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The Vonnegut Families of Lake Maxinkuckee

The Early Years

Clemens Vonnegut, Sr. an 1848 transplant from Germany and a successful businessman, civic leader, advocate of physical fitness, and Freethinker, arrived at Lake Maxinkuckee with wife Catherine Blank Vonnegut around 1889 (the same year H.H. Culver started his Culver Park Assembly Chautauqua on the grounds of today’s Culver Academy, a venture he would evolve to 5 years later, in 1894).

Clemens Vonnegut, Sr.

Above: Clemens Vonnegut, Sr.

Why Lake Maxinkuckee? The arrival of the railroad to the Lake in 1883 gradually brought scores of people from all over Indiana to cool off on its shores. The Vonnegut family were part of the physical fitness movement of the late 19th century, and the lake provided the ideal outlet for reception of fresh air, plenty of exercise, and clean living.

The Vonneguts were some of, if not the, earliest settlers to the east shore of the lake, which was then unsettled wilderness.

Caty Rasmussen – a cousin of the Vonnegut family – has said that the Vonneguts "came to the wilderness and built tennis courts"!

Catherine died in 1904 and Clemens Vonnegut in 1906, but their children continued to summer at Lake Maxinkuckee. These included Clemens Jr., Bernard, George, and Franklin.

Clemens Vonnegut, Jr. married Emma Schnull Vonnegut, who would go on to local fame as proprietor of an apple orchard near the lake. Their son Walter, who assisted in the operation of the orchard.

Bernard Vonnegut

Clemens Sr.’s son Bernard Vonnegut (who died in 1908) is best-known as a renowned architect, particularly in Indianapolis. He and wife Nannie Schnull gave birth to Kurt Vonnegut, Sr., who followed in his father’s footsteps as an architect and would go on to marry Edith Leiber, daughter of millionaire brewer Albert Leiber.

Obituary 01 Obituary 02

Above: Oct. 23, 1929 obituary for Nannie Schnull Vonnegut, from the Culver Citizen.

The two had three children: Bernard, Alice, and Kurt Jr.

Kurt Sr. and Edith were hard hit by the Depression and the family fortune soon dwindled, leading eventually to Edith’s depression and 1944 suicide.

The Schnulls, the Vonneguts, and the Muellers

Henry Schnull

Henry Schnull, a well-known businessman in Indianapolis himself, had three daughters: Emma, Nannie, and Julia.

Julia Schnull would marry J. George Mueller in 1888. Mueller was secretary-treasurer of the Mooney-Mueller Drug Company in Indianapolis.

Bernard Vonnegut and J. George Mueller

Above: Bernard Vonnegut and J. George Mueller on Lake Maxinkuckee

1940s Letter-to-the-Editor of The Culver Citizen by Clemens 0. Mueller (J. George Mueller’s son):

 "…I have been coming up here for lo these many years. It is my second home: I love the lake, the surrounding country, its people, so many of whom are my friends. In fact I like Northern Indiana. This tale I must write, and I don't believe anything of the sort has been written before...

...all was excitement. We slept fitfully and were up early. The train left at 7 a.m., a baggage car, smoker and family coach via The Big Four Railroad. At Colfax we debarked and waited for the Vandalia (Pennsylvania to you). If by any chance there had not been a wreck below Colfax we made fairly good connections.

"Again a three coach train speeding north through Frankfort, Bringhurst, Sedalia, Camden, Flora, Woodville, and Logansport. The magazine and candy butcher of the Union News Co. was George Nearpass, of local fame. At Logansport the train paused for ten minutes for dinner. Of course we carried our own box lunches. One important feature of the whole journey was to see who could first get a glimpse of the lake north of Delong."

J. George Mueller

Above: a 1905 cartoon depicting J. George Mueller

At last after four and one half hour's journey we arrived at Marmont (Culver to you). The din of passengers alighting, others entraining for Plymouth and South Bend, the friends who always met you at the station, it was noisy and colorful.... fond recollections indeed; the fondest of my early life."

Henry Schnull and Clemens Vonnegut, Sr.

