Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
“It’s almost like Christmas came in July!” said Kim Smith, curator at the Vigo County Historical Museum.
Actually, the month is June but Smith and others at the museum are excited about the arrival of priceless items used by Terre Haute-native Rose Fehrenbach and her husband, Edward Pierce, to promote their Vaudeville acts in the early 20th century.
An Oklahoma City woman donated the items, telling the museum staff that “these pieces should come home.”
Executive Director Marylee Hagan and Assistant Director Barbara Carney were all smiles as they pushed aside blue bubble wraps to show a large framed photo of Fehrenbach — a world class performer whose stage name was Marie Roslyn — holding an accordion, an important part of her act.
“Any part of our history is certainly important to us,” Hagan said. “Then add to the fact that these things have been roaming the world and finally came home makes it more intriguing.
“The story is complete because these things have come back to the place where Rose was born,” she added.
Another similar-sized photo bears the image of Pierce, also her showbiz partner.
“He’s was definitely handsome!” said Hagan of Fehrenbach’s husband. Carney agreed.
Carney said the two photos were probably used in the lobby to let theatergoers know who was performing.
A large, rectangular storage trunk, that according to the museum weighs about 50 pounds, came with the group of images. Hagan and Carney said the trunk may have been used to transport publicity pictures the couple used as it traveled the world.
A shipping sticker with the words, “City Line London” is still clearly visible. This is a strong indication that the trunk — along with its owners — had been to England. Although a little faded, the name “Pierce-Roslyn” can still be read.
Another piece points to evidence of the couple performing in Germany. Hagan and Carney rolled out three 6-feet long playboards, with words mostly in German. Under the couple’s names, it described the “Two Americans in a Whirl of Melody.”
Hagan and Carney said the playboards, showing some wear and age, were probably displayed outside the theater.
“I just didn’t expect them to be nearly as large,” Carney said about the donated items.
The person who sent them, Mary Walker, bought the items at an auction, according to Hagan and Carney.
“The woman had them … in her garage. [She] decided to research the material and found that Rose came from Terre Haute,” Carney said.
Museum files tell the story of the famous Vaudeville performer.
Rose Fehrenbach was born on Oct. 9, 1880, at 936 S. First St. to Joseph and Rosalyn Herr Fehrenbach. She grew up with brothers Will, Frank and Gabriel, and the family lived in homes at First and Sycamore streets.
Fehrenbach discovered her lifelong love for music and her singing talent as a student at St. Benedict's School. She honed her voice and sharpened her piano skills, instructed by local teacher Florence Sage.
Fehrenbach’s musical career took her all over the world.
Highlights of her career include performances for Pope Pius XI in Rome and King George V and Queen Mary in England. The files also note a performance in Germany at her parents’ village.
She visited Terre Haute during travel breaks. She was guest soloist at the dedication of the new St. Benedict’s Church in 1899.
She died in 1943 at St. Anthony’s Hospital (now Terre Haute Regional Hospital) and is buried at Terre Haute’s Calvary Cemetery at Wabash Avenue and Keane Lane.
Early in her career, she met her husband, Joseph Edward Pierce, and the couple married in London.
The museum also has treasures from that occasion.
A few years ago, Carole Steele of Merlin, Ore., donated pictures to the museum, including the couple’s wedding picture.
These pictures and the newly donated items will make up a possible future exhibit at the museum, Hagan said.
Tribune-Star reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell