Friday, June 29, 2012

WHAT'S IN A NAME - Good Luck and Good Day Mizrahi

Tucked back in a corner of Jewish Waldheim Cemetery, behind Gate 42 - Workmen's Circle, is Gate 41A -  Portugese Israelite Cemetary (sic).

This is one of the prettiest and most unusual sections of Jewish Waldheim.  Most of the Jews who settled in Chicago are Ashkenazi Jews, but there is a small but vibrant community of Sephardic Jews in Chicago.  The people buried in Section 41A are Sephardic Jews.  A good explanation of the difference between Ashkenazim and Sephardim can be found here.

The graves in this section are very close together and marked with tall headstones.  Many of the graves are also covered with flat sheets of stone known as ledgers.

One monument immediately caught my eye.  The first thing I noticed was the beautiful artwork on the stone but the next thing I noticed was the unusual names.  The stone marks the final resting place for Yomtov ("Good Day") Mizrahi and his wife Mazel Tov ("Good Luck") Mizrahi.

Yom Tov (literally "Good Day") Mizrahi was born in Andrianopolis, Turkey about 1864.  His death certificate has his first name as "Sabato" or "Sabbath", truly a Good Day.

The manifest from the USS President Wilson from September 11, 1920 shows the arrival of "Sabot" Mizrahi along with Signuron Mizrahi and David Mizrahi.

An interesting side note:  The Mizrahi family was detained upon their arrival in the US.  The reason for detention was "LPC" or Likely to Become a Public Charge.  Sabot Mizrahi admitted to being 60 years old and probably showed the signs of living a hard life in Turkey.  Believe it or not, in 1920 if they thought you would end up on Charity, they could send you back where you came from.  This is a lesson that could be re-learned by today's Immigration Service.  To be admitted into the US in 1920, you had to be a productive citizen.  How times have changed.  A hearing was held, and the Mizrahis must have been able to convince the immigration officer that they would be productive citizens because they were admitted to the United States.     

Sabot's wife "Mazaltan" Mizrahi arrived in the US aboard the SS Agropolis on June 25, 1921.  According to the manifest, she was born in Turkey, was 52 years old and had been living in Constantinople.  Along with Mazaltan were her daughters Mary and Rose, son Moise, and grandson Mordo.  Mazaltan's reason for coming to the US was "going to husband". 

One of the questions that immigrants had to answer was what language they could read and/or write.  Most Ashkenazi Jews responded that they were fluent in Yiddish - a combination of German and Hebrew. Most Sephardic Jews indicated that their language of choice was Ladino - a combination of Hebrew and Spanish.  The Mizrahi family noted that their preferred language was "French".    

The Mizrahi family arrived too late to participate in the 1920 Census.  Let's see what has happened to them in the ten years they were in America when it was time for the 1930 Census:

At 1319 Sawyer Avenue in Chicago we find the Mizrahi family living on the 3rd floor (this census taker is one of the few who noted apartment information).  

1319 Sawyer Avenue, Chicago

There is the Head of family "Sam" and his wife "Matilta".  They were not employed and could not speak English.  In 1930 their language of choice was "Spanish".  They lived with son Isaac, daughter Mary and daughter Rose.  Also living with them was 15 year old nephew Madi Albalah.  Their rent was $60.00 per month.

"Sabato" Mizrahi died on September 2, 1939 of heart disease:

By then he was living at 3601 Douglas Boulevard.  Unfortunately nothing is left there but a vacant lot.

3601 Douglas Boulevard, Chicago

The family purchased a beautiful monument to mark the graves of their dear parents:

The translation of his inscription is:  

"A good name is better than good oil
 and day of death than day of birth
Our old and honoured father Yom Tov Mizrachi"

Yom Tov Mizrahi

I did not think I would be able to locate the death certificate for Mazal Tov Mizrahi.  I knew from the tombstone that she died in February of 1941.  I looked under "Mazal Tov" Mizrahi - nothing.  I looked under "Mazaltan" Mizrahi - nothing.  I even looked under "Matilta" Mizrahi - still nothing.  Only by accident did I stumble upon the death certificate of Mazal Tov Mizrahi - under "Fortune Mizrachi"! (actually Fotrune)

She died February 18, 1941 of heart disease at 1302 S. Central Park Avenue in Chicago,  Unfortunately, another vacant lot.

1302 S. Central Park Avenue, Chicago
She was laid to rest next to her husband the next day, February 19, 1941.  The inscription for Mazal Tov Mizrahi is:

"The worthy and God-fearing woman, may she be praised
Our dear and righteous mother Mazel Tov Mizrachi"

Mazel Tov Mizrahi

Yom Tov Mizrahi and his wife Mazal Tov Mizrahi - from Turkey to Chicago.  They traveled thousands of miles to find a new home but never forgot their Jewish heritage.  We should all be so blessed to have such a Good Day and Good Luck.

May they rest in peace.  

