Wilburn, who has worked with the Embassy in the past, visited the Embassy recently to display his great-grandfather’s drawing and share the story of this family artifact. (Video below)
Olaf Matthes, head of the Photographic Collection and Archive at the Museum für Hamburgische Geschicthe (museum for Hamburg history), said the museum is happy to accept Wilburn’s generous donation. “This is a piece of local, regional history that has become global history,” Matthes said of the drawing, which he has so far seen only in photographs. As part of the museum’s holdings, the drawing would expand and enhance the graphics collection, he said. The museum’s experts will determine if the piece requires restoration and whether funds would be available for the work.
Once in the United States, Gustav either volunteered for or was conscripted by the Union Navy during the Civil War and designed ships for the war effort in New York. Wilburn said that he likely gained US citizenship through his wartime service. After the war, he married an American woman, invested in real estate, even buying a ranch in Wyoming, and traveled frequently back to Germany with his wife and children “in grand style,” Wilburn said. “He lived the American dream.” Gustav Oskar Pfeiffer died in 1913. Wilburn was close to his maternal grandfather, Gustav’s son Karl Erwin Pfeiffer, who has able to tell him about the story.
Wilburn himself speaks fluent German, thanks to an influential German teacher in the United States and a year he spent at a boarding school in Bavaria in the 1960s while his father was in Europe on a Navy assignment. Wilburn was working as a lawyer in Baltimore in 1980 when he learned of a DAAD program to study German and European law, so he returned to Germany, this time with his wife, to study law at the University of Tubingen and to intern at a law firm. That experience and his fluency in German led him to eventually start his own firm concentrating in construction and government contracts and often working with international clients.
“I am very happy that the city of Hamburg museum has expressed interest in this and I certainly think it deserves a homecoming back to Hamburg.”
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