Friday, November 28, 2014

100,000 PAGE VIEWS

To my faithful readers:  Thanks to all of you, this week Under Every Stone achieved 100,000 page views.  As I say each time a milestone is achieved, if this were a porn site I could rack up 100,000 page views in a long weekend, but for a history blog I am gratified with at the response.

I am also grateful to the forty-one people who have signed up to be "followers" of this blog.  Followers get all the blog posts first, but since everyone I write about is dead there is no danger of non-followers missing out on breaking news.

Thank you also to the people who have taken the time to contact me.  With one notable exception the comments have been very positive and I really enjoy hearing from all of you, but especially from relatives of the people I write about.

Thank you to my relatives who have read the stories I have written about the family and said they learned things about our relatives they never knew.

Please stay tuned - I have some really great stories in the queue to keep you amused and amazed in the coming weeks.  I will pick up the story of noted sculptor Leonard Wells Volk next Friday.  In the meantime I hope everyone enjoys the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Weather permitting, visit a cemetery this weekend - you may be surprised at what you can "dig up", because as you know, there is a story under every tombstone.

Friday, November 21, 2014


I have mentioned before that everywhere you look in Chicago's Rosehill Cemetery you will encounter history.  I have also noted that Rosehill has some of the finest examples of funerary art I have ever seen.  Many of the most striking pieces in Rosehill are the work of one man - noted sculptor Leonard Volk.  A good place to start would be with Volk's own "tombstone" at Rosehill which was designed by him and executed by the Gast Monument Company:

Before we journey around Rosehill to see more of Volk's work, let's see what we can learn about the man himself.

Leonard Wells Volk was born November 7, 1828 in Wellstown (now Wells), New York to Garret Volk (1788-1862) and Elizabeth nee Gesner (1790-1851).  Garret Volk had been born in New Jersey but was a Private in the New York State Militia during the War of 1812. He was a stone and marble cutter by trade.

Elizabeth Gesner had been born in New York.  Elizabeth and Garret were married in New York in 1808.

It was said that Garret and Elizabeth had twelve children: 4 girls and 8 boys.  I can only account for 9 children in total:

Born Died
Thomas 1808
John 1810
Catherine 1812
Maria 1816
Elizabeth (Minnie) 1818 1888
Cornelius G. 1823
Leonard 1828 1895
Abram 1829 1900
Thomas Jefferson 1830 1860

Part of the difficulty in tracking down all of Leonard's siblings is because the Volk family moved around so much in those days.  Although a stone cutter by trade, Garret Volk kept trying his hand at farming and kept failing.  As a successful marble cutter, Garret had been hired to work on the New York City Hall.  He quit this job and took up farming in New Jersey.  Failing at that, he tried farming again - this time in Northern New York - and again he failed.  Financial hardship caused him to go back to the stone cutting business, this time in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Garret ultimately bought yet another farm - this time in Berkshire, Massachusetts, while engaging in a stone cutting business with his oldest sons in Pittsfield.  In later years, Leonard Volk recounted that he worked on his father's farms "like a slave" until he was sixteen.  Leonard said that he never received more than two or three years schooling, partly owing to the frequent migrations of the family, and partly  on account of his being compelled to earn his own living at farm work.  His last attendance at school was at Lanesboro, Massachusetts which he left when he turned sixteen so that he could work in his family's marble "manufactory."

After becoming sufficiently skilled as an apprentice, he went to Springfield, Massachusetts, working there, and subsequently to Pittsfield, Massachusetts as a journeyman.  At the request of one of his elder brothers, also a carver of marble, Leonard Volk moved to Bethany, New York.  During these times in Bethany he became acquainted with Miss Emily Clarissa Barlow (1834-1895) but more about her later.

After working in Bethany for several months, Volk worked in Batavia, Rochester, Albion and Buffalo, and for a time was in partnership with another brother of his in the marble trade in Batavia.

In the meantime, the parents of Miss Barlow moved to St. Louis, Missouri, taking their daughter with them.  Not taking any chances, in 1848 Leonard Volk accepted an offer of $50.00 per month from a marble establishment in St. Louis and moved there himself.

The 1850 US Census finds twenty two year old Leonard Volk living alone in St. Louis, Missouri, listing his occupation as "Sculptor."  Wanting to become established before he proposed to Miss Barlow, Volk saved up $500.00 in his first year in Missouri and used the finds to set up his own studio where he produced models in clay and made drawings.  One of his first efforts was a bust of Emily Barlow's father, Dr. J. K. Barlow.  History does not record what Dr. Barlow or Emily thought of the bust.

