Sunday, July 26, 2009

From Whence I Came...Bertha Kramp

Bertha Kramp was my mother's maternal grandmother though she had died long before my mother was born. When my mother was growing up, nothing was ever discussed about her grandmother and she has no memories of her. I have always wondered why my grandmother never mentioned her own mother to me either as I am sure there would have been many stories that I could have heard.

Bertha Kramp was born July 26, 1860 and was the second of ten children of Albert Kramp and Emilie Rutt. At the time of her birth, the family lived in Borntuchen, Kreis Bütow, Pommern where the first three children of this couple were born. Between 1862 and 1866, Albert and Emilie Kramp moved their family to the nearby village of Klein Tuchen, Kreis Bütow, Pommern where their remaining seven children were born. I visited these areas in 1993 though my photography skills were not the best.

Nothing is known of Bertha's early years but on October 4, 1878 in Groß Tuchen, Bütow, Pommern, she married August Kolberg. Interestingly, Bertha's sister, Pauline Kramp, married on the same date in the same church to Heinrich Gersonde.

At least three children were born to August and Bertha Kolberg while still living in Klein Tuchen. These were (1) Paul Lui Robert, born June 8, 1879 and who died on October 20, 1879, (2) Hedwig Johanne Auguste, born June 2, 1880 and (3) Bertha Hermine Franziska, born January 14, 1883 and who also died as an infant though the date of death has never been discovered.

In the spring of 1883, the little family of August, Bertha and young Hedwig (age 3) began their long journey to America. August's brother, Heinrich, had already made the journey and had settled in Lincoln Township, Berrien County, Michigan.

Passenger list information from the port of Castle Garden in New York state the following: August, Bertha and Hedwig COLBERG arrived in New York, on the ship, Lessing, on November 28, 1883. They traveled from the port of Hamburg in Germany, on to the port of Havre in France and then on to the US. Their name was spelled Colberg on the ship passenger list. Bertha's sister, Emilie Kramp, and Emilie's future husband, Friedrich Skibbe, also traveled with them on the same ship. Arriving in New York, they took the train to Michigan and were met in St. Joseph by brother Heinrich.

Bertha brought with her to the US her German hymnal which I am fortunate to have received from my grandmother and which I still have and treasure.

Once in the US, another six children were born to August and Bertha. These were (1) Frederick Gustav Emil, born November 6, 1886 and who died July 13, 1887, (2) Amelia Alvina Henreitta, born December 6, 1887, (3) Kurt Paul Hugo, born July 23, 1890, (4) Robert Ernest Paul, born September 19, 1892, (5) Hugo Otto Heinrich, born May 29, 1894 and (6) Ella Emma Louise, born August 8, 1895. According to the US census records, Bertha had given birth to 11 children and it is believed the remaining two unknown children were perhaps born in Pommern as well given the three year gap between daughter Hedwig's birth in 1880 and daughter, Bertha's birth in 1883. No additional birth or death records for children of this couple were ever located in Berrien County, Michigan.

When I began my genealogical research, my grandmother was already deceased and I had to rely on the memories of many of her cousins for information (and one lowly photo) of my great-grandmother, Bertha, which based on the ages of the two daughters in the photo, must have been taken around 1889.

When I interviewed several of my grandmother's cousins I was told that August and Bertha Kolberg did not have much prosperity in their lives. Times were very hard and August had a desire for excessive drinking. I was informed that Bertha and daughter, Ella (my grandmother), would come to the farm of another Kolberg relative to pick berries which they would then sell on a stand in front of their own property for a little money to keep the family going. I was also told that on many a morning August would ride his horse through the countryside in Lincoln Township on his way to town to drink. At night, he would ride back with the horse knowing the way without guidance. A very religious woman, this must have been a trying lifestyle for Bertha.

When talking to these cousins of my grandmother, on separate occasions, it was interesting that each one of the four cousins I spoke to all remembered these same incidences.

I was told, also, that Bertha was especially closest to her youngest, my grandmother Ella, and missed her deeply when Ella married in June, 1914. On August 8, 1914, which was Ella's first birthday as a married woman, her mother, Bertha, wrote her a poignant birthday poem and finished with a short letter imploring daughter Ella not to forget her. This poem, written in the old German script, together with an English translation follows and, again, I am blessed to have been given this letter by my grandmother many years ago.

It was right after writing this poem and letter that Bertha became ill and six months later, on February 26, 1915, Bertha passed away in the Kalamazoo State Hospital, Kalamazoo, MI. According to her death certificate, at the time of her death, Bertha had been suffering from mental depression and exhaustion which had lasted for approximately 6 months. It was approximately February 19, 1915 when Bertha became too ill to remain at home and son, Kurt Kolberg, took her to Kalamazoo to the State Hospital, where she died one week later of nephritis (inflammation of the kidney) aggravated by the mental depression and exhaustion. Perhaps the hard life that she was forced into in this country and the loss of five children, along with having to work extremely hard to raise her family, became too much for her. It obviously made an impression on my grandmother, Ella, as after she was a married woman and raising her own family, my grandmother never touched alcohol and would not allow it in her own home.

