The Old Colonel, Amanthis George Washington Weissinger, and Amelia Neville Pearce Weissinger
The Old Colonel
(Dec. 11, 1836 - Feb 24, 1903)
and his wife "Amanthis"
Real-life model for the characters in Annie Fellows Johnston's "Little Colonel" series
"Along this street one summer morning, nearly thirty years ago, came stepping an old Confederate Colonel. Every one greeted him deferentially. He was always pointed out to new comers. Some people called attention to him because he had given his right arm to the lost cause, some because they thought he resembled Napoleon, and others because they had some amusing tale to tell of his eccentricities. He was always clad in white duck in the summer, and was wrapped in a picturesque military cape in the winter."
Annie Fellows Johnston,
In her autobiography,
Land of the Little Colonel (1929)
His real name was George Washington Weissinger, Jr., and indeed he was a Colonel and a Confederate veteran. He is seen here on the porch of Locust in winter garb. (Summer dress was the traditional white duck suit, closer to the portrayal by Lionel Barrymore in the 1935 movie version of the Little Colonel)
Just as portrayed in the Little Colonel stories, the Old Colonel had indeed lost his right arm. This was during the Civil War at the battle of Sugar Creek, Arkansas (March 7-8, 1862) (document).
Colonel Weissinger died on February 24, 1903 at the age of 66. (obituary) This is most interesting in the context of the Little Colonel Stories, particularly The Little Colonel at Boarding School (1904). You may remember that it was the Old Colonel's illness in that book (Chapter 1) that was the reason for the Little Colonel going to boarding school in the first place. By the time the book was published, the real Old Colonel had already passed away. We speculate that Annie Fellows Johnston must have wrestled with what to do about that. In the end, she apparently decided to let the Old Colonel live for the sake of the stories, though in later books his role is very much diminished.
The Old Colonel died at St. Joseph's Infirmary, which was then located on Fourth Street between Broadway and Chestnut (present site of The Palace Theater). He was brought to his brother's (Harry Weissinger's) house in Old Louisville near the corner of 4th & Oak, and his funeral was around the corner at St. Louis Bertrand Catholic Church. He was then interred at Cave Hill Cemetery. And that's where it gets interesting again.
Cave Hill Cemetery (the most prestigious burial ground in the region) has records that the Old Colonel was buried on February 25, 1903, his wife two months later. A plot map shows the exact location of the graves. But there are no tombstones or grave markers. Why? We don't know. We also can find nothing about the death of Amelia Pearce Weissinger (born Amelia Neville Pearce), his wife, just before her interment beside him on April 30, 1903. Now we have some information form the Weissinger descendents and others that Amelia probably passed away in around 1870 (she had been his wife only since 1865...Col. Weissinger is noted in local histories as having practiced law in Owensboro and in Louisville after the death of his wife.) There is confirming evidence of that in the Filson Historical Society's Genealogies of Kentucky Families that puts Amelia Neville Pearce's death date at October 19, 1870. That would be correct for the Little Colonel stories, and so by inference the second burial must have been a re-interment. More evidence of the Old Colonel's wife's premature passing can be found in the census record data we include below.
Incidentally, in the stories, the Old Colonel's dear departed wife was given the name Amanthis. Amanthis, was in fact, the name of the Old Colonel's real-life mother. (Amanthis Bullitt)
While we're on incidentals, the Old Colonel's obituary notes that that, at his death, he was survived by one daughter (also named Amelia). That matches the stories perfectly. This would have been The Little Colonel's mother. What doesn't match the story is that the Old Colonel's relationship with his son-in-law (Papa Jack of the stories) was actually quite cordial. But if no literary license had ever been taken, there would have never been a story.
The Portrait of Amelia Neville Pearce Weissinger, "Amanthis"
The Little Colonel's Grandmother, wife of the Old Colonel
from Fox Film Corporation Scrapbook by the Little Colonel Productions, Inc., probably by Kate Matthews
In this case, however, it was not the real Amanthis (who died around 1870, long before The Little Colonel was born) that was the major character in the stories, but rather her portrait, and this is shown above. From the first Little Colonel book to the last, this portrait, hanging in the main drawing room at The Locust, was a recurring source of admiratrion and inspiration for Lloyd Sherman, "The Little Colonel."
Illustrations & documents, including recent photographs of the grave site and adjoining areas:
On Col. George W. Weissinger Jr. The Old Colonel in the Little Colonel Series
Census Records for George Washington Weissinger, The Old Colonel, and his family (many thanks to Toni Langlais, who's random acts of kindness in regularly providing unsolicited information is ever deeply appreciated. Notes in italics are our additions.)
- 1870 census Middletown, Jefferson County, Kentucky:
- Weissinger, G. age 35 occupation— lawyer ("The Old Colonel")
- Amelia, wife, age 32 ("Amanthis")
- Anna A., daughter, age 3 (Amelia, model for Mrs. Sherman, the Little Colonel's Mother)
- 1880 census Louisville, Jefferson County Kentucky, Galt House, E. Main Street:
- Weissinger G. 45, single, atty at law ("Amanthis" has passed away, he is now single)
- 1880 census Rollington Distr. Oldham County, Kentucky
- Smith, Thomas, age 45
- Blanche, wife, 41 (Blanche was Col. George Weissinger's sister)
- Amanthus, daughter, 19
- George, son, 15
- Anna, daughter, 13
- Thomas, son, 11
- Weissinger, Amelia, niece, 12 (Amelia, again, model for Mrs. Sherman, the Little Colonel's Mother)
- 1900 census Pewee Valley, Oldham County, Kentucky ("Lloydsboro Valley")
- Cochran, John H, born Feb 1867, married 10 years
- Amelia, wife, born Sept 1866
- Harriet H., daughter, born Nov 1890
- Weissinger, George, father in law, born Dec 1835, widower, lawyer
While there are so many unanswered questions and riddles to the Old Colonel's final fate, we have a supporting page with pictures which we'll keep on-line until the whole story is fully and reliably explained.
Alex Luken found this biography and information from from Harvard's 1906 memorial issue on the class of 1856: