As The Dunkel World Turns.

Long before the days of reality television, there was the world of TV soap operas. As The World Turns, for example, ran for 54 years, sponsored by Proctor & Gamble. And before that, radio entertained Americans on a weekly basis with dramatic stories like The Guiding Light, Young Doctor Malone, and Ma Perkins.

You see, we all enjoy hearing dramatic stories of those whose lives have a bit more spice and excitement than our own. And since we, here at Our Iowa Heritage, specialize in telling Iowa stories of days gone by, allow me today to tell you about…

At the turn of the 20th century, The Dunkel Family of Iowa City had their hands in a variety of business ventures. A Directory found in The Iowa City RepublicanAugust 1907 – showed the following Dunkels:

Meet The Dunkel Family of 1907 Iowa City
B.W. & Emma Dunkel
Frank & Frances Dunkel
Albert (Punch) Dunkel
Charles & Frances Dunkel

So, briefly, allow me to give you the earliest beginnings of the Dunkels here in Iowa City…

Kasper and Mary (Alnier) Dunkel were early pioneers to Iowa City, and as the biographical material states (above), The Dunkel Family arrived in Iowa City around 1840, and apparently had seven children, with four – William J., (1840), Mary L. (1843), Henry (unknown) and Frank P. (1855) recorded as those who survived into adulthood. William & Frank’s biographies were included in the 1883 volume – The History of Johnson County, so let’s continue with them…
Interestingly, while William J. Dunkel doesn’t appear on that 1907 City Directory, he was, obviously, still around Iowa City, since he didn’t die until 1920. And as you can see from this biographical sketch (above), William had the reputation of being the first white male child born in Iowa City! I’m not sure if that was something he made a big deal about, but it’s a good start in our As The Dunkel World Turns story!
Frank P. Dunkel – Kasper & Mary Dunkel’s younger son, and brother to William J. – stayed in Iowa City as well, married Frances H. Vavra, and together, they opened a popular hotel called The Central House.
The Central House was located just one block east of the first Rock Island Railroad (CRI&P) Depot – which was built in the late 1850’s near the end of Johnson Street (see 1868 map above). This Iowa City Rock Island Railroad Depot (pictured above), of course, became the transportation center for Iowa City, before being replaced with a new depot (fall 1898) located just 4 blocks to the west. Read more here. The Central House was a good-sized two-story hotel with 25 rooms, and 17 on the second floor and served as a large central meeting place for many city functions. The Dunkels had just built a new west wing onto the building when disaster struck in August 1898…
On August 3, 1898 – around 1 am – a fire broke out on the second floor of The Central House. Above is the story as written up in The Iowa City Weekly Republican. In followup articles found in The Iowa Citizen and The Iowa State Press, it appears that the building was worth up to $7,000, but it did not get rebuilt because in October, 1898 – the new Rock Island Depot opened just four blocks west of the old depot. One report tells us that a carpenter – Christian Hofeditz – was seriously injured when he fell off the roof of The Central House as it was being dismantled. Interestingly, Frank Dunkel, Sr. was in Chicago at the time of the fire, and it seems a bit suspicious that the building burned when it did, just as the old depot was being replaced with the new one. Hmm. Since we know the Dunkel Family rebuilt their next hotel near the new Wright Street depot, was the insurance money a motive here for the August 3rd fire? Inquiring minds want to know?
So now, we come to the third generation of Dunkels in Iowa City. Sadly, we don’t know too much about William J.’s three sons (Kasper’s grandsons) beyond what is recorded in William’s obituary – Eugene William (1877) – a railway mail clerk in Chicago, George Kasper (1879) – a practicing doctor in Fairfield, and William Benedict (1881). We do guess, however, that the B.W. Dunkel listed in the 1907 Directory (above) is William B., since William J.’s obituary says that William B. went by the name Ben, and is shown as being from Iowa City. So, yes, William B. must be our railroad postal clerk living in Curtis Flats at 312 E. Harrison. Which leads us, nicely, to the next name on the list – Mrs. Emma Dunkel – who is, as you probably guessed it, the wife of Ben, and of course, she, too, is living in Curtis Flats at 312 E. Harrison. By 1920, it appears that Ben & Emma are living at 219 North Dubuque and that Ben’s dad – William J. – is living with them when he passed. Which brings us, now to Frank P. & Frances H. Dunkel’s three sons – Charles Frances (1875), Frank H. (1877), and Albert Casper (1885). We don’t know too much about the middle son, Frank H., who passed away in 1904 at age 27, but there’s lots to tell with Charles, Albert, and their parents. So here goes…
By the early 1900’s, The Dunkel Family had broadened their influence around downtown Iowa City. According to Frank P.’s obituary, the Dunkel’s rebuilt their hotel business – after the fire that destroyed The Central House (1898) – by, first, establishing The Dunkel Hotel – located near the new Rock Island Railroad Depot on Wright Street (above left). Apparently, before long, there were two additional hotels added – a second Dunkel Hotel at 1 East College Street – on the corner of College & Capitol – the nearby Manhattan Hotel, and other assorted businesses as well.
Records indicate that the Dunkels’ oldest son and daughter-in-law – Charles F. and Frances G. (Spawn), took over the operations of The Dunkel House downtown, while their younger son, Albert C. – also known as Punch – became actively involved in the entertainment business – opening The Pastime Theatre and Majestic Hall – which offered both the citizens of Iowa City, and SUI faculty and students, a popular gathering spot for concerts, socials, and dances.

