Friday, January 25, 2013

ONE MAN'S FAMILY - Christian F.W. Behl - Part One

The mild winters we have been having in Chicagoland lately have been great for my cemetery research.  In years past I usually had to stop doing outdoor grave photography in December and couldn't start up again until April, but last winter I was able to do outdoor photos all winter and this winter (so far) has been great as well.

On a recent afternoon trip to Rosehill Cemetery I came across this unusual tombstone:



It was a rather large tombstone that seemed to mark the final resting places of ten members of a particular family - all but one of them infants or small children.  So, let's see what we can find out about the Behl family.

Let's start at the top:

Mary E. Behl
Died July 2, 1871
Aged 35 years

Unfortunately there is not a lot of information out there about Mary E. Behl.  She does show up in the 1870 census as the wife of Christian Behl.  Christian Behl is a tailor, and is 36 years old in 1870.  Mary is 33, born in North Carolina, "Keeps House" and is the mother of three-year-old William and 10/12 year-old Charles, born in August of 1869.  They live in the 4th Ward of Chicago and their "Personal Estate" is worth $300.00.

Mary died in July of 1871, but the Great Chicago Fire was in October of 1871 and all the records burned, so this is all I have been able to find out about Mary Behl.  We don't know her maiden name, her parents' names, we don't know where she met/married Christian Behl, and we don't know if there were any other children from the union of Christian Behl and Mary.

The next name on the stone is Frank L. Behl, Died Apr 23, 1869, aged 9 mos.  We can infer from the date that Frank was the son of Mary and Christian, but Frank didn't live long enough to make it to the 1870 Census.  In fact, other than his tombstone, I could not find any evidence that Frank L. Behl had ever lived.  No birth certificate or birth record, no death certificate - not that unusual for that time period but frustrating for a genealogist.

Below Frank is Wilhelm A. Behl, Died Nov 28, 1873, aged 7 yrs.  I was not able to find anything on him either.

The next entry Oskar A.G. Behl, Died Nov. 12, 1873, aged 6 mos.  As frustrating as this is turning out to be, I could not find anything on Oskar either.  I was thinking that perhaps this was a lost cause.

The next entry was even more frustrating:  James M. Behl, Died Dec 23, aged 2 days.  Just "Died Dec 23" - no year, but if the stone is chronological James lived and died after 1873 and before 1880 - but no luck finding anything on James.

Next Mari Behl - Still Born.  Very few places kept track of still born babies in the old days, and many still do not, so I doubted that I would find anything on Mari Behl, and I was right - nothing.

At last I was successful with Edmund A.M. Behl, Died Apr 11, 1880, aged 7 mos.  I found a birth certificate for him:


and a death certificate:


It turns out that Eddie's full name was Edmund Alexander Max Behl and he died from dysentery.  He had only been sick for one day.

Now I was on a roll...what would I find out about the next name on the tombstone Charlie F.W. Behl, Died June 23, 1880, aged 10 yrs.  I could not find any record of Charlie's birth, but his death was well documented:


Charlie died "By reason of being accidentally run over by cars of C.R. & P. Railroad while stealing ride on freight train."  As tragic as this was, it was made even worse by the fact that Charlie's brother Eddie had just died  just a little over two months previously.

Next on the tombstone is Elizabeth M.C. Behl, Died June 15, 1882, aged 6 yrs.  Elizabeth's birth is recorded in the Illinois Birth Register, and her death is recorded as well:


On June 15, 1882 Elizabeth Behl died from Scarlet Fever complicated by Diphtheria.

