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Captain Dan Schroer: a story with a tragic ending

Captain Dan loved Columbia as few others ever have. After his first visit, he remarked, 'This is the cleanest inland town I have visited in Kentucky and I been in quite a number.' The love was reciprocated by an adoring community. . . Despite all of Captain Dan's successes and achievements as musician, band instructor, and rising star in the Salvation Army, darkness pervaded his world. - JIM
Click on headline for complete story and the surprising - to Adair Countians - concluding paragraphs. -


Few people today are aware of Dan "Captain Dan" Schroer, who early in the 20th century emigrated from Germany to the United States, made his mark in the Salvation Army and with the inhabitants of Columbia, and departed life entirely too young.

On his "Declaration of Intention" naturalization form, Daniel J. Schroer stated he was born January 11, 1887 in Mackenbach, Germany, arrived in the United States in early March 1907 (via Liverpool, England) aboard the ship Baltic, and disembarked at New York.

At the time he made the Declaration in March 1915, he resided in Jackson, Kentucky and gave his occupation as "officer in Salvation Army." His physical characteristics included fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair, and lacking in any distinctive marks. He weighed 165 pounds and stood six feet, one inch tall. A likeness of Captain Dan published in the News in early 1913 showed a handsome if serious-faced young man in full Salvation Army uniform with a cornet, his musical instrument of choice. in hand. The cutline spoke of him as a "gentleman and a zealous Christian worker."

In the spring of 1912, Emma D. Webb, state Adjutant of the Salvation Army, informed readers of the News that young Mr. Schroer would be in Columbia soon to solicit contributions for the cause. In addition, stated the short announcement, "He will also hold open air services."

Accordingly, "Captain Dan," as he was familiarly known (his actual rank being that of lieutenant) spent three days in Columbia near the end of April. The following week the News carried a brief article about his stay in town and quoted him as saying before his departure that "this is the cleanest inland town I have visited in Kentucky and I been in quite a number." He also expressed his gratitude for the generosity of Columbians, and, added the News, "He further said the largest contributions he had received from Kentucky towns, the size of this place, came from the people of Columbia."

He returned to Columbia in 1913 and 1914, the latter visit, made in January, coming not long after he completed an intensive multi-month curriculum -- "Bible-centered, with supplemental practical training" (The Hallelujah Army, 1961) -- at the Salvation Army's New York Training School. Again, his mission was to solicit contributions and to hold a meeting in the courthouse on the 24th. He was doing well for a young immigrant.

By 1916, he was well-known, well-liked, and well respected in Columbia, and his trip in May of that year was a busy one. The May 10 edition of the News reported that he "visited nearly every home in the town, many contributing to the cause he represents." In addition, he played a number of cornet pieces on the Public Square, and, in company of well-known Adair County musician Walter Sullivan, journeyed to Cane Valley and sat in on a session with the brass band of that town. The paper also stated, "While here he visited the two schools, the Lindsey-Wilson and Graded Schools, speaking at each institution" and concluded by noting, "There were many kindly expressions of him and his work" by the townspeople.

So taken was Captain Dan by Columbia, its inhabitants, and the Training School, the paper reported months later, that "Upon his visit, last Summer he made an arrangement with the principals of the Lindsey-Wilson to enter that institution of learning, stating he was anxious to become better acquainted with the English language."

Surely enough, come September and the opening of the 1916 school year, Dan was in attendance, and in short order he, "an experienced musician," had taken on a new responsibility, that of band instructor. The September 20th edition of the News reported the instruments, twelve in all, would arrive that week. Five weeks later, the members of the band were named, to-wit:

Capt. Dan J. Schroer, Instructor; Prof. Paul G. Chandler (selected as Principal of the L.W.T.S. beginning with the 1917-18 academic year who served one term before being called to the colors in World War I); Lewis Jarvis.; M.E. Stevenson; Jesse Stevenson; Noel Thomas; Louie Feese; R.E. Smith; O. Drake; H. Drake; Earl Davenport; Goebel Lewis; Charles Cook; James Frankum; and Fred Harris (son of News owner/publisher Charles Snow Harris.)

(Shortly thereafter, four of these band members -- Capt. Schroer, Prof. Chandler, Lewis Jarvis, and Noel Thomas -- formed a singing group. Said a report from the L.W.T.S. in early November of the quartet, "Many hearts were filled with emotion while the sweet strains of 'Nearer My God to Thee' rolled out.")

By early December came word that "This set of young students will soon be ready to show the public their advancement." This announcement also stated Mr. Schroer was "a very superior cornetist." A later edition informed readers the band would make its debut on Friday, December 15th, at the Lindsey Wilson basketball game. Sadly this was the last mention found of the group.

Despite all of Captain Dan's successes and achievements as musician, band instructor, and rising star in the Salvation Army, darkness pervaded his world. The December 13th News stated Dan had been suffering for some time with a "deep cold," and a few days before the school term ended on the 22nd, he abruptly left school, went to Louisville, and took quarters at the new Salvation Army building at 216 West Chestnut St.

He had been in Louisville in mid-September, ostensibly to attend the formal opening the just-completed Salvation Army citadel (as the newspapers called it) but an underlying reason for the trip may have been to see his physician, who, as was later revealed by Ensign Thomas A. Peart, one of Captain Dan's Salvation Army associates, had been treating young Schroer "for several months following a nervous breakdown."

On Tuesday, December 26th, Dan unexpectedly left Louisville for Cincinnati without telling anyone why, but Ensign Peart reported he has been despondent. Not long before midnight, January 3rd, 1917 -- a century ago tonight -- near the corner of 12th and Central Avenues in Cincinnati, Captain Dan, mired in despondency (almost certainly depression) and believing himself to have not a friend in the world, "committed suicide by firing a bullet into his heart."

The News reported his last words as being, "I cannot live any longer without a friend, so I thought this to be the only thing to do. Forgive me, oh God, for the steps I have taken."

He asked only that Misses Emma Webb and Helen Webb be notified. They likely were sisters; he knew Miss Emma and possibly Miss Helen through the Salvation Army. At the time of his passing, it wasn't known if he had any relatives in the States.

In announcing Captain Schroer's untimely death, the News echoed earlier comments in the paper, saying "He impressed the citizens of this town as being a consecrated Christian and everybody had confidence in him, and his tragic death brought sorrow to the school here and to the community."

Captain Dan's remains were interred in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. May his troubled soul rest in peace.

(Thankfully, advances in the century since Captain Dan's tragic death have brought much better understanding of depression in its many forms and guises. Many more treatments are available and much of the social stigma long associated with "despondency" has quietly faded with time.)

This story was posted on 2017-01-04 04:16:09
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Photo of Capt. Dan Schroer

2017-01-04 - Columbia, Adair County, KY - Photo from JIM.
This photo of Capt. Dan Schroer appeared on the front page of the January 13, 1913 Adair County News. - JIM

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