Bier Trip to the Homeland Part IV: A Brief Separation in Time and Space

The journey to “the homeland” has begun in earnest!  After soaking up the culture of the Bavaria for the past few days,  today we boarded a bus and drove to Prague in the Czech Republic.  The purpose of the Munich part of the trip was to get a taste of what our ancestors’ German cultural homeland is like;  this second part will investigate their lands from which they physically sprung.

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The areas of the Czech Republic on which we will be focusing:  Prague for the sheer pleasure of it all, and the Pardubice Region for the familyhistory.

165 years ago, the Bier and Langer strands of my family tree were living what I imagine to have been an uneventful life in Bohemia.  In fact, their families lived less than 20 km apart from each other in, essentially, the same county (Pardubice) of the now Czech Republic.  For a brief review, here’s a copy of my father, Thomas Bier’s, ancestor tree:

Thomas Bier Ancestor Chart

Ancestors of Thomas Bier.  Those who are Germans from Bohemia are circled.

Did the Bier / Jiru and Langer / Janisch families know each other in the old country?  Who’s to say.  The Langer / Janisch clan emigrated about 30 years prior to the Bier / Jiru family–in 1853.  Further, the Langer family settled in a large enclave of German Bohemians in the Watertown area.  While Watertown is also in southern Wisconsin, it lies over 30 miles away from the greater Janesville area that attracted the Biers.

Wouldn’t be an amazing story, though, if my Grandpa Vincent Bier and Grandma Mary Alice (Langer) Bier’s families were friends 3-4 generations in advance of their wedding?  Some exciting sleuthing into the historical record provides some tantalizing clues that this was, in fact, the case.

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Wedding of  my Grandma Mary Alice (Langer) Bier & Grandpa Vincent Bier.  21 November, 1946.  Did their grandparents–Emil Langer and Valentine Bier–ever meet?

 

Franz Langer was Mary Alice’s Great-Grandfather;  he was the one to make the move to the United States with his wife, Barbara Janisch.  Valentine Bier was Vincent’s Grandfather and was the emigree.   And, according to a brief clipping in the Rock County  Recorder Times, Valentine actually served as a pallbearer for Franz Langer at his death in 1894.  While the name is actually spelled “Valentine Beers,” it seems reasonable to assume that this was, in fact, Valentine Bier.  Both men attended the same church, St. Mary’s in Janesville.  The timing also lines up:

 

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Obituary of Franz Langer from the Rock County Recorer Times 11 October, 1894

 

 

Another source that I frequently reference is the Bier Family Journal.  This ledger-like document chronicles the daily life of the Valentine Bier family from 1899-1903;  most of the Valentine Bier children contributed at some time or another, although Father Charles Bier was the most prolific diarist.

 

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The Bier Family Diary:  a ridiculously rich source of primary information.

The diary generally concludes each day by enumerating the visitors that stopped by.  Take a look at who visited the house in the summer of 1899:

Wed. Aug 16, 1899:  Weather is quite agreeable, but rather warm in the afternoon.  Father, Louis and Fr. begin to haul manure.  Chas sees the great base ball game taking place between Janesville and Milwaukee league teams.  The score is Mil 2.  Janesville 0.  Visitors of the eve at home are Mr. Emil Langer Senior and Junior, Uncle Anton, and cousin Chas. Bier.  Fr. Baar, and Fr. Schneider, Jno. and Bertha.  Jno. begins tobacco harvesting.

 

Emil Langer Junior would be Mary Alice’s father.  Edward, the youngest of the Valentine Bier clan, was Vincent’s father.  At the date of that visit at which they surely met, Emil Langer, Jr., was 14.  Edward Bier 10 years old.  Their children would marry in just over 47 years.

Wow!  Genealogy is FUN!

In a few short days, we will retrace beginning of these families brief separation in time and space…

The Reason Why: A Brief Detour

I promise to get back to blogging our trip during a bus ride tomorrow.  Today I was excited to receive word that I am the adult winner of the “Little House, Big Story” essay contest, sponsored by Old World Wisconsin in recognition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday.  Here is my submission.

