On Jan. 23, 1943, my uncle, Frank Ebner Gartz, (photo in uniform, above) reported to the draft board in Chicago to start his training for WWII. So began the correspondence between him and family & friends, comprising almost 300 letters going both ways. I’m posting many of these World War II letters, each on or near the 70th anniversary of its writing. To start with his induction, click HERE.

This blog began in Nov., 2010, when I posted a century-old love note from Josef Gärtz, my paternal grandfather, to Lisi (Elisabetha) Ebner, my paternal grandmother, and follows their bold decision to strike out for America.

My mom and dad were writers too, recording their lives in diaries and letters from the 1920s-the 1990s. Historical, sweet, joyful, and sad, all that life promises-- and takes away--are recorded here as it happened. It's an ongoing saga of the 20th century. To start at the very beginning, please click HERE.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Tale of Two Photos

Genealogy sure takes you back - but sometimes to a place you didn’t expect to go. Like when I was visiting Margel’s blog, “2338 W. Washington Blvd.” a few days ago. Margel’s blog caught my eye soon after I launched Family Archaeologist last November because I grew up at 4222 W. Washington Blvd. in Chicago, just about two miles west of Margel’s family home.

Margel made a loving post about her Aunt Margel, after whom she was named, and who died tragically at about the age of two. She told the amazing story about searching for and literally unearthing her aunt's tombstone. I got to this post, which was written before I started blogging, because of a link Margel had included in her more recent post of April 5th about her mom’s birth.

Margel's Aunt Margel
If I hadn’t clicked back to A Tale of Two Margels, I never would have seen this photo she posted there of her aunt (right).

I took one look at Aunt Margel in that cute car and wrote in the blog comments: “Do you know where this picture was taken? Because I do.”

I promised her I’d write a post about it, so be sure to read to the end to get the whole story.

My parents also grew up in Chicago, my Dad on the West Side within blocks of where I spent my childhood, and my mom further east.

Riverview - Aladdin's Castle
Riverview - Wild Mouse
But no matter where you lived in Chicago, if you were a kid between 1904 and 1967, you’d remember our city’s most famous amusement park: Riverview. It had everything: white-knuckle roller coasters. "The Bobs" was the scariest. The Wild Mouse was designed with the wheels set back so you were sure you were going to plunge over the edge at a curve--when at the last moment….screeeeech -- it made a jolting turn that knocked your stomach against your ribs.

It had a freak show that freaked me out, the “Pair-o-Chutes” that took riders ever….so….slowly…..up...up...up.... The anticipation was a killer, because when the chutes hit the top, they burst open with a gut-wrenching jolt and you plummeted down, leaving your tummy somewhere along the way.

Aladdin’s Castle (see photo above) was a spook house with floors that seemed to give way so convincingly, I made my dad carry me through when I was about three.

Lillian Koroschetz
Summer, 1942
Riverview was a great place for sweethearts: You could make out in the Tunnel of Love, hold your sweetie tight on those scary rides, or even get a pair of silhouettes cut out to commemorate your visit. Maybe my parents did all that in the summer of 1942, when they went to Riverview a few months before marrying, but I know they got the silhouettes cut out-- because they were in my Mom’s scrapbook. Here they are. Really good likenesses too. I now have them hanging on my family history photo wall.

Fred Gartz
Summer 1942

And I found another photo taken at Riverview, also on my photo wall--of my Mom at age six. The photo was labelled “Lillian Koroschetz at Riverview, Aug. 17, 1924.”  Here it is:
Riverview: Lillian Koroschetz, Aug.17, 1924

And below is Margel’s Aunt Margel again.
Holy Cow! Aunt Margel was posed in the same little car my mom had been in! See the same backdrop, with ivy growing up the squat colonnade.

Riverview, Chicago--Margel's Aunt Margel
The car in Aunt Margel’s photo is positioned to the left of the stairway, while my mom is photographed in front of and to the right of the stairway. No wonder I recognized Margel's location immediately! I had been working with my mom's  photo (and others) for scores of hours last summer.

So Margel, although your aunt’s life was cut so sadly short, we know she was treated to a wonder all children in Chicago enjoyed -- a day at Riverview. And I’ll bet she had a blast!