Volk's reputation was spreading and in 1851 he sculpted a bust in marble of Henry Clay, the first sculpted bust in marble executed west of the Mississippi River:

Henry Clay by Leonard Volk

That same year he was commissioned by Catholic Archbishop Kenrick to sculpt medallions of Major Thomas Biddle and his wife for their mausoleum.

The Biddle Mausoleum

Major Thomas Biddle
Major Thomas Biddle by Leonard Volk
Anne Biddle

Despite his commissions, Volk was unable to make enough money from his sculptures to even cover his expenses, let alone show a profit.  He decided to move to Galena to see if things would be more profitable for him in a new location.  About this time, on April 28, 1852 Leonard Volk married Clarissa Barlow at Dubuque, Iowa.

One day while living in Galena, Volk received a visit from the Hon. Stephen A. Douglas.  Douglas and Emily Barlow Volk were first cousins. Judge Douglas told Volk that to be a success he must move to Chicago, a growing city with people willing and able to spend money on sculptures.  Did Volk listen?  No, he instead moved back to St. Louis, where he was no more successful than he was the first time he lived there.  So, Volk moved again, this time to Rock Island, still not achieving financial success.

It was not all business for Leonard Volk.  On April 23, 1853, while they were living in St. Louis, Emily Volk gave birth to their son Arthur Douglas Volk (1853-1855). 

Two and one half years after their first visit, Judge Douglas again suggested that Volk move to Chicago and offered to underwrite a trip for Volk to Italy to study with the masters there in the world's best schools of art.  Volk gladly accepted and moved to Chicago in 1855.  

After attending to all the details for his trip, Volk, made arrangements for hs wife and son to stay in Pittsfield with one of Volk's brothers.  Before he left for Europe, Clarissa Volk shared the good news with her husband that she was expecting another child, but Leonard Volk knew she would be in good hands with his family in Pittsfield.  At long last, in September, 1855 Leonard Volk set sail from New York to Liverpool aboard the ship "Columbia."  After a long and tedious voyage he reached Liverpool, then on to London, staying a few days to visit the museums; then on to Paris to attend the French World's Exposition.  After a week in Paris he left for Rome.  During Volk's eighteen month stay in Rome he studied the great works of art in galleries, churches and studios.  The artists he met in Rome treated him cordially and gave him the free use of their studios. While occupying the studios of Mr. Chauncey B. Ives in Rome, Volk completed his first sculpture there:  "Boy Washington Cutting the Cherry Tree."  (Readers of this blog will remember that the famous sculpture of Frances Pearce Stone and her child at Rosehill Cemetery was by Chauncey Ives):

While working in Rome, Leonard Volk received word of the death of his son Arthur on October 31, 1855 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  This news cast a cloud over an otherwise wonderful trip for Volk but was tempered slightly by the news that Clarissa Volk had delivered another son on February 23, 1856 in Pittsfield.  They named him Stephen Arnold Douglas Volk (1856-1935).

Leonard Volk left Rome in January, 1857 for Florence.  After spending some time there he began his voyage home, sailing from Leghorn (Livorno), Italy to Gibraltar and then on to New York, arriving on May 18, 1857.  Bad weather stretched the trip to seventy-four days.  In June of 1857 Volk finally returned home to Chicago joining his wife Clarissa and visiting young Arthur's grave in Rosehill Cemetery.  After Arthur's burial, Clarissa decided to remain in Chicago instead of returning to Massachusetts.  You will remember that Volk's European trip was underwritten by Judge Stephen  A. Douglas; when Volk arrived home he had just five dollars left in his pocket.

However, Judge Douglas continued his support of Volk, giving him the money to open a small studio in Chicago.  But 1857 was a rough year financially and few people had any money for sculptures.  Through the remainder of 1857 and in to 1858 Volk made money cutting cameo likenesses of friends for thirty dollars each, and he also was commissioned to do a lifesize statue of a boy for two hundred fifty dollars.

In 1858 Stephen A. Douglas ran for the US Senate against a little know Springfield lawyer named Abraham Lincoln.  During that campaign, Volk received a commission for a life size statue of Stephen Douglas.  This kept the wolves from Volk's door, and became the nucleus of the first Fine Arts Exposition of the Northwest which Volk organized in 1859.

Leonard Volk spent the winter of 1860 in Washington "publishing" a statuette of then Senator Douglas who Volk rightly believed would be a candidate for president, but even that did not prove profitable.  (Who would want to decorate their home with statuettes of politicians???)

