Friday, May 31, 2013


The story I posted this morning about Louis and Benjamin Bernstein was the 100th story I have posted to this blog.  I started this blog on September 20, 2011 to share the interesting stories I have come across while doing cemetery photography and genealogy research.  To date, this blog has been viewed over 26,000 times.  A pornography blog could rack up that many views in one day, but it's not bad for a special interest blog like this one.

The story that has received the most views is the one about Fanny's Restaurant in Evanston, Illinois - 578 page views.  Fanny still has quite a following!

I have had viewers outside the US from Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Sweden, Ukraine, India and Australia.  My articles have generated 119 Comments - 118 of which were positive. (You can't please everyone).  The story with the most comments was "Tainted Caviar and Body Snatching" about Dr. Michael N. Regent. Must have been the catchy title.

I love "digging" into the stories of these people - mostly just regular people like you and me.  I have been contacted on numerous occasions by the families of people I have written about, and with one exception they have been very pleased and gratified that I have told the story of their family.  They have kindly corrected my factual errors but often have commented that I told them things they didn't even know about their own families.

Some people have chosen to express their comments offline, and that's fine with me, but I think I was most affected by the comment I received about Philip Comfort Starr from his niece Sarah:

Dear Jim, 
By coincidence I have been reading Wade Davis' "Into the Silence, the Great War, Mallory,and the Conquest of Everest." Reading about the trenches caused me to think about my great uncle, Lt. Philip Comfort Starr. As I was growing up, I heard his name mentioned with such reverence and respect that I was shy to ask very much about him, and though I knew that he went to Canada and was killed in the war, that was all. Of course his photograph hung in an honored place in my grandfather's (his brother) house, and my uncle was named for him. Still, I knew so little, and now my grandparents have passed away, too. Reading this book moved me to search for information on the web, and I found your article. Thank you for the work you are doing and know that it means so very much, not just for history, but for the very people like myself, who would want to pass this information down along the generations. I am very grateful. 
My very warm regards, Sarah Elizabeth Starr,

That is truly the reason for this blog:  To tell the stories of those who have gone before us, not just as history, but so they, and their stories, will not be forgotten.  I have tried very hard to not pass judgement on any of the people I write about, realizing that the road they took must have seemed to them the only option available.

Thank you to my twenty-four (!!!) loyal followers, and the hundreds who stop in now and then.  Thank you  also to all who expressed sympathy over the loss of my beloved Lucy.

I have many more stories in the hopper, so stay tuned!

Jim Craig
Evanston, Illinois

TWO BROTHERS STRICKEN - Benjamin and Louis Bernstein

People ask me why I spend so much time on this blog.  They wonder why I spend my weekends in cemeteries and free time researching the stories I write about.  I was a history major in college and always more interested in what happened here 100 years ago than what happened here yesterday.  As a historian I love to "catalog" the past - to research and write about people of days gone by.  We are products of those who came before us, and perhaps by learning a little more about them we can know a little more about ourselves.  

I spent Memorial Day in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery doing Find a Grave photo requests and, as always, looking for tombstones that look like they might have an interesting story behind them (or under them). Since it was Memorial Day, I paid my respects at the grave of Irving Narter ( and then just wandered among the graves at Gate 15 - B'nai Moshe. Not too far from the grave of Irving Narter, I came across a tall, imposing monument:

Taking a closer look, I saw that it was the final resting place of Benjamin and Louis Bernstein who died within two weeks of each other in 1918.  Louis on October 6, 1918 and Benjamin on October 18, 1918. Louis was 30, Benjamin was 31.  I had my suspicions about what happened to the Bernstein brothers, but let's see what we can find out about the Bernstein family:

Benjamin Hyman Bernstein was born July 1, 1887 in Lithuania to Isaak Bernstein (1849-1911) and Rose, nee Aronson (1849-1924).  I was not able to locate a photo of Rose, but here's a photo of Isaak Bernstein looking prosperous:

Isaak Bernstein (1849-1911)

The Bernsteins came to the United States in 1889 and became naturalized American citizens on March 25, 1893.  The family consisted of Anna (1872-1932), Sarah (1877-1953), Bernard (1887-1918), Louis (1888-1918), and Jacob (1891-1968).  Isaak and Rose had been married in 1868 in Lithuania.    