Above: Henry Schnull and Clemens Vonnegut, Sr. in Indianapolis

The  Vonneguts of Hilarity Hill

Wrote Catey Rasmussen: "…a relative, great-grandfather Henry Schnull, had established his three daughters - Emma, Nannie, and Julia, in cottages on the East Shore which became famous for their tennis court about 1904. One of these, called "Hilarity Hill", is where eleven little Vonnegut - Mueller - Schnull cousins grew-up."

The property, the highest point on the east shore, is located at 844 East Shore Drive, just north of People’s Point, a projection where the Perry House is located, at 894 East Shore Drive."

It was part of the actual site of the Hilarity Club, which was formed by Indianapolis business men on 24 June, 1894. They erected a club house just north of the Peru club and named it "Hilarity Hall."

The club was formed by gentlemen of Indianapolis: Charles Keifer, A.C. Koehne, Charles R. Myers, B. F. Myers, Charles J. Wacker, Adolph Wocher, Rowland Evans, Daniel Henry Beissenberz, and Prof. Alexander Ernestinoff. By 1905 the club house was gone, and J. George Mueller built his cottage there in 1907.

"Indiana on Perry's Point, Lake Maxinkuckee

Above: "Indiana on Perry's Point, Lake Maxinkuckee"

The Vonnegut Orchard & the Holly Hocks

In May, 1910, Walter Vonnegut purchased the 160-acre Marks Farm on the east side. In cooperation with Purdue University, he announced plans to become an orchard grower. A 30 acre orchard was planted by the Vonnegut family and for a number of years produced a large crop of apples.

The Vonnegut Orchard was apparently located on the northern portion of the land today owned by Dr. Warren Reiss at 921 N. East Shore Drive. The orchard extended back as far as the south curve of today’s 18th Road, at least.

Orchard Ad

Above: A Sept., 1936 advertisement for the Vonnegut Orchards.

At one point, Queen Rd. (which ran along the north edge of the orchard) was known as the "Vonnegut Road."

Orchard Map

Above: a modern map showing the approximate location of the Vonnegut orchard.

A Sept., 1920 Indianapolis Star article acclaimed 70-year old Emma Vonnegut as a "successful and versatile orchardist."

Family Photo

Above: Seated: Mrs. Clemens (Emma) Vonnegut Mrs. Bernard (Nannie) Vonnegut; Standing: Mrs. George (Julia) Mueller, Gustav A. Schnull, Aug 29, 1921 at the Bernard Vonnegut cottage on "Hilarity Hill."

The original farmhouse burned in 1936, and was replaced by a small cottage in which Emma lived until her 1939 death. The original barn was, at least, still standing on Dr. Reiss’ land.

22 Feb 1939 Culver Citizen:

Mrs. Emma Schnull Vonnegut, age 81 years, died Friday at the home "The Hollyhock", on the east side, after an illness of twelve days from complications. She was the widow of the late Clemens Vonnegut. The Vonneguts were pioneers among the cottagers having started coming to Lake Maxinkuckee from Indianapolis fifty years ago. Ten years ago Mrs. Vonnegut purchased the Peeples farm and has been conducting an apple orchard that gained fame for its quality throughout northern Indiana and southern Michigan. Three years ago the home was destroyed by fire and Mrs. Vonnegut at once rebuilt a house that was her "dream home". Surviving are one daughter Mrs. W. K. Stewart, of Louisville, Ky.; two sons: Anton of Indianapolis, and Walter who was associated in the operation of the orchard; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, as well as a host of friends. Funeral services were held Monday morning at the Flanner-Buchanan funeral home, Indianapolis, with internment in the Crown Hill Cemetery there. The remains were taken to Indianapolis Sunday afternoon. Mrs. Vonnegut was a woman of unusual character, personality, and business ability. To know her was to admire and respect her in every way. Her indomitable courage was demonstrated when her home with priceless belongings was destroyed by fire without wavering or seeking refuge in courting expressions of sympathy, she set out at once to plan for the future. Instead of bemoaning her loses she gloried in the responses from her friends. Mrs. Vonnegut's passing is a loss to the community for her type is few and far between.  

