Friday, August 9, 2013


I have a lot of fun "digging up" stories for this blog.  Sometimes I stumble upon an interesting tombstone and look for the story under it, and other times I find an interesting story and look for the tombstone that goes with it.  That's what happened in this case.  I was browsing the Chicago Tribune newspaper archives for material about Leo Kovetz, a future subject of this blog, when I happened upon this story from the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 17, 1908:

This was too good of a story to pass up.  Before we check to see if her final wishes were carried out, let's see what we can find out about Mrs. Alwin Schaeffer.

Alvina Beyer was born December 20, 1856 (even though her tombstone says 1861) in Magdeburg, Saxony, Germany.  Her first name is also spelled Alwina, and Allwine.  Her parents were Carl Jacob Beyer and Marie Sophia nee Kruger.  Alvina had two brothers:  Wilhelm Christian Andreas Beyer (1844-1913) and Robert.  Alvina seems to be the only family member who immigrated to America.  

Little is known of Alvina until March 3, 1884 when she married hotelier Henry Schaeffer in Chicago.  The marriage lasted twenty years until September 20, 1904 when Mr. Schaeffer was granted a divorce.  As part of the settlement, Alvina came to own side-by-side townhouses at 3555-3557 S. Prairie Avenue in Chicago:

3555-3557 S. Prairie Avenue, Chicago
Alvina Beyer Schaeffer died of cancer of the omentum on December 29, 1907 in Chicago. She was just forty-six years old.  (Thanks to the members of Genlighten who deciphered the death certificate for me).

And then the fun started!  As stated above, Alvina requested the following in her will:

1.  Tombstone labelled "Here Lies the Sleeping Beauty" in German with gold letters.
2.  A willow tree planted at her grave
3.  Her poodle Lottie given to one of the richest families in Chicago - they would receive $2.00 per week for Lottie's care
4.  Two festivals per year  (one on August 3rd) for German, Bohemian and German-American Protestant orphans.  First church services, then a children's production of Sleeping Beauty.  Prizes of $25.00 each to the boy and girl with the highest grades in school.  Other prizes 50 cents to $1.00 each.  Two ten-piece bands:  one German, one American.

Well, Alvina's body was not even cold when there were objections to the will - by her "friends", as noted in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 18, 1908:

What were the friends' objections?

1.  They thought the epitaph "Here Lies the Sleeping Beauty" was inappropriate.
2.  Alvina gave Mrs. Mary Zuber her bank book showing an account of $900.00 cash and told Mrs. Zuber she could have the money, but did not mention her in the will
3.  Alvina had already given her poodle Lottie to Mrs. S.F. Norman, who lived next door on Prairie Avenue.  We can assume that Mrs. Norman was not a member of "one of the richest families in Chicago". 

And these were just the objections of her friends - we still hadn't heard from Alvina's two brothers!

Surprisingly, there is no further mention of Alvina or her will (or Lottie) in the archives of the Chicago Tribune.

So, I decided to take a trip out to Alvina Schaeffer's final resting place to see if at least those wishes regarding her tomb were carried out.  Alvina is buried in Section G, Lot 913 of Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. This would be my first trip to Oak Woods.

I had been warned that Oak Woods Cemetery is in a bad neighborhood, and they weren't kidding.  Oak Woods is a HUGE cemetery (183 acres).  It's not as large as Rosehill (350 acres) but it seemed much larger to me, maybe because I was unfamiliar with it.  I've been at Rosehill so many times it feels like my own backyard.

Oak Woods is surrounded by a stone wall topped with barbed razor wire, to keep intruders out.  Other than the staff in the office I didn't see another living soul the whole time I was at Oak Woods, but I did not feel the least bit afraid.  Both Oak Woods and Rosehill are now owned by Service Corporation International (SCI); however, unlike their colleagues at Rosehill the office staff at Oak Woods could not have been more friendly, or more helpful.  Without my asking, the man in the office went back and pulled the plot card for Alvina's plot to see who, if anyone, was buried in Lot 913 besides Alvina.  It turned out that Alvina has Lot 913 all to herself.

So, with my trusty map from the office, I set out to find Alvina Schaeffer to see if her last wishes regarding her burial were carried out.

Here is a photo of Alvina Schaeffer's tombstone.  It is a substantial monument, about 6 feet tall.  

Standing in front I could see the inscription:

Hier Ruhet
Geb. 20 Dez. 1861
Gest. 29 Dez. 1907

Here Rests
Sleeping Beauty
Born 20 Dec. 1861
Died 29 Dec. 1907

So, at least part of her request was carried out.  Her tombstone does say "Here Rests (the) Sleeping Beauty", although the letters are not in gold.  Just as well - if there were gold letters, they would have been stolen long ago.  When Alvina died, gold coins were still in general circulation in the United States.  No willow tree there - or evidence that a willow tree was ever there.  In fact, I don't think I saw any willow tees at Oak Woods.

In checking the Chicago Tribune archives I could not find any mention of the twice-yearly festivals for the orphans, nor any mention of the adoption of Lottie by any wealthy family.  In fact, as mentioned above, I could find no further mention of Alvina other than when Leo Kovetz, her executor sold her property on S. Prairie Avenue.  (There is a lot more to the story of Leo Kovetz, but that will be in a future post).  The property on S. Prairie was sold on May 15, 1909 to Lon Well for $15,000.00.    

So that, dear readers, is the story of Alvina Schaeffer.  She certainly had good intentions about the way she wanted to leave her money. The gold lettering may have been a little much, but the twice-yearly festivals and prizes for orphan children would have been nice.  And what about Lottie?  Those of us who are dog lovers hope that our beloved dogs would be taken care of if anything happened to us.  Remember, Alvina was only 46 years old when she died.  Hopefully the neighbor Mrs. Norman took care of Lottie for the remainder of the dog's life - with or without the $2.00 weekly.  If there is any lesson to be learned here, it is to take care of as many of your final arrangements as you can before you die.  That way you are not relying on other people to see that your last wishes are carried out.

I think I can safely say that very few people have thought about Alvina Schaeffer in over 100 years.  She and Henry Schaeffer had no children; her brothers never left Germany.  I have said before that one of the purposes of this blog is to see that the people I write about are not forgotten.  We'll never know if I stumbled upon Alvina's story by accident, or whether I was "guided" by someone to find her story.  But, thanks to the miracle of the internet, Alvina Schaeffer and her story will not be forgotten.

Alvina Schaeffer - "Here Lies the Sleeping Beauty" - May she rest in peace.  


  1. An individual that I once researched made a provision in her will for $25 to be given to the local library to buy dog or animal books. They were to be marked "From ... " using a list of dog names that she provided. It strikes me that she and Alvina would have made good friends.

  2. Excellent piece of detective work, thank you for sharing such an interesting story

  3. What a marvelous article! I'm sure that Alvina would be so happy to see that she was remembered- even if all her wishes were not carried out- at least people will know she WANTED them carried out.

    I had a question- You seem to find such great newspaper articles in each of your write ups- what resource do you use? So far the newspaper resources I use don't produce good results- is that because I am using online resources? Would really appreciate knowing. Thank you!