Friday, September 27, 2013


Rosehill Cemetery is full of beautiful old gravestones.  Everywhere you look there are wonderful examples of funerary art.  Some are simple, some elaborate.  Some are familiar designs, many are unique.  The gravestone that goes with this week's story falls into the last category:

I have noticed the tombstone for years, and had even photographed it long before this blog was ever conceived.  I had considered featuring it in this blog, but had not pursued the research up until now. The other morning as I was lying in bed waiting for the alarm to go off, I suddenly saw this tombstone vividly in front of me and knew that now was the time to feature the stone and the story under it in the blog.  So here it is: the story under the unique tombstone of William Saltonstall and his family.

William Saltonstall (1808-1886)

William Saltonstall was born in New York City on November 10, 1808 to William Saltonstall (1771-1818) and Maria, nee Hudson (1785-1875). Although William the younger shared his father's name, there is no evidence of his ever being called "Jr.", nor could I find a middle name for either father or son.  Young William had a sister Mary Susan (1804-????) and a brother Henry (1811-1880).  William's father died when he was only ten years old.

The Saltonstall family were blue-bloods for generations.  William's ancestor Sir Richard Saltonstall, after receiving a grant of land from the King of Great Britain, came to Massachusetts and with his two sons established the first church at Watertown, Mass. in 1630.  Another direct ancestor, General Gurdon Saltonstall, made a name for himself in the Revolutionary War under the command of another noted general, George Washington.     

From the earliest days in England, the Saltonstall family had been merchants, and they continued this when they came to America. William spent his childhood in Philadelphia where he started his business career by joining the noted cutlery firm of Rogers and Sons, and was sent by them to New Orleans.  After some time there, he left New Orleans, and after settling matters in the east, relocated to Chicago in 1835.  As his ancestors had before him, William established himself as a dry goods merchant, having a store on Lake Street near the Chicago River.  William arrived in Chicago at a time when Chicago had only been a city for two years, and had a population of only 3,000.

In addition to his store in Chicago, William had a contract to supply the garrison at Mackinaw, Michigan, which in those days was a much larger settlement than Chicago.  He often was required to travel from Chicago to Mackinaw or back several times each year no matter what the weather.  In the wintertime, to get from the train station in Detroit to Mackinaw, he had to use snowshoes and sled dogs.  Twice during these years Saltonstall was shipwrecked while travelling by boat, once on the ill-fated steamship Westmoreland.

At 10 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1854, After 18 hours spent battling a blizzard on Lake Michigan, the fate of the Westmoreland was sealed less than three miles from safety.  Rising water in the bilge finally extinguished the fire in the boiler, leaving the cargo-laden steamer powerless and thrown to the mercy of heavy, icy seas off a then-remote stretch of Lake Michigan coastline.

No actual photographs of the Westmoreland exist.  Here is a photo of a steamer just like the Westmoreland:

Seventeen of the thirty-three souls on board the Westmoreland would soon perish in the deep, frigid waters of Platte Bay. The other half would spread the legend of a ship reputed to be carrying $100,000 in gold coins in her safe, and 280 barrels of whiskey in her hold, sparking more than a century of treasure hunters that would search in vain for the wreck.  In fact, the wreckage of the Westmoreland was finally discovered in 2010 sitting upright on the lake bed, 200 feet under the surface of Platte Bay near the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore.  So far, neither the gold nor the whiskey have been found (or so they would have us believe...).

William Saltonstall almost lost his life several times from the extreme cold he encountered.  He gave the credit for his surviving to a waterproof matchbox he always carried.  He said that often his ability to start a fire was the difference between his surviving, or perishing from the cold.

Saltonstall took time off from his journeys to court Miss Sarah Brayton Aiken (1825-1910) of Oswego, New York.

Sarah Aiken Saltonstall (1825-1910)

His courtship was successful and they were married in 1840. William and Sarah were blessed with six children who survived to adulthood. Three boys:  Brayton (1848-1936), Gilbert (1850-1896) and Henry (1861-1907), and three girls: Elizabeth (1840-1898), Constance (1846-1934), and Grace M. (1858-1918).  There was another daughter Gertrude, who was born in 1845 but who died in 1852.

After the Civil War, William Saltonstall gradually closed down his retail ventures.  I guess he was getting too old for the arduous journeys, although the transportation system was getting better every year.  He spent his latter years solely in Chicago, eventually becoming the bankruptcy trustee for the Chicago District.

