Chester Mittag

Date in History: 1904 – 2001

Chester was born in Columbus, WI in 1904 to Emil and Margaret Mittag. The family moved to Fort Atkinson in 1910 when his dad opened a tailor and dry cleaning business out of a barn at their new home at 604 North Main Street. By 1912, Mittag’s Dry Cleaners had moved downtown to 87 North Main Street where it would remain for much of the century.

Chester graduated from Fort High School in 1922 and then went to work at Jamesway before finally joining his father’s business in 1930. When his Dad died in 1943, Chester had three small children and another on the way, so he gave up the business and he went to work at Creamery Package. In 1956 he bought back the business, again running Mittag’s Dry Cleaners until his retirement in 1972.

Though many associate Chester with the dry cleaning business, in reality the two great loves of his life were his family and the violin. Chester was a gifted violinist. As a teenager he played violin for the silent movies shown at the Lyric Opera House on East Milwaukee St. (razed in 2000). On one memorable night, June 11, 1922, the fire bell on top of the theater rang and, since there weren’t many left in the audience, Chester and a friend raced off in their Model T to watch cans of peas and corn explode like fireworks at the nighttime fire that destroyed the Fort Atkinson Canning Company.

After he married Elsie Griese in 1934, Chester shared his love of music with his growing family. The Mittags began performing as a group in 1949 when oldest son Marlin became proficient at the violin. For their initial appearance they chose a supper meeting so the attendees “wouldn’t notice our mistakes.” They were soon invited to perform all over the county with Chester and Marlin (15) on violin, Kathryn (14) on piano and Mark (9) and Danny (7) as vocalists. Their signature piece was the ditty “Pop Goes the Weasel” which Chester could play in any number of contortionist positions including behind his back, propping the bow between his knees and moving the violin up and down and hoping off stage on one foot – all to the delight of the audience. In a more dramatic setting, many will remember the hauntingly beautiful violin rendition of Silent Night performed every Christmas Eve night at St. Paul’s’ Lutheran Church, with Chester in front and Marlin in the balcony.

Chester died June 8th, 2001 at the age of 96. His wife Elsie, who now resided with her daughter in Reedsburg, is 96 years young.

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