The 1900 Census has the family living in Hammond, Indiana.  There was Isaac (as he now spelled it), Rosa, Bernard, Louis and Jacob. Isaac Bernstein owned a saloon.  By 1910 the Bernsteins had moved to Chicago.  Isaac gave up the saloon - he was now a peddler of dry goods.  Their oldest son, who now called himself Bennie, was clerking for a lawyer; Louis and Jacob were working for a printer as typesetters. Interestingly, all the men listed their primary language as "English" but Rose's was "Yiddish".        

The happy occasion of Benjamin passing the bar exam in July of 1910 was tempered by the death of the family patriarch Isaac Bernstein on May 14, 1911.  On April 6, 1917 Benjamin married Perle Goldberg (1897-1985).  When Benjamin registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 he said he was living at 3509 Douglas Boulevard and was self-employed as a lawyer at 155 N. Clark Street in downtown Chicago. Benjamin and Perle celebrated the birth of their daughter Shirley Hope Bernstein (1918-2006) on May 1, 1918:

Unfortunately, 3509 W. Douglas Boulevard is now a vacant lot:

3509 W. Douglas Boulevard, Chicago

and there is a modern highrise where 155 N. Clark used to stand.

Benjamin Bernstein was considered to be a brilliant attorney.  Family lore says that he had received a special silver handled umbrella from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.  It is safe to say that the future was bright for Benjamin Bernstein as the autumn of 1918 approached. He was happily married, had an infant daughter and was a renowned attorney.  Globally, the First World War was drawing to a close.  Things couldn't be better for Benjamin Bernstein.
Before we enter that fateful autumn of 1918, let's step back a minute and take a look at Ben's brother Louis.  Louis Solom Bernstein was born in July 3, 1888 in Lithuania, also to Isaak and Rose Bernstein.  He came to the US with his family in 1889 and became a naturalized American citizen with them on March 25, 1893.  Although the 1910 Census showed him as a typesetter for a printer, he had decided to follow his brother into the practice of law.  

We don't know when Louis Bernstein passed the bar exam, but when he registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 he said he was a self-employed attorney with the law firm of Bernstein and Bernstein.  He listed his home address as 3146 Douglas Boulevard.  Unfortunately, 3146 W. Douglas Boulevard is also a vacant lot today:

3144-46 W. Douglas Boulevard, Chicago

Although Louis Bernstein had not found the right girl to marry yet, his future was bright as well.  He was in partnership with his brother and they shared a thriving legal practice.  They were both successful enough to have some spare time, and became involved in the Zionist movement in Chicago.  Yes, the future was bright for Louis Bernstein when he entered that fateful autumn of 1918.

Before we look at what happened to the Bernstein Brothers, let's take another quick look at the Spanish Influenza.  An excellent resource for those wishing more information about this catastrophe that changed so many American families can find it at DePaul University's website:

From the website:  "The Spanish Influenza was one of the deadliest epidemics in history, lasting from 1918 to 1919.  More than one-fifth of the world's population suffered from some of the disease's deadly symptoms, including aches and fevers.  The Spanish Influenza claimed the deaths of more than 21,000,000 people worldwide, including 600,000 in America alone.  Of those, 8,500 of the victims lived in Chicago.  Although people of all ages were susceptible to influenza, a majority of the people who died as a result of influenza were between twenty and forty years old.  The Spanish Influenza took the country by storm during another time of crisis- World War I.  This factor aided the spread of the disease considerably.  As soldiers traveled from port to port, they brought with them influenza germs as well as their weapons.  Red Cross units were already organized for the war effort, but they turned their attention to aiding flu victims as well.   Although the epidemic originated in Kansas, it quickly spread to other cities in the United States including Chicago."

Although Louis Bernstein was the younger of the two brothers he came down with the flu first.  Each of the brothers only lasted four days after they became ill.  Louis got sick October 2, the doctor was called in on October 5, and he died at home at 6:00 PM on October 6, 1918.

Benjamin got sick on October 14, but consulted a doctor on the same day.  Unfortunately this did not make a difference and Benjamin Bernstein died at his home at 10:45 AM on October 18, 1918.

Benjamin died just one day after October 17, 1918, the day known as Black Thursday, when 381 people died in Chicago and nearly 1,200 more contracted the illness in a single 24-hour period.

