Register of the Records of the
CANNSTATTER VOLKSFEST-VEREIN OF PHILADELPHIA
The Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein, a German-American benevolent society, was founded in Philadelphia on September 24, 1873. It was started by a group of German-American businessmen, among whom were the biscuit-maker Godfrey Keebler and brewer Christian Schmidt. The stated goals of the group were to uphold German culture, sociability, and charity through having a yearly festival and using the funds raised to donate to needy institutions and individuals. Specifically, the festival was to continue the traditions of the annual harvest festival in Schwabian spa of Bad Cannstatt, Germany. The first such festival was held on September 28-29, 1873 at Reistle's Singer Park in West Philadelphia.
Initially the organization met at members' business offices, but by 1901 they were able to purchase a building at 542 North Fourth Street. In 1912 they moved to a larger building at 1637 North Broad Street. In 1947 the organization moved to its present home at Willits and Academy Roads in Northeast Philadelphia.
Activities along with the yearly festival included annual balls, pinochle tournaments, parades, church festivals, and carnivals. Funds were donated to hospitals, orphanages, and individuals facing economic hardship. A special fund was established to provide coal in winter. The Goethe and Schiller monuments in Fairmount Park were donated by the Cannstatter Volksfest.
Membership was exclusively made up of German-American males. Fluency in writing, reading, and speaking the German language was and continues to be a requirement of membership. There was also an active ladies auxiliary made up of members' female relatives.
The membership increased steadily during the first fifty years of the organization's existence. However, the anti-German sentiment during World War I and the impact of Prohibition and the Depression seriously curtailed the number of active members. During World War II, the anti-German feeling was not as pronounced. In fact, membership again started to increase as more immigrants arrived after World War II. As of 1990, the organization had approximately three thousand members.
Now that immigration from Germany has virtually ceased as a significant factor the Cannstatter is more essentially a social and cultural organization rather than a mutual aid society. As mentioned, the yearly festival (Volksfest), is the big event of the Cannstatter. Traditionally, the centerpiece of this festival is the Fruchtsaule or fruit column composed of layers of fresh fruit and vegetables out of which members create a tower formation. Each layer graphically represents some significant aspect of German culture or history. At the base of this column, people dance to the music of visiting or local German bands. The custom of Alt Weibermuhle is reenacted year each wherein a miller takes older women through his mill to return them to their youth.
Along with the annual festival, weekend activities at the Cannstatter Haus include dances, banquets featuring German foods, and concerts by German performers all aimed at demonstrating, learning, and preserving German culture.
Roscoe, David. "Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein." In Invisible Philadelphia, Community Through Voluntary Organizations, eds., Jean Barth Toll and Mildred S. Gillam, Philadelphia, Atwater Kent Museum, 1995, pp. 89-90.
The records of the CANNSTATTER VOLKSFEST-VEREIN, 1873-1942 were received as a gift in 1993 as part of the Balch Institute's Delaware Valley Regional Ethnic Archives Project. Access to the materials is unrestricted.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
The records of the Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein date from 1873 to 1942. The collection is composed primarily of entertainment committee and director's meeting minutes, membership lists, miscellaneous items and memorabilia.
The meeting minutes, the bulk of the collection, span the years 1873-1945. They are all written in German with the exception of the years 1939-1942 which had English translations pinned into the minute books. These translations have since been removed to a separate folder in Box 4.
Description of minutes: The organization met at least once per month, sometimes more frequently up to once per week, depending on the type of activity being planned. The Cannstatter had numerous committees: Executive, Finance, Amusement/Entertainment (Vergnug), Park and Police, Charity (Wohltatigkheit), Reception (Empfanges), Hardship/Grievance (Druck), Property, and Theatre and Ticket.
Discussions usually focused on what organizations should receive monies the Cannstatter raised, reports on festival, parade and dance preparations with detailed listings of items needed for the affairs, costs of items and financial return on the affairs. Organizations that consistently reappear as beneficiaries of Cannstatter donations in the Philadelphia area include: Deutsches Hospital (now Lankenau), St. Mary's Hospital, Deutsche Altenheimer Lawndale, Little Sisters of the Poor, Germantown Homeopathic Hospital fur Kinder, St. Agnes Hospital, Police Pension Fund, Old Men's Home, Jewish Hospital, Kensington Dispensary, Evangelical Home for the Aged, Samaritan Hospital, Lutheran Home for the Aged, Christ Home for Children, German Baptist Home, Lutheran Orphanage, Women's Homeopathic Hospital, Northern Home for Friendless Children, Samaritan Shelter, Chapin Home for Aged Blind, society for Organized Charity, St. Christopher's Hospital for Children Rosewell Hospital, and Seamen's Society.
Also in the minutes, pasted in, are newspaper clippings in German on various topics including obituaries of individuals prominent in the organization including Charles Horsch (1907) and August Kaufmann (1908). Affiliate groups such as the Germania Turnverein c. 1908-1909, the German-American Central Bund, the Philadelphia Rifle Club, the Philadelphia Rundfunk Club are mentioned. There are references to other meeting places for Philadelphia Germans like the Junger Mannerchor Hall.
There is very little direct discussion in the minutes of either World War I or World War II. The Fifty Year Jubilee Album indicates that following the declaration of war with Germany in 1917, the yearly festival could not be held. While there was a ball at the Philadelphia Turgemeinde Hall, a supper at the Cannstat Haus and a family festival at the Columbia Singer Hall, none of these events were noted to be very successful. There is mention in the album that the Cannstatter had a float in the Philadelphia Loyalty Day Parade in 1918. The minutes do indicate financial contributions to the American Red Cross during World War II with a special German-American Red Cross Drive "in the interest of German-American citizenship." The April 2, 1942 minutes indicate a desire to have the annual festival "...if circumstances and conditions permitted by authorities..." for charity.
The activity committee minutes are rich with information concerning the efforts to preserve and develop German culture. An example would be the outline of a play entitled "Jamestown" which appears to rewrite the beginnings of American history including the contributions of German-Americans. It can be found in the minutes in Box 1, folder 2 for 1915.
Other Documentation: The collection also includes various memorabilia and printed items. Among these are a membership certificate from 1918, a color program for a ball in 1890, a few newspaper clippings in German about individual directors, and scant correspondence pieces.
Printed Holdings: In addition, this collection included three Jubilee volumes commemorating the fiftieth, seventy-fifth and one hundredth year anniversaries of the organization which have been separated to the library. These are especially important volumes in that they are printed in German and English, contain photographs of Cannstatter festivals and parades, as well as detailed advertisements provided by member German-American businesses, indicating the extent and depth of these concerns in the development of the general Philadelphia economy.
The box list of the Register of the Records of the Cannstatter
Volksfest-Verein is two pages long.