William Saltonstall died Friday, August 13, 1886 from "Pressure of the brain with apoplectic symptoms."  Here's his obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of August 16, 1886:

As I mentioned above, William Saltonstall is buried in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago:

and added to his headstone is "Pioneer 1835".  Sarah, who died in 1910, lies next to him:

and also their daughter Gertrude who died at the age of seven:

Here's a photo of the Saltonstall plot at Rosehill:

On the beautiful monument you can see the Saltonstall family coat of arms:

You can see that it has been Americanized (simplified) somewhat from the original British coat of arms of the Saltonstall Family:


William Saltonstall, Chicago pioneer - may he rest in peace.

Friday, September 20, 2013


The Wall Street Journal of January 7, 2009 carried a shocking story:

Real-Estate Executive Found Dead in Apparent Suicide

CHICAGO -- Real-estate executive Steven L. Good was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound Monday in his Jaguar in a forest preserve outside Chicago, said the Kane County Sheriff's Department.

Mr. Good, 52 years old, was chief executive of Sheldon Good & Co., one of the nation's largest real-estate auction firms.  His father founded the company in 1965.

In a prepared statement Monday, Sheldon Good President Alan Kravets called it "a testimony to Steve's leadership that Sheldon Good & Co. remains well positioned for the future [and] poised for significant growth."

As chairman of the Realtors Commercial Alliance Committee, Mr. Good said last month in an industry outlook news release that market conditions were "very challenging."

According to the company's Web site, Sheldon Good "has sold more than 45,000 U.S. and international properties in more than 100 different classes and produced more than $10 billion in sales."

Mr. Good wrote a book called "Churches, Jails and Gold Mines...Mega-Deals from a Real Estate Maverick."  In it, Mr. Good tells how he purportedly turned his auction firm into the real-estate equivalent of Sotheby's or Christie's.

"That book is a must-read for anyone in real-estate auctions," said Chris Longly, spokesman for the National Auctioneers Association.

No one was more shocked when they read the story than I was.  You see, I knew Steven Good - we went to Evanston Township High School together - as together as you can with a student population (at that time) of over 6,000 students.  Steven Good would not have been able to pick me out of a lineup, but I knew him - everyone knew Steven Good.  Beyond high school we knew each other professionally but I am getting ahead of myself.  Let's start at the beginning:

Steven Loren Good was born November 16, 1956 to real estate magnate Sheldon Good (b. 1933) and Lois, nee Kroll (1933-1985). Steven was the couple's first child.  He would later be joined by a younger brother, Todd.  

I first encountered Steven when we were both students at Evanston Township High School.  Everyone knew Steven because everyone knew of his father Sheldon Good who pioneered auctions as a way of selling commercial real estate.  Sheldon Good & Company started in 1965, so by the time we were in high school it was a household name to people who lived on the North Shore.

Steven was popular in high school - he was on the tennis team, and student council - and he graduated, as did I, in 1974:

Steven L. Good - 1974

I envied Steven Good back then.  I just assumed that he would be joining his father's firm, and I envied his being able to step right into a top-tier position after college.

Steven went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Syracuse University, and a law degree from DePaul University.  He interned for a U.S. senator, in the U.S. Department of Justice and the Cook County State's Attorney's office.  According to their website, Steven joined his father's firm "in the late 1970s," and that's really when his star began to shine. 

Steven's father, Sheldon Good, revolutionized the commercial real estate industry when, in 1970 he auctioned a chain of fast food stores in downstate Illinois.  Others had tried auctioning commercial real estate with limited success, but Sheldon Good made it work - and made it work big.  Steven joined his father's company just as it began to take off.  In the 1980s and 1990s you could not drive around Chicago without seeing one of Sheldon Good and Company's signs announcing an upcoming real estate auction.  Here's Steven standing next to one of their famous signs:

The company expanded, building success upon success and became the nation's premier real estate auctioneer.  As often happens in businesses made up of more than one generation, the younger generation wanted to take the company in a direction the older generation was not ready to pursue.  That was the case with Sheldon and Steven Good.  Sheldon reported that he would retire when he turned 70 (2003) but this was not quick enough for Steven, and so, in 2001 Steven bought out his father's controlling interest in the firm. Sheldon Good would remain on the payroll as Chairman Emeritus, but it was Steven's company to run. Although the name of the company remained Sheldon Good, it was now Steven Good who was calling the shots.

And so, at the age of 45, Steven Good was owner and manager of one of the country's top real estate firms. I continued to envy Steven Good his success.  I was doing well myself, but nowhere near as well as Steven Good.

Looking at the firm from the outside, one could see the picture of a family firm: 71-year-old Sheldon F. Good, chairman emeritus, at his desk and his son Steven L. Good, 47 and CEO of the company his dad built, down the hall. Nearby, some 70 employees making the firm one of the most successful real estate auctioneers in the U.S., selling everything from Aspen trophy homes to mining rights in Montana - no wonder I was envious.