Vonnegut Cottages

Within a few years, several cottages would be built in this area by the Vonnegut and Schnull families. Mueller was married to Julia Schnull.  Her sister, Emma occupied the cottage to the north (814 East Shore Drive, built c.1890) with husband Clemens Vonnegut, Jr.

The Vonnegut-Mueller Cottage

Above: The Vonnegut-Mueller cottage as pictured in an 1898 edition of the Culver City Herald. Presumably this is the cottage on Hilarity Hill? Details would be welcomed!

Clemens’ brother Bernard and another Schnull sister, Nannie, summered at 782 East Shore Drive (c.1900).

It was at this cottage, his grandfathers, that a young Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., would summer with family.

Two other Vonnegut brothers, Franklin and George, owned the cottages at 762 and 742 East Shore Drive, built in 1881 and c.1905.

Meredith Nicholson conceived much of the basis for his popular novel, The House of a Thousand Candles (published in 1905 and the best-selling book of 1906 in the entire U.S.), at  the Vonnegut cottage at 762 East Shore Drive. Nicholson found inspiration in the lake shore setting and the semi-gothic aura of the Academy, just across the lake shore. Click here to learn more about The House of a Thousand Candles.

The three families, Vonnegut, Schnull, and Mueller, were active in many social and charitable organizations in Indianapolis, and carried this sense of community with them to Lake Maxinkuckee.

For example, they were members of the Maxinkuckee Lake Association (now the Lake Maxinkuckee Association), founded in 1897, to protect the interests of property owners around the lake, and to promote "fish culture and protection, sanitary regulation, and local improvements in roads, trees, walks and piers." Franklin Vonnegut was the first secretary of the organization. Mueller was treasurer from 1900-1901. Some of the extended family, along with other Indianapolis residents, were also members of a group called the Literary Club, which met each June at the lake.

Postcard from the Maxinkuckee Lake Association

Above: Postcard from the Maxinkuckee Lake Association listing Franklin Vonnegut as president. Though dated Aug. 29, no year is given, but since Vonnegut was the first president of the organization, a date before 1905 can be assumed.

Vonnegut and Vonnegut-related properties on part of East Shore in 1922…

1922 Plat Map 011922 Plat Map 02

Above: A 1922 plat map of East Shore Drive split into two images in order to illustrate the proliferation of Vonnegut and Vonnegut-related property owners on at least one section of East Shore. There are several more not depicted here, further south.

The Glossbrenner Connection

Catey Rasmussen: "Then, too, The Glossbrenner Family bought "The Wigwam" about 1905, developed the golf course, and printed a small history of The Maxinkuckee Association which includes Indian Legends. My Grandmother Glossbrenner had Indian rugs and pictures in their cottage. How we wept, my three sisters - even my brother, when that cottage was sold about 1936 at Grandfather A.M. Glossbrenner's death."

The Glossbrenner Cottage

Above: The Glossbrenner cottage on East Shore Drive, which is now owned by Dr. Michael Deery.

Culver Citizen - 23 Nov. 1938, Wednesday: A. M. Glossbrenner Dies of Heart Trouble..."Funeral services were held Wednesday, Nov. 16, for A. M. Glossbrenner, of Indianapolis, who died suddenly of heart trouble while sitting in a chair in his home, Sunday, Nov. 13. Services were held in the Scottish Rite Cathedral. He was a well-known East side cottager."

Glossbrenner lived at 1650 East Shore Dr. as of 1902.

He was born in Jeffersonville, Indiana, August 13, 1869 and almost entirely self-educated. His family removed to Indianapolis in 1882 and he became vice-president and manager of the Levev Brothers printing company. He was also elected to the Sixty-first General Assembly.

Glossbrenner was married November 14, 1894 to Minnie M. Stroup of Waldron, Indiana. The couple had three sons: Alfred, George, and Daniel. Daniel Glossbrenner would marry Edna Schnull, one of three daughters of Gustav Schnull, who was a brother to Emma Schnull Vonnegut, Julia Schnull Mueller, and Nannie Schnull Vonnegut.

