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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More than I could stand

Lil and Fred professed their love to each other on May 17, 1942 ( See He Really Loves Me!They were happier than ever as they entered that summer.  Lil’s parents knew that she would soon be married--that Lillian would no longer be living with them for the first time since her birth. I believe her engagement was a tipping point that unhinged Lil’s Mama’s already unstable personality. 

“Mama,” as Lil called her mother, had always had a volatile temper that could be triggered by Lil’s slightest misstep -- like forgetting to return her mother’s comb or accidentally throwing out a scrap of fabric left on the floor. It was like living on an active volcano, never knowing when Mama would erupt.

But it was in June, 1942, that Lil first noticed signs that her mother’s behavior had progressed from mercurial to bizarre. Separate from her diary, Lil created a “Case History,” on August 15, 1942, recording what she had observed since June, 1942.

First indications of abnormality noticed about 2 months ago. Mother would look out the kitchen window in the morning and ask why they made those "doves" fly around in the alley. Actually was paper being blown about. She thought someone made these "doves" fly about to aggravate her....

She refused to cash any more checks or go shopping saying everyone at the bank and the stores was watching her...that the women in her building were "immoral."

Mama manifests no interest in my approaching wedding.... 

Last week she said I was "Miss America  and therefore, Fred is Mr. America and she is Mrs. America." When I explained this was impossible, she counters that maybe I'm ashamed...and should be proud of the honor.

Lake Como, WI, from Lake Como Facebook
That August, Lil arranged a vacation with her papa and mama to the southern Wisconsin resort of Lake Como, hoping the country air and peaceful surroundings would soothe her mother’s nerves. It turned into two nightmarish weeks--a dizzying sense that Lil had fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole where the world was topsy-turvy and no good deed went unpunished. Even as they prepared to leave on Sunday morning, August 9th, Grandma sat sullen and silent in a corner chair as Lil and her Papa scrambled to pack and load the car. When she finally spoke, she said, “If we don’t get out of here soon, I’m going to hit you over the head with something!”

After arriving at their cottage and opening the door, the distinctive odor of gas enveloped them. “They’re trying to kill me!” Grandma screamed, backing out the doorway. 

Lil’s heart clutched at her mother’s paranoid conclusion and dashed to the stove to turn the knobs. “No, Mama. It’s ok. The last guests just didn’t turn the burners all the way off.”

Mama often woke at night, demanding that Lil "tell her the truth," but wouldn't explain what she meant.  She told her husband, "to get out of her sight, he was crooked to her, etc." 

Lil wrote:
One night she woke up and jumped out of bed, yanked on the light and glared at me, saying, "You can't fool me any longer!" She pulled the covers off Papa and accused me of hiding pills in his bed and said to me, "You crrrooook, you!" again for no reason. 

Mama often sat morosely in a corner, head in hands, mouth hanging down. Lil and her papa coddled Mama, taking her for walks, car rides, anything to make her happy, but every attempt was fruitless.“I feel as though nothing I can do will please her,” Lil recorded.

If she or Papa tried to make pleasant conversation, she assailed them with “You’d be better off with plaster in your mouth.” Or “Keep your big mouth shut!”

“It was almost more than I could stand,” Lil wrote.

These are just a few of dozens of bizarre incidents Lillian recorded about that "vacation." 
“I think she’s having a nervous breakdown,” she wrote to Fred back in Chicago. By the end of the trip, Lil, unable to endure any longer the fourteen stressful days of trying to cope with her mother’s unraveling mind and delusional, baseless accusations, fell into tears, sobbing, “You have made these the most miserable two weeks of my life.

After returning home, Lillian continued with her wedding plans, but she had no mother to help or  support her––nor to show even the least enthusiasm for the most momentous, joyous event of Lil's life. To understand more about Lil's mother, it might help to go back in time, and learn a bit about her childhood and what I know about the family dynamics back in Austria. 

Next week: the Müller and Woschkeruscha families.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Happiest Days of our Lives!

