Tag Archives: Chicago

A Vintage Photo Strip

Long before photo booths gained popularity, Leonard Wiese of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois posed for this quaint series of photographs. Printed on a strip of flimsy paper, each individual photograph is about the size of a postage stamp. Leonard, the son of German immigrants Fred and Emma (Stübe) Wiese, was the youngest of five children,1 although an elder sister had died before he was born.2 He likely spent his early years at 46 Thomas Street,3 before his family moved to a new home, a large frame house, at 2502 North Neva Avenue.4 His father earned a living as a cigar maker, and must have done well in order to be able afford this home for his family.5


Leonard Wiese, ca. 1905, Chicago, Cook, Illinois; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Leonard looks to be about five years old in these photographs, dating them to approximately 1905. His hair is parted sleekly to the side, and he wears a white collared shirt with a patterned necktie. In the first three photographs, he poses formally while sitting upright in a chair. He has the hint of a smile in one, and artfully places his hand behind his head in another. In the final two photographs, he sports a pint-sized sailor cap while leaning playfully over the back of a wooden chair. His neat hair and dress suggest that these photographs were planned, yet the poses and setting seem more informal than what I would typically expect from a studio.

My first inclination, given the photo strip format, was to think that these photographs came from some sort of early predecessor to a photo booth, as automated photo booths didn’t spring up until 1926. Could there have been some sort of inexpensive arcade studio popular twenty years before? I also wondered if they might have been taken with an early model of a Kodak Brownie camera; another possibility is that they were proofs from which larger prints could be ordered. What do you think? This photo strip could easily have been cut apart and the individual photographs shared with friends or relatives. However, left intact, it allows a glimpse into several moments in Leonard’s boyhood in Chicago more than a century ago.

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A Chicago Couple


Fred and Emma (Stube) Wiese, ca. 1900; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

This glimpse into a backyard garden at the turn of the twentieth century features Fred and Emma (Stube) Wiese of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Fred rests his hand on a trellis while Emma stands close by his side, her hand on her hip. Their arms barely brush together as they gaze directly at the camera.

Emma wears everyday attire in the form of a simple dark skirt and a collared shirtwaist. Her skirt is belted high, with an adornment of some kind at the center of the waistband. It looks to me like she could have been pregnant at the time that this photograph was taken, which seems entirely possible as she was pregnant no less than five times between 1887 and 1900.1

However, Emma’s sleeves are not nearly as full as those seen during much of the 1890s, nor are they as tight as those of the decade prior. Perhaps this suggests that the photograph dates closer to 1900,2 which is when her youngest child was born.3 She and her husband were both in their early thirties at this time, and I don’t feel that they could have been significantly younger in this photograph.4

Fred wears somewhat loose trousers and a collared shirt, set off by a buttoned vest and a checked bow tie. Most notably, he sports a full mustache, and what hair he has is cut short. With the exception of his pants, which typically would be more fitted, this, too, fits the time period.5

The photograph, pasted on an embossed white card, is clear and of good quality, despite the fact that it is a seemingly casual shot. Might it have been taken by a traveling photographer who passed through the neighborhood, offering his services? Fred and Emma are not dressed in their best, although their simple attire was certainly presentable enough for a photograph. Perhaps their urban garden was a source of pride, making it an ideal spot for the couple to pose together.

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Wedding Wednesday: Swell Times in Chicago


Leonard and Helen (Nelson) Wiese, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, 1924; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

On the evening of 5 January 1924, Leonard John Christian Wiese and Helen Margaret Nelson were married in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.1 Leonard had been raised in Chicago, the son of German immigrants,2 whereas Helen had been raised in rural Yankton County, South Dakota, the daughter of Danish immigrants.3 The couple met when Leonard sought work in South Dakota, and he and Helen bonded over a shared love of music.4 Leonard and his bride-to-be then moved to Chicago, where they were wed in the home of Leonard’s widowed mother.5 Since Helen’s family was not able to be with them, she wrote a detailed letter home describing their wedding day:

My dear folks,

Now I think that this letter will have to be passed around so I won’t have to repeat all the details of the past few days. We are married! Yes. Now then I will endeavor to tell you the points which I think will be of interest to you.

My dress was very plain but everyone liked it. Dark brown brocaded silk with short sleeves and sort of a drape on the skirt. I have a new coat and hat and new satin shoes.