Louis was 29,
Louis Bernstein

Benjamin was 30.
Benjamin Bernstein

Here is Louis Bernstein's obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of October 8, 1918:

and Benjamim Bernstein's obituary from the Tribune on October 19, 1918:

This was still relatively early in the epidemic so public funerals were still being held.  Family lore says that Ben Bernstein's funeral was attended by both Supreme Court Justices Benjamin Cardozo and Louis Brandeis. Within a short time public funerals would be banned altogether and burials often took place just hours after death, even among those without a Jewish heritage.

The family decided to bury the brothers side-by-side at Gate 15 - B'nai Moshe at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park.  Their impressive monument is adorned with Hebrew and Masonic symbols.

Ben and Louis' mother, Rose Aronson Bernstein died in Chicago on August 20, 1924 at the age of 74.

Unlike his brothers, Jacob Bernstein remained in the printing business, eventually working for the Cuneo Press in Chicago.  We don't know if he had the Spanish influenza - but if he did, he recovered.  Jacob Bernstein died in Chicago in September of 1968 at the age of 77.

Benjamin Bernstein's widow Perle remarried, to Leonard Judah Krane on June 14, 1920.  They went on to have three children of their own. Perle Goldberg Bernstein Krane died June 21, 1985 in Chicago at the age of 88.

Shirley (Shirlee) Hope Bernstein died in Chicago in 2006, also at the age of 88.

What would have happened to the Bernstein family if the Spanish Influenza had never happened?  It is safe to say that Louis would probably have married and had children.  Benjamin Bernstein would probably have had a larger family than his one daughter.  His brilliant legal mind might have taken him to the judicial bench - possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court following Justices Cardozo and Brandeis - who knows?

The Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 affected more families worldwide than even were affected by World War I.  It certainly devastated the Bernstein family of Chicago.

May Benjamin and Louis Bernstein rest in peace.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

AN AMERICAN HERO - Irving E. Narter

With Memorial Day right around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to find out the story of someone who made the Supreme Sacrifice for our freedom.  Walking around cemeteries as I do, I have come across literally hundreds of tombstones marking the graves of those who gave their lives in the service of our country.  Telling the story of one does not diminish the sacrifice of the others.  Some were killed in action, some were killed by disease.  Some died close to home, some thousands of miles away from home.  Sometimes there were remains to send back home for burial, sometimes there was not a trace. One thing all of these brave men and women have in common - they all died too soon.  

Most of the porcelain photos that are mounted on tombstones at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery are black and white, so when you encounter a color photo you stop and take a second look.  Walking along the path that divides Gate 15 - B'nai Moshe Congregation, your eyes are immediately drawn to a color photo of a handsome young man in uniform:

His monument is elegant in its simplicity:

Beloved Son
Born May 7, 1920
Died Nov 3, 1943

Underneath a sprig of ivy are the following verses:

These are the eyes that smiled at life
When the river of peace ran calm and deep
Eyes that gleamed with the light of hope
Eyes now closed in the endless sleep.

Here is the heart that held a dream
Of life and love in a world of joy
The heart of a lad that sand all day
Now sad and still as a broken toy.

Folded the arms that were made to hold
A loved one close in a fond embrace.
Quiet the feet that in childhood ran
To meet the sun in an eager face.

Where is the soul of this gallant boy
Where has it wandered beyond the skies
Has it gone to dwell on a higher plane
With the spirit of one who never dies?

Let's see what we can find out about the gallant hero Irving Narter.

Irving Edward Narter was born Isaac Narter on May 7, 1920 in Chicago to Louis B. Narter (1884-1958) and Beatrice nee Schaffer (1895-1960).

Irving joined his older brother Sidney (1919-2002) and Beatrice's children from a previous marriage:  Frances (1914-2002), and Sam (1917-).  Younger brother Bernard arrived on November 11, 1922 (1922-).  In 1928 his mother filed a Certificate of Correction indicating that Isaac's name should actually be Irwin Narter:

The family name was originally Natofsky, and they came to the US from Russia in 1875.

