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New museum exhibit showcases emergency history

Friday, November 2, 2012

Brian Nitzschke, of Le Mars, works with other volunteers to display the history of emergency services in Plymouth County at the Plymouth County Historical Museum, in Le Mars. The new exhibit from fire, police, civil defense, emergency management and the sheriff's department in the county is on the museum's second floor.(Sentinel photo by Joanne Glamm)
Historic crimes and fires are highlighted in a newly opened display area at the Plymouth County Historical Museum in Le Mars.

Brian Nitzschke, of Le Mars, museum vice president, researched old newspapers to take people back in time with memorabilia donated or loaned to the museum.

Photographs of a fire in Remsen on the Fourth of July 1936 are one part of the display Nitzschke said he considers remarkable.

"The fire was started by some children playing with fireworks and pretty much burned down downtown Remsen," NItzschke said.

His grandfather, Paul Nitzschke, Sr., was a member of the Remsen Fire Department when the "great fire" occurred, he said.

A silver badge from Paul Nitzschke's uniform is displayed with the memorabilia and photos of fire departments from Remsen, Oyens, Kingsley, Merrill, Hinton and Le Mars.

Research in newspapers was required for the exhibit because Nitzschke said his grandfather never talked about the fire with him.

"I heard stories handed down from other people; he didn't say much about it," he said.

Another family's tradition of firefighting helped fill a display case with firemen's helmets and policemen's hats.

Wayne Schipper, retired Le Mars fire chief, loaned the museum a fire helmet from the 1800s.

"It's a leather fire helmet so that's a ways back," Nitzschke said.

Hardened steel or fiberglass are used for firefighters' helmets today, he said.

People may also see changes in other parts of protective gear for firefighters.

"Everything's built much better than it was back then when you had leather helmets, rubber boots and coats," Nitzschke said.

Uniforms once worn by police officers and sheriff's deputies are also exhibited in the new emergency services area.

The clothing includes the full-length winter coat in the traditional blue color of police uniforms.

The coat was part of the uniform for former Le Mars Police Chief Joe Sutton.

Sutton ended a three-decade career in law enforcement in 1968, according to Le Mars Daily Sentinel newspaper archives.

In another area of the emergency services room on the museum's second floor are photos of underwater divers and other emergency management volunteers.

People may see the large tanks carried on the backs of divers to provide oxygen for their search and recovery efforts as well as photos of the divers.

There are also photos of past civil defense workers who provided security at large events in the county and served as observers for severe weather reports.

Nitzschke also gathered information about some unusual criminal cases.

Newspaper clippings from the 1930s explain the police and sheriff's investigation of the case of the body in the flower bed in Le Mars.

Nitzschke describes the crime as "the mystery burial of the mother in the backyard while her daughter kept getting her benefit checks."

The body of Lucinda Trow was unearthed from a kitchen cabinet burial vault near the Plymouth County Courthouse in 1938, according to the museum display.

Her daughter, Maybelle Knox, was convicted of fraud and sent to prison, Nitzschke's research indicated.

A love of history and his own family's tradition of firefighting are reasons the museum's vice president said he worked on the emergency services room.

"I love history; the fun part of it is the historical research," Nitzschke said.

He welcomes additions to the emergency services room from people who have memorabilia or information to share.

"Anything of interest for police or fire departments that people would like to donate we'd be willing to consider," he said.

Nitzschke may be contacted at the museum, 335 First Ave. S.W., or by calling the museum at 546-7022.

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