Buffalo Bones: The Janitor of the Capitol

The following is an historical article provided by the Wyoming State Archives.

By Carl V. Hallberg

(Cheyenne, Wyo.) – For the most part, the life of Julius Wellnitz, a janitor in the Capitol, was pretty ordinary.  An immigrant from Germany, he moved to Cheyenne where two brothers and a sister already resided.  He married Martha Emerson, a widow with two children, in 1891 in the Presbyterian Church, and in time was well liked in the community. That he resided in the Capitol was exceptional.

The original Wyoming State Capitol contained a janitor’s apartment. Either the architect or the Capitol Building Commission felt that this accommodation was important. Its first resident was Stephen A. Day.  A former stockmen and Civil War veteran, he was the first Capitol janitor, serving from 1886 to the summer 1895.

In November 1894 Wellnitz was hired as an assistant janitor.  Following Day’s termination, Wellnitz was promoted to chief janitor. Soon afterwards he asked the Capitol Building Commission if he and his family could occupy the janitor’s apartment.  “I think I would be able to render more efficient service,” he wrote, “if I could be in the building at all times, especially so during the winter while [when] the heating of the building requires constant attention. The rooms formally occupied by Mr[.] Day would be very satisfactory.” His request was granted.

Surely setting up a residence in the Capitol building was a unique experience. Paul Emerson, Wellnitz’s step-son, recalled that they lived “in considerable isolation.”  On the other hand, during the course of the work day, the family saw some of the state’s  leading politicians and employees. During periods of severe or stormy weather, Martha often provided lunch to state officials who didn’t want to venture outside.

During Wellnitz’s tenure as janitor, no one complained about his work, and there are no references to complaints or concerns by Julius.  In addition to his duties in the building, he also was gardener of the capitol grounds. It was reported that during the summer months, the capitol grounds were “one of the most beautiful spots in the city.”

One once did the Wellnitz’s ask for anything.  In November 1905, Martha petitioned the Capitol Building Commission to have a telephone installed in the apartment in case either she or Julius had to contact authorities about an emergency or fire. The Commission turned down the idea, arguing that in case of emergency, other phones in the building could be used.

In mid-November 1905, Wellnitz was injured during the course of his work.  One newspaper account stated that he had a serious fall. Another account stated that he slipped on a banana peal on the sidewalk.  In any case, his injuries never healed and he died on November 27, 1905.

A large crowd of government employees and community residents attended his funeral in the Capitol, with Rev. F.N. Moore of the Congregational Church officiating. For its part, the Capitol Building Commission released a public resolution honoring Wellnitz’s years of service and ordered the Capitol closed for business during his funeral.

It was nice tribute to a dedicated state employee and a janitor.