Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
(Video by Joe Hyman)
By Michaela Burton
A lot of people think of shoes as a simple necessity they need to have, but in Teutopolis it’s a part of their past.
In this small town southeast of Chicago, the wooden shoe has been around for more then 100 years. In approximately 1860 George Dymann, an immigrant from Germany came here and started making shoes out of wood. For most people, they could easily slip these shoes on for there everyday lives, but then grew to be so much more.
Like long ago when the children put their wooden shoes out under the fireplace for St. Nick’s day, which was very big in the German community, and would find nuts, fruit and sometimes even chocolate in them the next morning.
This tradition hasn’t died; St. Nick is still a huge part to the residents of Teutopolis today. For a tradition to go on for more than 100 years must mean that they have strong beliefs, and it’s easy to see that the people in Teutopolis do.
The residents in this German-Catholic town are very religious and have masses held every Saturday and three times on Sunday. Keeping in touch with their heritage is huge in this community.
As time went on, Dymann grew older and he eventually passed away. With no one to make the wooden shoes anymore, people stopped wearing them, but it was important to them to keep the wooden shoes alive.
The schools originally started off with other mascots such as the lions or the bulldogs, but they finally decided to make the wooden shoe their mascot and it still is to this day.
“I like it because it’s so unique and different,” said Kurt Weber, who owns the local clothing and jewelry store in town. “There’s only two wooden shoe mascot’s in the world. Here and in Holland, Michigan.”
It’s just one more way that this town continues to promote their tradition.
Another way they do this is during July 26-Aug. 3, when Teutopolis will be having a festival celebrating the 175th Anniversary of when the town was founded. The last time they did this was 25 years ago, celebrating their 150th Anniversary.
This year will have a lot of festivities going on including a parade with the sports teams in it, acknowledging their accomplishments during the season. They will walk in it and proudly represent the wooden shoes.
Weber told a story of an old mural in the high school gym, a vicious bulldog running towards something, chasing it. But, he says it’s actually a mural of a wooden shoe kicking a bulldog and sending it flying. Teutopolis is proud to be the wooden shoes, and they wouldn’t change it for the world.