The Young Musicians

At first, Leonard and Helen might have seemed like an unlikely pairing.

Leonard John Christian Wiese was a city boy through and through, born and raised in Chicago. Helena Margaret Nelson, on the other hand, was a farm girl from rural southeastern South Dakota. Chicago’s population in 1920 numbered over two and half million, while the largest town within the vicinity of Helen’s family’s farm had a population of only five thousand.

Leonard Wiese and Helen Nelson, South Dakota, circa 1922-23; digital image 2014, privately held by B.S., 2019.

Their heritages also differed. Leonard’s parents had immigrated to America from Germany as children, while Helen’s parents had immigrated to America from Denmark.1 However, despite different familial origins and native languages, Leonard and Helen had a surprising amount in common.

Both were born in the year 1900, and both were younger children in large families—Leonard the last of five, and Helen the sixth of nine.2

Leonard Wiese and Helen Nelson, South Dakota, circa 1922-23; digital image 2014, privately held by B.S., 2019.

Both lost their fathers as teenagers. Leonard’s father, Fred, died when Leonard was thirteen years old, and perhaps because of the need to help support his mother, Leonard entered the workforce after completing the eighth grade.3 Helen’s father, also named Fred, died when she was seventeen; shortly thereafter, she began teaching country school.4

Both saw older brothers serve in the First World War.5

Both lost older sisters to tragic circumstances in the year 1918.6

Both were raised as members of the Lutheran church.7

Perhaps their most significant commonality, however, was their shared love of music. Leonard was a talented violinist, while Helen played the piano, and their talents made them popular entertainers within their respective social circles.8

Leonard Wiese and Helen Nelson, South Dakota, circa 1922-23; digital image 2014, privately held by B.S., 2019.

As the story goes, as a young man, Leonard worked at the docks in Chicago while his older brother Oliver worked for the railroad. Oliver obtained tickets west so that he and Leonard could seek seasonal farm work, and the industrious brothers wound up in Yankton County, South Dakota.9 Leonard, of course, had brought along his violin, and it has been surmised that one way or another, word spread that a young man with musical talent was in the area. Wouldn’t he get along swell with a certain young pianist? Before long, the Wiese brothers had made the acquaintance of the Nelson sisters, among them Helen and her older sister Louise.10 

Oliver and Louise married in Yankton on 01 June 1922, and after a courtship documented in a few surviving snapshots, which offer a glimpse of light-hearted moments shared together, Leonard and Helen married in Chicago on 05 January 1924.11

Happily, music remained a shared passion throughout their twenty-three years of marriage, and it was their delight to engage their two daughters in their very own Wiese Family Band.12

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.


SOURCES
1 “Hamburg Passagierlisten, 1850-1934,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 July 2013), manifest, Electric, Hamburg to New York, leaving 1 November 1868, Joachim Wiese; citing Bestand [inventory no.] 373-7I, VIII, A1 (Auswanderungsamt I [Emigration List – Indirect]), Band [vol.] 022; Staatsarchiv Hamburg microfilm series K1701-K2008, S13116-S13183, and S17363-S17383; “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 October 2013), manifest, S.S. Silesia, Hamburg, Germany to New York, arriving 12 October 1869, Ernst Stübe; citing National Archives microfilm M237, roll 319; “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 September 2013), manifest, S.S. Humboldt, Stettin, Germany, to New York, arriving 4 August 1874, Niels Olsen; citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, roll 392, line 149; and “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 March 2014), manifest, S.S. Allemannia, Hamburg, Germany, to New York, arriving 30 June 1870, J.M. Schmidt; citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, roll 331, line 38.
2 “Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2019), entry for Leonard John Christian Wiese, baptism, 01 December 1900, Chicago, Illinois; citing Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Archives; Elk Grove Village, Illinois, and “South Dakota Births, 1856-1903,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2019), Helen Margaret Nelson, 04 December 1900, Yankton; citing South Dakota Department of Health, Pierre.
3 Cook County, Illinois, death certificate no. 27281 (reg. no.), “Fredrick Wiese,” 14 October 1914; digital image, Cook County Clerk’s Office: Genealogy Online (http://cookcountygenealogy.com : accessed 15 July 2013), and 1940 U.S. census, Yankton County, Iowa, population schedule, Township 93 Range 56, enumeration district (ED) 68-25, sheet 1-A, p. 221 (stamped), family 5, Leonard Wiese; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2019), citing National Archives microfilm publication T627, roll 4481.
4 “Funeral of Late Fred Nielson,” Yankton Press and Dakotan, 29 October 1918, p. 5, col. 5; South Dakota State Historical Society, and “Funeral Services for Andrea Nelson,” undated clipping, ca. December 1918, from unidentified newspaper; Adam Family, privately held by Melanie Frick.
5 “Military History – Yankton County Roster of World War I,” in Ben Van Osdel and Don Binder, editors, History of Yankton County, South Dakota (Yankton, South Dakota: Curtis Media Corporation and the Yankton County Historical Society, 1987), 92, and Oliver Wiese, 1918; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.
6 “Death Certificates, Pottawattamie County, 1904-1920,” in “Iowa, Death Certificates, 1904-1960,” digital images, FamilySearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 30 September 2018), entry for Andrea Nielsel [Andrea Nielsen], 28 November 1918, Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County, Iowa; citing Iowa Department of Health and the State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, and “Cook County, Illinois, Deaths Index, 1878-1922,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2019), entry for Rose Rowlett, 16 January 1918, Oak Park; citing “Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916–1947.”
7 “Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940,” entry for Leonard John Christian Wiese, baptism, 01 December 1900, Chicago, Illinois, and “Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2019), entry for Helena Margaret Nelson, confirmation, 12 July 1914, Yankton, South Dakota; citing Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Archives; Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
8 Phyllis (Wiese) Adam, conversation with Melanie Frick, 13 June 2012; notes in author’s files. Phyllis is the daughter of Leonard and Helen (Nelson) Wiese.
9 Phyllis (Wiese) Adam, conversation with Melanie Frick, 13 June 2012.
10 Phyllis (Wiese) Adam, conversation with Melanie Frick, 13 June 2012.
11 “South Dakota Marriages, 1905-2017,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 May 2019), entry for Oliver C. Wiese and Louise C. Nelson, 01 June 1922, Yankton; citing South Dakota Department of Health, Pierre, and “Nelson-Wiese,” unidentified newspaper from Chicago, Illinois, January 1924; Adam Family, privately held by Melanie Frick.
12 Phyllis (Wiese) Adam, conversation with Melanie Frick, 13 June 2012.

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3 thoughts on “The Young Musicians

  1. Douglas Adam

    We both really enjoyed reading this. The interesting note is, that from the front yard of our new home in Yankton, we can see the back of the house where Grandma lived 80 years ago. She sure as hell took a long ride around before coming back.

    >

    Reply

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