Hicksville grew substantially in the late 1800s,
attracting newcomers from many places, including
, and (of course)
. Many of them had served in
the Civil War, and they saw the post-war years as a time to try to make
new starts. Prussian-born
August Fleischbein left behind his
butcher shop to become proprietor of the Grand Central Hotel.
Irish-born tinsmith James de St. Legier also left
, and set up shop on Broadway. Eventually,
his son John opened a bicycle shop next door.
A growing village like
offered lots of opportunity for veterans who were ready to set out on
inverted to attract
more attention, an ad for
John De St. Legier’s shop
Long-Islander, November ? 1896
Long-Islander, April 23, 1900
In this article, I focus on another of those veterans,
Herman Menge, someone whose name you’re not likely to recognize.
Since I began writing Ancient Hixtory, however, almost every time I’ve tried to
research my topics, I’ve come across old news items that mention him.
By now, I’ve developed quite a liking for this man, and I think that
his contemporaries did, too. When
had a parade, Henry Menge would be given a place of honor in it.
A public ceremony? He’d
be on the dais, and most likely, he’d be asked to speak.
He may have lacked higher education, and yet he was chosen as a
delegate to a state Republican convention.
When Father Lawrence Fuchs organized a charity auction at St.
Ignatius, who other than Henry Menge would have thought of donating
gilded potatoes as auction items?
Let’s take a look at his life. Along
the way, we’re bound to acquire some new insights into old
Henry Menge was born in 1848.
When he was seven, a New York State census recorded that the Menge
family resided in Brooklyn, that Henry’s father was a baker, and that
(according to his parents) everyone in the family had been born in
Germany. Not long after that
date, Henry’s father died. The
census listed his mother as a single parent, supporting herself and her
four children by making garments. Life
could not have been easy for the family.
When the Civil War erupted, Henry was a boy of thirteen.
Only three years later, however, he seized an opportunity to ease
his mother’s financial burden. President
Lincoln asked that
supply 12,000 troops as soon as possible for short-term service (one
hundred days), so that the regular Army troops who were protecting
could be redeployed for battle. Governor
Seymour agreed, immediately dispatching 3,000 men in existing National
Guard (then a brand-new term for state militia) regiments.
The remainder would come from new temporary Guard
regiments. Henry joined one
of the latter, a Brooklyn-based regiment led by Col. Frederick A.
Conkling, who had led a similar unit earlier in the war.
Young Menge likely had to misstate his age in order to enlist.
and once Congressmen, Frederick Conkling,
who led the 84th
National Guard Infantry
Brady photograph, via
the Library of Congress
The new regiment was sent to
. Although it fought no true
battles, it did fight a few skirmishes with small bands of Confederates,
in which it suffered some casualties.
When its time was up, Pvt. Menge and his comrades returned to
. He was unharmed, he had
seen that there was more to the world than
, and he probably was feeling ready to start leading his own life.
In part, that was because his one hundred days of active service
had automatically granted him deferment from being drafted into the
regular army, which remained at war.
Presumably, networking with other German-Americans was
what led him eastward to what today is
, where he had settled by 1875. That
year, he married Johanna Rosche, the daughter of a German-born farmer
who lived in
. In June 1880, a Federal
census recorded that he and his wife were living there with her father,
on the latter’s farm. Henry
– like one of Johanna’s brothers – was a silver
beater. The silver got
Daily Eagle, September 6, 1910
It is noteworthy that when Johanna Rosche married
Henry, her older sister Frederika was already married to the Rev. Paul
Matschat. The Matschats then
were living in
, but they had resided in
for a year or two following the war.
They would return to Hicksville a year after Johanna’s
marriage, at which time the good Reverend would begin his continuous
personal observation: On the census in 1880, Paul Matschat did not
identify himself as ‘German’ or’ Prussian,’ but instead as
‘Silesian.’ Perhaps that
was because Silesia, after years of allying itself with Austria and
other German states that were strongly opposed to joining a Prussian-led
Germany, had recently been annexed by Prussia, and the annexation had
Arcanum, a Fantastic Light Guard, and Fun
Later in the 1880s, Henry and Johanna resided in
, and it appears that they fit in well.