Two years previously Volk had asked Abraham Lincoln to sit for a bust but their schedules never seemed to align.  By the Spring of 1860 Volk had returned to Chicago, and Lincoln, in Chicago on legal business, agreed at long last to sit for Volk.  The sittings were in Volk's studio at #47 in the Portland Block.

During the political campaign of 1860 Volk circulated his busts of Lincoln and Douglas all over the country, again with little financial success.  Here is a photo of Volk with his busts of Douglas and Lincoln:

Two months after Lincoln's election, Volk was in Springfield and asked Lincoln to appoint him Counsel at Leghorn (Livorno) in Italy but in the end Lincoln appointed someone else.

In 1861 Volk spent most ofthe winter in the first Chicago Art Union which was started for the benefit of local artists.  The breakout of the war seriously interfered with this, and it ultimately was abandoned.

Hostilities broke out on April 12, 1861.  Lincoln immediately put out a call for volunteers and Volk enlisted in a Company of Chicago volunteers which was part of a proposed regiment.  However, other regiments filled up and were accepted before the ranks of his were full, and when it was announced that the quota was complete, Volk's Company was disbanded.

Next week we will look at the increasing fame of Leonard Volk - the Douglas Monument, the Volunteer Fireman's Memorial, and his other works in Rosehill Cemetery.   

Friday, November 14, 2014

SAVOR EVERY MOMENT - Joseph Theodore Swanson

You just never know who you are going to find when you are filling Find a Grave photo requests.  Last week I saw a photo request for Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  The request was to photograph the grave of Herman Klanowsky (1848-1909).  No location was given for Herman's grave.  The minute I saw the name "Klanowsky" it rang a bell.  I remembered that there was a family mausoleum at Rosehill with the name Klanowsky on it:

It's right at the north end of Section K - I've passed it countless times.  I thought there was a good chance that Herman Klanowsky was interred there, and I was right:

I was glad to be able to fill that photo request, since Rosehill will no longer give out grave locations in the office, but the other person interred in the Klanowsky family mausoleum was the one that caught my attention:

Captain Joseph T. Swanson
1874 - 1923

I wondered who this Swanson person was, and wondered why he was in the Klanowsky family mausoleum.  I decided to photography his crypt as well, and post in to Find a Grave if needed.  When I posted the photos to Captain Swanson's memorial page I found out exactly who he was:  the father of silent screen superstar Gloria Swanson.   I have always been a huge fan of Gloria Swanson - especially after I found out that she had made a movie with Rudolph Valentino called "Beyond the Rocks."  I even wrote to Gloria Swanson late in her life and she autographed a photo of her with Valentino to me.

Let's see what we can "dig up" about the father of this "silent goddess":

Joseph Theodore Swanson was born Joseph Theodore Svensson in December of 1874 in Chicago to Jons Peter Svensson (1840-????) and Johanna Jonasdotter (1840-????).  The Svenssons came to the US from Sweden arriving July 22, 1869.  Ultimately, Joseph would be one of thirteen  children born to Jons and Johanna: 

Born Died
Johan Alfred 1864
Anna Eugenia 1866
Francis Ivan 1867
Charles 1871
Anna Louvisa 1872
Joseph Theodore 1874 1923
Johanna Christina 1875
Oscar 1875
John G. 1876
Hulda 1878
Elmer 1879
May Jennie 1881 1971
Jonathan Marmaduke 1888 1963

The 1880 US Census shows the "Swenson" family living at 116 (now 862) Sedgwick in Chicago.  In later years, 862 N. Sedgwick would be part of the Cabrini-Green housing project; now it is a vacant lot.

862 N. Sedgwick, Chicago

Jons Swenson (now called "John") was a shoemaker.  Seven year old Joseph was, of course, in school.

The 1890 US Census for Chicago is lost, however by the 1900 US Census, twenty five year old Joseph "Swanson" was living at 885 (now 3124 N.) Seminary avenue in Chicago.  On that spot today is a condominium building built in 2000.  Swanson listed his occupation as "Clerk in the War Department," meaning he had already begun his life-long career in the US Military.  But there were other changes as well.  First of all, Joseph Swanson reported that he was married.  Joseph Swanson married Adelaide Klanowsky (1878-1966) on January 4, 1898.  Even better, they had a young daughter - the soon-to-be-famous Gloria May Josephine Swanson who came into the world on March 27, 1899.