Henry Schnull

Above: The patriarchal Henry Schnull holds his grand-daughter, Edna Schnull. Edna would grow up to marry Daniel Glossbrenner, Their daughter, Catherine, married James Rasmussen, and is today the owner of one of the few remaining lake cottages still in a Vonnegut-related family.

Edna Schnull and Daniel Glossbrenner’s children included Catey, who would eventually marry James Rasmussen, son of Alvin Christian Rasmussen from St. Louis. Alvin’s father-in-law was William J. Wood.

Woodbank Cottage

Wrote Catey Rasmussen: "In the Eighteen Eighties James Wood Rasmussen's grandfather, William Jacob Wood, was an Insurance investigator for fidelity Phoenix Fire Insurance Company located in Indianapolis. Sometimes he stayed at the Norris or Edwards farmhouses on the East Shore of Lake Maxinkuckee where boarders were served meals, and used the farmers' row-boats to fish and relax."

Norris Farm

Above: Summer boarders at Norris farm, 1890

"…As Mr. Wood traveled extensively check­ing on fire claims he found Maxinkuckee an ideal location for his summertime "office"; besides a refreshing spot for his family to be removed from the city's heat at Twenty-third and Broadway in Indianapolis, He purchased a cottage "site" on a hill from Mr. Edward's farm."

In 1894 William J. Wood built a cottage at 2738 East Shore Lane on Lake Maxinkuckee followed soon by a guest cottage, laundry, and other outbuildings, as well as a grape arbor, all of which still stand virtually unaltered on the wooded hillside property (which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975).

Continues Mrs. Rasmussen: "Each spring thereafter his wife in floor-length skirts, and in haughty procession with two daughters carrying birdcages and dolls, two maidenlady sisters­in-law, AND his Mother-in-law traveled on the "Hoot-n-nanny" (Vandalia Railroad) to the sparkling waters; thence, by a public motor-launch across The Lake to The Norris Pier. There they had winter shutters removed, and set-up housekeeping until schools began in September, They instructed Chester Edwards to hand-scythe the grass; a Mr. Welcome Miller to tune the piano; ordered ice delivered from town, and bought produce from farmwagons at the back gate. Everyone had a garden, chickens, apple and cherry trees. They ate fish, played games, sang around the piano, went rowing with parasols and big hats, baked lots of pies and bread, bathed decorously at water's edge, used an outhouse at the end of a Grape Arbor, and went on Hayrides when not pulling taffy or reading Tennyson, Poe, Dickens, Hawthorn, Ruskin, Emerson and James Whitcomb Riley. Mr. Wood visited as time allowed, and a business minded sister-in-law typed his fire inspection reports at his Wooten Desk in his specifically built office-room."

"From Indianapolis to Maxinkuckee in just one day!"

Above: From the Woodbank cottage archives: "From Indianapolis to Maxinkuckee in just one day!" A 1920 photo…

William J. and Mrs. Wood

Above: William J. and Mrs. Wood recline at the Woodbank Cottage, 2738 East Shore Drive, circa 1902. The Woodbank is still owned by Wood descendant Catey Rasmussen, whose father was a Glossbrenner.

Writes Catey Rasmussen: "The Duchess well filled with aunts and cousins and all flags flying in front of "Woodbank" near The Norris Pier. It would seem that those Victorians had a fine sense of drama besides a penchant for Order, Reason, and Charity. The Duchess now flies her flags in a Marine Museum in Ohio.

The DuchessChester and Edwards Family Children

Above, left to right: The Duchess boat on Lake Maxinkuckee circa 1905; a 1901 photo of the Chester and Edwards family children on a hayride from the Woodbank cottage.

"As for entertaining the children, they were dressed-up and taken for Hayrides; certainly a far different kind of outing than our modern-day "field-trip" in crowded station wagons.