Friday, June 22, 2012


As I have mentioned before, I love the gravestones that have photographs of the deceased on them.  That's one of the reasons I started doing this - I was photographing these precious porcelain photos before they crumbled from age and the elements.  On one of my first trips to Jewish Waldheim Cemetery several years ago, I was drawn to a small tombstone with a photo of a very serious little boy.  His name was Leo Edelstein.

The tombstone says:

BORN AUG 10, 1905
DIED  JAN 13, 1919

Here it is:

And here's a closeup of his photo:

Leo Edelstein
Such a serious expression - and don't you just love that hat?

After this I decided to see what the Internet could tell me about Leo and his family.

Leo's parents, Harry Edelstein and Rose Cohen were married by "minister" B. Berenstein on January 15, 1901 at the Congregation Anshe Knesses Israel Synagogue.

Rabbi B. Berenstein
This was when the congregation was at the corner of Judd and Clinton Streets - before they built their magnificent synagogue on Douglas Boulevard in 1913 (which tragically was recently torn down).

Leo's older sister Mary was born on February 6, 1902:

and Leo himself made his debut on August 12, 1905:

Leo Edelstein was born Louis Adelstein on August 12, 1905 at home, which was 191 Paulina Street.  His mother was Rose Cohn Edelstein, and she was 24 years old and from Russia.  She had one child already - Louis (Leo) was child #2.  Leo's father Harry was a salesman.  He was 29 and also from Russia.  Leo was delivered by a midwife.

The building at 191 S. Paulina Street is long gone - It's now part of a parking lot.  100+ years ago, this was part of a thriving residential neighborhood.

The 1910 Census (the only one Leo would be alive for) shows the Edelstein family now living at 102 S. Paulina Street (probably a larger apartment).  Harry and Rose had been married nine years and had two children:  8 year old Mary and 4 year old Leo.  Harry listed his occupation as "Tinsmith" as a worker (as opposed to the owner) of a tin shop.  Harry and Rose came to the US in 1901 - and unusual for the time,  Harry and Rose could both read and write.  Even though Leo is only 4, Harry is now 35 and Rose is now 29.  They speak Yiddish and are resident aliens.

1911 was a joyous year for the Edelstein family.  Their daughter Vivian was born May 20, 1911.  But their joy turned to sorrow in 1912 when Vivian died March 10, 1912 of pneumonia.

This reminds me of the book Angela's Ashes where Frank McCourt tells us that in the old days they told  mothers in Ireland not to get too close to their children until they turned 5 years old - the chances were that the child would not make it to that age and they wanted to help mothers deal with their grief.

Sometime prior to 1918 the Edelstein family moved to 1628 S. St. Louis Avenue in North Lawndale - the heart of the Jewish neighborhood at the time.

Unfortunately it is here that Leo died on January 13, 1919 from "pneumonia".

It doesn't say so, but I would guess that Leo's pneumonia was a complication arising from his having the Spanish Influenza.  1919 is the height of the Spanish Influenza epidemic, and it especially targeted the young.  Of the other Spanish flu victims I have written about, Katherine Craig Stewart was 15 and Wesley Gillette Dempster was 18 when they died.

Leo was buried the very same day - January 13, 1919.  This was not unusual in a time where the flu epidemic reduced or eliminated public gatherings to try to stop the spread of the disease.

But, life goes on, so let's see where the Edelsteins are for the 1920 census.  They were still at 1628 S. St. Louis Avenue, but there's someone new in the family - 4 year old Florence, born in 1916, before Leo's death in 1919.  Harry is still a Tinsmith and Leo's older sister Mary, now 18 years old and called "Marie" is a stenographer.

On October 15, 1920 more good news for the Edelsteins:  son Irving William Edelstein was born.  Interestingly, Harry now lists his occupation as "Junk Dealer."

The Edelsteins are still living at 1628 S. St. Louis.  Rose now lists her place of birth as Germany and Harry says he was born in "Chicago, Illinois"!  So much for the accuracy of legal records...

The 1930 Census show that the Edelsteins have moved again - to 1644 S. St. Louis Avenue.

Harry, now age 55 and still saying he was born in Illinois, is back to being a tin maker in a factory.  Wife Rose is 47, Florence is 14 and Irving is 9.  They paid $60.00 per month for their apartment.

Harry Edelstein died on September 11, 1950 at Mount Sinai Hospital of cancer and heart disease.  He was "about 75 years old".  Interestingly, Harry went to his grave insisting that he had been born in the United States.

Unlike his son Leo, and probably his daughter Vivian who are buried at Jewish Waldheim, Harry Edelstein is buried at Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge.

As the Jewish population of Chicago moved out of the old Jewish neighborhoods of Maxwell Street and Lawndale they left many of the old customs behind.  Jewish Waldheim is modeled more on the order of Eastern European Jewish Cemeteries, divided by synagogue membership or burial society.  Many Chicago Jews with ancestors at Waldheim, decided when their time came to be buried at Westlawn. Still Jewish to be sure, but not quite as "ethnic".  There are no photographs of the deceased on the tombstones at Westlawn.