As it is with most families, there was a mix of good, bad, and ugly associated with The Dunkel Family of Iowa City. The one difference, of course, is that with the Dunkels being so well known around town, many of their ups and downs made for great reading in the local newspapers! Let’s take, for example, the year – 1907

On Tuesday, August 27, 1907 – The Iowa City Daily Press looked like this. On the same day, an interesting postcard was mailed to Charlie F. Dunkel at The Dunkel House. Keep reading…
(P-0380) As you can see here, a rare postcard was written to Charlie F. Dunkel, who’s managing (with his wife, Frances) The Dunkel Hotel in downtown Iowa City. It comes from an unknown lady – a girl friend? – and includes some pretty suggestive thoughts as she goes to bed lonely in Iowa City. Hmm. Is Charlie having a little affair on the side? While we may never know the answer, we do see that Charlie’s bedtime friend is not much of a speller, but certainly has no problem getting her point across!

Say kid – this is the way it will be in the winter time. Can’t go out walking than (sp), can we? It is raining tonight and I feel so lonly (sp) hear (sp) all alone and wish that you were with me, dear. I hope that you are a good boy tonight and will go to bed and have a nice rest. I am going to bed now, so Good Night, Dear.
Our postcard is postmarked in Iowa City, so unless Charlie’s wife – Frances Grace – is sleeping at another of the Dunkel Hotels in town, this postcard sure looks a bit fishy to me. And you’ll better understand my theory, when we get to another Charlie & Frances story from 1913 – a bit later in our As The Kunkel World Turns story!

But hey, let’s look at Charlie’s brother – Albert ‘Punch” Dunkel (below)! He’s got his Majestic Hall up and ready to roll, and according to the Local News, Punch has a new-fangled automobile on order from St. Louis, and will be the first in Iowa City to drive around in style…

Now, on the sad & shady side, 1907 also found these new articles (below) about the Dunkels. First (left), New York’s Favorite Palmist and Clairvoyant – Mile Zara – has set up shop at The Dunkel Hotel, and for 25-cents – be sure to bring the ad – Ms. Zara will tell you everything you need to know about your life. Hmm. I wonder – has the ‘Wonderful Woman’ – fresh from Europe – read Frances H. Dunkel’s fortune – opening up the door for her to divorce her long-time husband – Frank P. – who appears to be a violent and abusive drunkard! Yowsers! What a scandal!

1907 closes on a sour note for the Dunkel Family as fire once again strikes one of the Dunkel’s properties. This time, it’s The Dunkel Hotel in downtown Iowa City – the corner of College & Capitol – and while no one was killed, it sure sounds like it was a close call for Mrs. Frances H. – with her son, Charlie, saving her from certain death! Wow! What a story!

(P-0385) This rare postcard from December 1908 is addressed to Mrs. Charles (Frances) Dunkel in Iowa City and comes from a friend – Mrs. L Kos – in Washington, Iowa. Notice the text is written in German!

(P-0036) In October 1913, another big fire breaks out in Iowa City. Apparently, this time (below left), it’s next door to The Dunkel Hotel at E.D. Murphy’s Livery Stable! Again, no lives were apparently lost – thanks to the Iowa City Fire Department, but numerous horses lost their lives, and much property was burned up in the disaster!

And, in 1913, there was another disaster that hit the Dunkel Family. Charlie F. – remember we mentioned him earlier with the 1907 postcard – went into a wild rage of jealousy, believing his wife – Frances Grace – was cheating on him. You can read all the juicy details (above right), but suffice to say, having this story on the front page of The Iowa Citizen was not the kind of publicity the family would have preferred!

