Friday, July 18, 2014


As I have mentioned before, Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois has many beautiful and distinctive monuments.  I have featured some of the more interesting monuments in this blog, but Waldheim has its share of unusual monuments as well.  Such is the case at Gate 45 - Kovner. Wandering around on a bleak winter day in February of 2012 fulfilling Find a Grave photo requests I happened upon this unusual monument:

As you can see, there is a bust of a solemn looking man at the top. Below that it says:

Levy Wittenberg
Died June 12, 1907

L. Wittenberg
to the
Auel Jacob

I had a feeling that there might be an interesting story here and I was right.  Let's see what we can "dig up" about Levy (also spelled "Levi") Wittenberg, Chicago's matzoh king.

Levy Wittenberg was born in Kolnich, Russia in February of 1850 to Israel Wittenberg and Sara, nee Cohen.  We know that Levy had at least two siblings, Abraham (1865-1934) and Isaac (1880-1937) because they sued Levy for libel in 1903 - but more on that later.  Levy Wittenberg came to the United States in 1880 and settled first in New York and then finally in Chicago.  

While still living in Russia, Levi Wittenberg married Gitel (Katie) nee Newman (1850-1940) circa 1870 while both were twenty years old. Katie told the census taker in 1900 that she had given birth to seven children, and all seven were still alive at that time.  Here they are:

Louis (1870-1915), born in Russia
Hyman (1873-1911), born in Russia
Leah (1875-1945), born in Russia
Ida (1879-1912), born in New York
Levi/Harry (1885-1979), born in New York
Moses/Morry (1888-1975), born in Chicago
Alexander (1889-1941), born in Chicago.  Alexander used the surname "Witte"

In later years Levy said that he had moved to Chicago in 1883 but that is unlikely unless he came out to Chicago ahead of the rest of his family.

Levy Wittenberg became a naturalized US citizen on October 17, 1890.

No matter when he actually arrived, Levi quickly established himself as one of the top Jewish bakers in Chicagoland.  Here is a photo of Wittenberg's bakery, circa 1900:

Levi Wittenberg was not without his share of controversy.  The following article appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune on June 30, 1903:

Charge Him With Libel in Issuing Circulars Attacking Their Business Integrity.

Three brothers are complainants and defendant in a libel case brought before Justice Richardson yesterday.  Abraham and Isaac Wittenberg, bakers at 529 Jefferson street, charging Levy Wittenberg with libel. The trouble started shortly before the Passover feast in April.  The matzos for the feast were bought from Abraham and Isaac Wittenberg, at a reduced price.  Then, it is charged, Levy Wittenberg issued circulars of a libelous character, attacking the quality of the food sold by his brothers.  One circular stated:

"Do not buy from them what are called matzos, while in fact when you open the bundle you find the broken fragments of various food articles."

According to the complainants, the circulars were intended to attack their honest.  Justice Richardson continued the case until July 9th.

It is not recorded how the case turned out, but Levy Wittenberg's bakery was still producing and selling matzoh long after the founder was gone:

Now what about the monument that piqued my interest in the first place?

As I mentioned, at the top is a bust of a stern faced man.  Lower down it says "Levy Wittenberg, Died June 12, 1907" and then "Donated From L. Wittenberg to the Congregation Auel Jacob 1899."

Is the bust at the top a bust of Levy Wittenberg?  Here's his photo, and a closeup of the bust - judge for yourself:

I'm afraid that my research has hit a brick wall here.  I could not find anything about the Congregation Auel Jacob, past or present, nor could I find anything about Levy Wittenberg donating a monument or a bust of anyone.

Levy Wittenberg did die on June 12, 1907 at home, 580 N. Canal Street, from lobar pneumonia complicated by diabetes.  According to his death certificate he was fifty-eight years old:

As I mentioned above, he was buried at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois at Gate 45 - Kovner.  In addition to the imposing monument, his grave is also marked with a more conventional tombstone:

So the mystery of the monument "Donated from L. Wittenberg to the Congregation Auel Jacob in 1899" will have to remain a mystery for now.  Maybe one of my readers will have some information that will solve the mystery for us.  One of the frustrating parts of genealogical research is that there are some mysteries that never are solved; some questions that are never answered. But that's what makes it so much fun, as well.

Levy Wittenberg, Chicago's Matzoh King - may he rest in peace.  

Friday, July 11, 2014


The office where I work closed early on July 3rd to allow everyone to start enjoying the 4th of July holiday early.  So, I used this opportunity to drive out to the South Side of Chicago to Oakwoods Cemetery to photograph some graves for a Find a Grave friend.  It was a beautiful Chicago summer day and Oakwoods is such an interesting and historic cemetery.  I only wish it was a little closer to where I live and frankly in a better neighborhood.  I have never had any problems in the cemetery, but the neighborhood that surrounds it is rough, to put it kindly.  

