Hey Joe, Where You Goin’ With That Knife In Your Hand?

[singlepic id=29 w=480 h=360 float=center]From the Milwaukee Sentinel, March 25, 1878:

“Joe Niesl and John Becker got into a street fight and one had drawn a jack knife to make mince meat of the other when Officer Huller and his assistant pounced on them.  They were no sooner collared, however, when friends of the belligerants appeared and interfered.  Joe Jaghuber was particularly active and gave Officer H. so much trouble that he was obliged to quiet him with a dose of hickory twig.  Niesl and Becker were locked up for disorderly conduct, and Jaghuber for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer.”

Joe Niesl is my 2nd great grandfather on my mom’s side of the family (her maiden name is Niesl).  He and his wife Katharina (Wadenstorfer) Niesl arrived in Milwaukee sometime around 1873 from Bavaria.  In the Milwaukee City Directories between 1880 and 1900, Joe’s occupations include laborer, teamster, then finally butcher.  In the 1905 Wisconsin State Census, his age is 71 and he’s still listed as a butcher.

Must have been hard to put that knife down.

Paulina on My Wall

[singlepic id=28 w=720 h=540 float=right]Here’s a bit of  family memorabilia that’s sure to raise some eyebrows.  This hair wreath was given to me by my dad and my step-mother Doris a few months ago.  They got it either from my grandmother Alice “Pat” (Waege) Rathkamp, or from my great-aunt Grace (Waege) Larson.  My dad and Doris had this wreath displayed in their home for years.  As a kid it kind of gave me the creeps.  Now I recognize its beauty.

[singlepic id=26 w=320 h=240 float=left]As much of an oddity as it may seem today, hair wreaths were popular during the Victorian era.  Women often collected their own hair, hair of friends or relatives, or hair from the recently deceased.  This hair was used to create everything from jewelry to toothpick holders.  Hair wreaths were given as a token of friendship, or they could have been used as a sort of memorial to a family member.

[singlepic id=24 w=320 h=240 float=left]In the case of this particular wreath, it appears to have been made from the hair of several people because of its different shades of brown.  There is an underlying tightly wound wire framework that the hair is fastened to and woven through.  I’m guessing this frame would have been manufactured and then purchased?

It’s impossible to tell for sure who made this particular wreath.  This wreath was given to my dad along with some other pictures.  Based on the pictures that were part of this collection my guess is that it was made by my 2nd great grandmother, Paulina (Wesenberg) Brockhaus.  Paulna was Pat & Grace’s grandmother.  Regardless of who made the wreath, it’s a bit surreal having an actual part of an ancestor hanging on my office wall.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post where I’ll talk about how my great grandfather made a couch out of an old wagon wheel and some hair from his beard.

Of Sound Mind in a Sound Body

[singlepic id=23 w=320 h=240 float=left]This past Sunday being Valentines Day, my wife and I ventured to Milwaukee where we were fortunate to see a great concert:  Dawes opening up for Cory Chisel.  Both of us came away feeling the state of American song writing is in good hands with either of these acts.  But the other thing that gave me goose bumps was the venue-  The Ballroom at Turner Hall on 4th Street, across from the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.  I’ve written briefly about Turner Hall, but Sunday we got to spend some time looking around and that time just whetted my appetite.

When I was 10 or 12, I remember going to Turner Hall with my dad a few times for a fish fry prior to Bucks games.  I also seem to remember a couple friends of mine from school who went there on Saturday mornings for gymnastics.  For all these years, I’ve known of it’s existence but never knew Turner Hall even had a ballroom.  Nor did I know about the origin of the Turners or what influence they had over Milwaukee’s early history.[singlepic id=21 w=320 h=240 float=right]

The Turners (Turn Verein in German) were founded in 1811 by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn as a means of conditioning Germany’s young men both mentally and physically so that they may be better prepared to fight off Napoleon.  The organization was eventually crushed in Germany, with many of its members fleeing and settling here where the organization thrived.    The Turners not only valued physical fitness, but also took on several progressive social causes, including Women’s Suffrage.  According to the Turner website, their “mission statement” included the following:  “Liberty, against all oppression; Tolerance, against all fanaticism; Reason, against all superstition; Justice, against all exploitation!”.  In the early 20th century, the Turners of Milwaukee became proponents of clean and transparent governance.  According to the Milwaukee Turner website, six of Milwaukee’s mayors have been Turners.

