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. Continue reading

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A Pioneer Cemetery

On a flat patch of land off a dirt road in southeastern South Dakota, not far from the predominantly Czech community of Tabor, a small Danish pioneer cemetery can be found.

Elm Grove Cemetery, Yankton County, South Dakota photograph, 2019; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

Elm Grove Cemetery is said to date to the summer of 1875. The first child of Danish immigrants Christian and Mathilde Elise (Bramsen) Olsen, Marie Evengiline, was born that June, but lived only two weeks.1 Devastated at her loss, her father fashioned a small wooden casket and stained it pink with the juice of wild raspberries, while her mother lined it with fabric cut from her best dress.2

Baby Marie Evengiline was buried on a corner of the Olsen homestead and a small cedar tree was dug from a ravine and planted at her grave. As the story goes, it was soon trampled by the cattle who roamed freely as they grazed. Mathilde implored Christian to fence their daughter’s grave, and he obliged, thus designating an acre on a corner of their property as a cemetery.3 It was incorporated as Maple Grove Cemetery in 1907—not as Cedar Grove, as one might have thought—and today is known as Elm Grove Cemetery.4

No stone marks the grave of Marie Evengiline, nor the graves of up to a shocking seven of her infant siblings.5 The graves of her maternal grandparents, Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen, who died within a decade thereafter, are also unmarked. However, numerous headstones exist at the graves of pioneer kin who were buried there in the years to come, among them her parents Christian and Mathilde.

Christian Olsen (1845-1909) was said to have immigrated from Denmark to Dakota Territory in 1866 at the age of twenty-one, while Mathilde Elise Bramsen (1842-1935) immigrated alongside her parents in 1872 at the age of thirty.6 They married circa 1874 and together farmed the one hundred and sixty acres in Yankton County that Christian had acquired under the Morrill Act—a farm conveniently located within walking distance of the homestead of Mathilde’s sister and brother-in-law, and boasting a house made of homemade clay and straw bricks that Christian had built himself.7 The names of six of their supposed ten children are known: Marie Evengiline, Edward, Mary, Anna, Henry, and Cecilia.8 Only two of their children, Edward and Anna, survived to adulthood, and they, too, are buried at Elm Grove Cemetery.

Today, the Elm Grove Cemetery is shady and well-tended, with a chain link fence duly keeping any rogue livestock at bay. Although it is bordered on two sides by homes, on the others it faces windswept plains almost as far as the eye can see—a view perhaps not entirely unlike that of nearly one hundred and fifty years ago.

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

George and Leota

No wedding portrait of George Hiram Thoma and Anna Leota Fenton is known to exist. When they married on 23 March 1902, George was twenty-one years old while Leota had just celebrated her twenty-second birthday.1

And in fact, while photographs of their children abound, the earliest photograph yet uncovered of George and Leota together was taken twenty-six years later.

Leota (Fenton) Thoma and George Thoma, Sioux City, Iowa, 1928; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

Another, a sharper yet more serious snapshot, was taken perhaps a decade or more after that.

Leota (Fenton) Thoma and George Thoma, 3500 Block of Nebraska Street, Sioux City, Iowa; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

George and Leota had spent their first few years of marriage together not as Mr. and Mrs. Thoma, but as Mr. and Mrs. Neilson, before abruptly discarding this mysterious alias.

They had moved no less than half a dozen times within their first quarter-century together, first as newlyweds from Ashton, Iowa to Center, Nebraska, then to Sioux City, Iowa, then to Bassett, Nebraska, then to Decatur, Nebraska, then to Scribner, Nebraska, and finally back to Sioux City.

They had taken risks and faced failure as aspiring homesteaders and entrepreneurs.

But they had succeeded in raising four children together: Fenton, Fern, Norma, and Betty.

After years of effort to find a place to call home, they settled into a comfortable life together in Sioux City surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

They are remembered as “super grandparents” and as good, kind, fun-loving people who celebrated more than sixty years of marriage together.2

(Just not all of them were spent as Mr. and Mrs. Thoma.)