August and Bertha Kolberg are buried in City Cemetery, St. Joseph, Michigan very close to my home.

I often wonder of just how difficult her life was in this country and the fact that she died so young with her own mother outliving her by a good 10 years. It is a sad commentary on the life of my great-grandmother but I like to think that somewhere during her 54 years of life that she had some happy times - perhaps with her children and the few grandchildren that she was able to know.

I think she would be pleased to see how large her family had grown to by the year 2000:

Above photos - personal collection of Cheryl Schulte

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Grandfather's Part in History

My memories of my maternal grandfather, Joseph Kijak, are limited. I was born in St. Joseph, Michigan, where my grandparents lived, but when I was 18 months old my parents and I moved to the Detroit suburbs and only came to St. Joe once or twice a year to visit. The memories I do have of my grandfather are pleasant ones - he was a small man, very quiet and easy going and was always happy to have us visit. I remember him promising my younger brother at the age of 8 that he would take him fishing off the pier in St. Joe and my brother was anxious to do this but unfortunately my grandfather died before this could be accomplished.

One year in school, my class was instructed to write an article of interest about a grandparent. I struggled with who to choose to write about as I knew all my grandparents and I decided to write about the one grandparent who was at that time already deceased. I asked my mother for any interesting stories she could share with me about her father and she told me there was one incident that would make a great project for school.

It was at that same time that an article appeared in the Sunday Parade magazine that came out with the Detroit Free Press. It was an anniversary of an incident involving a henchman of Al Capone, named Fred Burke, and my mother proudly showed me this Parade magazine and told me "here is your story about your grandpa Kijak".

Al Capone??? What could my quiet, gentle grandfather have to do with Al Capone and his organization? Much, as it turns out.

Al Capone is a well known figure in history. Most people of a certain generation have heard of Al Capone and perhaps studied his organization and the crimes committed by his group. Perhaps, not so well known, was one of his henchman, Fred "Killer" Burke. Over the years, though, I have learned much about Fred Burke and how he related to my grandfather.

Fred "Killer" Burke was a participant in the infamous St. Valentine's day massacre. He then unknowingly hid out in Stevensville, MI trying to be obscure. On December 14, 1929, in downtown St. Joseph, Fred Burke happened to be driving. He struck a car driven by a resident, George Kool and Mr. Kool approached the car of Fred Burke and demanded payment for the damages. An argument took place and a police officer approached, named Charles Skelly. In the ensuing argument, Fred Burke picked up his revolver, fired three times at Officer Skelly and killed him.

Fred Burke then fled the downtown area of St. Joseph in an attempt to escape and soon abandoned his car after he struck a telephone pole. When the police later found his car and registration the paperwork showed the car was registered to a Fred Dane who was later identified to be Fred "Killer" Burke of the Al Capone 'family'.

Enter my grandfather who was driving along Cleveland Avenue in St. Joseph on his way home. While driving, my grandfather noticed a man hitchhiking. In those days of 1929, it was not uncommon for people to frequently pick up hitchhikers (these were all country roads at the time and farmland) and my grandfather picked up this gentleman. He later recounted that they spoke briefly, the rider said he needed to be driven several miles down the road which my grandfather did. At one point, near Glenlord Road and Cleveland Avenue, the rider suddenly announced "let me out here" and my grandfather did and the last he saw of his hitchhiker was when the man went through the farmland and disappeared from view heading toward Lakeshore Drive and Lake Michigan. Thinking nothing of it, my grandfather returned home.

The next morning, the local newspaper carried the report of the shooting of Officer Skelly and there was a photo of the man accused of killing him - Fred "Killer" Burke. My grandfather immediately recognized the photo as belonging to the hitchhiker he had transported the day before. He showed my grandmother and together they went to the local police and my grandfather gave his report.

Some time later Fred Burke was arrested, convicted of multitudes of crimes and imprisoned where he later died.

Whether this incident propelled my grandfather into discontinuing driving OR whether the effects of the Great Depression had a part (they lost their farm and property in the depression), my grandfather sold his car and never drove again.

Over the years books have been written about Fred "Killer" Burke and his part in St. Joseph history though my grandfather's part was obscure enough to not warrant mention. Life as my mother knew it (she was only 4 at this time) could have been tragically different if the automobile ride my grandfather gave Fred Burke had turned out differently.

Fred Burke's Stevensville home today? It is still on Lakeshore Drive and Glenlord Road but is now an office of Coldwell Banker, a local realtor. Wonder what secrets are in those walls (or buried under the foundation)!!

Above photo of Joseph & Ella Kijak - personal collection of Cheryl Schulte