Anyway, I found the graves I wanted to photograph in Ravinia Section B4 and snapped the photos. I photographed the individual stones as I usually do, and then I stepped back for a shot of the gravesite in the area where it sits, to give the requestor some idea of what that section of the cemetery looks like.  Here's the photo I snapped:

After taking the photos that were requested I stopped to take a look around.  Oakwoods is similar to Rosehill in that every where you look you see history.  What caught my eye here was a zinc monument directly behind the stones I had photographed:

The front of the monument said:

only son of
Wm. R and Bessie C.
September 11, 1887.
3 Years, 5 Mos.
What Hopes Lie Buried Here

Let's see what we can "dig up" about the short life of Willie Omohundro.

William Nathanial Omohundro was born April 20, 1884 in Chicago to William Rainey Omohundro (1861-1900) and Bessie nee Hurdle (1865-1927).

William Rainey Omohundro was born July 8, 1861 in Richmond, Virginia to Silas Omohundro (1807-1864) and Corinna, nee Clark (1820-????). The origin of the name Omohundro has been lost in the mists of time. There are several Omohundro websites that put forth numerous conjectures about the origin of the name, but they all agree that the Omohundro line started in England in the Middle Ages.  The Omohundro family in the United States was said to be descended from original settlers who left England to escape religious persecution. William Rainey Omohundro (and his son William) are direct descendants of Richard Omohundro who fought in the American Revolution in the Virginia Militia.
William Rainey Omohundro's father Silas was a "trader" according to what he told the census taker.  As was the case with many in Virginia at that time, Silas owned slaves.  In the 1850 US Federal Census Slave Schedule, Silas Omohundro listed forty-six different slaves that he owned.  William Omohundro was a lawyer by trade.

Interestingly, in 1776 William Omohundro was one of the signers of the famous "Ten Thousand Name Petition" wherein ten thousand Virginians petitioned for the dis-establishment of the Church of England and the freedom to choose one's own religion.  

In 1882, twenty one year old William Omohundro married seventeen year old Miss Bessie C. Hurdle of the District of Columbia.  She was the daughter of Samuel Vincent Hurdle (1828-1880), also of Washington, DC and his wife Grace Minerva, nee Calvert (????-1897).  Samuel Hurdle was a bricklayer by trade (or as he put it a "brick mason.")

After their marriage, the newlyweds moved to Chicago where William began practicing law.  The Chicago City Directories for the late 1800s show that William R. Omohundro was a patent attorney with his offices at 225 Dearborn Street in Chicago.

On the home front, their first child, a son, named William Nathanial Omohundro was born April 20, 1884 in Chicago. 

Name:William Nathanial Omohundro
Birth Date:20 Apr 1884
Birth Place:Chicago, Cook, Illinois
Father Name:William Rainey Omohundro
Mother Name:Bessie Hurdle
FHL Film Number:1287838

Tragically, little Willie Omohundro died on September 11, 1887 of capillary bronchitis.  He was three years and four months old.  He had only been ill for three weeks.

At the time of Willie's death, the Omohundro family was renting a house at 4400 Lake Avenue in Hyde Park (under the old address system). Living on the south side, a natural choice for a cemetery was Oakwoods, and after little Willie's funeral, they erected the beautiful zinc monument that caught my attention 127 years later:

(I know alot of people don't like zinc monuments but I love them - and they hold up surprisingly well in Chicago's harsh and ever-changing climate.)

Death came again to the Omoundro family again in 1900 when William Rainey Omohundro died suddenly from an attack of appendicitis.  Here is his obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of October 15, 1900:

William Omohundro's widow Bessie went on to remarry.  On December 30, 1909, she married Willliam M. Hopkins (1868-1919), who was also an attorney.  Bessie Hurdle Omohundro Hopkins died in Chicago on June 3, 1927 at the age of sixty-two.  

It was not all sorrow for the Omohundro family - they had a daughter, Bessie (later called Betty), born on February 16, 1889 in Chicago. Bessie Omohundro went on to marry Van Vechten Lain in 1909 and died in Chicago in 1977.  Van V. Lain was chairman of the Lain Funeral Homes - at one time, one of the largest undertakers in Chicagoland.

One more item of note:  Bessie Omohundro Lain and her husband Van had a son in 1912.  They named him (you guessed it) William. 

Little Willie Omohundro - may he rest in peace. 

Friday, July 4, 2014


Inasmuch as today is the Fourth of July, I though that it would be fitting to tell the story of a member of the military who lost their life in the service of our country.  In this blog I have featured men and women who have served all the way back to the Revolutionary War, but up until now I have never featured anyone who lost their life during the Korean War.  So this week, I will tell you the story of the mysterious death of Martin L. Drach.

Readers of the Chicago Daily Tribune of September 7, 1955 saw this startling article:

It Was Murder Says Mother.

