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Soul Searching Provides Living Link to New Braunfels Funeral History | Community alert

As the sun set over Comal Cemetery, curious history seekers began to walk through the graveyard’s iron gates and were transported to 19th and early 20th century New Braunfels via Soul Searching: Night Ramblings in the Comal Cemetery.

After dark fell on the hallowed ground of the cemetery, Friday evening gave way to tombstones shrouded in darkness and historical figures with curious occupations illuminated by lanterns.

Guided by the dim light of a flashlight, visitors wandered among the headstones of prominent New Braunfels personalities and family plots on their way to the final resting places of those who contributed to the funeral industry from the beginnings of the city.

Soul seekers gathered around each burial site to listen carefully to the stories of a coffin maker, pastor, sexton, headstone maker and pump contractor funeral.

The first soul encountered was Gus Stollewerk Sr., a coffin maker who donned a short apron lined with the tools of his carpentry trade and stood near one of his creations in progress.

The carpenter with a heavy German accent highlighted his building skills and even attempted to measure a visitor for one of his coffins. He also discussed growing his business and explained how he worked with an undertaker, whom guests would meet later on the tour.

Stollewerk’s burial place was recently discovered through family research and dowsing rods, which led to the location of his body, and a headstone was placed to mark his final resting place.

The second stop introduced Gustav Eisenlohr, a Protestant pastor played by Mayor Rusty Brockman—a frequent soul-searching player—accompanied by Eisenlohr’s wife, Elizabeth.

The Eisenlohr family followed Gustav on his ministry journey, which took them to Ohio, then to New Braunfels, and they returned to Ohio before retiring to New Braunfels.

Gustav is remembered as a pastor who performed weddings, funerals and baptisms, and also known for his poetry, which was featured prominently in The Herald-Zeitung.

A few blocks into the cemetery and visitors were introduced to a man standing among the seashell graves.

The man was none other than the undertaker Balthasar Preiss, who took the opportunity to dispel certain misconceptions about his three wives.

Balthasar married his first wife who had inherited an orphanage in New Braunfels and needed his help tending the farmland surrounding the orphanage – the couple divorced twice.

Balthasar would not take a second wife until she was 61, but the marriage was cut short when she died.

His business took off and Balthasar expanded his work to include preparing bodies for burial by providing a place to identify bodies as undertakers.

Balthasar remarried and continued to run his business until his death at the age of 81.

Onlookers were led to a resting place where they were treated to a woman singing hymns such as “It is Well with my Soul” and “Amazing Grace” next to a bed where the deceased were kept before the funeral homes do not exist.

The tour continued with the life of Fritz Bloedorn Sr., who tended the cemetery, often buried the dead, and kept records of those he buried as sexton.

Bloedorn was married and had 10 children. Bloedorn and his family are buried together in a family plot on the cemetery grounds.

Finally, guests met Adolph Hinmann, a prominent headstone maker who wielded a chisel when he greeted tour groups.

He began his career as a blacksmith and eventually became a headstone carver who imported and sold materials from his marble yard business, which he advertised in The Herald-Zeitung.

Hinmann signed his headstones and much of his work lives on at Comal Cemetery and other New Braunfels cemeteries.

The Soul Searching tours return next year on October 20 and 21 with a new theme and a new set of characters whose stories want to be told.