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

Disturbing the Peace: A Skirmish at a Secret Society

Two days after the birth of his second child, Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa got himself into a scuffle. On 26 August 1913, the Sioux City Journal reported:

After the Goat, Maybe

H. J. Adams [sic], 218 Market street, was taken into custody at 10 o’clock last night by Patrolman William Dempsey, who declared that Adams tride [sic] to break up a lodge meeting in a hall near Fifth and Douglas streets. Adams said that trouble started when he forgot the password. When the police arrived at the scene a battle was being waged between Adams and the other lodge members. He was charged with disturbing the peace.1

Henry, a carpenter by trade who was at that time thirty-two years old, was slight of build and no more than five feet five inches tall.2 Any further details of his encounter with the lodge members are unknown, including the identity of the lodge itself. The 1912 Sioux City Directory lists a number of “secret societies,” also known as fraternal organizations, located at or near Fifth and Douglas streets. The night of Henry’s encounter was a Monday, and assuming the locations and meeting times did not change between 1911, when the directory was printed, and August 1913, the only lodge meeting held on Monday nights at Fifth and Douglas streets was the Improved Order of Red Men.3 Why Henry was desperate to gain entrance to the meeting is anyone’s guess; perhaps he had a prior conflict with the organization, or perhaps he simply stumbled upon the meeting when out for a night of carousing away from the squalls of a newborn baby.

From left: Melanie (Lutz) Adam, son Gerald Joseph Adam, Henry Joseph Adam, and son Leon Francis Adam, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, circa 1915; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

In any case, however, Henry was let off easy. A newspaper headline the next day announced “LENIENCY FOR HUSBAND,” and the subheading stated: “Wife Recently Became Mother, and Man Gets Freedom.” It was reported that Henry had been released the previous day out of “sympathy toward the wife.”4

Henry’s wife of almost eight years, Melanie Veronica (Lutz) Adam, must have been sincerely embarrassed by this turn of events, particularly as she was an upstanding member of a fraternal organization herself. Both Henry and Melanie were also active members of Sioux City’s Saint Jean Baptiste Catholic Church, not to mention the parents of two young children.5 However, if no news—meaning no more headlines—truly meant good news, it seems that Henry may have been able to avoid further trouble with the law for many years to come. As for whether he ever found a place within one of Sioux City’s secret societies, he did, in fact, with the Knights of Columbus.6

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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Tombstone Tuesday: Lorenz Stoehr (1790-1876)

Lorenz Stoehr was born in or near Weißenstadt, Upper Franconia, Bavaria, Germany, a village located a mere twenty miles from what is now the Czech Republic.1 Weißenstadt was named “white city” as a nod to its landmark white church, and is situated on the shore of a lake in the Fichtel Mountains.2 From the inscription on Lorenz’s tombstone, his birthdate can be calculated to 04 September 1790.3

As a young man, Lorenz served approximately six years in the military during the Napoleonic Wars, first under Napoleon and then, as allegiances shifted, with the Germans.4 As the story goes, he was eventually wounded on a march to Paris and was then discharged and granted a pension.5 Lorenz was trained as a master tailor, a trade he pursued during the winter months as the summer months were consumed with his labors as a farmer.6 Amazingly, several mementos of these chapters of his life survive today: buttons from his military uniform, his discharge and pension paperwork which granted him the amount of five Gulden each month for the remainder of his life, and an 1828 purchase agreement for approximately one and a half acres of land in the Weißenstadt area.7

Lorenz was married to Barbara Feicht in 1820 or shortly thereafter, and with her had the following known children: Margaretha B. (1824-1897), Johann Wolfgang (1826-1883), Eva Margaretha (1831-1906), George Adam (1833-1915), and Johann Friedrich (1842-circa 1857).8

In 1853, at the age of sixty-two, Lorenz arrived in New York harbor aboard the Solon.9 Traveling with him were his wife and youngest daughter; his sons had made their way to America the year prior, disembarking in New Orleans before making their way up the Mississippi River to the community of Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa.10

Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (www.findagrave.com : accessed 26 January 2019), photograph, Lorenz Stoehr (1790-1876), Memorial No. 69221239, Elgin City Cemetery, Elgin, Fayette County, Iowa; photograph by Tammy Miller, 2015.

Lorenz was widowed in 1855 and spent the years thereafter at the homes of his children.11 In 1856, he lived with his daughter Eva and her husband Hiram Hammond on their farm in Clayton County; in 1860 and 1870, he could be found at the home of his son George, a jeweler and dry goods merchant, first in Clayton County and then in neighboring Fayette County, Iowa.12

Lorenz Stoehr died at the age of eighty-six on 07 December 1876, likely at the home of his son in Elgin, Fayette County, Iowa.13 He is buried at the Elgin City Cemetery where an upright tombstone marks his grave.14

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Danish Marriage in Sioux City

It was 09 December 1909 when Jens Jacob “James” Walsted and Kathrine Christensen were married by Reverend Julius A. Larson of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.1 Both James and Kathrine had been born in Denmark; both had left their native country several years prior, James in 1902 and Kathrine in 1906.2 At the time of their marriage, James was twenty-nine years old and Kathrine was twenty-three.3

Sioux City’s sole Danish church, located at 1113 12th Street, was organized in 1890, and met in a former Norwegian Lutheran Church that was moved to this site in 1892.4 While what may well be this original building, a modest one-story frame structure situated in a residential neighborhood, still stands to this day, it is now the Iglesia de Dios Evangelio Completo Pentecostes. At the time that James and Kathrine were married, however, it was home to a congregation of nearly two hundred and sixty Danish Lutherans, and it seems quite likely that it was through this immigrant community that James and Kathrine had the opportunity to meet.5 There is no known account of their marriage, nor any known photographs.

