The World of the Wachtersby Edward Pinkowski, Copper City, Florida
This story appeared in "Rodziny," Winter 2005
Almost a century after it was created, the equestrian statue of Kazimierz Pulaski in Washington, D. C., has overshadowed discussion of many subjects. For example, very few are familiar with the Polish roots of Frank C. Wachter (see photo), who was elected in Baltimore, Maryland, as a Republican to the 56th Congress in 1898 and was reelected three successive times. None of the other congressmen then had a drop of Polish blood.
When Abraham L. Brick, who came from South Bend, Indiana, to Washington at the same time as Wachter, introduced a bill for the erection of the monument to Pulaski, Wachter saw that it had little support. He realized that if he didn't speak out, none of his colleagues would pay attention to the bill to honor the Polish hero of the American Revolution. He was known as an efficacious man, with a cheerful smile, who easily won others to his side. "On the last day of the session the Speaker of the House brought it up for our consideration," he told a reporter of the Baltimore Sun in 1902. "The bill passed."
It took years after that for the federal government to set up a commission, find a site for the Pulaski monument in the nation's capital, and work out the rest: of the details. The sculptor was Kazimierz Chodzinski, who had studied under the famous Matejko in Krakow, Poland; it was he who carved the Kosciuszko statue before in Chicago. When his equestrian statue of Pulaski was unveiled in 1910, critics said it was the best they ever saw.
Had Thomas L. Hollowak, a devoted chronicler of Baltimore Poles, and his translator, William F. Hoffman, not seen the report in Dziennik Chicagoski, 18 September 1902, of a reception in Baltimore for Congressman Frank C. Wachter, the chances are that the Wachter name would mean nothing today to the Polish people. It was very tilting that more than 300 Poles in Baltimore, where the banner of the Pulaski Legion was preserved in the Maryland Historical Society since the 1840s, turned out for Wachter's testimonial. To pick out one family name or even many names, and say, "This is Polish Baltimore," is, of course, impossible. One of the leading ports of entry to the United States, Baltimore offered a haven for families with Polish names since Revolutionary times. The first influx of any size was after the revolution of 1848 from the German-occupied part of Poland. Many of these joined German or other churches and lost their Polish identity in whole or part. Some of them learned a profession, supplied brains for various businesses, and had considerable influence on Baltimore life. Even the later immigrants from Galicia and the Russian partition of Poland to Baltimore, which in 1930 had about 34,000 Polish immigrants, played major roles in the canning, shipping, and other industries.
Not until Wachter got up to speak in 1902, after Rev. Dr. Mieczyslaw Barabasz, pastor of Holy Rosary Church, greeted him, and he had received a bouquet of flowers and a standing ovation, did the audience know that the Wachters were hidden Poles. All he said was, "My grandfather was a Pole and lived in Poland when the great Napoleon Bonaparte was marching to Russia."
Unfortunately no other details were given. The surnames of the grandparents in one form or another still survive in Poland. Did he refer to his paternal grandfather, August Wachter, who was once in the German navy and at another time the principal of a school, or his maternal grandfather, Henry Fraske, who was a tax collector in his lifetime? His parents, August and Clara Wachter, who were married in the old country, or Prussia as it was then called, had settled in Baltimore about 1850.
For several months, at the end of the Civil War, August Wachter served in the Union Army with the 13th Maryland Infantry. Whether any of his sons also served in the Union Army is uncertain. The first of his eight children were old enough to join.
CALL OF BALTIMORE
Frank Charles Wachter was born September 16, 1861, in South Baltimore, where the Baltimore and Ohio company built the largest railroad station in the world in 1852 and the stockyards butchered more hogs than any other city on the Atlantic coast. Built on the Patapsco River not far from the Wachter home, Fort McHenry, which Francis Scott Key immortalized in "The Star Spangled Banner," was used in the 1860s to hold thousands of Confederate prisoners of war.
When he was growing up, Frank Wachter dreamed of being a tailor like his father. Upon graduation from St. Paul's German English School, however, he got a job as a clerk for a $1.50 a week in a clothing store. In time, because of his energy, determination, and brains, he managed the business.
Shortly afterwards, he took another job as general manager of a wholesale house in Kansas City, Missouri, but lost it two years later because the head of the business died. Then he traveled for a few years throughout the Middle West, selling gas fixtures, and was not too happy.
The call of South Baltimore was ever in his ears. He returned to his family and went to work for Wiesenfeld & Co., where his father was a tailor, in the cutting department. Not long after he learned the trade, he joined other cutters and trimmers to form an assembly of the Knights of Labor in Baltimore and held one union office after another. Eventually he became master workman of the Baltimore assembly. In 1889 he presided over the national convention of the cutters and trimmers in Rochester, New York.
After more job changes, he opened a cloth-sponging business in 1892 and devoted more attention to his family. His wife, Sophia Helen Mainz, whom he married when he returned from the Middle West, was the daughter of a wholesale cigar manufacturer in Baltimore, and they had two children, Hattie and Edmund. Hii success enabled him to buy an old brick mansion, with a terra-cotta roof, erected the 18th century, where George Washing ton slept when he stayed in Baltimore. The man who built the mansion of 18 rooms was so fond of Washington that he put a statue of him in the garden outside his bedroom. It was still there when Wachter slept in the same room.
Wachter was a member of the Second Lutheran Church and well known in fraternal societies. Baltimore had nearly as many clubs as New York or Philadelphia. Until his appointment to the Jail Board by the mayor of Baltimore in 1896 he was an unsung worker in Republican ranks. The first important campaign of his life came in 1898 when he received the Republican nomination for Congress. Nobody expected him to win. One of the issues in his favor was immigration. The Democratic party, largely in Irish hands, was against new immigration because the immigrants, who came mostly from Poland and Italy, were taking the places of Irish workers in mines and factories and working for less money. In the coming election, the Polish citizens of Baltimore, most of whom previously supported Democrats, voted in large part for Wachter. He was elected to the 56th Congress by a majority of 122 votes.
Wachter ran again two years later and won by more than 2,071 votes. After three terms in Washington, he ran for mayor of Baltimore. He won in the primaries and lost in the general election by less than 500 votes.
His family was at his bedside when he died on July 1, 1910. His body was followed to Loudon Park Cemetery by a long cortege of political and business associates. Services were held at the grave by virtually every lodge with which he was affiliated. The honorary pall bearers included the Vice President of the United States, James S. Sherman, Speaker of the House Joseph G. Cannon, many congressmen and senators and half as many has-beens.
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