Pieces of the Puzzle

Our Own Mysteries of the Museum

Oregon Governor Mark Hatfield dedicated the Ox Barn Museum- now know as the Old Aurora Colony Museum on September 25, 1966. Fifty years after that momentous opening day, we are still discovering Aurora Colony artifacts and trying to tell their stories through exhibits and other educational activities here at the Museum.Our first exhibit of 2016, “Pieces of the Puzzle”, focuses on artifacts that have come to us with only part of their story known.Through research and great detective work we have filled in the gaps- thus gradually solving the puzzles. Sometimes by solving one puzzle we only find another to uncover! Come to the Old Aurora Colony Museum to enjoy all of our mysterious “Pieces of the Puzzle”. This eclectic collection of museum mysteries will be on exhibit through June 2, 2016.

O Schellenbaum- Where Art Thou?

John Bauer of Bethel, Missouri is usually given the credit for the manufacture of Aurora Colony’s famous and unique Schellenbaum or “Tree of Bells.”  In the 1862 photograph exhibited at the Old Aurora Colony Museum, Bauer is shown holding the instrument with the Bethel Band in 1862.  However, beginning two years later in 1864, the “Tree of Bells” is no longer seen in photos of the Bethel Band. Perhaps the music teacher Henry Conrad Finck brought it with him via the Isthmus of Panama in the Winter of 1863.  More likely, the 250 members of the great migration of 1863 carried the Schellenbaum across the Oregon Trail from Bethel to Aurora.But why is the Schellenbaum absent from every known picture of the Aurora Colony Band? The puzzle remains- and another mystery surfaces.The Schellenbaum first appears at Aurora in a June 1927 photograph taken by Clark Moor Will, Aurora Colony descendent. The distinctive instrument is being held by Clark’s foster father George Wolfer.  Clark notes that this photograph is “thru the kindness of Louie Webert.” Louie Webert became a Charter Member of the Hermes Lodge No. 56 Knights of Pythias Fraternal Club at Aurora in 1886.  It appears that the Schellenbaum may have been in his care and perhaps that of the Hermes Lodge many years. The Schellenbaum was donated to the museum in 1966.

The Case of the Lost Boy

The Case of the Lost Boy- In 2008 Curator Patrick Harris and Board Member Annette James were invited to the Reiling family farm near Donald, Oregon, to peruse artifacts that the family was considering donating to the Aurora Colony Historical Society. The Reilings are related to the Aurora Colony through the William Kraus and Clara Ehlen families. After a long day Curator Harris noticed a large framed photograph tucked away in a basement corner.  The photograph, which had been hand tinted in the style before color photography, was of a little boy about five years old.  Intrigued, Harris asked about the child’s identity. No one knew. That set Patrick and the Museum’s own Dr. Watson (assistant curator Allison Dittmar) and Mrs. Hudson (staffer Janus Childs) on a quest to solve this mystery. After scouring the extensive Museum’s photographic archives they found a small, aged photo image of a little boy identified as Freddie Ehlen, the son of Henry Keil and Aurora Keil. After careful comparison, it was declared that the hand-painted photograph was indeed that of Freddie Ehlen.

The Puzzle of the Multi-colored Chair

Why is this otherwise ordinary Aurora Colony chair painted in this colorful manner?  The chair is quite possibly the same one that Eugene Snyder’s grandmother, Catherine Forstner, sat in to have her portrait taken as a young girl about 1862. The chair was made by Eugene’s great-grandfather, Charles Snyder, passed down through his son Henry’s family to his son Edmund who married Amanda Tester.  Amanda, one of America’s premier 20th century Modernistic artists created a very lovely oil painting interpretation of Catherine Forstner’s 1862 photograph a hundred years later. Eugene donated the chair to the Aurora Colony Historical Society in 1987. You can view both the chair and a copy of Tester’s painting at our “Pieces of the Puzzle” exhibit.