Note: all photos of Riverview are from Chicagotribune.com. See the whole Tribune Riverview photo collection here and read a brief history of Riverview, where you'll see a heart-stopping photo of the plunging "Bobs."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If you love me...

If you’ve ever been young and in love, this post will take you back to those heady days.

I’ve been chronicling the letters I’ve found between my grandfather, Josef Gärtz, at aged twenty-one, (photo left), after he left for America on Christmas Eve, 1910 (see Terror Atop the Train) and my grandmother, Lisi Ebner (age twenty-three) who was still back in Transylvania. Josef was desperate to have Lisi join him, and he pulled out all the stops in a May 25, 1911, letter--exhorting her to come to him.

Lisi Ebner 1910
Unlike today, where instant communication is the norm, in 1910, Josef would have to wait a month to get her response. Would she commit to make the frightening voyage alone to meet him in Chicago? The anxiety in his letter is palpable.

Josef’s letter is clearly in response to a missive he’d received from Lisi, which I have not found in my collection. But I’ve found something else that I now know she sent along with that letter.

Left to Right: Katarina Gärtz (Josef's sister) Lisi
Ebner, Sara Reisenauer, Josef's cousin.
This photo on the left of Lisi (center) with Josef’s sister, Katarina Gärtz, and his cousin, Sarah Reisenauer, has been in our family collection for as long as I can remember. On the back my grandmother wrote the date: May 15, 1911. Katarina and Sarah wear traditional clothing from Neppendorf. My grandmother is dressed in the costume of her home town, Grosspold.

In a recent post, Spilling Secrets, I told you how my brothers and I discovered a copy of this iconic photo, 5,000 miles from our home, at the back of my grandfather’s church in a small museum devoted to Neppendorf (Josef’s home town) life.

The photo shows up again--this time referred to in my grandfather’s 5/25/1911 letter to Lisi. In all the years I’ve seen this picture, it was just a cool old photo. But the letter imbues it with special significance. Lisi had sent it to Josef from Transylvania when he was already in the USA, prompting the following letter he undoubtedly wrote right after receiving it. He had let nothing stand in his way to make it to America. That same single-mindedness fueled his determination to get his gal. (Sometime between sending the Easter post card on April 1, postmarked in Cleveland, and the date of this letter, Josef had moved to Chicago).

Chicago, May 25, 1911

Dearest Love, Precious Sweetheart, Darling Lisi,

I’m letting you know that I received your wonderful, love-filled letter with the greatest thanks. The photographs which you included made me as happy as if I had received the most valuable jewel.

Dear Lisi, I gather from your letter that you were hurt because you believed that I would leave you. How could I do such a thing? After all, didn’t I swear to be faithful? Do you still doubt me? Or has someone written something about me to you, and you believed it?

So don’t make me so crazy any more.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when I received the photograph [you sent] and saw my darling Lisi – with her hand reaching for my sister. What great joy I felt! Please trust me. Otherwise you bring me such sorrow. If you had seen me when I opened the photo, you would have certainly said I was a fool. [My] true, true Love, I swear to you with heart and hand until I die, [all that] I am.

Dear Lisi, I’ll tell you that I am in Chicago and also now have a better job. I am in a bakery and always have work and a better salary, and it is not so difficult. Naturally the first year it didn’t go the best in America, but it will come eventually. As I’ve written, I just trust in God.

My mother has written [to me] that I should make money and [then] come home. That is certainly nonsense. It is the thinking of an old woman. I can certainly say that she saw me for the last time Christmas Eve night.

Why should I go from the good to the bad again? Unless I become dissatisfied with what I have undertaken, I am not coming home. Anyone who looks with open eyes sees that whoever goes home, comes back here again. Here it is certainly a very different life. The men work little and the women not at all.

Therefore, dear Lisi, I think it’s better if you, and even my mother and sister, come here. You all would see that it is a different life [in America]. No one over there should wait for me, because it is my conviction that I’m not coming back. If you love me, I hope that you also will come here.

