Tag Archives: 1930s

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

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His Last Trip to Germany, Part II

Read “His Last Trip to Germany, Part I” here.

In the summer of 1938, Mathias Noehl of Holsthum, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, who had immigrated to America as a young man in 1886,1 returned for a final visit to the place that he considered to be the paradise of his youth. He wrote of his experiences in his memoirs, excerpted here.2

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Holsthum, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany photograph, 2009; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

When Mathias reached the town of Trier, near his home village, he exclaimed, “Oh joy without end! Is it a reality, or only a dream? After forty-four years, back to Trier.” Mathias entered a restaurant, and wrote, “I was served a good meal by a girl from the Mosel, who looks very much like my wife, when fifty years ago she offered her garden products for sale in the market place of Trier. The drinks were also good, but when I made known to her that I came from America, the friendly features of her face froze up and all my hopes to be treated kindly vanished.”3

Although his spirits were dampened by the encounter, Mathias continued, “As I was desirous to reach as quickly as possible my native village, which was five miles distant to the west, I went to an auto-livery. They brought me over the hills of the forefront of the Eifel, to Holsthum.” He reunited with his relatives, and was disheartened to note the absence of those who were lost in the World War:

“The sadness written on their faces gave me to understand how much they had suffered from the shortness of provisions after the World War. Our creator will judge severely those nations who let mountains of foodstuff spoil rather than to help their fellow man, especially the children.”4

Mathias’ return to Holsthum was wrought with emotion. He wrote, “God has helped me to find the way to my old home, but the hour of meeting my relatives again was full of sorrow. Reaching hands, shaking hands, tears of joy running to the earth, I asked myself, ‘Has God spared me no suffering?’ Oh, if only I had remained hidden in my exile in North America.”5

He continued, “Through the lines of the living I hurried to the cemetery, more than one thousand years old, to the kingdom of the dead, to the graves of my parents and brothers. In our house at home, I found all the pieces of furniture […]. There was the old kitchen range in its old place, on which my mother had prepared so many good meals for her seven boys, and shed also many a drop of sweat, and wept tears for her children who were scattered now in all parts of the world.”6 Mathias also visited the Shankweiler Klause, a church located in the forest, for a religious holiday:

“It was very beautiful, especially the singing, which could be heard from the heights of the rock, in all the adjoining valleys. It was so good that I had the privilege to sing with my comrades for the last time in that memorable church. May the echo of our singing be heard from that rocky height for many generations, till the end of time.”7

However, Mathias noted, “The mood of the people was not as joyful among the visitors as in my childhood days. The many baskets of cherries, which on that occasion were formerly sold there, were not there. A late frost had killed all the fruit blossoms, a hard blow for all the Rhineland. Of the many tents, where formerly toys were sold, there was only one left. But the thirst was well taken care of; there was plenty of beer to be had. Though the fruit harvest was a failure, the wheat crop was so much better due to the artificial fertilizer, which was not known formerly in my younger days. They now produced a double crop.”8

Mathias wrote of his time in Holsthum with a sense of wistful melancholy, stating, “I knew well that my stay could not be of long duration, so I made use of every hour to view once more the paradise of my youth, with all the objects of interest that had remained.” He described the two rivers, the beautiful forests, and the fruit trees which he had helped to plant decades before. At one point, Mathias settled down for a nap beneath those trees, admiring the fields before him.9

He wrote, “Awaking from sleep, I did not remember right away where I was […]. The river, flowing close by, threw off its disguise, and proved to be the Enz, and a shout addressed to me from the hill, ‘Heil Hitler,’ recalled me from my condition of drowsiness, into normal consciousness.” Mathias revived himself with coffee, and, “After that, being out of tobacco, I went to the store to buy the much-coveted tobacco, but tobacco is so loaded with taxes that it has to go up in smoke mixed with many herbs and leaves.10

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St. Rochus, Holsthum, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany photograph, 2009; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

“Next day I paid a visit to the chapel of St. Rochus. It was clean, in good repair in spite of its age of 500 years; Christ’s chapel built on a lovely road. May yet many pilgrims enter into thy roof to seek and find consolation. Then I visited the fields which were once the property of my parents and grandparents, and were now divided among brothers and cousins.”