Mrs. Roma R. Judt, 2852 W. Belle Plaine av., awaited complete details from the air force yesterday about the fatal shooting of her son, Martin L. Drach, 22, by a Korean guard in Seoul Sunday.

"This is plain murder," Mrs. Judt said.

Drach's fiancee, Patricia Kulick, 18, of 2232 Milwaukee av., concurred.  She said she and Drach, an airman first class, had planned to be married this winter.

Reports His Death.

An air force telegram reported only that Drach was shot to death Sunday by a Korean guard, and said that additional details would be sent by letter.  The telegram, from Maj. Gen. R.J. Reeves, director of military personnel headquarters of the air force read:

"It is with deep regret that I officially inform you of the death of Airman 1/C Martin L. Drach. He died in Korea Sept. 4, 1955, as the result of a gunshot wound inflicted by a Korean guard."

Mrs. Judt said her son may have been the victim of one of the many demonstrations in Seoul protesting the presence of communist truce inspectors.  His last letter mentioned "filth and lack of sanitation" in Seoul, she added.

Want All Facts.

"We want all the facts, a complete probe," Mrs. Judt said.  "If he had been killed in war, all right; but to be shot when there is no war, that's murder.  They must find out the truth."

Miss Kulick, secretary for a Loop real estate firm, said that she and Drach, who had been friends since childhood, became engaged just before he left for Korea.

Drach joined the air force in Chicago Feb 2, 1953.  He had been an assistant manager of a dry cleaning firm.  He was transferred to Korea last February, and was promoted to airman first class Aug 1.  He attended Roosevelt High School.

Martin Drach's mother reading the telegram announcing his murder in Korea

Combat in Korea ended in July of 1953, so Drach was not killed in combat.  It is no wonder that Mrs. Judt said that her son was murdered. Let's look into the life and mysterious death of Martin Drach and see what we can "dig up."

Martin Lester Drach was born May 2, 1933 in Michael Reese Hospital, Chicago to Lester G. Drach (1905-1941), an unemployed clothing salesman and Roma Ruth, nee Martin (1905-1998).  Martin L. Drach was their first and only child.  

1933 was the depths of the Great Depression and times were tough all over.  When their son was born, the Drachs were living at 3844 N. Sheffield in Chicago:

3844 N. Sheffield, Chicago

By the 1940 US Census, Lester and Roma Drach were divorced. Roma (now calling herself "Drake") had a job as a legal stenographer and was living by herself at 745 W. Garfield Boulevard in Chicago.

745 W. Garfield Boulevard, Chicago

Six year old Martin L. "Drake" was living with Roma's mother Tillie and her new husband Albert F. Strand at 2854 Belle Plaine Avenue in Chicago.  

2854 W. Belle Plaine, Chicago

Lester does not seem to have participated in the 1940 US Census, either as "Drach" or as "Drake."   It was reported, however, that Lester Drach died February 21, 1941 in Chicago at the age of 36.  

The next time we encounter Martin Drach is in the Chicago Daily Tribune of May 12, 1952 in an article entitled "Shot by Deputy":


Ray Slapinski, 17, of 3551 Elston av., was in serious condition in Manor hospital yesterday with a bullet wound in his neck.  He was shot earlier in a scuffle with Deputy Sheriff Edward Mack, 64, of 3911 N. Christiana av.  Mack was arrested on a charge of assault with intent to commit murder.

Mack told police he returned home late at night, parked his car in Irving Park rd. around the corner of his house, and called police after getting in an argument with five or six boys in another car.  He said the boys then knocked him down and that he drew his revolver and fired what he thought was a warning shot in the air.

Arrested on assault and disorderly conduct charges were George Peckham, 18, of 3807 N. Albany av.; Robert Hagerstedt, 18, of 3828 N. Francisco av., Roy Walford, 18, of 3705 N. Spaulding av., and Martin Drach of 2852 Belle Plaine av.  Russell Rossman, 18, of 3732 N. Troy st. and Warren Jacobsen, 18, of 4117 N. Albany av. were charged with disorderly conduct.  All are scheduled to appear in Boys' Court today.

Mack had been guarding a prisoner in County hospital.  He had been assigned to the sheriff's police for six years before becoming a deputy about three months ago.

We know from the writeup about his death that Martin Drach had joined the Air Force in Chicago on February 2, 1953.  We do not know if his enlistment in the Air Force was connected in any way with his arrest but if so, he would not be the first young man who had been given the choice of the military or jail.

On September 8, 1953, Martin's mother Roma, remarried.  He new husband was Otto J. Judt (1913-1981) of Chicago.

On March 28, 1955 Martin Drach departed for Tokyo, Japan en route to his final destination of Seoul, Korea where he would meet his untimely death.

