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How I Became Colonel Culmann

Posted by | September 2, 2014

Sharon Schuler KrepsPlease welcome guest author Sharon Schuler Kreps. Kreps is an author and newspaper columnist who lives in Cullman, AL. She writes much of the published work on that town’s Colonel Cullmann re-enactment. Larry Rowlette has been studying and portraying Colonel John G. Cullmann, the founding father of Cullman, since the year 2000. He appears as The Colonel during annual Oktoberfest celebrations and in many other events throughout the year in Cullman and all around north Alabama. In his non-Colonel life, Rowlette is an Electrical Engineer and works as an Engineering Manager with a private defense contract firm in Huntsville, AL.


Over the years, Larry Rowlette has been asked how he became The Colonel, yet instead of answering the question, he’d normally smile, wink or ask the person to dance. Truth is, Rowlette’s transformation into The Colonel is a long story, and one that has remained somewhat a mystery… until now.

“It all started years ago with Mrs. Elaine Fuller, Curator of the Cullman County Museum,” Rowlette smiled. “She regularly attended tourism events around Alabama and had noticed a common theme – local citizens portraying people from area history, specifically the founders or leaders of the towns and cities. She fell in love with the idea and wanted to do it here in Cullman as well.”

colonel cullmann dances

After several discussions with the Oktoberfest Committee, the movement to have an actual Colonel Cullmann for Cullman, AL was born and the search for such a person soon began. It was the spring of 1999.

One year later, a Colonel Cullmann had still not been selected because no one fitting the description nor the desired persona had been found. One afternoon Pastor Bob Kurtz, President of the Oktoberfest Committee and Sr. Pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Church, indicated he had someone in mind that may be interested in the Col. Cullmann portrayal. The man Kurtz was talking about was Larry Rowlette, a local resident and member of the church.

“Kurtz invited Fuller to a Fourth of July presentation given by the members of St. John’s Church,” Rowlette explained. “Mrs. Fuller was a little leery, but she drove out to Ava Marie Grotto in Cullman, where the presentation was held, and attended. She had gone to secretly watch me as I delivered a speech as James Madison,” he chuckled. “She was impressed and when the program was over, she introduced herself to me and explained her idea of me portraying Colonel Johann Cullmann.”

Rowlette was more than willing to support the community, and there was no doubt in his mind he would accept the position of Colonel Cullmann. But because he is also a prankster, he wanted to have a little fun with Mrs. Fuller.

“I acted a little confused, and then told her I would have to think about it,” Rowlette said, grinning like a mule eating corn. “I thanked her for the consideration, turned and then took two or three steps away from her. Then I turned back around and said, ‘Okay, I have thought about it. I’ll do it,’ and gave her a big ole smile.”

colonel cullmann next to his own statue

From that point on, things happened fast. Rowlette was told the portrayal was to be kept strictly confidential. Then he received a new suit of clothes made in the late 1800’s style. An old walking cane was purchased that matched the cane the Colonel held in the old photographs of him. Before long, Rowlette found himself completely transformed into the old gentleman.

A keynote speech was prepared for the Oktoberfest 2000 opening ceremonies. It was written as if Colonel Cullmann had risen from the grave just to attend the festival and talk to his people. It told of his life from his birth on July 2nd 1823 in Frankweiler, Germany (Bavaria), to his death in December 3rd 1895 in Cullman, Alabama. It described the sacrifices he made, as well as the sacrifices of the people who settled in Cullman with him.

It spoke of the travels and hardships he personally endured and also about his many accomplishments during his lifetime. Rowlette delivered the speech while standing next to a statue of Colonel Cullmann. Once the speech had ended, the crowd erupted with applause and Colonel Cullmann 2000 was born.

Originally intended as a once a year Oktoberfest portrayal, Colonel Cullmann 2000 quickly became an opportunity for Rowlette to portray our founder throughout the whole year. Dressed as the Colonel, he has spoken to civic groups all across the region, addressed local and state leadership and talks to both kindergarten all the way through high school senior classes throughout the county.

“I enjoy spreading the message of Heritage, Tradition, and Values everywhere I go,” Rowlette stated. “I also try to live by those same words, because it gives me something to work toward – Honoring the Heritage, speaking and promoting the Tradition, and living the Values each day.”

Colonel Cullmann participated in two revolutions against ruling parties in Bavaria while attempting to create a democratic government, and ended up having to leave the country or risk being imprisoned. He left his homeland Bavaria, his wife and three children and headed for America. He arrived in the United States in 1866, when he was 43 years old.