Beatrice Schaffer, also know as Rebecca Schaffer had married Sam Gross on January 13, 1912 when she was just sixteen.  As I mentioned, Frances came along in 1914.  In 1916, with Beatrice pregnant with their second child, tragedy struck the young family.  Here's the story from the Chicago Daily Tribune of May 15, 1916:

Later it was found that the horse was spooked, and ran wild.  The wagon turned over on Sam, and he was killed.  It was originally thought that there may have been a robbery, but Sam's money was still in his pocket when his body was searched.  Beatrice ended up a young widow who was going to have a baby.

William Samuel Gross was born in Chicago on July 12, 1916.

Things got much better for Beatrice and her two children when Beatrice married Louis Natofsky on September 25, 1917:

The 1940 Census shows the Natofsky family (now called "Narter") living at 2056 N. Sawyer in Chicago:

2056 N. Sawyer, Chicago

Louis was a collector for the Union; twenty-one year old Sidney was an apprentice in a print shop; nineteen year old Irwin was a clerk in a department store; seventeen year old Bernard was still in school. Frances had married truck driver Hyman Ruthman and they had a two year old son Stuart.

Anticipating that war was imminent, Irwin E. (now called Irving) Narter enlisted in the Air Corps on November 12, 1941 when he was twenty-one years old.  He enlisted as a Private at Camp Grant outside Rockford, Illinois.  He was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 157 lbs.  

His older brother Sidney had already enlisted - on April 10, 1941, although Sidney enlisted in the Army, as opposed to Irving who had enlisted in the Air Force.  When Bernard Narter's time came, he joined up as well - joining the Ninth Army.

By April of 1943 now Sgt. Irving Narter (known as "Lucky Eddie") was flying bombing missions over Bremen, Germany as a ball turret gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress.  Wikipedia describes a ball turret gunner in this way:  "A ball turret was a plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upsidedown in his little sphere." 

Here is a photo of Irving with his bomber crew in front of their bomber "The Bad Egg":

The Chicago Daily Tribune reported in May of 1943 that Sgt. Irving Narter participated in a mission bombing industrial targets in Antwerp, Belgium, the second daylight attack on Nazi held Europe.  The Tribune reported that the mission was "perfect" and happily that "not one bomber was lost."

England - June 9, 1943

On September 21, 1943 the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that (now) Tech. Sgt. Irving E. Narter had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for "Extraordinary Achievement while serving as a ball turret gunner":

The last flight for Irving Narter took place on November 3, 1943.  Here are the particulars:  The plane was a B-17F, Serial number 42-30805, named BOOGIE'S REVENGE.  It was part of the 91BG, 401BS.  The plane crashed at Gesellschaftshaus, west of Wilhelmshafen, Germany.

Seven members of the crew, including Irving Narter were killed when the plane crashed.  They are:  Pilot: Bob Pitts, Navigator: Jim McAvoy, Nose Gunner: Irving Narter, Tail Gunner: John Clifton, Ball Turret Gunner: Antone Pacheco, Waist Gunner: Edwin Mason, Tail Gunner: John Montgomery.

Three members of the crew survived the crash and were taken prisoner by the Germans:  Co-Pilot: Arnold Williams, Radio Operator: Larry Yenchik, Waist Gunner: Clarry Edwards.

The luck had run out for Irving "Lucky Eddie" Narter.

A current member of the military sent me the Missing Aircrew Report for the incident where Irving and five of his crew members gave their lives for our Country.  The report has recently been declassified.  Here it is in its entirety:

Prior to World War I, little effort was made to return the bodies of fallen soldiers to their homes for burial.  Preservation and transportation of the remains was not feasible, so soldiers were buried where they fell. Starting after the end of World War I, it was possible to have the remains transported back home at US Government expense, and this policy was continued after World War II.  No bodies were returned, however, until the war was over.  Irving Narter's body was probably buried in a German cemetery until the war was over, at which time his remains were shipped back to Chicago.  It was not until the fall of 1947 that the first bodies of those who died in World War II were disinterred and shipped back to the U.S.  The best I can figure out is that Irving Narter's remains were returned to Chicago toward the end of 1949. There is a notation in the Chicago Daily Tribune of September 17, 1950 about Irving Narter:

When she first heard the news of the death of her beloved son, Irving's mother was horrified to think that he had died on German soil.  By 1943 whispers were starting to come out of Germany about the atrocities being done to Jews.  After the war, one of the survivors of the crash that killed Irving told Mrs. Narter that her son had died in the plane before it crashed, and not on German soil.  Small solace for a grieving mother.

