There are a million versions of this story, but they all contain the same main points: The village of Kienholz was buried by a landslide, an old man and a boy survive in a pub cellar on wine and cheese for years until a curious dog starts digging; excavation starts and they find the old man who dies three days later. The boy survives and they change his name to Kienholz.
That’s the short story. Here are two longer versions that I received from my aunt years ago. They were typewritten and photocopied a million times over; I ran them through an OCR scanner and cleaned them up… [brackets] indicate where the original was blurred and so I filled in the blanks with the obvious choices.
LEON KIENHOLZ, M. D.,
10 ELLIS PLACE
OSSINING, NEW YORK
TELEPHONE: WILSON 1-0056
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE VILLAGE OF KIENHOLZ
(Copied from the Bigstone, S.D. “Headlight” about 1880 )
Over four hundred years ago in a small but freedom-loving land of Switzerland, there was situated in the highlands of the province of Berne, on the northeastern slope of a mountain that rose from the shore of the deep Lake of Brienz to a height of nearly 2,000 feet, the village of Kienholz, an earthly paradise, surrounded by fruitful fields and meadows bright with flowers. The most magnificent fruit such as apples, currants, cherries, etc., grew luxuriantly. A failure of the harvest was altogether out of the ordinary, for large forests of fir and pine surrounded the isolated community forming, as it were, a beautiful green room which protected ti fruit from the raw cold winds that would often have damaged it. In these forests, too, were many turpentine trees, from which torches were secured to furnish light for the village. These torches burned with a very bright flame and for a long time. This circumstance gave the village and the surrounding community the name of Kienholz”, as the trees from which these torches were made, were known as “Kienholz”. The town bears the same name yet today.
To the north of the village towers a snow-capped mountain, its slopes broken by two tablelands, called Giebelegg and Gammen. Just between these two plateaus, high up near the peak of the mountain, a large spring bubbled forth, and gaining volume as it rushed downward, formed a brook of crystal clear-ness, flowing through the village and supplying it, both winter and summer, an abundance of clear sparkling water. In short, the people of Kienholz had nothing to be desired and believed themselves hidden as it were, in a Zoar. But they were soon to learn that safety is only where the wings of divine Providence are outspread.
One day the little brook suddenly ceased flowing, causing great distress to the inhabitants of the village, owing to the sudden cutting off of the water supply. To be sure the Lake of Brienz lay only three quarters of a mile away but considerable difficulty was encountered in carrying the water from there. This then was an earnest warning from a neglected Providence to the inhabitants, who considered themselves so secure in their little paradise spot. But greater judgment was in store for them. The reason for the sudden stoppage of the flow of water in the brook was now ascertained. It was found that the waters of the brook, but a short distance from their source, again disappeared into the ground and no one could learn what its underground course was. Grave fears were entertained that eventually a gigantic landslide would occur and bury the entire village. As time went on and nothing happened, the people became indifferent and careless as formerly. After seven years after the brook had ceased to flow, on a beautiful warm day in mid-summer almost all the people in the little village were out in the meadows making hay, a great mass of earth, comprising a great part of the mountain softened by the constant flow of water into it, tore itself loose and overwhelmed the village and surrounding land so that apparently every human being had been destroyed.
The fearful deep abyss with its high craggy walls today gives evidence of the terrible disaster when that stupendous mass of earth broke away from the surrounding slopes, burying in an instant an entire village with its inhabitants. After a time the road loading from Brienz to Merigen which passed through the village of Kienholz was restored. Now, one of the freighters, who freighted goods from Brienz to Oberhasle, owned a remarkable dog and who, on every trip, when he reached a certain spot, would stop and scratch and would not leave until his master had gone a long distance ahead. At first the dog’s actions were given no attention, but finally it occurred to the driver as somewhat strange that his dog should act so always when reaching the same place in the road. He obtained permission from the authorities to make an investigation. The permission having been obtained, he set to work and had not dug long [when his] pick struck against a stone arch, which proved to be the roof of the wine cellar of an old hotel in the ill-fated village of Kienholz.