I would greet you with greatest joy and thankfulness, and take you in my arms. You certainly have no idea of the [difference] between the [economic] conditions in America and Europe. Oh, sweet Lisi, please understand me. I have to know where I stand. I really hope that you won’t be doubtful.

If you love me, then you’ll certainly come, even if as many devils as there are tiles on a roof stood in your way. If you come here, you don’t have to work any more. [This prediction was certainly wishful thinking. Both were driven workers throughout their lives.] I know that you can work very hard, but you will see for yourself.

There is no point in writing letters because we should be ready [to make a decision]. We are no longer so young and are of an age ready to marry--like ripe fruit. It can no longer go on like this.

If I would say I would come back [to Transylvania ] in three years, certainly you wouldn’t wait that long. Then someone would come along and my Lisi would change her mind [wouldn’t keep her promise] even though I have always been faithful. Now I hope and expect the sweet word “Yes!” I write [hoping for] only such an answer.

If you don’t want to come, then I also know that you don’t love me. Because if you loved me, then you wouldn’t do anything other than come here, just like Eva Koeber [Beer/Baer] from Neppendorf who is now here and leads a fine life with her darling. [This must be the Frau Beer/Baer who also wrote to Lisi in Josef’s January 29th letter, encouraging her to join Josef in America. See her glowing praise of Josef in the post, Love Finds a Way.)

She was only twenty years old, and he was eighteen when they married, and they are very happy. She has no regrets about [leaving] Neppendorf. Also your sister and brother-in-law—how often have they asked me, when I went over there for a bite to eat, [when he still lived in Cleveland, Ohio] whether or not you would soon be coming here? I avoid going there so as not to have to answer their questions. [Lisi’s stepsister, Maria Schuster, had gone to America before Josef and helped him settle in. Maria ended up staying in Cleveland her whole life].

And now I end my writing with best [wishes] and hope for an answer soon. With heartfelt greetings and loving kisses, I remain your faithful treasure. [Schatz=treasure; also used as "Darling or Sweetheart"]

Josef Gartz
1723 North Orchard St.
Chicago, Ill
North America

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Friday, April 22, 2011

An Easter Spritzing

Front of Easter postcard from Josef to Lisi. Note Cupid appears to be
rowing an eggshell boat filled with flowers and a chick guides the rudder
March 31, 1911,
Cleveland Ohio

Addressed To:
F[räulein] Elise Ebner
Hermannstadt [Sibiu today]
Reispergasse No. 2 [the street address]
Europe     Hungary

In 1911, Easter was on April 16th, so Josef made sure that his Easter postcard to Lisi would arrive in time by mailing it April 1st (postmark). I decided posting it closer to Easter, 2011, rather than on the date it was written, was more in keeping with the spirit of this holiday. It also gives me the chance to share with you a funny -- and typically youthful -- tradition that kept Siebenbürgen girls pretty wet on Easter.

Here's the message my grandfather, Josef, wrote to his sweetheart, later my grandmother, Lisi (also Elise--both nicknames for Elisabetha), and below the explanation of its confusing content:

Dear Lisi,

I share with you that I have thankfully received your wonderful letter. I wish you a happy Easter. I am making a good many red eggs because I’m coming to spray you.

So long. Adieu

When I first read this message, in German, I was thoroughly perplexed. At first I thought Josef meant that he was "spraying water on eggs," deducing it was an idiom for dying the eggs.) So of course I turned to my deciphering buddy, Meta. She filled me in, and then, more recently, her daughter, Ingrid, gave me this detailed explanation of the tradition of "spraying" girls on Easter (translated from the German):

"On the first day of Easter celebration, it was tradition that the young men went to the young ladies in order to “spray” (begiessen) them, as your grandfather writes. Each young man had a little bottle with perfume and asked if he may spray the girl (“May I have permission to spray you?”). Then the girls had to say “yes.” The boy spritzed the girl on her hair. It wasn’t only a girl’s boyfriend who did this. All the young men in the village could go to any girl. When they had sprayed the girl, they received a colored egg from the her (the favorite was a red egg) or some sort of liquor / liqueur to drink. Sometimes it was Schnaps. It was always fun. At the end of the day, most of the young men felt sick because of all the alcohol! The girls counted the young men who had come to spray them, because it showed which girls were the favorites. Because the men used all different sorts of perfume, the girls hair smelled pretty bad by evening time. But… it was the tradition.