Here is the photo the family chose to use for Irving's tombstone:

In the photo he is wearing the medals he has earned (from left) The Distinguished Flying Cross, The Air Medal (with three oak leaf clusters) and The Purple Heart.

So that is the story of Irving Narter - a Chicago native who enlisted in the Air Corps and gave his life for a cause greater than himself.  The thing is, as great as Irving Narter's sacrifice was, it was no different than the sacrifice made by countless men and women who refused to stand by and let tyranny win.  That is not meant to lessen the sacrifice of Narter, rather it is to recognize the sacrifice of all our brave service men and women.  He is one hero among thousands, and for that we will be forever grateful.

Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, because on that day we decorate the graves of those who have made the supreme sacrifice.  This Memorial Day, decorate the final resting place of a patriot - like Irving Narter.

May Irving Edward Narter, Patriot and American Hero, rest in peace.

As I mentioned earlier, Irving's older brother Sidney had enlisted in the Army on April 10, 1941.  Sidney  served with distinction and earned both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.  He died in 2002 at the age of eighty-three.  He is buried at the Fort Sam Houston Military Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

Bernard Narter was with the Ninth Army in Europe and was a hero at the Battle of the Bulge - although he would say that he wasn't a hero - but that generation never talked about their heroics.  Bernie is still alive at this writing and living in the west.

America is a better place today because of the Narter Brothers.  I saw a sign recently that fits the Narter Brothers perfectly:

All Gave Some,
Some Gave All.
The Narter family - heroes all.

I want to take a minute to thank the Narter family for all of their help and support with this article.  Thank you to:

Neil Narter – Sam Narter’s son
Alan Narter – Bernie Narter’s son
Bari Narter - Bernie Narter's daughter
David Narter – Alan Narter’s son
Lisa Narter – Neil Narter’s daughter
Cynthia Narter Eszak - Sidney Narter's daughter
Michael Freitag - son of Rhonda Narter-->daughter of Bernard Narter

I did not know any of the Narters when I originally wrote this article. From the moment it was published, the family was extremely supportive.  They helped me straighten out a few facts and graciously shared some of their photos of Irving and the newspaper clippings about his death.  Irving Narter must have been a wonderful guy, because he sure has a great family.

Friday, May 17, 2013

AKSEL MIKKELSEN - A Message from Norway

You will remember the story I wrote earlier this year of Chicago policeman Aksel Mikkelsen.  Several months after the death of his wife Hulda Olsen Mikkelsen, Aksel killed himself at Hulda's grave in Mount Olive Cemetery in Chicago.  When I am researching families for this blog it is very difficult for me to keep track of everybody so I usually create a family tree on for the family I am researching. That makes it easier to remember all of the relationships and it also gives me access to ancestry's search feature where they search their many databases for information on the people you put in a tree.  So, back on February 10, 2013 I put a family tree on that I called "Aksel Mikkelsen Family."

Imagine my surprise when I got an email last week from that said:

Hello ! 

I'm contacting you on behalf of Kjetil Straume and wife in Norway. They are searching for both acendants and decendants of Aksel Mikkelsen. Would you like to get in contact with them? Aksel was brother of Kjetil Straume's wife's great-great grandmother.

They would be very happy if you could email them.

Best Regards, Liv Christin Markussen, Norway.

I would be happy to contact the Straume family with the information I had, but since the story was a sad one, I was not sure how to approach them.  So, I responded:

Hello from Chicago!

Liv Christin Markussen contacted me through asking about the forebearers and descendents of Aksel Mikkelsen. I am not related to him - I started doing research on his family for a story about him that I wrote for my blog. The story is in two parts:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Virtually all of the information I have on the Mikkelsen family is contained in these two articles. I suggest you read them and then you can contact me if you are looking for more information. Unfortunately the story of Aksel Mikkelsen does not have a happy ending, but I present it as it happened.

Jim Craig
Evanston, Illinois

This way I was able to give them all the information I had on the family, and they could answer or not answer as they wished.  The very next day I got the following response from Kjetil and Inger Straume:

Hello from Oslo, Norway!

