Asummer trip to Dodge City, Kansas fulfilled a dream for a Germanborn Fredericksburger who grew up idolizing the iconic American Old West.
Marcel van Hasz, a friend from local tennis and music circles in this town, brought his German history to town along with a love of the American Old West.
Marcel recently got to see the re-enactors in Dodge City, which staged shows at the Boot Hill Museum. Those shows come complete with a saloon, dancing girls and the gunfighters.
“When I was a kid after the war (World War II), my brother and I loved westerns because that’s what we saw at the movies,” Marcel said. “Westerns with actors like Tom Nix, Billy Jenkins and other western stars.”
“I was always crazy about the gunfighters. I was crazy about the ‘challenge’ — I would say there were no cowards,” he said. “And, honestly, that’s what made me think about starting to come to America. I wanted to see the America I learned about when I was a kid.”
Van Hasz’s mother made clothes for the brothers which resembled those worn by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
“We made our Colt pistols out of wood,” he said, “and the shoemaker made us a holster. Whenever we had a masquerade ball, my brother and I went as Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. I learned to draw fast.”
Van Hasz moved to Montreal for a time, then operated a hair salon in Dallas for about 30 years. There, he met others who shared his passion for the Old West.
“My dream was that I wanted to see Tombstone, and I did,” he said. “I sat at the table where Doc Holliday played cards and went to the OK Corral. In Dodge City, I knew Boot Hill was a cemetery, but I didn’t know Boot Hill was only where they buried prostitutes and those who got shot on the street. Everyone else was buried in other cemeteries like anyone else.”
Van Hasz said when he came to Fredericksburg 20 years ago, there was a livery stable (near Gatti’s Pizza). He thought he would love to own a bar and host gunfights at a place like that. But he waited and watched rising property values price him out of that thought.
The German-born van Hasz said he has traveled the world a lot, but his trip to Dodge City was his favorite of all. He stayed at the Dodge Haus, walked down Gunsmoke Street and Wyatt Earp Boulevard. “I just love to go into the coffee bar and have breakfast and talk to oldtimers there,” he said.
He recites history of the Old West about sheriffs of that era who served, then moved to different locations. But on his trip, he learned from a tour docent that there were Germans in Dodge City, as well. They built the church and school house.
Van Hasz also visited the Cowtown, where they visited the stockyards and saw the cattle fattening up.
“They joked that the Texans who worked the cattle drives were the reasons they had to call in Wyatt Earp,” he said, laughing. “I also didn’t realize Doc Holliday was from Texas, too.”
He still feeds his passion with television reruns of “Gunsmoke” and old movies like “How the West Was Won.”
“Those were the good old days,” he said. “I’m a fashion guy, and I like how they dressed.”
Van Hasz was seven years old when the war ended. His father was a barber and wanted to open his own shop. But in those days, to open a business, a German had to be a member of the National Socialistic Party (later termed the Nazi party), but his father was with Germany’s Social Democratic Party. He said his father helped the Jewish people (his family had a partly Jewish upbringing) and was beaten up. Neither of his parents were fans of Hitler. But his father was made to serve in the Germany army and later sent to Siberia as a prisoner of war and didn’t return until 1947.
After the war, he and his brother entertained American visitors, playing the accordion and guitar. By age eight, he could sing “You Are My Sunshine” in English.
His parents visited Texas in 1972 and visited Fredericksburg. Van Hasz left his parents in the car and went into a downtown bank to exchange some money. When he returned, his father had struck up a conversation with some of the local Germanrooted men. “He just loved it,” he said. “He said, ‘that’s a nice town.’”
And later, Marcel moved here.
People like Marcel make this a more diverse and interesting town. And they all have their own interesting reasons for wanting to make this town and this country their home, from very real war situations to an iconic time in our frontier history.