On September 8, 1955 the Chicago Daily Tribune published the following article:


Martin L. Drach, 22, was shot to death by a Korean while he and other airmen were talking with Koreans at the fence guarding Kimpo air force base, west of Seoul, his mother, Mrs. Roma  R. Judt, 2852 W. Belle Plaine av., was informed yesterday.  The death occurred Sunday.

Maj. Gen. R.J. Reeves, director of air force personnel, Washington, in a letter, stated that the subject of the conversation was unknown, but that an investigation was being conducted.

Drach, who left for Korea last March, was a radar operator at the jet base control tower.  Drach was to have been married this winter to Miss Patricia Kulick, 18, of 2232 Milwaukee av.

The next (and final) story about the death of Martin L. Drach appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune of September 21, 1955:


Funeral services for Airman 1st Class Martin L. Drach, 22, slain by a Korean guard on Kimpo air force base outside Seoul September 4, will be held Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in the chapel at 3100 Irving Park rd.  his body will arrive today with a military escort.

Drach's mother, Mrs. Roma R. Judt, 2852 Belle Plaine av., disclosed yesterday that her son's squadron commander, Capt. Joseph Wright, wrote that Drach was shot to death while attending a squadron picnic inside the base perimeter fence.

Capt. Wright said a disturbance arose, "inciting" a Korean national outside the fence to summon a Republic of Korea guard who shot Drach "for reasons unknown."  capt. Wright praised Drach's character and ability and said he lived up to the standards of the air force "in all respects."  A complete investigation is being conducted.

Here is the death notice for Martin Drach from the Chicago Daily Tribune of September 22, 1955:

Martin L. Drach is buried in the Irving Park Cemetery in Chicago under a tombstone provided by his mother (not a military issue tombstone):

If there actually was an investigation, the results of it were not released to the public because there is no further mention of Martin L. Drach, his life or his death in the Chicago Tribune except for this small item on the Obituary page of the Tribune on September 4, 1956:

Similar notices were run in September of each year, with the final one appearing in September of 1965:

Roma and Otto Judt retired to Florida where Otto died on December 3, 1981 and where Roma Drach Judt died on July 9, 1998 a the age of  92.

What about Martin Drach's fiancee Patricia Kulick?  She married Frank M. Wilson on March 11, 1957 in Chicago, and there her trail goes cold.

There was nothing further published about the investigation into the death of Martin Drach.  There is probably some report buried in the bowels of the Pentagon but nothing more was released to the public. Whatever the "official" explanation about the death of Martin Drach, I'm sure it was not a sufficient explanation for Roma Judt.  It reminds me of a song written before the United States entered World War I called "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier."  Here is a portion of the lyrics:

Ten million soldiers to the war have gone,
Who may never return again.
Ten million mothers' hearts must break,
For the ones who died in vain.
Head bowed down in sorrow in her lonely years,
I heard a mother murmur thro' her tears:

I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy,
Who dares to put a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
It’s time to lay the sword and gun away,
There’d be no war today,
If mothers all would say,
I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.

Airman 1st Class Martin L. Drach - May he rest in peace.

Friday, May 16, 2014

UNDER THE ARCH - Wolf, Mattie and Louis Goldstein

Last Sunday, as a favor to a Find a Grave friend, I drove way out to the south side of Chicago to Oakwoods Cemetery, the final resting place of many famous Chicagoans.  But I wasn't looking for a grave in Oakwoods; instead I was searching in the small Jewish Cemetery just adjacent to Oakwoods, but not owned or managed by them.

The trip was unsuccessful in that I did not find the grave I was looking for, and also because I managed to pick up several ticks who went up my pants legs as I was searching through the tall, untrimmed grass.  I did, however photograph roughly 400 graves from this forgotten cemetery.  As I was searching row by row, I came across an interesting monument to the Goldstein family:

The arch covered three graves:  Mattie Goldstein (1855-1917), Wolf Goldstein (1854-1935) and Louis Goldstein (1898-1903).  I decided that the Goldsteins would probably provide an interesting story for this blog, and so I set out to find out what I could "dig up" about them.

Wolf Goldstein was born March 17, 1853 (even though that does not agree with his tombstone) in Vilna, which was then a part of Russia.  He arrived in the United States in 1872 when he was nineteen years old.  In 1875 Wolf Goldstein married Mattie Grobgeld who was born August 2, 1854 (that doesn't agree with her tombstone either) in Russia-Poland.  Mattie had come to the US in 1870 when she was sixteen.

As early as 1877 Wolf Goldstein is shown in the Chicago Directory as a merchant of "Notions" at 447 Clark Street (now 1200 N. Clark Street).  The building that was there in 1877 is long gone.

The 1880 US Census shows the Goldstein family living at 415 Clark Street (now 1124 N. Clark Street).  A highrise building now occupies that spot.  Wolf worked at a clothing store, Mattie (or "Mite") was "Keeping House", and they had been joined by son Israel/Theodore (1875-1964) and daughter Minnie (1877-1964). 