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The Reason Why

Little-House-in-the-Big-Woods

Once upon a time, a little more than forty years ago, a little girl lived on the wide open prairies of southern Wisconsin, in a ramshackle farmhouse with a cellar made of fieldstones and big old hewn logs.  Upstairs looked more or less like a regular 1970’s house.  The kitchen had an avocado green-themed suite of appliances, there was a TV with three channels, and she brushed her teeth at night with water from a running tap.  However, she never forgot that, underneath the floors covered with wall-to-wall carpet, there was a cellar with 150-year old logs holding things up, so weathered with time that her dad could sink his thumbnail into them.  The little girl’s name was Angie.

 

Angie’s dad wanted to be a farmer, but there wasn’t enough family farm left for him to inherit.  His parents, Angie’s grandma and grandpa, said “Farming is no life for your family;  we just can’t cosign that loan.”  So instead he became a firefighter and a coach, and he played at being a farmer with Angie, and eventually her two younger sisters and two younger brothers, in the old white barn next to the ramshackle farmhouse.  He filled the barn with chickens and lambs and, occasionally, a pig.  Every winter Angie’s mom would stock a freezer with a hundred chickens, enough to last them through the winter, because firefighters didn’t make much money and five kids were a lot to feed.  Maybe that was it.  Maybe the thought of an attic stuffed with pumpkins and braided ropes of onions matched up with her own basement full of frozen chickens and gallons of milk.  Maybe that’s why her heart and brain were just waiting to be filled up with stories of another little girl, named Laura.

 

When Angie was five or six, her Auntie Carol gave her a very special book for her birthday.  The book had a buttery yellow cover and a picture on the front of a little girl hugging her baby doll.  The girl had brown hair, just like Angie, and in the background was a dad and a beautiful sister with golden hair, just like all four of Angie’s brothers and sisters.  Angie already knew that being the only one without golden hair could be hard, especially when the old ladies at church would come up and stroke her sisters’ gleaming locks.  Maybe that was it.  Maybe that was why she read that book so many times that both covers fell off.

 

When Angie started school, she found that the work came easily.  Pleasing her teachers gave her a warm feeling in her heart.  It made her feel special in a good way.  However, she quickly learned that some of the other children at school felt otherwise.   She would flush pink with shame when classmates pointed out how quickly she completed her tasks and mockingly called her “teacher’s pet.”  For a while, she hid her talents to avoid any attention at all, good or bad.  One time Angie erased and re-wrote all of the answers during a test, in order to avoid being the first to walk her work up to the front of the class.  Her teacher, Mrs. Buggs, commented in green felt tip:  “Why so much erasing?”  Angie wondered what to do, whether to please her teachers and herself or her schoolmates.  But Angie’s book friend, Laura, won her spelling bees and made her Ma and Pa proud by being tops in her one-room schoolhouse and she turned out alright.  That felt good to know, and the shame started to melt away a little bit.  Maybe that was why.  Maybe that’s why she collected all the rest of the buttery yellow books about a girl named Laura and read the covers off of them, too.

 

When she grew older, Angie and her friends would laugh about how she was secretly an old lady, because she liked to do things like put up preserves and sew her own curtains. She preferred to watch movies checked out from the library or on PBS instead of the latest blockbuster.  She took the long way to Sioux Falls along Highway 14, the Laura Ingalls Memorial Highway, even though it made her late.  But her friends always came to her when they needed a recipe, a button sewn on, or when they needed to round out their Trivia teams.  Angie was their own personal anachronism, and they cherished her for it. What those gently teasing friends didn’t know, though, was that Angie was pretty sure that she had already been an old lady for many many years, that her story really fit best in those buttery yellow books, that she’d already lived a life in the past and that modern times were just a jarring inconvenience. Maybe that was it.  Maybe that was why she re-read those coverless books every few years even into her 20’s and 30’s and 40’s.

 

Angie grew older and realized that her preference for Laura and her literary sisters, Anne and Caddie, wasn’t something to be ashamed of but to be celebrated.  Angie spent hours talking to her elderly relatives and tracing her own family’s history through the long-since-felled Big Woods of Wisconsin.  She found their pictures and preserved them, she wrote their stories and shared them, she collected their belongings in danger of being discarded and cherished them.   To Angie, the past had never been a static thing, but a living breathing reality.  Laura and the buttery yellow books started that.  Maybe that was reason enough.