“At last I came to the most beautiful valley of our district. To hear once more the echo, I sang, I called, I shouted, all in vain. The inhabitants of the mountain opposite remained silent, and Theresa Miller, the dairymaid of the same age as myself, whom I saw sixty years ago tending the cows, was not to be seen. Only an eagle flying over a high rock pierced the quiet landscape with its pitiful cries, as though complaining to the misfortune of the Fatherland.”11

Mathias paused to reminisce at a mighty walnut tree under which he recalled his elderly grandfather would enjoy his afternoon naps. Then, “Saying farewell to the paradise of my grandfather, I turned towards the village and suddenly found myself face to face with my old dairymaid, Theresa.” This was a bittersweet reunion, as they exchanged news of long-lost friends.12

Mathias attempted to visit his godmother in Allsdorf, a village four miles away, but he faced difficulties: “The road to this place had been changed during my absence […], and so I lost my way in the beautiful forest. For three hours I ran over roads that were prohibited […] on account of army maneuvers, trying to find my way out.” Mathias happened upon the ruins of the Castle Prümzurlay, where, in the eighteenth century, his grandfather had conducted an orchestra to entertain the noble inhabitants.13

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Prümerburg and Prümzurlay, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany photograph, 2009; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

The next day, Mathias was able to find his way to Allsdorf, and he was pleased to find his relatives well. However, upon his return, he had to avoid the army maneuvers that were taking place in the river valley by cutting through the forest:

“I saw trees freshly cut, to widen the road lying over the way, without seeing any woodcutters. I also saw a red and white flag, diagonal across the road, which frightened me more than any object I had seen in the forests of America or the plains of Canada. Halting for a few moments, I dared to cross the road, and ran as fast as I could towards the valley below.”14

It is evident that although Mathias was deeply sympathetic to the plight of his homeland following the World War, he looked upon Germany’s new direction with suspicion. Indeed, despite his feelings of goodwill towards his kin, he faced intense scrutiny as an American in a land that he could no longer call his own. However, Mathias was determined to make the most of his time there, and although his relatives warned him against it, he made up his mind that he would cross the border into Luxembourg:

“I came at the border of Echternacherbrück into the dreaded crossfire of the German customs official. I showed my traveling papers as well as the sum of money I carried with me, which, according to the customs regulations, was too large to be taken across the border. As a consequence, I was bombarded with questions as never before, since our field watchman had caught me sitting in our neighbor’s apple tree!

“All the money I carried with me, except ten marks, I had to leave behind in the hotel. Then I received permission to cross the frontier. In Echternach, Luxembourg, I found the people very much depressed, on account of the prohibition of the people on the German side to do any trading in their border city of some six thousand inhabitants. In the beautiful marketplace, I thought I saw grass growing between the pavement stones.”15

Finally, Mathias was able to visit his relatives in the village of Bastendorf, with whom he had an emotional reunion. Before Mass with his relatives the following morning, he strolled through the village to collect his thoughts:

“My parents, brothers, and other relatives had promised me everything that was necessary to establish myself as an independent man. But no, as though driven by an invisible power, I stumbled along the steep street as if I was going to a funeral. And now, on the 12th day of July, 1938, I am standing once more at the same crossroad and feel compelled to leave once more the beautiful woods and meadows to return to the land of the dollar.”16

After parting, Mathias wrote that he felt, “Lost in my dream, half this side and half the other side of the Atlantic.” At the border, he gave his remaining 4 Francs to the Luxembourg customs official, in order to ease his crossing, and reported, “I was fairly well treated by the custodians of the law.” He retrieved his money from the hotel and treated five laborers to beer and cigars, “for which they thanked, but they did not enter into any conversation.” Finally, Mathias wrote, “After I had worked myself through all the red tape at Echternacherbrück and received a moral lesson out of the proceedings, I took the stagecoach and arrived at Holsthum.”17

Mathias’ memoirs ended abruptly as he described visiting an abandoned Franciscan hermitage the following day. We know that he returned to northeastern Iowa, where he and his wife had raised nine children. He surely shuddered as he followed the news of World War II in the years to follow, and likely realized how fortunate he had been to return to his childhood home while he still had the chance. However, his memoirs were left incomplete. Mathias passed away on 31 January 1950 at the age of eighty-one.18

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Wedding Wednesday: “A Very Pretty Wedding”

On 17 January 1934, Roy Lewis Christian Walsted and Frances Marie Noehl were married in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.1 Roy was Lutheran, the son of Danish immigrants; Frances was Catholic, the daughter of German immigrants. While Roy was raised in the city, Frances had grown up on a farm. Both had settled in Sioux City apart from their families, seeking employment. Roy worked as a clerk at the Sioux City Gas and Electric Company,2 and Frances was employed in the household of Richard Mullins.3 She provided companionship to his teenage daughter, who was confined to a wheelchair.4 One can’t be sure how Roy and Frances met, but their modest wedding ceremony was described in detail in a local newspaper:

Miss Frances Noehl is Married at Sioux City, Iowa, Recently

Is a Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Matt Noehl of South of New Hampton.

Bride of Mr. Roy Walsted of Sioux City.