By 1887 he was listed in the Chicago Directory as "W. Goldstein & Co. - Shirts" at 154 Fifth Avenue (now 647 N. Wells Street) in Chicago (now a parking lot) with his residence still at 415 Clark Street.  The 1890 US Census for Illinois is, of course, lost. 

On October 18, 1892, Wolf Goldstein registered to vote.  He listed his address as 1256 Wabash Avenue (now a gas station).  He said he had been at that address for two years, in Cook County for nineteen years, and the State of Illinois for twenty-three years.  He was not allowed to vote, however because his papers were "Suspect."

For the 1900 US Census the Wolf Goldstein Family was living at 3248 Wabash Avenue (now the Illinois Institute of Technology).  However, the family has grown significantly.  Joining Wolf, Mattie, Israel/Theodore and Minnie are  Meyer/George (1884-????), Louis (1886-????), Harry (1888-????), Katie (1891-????), and Anna/Annette (1897-????).  Missing is Bernard (1880-1882).

Tragedy struck the Goldstein family in May of 1903 when seventeen year old Louis Goldstein died of scarlet fever.  He died at 155 East 33rd Street (now 411 E. 33rd Street) on May 21, 1903 and was buried the same day - either because of the worry of scarlet fever contagion or because of the Goldstein family's Jewish faith.  Louis had been ill only seven days.  411 E. 33rd Street is now part of the Lake Meadows housing complex.

It was at that time that the Goldstein family bought the cemetery plot at the small Jewish cemetery adjacent to Oakwoods Cemetery, although the large arch had not been erected yet.

The 1904 Chicago Directory showed Wolf Goldstein at 504 63rd Street in Chicago (now a vacant lot).  The 1906 Directory has him at 512 63rd Street (another vacant lot).

The 1910 US Census shows the Goldsteins living at 3436 South Park Avenue in Chicago (the 3400 block of Park Avenue no longer exists).  Wolf listed his occupation as "proprietor of a department store."  The only ones left at home with Wolf and Mattie were Theodore, Katherine and Annette.  The Goldsteins also had a live-in servant, Nellie Belt.

Mattie Grobgeld Goldstein died on March 1, 1917 at the age of sixty-two. 

She died of myocarditis complicated by diabetes. Her address was listed as 5138 S. Michigan Avenue, where she had lived for two years.

5138 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago

Unfortunately today, it is a vacant lot.  Her previous address was listed as 5243 Michigan Avenue.

5243 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago

Here is her Death Notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of March 2, 1917:

When Mattie was buried next to Louis, Wolf Goldstein decided to commission the construction of the arch monument to commemorate his family:

On May 15, 1918 Wolf Goldstein married Ida Krom in Chicago.  Both were said to be sixty years old.

The 1920 US Census shows Wolf and Ida Goldstein living at 3349 Fifteenth Street in Chicago (there is a new apartment building on that site today).  Wolf listed no occupation but told the census taker that he was sixty-nine years old and his wife was sixty-two.  Both said they were from Russia and their mother tongue was Yiddish.
By the 1930 US Census, Wolf and Ida Goldstein were living at 6805 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago. 

680-5 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago

Seventy seven year old Wolf listed his occupation as a retail merchant of dry goods.  Ida was listed as being seventy four.  Wolf told the census taker that he had come to the US in 1864; Ida in 1880.  Wolf said that he had been nineteen when he was first married; he actually had been twenty two.  As the years pass, people's memories for dates tend to get "fuzzy."

Wolf Goldstein's second wife, Ida Krom Goldstein died January 26, 1933 in Evanston, Illinois, leaving Wolf a widower for the second time.  Ida was buried at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, not "under the arch." 

Wolf Goldstein died on October 16, 1935 at 1246 Pratt Boulevard in Chicago.

1246 W. Pratt Boulevard, Chicago

The cause of death was myocardial degeneration with generalized arterio-sclorosis.  He was 82 1/2 years old.  He had had this heart disease for eight years, according to his doctor.  Here is his Death Notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of October 18, 1935:

Wolf Goldstein was laid to rest under the arch, beside his first wife and son.  

As a retired merchant of note, the death of Wolf Goldstein merited a special article in the Chicago Daily Tribune on October 18, 1935:

Today, Wolf, Mattie and Louis Goldstein rest "under the arch" in a forgotten corner of the forgotten Jewish Cemetery next to Oakwoods Cemetery in Chicago.

Well, maybe not forgotten anymore...

May they rest in peace.

Friday, May 9, 2014


Dartmouth College has put together what they call the "The Life Change Index" but what is more commonly known as "The Stress Test".  It ranks life events by the amount of stress they cause in one's life.  The top 10 stress-producing events are: 

1.  Death of spouse
2.  Divorce
3.  Marital Separation
4.  Jail Term
5.  Death of close family member
6.  Personal injury or illness
7.  Marriage
8.  Fired at work
9.  Marital reconciliation
10.  Retirement 

These events cause stress in our lives to be sure; however sometimes even the possibility of the event is enough to cause stress that can sometimes be overwhelming.

