Friday, December 2, 2016


Anyone who has recently looked for a burial location for a Catholic in Chicago knows that several years ago the Archdiocese had all the records automated and made available at kiosks in each of its cemeteries. Originally the kiosks also printed out section maps but that never worked too well, so it was discontinued.  However, finding burial places of deceased Catholics in the Chicago area was made very easy.

Today it was announced that the LDS Church site Family Search ( has made all of the Archdiocese of Chicago cemetery records through 1989 available online at no charge (you just have to register with the site, but it's free).

The announcement describes the records this way: "Index and images of miscellaneous records of cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago [Illinois]. The majority of the collection is comprised of burial index cards. A small percentage of the collection includes burial registers, daily burial logs and registers of cemetery lot owners. Cemeteries within the Archdiocese of Chicago are located in both Cook and Lake counties, Illinois." 

I decided to do a spot check and see what I could find.  First I looked for my father's record, and here it is:

It correctly notes that we had his grave moved in 1977 when I bought a larger plot.

Then I checked my grandfather's record:

and again, everything looks OK.

But I found something interesting when I checked my grandmother's record:

The record incorrectly lists her "home address" as 830 (G)ray Avenue in Evanston.  That was not her address - it was the address of my uncle who was the executor of her estate.  So you can't always assume that the person you are looking up actually lived at the "home address" listed in their record.

Then I decided to look for one of the records they usually don't release to the public to see if it was there - and it was.

Here's his original burial record at Mount Olivet Cemetery:

and the record that reflects that they had him moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery:

so it appears they are including some records that had previously been "secret."  

This is a tremendous tool for researchers and I am very happy these records have been made available online - and at no cost.

Now if we could just get Rosehill Cemetery to do the same with their records, I could live happily ever after.

Happy hunting!

Special thanks to Mike Kelly who brought this tremendous news to my attention.

Friday, November 25, 2016


Readers of this blog know how much I love Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago - and especially its beautiful mausoleum designed by Sidney Lovell:

Back on April 8, 2016 I wrote an article for this blog entitled Rosehill the Beautiful - 1908. 

For that article I scanned from my collection the booklet about Rosehill that the cemetery published in 1908 full of beautiful pictures of the cemetery.  In 1908 the mausoleum had not been built yet. 

I am not getting any younger so I decided it was time for me to think about where my remains would end up, and I decided that there was no better place for me than in the mausoleum I love so much. So I am now the proud owner of Niche #5 of the Hennig Chapel Unit in the Rosehill Mausoleum.  Here's a photo:

My niche is in the top row on the far right side, outlined in black in the photo above.  You will note that it is right above the plaque honoring Elmer F. Hennig and right outside the door of the Hennig Memorial Chapel.  An appropriate spot considering my admiration for Mr. Hennig.

I would, of course, have preferred a niche in one of the older sections of the mausoleum, but they have all been sold.  The Hennig Chapel niches are fairly new, so I had many niches to choose from. 

In honor of my purchase I have decided to share another piece from my Rosehill collection with you.  This is another booklet entitled Rosehill the Beautiful.  This one was published in 1924 and prominently features the mausoleum.  Here for your enjoyment is Rosehill the Beautiful - 1924:

It is interesting to read how the Rosehill Cemetery Company thought the cemetery got its name (see page 3).  No mention of Hiram Roe or any transcription error in the City Clerk's office. According to them (which was the story I always heard) Rosehill got its name from "the masses of wild roses that clustered about the wooded slopes of the hill."  Wild roses grow in profusion in the Chicago area.  I have wild rose bushes growing in my own yard (but no Hiram Roe.) 

I am pleased to say that I have noted significant improvement in recent trips to Rosehill.  There is a new manager at the cemetery and he has made the office much more people-friendly.  They will gladly look up a grave location for you now - at no charge. 

Rosehill will probably never again reach the heights it knew during Elmer Hennig's tenure, but I am pleased to see that they are back on the right track.

Hopefully my niche will not be occupied for some time to come, but it's always better to be prepared.  As they say, "Hope for the best, plan for the worst."