Most of what we know about the Swanson family at this time comes from Gloria's own reminiscences.  She started grade school at the prestigious Hawthorne Scholastic Academy in Chicago. 

Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, Chicago

She often said that she spent most of her childhood on army posts, moving to Key West at age eight (1907) and to San Juan at age eleven (1910).  While living in San Juan she was pleased to have been able to learn Spanish.

Here's what Gloria had to say about her father in those days:

"My father is probably the person I was in love with,” she claimed.  “I remember when I was quite young – thirteen, fourteen – the awakening of sex.  My father smelled good to me.  I have a nose like a rabbit – I always associate this sense of smell with people I like.”  She valued Joseph’s opinion above everyone else’s.  “I was forever asking my father about the stars above our heads.  Down in the tropics where you see the Southern Cross, the stars seem so close to you.  You have roof gardens, and the evenings are so balmy, and they caress you.  There’s something about the tropics that lends itself to the mystic side of life.  When he’d explain what the star was, I wasn’t satisfied with that.  I wanted to know what was beyond the star…I was very close to my father as a youngster,” Swanson said.  “I got a great education from him – much more than I ever got out of school.” 

However, by the time the 1910 US Census was taken on April 15, 1910, Joseph Swanson was living alone at the Fort Meyer Military Reservation in Alexandria, Virginia.  His wife Adelaide and daughter Gloria had left him and returned to Chicago.  Originally the intent was for them to spend five months of the year with Adelaide's parents in Chicago and the rest of the year with Joseph, but by the time Joseph was transferred to the Philippines in 1915 they didn't even consider going with him.

By early 1916 Joseph and Adelaide had officially separated and after Adelaide accompanied her daughter to Hollywood later that year she began dating other men openly.

The 1920 US Census finds Joseph Swanson living in San Antonio, Texas.  He is forty six year old and listed as a "Roomer" at 315 1/2 S. Alamo Avenue in San Antonio. That site is currently the site of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.  His marital status is "Divorced." His occupation is "Field Clerk for the United States Quartermaster's Corp."  

Joseph Swanson died October 2, 1923 at Fort McArthur in San Pedro, California.  He was 48 years old, not 52 as was reported in the newspapers.  Here is the story about his death from the Chicago Daily Tribune of October 3, 1923:

Gloria, as the only member of his immediate family, decided to have him interred in the Klanowsky family mausoleum at Rosehill Cemetery.  Here is his death notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of  October 6, 1923:

I will end the story of Joseph Swanson with another quote about him from his daughter Gloria:

My father counseled me not to hurry my awakening: Life was 95 percent anticipation and five percent satisfaction.  “Savor every moment," he said "the five percent doesn’t last very long.”   

Joseph T. Swanson - Beloved "Daddy" - may he rest in peace.

Friday, November 7, 2014


I have mentioned before that I enjoy just wandering around Chicago's historic Rosehill Cemetery.  I have been to Rosehill literally hundreds of times through the years, yet it seems that every time I go there I find something new - at least new to me.  This happened not too long ago when I was wandering around Section H and I, two of the older sections of the cemetery.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw what looked like an interesting tombstone, and it was: 

This beautiful white stone marks the grave of George Wing.  Before we take a closer look at the tombstone, let's see what we can "dig up" about George Wing.
As it says on his tombstone, George Wing was born Feb. 19, 1820, at Mildenhall, Suffolk, England.

His parents were Charles and Susan Wing.  I was not able to find out any information about them, or whether George had any siblings.  We do know that George was baptized on March 17, 1820 into the Church of England.   
While still in England George married Mary Ann (1826-1877), and they had two children:  George (1845-????) and Phebe (1849-????).
The Wing family is still in England for the 1851 English Census.  The family was still living in Mildenhall, Suffolk.  George is 31, Mary Ann is 25, Young George is 6, and Phebe is 2.  George lists his occupation as "Agricultural Labourer."
The 1860 US Census finds that the Wing family has relocated to Chicago, Illinois and the family has added some new members.  In addition to George, Mary Ann, Young George and Phebe, we now also have Thomas (1854-????), John (1856-????) and the one month old "Pet" (a girl).  We can follow the movements of the Wing family by looking at where their children were born.  Young George and Phebe were, of course, born in England.  Thomas was born in New York, John was born in Canada, and Pet was born in Chicago.  Apparently the Wing family moved around frequently before settling in Chicago.  George lists his occupation as "Miller." 
By the 1870 US Census, Mary Ann Wing has died.  George Wing has remarried, to a woman named Emma.  Unfortunately these records were lost in the Great Chicago Fire of October, 1871.  "Young" George (not so young anymore) no longer lives at home.  Phebe, Thomas W. and John are still at home along with "Pet" who is now known as "Jessie."  George lists his occupation as "Teamster" and says he has $3,000 in real estate and $500 in possessions. 