The Chicago Daily Tribune from May 24, 1928 carried this shocking story:

The body of a young teacher of Columbia University who shot himself because of fear that he was going to lose his job was found in his department today when he was to have been notified of his reappointment.
He was David Halfant, instructor in economics and a former teacher at the University of Missouri.  Halfant, described as an able instructor and a brilliant scholar, formerly attended the University of Chicago.  He had completed two-thirds of a course for a doctor of philosophy degree at Columbia and was also engaged in research work.
Columbia University authorities indicated Halfant was of a melancholy disposition.  His library, they said, consisted chiefly of German philosophic works of a generally pessimistic nature.  Two sealed letters found near the body were addressed to Bessie Halfant, 2601 Douglas boulevard, Chicago, and to Russell Bander, University of Missouri.  

This is a tragedy, to be sure.  Let's see what we can find out about David Halfant before his untimely death.

David Mandel Halfant (sometimes spelled "Helfant" or "Helfont") was born in Russia on November 17, 1897 to Max Halfant (1868-1941) and Lena  (1879-1948).  He would be joined by a sister, Bessie (1903-1993), in 1903.  The Halfants left Russia in July of 1904, travelling to New York, and then on to Chicago.  Max Halfant was "in the salvage business" which was a polite way to say that he was a junk man.

The Halfant family did not participate in the 1910 US Census, but when David registered for the draft in September of 1918 he listed his address as "1512 Edgemont Avenue" in Chicago.  Edgemont avenue was renamed Grenshaw Street, and the block where David lived is now known as "University Village" a housing development for students of the University of Illinois at Chicago. The entire neighborhood was razed for the building of the university in the 1950s.

As mentioned in the story about his death, David Helfant attended the University of Chicago, graduating January 15, 1920 with a Ph. B. degree.  He was also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa national honor society. 

The 1920 US Census has the Halfant family still living at 1512 Edgemont Avenue in Chicago.  The Halfant family owned the building and occupied one of the apartments, and rented out the three other apartments in the building.  They told the census taker that their mother tongue was "Jewish."  

After graduation from the University of Chicago, David Halfant stayed on for postgraduate studies.  In 1921 he won the prestigious Julius Rosenwald Prize for scholastic excellence and was awarded an A.M. degree.

After graduation he was employed as an instructor at the University of Missouri at Columbia from 1922-early 1928.  In February of 1928 he took up his position as an economics instructor at Columbia University in New York, renting an apartment at the rear of 44 Morton Street in the West Village neighborhood.  It was here that he took his own life on May 23, 1928.

44 Morton Street, New York City

Since the tragedy happened in New York, the New York Times carried a detailed story:

David Halfant, Ph.D. Candidate, 30, Found Dead in Room With Glasses and Hat On.
Was About To Make Trip
Reading of Pessimists Blamed by University - Friends Say He Suspected Discrimination.

A light burned all day Monday in the room of David Halfant, graduate student and instructor in economics at Columbia University, in a three-story building in the rear of 44 Morton Street.  It was noticed again on Tuesday.  Acquaintances of Halfant rang his bell but obtained no response.

When the light was burning yesterday for the third consecutive day, a tenant thought something was wrong and went for Patrick Burns, the caretaker.  He opened the door with a pass key and found the student lying dead on a run in front of the mantelpiece.

The student was fully dressed and his spectacles were in place.  Just over the right eyebrow was the wound of a .45-calibre army bullet.  the revolver lay on the floor.  Several books on the mantelpiece had been knocked down, apparently by the recoil of the revolver.  The circumstances indicated that the student, whose belongings were all packed up for a trip to Washington in connection with research he was doing for the Institute of Economics, had suddenly changed his mind, abruptly decided to commit suicide, had steadied his arm by resting it on the mantelpiece and fired.  His hat lay beside him.  Apparently he was all dressed and ready to go out when the sudden decision to kill himself came upon him.

Two Letters Found.

Because the man was wearing his hat and glasses at the time that he was shot, Captain Athur A. Carey of the Homicide Squad personally visited the room with several detectives, thinking it might be a murder case.  There were no signs of the presence of a second man, however.  Two letters were found on the table in the room, one addressed to his sister Bessie Halfant of 3603 Douglas Boulevard, Chicago, and the other to Russell Bander, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.  Both of these were sealed and whether they disclosed an attempt to commit suicide was not learned.

Mr. Halfant had been worried, according to a statement made on behalf of Columbia University, by the fear that  he would not be reappointed to his position as an instructor in a Columbia University extension course of economics.  He had been so appointed, however, and a letter had been sent to him to notify him of the fact before it was known that he had taken his life.  According to members of the Faculty in economics, Mr. Halfant was a brilliant student and a good instructor.  He had completed two-thirds of his work for a degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Columbia and seemed to be assured of a successful academic career.