Turner Hall was built in 1882.  My Great Grandfather, Wm. J. Rathkamp would have been five years old at the building’s dedication.  The building was designed by H.C. Koch who also designed Milwaukee’s City Hall.  It is currently the only original building on 4th street, between Highland and State.  It is surrounded by parking lots and sits across from the Bradley Center.[singlepic id=22 w=320 h=240 float=left]

Turner Hall was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1996.  Until its recent role as a venue for concerts, the ballroom sat vacant.  If you use your imagination, you can see glimpses of what it once was.  However, its current condition would have to be referred to as a state of decay.  There is netting which spans all four corners of the room, presumably to shield patrons from the falling rotting ceiling.  The condition of the paint makes the interior look like some sort of archaeological find.

Although I can’t say this as absolute fact, I’m fairly certain my Milwaukee ancestors, the Rathkamps, Niesls, and Dachs, attended events at Turner Hall.  Turner Hall was the epicenter of German society at a time when Milwaukee was known as the “German Athens” of America.  My Rathkamp ancestors lived a block away.  Fritz Rathkamp, my Great Great Grandfather was a carpenter.  Did he work on this building?  George Niesl, my great grandfather, was an artist who painted murals in churches all over the midwest.  Is his work present in the murals at Turner Hall?

I wonder what the future holds for Turner Hall.  The website includes a list of current board members and I intend to contact them.  There is a “Preservation Trust” currently working on renovating the facility.  I’d really hate to lose the value this building holds for future generations and if there is anything I can do to help secure it’s future, I intend to.  I need another hobby.

The Photo Tree and the Missing Branch

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From left to right, starting from the front row (my grandparents):  Bill Rathkamp, Alice “Pat” (Waege) Rathkamp, George Niesl, Emma (Walz) Niesl

2nd row (my great grandparents):  Wm. Waege, Ida (Brockhaus) Waege, George Niesl, Katherine (Dachs) Niesl, Fred Walz, Sophia (Bischke) Walz

3rd row (my great great grandparents):  Wm. Waege, Wilhelmina (Leitzke) Waege, Wm. F. Brockhaus, Paulina (Wesenberg) Brockhaus, Joseph Niesl, Katherina (Wadensdorf) Niesl, Alois Dachs, Anna (Kuchler) Dachs, Eduard Walz, Amalia (Damman) Walz, Michael Bischke, Katharina (Rempher) Bischke

4th row (my ggg grandparents):  Friedrich Wege, Wilhelmine (Unknown) Wege

Sad and ironic that I don’t have pictures of my Rathkamp ancestors beyond my grandfather.

Bill & Pat’s Excellent Adventure

[singlepic id=19 w=320 h=240 float=left]Here’s another picture from the archives.  I’m guessing this picture was taken sometime in the ’50s.  From left, my grandmother, Alice “Pat” (Waege) Rathkamp, unknown friend, and my grandfather, Bill Rathkamp.  The tavern most likely was somewhere on the north or west side of Milwaukee.

Seeing a picture of my grandfather in a bar is akin to seeing a taxi in New York.  But seeing “Granny Pat” sitting on a bar stool is a little strange.  Must have been a special occasion.

My grandmother reminds me of Lucille Ball in this picture.

Mr. Rath, Meet Ms. Kamp…the origins of the Rathkamp Surname

My blogging software has a feature that shows me search strings people use to find my website.  Some of the search terms are pretty entertaining.  Like last week when somebody somehow found me by searching “pic of an old German family having a fight”.   Other times, I can see Google doing its job by pointing to my site as people are searching for specific information related to some of my more “obscure” distant ancestors.

One common search string has to do with the origins of my last name, Rathkamp.  I too have always wondered about the meaning of my surname, but didn’t actually find out until about a year ago.  I always had hopes that maybe Rathkamp meant “noble Viking warrior”  or “wise Saxon tribal chief”.    It turns out the origin of the Rathkamp name is a little less dramatic.  So for the 373 Rathkamps living in the U.S., I’m here to enlighten you.

I’m not fluent in German, but I’ll do my best to describe some different naming conventions and will try to correlate these to names to my own family tree.  Some German surnames were derived from jobs or professions such as Schneider (tailor), Bauer (farmer), or Zimmerman (carpenter).  Others were derived from a physical trait of the original bearer such as Tonne (big belly), Rothaar (red hair).  Other names were patronymic, meaning they were passed from a father to a son such as Leitzke or Niesl.  In both of these cases the “ke” and “l” at the end of each forms the diminutive of Leitz or Nies (a derivitive of Dionysus).  There are also examples such as Wadenstorfer or Neuberg which both probably refer to a home town.

In the cases of Waege and Rathkamp, each of these refer to physical characteristics of the land my ancestors either owned or lived on.  Waege or Wege refers to a “way” or a “walk” or “path”.