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Frances Marie (Noehl) Walsted photograph, ca. 1934, Sioux City, Iowa; digital image ca. 2001, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

A very pretty wedding was solemnized at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament at Sioux City, Iowa, Wednesday morning, January 17, 1934, when Miss Frances Noehl, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Matt Noehl of New Hampton, became the bride of Roy Walsted, Sioux City, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Walsted of Chicago. They were married at 7 a.m. by Reverend Leo Berger. The couple was attended by Mr. and Mrs. Harold McDonald, friends of the couple.

They entered the church and advanced to the alter to the strains of Lohengrin’s wedding march played by Mrs. R. J. Mullins.  Mr. R. J. Mullins sang a solo accompanied by Mrs. Mullins at the piano and Dr. Meis playing the violin.

The bride wore an ankle-length gown of light green crepe, with accessories to match. She carried a beautiful bouquet of American Beauty roses. The bridesmaid wore a dress of black chiffon velvet with accessories to match.

Both the bridegroom and best man wore dark gray suits.

After the ceremony they motored to the home of Mr. and Mrs. John P. Hansen at Morningside, an uncle and aunt of the bridegroom, where a lovely three course breakfast was served to the bridal party and immediate relatives of the couple. After breakfast the newlyweds left on a brief wedding trip to Omaha after which they will make their home at Morningside. Mr. Walsted is employed at the Sioux City Gas and Electric Company.

Mr. and Mrs. Leo Buscher and children, Lillian and Richard, of LeMars, Iowa, were present at the wedding ceremony. Mrs. Buscher is a sister of the bride.

The bride is well and favorably known here, and her many friends in this community join us in congratulating her and extending wishes to her and her husband for a happy future filled with success and contentment.5

What did your grandparents wear when they married? Did they take a honeymoon? And, most importantly, did they marry at 7:00 in the morning?



SOURCES
1 “Miss Frances Noehl is Married at Sioux City, Iowa, Recently,” undated clipping, ca. January 1934, from unidentified newspaper; Adam Family, privately held [personal information withheld].
2 “U.S, City Directories, 1821-1989,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 October 2013), entry for Roy Walsted; citing “Polk’s Sioux City Directory, 1933 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1932),” 332.
3 “U.S, City Directories, 1821-1989,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 October 2013), entry for Frances Noehl; citing “Polk’s Sioux City Directory, 1933 (R.L. Polk & Co., 1932),” 248.
4 Kay (Walsted) Adam, conversations with the author, 2003; notes in author’s files.
5 “Miss Frances Noehl is Married at Sioux City, Iowa, Recently,” undated clipping, ca. January 1934, from unidentified newspaper.

His Last Trip to Germany, Part I

Very few of my immigrant ancestors ever had the opportunity to revisit the countries they left behind, but Mathias Noehl of Holsthum, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany did so on two occasions. Mathias came to America as a young man in the spring of 1886, eventually settling in northeastern Iowa.1 Late in life, he began to write a reflective memoir; its tone was frequently melancholy, hinting at tragedies and disappointments, and it was left unfinished. Mathias wrote warmly, however, of the rural village where he had grown up. His first return trip to Germany was in 1894, to visit his aging parents.2 His second and final return trip was decades later, in 1938, when he himself was an old man.3 Mathias was a keen observer and thoughtful writer, and his memoirs offer insight into the emotions of an immigrant now a stranger in his homeland.

Holsthum, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany photograph, 2009; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Holsthum, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany photograph, 2009; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

As his memoirs are lengthy, today I want to share an excerpt concerning his journey from Iowa to Germany in the summer of 1938. Mathias began, “After having longed for forty-four years to see my old home again, and to visit the land, at the bosom of which I had enjoyed my youth, I was permitted to carry out my desire.” He traveled by train from New Hampton, Chickasaw County, Iowa, to “the indestructible city of Chicago,” before transferring to another train. He wrote, “I met companions who were bound for the same goal, New York, and who created with their singing a joyful frame of mind. The number of homesick travelers increased, from station to station, and the words of the song ‘at last the long desired hour has arrived,’ sounded louder and louder […]. There was an excitement as if we were going to a wedding. We saw roses on every thorn, and when we returned, only the thorns were left.”4

Once arrived in New York, Mathias prepared to board the ship Hamburg:

“A Frenchman advised us not to entrust ourselves on the ocean on such a small boat like the Hamburg (22,000 tons). An Englishman spoke of the short time it would take their steamer to cross the Atlantic. A German warned us of both. And on the streets of New York, a Greek offered us his food wares, and praised the Germans, which was no disadvantage to his business.”5

