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.