Last, but not least, this brings us to the final name on the tombstone Isabella E.S. Behl, Died July 22, 1884, aged 6 weeks.  Here is the birth certificate of Isabella Eva Sophie Behl:


and her death certificate from a mere six weeks later:


So, that is the story of the Behl family, buried beneath a large stone monument in Rosehill Cemetery. But wait - there's more.  In fact there are so many members of the Christian Behl family, and so many births and deaths, that I had to put together a spreadsheet to keep track of all of them.  When I found the graves of Christian Behl and his second wife Hermine Selle Behl I found surprises waiting for me there as well.  Next Friday February 1, will be One Man's Family - Part Two - The Rest of the Story.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A CZECH-AMERICAN PATRIOT - Vlasta Adele Vraz

In my spare time (!!!) I have been working on finding the burial places of everyone who has lived in the houses on my block in Evanston. Harvard Terrace only runs from Ridge to Asbury and contains just forty-one separate homes.  It is interesting to dig into the histories of the homes and the people who have lived in them.  I have not found anyone famous or infamous who has lived here (not dissimilar from my family tree), just average people going about their lives.  Although no one notorious has lived here, I have come across some people who certainly have lived interesting lives.  This is the story of one of those people:  Vlasta Adele Vraz.  What did Vlasta Vraz do that was so interesting?  Her obituary from 1989 sums it up:

Vlasta Adele Vraz was the director of American Relief for Czechoslovakia after World War II, was arrested as an American spy by the Communist government there and later became the longtime president of the Czechoslovak National Council of America. 

A spy on Harvard Terrace - could it be?  Let's take a look into the life of the interesting Miss Vraz.

Vlasta Adele Vraz was born in Chicago on June 18, 1900, the only daughter of Vlasta nee Geringer and Enrique Stanislau Vraz, a noted world explorer and lecturer.

Enrique St. Vraz
Vlasta had one brother, Victor E. Vraz, who was a professor in the School of Commerce at Northwestern University. 

E. St. Vraz with his son Victor, wife Vlasta and daughter Vlasta Adele - 1908

Vlasta's maternal grandfather August Geringer, founded the first Czechoslovak newspaper in Chicago, called "Svornost" which began publication in 1875.  From a young age Vlasta helped out at the newspaper, eventually becoming an employee. 

Vlasta Vraz went to Czechoslovakia in 1919 to be secretary to her father, who was lecturing there. Eventually, her mother also moved there, and the family stayed for 20 years. Miss Vraz became a translator of Czechoslovak literary works and wrote a biography of her father.

Vlasta Adele Vraz, with her parents Enrique St. Vraz and Vlasta Geringer Vraz

Enrique St. Vraz died in Prague in 1932.  He was 72 years old.

In 1939, Vlasta Vraz watched the German army march into Prague. Miss Vraz and her mother returned to the U.S. that year, and during World War II she served as secretary to the president of the Czechoslovak government in exile in Washington.

It was Vlasta's brother Victor who bought the house at 1103 Harvard Terrace.  Vlasta stayed there with Victor and his wife Georgia upon her return to Chicago in 1939.

Victor E. Vraz

1103 Harvard Terrace

Her brother died suddenly from heart trouble in September of 1939:


After Victor's funeral, Vlasta joined her mother and the 1940 census shows them living together on Gramercy Place in Los Angeles.  

In 1945, Vlasta Vraz was sent back to Czechoslovakia by the American Relief effort, first as an aide to the director, then as the director.  Vlasta was the sole agent for distributing $4 million in food, clothing and other supplies for the American Relief program there.

Vlasta Vraz under street sign of street named for her father in Prague

In April of 1949 the government of Czechoslovakia announced that Vlasta Vraz had been arrested on suspicion of spying for the U.S. government.  The Czechs said that Vlasta's role as the Prague representative of American Relief for Czechoslovakia was merely a front for her spying activities.  Naturally the United States felt that the detention of Miss Vraz, a native-born American citizen was outrageous, and demanded her immediate release.  

Vlasta was released one week to the day after she was arrested, as noted in the New York Times article from April 17, 1949:


Upon her return to Chicago Miss Vraz purchased a home in Berwyn, where she lived for the rest of her life.  She was editor for 40 years of two monthly publications for the Czechoslovak National Council of America: The American Bulletin and Vestnik.  

