Categories
Milwaukee Rathkamp

Rathkamp Brothers Dominate Samson

For as long as I can remember, family get-togethers on the Rathkamp side of my family have been gut-busting experiences.  Every time we get together, somebody reminds me of the time one of the dogs crapped on my brand new white tennis shoes.  My dad, Bill, and my Uncle Dave are both really funny guys on their own, but together it’s almost like being on the set with Abbott & Costello.  Easters in our family are spent at my cousin Tim and his wife Gloria’s house.  This past Easter Bill & Dave were in a story telling mood and held court for us.

I think the best story is the last audio clip, where they reminisce about their hooliganism at the Washington Park Zoo in Milwaukee.  For a little background, Samson was a Lowland Gorilla who came to the Milwaukee Zoo, then in Washington Park, in 1950.  Every kindergartener in Milwaukee from the 1950’s until 1981 when Samson died took field trips to the zoo.  The only thing we wanted to see though was Samson.  At his peak weight Samson tipped the scales at 652lbs.  He was both feared and loved so hearing this story was akin to hearing that your dad and uncle once had a squirt gun fight with General George Patton.

Beatniks

Coal or Ice

Crankbusters

Bob and Bummy’s Piggybank

Zoro

The Rathkamp Hooligans Meet Samson

Categories
Niesl Uncategorized Walz

Oma Emma

It’s not an over-exaggeration to say that if ever there was an angel on this earth, it was my Grandma Emma. Emma Nathalia (Walz) Niesl was born to Fredrich and Sophia (Bischke) Walz on May 2, 1913. Both Fred and Sophie, along with their respective families, came to America, settling on the harsh plains of South Dakota, from the Steppes of southern Russia in the very early 1900’s. While they were from Russia, both families were of German descent, their families having been recruited from Germany to Russia in the early 19th Century to settle land newly conquered by Catherine the Great, herself of German descent.

Emma and her husband George “Dodge” Niesl had 4 children, 17 grandchildren, and countless great/ great great grandchildren. She had a way of making every one of us feel like we were her only grandchild. She sang, whistled, told jokes, showed us magic tricks, cooked, told stories, made clothes, and showed to each of us a love that made us feel very special.

Never, and I mean never, would you hear her criticize or pass judgement on anybody.  It wasn’t in her make up.  She led and influenced by example.

Some years ago, as Emma was in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s, my aunt Sandie (Niesl) Patten interviewed Emma.  I recently had these videos digitally copied and have put them on Youtube in 10 minute segments.  You can see Sandie nudging her along at times, trying to keep her on topic.

But in these videos, you can also see how special my Grandma Emma was.  It’s my hope that even though she is no longer with us, my kids and my family can learn from her.  She made the world a much better place.

Categories
Niesl

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.

Categories
Milwaukee

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.

Categories
Genealogy Hulsemann Rathkamp

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.


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Categories
Genealogy Hassell

The Swede in the Weeds…Such a Hassell

If I am the trunk of my genealogical tree, Olive Hassell is the closest branch with the most mystery surrounding it.  Olive is my paternal great grandmother, married to William J. Rathkamp.  I know almost nothing specific about her other than her date of death.  I know she was born in Sweden (my only non-German ancestor) in or about 1886.  I know that when her family came to the United States, they lived in Michigan.  I’m fairly certain, based on the 1900 US Census and the 1905 Wisconsin census, that her father was Charles Hassell and that they lived in Iron[singlepic id=6 w=320 h=240 float=left] Mountain.  After all, how many “Olive Hassells” could there be in Michigan?  There is nothing else I know of tying Olive to Charles.  Charles’ first wife (Olive’s mother?) died in about 1890.

I’m pretty sure she married William Rathkamp sometime between 1906, the year his first wife Sophie Hartmann died, and 1909, the year my grandfather was born.  That’s about it.

The lack of information seems to bring on a lot of questions.  Who were her parents?  When specifically did they arrive in America?  I haven’t found any arrival information.  Were she and William married in Wisconsin or Michigan?  I searched the marriage index for Milwaukee County at the Golda Meier Library at UWM and found nothing.  How and where did they meet?  Did she move to Milwaukee alone or possibly with a sibling?  What were the circumstances surrounding her early death at age 40?

One last note…

Many genealogists talk about the missing 1890 census. The lack of an 1890 census hasn’t really been that big of a deal for me, except in the case of Olive. With that census, I probably could confirm or deny her relationship to Charles and I would probably also know the identity of her mother. Bummer.

If anybody has any ideas or information, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

Categories
Genealogy Milwaukee Niesl Uncategorized

Neighbors

It’s amazing what you find when [singlepic id=1 w=320 h=240 float=right] really look closely at a census sheet. The genealogy software I use is Family Tree Maker which is owned and developed by Ancestry.com.   One of the nice things about this software is the “shaking leaf” it shows on a family member when it thinks it has information you’d be interested in.  My grandfather, George Niesl had one of these shaking leafs tonight and even though I was pretty confident there was nothing new that I’d find, I clicked on the link anyway.   FTM then took me to its search window where there was a link to view the 1920 census.  Again, I was pretty sure I already had this record, but I clicked on it again.

It took 2 seconds to notice that my great grand aunt, Johanna (Rathkamp) Wetenkamp and her daughter Dorothy lived next door to my grandfather and his family on 20th and Vliet in Milwaukee.  How many times had I looked at this record before?

Note also my grandfather is listed as “daughter”.  Guess George wasn’t a masculine enough name.

The interactive map below shows what 20th and Vliet looks like today.


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Categories
Milwaukee Rathkamp

Fritz & Dora Have Courtside Seats

A few weeks ago I visited the Milwaukee Public Library and found they had a variety of “fire insurance” maps going back to the 1880’s.  These maps were produced by the Sanborn Company in order to provide insurance underwriters detailed information relative to the construction and fire risks of buildings in designated areas.[singlepic id=2 w=320 h=240 float=right]

The maps are too large to makes copies, but I did snap some pictures with my iPhone.  The picture below shows an overlay of my great great grandparent’s block in 1894 on top of the current view taken from Google Earth.  The large building is the Bradley Center, home of the Milwaukee Bucks.  I wonder if Milwaukeeans have a feel for how much their city has changed over time.  I’m not a Luddite, but I’ve seen pictures of Milwaukee’s second ward from the late 1800’s and I don’t know that we’ve improved the city by tearing those buildings down only to replace them with parking structures.

Within a two block radius, the only remaining buildings from their era are Turner Hall and some buildings on Old World 3rd Street.

I wonder what Fritz & Dora would think about seeing the Bucks and Metallica.


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