 

Bier Trip to the Homeland: Munich Themes and Variations

Everyone seemed to survive the night, although a fair contingent did not make it to the delightful breakfast at the Eden Wolff Hotel.  Interesting quote from breakfast:  “I have trouble finding good liverwurst in Chicago” –Amy Bier, age 25.  The hotel is located just across from the city’s main train station, and I enjoyed watching the early Sunday morning traffic slowly increase in the early morning sun, as backpackers and travelers arrived to the city.  My roommate, Joan Shadel, is an excellent travelling companion.  In all, I recommend both her and the hotel.

Our formalized tours starting tomorrow, today our group split up.  A contingent went to the Museum district.  They took in the Documentation Center, a new museum at the site of the now-razed Brown House.  This is where Hitler launched his party from, and the museum details the personalities and situations that led to the rise of National Socialism.

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A light repast of pretzel, emmentaler, weisswurst, bier & cribbage at the Viktualienmarket Biergarten 

All who went learned something and came away with questions and answers.  Another intrepid trio also continued on to a hike around the city and the English Garden that yielded a total daily step count of 34,196 (11 miles).  They were the only ones to truly earn their dinner.  Louise and I became knowledgeable with the old area of Munich with the help of Rick Steves, and probably can now carry an umbrella as official tour guides.

 

 

The group reconvened for a lovely evening at the famous Hofbrauhaus, where we joined by my cousin Emily Laning who arrived from a work trip to Bulgaria.

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Prost!

 

Let me organize my observations into a few themes and variations:

 

 

 

MUNICH THEMES AND VARIATIONS

Leiderhosen  are a thing that people wear for real.  True, they are de riguer for the employees of tourist-heavy areas.  However, I spotted a fair number of common citizens attired thusly:  middle aged men shooting the breeze, a homeless man sifting through the trash, a guy next to us at the biergarten looking especially natty in an embroidered denim ensemble.

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Leiderhosen and Dirndls:  on trend and coming to a neighborhood near you.

Catholicism is a big thing in Munich.  A lot of the historical sites have something to do with stomping out the “Protestant Threat.”   We were touring churches this morning, a Sunday, during mass time.  The incense hung chokingly heavy in every church we entered, and I was surprised to see the pews mostly full.  We learned that St. Michael’s Church was built by the Jesuits as their northern outpost in the fight against Protestantism during the 1500’s.

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St. Michael slaying the so-called and much feared “Protestant Threat.”

St. Peter’s Church contains a weirdly fascinating side altar containing the bones of St. Munditia, a 4th century martyr.  These were a gift from Rome for a job well done–defending against the Protestant threat.

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Relics  of St. Munditia at St. Peter’s Church

The heart of the city is the Marienplatz (“Mary Place.”)  It contains a 16th century column surmounted by a gold statue of Mary.  The base has cherubs at each corner defeating symbols of the four greatest threats to the city at that time:  the dragon of war, the lion of hunger, the rooster-headed monster of plague and the serpent of–wait for it–Protestant heresy.

Marienplatz

Marienplatz.  Look at that cherub kicking some Protestant serpent butt!  (Note:  I do not endorse kicking anyone’s butt, Protestant or otherwise.)

You can’t escape the memory of WWII.  From the museum I mentioned above, to the fact that anything old only looks that way after being rebuilt, the shadow looms long.

The name Bier can get you anywhere.  The entire desk staff at the hotel knows us and our name.  In fact, the concierge was palpably confused when I told her that people back home are often reluctant to pronounce our last name correctly when reading it aloud for the first time for fear of offending us.  (We tend to get a lot of “Buyer” type pronounciation.)  The hotel bartender gladly received instruction on how to make a proper Wisconsin brandy old fashioned.  (The German version is basically brandy over ice with a slice of orange and a hint of bitters).

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Hofbrauhaus conviviality built on Bier–literally & figuratively.

Uncle Jim has pulled out his driver’s license so many times to flash his name that I’m thinking of getting a lanyard type situation for him to just wear it around his neck. This was done to greatest effect at the Hofbrauhaus, where Gene managed to score us a table for 10 in an impossibly crowded courtyard and a new friendship culminated in shared beers, gingerbread hearts, and hearty handshakes.