Friday, October 28, 2016


I really enjoy working on this blog.  I love doing the research - digging through old records looking for information or reading old newspaper and magazine articles trying to "flesh out" the subjects of my stories.  But most I all I love working on this blog because it brings me in contact with people who I never would have encountered otherwise.  This week's subject is a perfect example of that.  His name is Lew Sarett (1888-1954) and he was called "the poet of the wilderness."  It is highly doubtful that I would have ever encountered Lew Sarett in the normal course of my life but with this article of all that has changed.  So let's sit back and relax and see what we can "dig up" about the man who wrote these lines:

Lew Sarett

A lonely lake, a lonely shore,
A lone pine leaning on the moon;
All night the water-beating wings
Of a solitary loon.

With mournful wail from dusk to dawn
He gibbered at the taunting stars, —
A hermit-soul gone raving mad,
And beating at his bars.

Lew Sarett was born Lewis Zaratzsky on May 16, 1888 in Chicago. He was the only child of Rudolph Zaratzsky (1865-1925) and Jeanette, nee Bloch (1871-1948).  His parents had immigrated to the US about 1880 - Rudolph from Poland and Jeanette from Lithuania. Rudolph was a clothing cutter by trade.  

The family moved in 1895 to Marquette, Michigan, where young Lew Sarett first began to acquire his knowledge and love of the outdoors and of wild animals. Around 1900 Sarett and his mother returned to Chicago while his father continued to look for work. In 1902 the family was reunited and moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where Sarett graduated from Benton Harbor High School in 1907 as a champion orator, debater, athlete and scholar.

The 1910 US Census (April 28, 1910) finds "Lewis Seratsky" living in Chicago as a "Boarder" at 4347 West Congress Street.  (That address is now a vacant lot.)  He was living with Aron Jacobus and family. Lewis listed his occupation as "Cutter in the Tailoring Business," (same occupation as his father Rudolph).  Surprisingly, Lewis told the census taker that he had been born in Russia, and that he came to the US in 1898.

Sarett started his higher education at the University of Michigan  in Benton Harbor (1907-1908).  In 1909 he was a sophomore transfer to Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin.  During a colorful campus career there he was known as Lew R. Saretsky.  

At Beloit he was a member of Delta Sigma Rho, honorary speech fraternity, and of the Turtle Mound, senior men's group.  He was outstanding as a cheerleader in the days when sports were having a big revival of interest on the Beloit campus.  As a cheerleader, he participated in Beloit's first homecoming ceremonies of 1910. 

Lew Saretsky, Cheerleader

During these years, known as 'Swat,' Sarett participated in athletics and won honors in oratory.  He won the Rice Prize for extemporaneous speaking at the 1910 commencement, and he won the Wisconsin State Oratorical Championship in two successive years.  His prize-wining orations were “The Slavonic Offering to the American” in 1910 and “Poland's Offering to the American” in 1911.  Around 1911, he formally changed his surname to Sarett.

After graduating from Beloit (Class of 1911), he attended Harvard Law School (1911-1912) and the University of Illinois Law School (LL.B. 1916).  

In 1913 Lew Sarett accepted a position on the faculty of the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois.  He was an Assistant Professor of Public Speaking for the 1913-1914 academic year and an Assistant Professor of  English starting in 1914.  During this period, Sarett lived at 504 E. Chalmers Street in Champaign.  A parking lot occupies that space today.

For a time he lived among the Chippewa Indians of the Lake Superior region, was adopted by them and given the name "Lone Caribou." When Sarett was not teaching, he served as a part-time ranger in National Parks in Montana and Wyoming and as a wilderness guide in northern Minnesota and Canada. 

On June 17, 1914 Lew R. Sarett married Margaret H. Minen (1893-1941) in St. Joseph, Michigan.  Margaret H. Minen was born Margaret Helen Husted on June 17, 1893 in Marengo, Illinois to Harry Brooks Husted (1865-1931) and Helen Bryan, nee Osgood (1869-1910).  Harry Husted was a bookkeeper by trade who went on to own a paint factory in Chicago.

Before she married Lew Sarett, Margaret had been married to George Edgar Mizen (1889-1942).  They were married July 24, 1911 in Kane County, Illinois.  The marriage ended in divorce.  

Lew and Margaret Sarett were blessed with two children:  Lewis Hastings Sarett (1917-1999), and Helen Osgood Sarett (1926-2007). Lewis H. Sarett became quite famous in his own right. He was the first chemist to synthesize cortisone. It was a feat of remarkable complexity involving nearly 40 chemical steps from desoxycholic acid and was achieved during World War II as a chemist in the Merck Research Laboratories.  This synthesis and subsequent improvements of it ultimately led to cortisone’s use in treating rheumatoid arthritis and was the first of Sarett’s many contributions to medicine during a 40-year career at Merck.  When he retired in 1982 he was senior vice-president for science and technology.  He had been a key contributor to Merck’s growth, and in later years Sarett was an influential industry spokesman for U.S. science policy. 