But, it turned out that all was not rosy between the Goods, father and son.  Crain's Chicago Business reported in 2004 that it was a dysfunctional family firm.  The paper said that the two Goods rarely spoke, parties in a bitter court feud stemming from the son's 2001 buyout of the father's controlling stake in the firm, Sheldon Good & Co.  In a lawsuit he filed in October 2002, Sheldon Good accused his son and the firm of a litany of offenses, from denying him commissions to sticking him in a small office.  The other member of the Good family, Todd Good, Steven's younger brother, had already joined and then left the family firm.  He left in 1997 because, as he reported, of a dispute with Steven.

Family troubles did not stop Steven Good, the businessman.  He continued to grow the company, and even wrote a book in 2004, sharing his secrets for success.  The book is called "Churches, Jails and Gold Mines, Mega Deals From a Real Estate Maverick".  One reviewer called the book's thesis, "My company and I are great." Steven was thrilled that he was able to get real estate magnate Donald Trump to write the afterword to the book.

About the time the book came out, Steven Good was interviewed by Dr. Margot Weinstein, a career consultant and real estate expert.  You can still see the interview on Youtube:

Steven was also active professionally.  Among the many positions he held in the industry were Chairman of the Realtors Commercial Alliance Committee and Past President of the Chicago Association of REALTORS®.

While he was slaying dragons in the real estate market, Steven Good was not neglecting his personal life.  He had a beautiful wife, Jami, and three sons:  Scott, Logan, and David.

As the year 2008 ended and 2009 began, it looked to the whole world like Steven Good had it all: He was at the helm of a tremendously successful company; He was respected by colleagues nationwide; He had a beautiful home in Highland Park, Illinois, and a beautiful family.

I have tried very hard with all the stories I have written for this blog, not to judge the people I wrote about or the decisions they made.  So on that morning in January of 2009, we don't know why Steve drove out to the Kane County forest preserves in his Jaguar and ended his own life, but he must have felt that he had no other choice.

Here's Steve's obituary from the Chicago Tribune - January 7, 2009:

Steven L. Good, suddenly died.  His zest for life will be missed by his beloved wife, Jami; loving sons, Scott, Logan and David Good; brother of Todd (Sue) Good; son of Sheldon and the late Lois Good; fond son-in-law of Kay Fasman; dear brother-in-law of Gregg (Renay) Mandell and Jeff (Mary) Mandell.  He will be missed by his many nieces and nephews and all who knew him. Memorial Services Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. at North Shore Congregation Israel, 1185 Sheridan, Glencoe, IL 60022.  In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to North Shore Congregation Israel.  Arrangements by Chicago Jewish Funerals, 847-229-8822.

Steven is buried in Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge, Illinois:

After Steve's death there were rumblings about financial improprieties, and in fact, Sheldon Good and Company was forced to declare bankruptcy in April of 2009.  What remained of the company was ultimately purchased by Racebrook Marketing Concepts LLC in July of 2009, who continues to use the Sheldon Good & Company name to this day.

I do not envy Steven Good any more. May he rest in peace.

It has been said that the best way to get the true measure of a man is to ask those who work with him.  I'll end this article with some of the comments made about Steven by his colleagues after his tragic death:

He treated me well and served the organization diligently over the years with his enthusiasm, expertise, knowledge, commitment, and financial support.  I rarely saw him without that effervescent smile and a twinkle in his eye.

Steve went out of his way to take an interest in me personally and professionally and made time in his extraordinarily busy schedule for me.  He made a big impact on my career and opened doors for me that otherwise wouldn't have existed.

Steve was truly one of the smartest people that I have known.  He always seemed to be a couple of steps ahead of what everyone else was thinking, and had a knack for looking at things differently and more creatively than anyone else.

I will never forget his bigger than life positive attitude, his incredibly quick wit and his generosity.

Steve was accomplished, generous and astute.  He served as a resource to many within our industry. A brilliant thinker, he usually had the solution to a problem before most knew there was a a problem.

He met challenges head on and mastered the art of problem-solving.  Steve had that ever-present smile that allowed all to "warm up" to this powerful and respected professional.  He had friends across the continent who adored and admired him.  No one worked a room better than Steve - and before he left that room, he made sure he established lifelong friendships.

He was straight to the point and the first to offer a helping hand.  He was generous to a fault.  He gave to our industry, his alma mater, his community and to a host of charities.  He loved the real estate business and poured himself into every opportunity to share his expertise.  His ego could fill a room, but he could also be all about inclusion and consensus.  He found humor in his need for the spotlight, his Inaugural video was as suited for MTV as the September evening we celebrated with him just a few years ago.