Vlasta Adele Vraz died on Tuesday, August 22, 1989.  She is buried between her brother Victor and her mother in Section 21 of Bohemian National Cemetery:



She had no surviving relatives.

May Vlasta Adele Vraz, and all the members of the Vraz family, rest in peace.

All photos from the author's personal collection.

Friday, January 11, 2013

"I SAW ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS SHOT DOWN IN FLAMES" - Lieut. Eugene B. Jones

I was in Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie this past summer doing research on the owners of 301 Asbury when I came upon a distinctive monument:


1st Lieut.
EUGENE B. JONES
95th & 103rd
Aero Squardons
June 9, 1895
Sept. 13, 1918
Killed in Combat

The Chicago Daily Tribune from November 2, 1918 told me the whole story.

WILMETTE PILOT IS SHOT DOWN IN FLAMING PLANE
Lieut. Eugene B. Jones' Death Described by Chum in Letter

Official Chicago Casualties Yesterday Were:
Wounded Severely.........................   6
Wounded, Degree Undetermined....12
Wounded Slightly.............................  2
     TOTAL........................................20  

Mr. and Mrs. Ira A. Jones of Wilmette have received notification that their son, Lieut. Eugene Blanchard Jones, pursuit pilot of Major William Thaw's One Hundred and Third aero squadron, was killed in combat Sept. 13 when his machine was shot down in flames.

Details of his death were contained in a letter from a comrade, Lieut. George Willard Furlow, to his mother, Mrs. Furlow.  It reads:

"I saw a sight today that will not leave me for some time, and the more vividly I see it the more intense is my hatred for the Germans.  I saw one of my best friends shot down in flames.  I can't seem to get over it, for he certainly was my friend, and I his.

Attacked by Eight Huns.

"We were a patrol of four squads going out to strafe a road where enemy troops were reported moving.  Just after we crossed the lines we were attacked by eight German chasse planes, and I tell you it was an awful fight.  We lost one man, and this was my friend, Gene Jones.  the Germans lost four."

Just what else can we learn about the short life of World War I Flying ace Eugene B. Jones?  Let's find out.

Eugene Blanchard Jones was born in 1895 in Indiana to Ira Jones and his wife Josephine.  Eugene had an older sister - Janet, born in 1894.  Ira Jones was an agent for a manufacturing company.

Eugene enrolled in the School of Commerce at Northwestern University and was elected Vice President of his class in 1916:


 In 1917, Gene enlisted in the aerial corps as mentioned in the Chicago Daily Tribune article of July 3, 1917:


It didn't take long for Eugene Jones to be elevated to the rank of Lieutenant and be considered as a flying Ace:

Chicago Daily Tribune - July 14, 1918

The celebration was short-lived, however.  As mentioned above, Lieutenant Eugene B. Jones died on September 13, 1918 when his plane was shot down during a fierce air battle.

"The War to End All Wars" ended at 11:00 AM on November 11, 1918, too late for Gene Jones.

Early on in the war, the US government announced that anyone who fell in battle would be buried where they fell.  No bodies of those killed in the war would be returned to the US.  The War Department felt that it would be almost impossible to preserve the remains and ship them back home, not to mention the expense that such a huge undertaking would entail.  It's no surprise that this policy was met with howls of protest.    Through the influence of many of the wealthy and powerful, the War Department finally backed down - but they insisted that no remains would be returned to the US until the war was over.  This change in policy came in no small part, through the efforts of Evanstonian "Lumber King" Edward Hines and his wife Loretta, whose son  Edward Hines, Jr. died in Chaumont, France in June of 1918.

The "Echoes" column of the Chicago Daily Tribune for May 16, 1919 carried the following item:

Memorial services will be held at St. Augustine's Episcopal church in Wilmette at 5 o' clock Sunday afternoon in honor of Lieut. Eugene B. Jones. son of Mr. & Mrs. Ira A. Jones, 1037 Central avenue, Wilmette, a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, who was killed in action September 13.

and a small item in the Chicago Daily Tribune for May 18, 1919:

JONES - Lieut. Eugene B. Jones.  Memorial services will be held at St. Augustine's Episcopal church, in Wilmette, at 5 o'clock this Sunday afternoon, in honor of Lieut. Eugene B. Jones, son of Mr. & Mrs. Ira A. Jones, 1027 Central avenue, Wilmette, a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, who was killed in action Sept. 13.

