LIMA — Johann Wendel Eysenbach arrived in the United States with his wife, a handful of children, a keen mind and a piano.
In January 1958, more than a century later, his granddaughter, Ella Eysenbach, who taught piano in Lima for nearly 50 years, sat once again at the piano her grandfather brought with him when he fled the unrest prevalent in Germany in the mid-19th century.
“She reminisced as she let her fingers wander over the yellowed keys, saying, ‘I have only the vaguest recollection of him,’” The Lima News wrote Jan. 12, 1958.
“I never heard him play,” Ella Eysenbach told the News. “And I was only six when he died.”
Johann Wendel Eysenbach, who was often referred to as Wendel Eysenbach, settled in Marion Township near Delphos in 1851, with his wife, Margaret Schilling Eysenbach, five children (a sixth was born after the family arrived in the United States) and that piano, a Balthuser-Vierheller, which he purchased in Germany in 1839 and which, the News noted, was his “most prized possession.”
Ella Eysenbach, who died in 1959, was the daughter of Wendel Eysenbach’s youngest son, Theodore. In addition to Theodore, Wendel Eysenbach and his wife were the parents of three other sons, Louis, Henry and Wilhelm, and two daughters, Maria, who was born in 1839 and was the oldest child, and Lina, born in 1852 and the youngest.
By the time he died at the age of 76 in 1886, some 35 years after settling in the area, Wendel Eysenbach had earned the respect of the community. “Places of business were closed during the funeral, and our people generally turned out to pay a last tribute to the memory of an old and respected citizen,” the Delphos Herald wrote May 13, 1886, a week after Eysenbach’s death.
“He came to Delphos in 1851, and therefore was among the early settlers of this vicinity. For many years and up to a recent date, he was a teacher of piano music, and in this profession he had no superiors,” the Herald proclaimed. Eysenbach was reportedly the first piano teacher in Allen County.
“He was a cultured gentleman and his dealings with men were always stamped with rare honesty. He was a ‘free thinker,’ otherwise an infidel, and in accordance with his wishes no religious ceremonies were held at the house, nor at the grave,” the Herald wrote. According to the website of the group Freedom from Religion, free thinkers form opinions about religion based on reason, independent of tradition, authority or established belief and include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.
According to a history of Allen County published in 1908, Wendel Eysenbach was born April 29, 1810, in Eberstadt, Germany. “At the age of 17, he attended the seminary of Friedberg and was graduated there as a public teacher at the age of 20 years. After serving for a time as a private tutor, he received an appointment as public teacher and for many years was popular as such.”
However, the history noted, “during the troubles of the Revolution of 1848 he was impeached by the government on account of his liberal sentiments and as a result of a trial was sentenced to punishment. However, in 1851, he escaped to America and settled on a farm in Marion Township, Allen County, east of Delphos, where he passed the remainder of his life, dying in May 1886. He was a natural and trained musician and taught the piano for about 10 years, having many pupils in Lima.”
Wendel Eysenbach’s sentiments may have been liberal, but his views on teaching piano were apparently a little more conservative. “Miss Eysenbach recalled that he was a stern taskmaster when he was teaching piano,” the News wrote in 1958. “More than one student had his knuckles cracked by grandfather,” she said.
Although Wendel Eysenbach “turned farmer” after arriving in Marion Township, “only a few years later he organized a private school where he taught mechanical drawing, astronomy and higher mathematics,” according to the News.
“He was quite an astronomer,” Ella Eysenbach said in 1958. “One of the models of the orbits he used is here in the Allen County Historical Society.”
It was after the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the return of his sons that Wendel Eysenbach turned full time to his first love — music. “Then he opened a music studio,” Ella Eysenbach said. “He used this old piano at first. Later he had a large ebony grand piano.”
The old piano, which came to the wilderness of northwest Ohio after a harrowing trip up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to the Ohio and Erie Canal, survived a few close calls. In 1853 the Eysenbach cabin near Delphos burned to the ground and Wendel Eysenbach’s daughter, Marie, who was 14 at the time and, according to Ella Eysenbach, “quite petite,” helped her father carry the heavy piano from the house. “It was the only piece of furniture salvaged from the blaze,” Ella Eysenbach recalled.
The piano eventually was given to Marie, the eldest daughter, and her family all used it, Ella Eysenbach said, noting that it is distinctive “in that its keyboard is only six octaves instead of the usual eight and instead of pedals there are blocks of wood fastened underneath the case to be operated by the knees of the player.
“It’s an unusual piano,” Ella Eysenbach told the News. “After grandfather died, parts couldn’t be bought for it anymore. He made his own.”
Today, Wendel Eysenbach’s piano is on display at the Allen County Museum. An integrated globe representing the Earth, sun and moon with planets in motion which he created is also possessed by the museum, although it is not on display.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.