The only member of the family that seems to have participated in the 1880 US Census is John Wing.  He is shown living in Maine Township, Illinois as a Farmer and Head of Household.  The census says that he is married, but he is the only member of the family listed.

George Wing died January 6, 1891 in Des Plaines, Illinois.  In his old age George must have moved in with his son John on the farm, or at least have been visiting because his death certificate lists the place of death as "Des Plaines."  Parts of Des Plaines are in Maine Township.   

The cause of death was listed as "Cerebral Apoplexy" which is what they called a stroke in the old days.  He had only been ill for two days.  He was almost 71 years old.  Here is his Death Notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 8, 1891:

According to his death notice he still had a home on Orchard Place in Chicago, but he died in Des Plaines.  His occupation was listed as "farmer."

Here's a piece from an article about local news in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 11, 1891:

We actually know who created the beautiful tombstone that marks the grave of George Wing in Rosehill Cemetery because luckily they "signed" it.  Along one side, in the lower corner is the name "Hoffman & Co."  If you weren't looking for it, you'd probably miss it:

Here is an ad for the H.C. Hoffman Monument Co. from the Evanston City Directory of 1888:

We don't know if any other members of the George Wing family are resting under Hoffman monuments because no other members of his family are buried nearby.

That is all I have been able to "dig up" about George Wing and his family.  I may not have been able to uncover a lot of information, but we have his beautiful tombstone as an everlasting remembrance of the man from England who brought his family to Chicago in search of a better life.

George Wing - the Englishman who came to Chicago - may he rest in peace. 

Friday, October 31, 2014


Frequent readers of this blog already know just how much I love Chicago's historic Rosehill Cemetery.  I'll never forget the first time I went there - it was to see the gravesite of R.H. McElroy, the father of my friend "Babe" Drake.  It must have been about 1972.  It was a typical fall day in Chicago - cool and crisp - and although it was overcast, Rosehill was still beautiful with all the trees changing color.  I stopped in at the office to get the grave location.  In those days they gladly filled requests for grave locations - and at no charge!  As I drove down the winding roads to Section S, I thought Rosehill was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen - and certainly the most beautiful cemetery.

Little did I know then, that the beauty that was Rosehill, as well as its sterling reputation, was largely due to the efforts of one man:  Elmer A. Hennig, who had been the President and Superintendent of the Rosehill Cemetery Company from 1952-1975, and a long-time employee before that.  But Hennig's efforts alone could not have done this.  It came about because the integrity of Elmer Hennig inspired all who worked at Rosehill.  From the very start, Elmer knew that Rosehill was a sacred place, dedicated to the memory of all who rested there, and he conveyed this to the employees of Rosehill by his every action.  But more about this later.  

Before we look at what he did at Rosehill, let's see what we can find out about the man, Elmer A. Hennig.

Elmer Arthur Hennig was born May 14, 1905 in Chicago, to Hermann Frederick Hennig (1869-1945) and his wife, Pauline, nee Runzheimer (1874-1939).  Elmer's mother was known as "Polly" to the family.  Elmer had four brothers and one sister who lived to adulthood:  August Horace (1892-1976), Herman Martin (1895-1931), Raymond Clarence (1902-1968) and Bernice Laura (1914-1975).  There was also an infant son who was born in 1901 but did not live.  Hermann Hennig had come to the United States from Wesel, Germany in 1884; Polly was born in Chicago. They married in Chicago on October 10, 1891.  Hermann Hennig was in the drapery business.

In those days, children went to work to support the family before they were able to complete their education.  Elmer wanted to be an attorney so he worked for a law firm during the day while he finished high school at night.  These were difficult times for the country and the law firm had to downsize, so Elmer went to work in the office of the Corticelli Silk Company in Chicago.

In 1925, when he was 20 years old, Elmer heard of a job opening at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  The job was to be responsible for the care and condition of the grounds, and Elmer was very pleased when he was hired.  This began his 50 year association with Rosehill Cemetery.  