Unlike his comrade Philip Comfort Starr, (see entry at http://undereverystone.blogspot.com/2012/06/killed-in-action-philip-comfort-starr.html), whose family decided to leave his body buried in Europe, the family of Eugene B. Jones decided to bring Jones' body back to Chicago for burial.  Today, almost one-hundred years after his service and untimely death, Lieutenant Eugene Blanchard Jones lies beneath his elaborate monument in Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois.


As I have mentioned before, the heroism of those who fought in World War I are almost forgotten today - overshadowed by the so-called "Greatest Generation" who fought in World War II.  As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World  War I (July 28, 1914) let us remember the brave young men like Gene Jones who left their lives of ease and comfort to fight against tyranny, and who made the ultimate sacrifice.

May he rest in peace.

Friday, January 4, 2013

REQUIEM FOR A HOUSE - Part Two

On December 31, 1954, the property at 301 Asbury Avenue was sold by the heirs of Henry Didier, Sr. and his wife Barbara.  The purchasers were Wladyslawa (Lottie) Jencz (nee Michalska) and her husband John Jencz (although the title was listed in Lottie's name).

Wladyslawa (Lottie) Michalska was born in 1889 in Russia/Poland. She came to the United States in 1911.  John Jencz was born June 25, 1882, also in Russia/Poland.  He came to the US in May of 1909 just short of his 27th birthday.  

Lottie and John had three daughters:  Jennie (Jane), Josephine, and Cecelia (Celia).

In the summer of 1955 the property on Asbury was subdivided, and the northerly portion was sold for townhouses to be built, which can be seen in many of the photos of the house at 301.

By the time the mortgage had been paid in full (May 31, 1962) the property was in the name of Cecelia Jencz Olson and her husband Norman A. Olson.

Lottie Michalska Jencz died in 1963.  Here's her obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 12, 1963:


Some views of the property from 1967:




John Jencz died in 1978.  He and Lottie are interred in the mausoleum of Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie:


One interesting side note - when John Jencz registered for the draft in 1942 he said that his employer was my grandfather, Jacob Kramer, at 1008 Sherman Avenue, Evanston.


Before we look into what caused the demise of 301 Asbury, let's take one last walk around it, from the late summer of 2012 - the last summer for 301:





Take a look at one of the architectural details that remained, and you can imagine what the original house must have looked like before the front of it was sided with aluminum siding:


So, what happened to cause 301 Asbury, which had housed families securely since it was built in 1883 to be declared a health hazard to the citizens of Evanston?  We'll just call it an exercise in stupidity.  You see, the house that had stood against the harsh winters, blistering summers, torrential downpours and gale force winds of Evanston for over 100 years was brought down by the excess zeal of an unknown person.

Celia Olson died on June 10, 2009, and Norman followed closely behind, dying on July 8, 2009. They are both interred in the mausoleum of Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, just down the hall from Lottie and John Jencz:


After their deaths, the house was closed up - as is.  Everything was left exactly where it had been after Norman's body was removed in July of 2009.  Both Celia and Norman died with no direct heirs, so the house was locked up until a determination could be made as to how to proceed.  The law moves very slowly and after some time had passed the executor of the estates was able to locate some distant relatives, but they were not interested in 301 Asbury or its contents.  (Too bad they didn't ask me...).