Rathkamp is formed by two different words:  rath and kamp.  Neither word is very easy to find in a German to English translator, so I’m guessing they’re both old German.   Kamp is derived from the Latin word Campus.  Traditionally, it referred to the strip of land around the walls of a city or castle.  Over time I think it morphed into meaning any type of field.  The closest comparison I can make in English for Rath is to “root or pull out”, in this case specifically trees or bushes.

So the moment you’ve been waiting for… Rathkamp refers to a field that originally was populated by trees or bushes.

So much for Vikings or Saxon kings.

Did They Come Alone?

[singlepic id=17 w=320 h=240 float=left]It’s hard to imagine the conditions our ancestors faced in Europe and even harder to imagine what finally happened in their lives to ultimately get them to commit to leaving their homes and families.  I’m sure there had to be the promise of opportunity, but this was a much heavier decision than “Applebees, Red Lobster or Olive Garden”. When they finally did make the commitment, did the whole family come? Individuals? Extended families? How did they decide who stayed? Was it a lack of funds that forced some to stay?

I’ve known for a couple years that my 2nd great grandparents, Fritz & Dora Rathkamp arrived in the US in 1868.  Tonight I finally found the passenger list. They arrived in New York on the ship New York on August 17, 1868. They, along with their daughter Johanna, were three of 637 passengers. The Statue of Liberty wouldn’t be commissioned for another 18 years.

Two years ago, I would have looked at the passenger list and only recognized them.  Today though I recognize some other names as well as some other towns near their village of Oeftinghausen in Germany.  The villages of Wesenstedt and  Schwaforden are also represented.  Other surnames include Wetenkamp, Hulsemann, Meyer, Halbemeyer, Finke and Windhorst.  Wetenkamp is a name I’ve seen repeatedly.  In fact, Christian Wetenkamp eventually married Johanna Rathkamp.  That’s a story for another post (hint: juicy story).

There are a couple things that interest me about this list.  First, the oldest traveler in their group is 35.  Second, it seems everybody on this list ended up farming in Minnesota except for Fritz Rathkamp.  He remained in Milwaukee his entire life.  My theory is that there was a lot of opportunity for a carpenter in the rapidly growing town of Milwaukee.  Was this the plan all along?  I see the attraction from both perspectives.  Fritz was trained as a carpenter in Germany, but his occupation was listed as “Heurling” or hired farm hand.  The last thing he probably wanted to do was work on another farm.  For the others, the thought of going to Minnesota and homesteading 160 acres was  probably also attractive.

View Ancestral Home in a larger map

Fun With Google Maps, Part 1

When people visit downtown Milwaukee, a lot of them comment on how many old buildings they see.  Actually, what they see is a fraction of what once was.  Milwaukee has managed to replace its history with parking structures, sports venues, and bland concrete buildings.  I still love my home town, but the remaining buildings only give you a slight feel for what it must have been like in the late 1800’s.

I’ve often tried to imagine what it was really like.  There are some photo collections on the websites of the Milwaukee Public Library and the UWM Library.  There are literally thousands of pictures to look at, but for this post I was only interested in pictures from the 2nd ward, specifically within a 2 or 3 block radius from where my 2nd great grandparents Fritz & Dora Rathkamp lived.  The thing that really caught me off guard were the pictures of the Exposition Building which was built in 1881 and destroyed by fire in 1905.  I had no idea this building was part of Milwaukee’s past.

Shown below is an embedded Google Map. If you click on the blue balloons, you will see pictures of buildings that are long gone positioned over the corresponding locations.  The map is interactive, so go ahead and click on some of the balloons, zoom in and out, and move the map around.  If you click the link below the map, you will be taken to the actual Google Maps page where you can drag the “little man” onto a street to enter into Google’s street view.  Have fun!

View Milwaukee’s 2nd Ward, Late 1800’s in a larger map

He Left the Horse Out in the Yard

[singlepic id=16 w=320 h=240 float=right]Hearing about the current shortage of the H1N1 flu vaccine, I’m reminded of the fact that this is not by any stretch the first nor the most severe flu epidemic in our country’s history.  My great grandfather, Fredrich Walz was one of the many victims of the Spanish Influenza in 1918.  In an earlier post, I mentioned how the Walz family came to America in 1905 from Russia.  They settled in Freeman, SD where Fredrich was a horse breeder.

As I was preparing for this post I went to the website of the Freeman Courier where the headline ironically reads, “Fighting the Flu”.  My grandmother, Emma (Walz) Niesl was only 5 years old when her father died.  I have a filmed interview of her conducted by my aunt Sandie (Niesl) Patten.  In this interview, my grandmother talks about her memories of her father’s untimely death.  Tragically, her mother Sophia (Bischke) Walz also passed away at an early age.  My grandmother lost both parents by the age of 13, but was taken in by family members in Milwaukee.