There’s always room for dessert.

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Apple strudel. The polite and of the table and . . .

 

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our end of the table.  How’d that hole get in the table?

 

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Bier Trip to the Homeland

After years of muttering about how we “really oughta,” we’re doing it.  We’re taking all of the rich first-hand narrative information about our family history and doing a mission of discovery.  I along with an assortment of my Bier relatives are spending our first night in Munich.

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Our guide, Christiane Haack. She was quite popular holding this sign in the arrivals hall.

This trip was about two years in the making, and we set up an itinerary to accomplish several things:

  • Go back to Ketzelsdorf (Koclirov) and see the village that our ancestors left behind.  
  • See a little of the other villages that other relatives came from (more on this later)
  • Stop by the nearest big city, Prague
  • Take in a smattering of German and Bavarian culture in Munich.

The trip ranges from my parents at the older end of the spectrum to my cousin, Nick Laning, who is 17.   Here’s a fun little tree to see how we’re all related and who’s along for the ride.   The tree is set up in relation to my great grandfather, Edward Bier.  He’s the youngest of Valentine’s kids, and the most recent common relative of us all.  Trip participants are circled:

Edward A Bier Hourglass Chart

We spent this first day getting here, wandering around the city in bleary-eyed fascination and taking in a delicious dinner of sauerbraten, bread dumplings and bier at the Augustiner Keller Biergarten, proudly serving Augustiner bier which has been brewed since 1328!

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Louise Bier and dessert and some scrap metal on the wall that we sat next to.

Now I’m in bed writing and the younger and heartier of the group are out pub hopping.   Also Uncle Jim. For my family, discovering our “German roots” is not proving to be that much of a stretch!

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Mom and Dad walking home from Augustiner Keller

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Discovering our German roots in the hotel bar–Bier and Riesling

Disney Detox

I haven’t written for a bit.  That’s because a little over a week ago, we returned from a family trip to Disney World.  We were there for the World Dance Competition, which was simply amazing, but more on that later.  I want to discuss a radical proposal.  Now, I love me a Disney trip.  I am seduced by the attention to detail, the amazing customer service, and the familial joy.  Note, however, that I did not refer to said excursion as a “vacation.”

Family Vacation

“Family Vacation,” Normal Rockwell.  Yup, this is about right.

By the end of a Disney jaunt, I feel like a wrung out dishrag, and the faces of the parents at the Orlando departure gate would indicate that I’m not alone.  We all sat with a slightly glazed look while our children, high on sugary, sunburned energy buzzed around our aching feet.  Likewise, a number of the dance moms who’d gone on the trip posted celebratory couples only shots at Summerfest over the subsequent week, reveling in their alone time.  Please don’t get me wrong:  I realize how lucky my kids are to have gone to Disney more than once in their young lives.  Heck, my first trip there was in the fourth grade, via full-size van and involved running out of cash on the return trip and a drive straight-through back home.  I get that it’s a special treat.  But for the parental set, I’d like to suggest some modifications that will allow for the noun “Vacation” to apply.

A Radical Proposal:  Disney Re-Entry Experience, a.k.a. Disney Detox

This 1-2 day experience will be located well away from any tempting Disney-related attractions, lest you feel compelled to check off one more “most-do” item from the list.  I’m thinking a parking lot near the airport or a nondescript office park on the outskirts of Orlando.  It doesn’t have to be a glamorous location;  nobody will be going outside for any length of time during re-entry.  It just needs to be outside the sphere of Disney (and other theme park) influence.

I’ve drawn up some sample language for promotional literature.  Let me know what you think:

During the re-entry process, parents will be gently separated from their children.  We acknowledge that you love them, but during this re-entry period it is important for you to attend only to your own toileting / hunger / thirst / entertainment / impending meltdowns. Children will undergo their own re-entry experience in the care of qualified, boringly-dressed professionals who do not give out autographs or call anyone “princess.” Daily programming will include clearing one’s place at the table, unembellished sandwiches / cereal / casseroles for meals, being responsible for one’s own belongings, and long periods of boredom. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine without you for two days.  Besides, let’s be honest–they need a little time away from you as well, Ms. Sweaty Boob Crabby Pants.

book nook

The adults-only facility features muted color, dim lighting, soft music and staff without name tags.  The option for separate bedrooms is entirely up to you and your partner.  Trust me, we get it.  Daily programming consists of napping, reading, board games, spa time, TV watching, and yoga or light stretching.  You can go for a leisurely walk if you must.  There is no schedule, opening / closing times, or lockout period for any of these.  YOU CAN DO THINGS WHEN YOU WANT, THERE IS NO NEED FOR A FAST PASS.