Well, there were eighteen grown people here. We were married at 9:30. Stanley Smith played the wedding march and Irene and I came from upstairs and met the other two in the room. After the ceremony, a shower of rice descended upon us and the best man and several of the others took advantage of the privilege of kissing the bride. So it was on the order of some of the weddings you read about!!!

Then we had dinner. Turkey, chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, corn relish, cranberries, dressing, Jello, coffee, etc. A huge wedding cake adorned the center of the table. This cake was made to order. You people are going to have some of it. I baked two angel food cakes and a sponge cake. That’s all I did in helping preparations.

I spent some time at the hairdresser’s! Oh, I looked real swell!!!

After supper we had music and some of the men played cards. Then after awhile we started the Victrola and we all danced.

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Tombstone Tuesday: Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe

Word traveled fast in the genealogical community yesterday when it was announced that Ancestry.com had acquired Find A Grave. (Yes, it will still be free.) Find A Grave has grown to be an invaluable database of gravestone images worldwide based on collaborative efforts by volunteers. Frequently, photographs, biographies, and obituaries are included alongside the gravestone images, and visitors can leave virtual tributes.


Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 1 October 2013), photograph, Friedrieka Stube (1843-1891) and Ernst Stube (1839-1879), Memorial Nos. 67992191 and 67992204, Huntley Cemetery, Huntley, Illinois; photograph by Zavada Family, 2012.

Did you know that if there is not a photograph of your ancestor’s grave already online, you are able to put a request out to volunteers via Find A Grave? Thanks to a volunteer for the Huntley Cemetery of Huntley, McHenry County, Illinois, I was able to see the graves of my ancestors Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe from miles away.

My grandmother had visited their graves years ago and had made rubbings of the fading German inscriptions on the headstones. Unfortunately, the sandstone-like headstones were slowly but surely wearing away through the weather extremes of northern Illinois. I had no clear photographs of the graves, and hoped that someone might be able to confirm to me that they were still standing and at least somewhat legible. Thanks to the aforementioned volunteer, who very kindly gave permission for her photographs to be used for personal genealogical purposes online and made not one, but two trips to the Huntley Cemetery to photograph the graves of Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe, they are now documented on Find A Grave.1

Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe, originally of Friedrichshof, Ritteramt Gnoien, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany,2 arrived in New York in October of 1869.3 Their eldest daughter, Emma, my direct ancestor, was barely two years old at the time of their crossing; three more daughters, Lena, Minna, and Bertha, were later born in Illinois.4 The family lived in Chicago for a time, likely witnessing the Great Chicago Fire of 1871,5 before relocating to a farm near Huntley, McHenry County, Illinois. Later, it was recalled that, “Surrounding the cabin was a large garden space and a beautiful garden. All that remains is a pile of stones. It was located on what is now the Dieke farm directly across from the Harold Kunde farm on the Clanyard farm.”6

In 1879, ten years after his arrival in America, Ernst died at the age of forty.7 No death certificate could be located to provide details on what befell him.8 Shortly thereafter, Friederike relocated again to Chicago, where she supported her young daughters, ranging in age from two to twelve, as a seamstress.9 Life was surely difficult for this single mother of four; Friederike succumbed to typhoid fever in 1891, when she was forty-eight.10 She was buried beside her husband at the Huntley Cemetery.11

Do you have a Find A Grave success story?