Newspapers reported that they, especially Henry, were active in
many social groups. We’ll
look at two of those here.
The Royal Arcanum was one of
the first “open” mutual assistance societies in
, created so that working people could invest in whole life insurance
without having to belong to a special fraternal group.
It was founded in 1877, at which time it was unique, in that it
employed a formal method of assessing insurance risk.
Its contemporaries, like the Knights
of Honor, issued insurance policies without assessing risk, and
eventually, they all failed. Who
Could insurance be fun? Evidently,
it could in
. The Long-Islander
for September 6, 1889 reported that the Labor Day picnic held by the Royal
Arcanum’s Hicksville Council had been a “blow out.”
It was led by Herr Gelb’s
Celebrated Brass Band of New York, which rode in a wagon pulled by
four festooned horses. Twenty-three
wagons and carriages of Arcanum
members and guests followed it. They
proceeded up Broadway to Jericho, then south to Jerusalem Avenue and
Marie Street, then east to Broadway again, and finally north again to
the Grand Central Hotel. Upon
arrival, there were a few speeches, some singing by the Hicksville
Quartet, a picnic, bowling (for prizes), lots of “refreshments,”
and outdoor music and dancing that lasted until 4:00 AM Tuesday.
Hicksvillians certainly knew how to party.
Henry Menge was one of the organizers of the event; he also served as
the council’s Orator, which
meant that he spoke publicly at events during the year.
every village on the Island had
a Royal Arcanum Council
local, town, and county jurist, and
namesake of The Fantastic Light Guard
Public Library collection
Around the same time, Menge also was active in another
organization, new, and unique to the village: The Joseph Steinert Fantastic Light Guard.
Named in honor of the respected local jurist, its nominal
purpose was not clear. On
the other hand, its de facto purpose
was obvious: to have a good time, and while doing so, to raise money so
that its members could have another good time in the future.
Henry Menge served as the organization’s Secretary.
In February 1892, at the time of its annual Masquerade
Ball, the Light Guard had
fifty members. According to
the news reports, the ball attracted five hundred revelers to the
capacious ballroom of the Grand Central Hotel (it is not at all
surprising that August Fleischbein, who ran the hotel, was a member of
the group). Dinner for five
hundred mandated the use of most of the hotel’s many dining rooms.
At the ball itself, Justice Steinert and his wife led the Grand
March. It was a complete
success, for sufficient funds were raised to cover the Light
Guard’s next summer beach excursion.
Menge’s name often appears in the news in connection
’s firefighters. In
October 1902, when the Southern
New York Volunteer Firemen’s Association held its convention in
, he had been one of a few men chosen to be take care of the
“Arrangements” – which implies that he was known for his ability
to get things done.
In 1904, when Hicksville’s early fire companies decided that the time
had come to band together, and create a formal Fire Department, Menge
was chosen as
’s first Fire Chief. The
following is an excerpt from a short but detailed history, written by
Joseph Steinert, Jr.
Long-Islander, December 12, 1919
Fire Chief brought new responsibilities, of course, and it also meant
participation in numerous public activities, some festive, and some
Long-Islander, May 31, 1907
Day was the name then commonly used for
Memorial Day, which was established to honor those
who died fighting for the Union in the Civil War.
” in Westbury since has been
integrated into the Cemetery of the Holy Rood.
Grand Army of the Republic
Henry Menge also took an active role in the Grand
Army of the Republic, a large – there were 410,000 members at its
peak – fraternal organization that advocated on behalf of Union
veterans of the Civil War. It
lobbied for the establishment of pensions for war veterans, and it
promoted fair treatment of veterans by society – including their being
allowed to vote if they happened to be black.
Like the Arcanum and the Fire
Department, the G.A.R. had a
serious purpose, but it was not averse to comradeship and fun.
There were regular local meetings, occasional get-togethers with
other nearby Posts, and annual National Encampments. In
1915, Menge attended the encampment that marked the passage of fifty
years since the end of the Civil War.
Ironically, President Wilson, a southerner, addressed the Union
active in nearly everything led to scheduling conflicts.
In 1915, attending the G.A.R. National Encampment in D.C. meant that Henry missed a
meeting of Fire Commissioners.