In addition to our serene detox environment, we are proud to highlight the following:

 

  • An excess of bathrooms.  You will never have to hunt for them or pre-emptively empty your bladder in anticipation of a long line.
  • Set menus requiring no decisions and no discussion of allergens.
  • Common areas arranged kind of like study carrels in a library–cozy chairs arranged such that you can avoid eye contact and, as a result, forced chitchat with any other re-entry guests.  For those inexhaustible extroverts among us, there will be a dedicated chatting lounge.  It is in pristine shape as it has never been used.
  • A return to a cash economy.  You must be shaken awake from the ridiculous ease with you have moved to paying for things with your wrist.
  • Foot massages.
  • Evening sunset-viewing from our shaded deck with 2+ dedicated chairs for each guest to choose from.  There will be NO fireworks.
  • Did we mention the foot massages?
  • No ponchos.  Anywhere.

feet in bed

 

So who’s with me?  I figure all we need to do is line up a few investors, arrange for a drop off point for the Magical Express, garner the support of the legions of Disney Mom Bloggers, and we should be set!

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Anatomy: Part I

Lately when the moms get together, the conversation often veers to puberty and all of the super-fun conversations it entails.  My generation of moms came of age in an era when Our Bodies, Ourselves was easily available. Our girls have been armed with an array of pleasantly illustrated, affirmational books published by the behemoth that is American Girl. The conversations are still awkward and hilarious.

Fortunately, I’d laid the groundwork for the pre-teen drama with numerous well-timed, carefully paced conversations throughout childhood.  There was the summer when Natalie was six.  This was the year she’d learned to ride her bike.  She stopped dramatically one summer evening, made a big show of wiping her brow, and announced that she’d been riding all day, and “boy were her balls tired.”  

“Well, I imagine you’re sore, but girls’ potty parts aren’t called ‘balls,” mentally chastising myself for ever adopting the “potty parts” convention to begin with. “That’s the slang term for boys’ potty parts.  I guess that boys always like to talk about their balls, don’t they.  Did you hear it one the playground?

“Yeah, but I didn’t know…”

“Well, no big deal, but that’s why it’s always a good idea to test out new words that we learn on the playground with an adult first, OK?”

“OK,” zipping away for another lap around the cul de sac.

I felt pretty good about things, boy I’d handled that minefield with cool nonchalance, imparting valued wisdom to my daughter.  That mental gold star fell off a few hours later when she came home announcing that Gabe had to pee while they were playing in the woods, and he just went on a tree, and she’d seen his “ball.”  So close, my dear, so close.

 

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Valentine Bier Family: Part II

Valentine Bier-Catherine Jiru Family Portrait

Catherin (Jiru) Bier, c. 1890

Left Behind:  March, 1882

When we last left Catherine, she had said goodbye to her husband, Valentine, to fend for her brood in Ketzelsdorf while he attempted to secure enough funds to sponsor their passage to America.  Recall that the family had already been reduced to destitution after Valentine had nearly died from smallpox.  Charles was only about 2 1/2 years old at the time, but later paid close attention to the stories passed down to him by his older siblings and his parents.  Looking back as an adult, Father Charles Bier writes:

Meanwhile mother was trying to keep herself and her flock of six youngsters from starving.  Now the creditors who had loaned my father the cash to go into the grain business began to worry that they might not get their money back, so they simply came and took whatever property was removable.  There was a cow, two goats, a few geese and chickens and some garden tools and implements.  This would have driven mother to the verge of despair had it not been for the help she received from some friends and relatives.  —Memoirs of an Old Recluse

During all of this, Catherine gave birth to her seventh child, Amalia, at the end of July.  This means that Valentine left his wife when she was five months pregnant!  Can you imagine how scared she must have been?