"The little boys--children, also went to the little girls, but they received only eggs and sometimes candy too. At the end of the day they were very proud to have collected many eggs. Even older men had little perfume bottles with them. But they didn’t go to every house. They sprayed only the women in their families.

"Sometimes (not often) the young men played a prank -- and after the normal spritzing, they also had a big bottle with soda water, and without asking, as a surprise, they doused a girl. She was soaking wet and had to go home and change into dry clothes!"

It was a rather soggy version of the "dance card." The more sprays a girl got, the more popular she was. But as boys will be boys, across the centuries, things could get out of hand so that even a simple "spritz" could become a deluge.

Soon to come: Josef pulls out all the stops to get his best girl, sprayed or not, to join him in America.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Family Photo Ties

Maria Ebner/Sonnleitner, seated,
 my grandmother's sister and her family.
 Andreas far left, Maria Roth's father.
Travel Tuesday

In our quest to find our family’s roots in Transylvania, my two brothers and I scored a number of heartening successes, often filled with surprise: discovering copies of prized family photos in the Neppendorf church museum, 5000 miles from home (See "Spilling Secrets"), visiting my grandfather’s home in Neppendorf, and retrieving my great-grandfather’s house number at the archives for the Siebenbürgen Germans in Sibiu. (See "Searching for Home")

But we still hadn’t found his actual home in Grosspold, where he had raised his family, including my paternal grandmother, Lisi. After making several inquiries as to the whereabouts of the Ebner Hof with no success, the pastor of my grandmother’s former church, told us he’d ask around further and we should call him the next day, Wednesday.

Early Wednesday afternoon, we called Pastor Meitert, and he had good news. He’d found the house--and something more! We all piled into the van and drove to Grosspold.

When we arrived at the church, Pastor Meitert brought us to the home of a relative we never even knew we had, Frau Elisabeth Kirschlager. After a bit of struggle with the language we realized that her grandmother and my grandmother had been step-sisters (see "Blended Family Breakthrough")! I recognized the photo she showed me, but had never know who it was. Now we did--it was her grandmother Agnetha's wedding.

It was getting late on a September afternoon, and the daylight was beginning to dim, so Pastor Meitert hurried us along on a five minute walk to the Ebner Hof. There, a group of several people were awaiting us. Two men, who were the new owners of my great-grandfather’s former Hof welcomed us warmly.
Maria Roth, our second cousin, sharing our
1961 family photo, below: 

But Pastor Meitert had done wonders in bringing us, once again, together with a relative, this time tied directly to my grandmother--Maria Roth. We were puzzled about the connection at first, but Maria came bearing a plastic bag full of photos, one of which made our relationship clear. It was a family photo of my grandmother’s sister’s family.

Lisi’s older sister was also named Maria (Ebner). She married and became Sonnleitner and had six children (see photo above-the oldest had already left for America), one of whom, far left in the photo, was Andreas. Maria Roth, who stood before us, is one of Andreas’s children, and therefore, our second cousin. 

Like Mary Poppins digging into her carpet bag, Maria began extracting wonders--but hers were wonders from our past--photographs my grandmother had sent to Romania over the years. Out came my wedding photo, my grandparents’ family photos from the 1920s, a postcard my grandmother had written in 1926.

But one picture stood out - our most hideous family photo--one that we all hated and never wanted to see again. After traveling 5,000 miles we not only found our grandparent’s past, but even our own personal past was emerging in the form of that unfortunate family photo. My parents and we three kids look so stiffly formal. We all agreed that Paul looked like a mafioso with his pompadour hairstyle. I had the worst hair day ever, and Mom was in a bad mood, barely trying to buck up for the camera. The oldest people in the photo -- my grandparents -- look the best--relaxed and happy! 

Standing: Dad, Paul, Uncle Bill. Seated:
Grandpa (Josef) , me, Mom Billy Grandma (Lisi)
Despite our keeping that photo hidden away, we couldn’t have stopped Grandma from proudly sending her most recent “family photo” to her relatives back in Romania. When Maria pulled it out, we all erupted in laughter!