Long-Islander, March 24? 1905
Long-Islander, October 1, 1915
Henry Menge was becoming an integral part of
, appearing at public events, and also being involved in
behind-the-scenes phenomena. He
was spending less time with his business.
Around 1894, he made known his desire to be appointed to fill the
then-vacant position of local Postmaster.
When the local politicos named someone else to the job, much of
the town was outraged. Within
a few years, Menge and a number of other one-time Democrats had joined
the local Republican Association, and several of them had been elected
officers of it.
In 1899, Menge was chosen to be one of
’s Republican delegates to the Town convention.
In 1903 (when he was 55), the Long-Islander
referred to him as part of the “young blood” in the local Republican
Party. The next year, he was
a delegate to the State Republican convention.
During these years, Brooklyn and western Queens were
New York City
. Although the City did a
great deal of planning before amalgamating, it does not appear that Long
Island had given much forethought to dealing with the three Townships
that were to be left behind.
At first, all options seemed to be open, including annexing them to
Daily Eagle, January 18, 1898
It’s interesting to see that Henry Menge was given an
important role in the discussions that ultimately led to the formation
. I guess that one should
not be surprised – people always had confidence in him.
Once it was determined that the former Queens Townships would not join
, the choice of a seat for the
became a matter of great interest. Hempstead,
all vied for the honor, and Henry Menge was asked to be one of the
pro-Hicksville participants in the process.
It appears that Hicksville ultimately gave its support to Mineola,
accepting the argument that it couldn’t garner enough support for its
own cause, and that its interests lay closer to those of Mineola than to
As the years passed, people started to think of Henry
as the village’s Grand Old Man.
With amicable respect, the newspapers started to refer to him as Col.
He still was frequently chosen to be Grand Marshal for one of the
principal parades (i.e., for Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor
Day), for which he would proudly don his old uniform.
1910’s Independence Day parade was special, for on that day the
extension to the school on
was formally dedicated, and thanks to “the Colonel,” Civil War
veteran groups came from
, marched in the parade, and presented two American flags to the school.
When people saw Henry Menge at a public event, they might not even
bother to wonder which group he was representing – it might be the Royal Arcanum, the G.A.R.,
the Republican Party, the Fire
Department, the Village
Improvement Association, or all of them at once.
did not learn of its three World War I soldiers’ deaths until very
late in 1918. On the next
spring’s Memorial Day, the village’s parade led to the Triangle,
where three oak trees, one for each man lost, were planted.
Henry Menge personally planted one of them.
Five weeks later, on Independence Day, the village had a large
celebration for its returned veterans, and it then dedicated the
commemorative boulder which bears the names of those who served in that
war. Henry Menge and Louis
’s last surviving Civil War veterans, shared a place of honor in the
parade that day, riding in an automobile, together holding up an
By 1924, even the official program for
’s Memorial Day observation listed Col.
Henry Menge as the ceremony’s final speaker.
Long-Islander, May 23, 1924
Menge was a widower now, and at 76, he had slowed down.
A whimsical but poignant newspaper report described his life in
retirement as encompassing a flower garden, a goldfish, and a radio that
refused to work.
He passed away about a year later. He
was buried next to Johanna – not in his adopted Hicksville, for which
he had done so much, but in Brooklyn’s
, where he was surrounded by the ranks of graves of countless fellow
veterans of the Civil War.
One Last Item: Gilded Potatoes
And finally, the odd incident to which this article
alluded at the outset....
Daily Eagle, August 8, 1897
Long-Islander, March 7, 1919
Several things about donating the two potatoes strike
me. The very concept of it
is delightfully quirky. The
concealed gold pieces were unexpected rewards for the bidders’
generosity (incidentally, $2.50 in 1919 dollars would be equivalent to
almost $40 today). The
potatoes were chosen so as to promote two popular varieties.
Moreover, the event was in support of a Roman Catholic organization, and
Henry Menge was Lutheran. Over the years, Father Fuchs and
’s “Colonel” appeared at, and spoke at, many of the same
ceremonies. This little
episode suggests that they had got to know and appreciate each other.
See You in February!