Rose Cohen Edelstein died in 1961.

I was unable to locate her death certificate, but her obituary showed up in the Chicago Daily Tribune of October 12, 1961:

Rose Edelstein, 2054 Farwell Avenue, beloved wife of the late Harry A.; loving mother of Marie Goldblatt, Florence Shulman, Irving, the late Leo, and Vivian; six grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; fond sister of Samuel Cowan, the late Bertha Spivak, Mary Abrams, Ann Heller, Ida Amber, and Max Cohen.  Service Thursday, 2 p.m., at Weinstein Brothers Chapel, 1300 Devon Avenue.,  Interment Westlawn.  RO 1-2400.

I was very pleased to see that Leo and his sister Vivian were mentioned in the obituary.  So many times the previously deceased relatives are left out of obituaries.  As Leo's tombstone says, he is gone, but not forgotten.

Here's 2054 W. Farwell - a long way from 191 Paulina Street, in more ways than one.

How would life have been different for the Edelstein family if Leo had lived?  What would he have done with his life?  He probably would have married and had children of his own, as his siblings did, but we will never know for sure.

There is one thing we can be sure of:  His family never forgot the serious little boy with the felt hat who left them much too soon.

Leo Edelstein - 1905 - 1919 - Gone But Not Forgotten  

May Leo, and all of the Edelsteins, rest in peace.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

KILLED IN ACTION - Philip Comfort Starr

As you may have guessed from reading this blog, I am a student of history.  I was a History major in college and my area of particular expertise was US History from the end of the Civil War to the start of the Great Depression - or roughly 1865-1929.  Because of my fondness for that era, I have always been fascinated by World War I.  It is hard to imagine a war that wiped out almost an entire generation of young British men, but that was the case with World War I - or as they used to call it "The Great War".  The war started in 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.  The United States did not enter the war until April 6, 1917, and the war ended on November 11, 1918.  Nonetheless, the United States lost 117,465 men and women over those nineteen months.

As horrible as the United States' losses were, they pale in comparison to the 1,226,597 casualties from the British Empire.  The total dead from all sides in the war was a staggering 16,563,868.

World War I is often called "The Forgotten War" today as it is overshadowed by the heroics of the men and women who fought World War II.  It is my contention that if the World War II generation is "The Greatest Generation" it is only because the groundwork was laid by those who fought The Great War.

Few people today are aware that many brave men could not wait until the US entered the war, and enlisted in the military service of one of the Allied nations.  Although most of the early enlistees were pilots, there were men on the ground who signed up as well.  This is the story of one who enlisted but never came back:  PHILIP COMFORT STARR.

Philip Comfort Starr

Philip Comfort Starr was born January 28, 1890 in Chicago to noted attorney Merritt Starr and his wife Leila.

He joined his older sister Winifred who was born three years before him.  The Starr family's blood was very "blue".  Philip is a direct descendant of Dr. Comfort Starr who came to the US from England in 1635, and Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island.  The Starrs were American aristocracy.

Starr Family Monument in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago

Philip Starr had his first schooling, beyond the primary grades, at New Trier High School.  In a summary of his school and college life prepared by Judge Thomas Taylor  (Harvard,  LL.B. 1885) it  is recorded that  he attended next the Thacher School in the Ojai  Valley, California, where he became strong  and  hardened  physically, and grew to more than six feet in height.  After his death  Mr. Thacher wrote of him:   "His name stands  on  the  tablet  in the parlor as the  best  horseman  and  best  shot  in the  School."  Two yeaThe census shows that the Starr family lived on Warwick Road in Winnetka, one of the upper-class suburbs north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michiganrs in California were followed by one year at the Milton Academy, Milton, Massachusetts, where he made up his mind to pursue engineering and studied mathematics with special zeal.  

From Milton he entered Cornell University, where he joined the Sigma Phi fraternity, and was a member of the acclaimed Class of 1913, who lost so many of their number in the Great War.  He then went on to Harvard for further study with advanced standing in mathematics, and graduated from there as a member of the Class of 1914.

He had played football at Milton, and at Harvard became a member of the second team.   But neither study nor athletics  appealed to him so strongly as engineering, and when he received an offer of a position in an engineering firm after  his time at  Cambridge,  he accepted  it, and worked for a year in an office.  The longing for an outdoor life then became so strong that he turned to scientific farming as a profession.

"The mental and spiritual development of manhood," his father  wrote soon after his death,  "came  rapidly  in the last three  years.  The call of the great war came to him before it did to any  of us."   Anticipating  that  his family would oppose his wish to bear a personal part  in the struggle, he left home while his parents,  with whom he was staying,  were absent  over Saturday  and Sunday, June  12 and 13, 1916, and  enlisted  as a  private  in  the 70th  Battery,  Canadian  Field  Artillery,  at  Toronto  on June 15.  Then he wrote home:

"I knew I had to go to make myself better.  I had to go because it has been coming up before me ever since a year ago.  I mean the war, my responsibility, the place where I ought to be, the chance I was losing.  It knocked the deuce out of my work and everything else.  When your job comes up, keeps pounding at the door for over a year, you might as well be business-like and go and do it.  I'11 have the chance to do the unselfish thing for once."