 Among the books thrown to the floor, apparently by the recoil of the revolver were Conrad's "Lord Jim," Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" and a volume of Nietzsche.  A report was given out at Columbia University that the reading of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and other pessimists had induced a pessimistic state of mind in the student.

Suspected Discrimination.

Freinds said, however, that his worries were about his own future rather than about the speculations of the German philosophers.  It was said that he had sought appointments, conditional on his obtaining his Ph.D. in New York University, the University of Oklahoma and Brown University, but that he had met with refusals and that he believed these refusals were due to discrimination against him because he was a Russian Jew.  He apparently surmised erroneously that he was in danger of losing his Columbia post on the same grounds.

Mr. Halfant was educated at the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.B. degree in 1920 and his A.M. in 1921.  Before coming to Columbia he had been an instructor at the University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.  He came to Columbia last February, obtained his instructorship and enrolled as a candidate for the Ph.D.

Maybe I am just suspicious by nature (or I have seen too many Perry Mason programs) but this sounds fishy to me - and not just to me.  I gave a draft of this article to a co-worker to read and without any prompting she said "It looks like murder to me."  Perhaps if we knew what the contents of the two letters were, that might change things, but suicide is rarely a spur of the moment act.  Halfant was packed and had his hat on ready to leave for his trip.  How often does someone lean against a mantlepiece and shoot themselves with their hat and glasses on?  If Halfant had received the rejection letter from Columbia that would be different - but he hadn't.

The New York Times had a small follow-up article about the death of David Halfant:

No matter who did it, or why it was done, the fact remained that Professor David Halfant was dead.  The family now had the grim task of getting all of his possessions out of the apartment where he died, and transporting his body back to Chicago for burial.

There was a small Death Notice in the Chicago Daily Tribune on May 26, 1928:

Professor David Halfant was buried at Gate 8 - Chevra Shomer Hadas of Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park.  His family gave him a beautiful tree-type monument with his information enclosed in a heart.  I'm sure his family and friends were bereft.

Professor David Halfant, a brilliant scholar and respected teacher - may he rest in peace.

Friday, April 25, 2014


The name "Boltwood" is familiar to every Evanstonian.  One of the divisions of Evanston Township High School is named Boltwood and one of the largest parks in Evanston was named Boltwood until someone with money came along and asked that it be named after a member of their family instead.  So when I was in Rosehill Cemetery recently and came upon this tombstone:

I knew who was buried under that stone.  Who was Henry L. Boltwood and why is his name important to the history of Evanston?  Let's find out.

Henry Leonidas Boltwood was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on January 17, 1831 to William Boltwood (1802-1875) and Electa, nee Stetson (1808-1899).  Henry was one of eleven children born to William and Electa Boltwood:  Sarah (1827-????), Caroline (1829-1830), Henry Leonidas (1831-1906), Solomon (1833-1833), Caroline Amelia (1835-????), William Francis (1837-????), Edmund (1839-????), Rizpah (1842-1883), John Emerson (1844-1880), Harriet Newhall (1848-1872), and Robert (1852-????).  William Boltwood was a farmer by trade.

Henry Boltwood attended Amherst College in his home town, and worked summers on the local farms to pay for his education.  While attending Amherst he joined the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.  The 1850 US Census shows nineteen year-old Henry Boltwood living at home where he listed his occupation as "Student." After graduation he taught in several New England colleges and academies. 

Henry Boltwood was a changed man by the time the 1860 US Census was taken.  He was living in Derry, New Hampshire.  He gave his occupation as "Primer. Teacher Academy".  He was also a married man in 1860, with a wife named Helen, and a son, Charles who was four years old in 1860. 

On July 31, 1855, Henry L. Boltwood of Amherst, Massachusetts had married Helen Eugenia Field of Charlemont.  Helen had been born June 18, 1830 to Eugene Field (1800-1881) and Abigail, nee Hawkes (1798-1893).  They had been married by "Joseph Field, Minister of the Gospel", probably a relation of Helen's.  Helen's father Eugene was a farmer like Henry Boltwood's father had been. 

Helen Field Boltwood had four siblings, only two of whom lived to adulthood:  Charles Edward (1825-????), Helen Amelia (1828-1829), Theodore Lyman (1832-1833) and Edward Augustine (1837-????).  
Henry and Helen's only child, Charles Edward Boltwood (1856-1884) had been born April 28, 1856.  

When the Civil War broke out, Boltwood  joined the United States Sanitary Commission where he remained to the end of the war.  It was said that although he was not a combat soldier, that Henry Boltwood saw as much of the routine work of a soldier as many of the regular enlisted men. He was present in campaigns through Alabama and Georgia acting in the capacity of a nurse for North and South alike.  Here is a photo of Henry Boltwood from the time when he was with the Sanitary Commission:

While part of the Sanitary Commission, Boltwood also served informally as the chaplain of the 67th United States Colored Infantry.

