The Story of Easter Haus

Easter Fires book
Cover of the Easter Fires booklet.
Photos by Phil Houseal

Dec 19, 2018–I know it’s Christmas. But here’s a tale of Easter.

My wife and daughter have opened a shop that happens to be housed in a historic Fredericksburg home known as Easter Haus. I was curious about the provenance of the white building on Auguste Street. So I asked the owner, Bill Petmecky, Jr., about the name. Turns out an epic piece of Fredericksburg history was created inside those walls.

That is where William Petmecky, Sr., Bill’s father, wrote the Easter Fires Pageant. Here’s the story:

Bill, Sr., was a prominent citizen, who some people today are sure to still remember. His grandfather Gottfried Petmecky was an original immigrant in 1845; his father A.W. Petmecky was a stonemason who created the enigmatic white elephant on the White Elephant Saloon on Main Street.

William, Sr., served as the country tax assessor-collector, postmaster, and head of almost every community service organization, from the Gillespie County Fair Association to the Chamber of Commerce. He was influential enough to receive calls from favorite son Lyndon B. Johnson after he became President of the United States (ask Bill, Jr., to tell you that story).

Gathered & Good
Today a shop known as Gathered & Good, Easter Haus was the home where Bill Petmecky, Sr., wrote the story of the Easter Fires Pageant.

The Fredericksburg resident was also among the leaders to take steps to recognize the town’s priceless German heritage. He was one of the first to set in motion the preservation of the old rock houses in Fredericksburg, noting that someday they would be a treasure to us. He created Night in Old Fredericksburg, and was instrumental in pushing for the formation of a historical society.

But his most original contribution was creating the Easter Fires Pageant. Petmecky was Chair of the committee to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of Fredericksburg in 1946. Working with a local history teacher, Petmecky decided to capture the oft-told tale from pioneer times, when a young mother soothed her frightened children by telling them the Indian War Fires on the hills were built by the Easter Rabbit to cook and dye Easter eggs.

For the celebration, they turned this tale into an outdoor pageant. It was a massive production, with a role for nearly everyone in town. The response was so favorable that Petmecky decided to condense it. He reworked the story, and two years later, in 1948, the Historical Society and the Fair Association put on the first production. It lasted for more than 50 years, and there is talk of reviving it in some form as a visitor attraction.

That enduring story was written in this very building, according to his son, Bill, Jr., “on an old fashioned manual typewriter, using Dad’s four-finger typing style that he used over the years to write news articles about Fredericksburg for a number of papers throughout the state.” (He still has the typewriter!)

And that is why it is called Easter Haus.

While the house, built in 1937 on family land granted by the German Immigration Company, was impressive for its time with its classic architecture and prominent porch, current owner Bill, Jr. knew it as his boyhood home that was “just a wonderful place to live.”

So many good things happened here: community meetings, Saturday night parties, informal get-togethers with beer, sausage, and gemutlichkeit. He fondly remembers gatherings of Cub Scouts and, especially, Gillespie County Fair Queens who would stay over so they could get an early start to a parade in a neighboring town.

Just another thing to love about Fredericksburg, where every building still tells a story.

Bill Petmecky
Bill Petmecky, Jr., has fond memories of growing up in Easter Haus, where his father created the Easter Fires Pageant.

 

Details:

Easter Haus is located at the corner of Auguste Street and Hwy 87. It now houses Gathered & Good. Information at www.gatheredandgood.com.