Dear Jim,

My wife and I thank you so much for your e-mail! The story of Axel and his family is truly sad, and also very touching. We also want to thank you very much for your work and effort to find out, and tell, the story behind a tombstone. In addition to being of interest to anyone concerned with our ancestor's life, this has for us made it possible to get knowledge about " a lost member of the family" and his destiny. We are very grateful to you!

Axel's parents were Charlotte Albertine, nee Berg (1828), and Johan Fredrik Mikkelsen (born about 1824).  

Axel had at least six siblings.  Charlotte and Johan Fredrik's seven children (as far as we know today) were:

1. Olivia Susane, born 4th April, 1847 in the municipality of Sør-Odal, Hedmark County. She is the great-great grandmother of my wife Inger Straume, nee Storm-Nielsen.

2. Carl Thorvald, born 5th February, 1849 in the municipality of Grue, Hedmark Co.. Emigrated to USA, buried 4th Jan at Mt. Olive.

3. Johan Albert, born 3rd February, 1851, at the same place. Emigrated to USA.

4. Ole, born 18th April, 1853, at the same place.

5. Axel Ingvold, born 26th January 1859 in Christiania. Christiania is the earlier name (1624-1925) of the Capital of Norway, today: Oslo, which also was the medieval name of this city.

6. Emmy Marie Wilhelmine, born 28th November, 1862 in Christiania. My wife knew three of her four daughters (one died as a child), the youngest of them died in 1997, 96 years old.

7. Ragna Theodora, born 15th February, 1865 in Christiania.

Here is link to the entry in the church record of the marriage of Axel's parents Charlotte and Johan Fredrik Mikkelsen:

Here is link to the entry in the church record of Axel's baptism (No. 129): Kildeinformasjon: Oslo fylke, Trefoldighet, Ministerialbok nr. I 1 (1858-1863), Fødte og døpte 1859, side 61. 

We have not yet found out where, and when Axel's father was born. He is told to have emigrated to USA, and that he died there before 1875, as Charlotte is registered as a widow in the Christiania (Oslo) census 1875.

We have a picture of Charlotte - but not as a normal portrait! It is a over a hundred years old jig saw puzzle! This is the only picture we have of her, and the same is for her daughter Olivia. I will send you a copy of Charlotte's picture in a separate mail. The picture puzzle of Olivia is now with my wife's sister who lives in Bourgogne, France, and we look forward to have a photo of this too, when she has puzzled it!

Again, thank you so much!

Inger and Kjetil Straume

Here's the puzzle picture of Charlotte:

Charlotte Albertine Berg Mikkelsen

I was very pleased that they were happy with the articles that I wrote about their family.  Here's my reply to my new friends in Norway:

Hello Inger and Kjetil -

Isn't the internet a wonderful thing? Through it we get to meet and communicate with people all over the world. I am very pleased that you liked the story I wrote about Axel and his family. It was a tragedy, to be sure. I say in my blog that I try not to judge the actions of people I did not know, but it is very hard to imagine what must have been going through Axel's mind just before he killed himself. How could he have done that to his children? They had already lost their mother, a traumatic experience for any age, and now they were going to lose their father as well - and the family would be broken up. It is only by the grace of God, and the strength of their extended family, that they turned out as well as they did.

In my research about your family I tried to find out if any other members of Axel's family were here in Chicago. We know that Hulda had a large family here buit I was never able to find any relatives of Axel's here. There were other Mikkelsens in Chicago, and there are even other Mikkelsens buried at Mount Olive, but I could never connect Axel to any of them.

Do you have any evidence of any of Axel's relatives in Chicago?

Now I have a favor to ask of you: Could I add the information you have given me to the information already on my blog? I would like to tell my readers how a member of Axel's family contacted me, and also include the other family information you have given me. I will not publish your email address, of course, and I don't even need to use you names unless you want me to. I would very much like to add this additional information to Axel's story as I have told it so far. Let me know if this is OK with you. I would also like to include the photo of Charlotte.

I'm sure you have cousins here in the US - Lillie Mikkelsen Hansen had a large family; August had two sons. Have you made contact with any cousins in the US?

That's all for now. Thank you again for your kind words.

