For nearly seventy years, the Casper puppet show brought enjoyment to people of all ages through its hand carved and innovative marionette productions. Peter Weinkoetz and his father, Casper, performed puppet shows all over Germany, but as the years went on they heard about the opportunities in America and the family soon set sail for a better life. The family arrived in New York on the ship Clara from Antwerp, Belgium on Aug. 5, 1856 – traveling with Casper and Peter was Ferdinando Michael Wienkoetz, Peter’s younger brother. They brought along the puppets and organ for the puppet shows. The family docked in Canada and lived there for a few years. After Peter married Carolina Leichtnamin in 1862, the couple and Peter’s parents moved to St. Nazianz and joined the community organized by Father Ambrose Oschwald.
The 4-foot tall puppets were handcrafted by Casper and used by members of the Weinkoetz family to put on plays like “Don Juan,” “Der Falscher Graf,” and “Die Reiche Koronline.”
In the meantime, Peter and Caroline had six children. When Peter’s father, Casper, died in 1872, the puppet shows were passed on to Peter and his family, who then brought it to other areas on the weekends. Two of Peter’s sons, Peter John and Theodore, would travel with their father to learn how to operate the “Casper show.”
It was recorded on August 12, 1871 that Father Ambrose Oschwald sold land with what is today Meat’s Opera House to Peter Weinkoetz and his wife, Carolina Leichtnam, for $50.00. Although this was the official date of purchase, the Opera House had likely been in operation since about 1862.
In January, 1875, following the death of Father Oschwald in 1873, the Roman Catholic Religious Association re-sold the lot north of the Opera House to Antonia Weinkoetz (widow of Casper Weinkoetz, who died in 1872) for $79.00.
Peter ran this Opera House until selling it in 1895 to his son-in-law Herman Lettenberger. On March 12, 1914, Peter sold the house he had designed and built just south of the Opera House to his son Peter James Weinkoetz and his wife, Katherine Pitsch. With this purchase, Herman Lettenberger was now the owner of the Opera House and the house to the north. It was around this time that the buildings were likely renovated so that the Opera House and the house to the north were combined into one building.
Throughout the years, the puppet cast grew to 15 and eventually Peter began using children to bring more action and life to the scenes. The children blended in with the puppets by moving their heads and hands when their characters were speaking. The puppet shows continued until about 1920. A group of the marionettes were donated to the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1963.
Peter Weinkoetz’s (July 2, 1836-May 12, 1922) obituary stated “Mr. Weinkoetz was well known throughout the state by reason of his trips with his Marionette show, known as the Casper show. His first performance was given sixty-five years ago and he kept up a continuous business until old age compelled him to retire about sixteen years ago when he turned the business over to his sons, Peter and Theodore. The latter died five years ago, and the former still conducts the Casper shows, making the Marionettes perform on the same system which the father used more than a half century ago. And the attraction still has great drawing power.”