Upon arriving in the United States, he traveled around and began formulating a plan to get his family and friends to this new and wonderful country. Once he made it to North Alabama, he wrote in his letters to Josephine, his wife, that it felt like home.

Col. John G. Cullmann (1823-1895).  Courtesy Wikipedia

Col. John G. Cullmann (1823-1895). Courtesy Wikipedia

colonel cullmann poster













At the time he worked for the Louisville – Nashville Railroad as a Land Agent. It was his job to get settlers to the area along the railroad as it extended south through Alabama. In other words, his job aligned with exactly what he wanted in his personal life…to find a place his family and friends could settle down, live and call home.

Colonel Cullmann advertised in newspapers all over this country, as well as in Bavaria and throughout Europe. His ads spoke of this wonderful place he had found in North Alabama to settle down. He described it as a place where you could own land and live as free men and women.

“After traveling around the country and arriving in North Alabama the impression was made upon my mind that if this area was filled up with good farmers it would be the garden spot of America. I found here all that I had been looking for, all that I regarded as necessary to make good homes: there was here combined these things to an extent not equaled by any other place I had seen,” he wrote in a letter to his wife in 1877.

As a result of Colonel Cullmann’s hard work, North Alabama’s Cullman became a city in March 1875. Two years later, state government voted to accept Cullman as a county in the state of Alabama. Colonel Cullmann was touched to have the area named in his honor. The second ‘n’ in the name was dropped for clarity.

Greg Richter, Larry Rowlette, and Laura Axlerod.

Greg Richter, Larry Rowlette, and Laura Axlerod.

The residents tried to get Colonel Cullmann to preside as the first mayor, but he promptly rejected the idea because he felt he had too much influence over the people in the area. Besides, he really wanted to spend his time bringing more people to this country, which is exactly what he did. Over his lifetime, he was responsible for bringing more than 100,000 people to the United States. Certainly not all settled in Cullman, or even in North Alabama, but he still felt directly responsible for their well-being and worked to stay in contact with them and help them make their start in this new country.

“When Laura Axlerod and Greg Richter approached me about making a short film about Becoming Colonel Cullmann, it seemed to me another opportunity to spread the word about Cullman,” Rowlette explained. “I readily agreed and looked forward to the project. Then, before I knew it, the two were at my house with all sorts of cameras and equipment set up and pointed right at me. I must have answered a hundred questions or more that day,” he belly laughed. “The first question they asked me was, ‘Why continue to be the Colonel if you’re not from Cullman and don’t live in Cullman anymore?’”

“I was born and raised in Nashville, TN, moved to Cullman in 1987 and then moved from Cullman to Decatur, Alabama in 2007 because I needed to get a little closer to where I work—Huntsville,” said Rowlette. “When people found out I was thinking about moving, they said they would allow me to move as long as I continued to be The Colonel. For me it was simple…I had no plans to ever stop portraying The Colonel; there were just way too many perks!”

So, why does Rowlette portray the founder of a city in which he was not born and a place he no longer lives?

“Because I am The Colonel, regardless of where I live,” Rowlette practically sang. “I consider Cullman to be home. I continue because the people of Cullman ask me to. When I walk through town and hear a little child say to his Mom or Dad, ‘That’s Colonel Cullmann’, it melts my heart. Talk about losing my identity? Let’s just say, if I ever stopped portraying Colonel Cullmann, that’s when I would lose my identity. The Colonel has become a part of who I am.”

For more information about filmmakers Laura Axelrod and Greg Richter’s documentary, Becoming Colonel Cullmann, please visit the official Becoming Colonel Cullmann website. To follow Laura Axelrod’s film career, go to Laura Axelrod, Greg Richter, Colonel Cullmann and the film Becoming Colonel Cullmann can all be followed on Twitter and Facebook as well.


Happy Labor Day

Posted by | September 1, 2014

vector labels Labor Day


No Appalachian History Weekly podcast today

Posted by | August 31, 2014


A Happy Labor Day celebration to you all! Back next week with a fresh podcast.


New Historical Marker Marks Graves of 2 in Hatfield-McCoy Feud

Posted by | August 29, 2014

The Kentucky Historical Society will unveil a new historical marker today at a cemetery with ties to the Hatfield-McCoy feud. The marker tells about Nancy McCoy Phillips and her husband, Frank Phillips. The 4 p.m. unveiling will be in Phillips Cemetery, 899 Phillips Branch Road, Phelps.


One side of the marker notes that Frank Phillips was instrumental in the capture of the Hatfield family and others involved in the 1882 shooting death of three McCoy brothers. In 1888, Gov. Simon Bolivar Buckner sent Phillips as a special envoy to West Virginia to arrest them.

Information on Nancy McCoy Phillips is on the opposite side. She was the youngest daughter of Asa Harmon McCoy, the first man killed in the Hatfield-McCoy feud. When she was 15, Nancy married Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield, son of Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield. She later married Phillips.

The Pike County Tourism, Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsors the marker.

More than 2,200 historical markers statewide tell Kentucky’s history. More information about the marker application process, a database of markers and their text and the Explore Kentucky History app, a virtual tour of markers by theme, is at KHS administers the Kentucky Historical Marker Program in cooperation with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.


App State Project Archivist Shares Thoughts on His Early Career

Posted by | August 28, 2014

The following piece by Trevor McKenzie appeared August 20 on Annotation: the National Historical Publications and Records Commission blog. McKenzie is the Project Archivist for the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection, Appalachian State Special Collections and Archives. The article is reposted here with permission.


Trevblog-208x300When I came to work as the Project Archives Assistant on the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant at Appalachian State in the Fall of 2012, my only prior experience working in the archives was limited to a few months as a student.

My interests lie primarily in absorbing knowledge concerned with the history and folklore of the Appalachian Region through music, literature, arts, material culture, and—perhaps most useful of all— conversations and word of mouth.

This desire to understand the history local to the region drew me to attend Appalachian State in 2007. The deciding factor in my choice of university was the existence of the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection, the largest and most comprehensive collection of Appalachian materials anywhere in the world.

To say I was “a kid in a candy store” when wandering around in the collection would be putting it lightly. Within the open stacks I could find materials on anything from archaeological surveys of ancient Indian Mounds to records of Kentucky fiddler Marion Sumner to a video on Virginia architectural influences in southern Ohio.

As if that was not enough, just on the other side of the wall in the Dougherty Reading Room I could view documents from the ballad collections of I. G. Greer, W. Amos Abrams, and Cratis Williams or read the letters of E. B. Olmsted, a ginseng buyer in 19th Century western North Carolina. After spending time in the Eury Collection, I was determined that, if I could not eventually work there, I would at least try to work towards finding a job in a similar collection somewhere within the region.

The NHPRC grant to process the backlog within the Appalachian Collection’s archives coincided with my graduation with a degree in Appalachian Studies in 2012. I applied for the University Library Specialist knowing I would have much to learn concerned with archival practices but I was excited at the prospect of handling and helping to preserve historic documents as part of a daily routine.

In processing the backlog I determined to balance my previous experience as a researcher with the practical constraints and time limitations of the grant. I began each collection by asking the same key question: How can I arrange these materials in a relatively short amount of time while still making it easy for researchers to find the items they need?

William Leonard Eury. Courtesy W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection/Appalachian State University

William Leonard Eury. Courtesy W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection/Appalachian State University

Tackling many of the larger collections within the backlog, I learned that each collection features a particular set of quirks dissimilar to others. To work out how to best process a collection I found that a hammer/anvil approach—hammer being the processing guidelines and anvil being the shape of the collection itself—is needed in order to address the problems within each collection.

My supervisor and the grant writer for this project, Cyndi Harbeson, was a constant sounding board for my concerns and questions regarding how best to process or reprocess a collection and helped me in balancing processing times with creating researcher friendly collections. Fellow Processing Archives Assistant Anita Elliot also picked up the slack for me in helping with processing grant materials, including knocking out a large number of the small collections as well as offering advice from her own experiences in processing.

Aside from the practical duties of processing, working on the grant introduced me to materials which reignited my enthusiasm for Appalachian history. Some of my favorite finds (as well as other eye catching items) are included on the Backlog Blog which I will continue to update until November when the grant is completed.

Perhaps the most invaluable experience from the grant (along with the obvious benefits of exclusive access to rare documents) was that it allowed me to work in close contact with a Special Collections team whose members possess both scholarly and personal knowledge of Appalachia’s landscape and culture. I am indebted to the jumpstart the NHPRC has given to my career and I hope to continue to use the knowledge I have gained through this grant to preserve and explore more collections valuable to the study of the history of this region and its people.

Backlog Blog

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