Another letter written while his training in Canada was still in progress contains a passage testifying to the reality of the faith  that  Philip Starr  expressed when he became a member of the Union Evangelical Church of Kenilworth as a boy of seventeen.   He was writing of the camp services he attended,  and said:

We sing hymns, we say over always the Ninety-first Psalm.
. . . After a while you know that it doesn't mean that you won't be hit by a German shell.  You come to feel that the important thing is to "dwell in the secret place of the Most High," no matter what comes.

Starr's training for service at the front lasted a year and a half.  Nearly all of the first was spent in Canada where he was promoted a gunner, bombardier, corporal, sergeant, and after four months in the Royal Artillery Officers' School at Kingston was commissioned lieutenant, March 10, 1917. This was followed by a course in military engineering at the University of Toronto.   On June 1 he sailed for England, recommended as a military  engineer, and on July 1 was admitted  to the Royal School of Military Engineers at Chatham.  On October 1 he graduated and was gazetted lieutenant of Royal Engineers, with commission antedated  to July 1, 1917.  From October 8 to December 14 he  was at  the  Aldershot  Training  Camp, except for the time in October when he made a tour of England with the Mounted Engineers.  Visiting the universities and northern towns, and Canterbury and Ashford, where he found the family headstones from the 1600s.  Throughout this period of English training he made an admirable record. There is, however, a note of relief at its completion in the cable message he sent to his family on  December 16:

"Arrive France fifteenth.   Soon all address care B. E. F. On the job at last."

Starr's service at  the  front,  after  this  long  period of training, lasted  but  little  more than  two months,  for he was killed  near  Ypres,  February  20, 1918.   Two of his letters  home  reflect  his   experiences  with  the Royal Engineers:

37th Div., B.E.F., France
January 1, 1918
Dear Father:

I had  the  job of conducting a small draft  of reinforcements for the infantry  from a base-rest or training  camp  to the rail head.  This was a good thing for breaking me in after a week's freezing discomfort at the base.   You had the job of looking after the men, their rations, their kits, your own kit, and yourself at the points of entrainment and detrainment. You learn a good deal about the army transportation methods in this way and get some conception of what the various lines of communication service are and where those in charge are to be found.

I finally got the draft to its destination and its various component parts  (batches of men from three different battalions) were dispatched  in several directions.   I then settled  down to replacing my sleeping valise and some toilet articles which had been lost in the shuffle of detrainment  and arranged to have the lost articles sent on to me if found.  In the course of the various short side trips, I  had to make at the end of the journey to deliver the rolls of the parties of men I had brought  with me, I found out  where my unit was located.   Putting  my kit into  a motor lorry I went in quest  of the  way to my unit.   Arrived there noon December 31.  The O. C. of the Company, Captain Horsfield, a young regular, is a very keen young man and knows his  job very well.  A young Canadian  named  Mitchell,  from Toronto, is the Second in Command, and looks after the horses, lines, and transport.    The O. C. took me out  to see the works today and showed me the jobs I  would be on for the next week. We had a shell drop near us which was a good send-off for the first morning.  Broke me in to the philosophy of discipline and shelling.  You know you are really doing a bit of fortification  which is important  in the big scheme of things though it may seem very trivial and  the effect of your work may not  be felt for weeks. I couldn't have struck  a better  first day or better O. C. to break me in.

There is a very nice little fellow from Johannesburg, South Africa, (mining engineer) whose work I will be completing this next  week.   I have  to finish a  screen for a  trench  tramway, deepen a trench and replace the A frame supports for the sides and  the corrugated  iron and expanded metal revetment.   The South  African's  name is Jardine.   He  has helped me a  great deal by answering my innumerable questions.  The O. C. is a young fellow, only a Captain  (the O. C. of a Field Company is usually a Major, one rank higher) and has designed one of the details  of trench  revetment,  using the  pickets and  expanded metal and thin corrugated iron, all of which are available continually.
Yours, PHIL.

P. S.  Send some cake, phonograph records, a book or two on concrete construction, some cigars, Londres shape, for the mess.  A box is very thankfully  received here.

154th Field Co., R.E., 37th Division B.E.F.
February 3, 1918 
Dear Papa:

Mamma's cable was a fine warming thing to get.  I was just recovering from four days in bed with influenza.  I arrived at my unit nine days before they  were to go back 15 miles or so for their month of rest.

They  had  been at  work in the  line on  different  sectors of a 10 mile front  since July.   A Field Company  usually  has a brigade front  (that  is S or 4 battalions)  to look after, to site trenches and wire in case of an advance, as well as any special machine gun emplacements, etc.