The chaotic scene at the docks made a lasting impression on Mathias. He wrote, “A dense crowd of human beings, who were tired of America, hustled over the landing bridge with the slogan ‘England or Death!’ Away from the ‘Fortune Wheel’ of America, where they had drawn only blanks. […] They hoped for better things, because no American misfortune could force them out of the ranks of those who struggled for survival. They were followed by young girls from Scotland who were homesick, or who had found bad luck in love. Whichever the motive, they longed to return to the laps of their mothers in Edinburgh. Then came women carrying weeping children, while boys were being dragged along on the coattails of their fathers. Then I saw young married women embracing their husbands with tears in their eyes. Men saying farewell to their wives, tearing themselves away from their embraces, to disappear into the lower part of the boat. Perhaps they had not the means to make the trip jointly. Then came the last reserve of the Knights of Fortune of America. Carrying their small possessions on bent shoulders, with their knees tottering, plunging into the belly of the ship, and blessing the wheel-of-fortune of America with a curse. Queen Mary, Queen of all the boats, sailed on, laden with joy and grief.”6

Noehl, Mathias. “Memoirs.” MS. New Hampton, Iowa, ca. 1938-1950. Privately held by Melanie Frick. Note: Excerpts from an unpaginated German to English translation. Information about the translator and date of translation to come at a future date.

Noehl, Mathias. “Memoirs.” MS. New Hampton, Iowa, ca. 1938-1950. Privately held by Melanie Frick. Note: Excerpts from an unpaginated German to English translation.

He continued, “The sight of the steamer Isle de France was different. When the happy-go-lucky Frenchmen marched down the planks into the rooms of the ship, here you could view and examine all the modern fashions of others, and not so modern, from the latest Parisian costumes to the costume of Adam. […] Fare-thee-well you gay Frenchmen. We once fought with you at our side. […] If all goes well, we may still join hands across the Atlantic, and not as hereditary enemies.”7

“At last we had to go where the German steamer [Hamburg] was anchored. At both entrances there were double guards, looking downcast, which I could not understand. Neither could I understand the police force of twenty-four men marching up and down the landing place. […] After a short while, we one thousand passengers were ordered on board the ship. Tired as we were, we sought our berths […]. It was a nerve-wracking job for our stewards to tell each one the room assigned for him, but as always, we found everywhere the friendliest service. Kindness, goodness, and the friendly, ‘Oh pray, please,’ of the North German were heard in all corners of our steamer, and then I could not help noticing everywhere the German love for order, punctuality, neatness, cleanliness, and kindness. No cross words or unclean talk. All ready to obey. All ready to serve. We had left all our cares behind us in America.”8

The passage was not without a scare, however: “On June 26, we left the Gulf Stream behind us and came into cool water. On the northeastern sky, we noticed a copper coloring, which indicated storm. […] Fishes jumped out of the sea, and our steamer began to heave ominously, and to sink again. Waves high as a house descended upon one another, and plunged into the awful abyss […]. Women made desperate attempts while vomiting to maintain their equilibrium on the boat, heaving to and fro. Seasickness on board, tables were knocked to the floor, someone broke a leg on the deck. I myself, in order not to be thrown over, grasped several chairs and rolled over against the iron wall, while the thunder was rolling. A speech to be made by the captain was cancelled. Seamen loaded with life belts rocked to the high fore deck where we had to assemble, in case the worst would come. I had picked an Englishwoman with whom I should share a life belt, in order to become a solitary food for the big fish, in case I should not be spared the jump into eternity. But, as on Lake Genesareth long ago, the storm abated […].”9

Mathias also wrote of the friendships forged with the other passengers – English, Irish, French, Swiss – throughout the ocean crossing. At each stop, more passengers disembarked:

“Thus reducing more, our family of one thousand passengers, without hope of seeing each other again. Although we had faced each other as enemies in the World War, we had become fast friends during our brief sojourn on the boat. And, many left us with tears in their eyes. Unbelievable, for those who have never seen such a scene. The anchors are lifted, the band plays ‘Farewell,’ whistles sound as signals, handkerchiefs are waved.”10

At last, Mathias’ voyage came to an end: “Land in sight: the Fatherland! The new Germany dressed in its best summer clothes, June 30, 1938, and now we began nervously to pack our clothes, to present our passports, to receive our railway tickets, to give tips to our stewards, to thank for congratulations, etc. At the command of the Captain, our steamer jerked into its landing place, where a thousand years before, St. Bernard had preached; where Rembrandt had painted his pictures; where the poets had sung their songs.”11

Of course, as it turns out, Mathias Noehl had impeccable timing when planning this last trip to Germany, just months before Kristallnacht and a year before the invasion of Poland. I will share the next chapter of his memoir another day, which details his experiences revisiting his beloved Holsthum, and his dismay at the inevitable changes that were brought upon his home district of Bitburg-Prüm.

Read “His Last Trip to Germany, Part II” here.

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