Valentine’s Journey:  March-April, 1882

Valentine Bier-Catherine Jiru Family Portrait

Valentine Bier, abt. 1890

Valentine’s ticket was paid for by an old friend from Ketzelsdorf, Frank Huschka.  According to passenger lists, Frank Huschka had come to Wisconsin ten years earlier, in 1872, at the age of 22.  He had traveled with his 20-year-old wife, Flora.  Frank & Flora’s occupation was listed as “landleute,” loosely translated to “farmer, peasant, country person.”  Frank was about 8 years younger than Valentine, born in 1850.  After the passenger list, I am unable to pick up the trail of Frank & Flora Huschka save for the recollections of Father Charles Bier.  He notes that after ten years in America, when Frank sent Valentine a ticket for passage, he was still struggling with poverty.  And yet he still found it within himself to help out an old friend.

Valentine traveled on a ship called the Elbe, as did his family after him.  Wikipedia tells us that the ship was practically brand new at the time, having been launched in April 1881.  The Elbe was the first of a series of eleven express steamers known as the “Rivers Class,” as they were all named after German rivers.   The Elbe had accommodation for 179 First Class passengers, 142 in Second Class, and 796 in Steerage. She was a very popular ship with immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe to the United States and was virtually always sold out in steerage.  Not surprisingly, Valentine’s ticket was in steerage!  He landed in Baltimore and took a train to Janesville, Wisconsin.

As the smallpox had badly scarred his face he never shaved again but grew a heavy black beard, now sprinkled with gray.  When he arrived at the R.R. station in Janesville, Wis., Mr. Huschka did not recognize him as he looked more like a “weary willy” than the respectable friend of former days.  He was then hired as a farm hand at $18.00 a month. —Memoirs of an Old Recluse

That $18.00 a month translates into about $400 per month in today’s currency–and he was trying to secure eight people’s passage.  Between April and July, he did it.

The Journey Home:  July-November, 1882

In July, 1882, Catherine received the bittersweet news that, with the help of friends, Valentine had secured the family’s passage to join him.  Father Charles captures some of the trepidation she must have felt:

This gave new hope to mother, although the thought of undertaking such a trip with seven small children was like a nightmare to her.  Yet the hope of finding a better home, and again living with her husband, buoyed her up with new courage and the determination to leave her onetime happy home, her friends and kinfolks, her parish church and school and all that had been dear to her since the days of her childhood . . . Truly sad for her were the last few days she spent in Ketzelsdorf, preparing for the dreaded voyage and the departure that left no hope of ever coming back . . . When the moment came to bid farewell to her mother and sisters and brothers she was overwhelmed with sadness and grief.  Her oft repeated prayer was:  “God’s will be done!” —Memoirs of an Old Recluse

[Note:  Catherine’s mother and brothers, Johanna, Frank & Florian Jiru, were to join them in about three years’ time.  I have no further record of her sisters save their mention in this passage.]  The family took the same route that Valentine did:  departure from Bremen, Germany.  Two to three weeks on board the Elbe in steerage.  Arrival in Baltimore.  Train to Janesville.  With seven kids, the youngest of which was an infant.  The oldest were 12 and 13.  Yikes.

Perhaps that voyage from Moravia to America with seven small children, the youngest of which was only a babe of three months, can be more easily imagined than described.  The older children had to carry as many bundles and packages as they could and when changing trains I also had to be carried as I was less than three years of age.  We spent over two weeks on board the ship Elbe.  This was a sailboat equipped with some additional steam power.  We had to travel in the lowest class called steerage which affords the least and poorest accommodations.  All the children became seasick but mother was spared from this affliction.  When the sea was rough and the ship rocked from side to side we often bumped together and fell over each other.  This made me cross and irritable so that in later years they used to tell me how angry I became when that happened and how I used to shout and tell them not to push me like the cows.  The food we got on board the ship was very poor.  There was no milk and the butter and meats were saturated with salt.  We felt so sick most of the time that we could not have eaten even good food. — Memoirs of an Old Recluse