The couple settled in Sioux City, where in 1910, within a few months of their marriage, they could be found rooming at a property on the corner of 7th and Pearl Streets in downtown Sioux City, a location that is now a parking lot across the street from a children’s museum.6 James worked as a bricklayer, and family lore suggests that he may have helped lay the brick for St. Boniface Catholic Church at this time.7 Kathrine, who before her marriage had been a servant at a house that stood on what is now the campus of Bishop Heelan Catholic High School, was at home.8 The couple’s first child, Roy Louis Christian, would be born in 1911.9

Kathrine (Christensen) Walsted and son Roy Walsted, Sioux City, Iowa, 1911; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018.

The congregation of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church eventually outgrew their space on 12th Street, and in 1922 a new church, located at 1924 Jones Street, was dedicated.10 In 1930, the church was renamed Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, and within a few years, Danish language services ceased.11 Some seventy years later, the church once again introduced bilingual services, this time in Spanish, but soon after, in 2009, the church closed its doors.12

At the time that James and Kathrine married, Sioux City’s population was nearly forty-eight thousand, and included a diverse immigrant population represented in its many foreign-language churches.13 For recent immigrants James and Kathrine, it must have been a great comfort to find there a close-knit Danish community that shared their native language and cultural heritage.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Danish Family Portrait

The Schmidt family left Denmark for America in 1870, when Jens Madsen Schmidt was thirty-five years old and his wife, Anna (Bramsen) Schmidt, was thirty-seven.1 With them were their two young daughters, Inger Marie, who was not yet three, and Christine, who was just twenty months old.2 Jens and Anna had married in 1866, not long after Jens was discharged from military service following the Second Schleswig War.3

Jens Madsen Schmidt, Anna [Bramsen] Schmidt, and daughters Inger Marie and Christine, ca. 1869-70; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018. Image courtesy of Alvie Jorgensen as printed in A Few of my Grandchildren’s Ancestors (Massachusetts: Alvie Jorgensen, 1989).

This is the oldest known photograph of the Schmidt family, believed to have been taken shortly before they departed Denmark or soon after their arrival in America. Dated circa 1869-70, it is quite possibly a carte de visite, a small card-mounted photograph popular before the larger cabinet card format became more common in the 1880s.4 The family may have wanted to share copies with their family members at home; while Anna’s parents would later follow them to Dakota Territory, Jens’s parents would not.

In the photograph, Jens and Anna sit side by side in a carpeted studio, their daughters perched on their laps. Jens is heavily bearded, although his upper lip is clean-shaven. His hair is brushed back from his forehead and he wears loose trousers in a lighter color than his jacket, a similarly dark shirt buttoned underneath. Anna’s hair has a center part and is pulled back, although it seems that it may be looped over her ears. Her headwear looks vaguely medieval in appearance, something like a circular roll with a scarf at the back, although its true style is unclear as well. Additionally, few details can be distinguished of her dress, which is obscured by the child on her lap. The silhouette of the full sleeves gives the suggestion of Bishop sleeves, which would have been gathered at the cuff.5 There appears to be some detail at the neckline of the dress—perhaps a white collar with a bow tied above—and the skirt is long and full. Her attire, with the exception of her headwear, appears relatively modern and less like one tends to think of as traditional Danish folk attire.

Fair-haired Inger Marie and Christine appear to wear tot-sized versions of their mother’s overall style of dress. The scalloped hem of a petticoat peeks out from under Inger Marie’s skirt; Christine’s petticoat has a straight hem. Both wear stockings and shoes. It is possible that their dresses are made of matching fabric; less than thirteen months apart in age, the girls could almost appear to be twins.

This photograph appears in a spiral-bound volume entitled A Few of My Grandchildren’s Ancestors, researched and compiled by late Schmidt descendant Alvie Jorgensen nearly thirty years ago, as well as in the Yankton County Historical Society’s 1987 publication History of Yankton County, South Dakota.6 It would be exciting to view a high resolution scan of the image to observe more details and, perhaps, even learn the exact location that it was taken. The next known photograph of the Schmidt family was taken nearly twenty years later at their homestead in what is today Bon Homme County, South Dakota. Although they were by that time young women, Inger Marie and Christine wore matching dresses.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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