Your friend in Chicago,

Jim Craig

As I mentioned when I wrote the article about Axel's suicide that I couldn't imagine how Axel could have felt that his children would be better off with him dead.  They were already grieving over the loss of Hulda, as he was, but how could he leave five young children orphans?  Inger had a very interesting response to my comment:

Hello Jim,

Yes, internet is truly wonderful. Without the internet it would have been impossible to find all the information we can find today, and to communicate all over the world so quickly.

You can of course feel free to use all the information we have sent you (and hopefully will send you later), and the picture of Charlotte. It is also quite OK to mention our names. We will also appreciate if you mention that it was Liv Christin who found out all this for us, if she agree. I will send her a copy of this mail, and believe she will send you a mail and tell if this is OK or not with her.

I think that when a person commit a suicide, he or she is in a situation of total darkness, where it is impossible to think sensibly, to see any alternative, or to overwiew the consequences for others. I think too, it is impossible for us to understand such an action, although we can try to find out what led to it.

Until now we don't know very much about Axel's brothers who emigrated to USA and their families. In Norway we have an internet site to help people to trace their ancestors and families: English version: It is quite free of charge to use this site. This is where we had the excellent help from Liv Christin.

Here is a link to the subject about Axel:

And to his father Johan Fredrik Mikkelsen:

One has to be logged in to see the names of those who have written a post here. Anyone can sign in as a guest user, and then you will see the names. Without signing in, it shows only "Skjult navn" which means Hidden name. This is because google shall not be able to pick up the names. Therefore we also only use the first name in the posts which are open without logging in.

There is also a lady in Minnesota, Margit Nysetvold Bakke, who is very helpful with the connections between USA and Norway. Here are links to her sites:

Here is a link to her advices at Disnorge:

Best greetings from your new friends in Norway,

Inger and Kjetil

I think Inger and Kjetil are correct:  Axel was in a situation where it was impossible to think sensibly or to see any alternative.  How sad for him, and his family. 

As Inger and Kjetil suspected, Liv Christin was happy to give her permission to be included in this article as well:

Hello Jim!

And thank You for giving us information about what happened to the Mikkelsen family. Tragic and touching!

It has been a pleasure for me to partisipate in the searchings for Johan Fredrik and Charlotte Mikkelsens story and decendants, and it is okay for me that to be mentioned in Your blog regarding the Mikkelsen Story. This story has truly captured my heart.

Thank You so much for all Your reasearch and work regarding both Mikkelsen family and other familys. that You have been tracking. It means a lot for us that are searching for lost and unknown parts of our familys.

Is there anything I can do in return for Your help, just let me know.

Best regards,

Liv Christin Markussen
Forntunalife AS

Liv Christin is one of the founders of an organization called Fortunalife.  Their website is:

I checked out the website for Fortunalife and found a quote that I felt was very thought-provoking so I will share it with you:


So, through the miracle of the internet, we are still thinking about and talking about Aksel Mikkelsen, the Chicago policeman who died almost one hundred fifteen years ago.  I was glad that my research was able to fill in some of the gaps in the Mikkelsen family tree.  I have a feeling that we have not heard the last of Aksel Mikkelsen and Hulda Olsen Mikkelsen - we shall see!

May all of the departed members of the Mikkelsen Family rest in peace.

Friday, May 10, 2013

ANOTHER TREE TOMBSTONE - William Reisz of the Order of Boy Builders

One of the most widely read posts I have done for this blog was the one I wrote about the tombstone that looked like a tree that marked the grave of Frank Fremont Campbell at Rosehill Cemetery.  Now I am always on the lookout for interesting tree-tombstones.  A recent Find-a-Grave photo request took me to Gate 59 - Dr. Herzl Verein at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery where I found this tree tombstone:

This tombstone marked the grave of William Reisz who died January 14, 1923 just a few months short of his twentieth birthday. Remembering the clues that Frank Campbell's tree tombstone revealed, just what can we learn about William Reisz from his tree tombstone?  