The Wood family, recalls Catey Rasmussen, was of English origin, and in those days many people still held to associations of old European heritage. As such, the German-American families who helped settle the East Shore (Vonnegut, Mueller, Schnull, etc.) formed a warm, tight-knit community on the lake that also strived to foster the same kind of civic and cultural consciousness that those families evoked in their "non-summer" residences at Indianapolis.

The Wood family and descendants interacted with the German-American families of the East Shore, but officially that interaction was limited, there being national boundaries between them. Still, there were family connections that went back some distance…

The Marmon Connection

Another Indianapolis family who began summering at the lake at an early date were the Marmons. Daniel Marmon and his wife Elizabeth purchased their property, which contained a small cottage, in 1882. Over the next few years, the cottage was expanded and outbuildings constructed (1100 East Shore Drive). Daniel died in 1909, but Elizabeth continued to spend several months each year at the lake cottage until her death in 1940. She was a quiet philanthropist. Among her interests were preservation of the natural environment at the lake, and the Culver library. Marmon sons Howard and Walter developed the Marmon automobile, the winning car in the first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race (1911). The Marmon property at Lake Maxinkuckee, known as "Orchard Cottage" remains in the family to this day.

The Marmon 16 Motor Car

Above: The Marmon 16 motor car, W.J. Rasmussen, owner. A 1940 photo.

Daniel Glossbrenner (Catey Rasmussen’s father) was secretary-treasurer of the Marmon-Harrington company, working for the Marmon brothers (one of these was the grandfather of Anne Greenleaf, who continues to carry on the original Marmon cottage on the East Shore).

The Marmon and Glossbrenner families interacted a great deal during those years at the heyday of the east shore community on Maxinkuckee.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. of Lake Maxinkuckee

Without a doubt, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has become the most well-known of the Vonnegut sons of Lake Maxinkuckee, and he has remembered not only his family heritage in Indiana, but specifically his childhood on Lake Maxinkuckee fondly.

In an article in Architectural Digest (later reprinted in book form), Kurt recalled the lake in words now famous to Maxinkuckee lovers in the area:

"…I made my first mental maps of the world, when I was a little child in the summertime, on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee, which is in northern Indiana, halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis, where we lived in the wintertime. Maxinkuckee is five miles long and two and a half miles across at its widest. Its shores are a closed loop. No matter where I was on its circumference, all I had to do was keep walking in one direction to find my way home again. What a confident Marco Polo I could be when setting out for a day's adventures!

…The closed loop of the lakeshore was certain to bring me home not only to my own family's unheated frame cottage on a bluff overlooking : the  lake but to four adjacent cottages teeming with close relatives. The heads of those neighboring households, moreover, my father's generation, had also spent their childhood summertimes at Maxinkuckee, making them the almost immediate successors there to the Potawatomi Indians."

"…Am I sad? Not at all. Because everything about that lake was imprinted on my mind when it held so little and was so eager for information, it will be my lake as long as I live. I have no wish to visit it, for I have it all right here. I happened to see it last spring from about six miles up on a flight from Louisville to Chicago. It was as emotionally uninvolving as a bit of dry dust viewed under a microscope. Again: That wasn't the real Maxinkuckee down there. The real one is in my head."

In February of 2007, just months before his death at age 84, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. gave what would be his last interview. In it, he said, "there were lots of Vonneguts in the phone book and also my mother was a Lieber and there were Liebers there, too. And at Lake Maxinkuckee there were a row of cottages there, one of which we owned, and so I was surrounded by relatives all of the time. You know, cousins, uncles and aunts, and it was heaven. And that has since been dispersed."

Perhaps even more evocative of the spirit of the lake and his family’s contribution to its culture is this excerpt from a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his cousin, Catey Rasmussen in December of 1977:

"Dearest Catey and Jim..... that is good that you two are keeping the Maxinkuckee dream alive. That will always be an enchanted body of water to me, my Agean Sea, perfect in every dimension. When I was twelve or so, I swam its width, as had my father and my brother and my cousin Richard - - and I became a man. Much love - - as always...K."

Special thanks to Catey Rasmussen, Marcia Adams, David Gabovitch, Ginny Hahn, whose assistance in researching this material was of great help.