However, his time at Corticelli was not wasted, because it was there he met the love of his life, Bertha Marie Lee (1903-1977).  Bertha was the daughter of Elmer Lee (1877-1936) and Marie Jenette, nee Graabeck (1872-1931).  Both of Bertha's parents were immigrants from Norway.  Elmer and Bertha were married in Chicago on August 5, 1926.

The 1930 US Census shows the newlyweds living at 1723 W. Thorndale in Chicago.  They paid a whopping $51.00 rent per month for their apartment.  Elmer listed his occupation as "Clerk in a Cemetery" and Bertha was "Cashier at Silk Company" meaning that she was probably still with Corticelli.  The one bedroom apartments like Elmer and Bertha rented for $51.00 per month are now condominium units selling for over $200,000.00 each!

1723-25 W. Thorndale, Chicago

The 1930s were good years for Elmer Hennig and his family.  On August 21, 1935, Elmer and Bertha's daughter Judith Ann Hennig was born in Chicago.  At Rosehill, Elmer steadily worked his way up through the ranks and in 1938 was named Superintendent of Rosehill Cemetery.  In addition to the prestige that came with this position, Elmer and his family were also entitled to a house - at 5350 Bowmanville Avenue in Chicago:

5350 Bowmanville Avenue, Chicago

The 1940 US Census shows the Hennig family living in the house at 5350 Bowmanville Avenue.  Elmer listed his occupation as "General Superintendent of a Cemetery."  Bertha did not work outside the home, and 4 year old Judith is listed as a "son."  So much for the accuracy of the census data.

The 1930s and 1940s were exciting times to be at Rosehill Cemetery.  In 1931 the Park Addition north of Peterson Avenue was added to Rosehill after overcoming significant neighborhood opposition.  Only flush-with-the-ground markers were allowed in the Park Addition offering Rosehill's customers the option of burial in a park-like setting for those who didn't like the look of above ground monuments.

In 1935 construction was started on the 5th Addition to the famous Rosehill Community Mausoleum, followed by the 6th Addition in 1942.  Elmer Hennig was actively involved in supervising both of these projects. 

Elmer A. Hennig at his desk at Rosehill.  Note the picture of the Mausoleum on the wall behind him

Elmer's hard work and love of Rosehill was recognized in 1951 when he was named President and Superintendent of the Rosehill Cemetery Company, a position he held until his retirement in 1975.

Elmer Hennig was the type of person who felt that it would be inappropriate to have newspaper publicity about himself unless it was in conjunction with his job - and even then it should be rare.  In his 50 year career at Rosehill Cemetery his name appeared in the Chicago Tribune only once - in 1959 in an article about a Revolutionary War Veteran buried at Rosehill:

And no one was prouder that Elmer and Bertha Hennig when their daughter Judith made them grandparents, with a girl in 1958 and a boy in 1961.

Elmer Hennig turned 65 in 1970 and began to think about retirement.  By then he had completed 45 years with the company and 18 years as President and Superintendent.  But the Rosehill Community Mausoleum was being added to - again - and the owners wanted Elmer to stay on until construction was completed.  They realized that Elmer had been involved with every addition to the mausoleum since the 1930s and his experience and expertise were irreplaceable.  The addition was scheduled to be completed in early 1975 and that would give Elmer an even 50 years with Rosehill.  But the owners had a surprise for him...

I wrote an article for this blog last year about the May Memorial Chapel at Rosehill:  It was a gift from Anna May to Rosehill in memory of her late husband Horatio Nelson May.  It turned out that the new mausoleum addition was going to include a chapel.  Up until that time if chapel space was needed in the mausoleum, they utilized the space outside the John G. Shedd family room in Unit A.  But that area was not meant to be used as a chapel and other than some built-in stone benches and a few single chairs did not have sufficient seating, except for the smallest funerals.  So, as part of the 1975 addition to the mausoleum a beautiful chapel was built with warm wood paneled walls and built in pews for sufficient seating.

Elmer Arthur Hennig Chapel - Rosehill Cemetery

The owners of Rosehill Cemetery decided to name the chapel after Elmer Arthur Hennig as a permanent testimonial to the man who had dedicated his entire business career to Rosehill.

Elmer retired from Rosehill Cemetery on April 30, 1975 at which time he was honored with a ceremony dedicating the chapel in his honor.  The Tribute presented to Elmer by the Rosehill Cemetery Company said in part, "He has an uncanny feel for and unending concern for the propriety of places, persons and actions, that they be right and proper for the time and occasion, and nothing disturbed him more than activities or designs that he felt were improper."