After the war, Professor Boltwood came to Illinois and took charge of the public schools at Griggsville.  In 1867 he organized the first township high school in the state at Princeton.  Great importance was attached to the study of the English language and a reference library was established.  At one time there were ninety students from abroad enrolled and it was said that one third of all the teachers in the state of Illinois had been students of Professor Boltwood at one time or another.

In 1878, Professor Boltwood established the township high school at Ottawa, Illinois.

He came to Evanston in 1883, and in September of that same year became principal of the Evanston Township High School.  At the very beginning he strengthened the curriculum. He extended the course of study from three years to four. As the school grew and prospered, he added new teachers to the original staff of five. Gradually it became evident that the old high school building was insufficient for the needs of the growing student population and so in 1899 a new high school building was built around the old high school on Dempster Street at Elmwood:

It has been said that there are educators who dream, and there are educators who do.  Boltwood's life shows him to be of the latter classification. 

For instance, it came to his notice that the study of spelling was being sadly neglected in many otherwise excellent high and preparatory schools.  Investigating, he found that there was an out and out indifference on the part of many instructors to the importance of spelling.  But there was also the lack of a manual of spelling which should contain not only the simple but even the more unusual and technical words to be met in modern occupations.  Where others might have written an article lamenting the problem, Boltwood instead wrote a spelling manual which quickly came to be used in high schools and academies all across the country.

Boltwood not only was a scholar, speaking five foreign languages and having written textbooks on spelling, grammar and history, he also enjoyed sports.  In college, he was a long-distance runner and often took walks of up to 20 miles. He played baseball and football until he was 45, and had a lifelong fondness for hunting and fishing. 

Students of his said that Professor Boltwood used to mingle freely with them in their play, taking all the chances of the game just like any boy.  They said he was very kind to anyone needing help of any kind, and many a pupil is under lasting obligation to him, not only for the general inspiration of his teaching, but also for judicious advice and help.

It was said of Boltwood that in his general management of the school he was a leader rather than a driver.  He attended very thoroughly to what was especially his own work, and he expected others to do likewise with theirs.”

It has been estimated that during his lifetime, Boltwood instructed some 6,000 students. Of those, nearly 1,000 went on to 40 different colleges and became doctors, lawyers, financiers, missionaries, businessmen and educators.

The 1900 US Census showed the Boltwood family living at 1218 Benson (now Elmwood) Avenue in Evanston just up the street from the high school:

1218 Benson (now Elmwood) Evanston

The Census shows sixty-nine year old Henry, Helen, also sixty-nine and an "adopted daughter" twenty-three year old Gertrude Boltwood.  Henry's occupation was listed as "Principal High School", Helen had no occupation listed and Gertrude's was "Stenographer."  Helen said that she had given birth to one child, who was not living in 1900.  (Their son Charles had died in 1884).

On July 31, 1905, Henry and Helen Boltwood celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary.  Here is an announcement of the happy event from the Chicago Daily Tribune of August 2, 1905:

January 23, 1906 was a Tuesday.  After the school day was over, Professor Boltwood told his family that he would be spending several hours at the Evanston Club, of which he was a member, and walked to the building, about one half mile away.  On the way he met several friends with whom he talked, seeming to be in a cheerful mood and saying he was enjoying good health.

After arriving at the Club, he started a game of pool with his friend Professor W.H. Cutler.  Boltwood was an avid pool player and for years it was his usual afternoon recreation.  Having just made a shot, he turned from the table, staggered, and collapsed into the arms of Prof. Cutler.  Cutler and J.F. Ward  carried Boltwood to a couch and sent for a doctor, but by the time the doctor arrived, Henry Boltwood had already expired.  He was 75 years old.

Professor Boltwood was said to have been in good health, although his doctor had warned him that an affection of his heart could cause a collapse.  He had only missed one day in the last decade in his attendance at the school.  The cause of death was "Mitral Insufficiency."  Here is his death certificate:

The body, it was decided, would lie in state from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, January 25, in the assembly hall where he had often led services. Twelve high school boys were grouped about the coffin as a guard of honor— classes had been suspended for the week.  Hundreds trooped through the hall that Thursday. The faculty arrived in a body for the services and moved to a special section.  Hymns were sung, a "prominent school athlete" breaking into sobs during "Nearer My God To Thee."  The Rev. J. F. Loba of the Congregational Church spoke of Boltwood's "high personal integrity" and concentration of "all powers on teaching."  Then, in the "yellowish light of the late winter afternoon," Henry Leonidas Boltwood was buried in Rosehill Cemetery just after the five o'clock sunset.

Henry Leonidas Boltwood

May he rest in peace.