Fred Gartz, silhouette created at
Riverview Amusement Park, summer 1942
The Summer of '42 was one of bliss for Fred and Lil. They went to Chicago's iconic amusement park, Riverview and had several profile silhouettes cut out. These are two. I'm sure they rode the boat through "The Tunnel of Love." Here's what Lil had to say:

Wed., July 15, 1942

Fred gave me his fraternity pin––Delta Lamba Xi, saying, like the symbol on the pin, I am his guiding star. I gave him my Waller High School ring, which has left my third finger left hand for the 1st time since 1934, Nov. Fits him fine.

Didn’t say, “Will you marry me,” but it’s more or less understood. However, tonite, might be called the nite of his proposal, for he called me “Mrs. Gartz” and said how good that sounded.

Lillian Koroschetz, silhouette created at
Riverview Park, summer, 1942
We had gone swimming at North Avenue beach, then went to the Grant Park Concert. These are without a doubt the happiest days of my life.

After the concert we went to the lake, Fred tossing me over the fences between the sidewalk and street. We lay down on the grassy hill facing the lake, and there under the stars, we exchanged our pledges.

Fred said he will be glad to cooperate 60% in our marriage, and I, too, said the same, the point being where the line of cooperation is drawn too closely, friction in marriage is the result. When we’ll be married, I can’t say. 

Should he be drafted and want to get married before he goes, I’ll be happy to do so, so long as he proposed before being drafted.

Lil double-underlined the words "before being drafted." Though madly in love, she had no intention of "giving herself" to someone who may have viewed marriage as either a scheme to avoid the draft or hoped to "get something" before putting his life on the line. Fred passed the test: no draft notice hanging over his head, just pure love.

The "60% cooperation" sounds a little funny. Why not 100%? Well, I understand what they meant. Rather than just a 50-50 partnership, they're talking about giving more than half. Bottom line, they seem to understand each other. At least for now.

This was Lil's last entry about Fred in her diary for many years to come. Wedding plans had to be made, and Mom would leave no detail to chance.

But that summer of 1942, another darker event was occurring simultaneously, and may even have been triggered by Mom's wedding plans.  Her mother was plunging into madness.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012



(Scroll down to see all sides.)

See the 1911 Valentine my grandfather, Josef Gartz sent his sweetheart, Lisi, my grandmother, here: Be my Valentine 1911

I love hearing from you. Please click on "Post a Comment" below in red. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Seven Tips to Meet the Family History Writing Challenge

The Armchair Genealogist

Lynn Palermo over at The Armchair Genealogist is sponsoring the second annual Family History Writing Challenge. Today Lynn has been kind enough to invite me to be a guest blogger on her site.

Given the vast amount of materials I have in my family archive collection, I wanted to write about how to "dig out" the story from one's research and collections. That seemed like an appropriate topic for the Family Archaeologist. Click on "Seven Tips to Meet the Challenge."

Thanks to Lynn's challenge, I've been writing 250-1000 words a day, with a goal of about 5,000 words a week.

Lynn's site is an excellent resource for all sorts of suggestions, recommendations, and guides to write your family history. It's great for newbies or seasoned researchers and writers. She also fills us in on the latest technologies that can help with our research and writing, reviews books, and write a regular feature about heritage recipes. 

I hope you drop by to read my post, and then keep checking back to read more of what Lynn has to offer. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

He really loves me!

Just one week after Fred's  May 10, 1942, letter to his mother, detailing the trauma of his dismissal from the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant in La Porte, Indiana,(see War & Bigotry & following three posts) he was back in Chicago. Perhaps his raw emotions from that encounter made him appreciate Lil and her support more than ever. It's a turning point.  Read on!

May 17, 1942 

Fred told me at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, 5-17- really that he loves me and as a matter of co-incidence - one split second before he did so, I murmured, “Je t’aime,” which of course, he did not understand.

Ever since then we have been happier than ever before in our lives. Oh, we’ve been doing some lovin’ since 5-16-42. Fred tells me the nicest things––that he loves me more all the time. I get sweeter as time goes on; that he’s never loved anyone like he has loved me. That he has wanted many things badly in his life, but never anything half so much as he wants me.