There was a purpose to nearly everything he did, and his competitive spirit was memorable in its scope and depth.  Steve had decided long ago he would, to borrow from Daniel Burnham, "make no little plans." He was forever striving for the next goal, the next triumph, the next success.

He was a gentleman.  A positive fellow who would go out of his way to make sure you were doing fine.  He had a inner light that would instantly brighten the mood of any environment.  He cared deeply about the Association and its members.  He stayed active in the industry and particularly in his volunteer efforts at the local and national levels.

Steve was one of the most charismatic people I have ever met and an incredible source of inspiration to so many people.  Steve accomplished more in his one lifetime than some men could in 10 lifetimes.  And, can we ever forget his fabulous smile?

Steve taught me so much and he was a true friend.

Steve Good...there are not enough words to state what a wonderful person he was and the appreciation that I have for being blessed by knowing him.  Steve always had a smile on his face and was always focused on a new business venture for the near future and was very free in sharing his enthusiasm about the projects he was working on.  His enthusiasm was highly contagious.

Whenever I spoke with Steve he would always leave me smiling and had an incredible talent of making me laugh.

Here is a man who always stepped up to the plate.  No matter how big (always better) or small the project Steve was there.  He basked in the limelight.  He loved publicity and looked for every opportunity to promote himself and his company.

I had the pleasure of meeting Steve when I first came to Chicago.  His knowledge and love of his profession and his city was very enthusiastic and catching.  He always had opportunities to offer and advice to share, and was a leader and mentor to many, particularly in his work and dedication to helping others succeed as well.  I valued his guidance and leadership in our commercial alliances and international projects, among many other things.  A room really came to life when Steve walked in.  I learned a lot about many things from knowing him that can never be taken away.  His personality and style were unmatched.

As a leader, Steve inspired others with a "can do" attitude.  His words of encouragement came in the form of phone calls, short notes and brief stops in my office to simply say "hi."  As one who was extremely successful within the industry and life, he encouraged others to join in that success.

Looking back, every conversation with Steve began and ended with a warm smile, a genuine inquiry regarding how things were going on my end of the world and, with every project I was working on, a very real "How can I help?"  Steve's humor, joy, energy and optimism transcended our roles within the organization.  He truly made me feel like I was a partner and not an employee.

Steven L. Good 1956-2009

Friday, September 13, 2013


Several weeks ago I told the story of Jacob Raffsky, who lies under a unique tree tombstone at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.  To refresh your memory, here are some photos of the tree tombstone:

I mentioned at the time I wrote the article that I was unable to locate the death certificate, but "it is certain he died from one of the myriad of diseases that killed young people at the end of the nineteenth century."

Much to my surprise, a little over one week after I published the story an angel emailed me Jacob Raffsky's death certificate.  It was a Coroner's Death Certificate, and therefore was not indexed like the regular death certificates.  After reading the Coroner's Death Certificate, the story changed significantly.  Here's the certificate:

The cause of death was "From shock and injuries received by being run over by an unknown train belonging to the Chicago and North Western Railway Company on their tracks near Elston Ave Sept 13th 1889." 

Here is a Google Maps photo of the site where the Chicago and Northwestern railroad tracks cross Elston Avenue.  Today, the tracks are elevated above grade; in 1889 they may well have been at street level.

There is another interesting fact buried on the death certificate. Fourteen year old Jacob Raffsky was employed - as a clothing cutter. He was not in school as other fourteen year old boys were, he was already working.  In 1889 there was no requirement to remain in school until the age of sixteen as there is today.  

Once I knew the particulars of the accident I was able to find a mention of it in the Chicago Daily Tribune of September 14, 1889:

At 8:15 o'clock last night a youth about 18 years old was found on the Northwestern Railway tracks near Elston avenue with both legs cut off. He was taken to the county hospital in an unconscious condition and died an hour later.  

I often say that for every question your genealogy research answers, five new questions pop up.  That is certainly the case here:

1.  What was Jacob Raffsky doing on the Northwestern train tracks when he was killed?  Was he trying to hitch a ride?

2.  Was Jacob Raffsky running away from home?  If he was, the Northwestern was a poor choice - it is a commuter train - not a long distance carrier.

3.  Was he alone, or with friends when he was killed?

4.  Could he have been intending to commit suicide?

5.  How long had he been working as a clothing cutter?

We will probably never know the answers to these questions.  They, like Jacob Raffsky, have been lost in the mists of time.

The lesson for researchers here is never assume you know the whole story until you have all the facts. 