I was given a section (four sections to a Field Company) as soon as I arrived.  This is supposed to be rather  a stiff thing to hand out  to anybody on first arriving in the line I was given the job of finishing a bit of screening for a trench tramway  (18 inch gauge light hand-car railway, 6 men or a mule sometimes used to take the cars up to a forward R. E. dump about a thousand yards behind the front line).  I was lucky in getting through the job without  any serious shelling.  I mentioned in my first letter  having a 4-inch high explosive shell drop 20 feet away when my O.C. was showing me round, and it was on this job that it happened.  I naturally expected a daily attention  by the Boche, but for four days he left that bit of screen alone while we were on it, and put a dozen or two over on another  piece which lies a few hundred  yards away.  We were lucky enough to finish it before the snow came and showed it up.

I finished out  the last few days on odd  jobs of deepening a trench  and  putting  some finishing touches on some dug-outs. In a R. E. section you have a variety of tradesmen available; there are 87 men in a section, two or three carpenters, three masons,  plumbers,  electricians,  blacksmiths, etc.  We  were ready to move and the transports, about twelve four-horse vehicles, were ready to move back a day ahead of the men of the company, who were to travel by rail.  I was to have gone with the Second in Command in charge of the transports to help get things settled in our billets at several French farms which had been assigned to us. I came down with a bit of temperature, so our Medical Officer put me in the hands of the nearest Field Ambulance. I went through to a Casualty Clearing Station ten miles back, spent the night there, and was sent on by hospital train to a hospital on the coast.

I had four or five days in bed with a bit of a head.  It was very comfortable.  There  was a  fellow from Durban,  South Africa, who had been with one of the English Cavalry battalions called the Yeomanry.  He described being just behind the last wave of an infantry advance with his troop of cavalry.  They had to come over the top of a hill and German observers could see them.  They were in sight of the breaking-through point.  The Infantry  didn't  manage to  make the break so they sat there, as  he said, "like  fools in full  view on  their  horses."  Finally they decided to retreat.  They got well started, and the Boche put down a "box barrage,'' an expressive term.  He then began to search the box with a second creeping barrage, the system of this war.  They dodged this creeping barrage by a grisly sort of checker game.  Then they found a hole in the box.

We are billeted in three farm houses which adjoin a quaint little  chateau with finely laid out  grounds, about  ten  acres, groves of trees with rides of rough lawn stretching out in three directions from the house. The country is so low that they have to fill in these strips of rough lawn to keep them dry.  The tone of our mess (nine officers counting myself) is the best and quite heartwarming. There isn't  a selfish or filthy note in  any of them....

I may be taking charge of the transport and nominal "Second in Command" or Captain's  job (Transport Officer).  I had a very valuable experience this noon at trying to save two horses which I found hitched to a wagon and standing in a canal between a barge and  the banks with an admiring but  helpless audience of some fifty men about.  I lost one of them, drowned, but  got  the  other  out  with  the  help  of an  old  veteran officer who came  up later.  I won't  lose one again  in  just  that place.  They weren't our horses.  I was going home from this town and saw them in passing.  I know practically, and finally, just what to do in such a case again.  All it was, it was only very bad luck and  a second's wrong decision, which lost the one.  One of the horses was in up to his neck, five feet of water, and  the other, half unharnessed, kicked  him  under when we had  him almost out if we had only known it.

I am taking the  transport in moving up to our new job on a defensive  line.  We have finished our  three weeks back  in rest and  training; and  the last  week has been a very happy one for me.  Mamma's cable  was wonderful  to get.  I have been very selfish in not writing.  I have been attempting to study Civil Engineering, Calculus, and Bookkeeping at odd times, and have been very dull gray and  pestered  about  the future.  I decided I may as well try and get a ground-work job of Engineering and some idea of accounting, and  then  try for a  job after  the  war.  I seem to have spent an unsurpassed time without  getting fitted to hold down a job.  There  is a great deal of bluff in the army; and you do learn self-reliance,  quick thinking, and the art of tackling unknown matters with a clear head.

Love to all.  Tell them  I will write to every one of the family and all friends and relatives.

When this reaches you we will probably be doing quite hum­drum safe work and for a month after.

Your son,

On February 25th the Secretary of the British War Office announced  by  cable  to  Lieutenant   Starr's   family  his death in action on February  20.  This was followed by a letter, dated  February 23, from his Commanding Officer:

154th Field Company, B.E.F.
As your  son's  Commanding Officer, I write to break some dreadful news to you.  Your son and I were doing work together in the front  line on the night of the 20th inst.  We had about half finished our tour when we were fired upon as we crossed some wire.  We of course fell flat but the second and third shots passed  through Starr's helmet  and  killed  him.  He  did  not suffer at all, I believe.  It was all so sudden.  I got his body back and  he was buried in a cemetery with military honours and I will erect a cross over his grave.  The cemetery is known as the Bedford House Cemetery and lies on the side of the road St. Eloi, Ypres, about a mile from Ypres due south.