So what happened?  The house was closed up in July of 2009 after Norman's death.  As the seasons rolled past, nobody thought to turn the heat on at 301.  If the thought even occurred to anyone, they probably figured, "Why waste money heating an empty house?"  The thing is, if a building is unheated in the sub-zero Evanston winters, you need to shut the water off and drain the pipes.  Pipes left unattended in an unheated house will burst, and that's what happened to 301.  One day when the next-door neighbors on Asbury and Mulford were coming out of their house, they looked over and saw water running down the windows of 301 from the inside.  No one knows how long the water had been running before the neighbors discovered it and called the City of Evanston.  The wreckers told me that the water in the basement had been over four feet deep.  They opened a tackle box on a shelf four feet above the basement floor and it was full of water, so they know they water had been at least that high.  They estimated that there had been thousands of gallons of water standing in the basement of 301 after the pipes burst and the water ran unchecked.

The water was pumped out of the basement and the house was closed - again.  This time what happened was even worse.  If you leave a damp, moist place closed up, it's not too long before mold takes over - and that is what finally sealed the doom of 301 Asbury.  The mold had been allowed to grow unchecked until the entire house was filled with it.

Here are some photos I took of the inside of 301 during the summer and fall of 2012:
The Front Staircase
The Living Room - Note fallen plaster from the ceiling

Another view of the living room
Basement - Note mold growing on the walls
Another view of the basement
Another basement view

I took the first floor photos through the front window, so I was not able to get a photo of the mold, but it was in huge patches on the walls.  I took the basement photos after someone had knocked out all the basement windows.  I just stuck my head and shoulders through the window opening to snap the photos and the smell was almost overpowering.  You can see the mold growing on the basement walls.

I was told that someone was still interested in buying the house and remediating the mold, but it was the City's opinion that the mold was so overwhelming that removing it completely was not possible.  In the fall of 2012 the City of Evanston condemned the house as a health hazard and ordered it torn down - as is.  Nothing was allowed to be removed from the house before it was razed.  The wreckers told me that the house seemed frozen in time - there were coffee cups on the kitchen counters and a Christmas tree still standing on the second floor.  They told me that it appeared that vandals had rifled through all the drawers and turned over the mattresses to make sure there were no valuables still in the house, but that it looked like the Olsons had just closed the doors on their way out to do some shopping, and that they would be back shortly.

A temporary fence was erected around the property, and sadly, the house and barn were razed in December of 2012.  The barn was torn down first, followed several days later by the house.







It's a painful thing to see so much history destroyed.













The last man standing:



I talked at great length with the wreckers.  They could not believe that there was so much stuff left in the house.  They said they could hear the china in the china cabinet smashing as the steam shovel clawed its way into the house.  They salvaged a few pieces for themselves - an old sewing machine, some furs (with the heads and paws still on them). They offered me a Victrola, but it had been in the basement and was waterlogged.  I did tell them that there was one souvenir I wanted:  The numbers "3-0-1" from the post at the front of the house.  One of the wreckers very kindly climbed up on the rubble and tried to pull it off.  "It doesn't want to come off," he said.  Why should it?  It had been doing its job for over 100 years. He took a crowbar and pried it off for me. Here it is:


Eventually all the debris, and history, was scooped up and hauled away.  here's what's there now:







It looks slightly better with a covering of snow:








The property is still for sale - as vacant land.  It's still a prime piece of property.  I'm sure someone will come along and build a bunch of condos or townhouses on the lot - squeezing as many people in and as much profit out of the land as possible.

I was able to find a few photos in the rubble:

Ceil and Norman Olson with unidentified man.



Other than the photo of Ceil and Norman Olson, I have no idea who the other people were.  Were they Didiers? Jencz? Olsons?  We may never know.  The people who could identify them are all dead themselves and the photos aren't talking.

Why does any of this matter?  As a historian, I am always more interested in what happened at a place 100 years ago than what happened there yesterday.  The buildings at 301 Asbury reached back to the earliest days of Evanston, and even further, to the Village of South Evanston.   The purpose of this blog is to see that the people and the stories of days gone by are not forgotten.  So here's to the Didier Family, Lottie and John Jencz, and Norman and Ceil Olson.  They may be gone, as is their home at 301 Asbury, but they are not forgotten.
 
May they rest in peace.