My name is Morris Muschany, and I have a story to tell. It begins in Howell, a small town about a five minute drive from here which doesn't exist anymore. But I was born there in 1890; my dad was the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse. I spent all of my life in this area. Well, at least I did until 1941. Something terrible happened that year, and it took several more years for the tragedy to end.
I had two brothers and a sister also born in Howell. We were involved in the community in many ways. I was Sunday School Superintendent of the Howell Methodist Episcopal Church for many years, and I also coached Howell baseball and softball teams several seasons. In fact, near to the general store in Howell that my brothers and I ran, we had a ballfield on our property. My brothers, Karl, Claude, and I also owned the Howell Garage just down the street from our store. As far as my job goes, I was the area's undertaker. Lots and lots of people in the cemeteries around here came through my business in Howell. I guess I was someone people looked up to. One newspaper writer said I was a leading figure in the county.
In the fall of 1940, everything changed for us folks in Howell and Hamburg and on the farms around here. It was then that the War Department told us that we would have to sell our homes and move off them. We didn't have much time to think about it, and the prices they first offered seemed fair, so we signed contracts and moved away. Most of us were gone by the beginning of 1941.
You see, America was trying to help England fight off the Nazis, and President Roosevelt and Congress had decided to supply England with war material. Why did that decision in Washington, D. C., affect us in Howell and Hamburg? Well, it was decided that a TNT plant would be built right over there and that we would have to give up our homes so the area could be secured. Nobody was happy about it, but American was gearing up for war, and we felt it our patriotic duty to cooperate.
The problem came in the spring of 1941 when the War Department decided it had agreed to pay too much for the properties. One hundred twenty of us landowners still hadn't received our checks from the government, even though we had moved off our properties several weeks earlier. The War Department reneged on the signed contracts and then offered us new contracts which valued our properties at only a fraction of the original, agreed upon amounts.
We were angry, of course, and several community meetings were held. I was one of the leaders of the landowners who had not been paid. We decided to sue the War Department, so we hired lawyers who fought for us. Finally in the spring of 1945 our case against the War Department reached the Supreme Court of the United States. In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court decided in our favor. After four years, we had won and were paid for our land according to the original contracts.
By this time my wife and I had moved to Wentzville, where I spent the rest of my life. I died in 1966. Twelve years later my son, Donald K. Muschany, wrote a book about what had happened to Howell and Hamburg. He called it The Rape of Howell and Hamburg: an American Tragedy.
Today in this area you can walk through the woods and find evidence of the people like me who used to live here. It might be a crumbling foundation wall, or a patch of daffodils in the spring, or a cistern still holding water, but there is still plenty of proof left that folks like me lived here once.
Oh, by the way, I really did marry two women with the same name, Nell. My first wife died before the tragedy of 1941, so she was spared that sorrow. My second wife Nell outlived me by ten years.