All his belongings are being packed up and will be checked by me and dispatched  to you.  They  may take some time to arrive.

I cannot say how much we felt his death or how sorry I feel for you, but  please accept  my greatest sympathy.   If there is anything else I can do, please let me know it and I will do my best.

It was only the second or third  time he had been right up the line.

Yours sincerely,
Major, R.E.

Another officer of his command wrote:

He was up in the line with a section in January and showed considerable nerve and  fearlessness.  During  the  short  period of training he showed considerable promise and was conspicuous for his keenness in entering into the men's sports and games.

The circumstances of his death were particularly sad and the sympathy of all Starr's comrades in  the  division is with  his people in their loss.  His was a most promising career, in fact he was quite the best of a good class of officers who were under me at  Aldershot last December, so  I should like to specially add my personal sympathy to the deep feelings of those who lived with him here.

Here is a photo of the grave of Philip Comfort Starr in the Bedford House Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium:

To make them feel like he was not so far away, his family erected a cenotaph on the family monument in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago:

To honor their fallen native son, the Village of Winnetka named a street after him:  Starr Road.  Here's one of the street signs:

"In Flanders Fields" is a poem written during the First World War by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres.

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
       Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
 Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
 We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
          In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
 To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
 We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
          In Flanders fields.

Philip Comfort Starr is one of those brave men who gave his life and lies buried in Flanders fields.  The next time you see a veteran selling poppies buy one and wear it proudly in remembrance of the sacrifice of Philip Comfort Starr. 

May he rest in peace.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"THANK YOU" IS NOT ENOUGH - Marty F. Leoni, Jr.

All Saints Cemetery is a Catholic Cemetery that sits along the Des Plaines River in Des Plaines, Illinois.  It is the final resting place of many famous people - Cubs announcer Harry Carey, for example.  It is also the final resting place for Robert Piest, the first victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy to be identified, and also of Matthew Eappen, the infant who died while under the care of British au pair, Louise Woodward. 

One of the greatest heroes to be buried at All Saints rests under a simple flat marker.  

He is Marty F. Leoni, Jr.  Marty is the first Evanston, Illinois firefighter to be killed in the line of duty in almost 100 years.  

Marty Leoni, Jr.

Marty died doing what firefighters do every day - he died trying to save the life of a baby trapped in a burning building.  I often say that any one of us would run into a burning building to save one of our loved ones, but firefighters run into burning buildings every day to save people they don't even know.
Here's a story about Marty's funeral from July, 1985:

Firefighters Pay Final Tribute To Marty Leoni Jr.
It was a sendoff Firefighter Marty Leoni Jr. would have loved.

On Friday morning fire vehicles from 70 communities and a funeral procession 2 miles long followed the pumper truck carrying Mr. Leoni`s body from St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Evanston to All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.
Mr. Leoni, 27, died Monday while trying to rescue a one-month-old baby from the second story of a burning house in Evanston. He was the first Evanston firefighter to die on duty in 83 years.

"Marty died a hero," said his friend, James Fitzgibbons, in a funeral eulogy. "But everyone who knew Marty knew that Marty was a hero all of his life. . . .

He gave everything he had for his job. And, of course, his ultimate sacrifice was that he gave his life."

Mr. Leoni was a leader, associates said Friday. "This is the first time that I have not had Marty around to tell me how it should be done," Fitzgibbons said.

Mr. Leoni had attended St. Athanasius all his life and had been to Mass there last weekend. On his last visit to the church Friday, a symbolic fire bell tolled.

"Marty has completed his task, and the bell rings three times," said Joseph Planos, his shift commander. "Marty Leoni will be missed by the department, but he will never be forgotten."

As family members followed the flag-draped coffin out of the church, several hundred firefighters from all around Chicago stood at attention.

Rev. Thomas Lion, pastor of St. Athanasius, said Mr. Leoni had shown the courage that God asks of man. "If there was only one man to send into a home to bring someone out, it would be Marty," Father Lion said.

Mr. Leoni, an Evanston firefighter for four years, was searching for the infant on the upper floor of the house when he opened a door to a burning room. The influx of air caused an explosion that killed him. The child was found later and hospitalized for burns and smoke inhalation.
Chicago Tribune - July 27, 1985

Just in case you are wondering, there were two Evanston firefighters who died in the line of duty before Marty.  On December 13, 1905, Firefighters William Craig (no relation to me) and George Stiles made the supreme sacrifice in the discharge of their duties protecting life and property at the Clayton Mark Factory at Dempster and Dodge in Evanston.           

To say "thank you" to Marty Leoni or any of the other firefighters who put their life on the line every day is not enough, but it is a start.  The next time you see a firefighter take a minute to thank them for all they do to keep us safe.  