We entered the Ebner Hof, and realized that despite the terrible losses my grandmother had endured (her mother and several siblings had died when she was quite young), they'd had a pretty good life--a home and expansive Hof, with land to grow vegetables and raise animals to eat. My grandmother had acquired a good job with a prominent family i n the big city of Hermannstadt (Sibiu) nearby, and had a loving relationship with her father, siblings, step-mother and step-sisters.

Grosspold Ebner Hof
L-R: Paul, second cousin Maria Roth, Bill and Me kneeling
But the call of America was still strong, especially when one’s sweetheart is beckoning. In the next post, my grandfather, Josef, sends a special 1911 Easter greeting, to Lisi Ebner,  to remind her she’s still his best gal. Find out more about why he wants to "spray her" in this unusual Easter tradition. Check in on Good Friday.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Roma in Grosspold

Travel Tuesday

It was getting later into the afternoon by the time we left Frau Sonnleitner, her pigs, and her dog named Linda. (See Going to the Dogs) with no luck in finding the Ebner Hof, my great-grandfather, Samuel Ebner’s, home in Grosspold, Romania.

Pastor Meitert said he would make further inquiries on his own, and we could check with him the next day. Right now, he wanted to show us the “Zigeuner” (gypsy) part of town. Today “gypsies” prefer being called Roma. Many Roma consider “gypsy” derogatory and want to avoid the stereotypes associated with the word.

After we had passed through the main section of Grosspold, we ascended into the upper, Roma, part of town. At one of the first intersections, we saw a shirtless man hand-shoveling what appeared to be the lumbered remnants of some structure, cluttering the street. Nearby a woman was burning refuse of indeterminate origin in a fenced-in, barren, expanse of land.

Once we passed the burning rubbish, the air cleared, and we turned down the last street with small homes on either side. It was a lovely September day and groups of people were walking or sitting outside.

Everyone was unfailingly friendly, often asking to pose with us for photos. I promised I would send them all copies, which I did, through Pastor Meitert, to be sure they would get them. We were clearly an oddity. My brothers are both over six feet tall, and we three women (cousin Maria, my brother Bill’s wife, and I) range from 5’6”-5’10”, two of us very blond. Our towering height and sturdy western clothes must have made us look like gigantic aliens to the much shorter and dark-haired, dark-eyed Roma.

Roma posing with brother, Bill,  and his wife, Robin
Although young parents and kids also dressed in western styles, the older folks, especially the women, were layered in a grab-bag of colorful clothing. House slippers with socks were the most common form of footwear for everyone.

It appeared that running water was not universally available. We saw a young woman drawing water from a centrally-located well, pouring it into her own bucket, and then carrying it home, listing left with the weight.

At the far end of the last street, we came to the highest part of town, where we saw a young boy and girl sitting on a wall. I thought they were quite beautiful with the setting sun lighting up their faces, and gestured to ask if I could take their picture. They agreed and looked right into the lens, with no need to “smile for the camera.”

Roma children in Grosspold
A few steps further and we had a magnificent view of the town from whence we had climbed. As twilight drew near, we looked down on the highway and my grandmother’s church in the German part of town below. Just as in my grandmother’s time, the Roma still lived separately from, and more poorly than, the mainstream population. While we had come searching for touchstones to my grandmother’s past, we had unexpectedly met up with another ethnic group whose history has also been intertwined with Grosspold, and our visit was richer because of it.

As we turned to head back down, Pastor Meitert promised us he’d make further inquiries into the whereabouts of the Ebner Hof. When we called him the next day, he had indeed made some amazing discoveries--beyond what we expected. Coming soon.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Going to the Dogs

Given the shocking name of "Linda"

My parents named me Linda. This shocked my grandfather, Josef. He said to my father, “For why you name a girl Linda? In Romania they only name the dogs Linda.” And he meant literal dogs, not the derogatory term used for unattractive girls. Over the years we laughed at this ridiculous notion, especially because of the ubiquity of my name in the 1950s (it was the number one most popular girl's name from 1947-1952).