The largest and most obvious part of the tombstone is the Magen David at the top.  From that we can gather that William Reisz was Jewish...of course the fact that he is buried in a Jewish Cemetery told us that already. The Magen David is surrounded by a wreath symbolizing victory in death.  As the hymn says, "The strife is o'er, the battle won." The Magen David is also known as the Star of David, or Shield of David and is the symbol of Divine protection.  Below that is another kind of shield that was unfamiliar to me (more about that shield later).  Next is the abbreviation which stands for po nikbar or po nitman, meaning "here lies", along with the Hebrew name of the deceased and some information about them.  At the end of the Hebrew inscription is the abbreviation of a verse from the Bible, the first book of Samuel, 25:29, "May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life".

Unlike many tree tombstones that show a living tree, this one shows a tree that has already been cut down, and is placed on logs at the bottom.  The cut tree symbolizes the newly departed; the logs are those who have gone before.  So the newly departed is joining those who went ahead of him.

At the bottom on the left is a lamb, symbolizing innocence - usually used to denote the death of a young person.  The calla lilies signify the restored innocence of the soul at death.  Next to the calla lilies are ferns which signify humility and sincerity.  As we move around the tree, we can see ivy growing up the side of the  tree trunk.   Ivy signifies friendship.  

The branches cut off the trunk signify a life cut short.  The back of the tree is the name "Reisz" with the letters made out of logs.  

and that brings us back around to the front.

So, what can we find out about William Reisz?  Let's start with his obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 15, 1923:

REISZ - William Reisz, beloved son of Phillip and Theresa, fond brother of Mrs. Herman Greenburg, Albert and Edward Reisz.  Funeral Monday, Jan. 15, at 2 p.m. from chapel, 2018 W. Division st.  Interment Dr. Herzl Ver. cemetery, Waldheim.  Member of the Order of Boy Builders and Junior auxiliary of Humboldt  Boulevard Temple.  Please omit flowers.

The Humboldt Boulevard Temple, Chicago

His obituary answers one question - that of the shield under the Magen David.  It was the shield of the Order of the Boy Builders.  Here's a better picture of it:

According to their website, The Order of the Builders for Boys was formed in 1921 for young men between the ages of eleven and twenty-one related to Master Masons.  In January 1921 (two years after the formation of the Order of DeMolay in Kansas City) Arthur M. Millard and several members of Van Renssalaer Lodge of Perfection in Chicago founded the Order of the Builders for Boys, an organization for young men between the ages of eleven and twenty-one. Originally restricted to the sons and brothers of Master Masons, membership was soon changed to admit sons, brothers, grandsons, and nephews of Masons who belonged to recognized Masonic Lodges as well as the closest friends of these individuals.

Today it is simply called the “Order of the Builders,” and its objects are:

To promote the mental, moral, physical, and spiritual development of its’ members. To develop their activities in all that relates to individual duty to God and parents. To promote civic, state, and national betterment, by the defense of civil, religious, political, and intellectual liberty, and to provide by means of fraternal association a relationship through which to develop activities aiming for the mutual advancement of those coming within the range of its purpose and plans.

It is reported that in the first year of the Order’s existence over sixty chapters were established in Illinois with a total membership of approximately 4,500, of which William Reisz was one.

We are able to find out a little more about William Reisz and his family. William Reisz was born May 25, 1903 in Chicago.  His father was Phillip Reisz (1864-1933).  His mother was Theresa nee Kiershler (1875-1936).  The family came to the United States from Austria-Hungary in 1899, and became US citizens in 1905.  William had three siblings: Albert (1896-1987), Edward (1899-1980) and Elka (1897-1983).  Elka married Herman Greenburg in 1920.  The 1920 census has the family living at 2707 W. Hirsch Street. 

2707 W. Hirsch Street, Chicago

Phillip was a beer distributor.  Albert owned his own shoe store, and Elka was a stenographer for a fire insurance company. Twenty year-old Edward and sixteen year-old William were not employed, and at least William was probably still in school.

So that brings us up to January 14, 1923 - the death of William Reisz:

It's a little hard to read, but it says that William Reisz of 2707 W. Hirsch Street died of "Acute endocarditis after streptococcus".  He worked as a bookkeeper for Fred C. Cramer & Co., manufacturing agents. 

So, that is the story of William Reisz, bookkeeper, son and brother and member of the Order of Boy Builders.  He must have been a very special guy, so his family wanted to remember him in a very special way - with his own tree tombstone at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery. Their loss gave us another beautiful work of funerary art, and a way for William Reisz to be remembered.

May William Reisz rest in peace.