I, too, love him as I have never loved anyone before, barring none. He is the first man that could make me feel “excited.” I never tire of kissing him and vice versa.

It’s amazing how much we have in common––

Horse-back riding
etc. etc. etc. 

We have never had an argument since our first date 8-15-41. So if we won’t be happily married, who will?

I love the naive certainty of true love. Surely this list of mutually-shared hobbies should be enough to get them through all the vicissitudes life will throw in their paths! 

It takes me back to the letter my grandmother's boss, Mrs. Jickeli (Yuh-KAY-lee), sent to her (Lisi)  after Lisi ran off to America to marry my grandfather in 1911. Mrs. Jickeli wanted to warn Lisi against unrealistic youthful expectations. In the post, Your Uncertain Fate, Mrs. Jickeli wrote to Lisi two months after she arrived in Chicago and married my grandfather, Josef. The letter was dated December 10, 1911:

 "...you are now a wife and so will be the victim of the painful and changing nature of life." 

Not the most positive message to a young bride, but then, as in the Jewish wedding tradition, in which the groom crushes a glass underfoot to remind the happy couple that joy must be tempered, Mrs. Jickeli was sharing with Lisi a dose of realism. Lil, too, would find that even for the happiest of couples, time throws its curve balls. 

Perhaps it's better we don't know all the outcomes of so many of life's decisions––or we might be paralyzed with inaction! 

Lynn Palermo at the Armchair Genealogist is hosting a month of the "Family History Writing Challenge." If you haven't yet begun, click on latter link to get started writing your family history. Lynn has been kind enough to ask me to write a guest post for her blog for this upcoming Friday, February 10th, so check in at her blog to pick up "Seven tips to meet the challenge." 

Next week, to celebrate Valentine's Day, I'll be posting the cute card Lil sent to Fred 70 years ago and a reprise of the 101 Year old Valentine from Josef Gartz to his sweetheart, Lisi.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I-Gene Awards 2012-And the winners are...

Thanks to Jasia, at Creative Gene for once again hosting the annual I-Gene awards, an opportunity for the genealogy blogging community to look back over the past year and salute each other's best posts in five categories. Here are my choices for Family Archaeologist for 2011 Let the awards begin!

Best BiographyDress Designer Extraordinaire My maternal grandmother, Aloisia Woschkeruscha, earned a dressmaker diploma in Vienna, Austria. In honor of Women's History Month last year, I posted a brief biography of her, accompanied by this photo of Aloisia posing in her graduation masterpiece.

Best ComedyGoing to the Dogs My trip to Romania in 2007 confirmed my grandfather's warning: It's a bad idea to name a girl "Linda!"

Best Documentary: It has to be the series of my paternal grandmother, Lisi's, journey to America as recorded in her diary from Transylvania to New York. It begins when she ships her trunk to America: Farewell, My Homeland, and continues with her Train Journey (Part I), then onward to the Port of Bremen, Train Journey Part II-To Catch a Ship. On board the steamer, Kaiser Wilhelm II, it's Lisi's Moveable Feast and From Ship to American Soil until, finally: Central Park, NY "I've Arrived!"

Best Screenplay, a love story:  Falling in love––70 years ago My mother's diary of meeting and falling in love with my father begins with this post on October 11, 2011, and unfolds in a weekly series over the next several months (it's ongoing even now on this blog), as she pours out her heart in these "engaging, sweet, and vivid entries, full of hope and promise." If you ever were madly in love, this serial "screenplay" will take you right back to that emotional high.

Close up from above photo: Josef Gartz, age 23. 1912
Best Picture: Joe Nelson's Saloon, 1912. Free Sandwich with that Beer! My grandfather, Josef Gartz, finally landed a decent-paying job at this saloon, at Crawford and Madison on Chicago's West Side. And it came with food! This photograph of an early 20th Century saloon, with my grandfather (background, above, and close-up, right)  at age twenty-three, is a classic. It's the oldest one we have of Josef after his arrival in America in January, 1911. My grandmother's letter, in which she references this job, is included with the post and brings their monetary struggles to life.