1 Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 1 October 2013), photograph, Ernst Stube (1839-1879) and Friedrieka Stube (1843-1891), Memorial Nos. 67992204 and 67992191, Huntley Cemetery, Huntley, Illinois; photograph by Zavada Family.
2 Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, Census, 1867,” Friedrichshof, Ritteramt Gnoien, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, Ernst Stübe; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 October 2013), citing Mecklenburg-Schwerin (Großherzogtum), Volkszählungsamt, “Volkszählung am 3. Dezember 1867,” Landeshauptarchiv Schwerin, 5.12-3/20 Statistisches Landesamt (1851-1945).
3 “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.
4 1880 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, Enumeration District (ED) 144, p. 257-C (handwritten), dwelling 25, family 74, Ricka Stüve; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 October 2013), citing National Archives microfilm T9, roll 196.
5“U.S, City Directories, 1821-1989,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 October 2013), entry for Ernst Stube; citing “Chicago, Illinois City Directory, 1872 (Chicago: Richard Edwards, Publisher, 1872),” page number not cited.
6 Louise (née Nelson) Wiese to Phyllis (née Wiese) Adam, letter, 2 April 1964, providing information about the family tree; Adam Family; privately held [personal information withheld].
7 Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 1 October 2013), photograph, Ernst Stube (1839-1879), Memorial No. 67992204, Huntley Cemetery, Huntley, Illinois; photograph by Zavada Family.
8 McHenry County, Illinois, certification that record was not found, issued 19 July 2012, no death record located for Ernst Stube or Stuve who died 24 August 1879 in Huntley, search conducted from 1877-1905; County Clerk’s Office, Woodstock.
9 1880 U.S. census, Cook Co., Ill., pop. sch., Chicago, ED 144, p. 257-C, dwell. 25, fam. 74, Ricka Stüve.
10 Cook County, Illinois, death certificate no. 16007, “Friedricka Stube,” 3 May 1891; digital image, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 3 January 2012). Note: Images no longer available through FamilySearch.
11 Find A Grave, Inc., Find A Grave, digital image (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 1 October 2013), photograph, Friedrieka Stube (1843-1891), Memorial No. 67992191, Huntley Cemetery, Huntley, Illinois; photograph by Zavada Family.

Ada Zingara, Sideshow Performer

Tucked into the slots of an antique album filled with photographs of an unidentified family of Kaukauna, Outagamie County, Wisconsin, are several photographs of sideshow performers.1

Ada Zingara photograph, ca. 1890s, Chicago, Illinois; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Ada Zingara photograph, ca. 1890s, Chicago, Illinois; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

The name Ada Zingara is handwritten on the back of this photograph, which features a woman posing in a rather scandalous fashion. Her dress is short, and she stands with one leg elevated on a bench as she pretends to fasten her pointy-toed shoe. Her stockings feature bold zigzags, and her dress is patterned as well. The bodice is trimmed with lace and loose cap sleeves, and the border of her lace-trimmed petticoat is also visible. She wears earrings, and a large, bejeweled crucifix lies at her throat. What is most striking is her hairstyle: Ada’s hair is teased into an Afro.

A search for Ada Zingara informed me that, in the early 1900s, she was a snake charmer. A 1906 sideshow advertisement specified that she had a den of “Five Big Anacondas.”2 However, I wondered why she was not posing with snakes in this picture, which was surely printed for publicity. And why did she have such a dramatic hairstyle?

Further research informed me that the circus great P.T. Barnum began exhibiting women with this hairstyle in the 1865, calling them Circassian Beauties. According to reports of the time, the women of the mountainous region near the Black Sea were particularly beautiful, and were prized by Turkish sultans who kidnapped them for their harems. Barnum capitalized on this sensational story, seeking first to purchase one of these slave girls abroad, and eventually settling for a local girl with teased hair (which was not an accurate Circassian style) who was merely marketed as a Circassian.3 Eventually, as the popularity of the Circassian Beauties waned, the women adopted other acts, including routines as equally alluring snake charmers.4

A close look at her face reveals that Ada Zingara is not very young. There are lines around her eyes, which gaze warmly at the camera. Her lips part in a faint smile, showing her teeth – and a possible missing tooth. Why did Ada turn to sideshows, and what became of her? What was her real name?

What I find especially interesting is the fact that this photograph occupies the very first page of the album – the page usually reserved for an important family member or the primary subject of the album.4 Of course, it’s possible that the photographs were rearranged in the years that this album made its way from its original home to the antique store. Whatever the case, it should be noted that this is not the only photograph of a circus or sideshow performer located in the album. The family of Kaukauna, Wisconsin must have enjoyed these attractions!

Did your ancestors collect photographs of circus or sideshow performers?

1 Unidentified Album of a Kaukauna, Wisconsin Family, ca. 1870-1900; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
2 “Ada Zingara,” The Billboard, 14 April 1906, digital image, Old Fulton Post Cards (http://www.fultonhistory.com : accessed 27 September 2013).
3 Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org), “Circassian Beauties,” rev. 18:32, 3 July 2013.
4 Katherine H. Adams and Michael L. Keene, Women of the American Circus, 1880-1940 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2012), 142; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 27 September 2013).
5 “’Reading’ A Family Photo Album,” Photo Detective with Maureen A. Taylor, 22 September 2013 (http://blog.familytreemagazine.com/photodetectiveblog/ : accessed 27 September 2013).