Apparently, after the embarrassment of 1913, Charlie left Iowa City for several years, living and working in Rock Island, Illinois. But in 1919, ‘ole Charlie is coming back home to open up a “first-class cigar, soda and ice cream” business. Welcome home – Charlie!

We have no records, how well business went for Charlie, but in 1920, The Dunkel Family celebrated 80 years of Iowa City living. Thanks for the memories.

So, in closing – here’s a big salute to three generations of Iowa City’s Dunkel Family. Good-bad-or-ugly – you’ve made our soap-opera story quite entertaining!

Here’s to Generation One Kasper Dunkel (1809-1898) and Mary A. (Alnier) Dunkel (?-1855). Kasper is buried in Saint Joseph Cemetery in Iowa City, Sadly, no records have been found on Mary’s burial – which we would assume is in Iowa City in 1855.
Here’s to Generation TwoWilliam J. Dunkel (1840-1920) and Rosa (Lutter) Dunkel (1856-1889). William is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City, and his wife, Rosa, is buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
Here’s to Generation TwoFrank P. Dunkel (1855-1923) and Frances H. (Vavra) Dunkel (1858-1927). Frank & Frances, though divorced in 1907, are both buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
Here’s to Generation ThreeBenedict W. Dunkel (1881-1945) and Emma A. (Meincer) Dunkel (1884-1957). Both are buried at Highland Memory Gardens Cemetery in Des Moines.
Here’s to Generation ThreeAlbert Casper (Punch) Dunkel (1885-1947) and Emma Clara (Lumsden) Dunkel (1885-1952). Both are buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Iowa City.
Here’s to Generation ThreeCharles Frances Dunkel (1875-1963) and Frances Grace (Spawn) Dunkel (1887-1970). Both are buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Iowa City.

Godspeed, dear Dunkel Family – Godspeed!

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Soap Operas during the Golden Age of Radio,

Casper Dunkel Naturalization – June 2, 1841, History of Johnson County, 1883, p 213

C. Dunkel – St. Mary’s Catholic Church – 1840, History of Johnson County, 1883, p 659

Frank, Kasper, William Dunkel biographies, History of Johnson County, 1883, p 813

Central House Burned, Iowa City Weekly Republican, August 3, 1898, p 7

Central House Burned, The Iowa Citizen, August 5, 1898, p 5

Christ. Hofeditz, carpenter – Central House, The Iowa State Press, August 17, 1898, p 5

Mrs. Dunkel Wants Divorce, The Iowa Citizen, January 23, 1907, p 1

Wonderful Woman – Dunkel Hotel, Iowa City Republican, February 23, 1907, p 8

Albert Dunkel automobile, Iowa City Daily Press, February 28, 1907, p 8

Names For New Directory – Dunkel, Iowa City Republican, August 15, 1907, p 6

Majestic Hall Is Now Ready, The Daily Iowan, October 3, 1907, p 4

Son Rescues Mother Bravely, The Iowa City Daily Press, October 26, 1907, p 5

Bad Fire in Dunkel Hotel, The Iowa Citizen, October 28, 1907, p 3

Manhattan Hotel, Iowa City Daily Press, December 5, 1910, p 18

Wild Jealousy Brings Tragedy, The Iowa Citizen, April 12, 1913, p 1

Fierce Flames Sweep Many Structures In The Athens, Iowa City Daily Press, December 15, 1913, p1

Charles Dunkel To Return Will Enter Business Here, Iowa City Republican, May 15, 1919, p 6

Harold Lloyd & The Pastime Theatre, Iowa City Daily Press, October 20, 1920, p 6

Dunkel (Casper obit), The Iowa Citizen, June 10, 1898, p 5

Kasper Dunkel, Find-A-Grave

William J. Dunkel, First Born Male White Child of Iowa City, Dies, Iowa City Daily Citizen, March 22, 1920, p 1

William J. Dunkel, Find-A-Grave

Frank Dunkel Pioneer Here Dies Of Stroke, Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 15, 1923, p 12

Frank P. Dunkel, Find-A-Grave

Benedict W. Dunkel, Find-A-Grave

A.C. “Punch” Dunkel Dies In West, Iowa City Press Citizen, February 28, 1947, p 2

Albert Casper “Punch” Dunkel, Find-A-Grave

Charles Dunkel Dies In The West, Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 20, 1963, p 2

Charles Francis Dunkel, Find-A-Grave

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