The driver now proceeded to work his way to the door of the cellar, which was soon done and the door forced open, when to his astonishment, an old grey-haired man and his two and one-half. year old nephew stepped toward him. With them was a rooster who had shared their lonely imprisonment. The old man died in a few days for he was too weak to endure the light of day. Before he died he was able to relate the incidents which placed him and his nephew in such a strange predicament. He said that his people had all gone to the meadows to make hay. Before going they had placed the child in his cradle and carried him down cellar for the old man had wished to wash the cheese while watching the child. The rooster had cone into the cellar to pick up the crumbs of the cheese that fell to the floor. Suddenly the old man heard the crashing and roaring of the landslide but was unable to leave the cellar before it was upon him and he had only time to shut the cellar door and thus he, with the little boy, and the rooster, were buried alive.
The Inn had been carried away and destroyed by the great mass of falling earth and rock. Fortunately the road had been built again directly over the buried cellar and they daily heard the rumble of vehicles in passing. At first every time the old man heard the rumble of a wagon he shouted with all his force and the rooster, too, had bravely added his voice to the clamor, but finally after many fruitless efforts, he ceased, resolved that no help could be expected from the human agency. For food they had cheese and wine with which the cellar was stored. There was a large quantity of the cheese remaining. The supply of wine, however, was nearly exhausted.
This is the story the old man related before his death. The little child grew and prospered and since he was the only remaining inhabitant of the once beautiful district, the rescuers resolved to give him the name of the city so suddenly destroyed two years before, and so named him Kienholz. . The child so strangely [rescued] became the founder of the Kienholz family.
(Research and typing done by Marion F. Kienholz, wife of Leon H. Kienholz, M.D. 10 Ellis Place, Ossining New York) and Ella E. Kienholz, wife of Lawrence Kienholz, Spokane, Wash.)
Brienzer Legends by A. Streich
WHEN THE TOWN KIENHOLZ WAS BURIED
Underneath the mudflow of Lammbach the blooming town of Kienholz was buried. It’s wealth in houses and fields was greater than its neighboring “Church Town” of Brienz.
On a nice summer Sunday some hundred years ago, a man of the Alps came into the town of Kienholz and told the people to be careful of the mountains. Towards the evening, thunder, and a big grey cloud appeared in the blue sky. Everyone who lived in Kienholz fled from their houses. One of the mountains collapsed and an avalanche filled the valley. The castle Kien was crushed, and mud and stones covered the town so completely nothing more could be seen.
It now looked like a desert. Nothing more indicated that there ever was a town there, so great was the devastation.
THE FAMILY NAME KIENHOLZ
A merchant wagon arriving in the country of Brienz passed through Kienholz of necessity. After the town was buried they travelled over rocks and mud that covered Kienholz.
Some weeks after the avalanche, some wagons were traveling to “Tracht”. One of the dogs started to dig on the side of the road. On the return trip the dog started digging at the same place as if there was nothing more important to do. Everytime they passed in the the next few days the dog repeated this act. Finally the owner of the dog reported this act to the officials in Brienz.
As soon as they heard of it the officials sent some men out to excavate.Toward evening they dug out a brick house. It was the cellar of the Kienholz pub. Within the cellar they found an old man and little boy that were still alive. These are the two the dog sensed.
After the old man was brought to the town of Brienz, he explained how he and the boy were taken unawares, and how he and the boy survived off cheese and wine stored there, and from the water that dripped through the stones. It seemed to him as if they were buried for seven years. They would have had food for only three more weeks. Three days after that the old man died. Some surmised it was because he couldn’t stand the daylight anymore. The little boy recovered. As a memory of the strange happenings, the city officials changed the boy’s family name Schneitter to Kienholz.
as translated by Margita Calkins from German for Cliff Chapman.
I had the chance to visit the town several years ago. They have a plaque that tells the story as well and it matches very closely with the first story above.