I’m part of what I call “The Linda generation.” I can be pretty sure most women I meet named Linda were born within about five years of my birth. Fully one quarter of the girls (nine out of 36) in my grade school graduating class, were named “Linda.”

"Linda's"  owner.
So what does this have to do with Travel Tuesday? Stick with me.
The morning after visiting my grandfather's church in Neppendorf, cousin Maria was getting her hair done, so I took an exploratory stroll down a neighborhood street. I heard someone call my name. “Linda.” Surprised I turned and saw this man (at right), whom I approached, introduced myself, and explained my connection to the town. His little dog was nearby and as I bent to pet it, I said, “How cute! What’s his name.” Turned out to be a "her."

A dog named Linda!
“Linda!” the man replied. I laughed out loud and explained the long-standing family tale.

Shortly after this encounter, we went to the Siebenbürgen genealogical center in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, got Samuel Ebner's house number and headed to my grandmother’s (Lisi Ebner) home town of Grosspold, hoping to find the Ebner Hof.

At my grandmother's Lutheran Church, we met Pastor Meitert. I’ve already written about how he showed us the Ebner Family Book, where we discovered how many family deaths my grandmother endured. (see Life and Death Abbreviated. In the last post,  (Searching for Home) we traced my grandmother's family back to my great-great grandparents, the Eders.

After these discoveries, Pastor Meitert removed the Ebner Family pages tucked them under his arm and led us through the town, going literally door-to-door in Grosspold, hoping someone would know where the Ebner Hof was located. We pick up here.

Entrance to Frau Sonnleitner's Hof
First stop was the Sonnleitner Hof. We pushed open two enormous, thick, wooden gates through which, in previous times, horse and carts probably had passed. (Hof implies more than just a house. It includes the large, enclosed courtyard and land surrounding the home, like a mini-farm, wherein chickens pace, animals are housed, vegetables grown. (see photo)
Frau Sonnleitner was typical of what has become of Germans in Romania. We guessed she was in her sixties, a widow now living alone. All her children have moved to Germany, visiting her once or twice a year. Pfarrer Meitert told us that in 1939, almost two thousand Saxon Germans lived in Grosspold. Only fifty-five remain. Of the 800,000 or so Siebenbürgishe Sachsen, the ethnic Germans that had once lived throughout Transylvania, a mere 20,000, mostly older residents like Frau Sonnleitner, have stayed in Romania. The rest have taken advantage of Germany's offer of citizenship and have opted to go there where they have better work opportunities and living conditions. 
Pastor Meitert hoping Frau
Sonnleitner can help us find the

Pastor Meitert showed Frau Sonnleitner the Ebner family record sheets from the Lutheran Church's Family Book, wondering if she knew the family or where the Ebnerhof, house number 365, might be.

As they spoke, I absorbed the atmosphere of a Hof that was probably similar to the one in which my grandmother's family had lived 100 years earlier. About 1,000 walnuts lay drying in the sun as mumbling chickens made  desultory pecks at loose gravel. Snorting grunts from the back of the Hof got our attention. “Do you have pigs back there?” I asked.

"Yes," she said, "two big pigs." Frau Sonnleitner confessed she had no idea where the Ebnerhof lay, but offered to introduce us to her "Schweine."
The pigs were huge, rooting around in the mud. We asked what they ate. The usual scraps was the expected response, but then she added, “And they really like tile.”

“Tile! You mean like roof tiles?”

“Yes. It’s good for their digestion.” And with that, she picked up several large pieces of terra cotta tile, broke them on the edge of the stall, and tossed them in. The pigs went after them like dogs after  a bone--chomping down the pieces in seconds.

We were agape, but then came the final proof that, for those Germans who had remained in Grosspold, little had changed in Siebenbürgen over the past century. Her small dog had been dashing around the Hof, chasing the chickens and sniffing about. Leaning down to pet the dog, I asked, “What’s your dog’s name?”

"Linda" with chickens and walnuts drying
One hundred years after my grandparents left Transylvania, the churches still hold their family histories,  pigs eat tile, chickens scratch in the Hof, walnuts dry in piles outside, and “Linda” still goes to the dogs.

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