S.S. Elbe Ship

S.S. Elbe, 1881

Before we leave the Elbe, it’s worth mentioning that the ship had a brief life and an interesting fate.  Thirteen years later, in 1895, she met her demise:

The night of 30 January 1895 was stormy.  In the North Sea, conditions were freezing and there were huge seas. SS Elbe had left Bremerhaven for New York earlier in the day with 354 passengers aboard. Also at sea on this rough night was the steamship Crathie, sailing from Aberdeen in Scotland, heading for Rotterdam. As conditions grew worse, the Elbe discharged warning rockets to alert other ships to her presence. The Crathie either did not see the warning rockets or chose to ignore them. She did not alter her course, with such disastrous consequences, that she struck the liner on her port side with such force that whole compartments of the Elbe were immediately flooded. The collision happened at 5.30 am and most of the passengers were still asleep.The Elbe began to sink immediately and the captain, von Goessel, gave the order to abandon ship. Amid great scenes of panic the crew managed to lower two of the Elbe‘s lifeboats. One of the lifeboats capsized as too many passengers tried in vain to squeeze into the boat. Twenty people scrambled into the second lifeboat, of whom 15 were members of the crew. The others were four male second-class passengers and a young lady’s maid by the name of Anna Boecker, who had been lucky enough to be pulled from the raging sea after the first boat had capsized. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Elbe, Captain von Goessel had ordered all the women and children to assemble there but no other lifeboats were launched because the ropes on the derricks were all frozen up, and so they perished along with the captain. Within 20 minutes of the collision, the Elbe had sunk and the only survivors were the 20 people in the one surviving lifeboat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Elbe_(1881)

Baltimore Harbor, Locust Point

Locust Point, Baltimore Harbor. Abt. 1860.

Catherine and the children landed in Baltimore Harbor on November 13, 1882.  While we all know of Ellis Island as a significant point of entry, Baltimore Harbor was the second most popular arrival point for immigrants to the United States at the time.  Disembarkation was fairly straightforward when compared to the process at Ellis Island and Elsewhere.  Doctors and officials boarded the ships as they steamed up the Chesapeake Bay.  The B&O railroad had even constructed two huge buildings that served as terminals for both arriving ships and departing rail cars.  (Connery, William.  “Point of Entry:  Baltimore, the Other Ellis Island.”)

After arriving at Baltimore we were all vaccinated while in quarantine.  This did not leave any ill effects as it seems we had all become immune to smallpox during father’s illness. — Memoirs of an Old Recluse

This statement is interesting and may reveal some provincial resistance to vaccination harbored by the Biers and/or lack of availability of the vaccine.  Vaccination to smallpox had been introduced into Europe in the 1790’s.  (Carrell, Jennifer Lee.  The Speckled Monster:  A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox.)

Reunited:  November, 1882

Catherine and seven children traveled several days by rail from Baltimore to Janesville, Wisconsin.

My earliest recollection of any event of which I took notice and of which there is still a faint inkling in my memory, happened on the train as we traveled from Baltimore to Chicago.  It was that of a negro porter announcing the time for lunch.  We did not know what he said [recall that they spoke not a word of English] but it was the color of his face that lingered in my memory. — Memoirs of an Old Recluse

 

Janesville RR depot c. 1900

Janesville railroad depot, c. 1900

Catherine and the children disembarked the train and were met by Valentine, whom they had not seen for over eight months, and his sponsor & friend, Frank Huschka.

 

 

 

 The meeting of mother and dad was pathetic.  They both wept like lovelorn pilgrims, once more happily reunited.  It was the first time that dad had seen the baby and he had a pet name for each one of us.  While this reunion gave him much joy he also bewailed the fact that he had not been able to provide a decent home for the family.  After loading our luggage on the wagon we all piled on for our first American “buggy ride.” — Memoirs of an Old Recluse

The description is so heartbreakingly human;  it animates the somber faces that otherwise exist only as frozen visages in photographs.  Imagine how relieved Catherine and Valentine were.  I wonder what the individual pet names for each child were?

Lumber wagon c. 1880

Lumber wagon c. 1880. This is the type of humble conveyance that transported the reunited Bier family.

 

What a relief, readers.  So now the hard part is over, right?  Wrong . . .