Rufus Beach, on behalf of the Board of Directors said of Elmer, "The calm beauty of the Rosehill grounds is a tribute to his care and concern for the property.  "Beautiful Rosehill" is not just a slogan, it is a fact."

And with that Elmer and Bertha Hennig began to enjoy their retirement.  They bought a small place in Rock, Michigan, and split their time between Michigan and Lubbock, Texas where their daughter Judith lived with her children.  During the cold winter months up north they enjoyed spending time with the family in Lubbock.

Unfortunately their happiness was short-lived.  Bertha Hennig took ill during one of their trips to Lubbock, and that's where she died on January 29, 1977 of heart disease. 

She died one day past her 74th birthday.  She and Elmer had been married for just over 50 years.  Here is a photograph of Elmer and Bertha taken for their 50th wedding anniversary in 1976:

Elmer A. and Bertha Lee Hennig

It goes without saying that Bertha was buried at Rosehill Cemetery in the beautiful plot she and Elmer bought in Section 15.

Here is the memorial card from her funeral:

Her funeral was held in the Hennig Memorial Chapel.  What a wonderful way to honor this special lady.

Life goes on, and Elmer continued to divide his time between Michigan and Lubbock, stopping in Chicago occasionally to visit Bertha's grave and see old friends at Rosehill. 

Elmer A. Hennig, Lubbock, Texas Feb 29, 1979

During one of these visits to Rosehill he was in the office when he ran into Catherine Newren (1910-1984) who was at Rosehill visiting her brother's grave.  Her brother Frank Newren (1905-1975) had been Elmer's best friend when they were growing up, and Catherine was Frank's little sister.  Elmer and Catherine became reacquainted and were married in Lubbock, Texas on June 2, 1979.

Elmer's daughter Judith had this to say about her step-mother Catherine, "She was a special, delightful lady who brought love and happiness to all of us."  Catherine must have been a wonderful person and Elmer was blessed to have re-discovered her after all those years.  The fact that they re-met at Rosehill may have had something to do with it.  Remember, Elmer always thought that Rosehill was a special, sacred place.

Here's a photo of Elmer and Catherine (also known as "Kay"):

Elmer and Kay Hennig

Elmer and Kay continued spending the summers in Michigan and the winters in Lubbock.  Their happiness came to an end however, when Kay died on February 1, 1984 in Lubbock.
Like Bertha before her, Kay was of course, buried in Rosehill Cemetery.

  Here is the memorial card from her funeral:


When Kay died Elmer was 79 years old, and the family felt that it would be better for all of them if he gave up the place in Michigan and moved in with Judith and her family.
Elmer Arthur Hennig died December 10, 1989 in Lubbock, Texas.  He was 84 years old.  As you have already guessed, he was buried at his beloved Rosehill.  Here's his death notice from the Chicago Tribune of December 12, 1989:

Here's what his daughter Judith had to say about Elmer's funeral, "When we buried Dad at Rosehill it was a very cold bitter day and we did not expect that many of his friends would be able to attend, but we were wrong.  The service was held in the chapel.  The thing that warmed my heart the most was when we went to graveside there were so many people that braved the cold and we found many men there in work clothes.  I was delighted to recognize so many familiar faces.  They were men who did not realize until that day that they had prepared a grave for their boss and friend.  They asked if they could be his pallbearers.  Hard to keep a dry eye even now.  They told me that he was the most honest and fairest boss they could imagine.  One of a kind." 

This is not the place to talk about how Rosehill has changed, but it is safe to say that it is not Elmer Hennig's Rosehill any more.  I asked Judith what Elmer would say his greatest accomplishments at Rosehill were.  She said:

  • Keeping the grounds beautiful out of respect for those who rested there
  • Keeping the grounds private and dedicated to the purpose for which they were established.
  • Being a fair and honest employee and treating all of the workers with respect and getting to know them well.
  • Knowing all he could about the people resting there and the fabulous history the grounds held.
  • Overseeing the additions to the mausoleum.

Now you know the story of Elmer A. Hennig.  I will end this article with the final comments I got from his daughter Judith:

"He loved his job at Rosehill, the people there, and the beautiful city."

Elmer A. Hennig - a gentleman in every way - may he rest in peace. 

Acknowledgements:   Thank you to Elmer Hennig's relative Victor Lee for the photos and funeral cards, and most of all for putting me in touch with Judith Bray.

A very special thank you to Elmer and Bertha's daughter Judith Bray for providing photos and being willing to tell me the story of her father and share personal details that helped us to get a better picture of Elmer Hennig.