May Marty Leoni rest in peace.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

HE DESERVED BETTER - Frank Robert Giroux

Sometimes when I am wandering through a cemetery I am drawn toward a particular tombstone.  It's almost as if the deceased was reaching out to me from the beyond to tell their story.  Such was the case on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend when I was wandering around (where else?) Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  A descendant of Axel A. Strom asked me to photograph their very distinct family mausoleum at Rosehill.  Here it is, so you can see for yourself:

Well, I can't let a beautiful day at Rosehill pass without wandering around to see what I can "dig up".  I was strolling around Section Y when I saw this monument belonging to the Giroux family:

The first inscription caught my eye:

Sacred to the Memory of  Our Son
October 28, 1890 - November 15, 1909

Little did I know that I had stumbled upon a case of political corruption and cronyism that would even outdo the Illinois politicians of today.  

NOTE:  In quoting from newspaper accounts from the day, I may use terms which people find offensive today.  To change these terms to be more "politically correct" would not only be an incorrect reporting of the events, it might change the facts altogether.  When reading these articles, remember that you are reading historical documents that are over 100 years old.

Frank Robert Giroux was born October 28, 1890 to Ida Fredricka Giroux (nee Gronquist) and  Benjamin M. Giroux.  Young Frank had some health and behavioral problems, and was at the very least an epileptic.  Some time prior to 1908 Frank's parents had him committed to the Illinois Asylum for Feeble Minded Children at Lincoln, Illinois.  

There did not seem to be any complaint with the treatment Frank had been receiving until late in 1907 when he was severely burned by falling on an open radiator, reportedly while having an epileptic seizure.  A newspaper report from February 12, 1908 reported it as follows:

"Case of Frank Robert Giroux, December 23, 1907, burned about the left side of neck and ear upon an insufficiently protected radiator during an epileptic seizure:  The accident happened while the attendant was temporarily absent from the room in violation of the rules.  The case immediately received proper medical attention and the attendant was asked to make a written statement concerning the injury.  This he refused to do and resigned.  The State Board of Charities, Civil Service Commission and Board of Trustees investigated this case and placed the blame where it belonged:  upon the attendant."

Illinois' "reform" governor (we've had quite a few of those...) Republican Charles S. Deneen (nicknamed "The Bulldog")

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

was called to task for the abominable conditions at Lincoln.  His response:  The problems at Lincoln were something he inherited from a previous administration (where have we heard that before???). Deneen also laid the blame squarely at the feet of the (Democratically controlled) State Legislature, who Deneen said failed to appropriate the necessary funds to provide good care to the patients at the Lincoln asylum.

The State Legislature's response was to launch a massive investigation of the conditions throughout the state mental health system - and the report, when published put all the blame for conditions at Lincoln on Deneen and his appointed superintendent.

But it also turns out that Frank Giroux's injury was more than a simple burn.  From the report:

"It would seem to the most casual visitor that in wards where epileptics are kept, and persons of low mentality, every precaution should be taken.  Admittedly it was not taken in this case, and the terrible injury to Frank Giroux followed, maiming him for life.  The custom of having but a single attendant in the room at a time, which has since been corrected, made such a fearful injury possible, when the only attendant was called out of the room by his duties for a few moments.

The deception practiced in taking the boy to the infirmary on a stretcher, which was undoubtedly necessary because of his condition, and, upon hearing of his father's presence, dressing him and obliging him to walk from the infirmary to the main building and back again, with snow on the ground, is, to say the least, most reprehensible, and the careless and unprofessional treatment given to the wound by the doctor in charge is not only reprehensible but, in the opinion of the committee, calls for severest criticism."

Deneen's response to the report was swift:  "The governor sets forth that the financial administration of the public institutions has been of such a nature that in spite of the scanty appropriations great improvements have been started.  After referring briefly to the unfortunate accident to Frank Giroux, in the Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, and the passage of the resolution providing for the appointment of an investigating committee January 14, 1908, the governor calls attention to the fact that prior to the passage of the resolution no discussion had arisen in the general assembly or elsewhere in regard to the general merit or demerit of the present system of administering the charity service of this state.  Long before the hearing at the asylum was ended, it was plain that the purpose of the investigation was the defamation of the state institutions."

The governor decided, in true political fashion, to appoint his own committee a "new board of charities" with Dr. Frank Billings, the most eminent physician in Illinois, at its head, and this board looked into the physical condition of the asylums.  They found that $2,500,000 would be needed to put them in good shape, physically.  "For years, each governor had cut the asylum appropriations," Deneen said, "We asked for $600,000 to begin on.  The legislature cut it in two."

"Then when Frank Giroux was burned on a radiator at Lincoln, they said the radiator should not have been there.  So I say, if the money had been appropriated for these buildings which should have been appropriated the radiator would not have been there - it would have been up near the ceiling."

Here was poor Frank Giroux being tossed back and forth like a political football.  Well, one day, his Mother had had enough:

Mrs. Ben Giroux Breaks Forth During Governor's Speech in Tent in Fullerton Avenue
Explains How the Radiator Accident Happened to Her Son in the Asylum at Lincoln

Gov. Deneen last night, while making a speech in a tent meeting on Fullerton Avenue near Racine Street, was denounced as a "liar" by Mrs. Benjamin Giroux, the mother of Frank Giroux, the boy who was burned on a radiator in the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble Minded Children last year.  It was the injury to this boy, that brought about the legislative inquiry into the Deneen administration of the state charitable institutions and finally resulted in the state-wide campaign against the governor by Richard Yates.

