paris. She was an internationally acclaimed singer, marrying German music professor Eduard Schumann Le Clercq in Charleston in 1850. They spent much of their time in Europe but returned to Charleston often with their children.
Sons Henry and Rudolph worked alongside their father in the family business, which John Sr. kept operating even during the Civil War. The brothers served in the Confederacy. Rudolph was seriously wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run by an exploding grenade. His death was actually reported to the family and a funeral service was conducted in Charleston. According to Marie’s memoirs, when John Sr. went to retrieve his son’s body, he found to his shock that Rudolph was very much alive!
Henry, who spent the most time in Germany in his younger years, served in Parker’s Company, South Carolina Light Artillery and participated in blockade running. He took over running the business for his father after John Siegling, Sr. died on Oct. 31, 1867. John Sr. was buried with son John Jr. at St. John’s Lutheran Churchyard.
Rudolph died (for real) at age 55 in 1894 of “cerebral apoplexy”. He is buried at Magnolia Cemetery, north of downtown Charleston. His mother, Mary Siegling, died at age 90 in 1896 and is also buried at Magnolia Cemetery. Henry died at age 77 in 1907 and is buried with his mother and brother at Magnolia. Eldest child Marie Siegling Le Clercq died in France at the age of 95 in 1920 and was cremated there.
Henry’s son Rudolph took over the family business in 1905. The Siegling Music House remained in operation in Charleston until 1970.
Who was Charles A. Siegling?
There’s a bit of mystery surrounding the marker against the back wall for Charles Augustin Siegling (1837-1878). He is related to the Sieglings, but I’ve been unable to determine exactly how. He came over from Germany right after the Civil War, settling in Charleston. Local directories show he was an accountant working at the same address as the Siegling Music House.
I suspect that during one of his many trips to Europe, John Sr. promised Charles, possibly a nephew or cousin, that he could have a job if he ever came to America. I can’t find any records about Charles beyond mentions in local directories and his death record. He died in 1878 of typhoid fever.
Schnierle Family History
Mary Schnierle Siegling was the daughter of carpenter Johann Michael Schnierle. Like her husband, Mary’s father came to Charleston from Germany seeking a more prosperous future. The son of a Lutheran clergyman, Johann probably arrived in America around 1805. He and wife Maria Barbara Schnierle had five children together in Charleston, with Mary being the eldest.
Second child, John, became a popular member of the thriving German community. He belonged to the Charleston City Council from 1838 to 1841, then became the city’s second German mayor in 1842 and served until 1845. He was elected mayor in 1850, serving a year. At the beginning of the Civil War, he was Major General of the Sixteenth Regiment, South Carolina Militia but died in the early days of the conflict from poor health. He is buried at Magnolia Cemetery.
The marker for John, Marie, and their youngest son, William (1815-1875) is located along the back wall and goes in order of whom died first. Marie died on April 17, 1836 at age 59. John died at age 65 in 1844. Son William died in 1875 at age 60.
The last story I’m going to share concerns the obelisk at the center of the Siegling/Schnierle plot. Unfortunately, I did not get a good photo because I was more taken with John Sr. and John Jr. Siegling’s monument. But I did get it in the background.
Frederick Schnierle was the third child of John and Marie Schnierle. Born in 1810, he was as popular in the German community as his brother John. Frederick was also an assistant chief of the local Fire Masters. That role would prove fatal.
Charleston was no stranger to fires. Jacob Schirmer, a merchant living in the city in the 1830s, recorded at least 69 Charleston fires. But the Charleston Fire of 1838 was surely the worst. Over 1,000 buildings were damaged, and more than a fourth of all the businesses within the city suffered damage, with losses of over $3 million.
The Charleston Fire of 1838
At around 9 p.m. on April 27, 1838, fire bells rang after a spark ignited a shed at the corner of King and Beresford Streets. Within minutes, four more houses were engulfed.
In an attempt to stop the fire’s wrath, the decision was made to demolish some buildings with explosives. Bringing them down to ground level reduced the hazard of windblown sparks, and from cleared lots, fire hoses could put scarce water on adjacent structures. At the same time, it was a strategy many were reluctant to take.
After bagged powder and prepared charges ran out, the fire department was forced to set fuses to kegs of gunpowder. An account of what happened to Frederick Schnierle was written in the Charleston News and Courier:
The assistant fire chief was fatally injured when a keg in a house at Liberty and King Streets exploded too quickly. Buried in its ruins, Frederick Schnierle spoke calmly to his rescuers as they dragged him out burned, disfigured, but still conscious. He died at home half an hour later.
He was only 28 years old.
“Tears of Admiration”
The Charleston City Council voted on July 30, 1839 to pay $300 to the firm of James E. Walker & Brothers to inscribe a marble monument in Frederick’s honor. I’ve mentioned the Walkers in former blog posts as some of the best known stone carvers in Charleston. The inscription reads:
This monument is erected by the CITY COUNCIL of Charleston, on behalf of his grateful fellow citizens to the memory of Frederick Schnierle.
A native of this city and an officer of the engineering department
who fell a victim at the age of 28 years. To his own uncontrollable Public Spirit
During the awful fire that desolated a third part of the City
on the night of April 27, 1838. The noble qualities of his character
giving promise of a useful and honorable life served to aggravate the public grief for his loss and to multiply the tears of admiration
which laden this memorial of his worth.
Next time, I’ll be sharing stories from Charleston’s St. Michael’s Churchyard.