And most of all thank you to Elmer A. Hennig - a man I never met but greatly admire.  He was mostly responsible for creating the Rosehill Cemetery that I fell in love with, and still enjoy to this day, albeit in a diminished way.  I'm sorry we never met because he had my dream job:  President and Superintendent of Rosehill Cemetery.  I'm sure that the grounds of heaven will be made even more beautiful if Elmer Hennig is in charge of their care.

Friday, October 24, 2014


While photographing graves at the Free Sons Section of Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, I happened to glance down at a tombstone:

This one marked the grave of "Our Son and Beloved Brother Michael Alexander."  He was born in 1891 and died in 1916 at the age of 24.

I looked a little closer, and Michael seemed to be looking right at me, with a casual half-smile and open white shirt:

His death in 1916 was too early for the Spanish influenza so I wondered exactly what  caused the death of one so young, who appears so healthy in his photo.  Let's see what we can find out about young Mr. Alexander:

Michael Alexander was born August 15, 1891 to Herman Alexander (1869-1942) and Rosa, nee Lowenstein (1867-1931).  Herman came to the US from Frankfurt, Germany in 1887 when he was eighteen years old.  He was a butcher in Germany.  He did not mention it, but it would not surprise me if he had been a shochet in Germany.  Many shochetim went into the meat processing industry after they came to the US.

Rosa Lowenstein also came from Germany, and depending on which source you read, she came to the US in either 1886, 1888 or 1889.

One thing we do know for sure, Herman Alexander and Rosa Lowenstein were married in 1890 in New York City.  In 1896 or 1897, the Alexanders had moved to Chicago - and what better place for someone in the meat processing industry?  Because of its central location by rail, Chicago was the world's largest processor of meat and meat byproducts. 

Herman and Rosa had six children in total:  Rebecca (1890-1946), Michael (1891-1916), Simon/Samuel (1893-1947), Nathan (1895-1932), Sidney (1899-1988) and Birdye/Bertha (1906-2000). 

The 1900 US Census shows the Alexanders living at 281 (now 221 E.) Thirty-fifth Street in Chicago. Today a McDonalds Restaurant sits on that spot.  Herman lists his occupation as "Provision Dealer". Rosa said that she had given birth to seven children; five of whom were still alive in 1900.  The Alexanders must be doing well for themselves - they have a live-in servant - seventeen year old Anissa Kregg from Germany.

 By 1910 the Alexander family has moved to 3813 S. Rhodes Avenue in Chicago.  Today there is a Chicago Housing Authority building on that site.  Herman listed his occupation as "Butcher", and indicated that the Alexander's native language was "German", as opposed to Eastern European Jewish immigrants who usually indicated their native language as Yiddish.   Eighteen year old "Mike" indicated that his occupation was "Driver" of a "Grocery Wagon."

The next mention we have of Michael Alexander is his death certificate:

In January of 1916 the Alexander family moved down the street to 3841 S. Rhodes Avenue in Chicago.  Today this is a vacant lot also owned by the Chicago Housing Authority:

3841 S. Rhodes Avenue, Chicago

Michael Alexander died April 24, 1916 after being ill for only five days.  The cause of death was "Acute double lobar pneumonia", complicated by "Endocarditis" - an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart.  The informant for the death certificate was "A. Alexander."  I could not find any record of an "A. Alexander" except for "Sidney A. Alexander."  Michael's occupation is listed as "Meat Salesman."  Michael's younger brother Sidney would go on to found S.A. Alexander Meat Wholesalers at the Union Stockyards in Chicago.

Here is Michael's Death Notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of April 26, 1916:

In an unusual move, Michael's funeral and burial was not held until three days after his death.

And that is all I was able to find out about Michael Alexander.  Frankly that's the way it is with 90% of genealogy research.  I have over 1,000 people in my family tree and there is no one famous, nor infamous in my lines.  Most people we research are born, they live, they get married, they have children, they die.  Some are immigrants, some serve in the military, some may even hold public office, but their lives are not notorious in any particular way.  They used to say that a lady's name should only appear in the newspapers three times:  when she is born, when she is married, and when she dies.  Unfortunately Michael Alexander couldn't even match that - his name was in the newspaper only once.

However, that is not to say that Michael Alexander should be forgotten - doubtless he loved and was loved by others.  I am sure that tears were shed at his funeral over the loss of one who's adult life was just beginning.

Michael Alexander - neither famous nor infamous, but taken from us too soon.  May he rest in peace.