Artist stands up to progress and saves historic site from destruction  

by Bill Egan
(published in "Holiday Cheer '97" in Ormond Beach, Fla., Dec. 1997)

MARIAPFARR, Austria --- "You'll have to kill me first," shouted Albrecht Schmolz at the man in the bulldozer who had
been sent to destroy his home. Slowly, the bulldozer backed away, leaving the young artist standing guard over his
    The story began a few years earlier when Schmolz bought the tiny house with attached barn just outside the Alpine
hamlet of Mariapfarr. In a land where it's not unusual to dine in a restaurant that onceserved Charlemagne or stay in a
hotel built before Columbus headed across the Atlantic, it's a common thing to own a very old home. But, this one had
special significance and Albrecht Schmolz seemed to be the only one to recognize its historical importance to
Austrians. For this was the ancestral home of Joseph Mohr, the man who gained immortality when he wrote "Stille
Nacht! Heilege Nacht!" known to the English-speaking world as "Silent Night."
    Fr. Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when, as a young curate, he was assigned to the pilgrim church in Mariapfarr.
When Schmolz bought the home, he felt a special kinship with the man who wrote the words to the world's most
famous Christmas hymn. It's not known how often Joseph Mohr may have visited this site, however one can imagine
him heading out into this area on a brisk afternoon walk in order to get away from the hustle and bustle of a major
pilgrimage church.
    Schmolz, with his spouse and child, were content in their solitude until the State of Salzburg decided to widen the
road. The Schmolz-Mohr home was in the way of progress and would have to be destroyed and this is what Albrecht
Schmolz was suddenly facing.
    When the bulldozer left for the day, Schmolz knew that it would return once more, yet he was determined to save
this historical spot. On a hunch, he headed down to the local land office where he discovered that property owned by a
minor would be safe from seizure by the government. Immediately, he signed over the property to his infant son, thus
protecting the building for several decades. The bulldozer never returned.
    In the ensuing years, the Austrian government recognized the significance of the home and declared it an historic
site. A small plaque relates this designation, however, most people drive past without
noticing this.
    Thus, Albrecht Schmolz, an artist well-known for his monumental outdoor sculptures in Austria and Germany,
saved this historic site for future generations of visitors to the Lungau region of the state of Salzburg, Austria. At the
same time, he demonstrated that just one person can truly make a difference.
    A Silent Night-Mohr Family Museum is in the planning stages for Mariapfarr by German author Hanno Schilf ("The
Story of Silent Night").

    For further information on visiting Mariapfarr, the pilgrim church, and viewing the exterior of the Schmolz-Mohr
home, write: Fremdenverkehrsverband, Pfarrstrasse 7,  5571 Mariapfarr, Austria, Europe. 

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