The incident in the tent last night was the most dramatic of the entire campaign.  It was the first time the governor and Mrs. Giroux have been brought face to face.

The woman called on the governor to explain why the radiator in the asylum upon which her son was burned  was not covered.

Takes Up Giroux Case.

The governor, in the course of his regular speech, had taken up the Giroux incident.  

"It was not this boy's fault that he was burned," he said.  "I feel deeply sorry for the accident.  But see how it happened and who was to blame. Coates, the attendant, was appointed by Gov. Yates.  I never met the man.  It was his duty to watch the ward where the epileptic boy was. He took a  chance and left the room for twenty minutes.  When he came back the boy had fallen in a fit across the radiator and was burned badly.  Coates was discharged at once.  Who was to blame?"

At that moment there was a slight demonstration toward the center of the tent.  It was plain that there was a good deal of feeling on the subject.  The Giroux boy was born and brought up in that north side neighborhood.   Many had known him.  The region also is the home of Representative John W. Hill, chairman of the asylum investigating committee which exploited the Giroux accident and led the controversy into political channels.  Finally the suppressed excitement broke loose.  

Woman's Voice Rings Shrill

 "Why weren't the radiators covered?" asked a woman in a voice shrill and indignant.  The immediate group around her applauded.  The governor looked astonished - then troubled.   He looked pleadingly at the woman.  

"I was just coming to that point," he said.  "If you will give me a chance ---"

"It was my boy", cried the woman, who was Mrs. Giroux.  "You can't say these things to me.  I know better."

"Madam," said the governor, "I will explain to your satisfaction."

"You better," said Mrs. Giroux.  "I am his mother."

"Yes, and I am sorry for you," said the governor.  "This lady's husband", he added, addressing the crowd, "has been employed by Mr. Yates to make speeches against me."

Shouts: "It's a Lie"

"That's a lie - a lie," shrieked Mrs. Giroux.  "He doesn't get any money for it.  Heis doing it for the sake of humanity."

"I will have no discussion with a lady," said the governor, turning in appeal to the committee on the platform.  

"You'd better not", said the woman.

"We will give you a chance later," interrupted the chairman of the meeting.  "The governor has the floor now."

"I am through.  I have nothing more to say."  Mrs. Giroux added hastily.
Chicago Daily Tribune - July 31, 1908

At this point the Giroux family realized that they would never get any satisfaction from the State of Illinois, so they moved their son out of Illinois all together.  They put Frank in the care of the good Sisters of St. Francis at their Institute in Jefferson, Wisconsin. 

Now I wish I could end my tale by saying "And they all lived happily ever after", but alas, that was not the case.  The first one to die was young Frank himself:

Frank Giroux, Whose Injuries in Home for Feeble Minded Caused Legislative Inquiry, Expires in Wisconsin

Frank Giroux, so severely injured while an inmate of the Home for Feeble Minded Children at Lincoln, Ill., as to cause a legislative investigation of state institutions, died Monday at the Sisters of St. Francis Institute, Jefferson, Wis.  He had been in the care of the sisters there for sixteen months.
Chicago Daily Tribune - November 17, 1909

The second casualty was the marriage of Ben and Ida Giroux, Frank's bereaved parents.  The 1910 census show Ben and Ida living together at 3742 Herndon Street in Chicago, but sometime before 1920 the Giroux family fell apart.  

It often happens that when a couple lives through a family tragedy they end up divorced.  It's almost as if their suffering holds the marriage together but when that is gone there is nothing left.  That may have been the case with Ben and Ida Giroux.

The 1920 census shows Ida living as a "Servant" in the home of Richard Plainbeck at 1213 Newport Avenue in Chicago.  Her marital status was "Divorced".  I can't find Ben in the 1920 Census at all.

Ben Giroux does show up in the 1930 Census.  By 1930 Ben has remarried (to "Claire") and is managing a theatre in Marysville, California  which is part of the greater Sacramento area. 

I can't find Ida in the 1930 Census, but she must have relocated to California at some point, because she died in Los Angeles on August 2, 1948.  At her request her body was returned to Chicago where she lies between her parents and her beloved son Frank in Rosehill Cemetery.

Frank's father Ben died in Oakland, California in May of 1934.  His obituary even made the New York Times:

 New York Times - June 1, 1934

So now you know the sad tale of Frank Robert Giroux.  What if the attendant had not left the room at the precise time that Frank had an epileptic seizure?  Would Frank had lived on beyond 1909?  Would his parents have stayed together?  Would they have stayed in Illinois? We will never know.  But we can all agree on one thing - Frank Robert Giroux deserved better than he got.

May he rest in peace.