So, let's pause for a minute to think of the fourteen year old boy who got too close to a train (intentionally or unintentionally) and paid the consequences one hundred twenty-four years ago today.

May Jacob Raffsky rest in peace.

Friday, September 6, 2013

DEATH AT AGE OF 103 - Isaac Shaffer

I have often told stories in this blog of children who die, either from accident or disease.  This week I thought we'd go to the other end of the spectrum and look at someone who died at the ripe old age of 103 - Isaac Shaffer.

The Chicago Daily Tribune of June 18, 1936 carried the following obituary:

Let's see what we can find out about this man who lived 33 years beyond the biblical "three score and ten". You would think that someone who lived to be over 100 years old would leave a lengthy trail of records, but in this case, just the opposite is true.  It was very hard to find any records for Shaffer or his family.  Let's look first at what I could find:  

According to his death certificate, Isaac Shaffer was born Israel Shaffer on March 10, 1833 in Lutnick, Russia.  His father's name (Anglicized) was Harry Shaffer; mother's name unknown.

The next record I found on Isaac is in 1910 Census.  In 1910, Isaac and his wife "Tailba" lived at 1302 N. Claremont Avenue in Chicago.  They told the census taker that they had been married for forty years, and that they had five children, all of whom were living in 1910.  They indicated that they came to the US in 1902, but in 1910 were naturalized citizens of the US.  Isaac's primary language was Yiddish, although he could speak English - Tailba was limited to Yiddish. Neither of them were working in 1910, but both could read and write, as could most Jews of the era.  Unfortunately, 1302 N. Claremont is now a vacant lot.

Through other sources I was able to find three of their five children:  Lawrence (b. 1882), Sam (b. 1892) and Bessie (b. 1893).

Believe it or not, here's where the trail on Israel/Isaac goes cold.  I checked every possible combination of names and spellings, but could only find the Shaffers in the 1910 Census.  Nothing for 1920 or 1930.

Now let's take a look at the tombstone to see if anything can be learned from that.  The death certificate says Cong. Esras Israel, in Proviso, Illinois.  Esras Israel is one of the gates at Jewish Waldheim - Gate 35. Here is a photo of the tombstone of Isaac and his wife:

I had one of my friends translate the Hebrew to see if there were any clues there.  Isaac's says "The important man Isaac (Yitschak) son of Gershon"

His wife's inscription is almost entirely in Hebrew except for "Age 95 Yrs - at Rest."  The translation of the Hebrew for her is: "Toive, daughter of Hillel".  So Toive would be the Taube from the 1910 Census.  I found her death certificate from October 31, 1929 under "Tillie" Schaffer:

When Tillie died in 1929, the Shaffers were still living at 1302 N. Claremont.  By the time Isaac died in 1936, he was living at 1301 N. Campbell in Chicago, which is still standing:

1301 N. Campbell, Chicago

But wait a minute - Israel/Isaac's death certificate says he is widowed but lists his wife as "Sarah" - not Tillie/Toive/Taube.  Did Isaac marry again after Taube's death and outlive the second wife?   I did find a record for an Isaac Shaffer marrying a Sarah Moss but that was in May of 1864, so not the one I am looking for.

One last observation:  people tend to think that if information is listed on an "official" document (birth, marriage, death, census) that it must be correct.  Unfortunately that is not true generally, nor is it true with Isaac and Toive.

Isaac's death certificate lists his date of birth as March 10, 1833, in Lutnick, Russia.  It is very unusual for a Russian Jewish immigrant of that time to know their date of birth so exactly.  In the Jewish shtetls of that era, birth records were not kept, and if a calendar was used at all, it was the Jewish calendar, which does not correspond directly to the Gregorian calendar.  That's why many of these immigrants chose national holidays as their birth dates - they chose a date they could remember. 

We have limited records for Israel/Isaac, but let's see if they line up.

Birth year from death certificate:  1833
Age listed on 1910 Census:  70
Birth year based on 1910 Census:  1840

If Isaac had been born in 1833, he should have told the census taker that he was 77, not 70.

Let's see if Toive's dates line up:

Birth year from death certificate:   1837
Age listed on 1910 Census:  66
Birth year based on 1910 Census:  1844
Age from tombstone:  95

If Toive had been 95 in 1929, her year of birth would have been 1834. In 1910 she should have told the census taker that she was 76, not 66.

Was Isaac Shaffer really 103 when he died in 1936?  Was Toive Shaffer really 95 when she died in 1929? We'll never know for sure, but you can't always believe something just because it is on an "official" document.  You have to weigh each piece of information against the other information you have uncovered.  

Israel Shaffer

Taube Shaffer

May Israel and Taube Shaffer rest in peace.