Sarett the elder has always dabbled with poetry, but he took it a step further in 1918 by starting to have some of his poems published. "Beat Against Me No Longer" was published in Others - a Magazine of the New Verse, "The Last Portage" in Argosy of May 24, 1919, and "The Granite Mountain" in Reedy's Mirror.  Here is "Beat Against Me No Longer":

 A Chippewa Love Song
Ai-yee! my Yellow-Bird-Woman,
My ne-ne -- moosh, ai-yee! my Loved-One,
Be not afraid of my eyes!
Beat against me no longer;
Come! Come with a yielding of limbs.
Ai-yee! woman, woman,
Trembling there in the teepee
Like the doe in the season of rutting,
Why foolishly fearest thou me?
Beat against me no longer!
Be not afraid of my eyes!
Cast the strange doubts from thy bosom!
Be not as the flat-breasted squaw-sich
Who feels the first womanly yearnings
And hides, by the law of our people,
Alone three sleeps in the forest;
Be not as that brooding young maiden
Who wanders forlorn in the cedars,
And slumbers with troubled dreams,
To awaken suddenly, fearing
The hot throbbing blood in her bosom,
The strange eager life in her limbs.
Ai-yee! foolish one, woman,
Cast the strange fears from thy heart!
Wash the red shame from thy face!
Be not afraid of my glances!

Be as the young silver birch
In the Moon-of-the-Green-Growing-Grasses --
Who sings with the thrill of the sap
As it leaps to the south wind's caresses;
Who yields her rain-swollen buds
To the kiss of the sun with glad dancing.
Be as the cool tranquil moon
Who flings off her silver-blue blanket
To bare her white breast to the pine;
Who walks through the many-eyed night
In her gleaming white nudeness
With proud eyes that will not look down.
Be as the sun in her glory,
Who dances across the blue day,
And flings her red soul, fierce-burning,
Into the arms of the twilight.
Ai-yee! foolish one, woman,
Be as the sun and the moon!
Cast the strange doubts from thy bosom!
Wash the red shame from thy face!
Thou art a woman, a woman!
Beat against me no longer!
Be not afraid of my eyes!

The 1920 US Census finds the Sarett family living at 111 E. Springfield in Champaign:

111 East Springfield, Champaign, IL

Lew Sarett listed his occupation as "Teacher at the University of Illinois."  Lew was 31, Margaret was 26, and Lew Jr. was 2.

In 1920 Sarett achieved another milestone: he published his first book of poetry.  It was called Many, Many Moons, a Book of Wilderness Poems, and was published by Henry Holt and Company:

The book contained "Poems of the Indians and of the Northwoods in which they live."  From the dust jacket: "For ten years Lew Sarett worked in the North Country among the Indians as a guide and woodsman. Out of the tall timber of the land of K'cheegamee he came with his book, Many Many Moons".  The book contained an introduction by another famous poet, Carl Sandburg, a friend of Sarett's.  

It was about this time that Sarett also began a lifelong career of public speaking, spending many summers on the lyceum and chautauqua circuits, in the employ of such agencies as the Redpath Bureau and the J.B. Pond Lyceum Bureau.  Although his first important lecture, “Stranger at the Gates,” dealt with the urban immigrant experience, Sarett soon developed a reputation and repertoire as an interpreter of the American wilderness.  Sarett described many of his performances as “lecture-recitals,” reflecting their combination of prose and poetry. For such popular lectures as “The Children God Forgot” Sarett took the stage in full American Indian dress; on other occasions, he appeared in the hiking boots and heavy plaid jacket of a woodsman.  In 1921 Sarett, billed as “the poet of the wilderness,” shared the platform with his friend Carl Sandburg, “the poet of the city.” 

In 1922 Lew Sarett accepted a position as a professor in the School of Speech at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.  The Sarett family rented an apartment at 201 Ridge Avenue:

201 Ridge Avenue, Evanston, IL
In 1921 he served briefly as an advisory editor of Poetry magazine and won Poetry's Levinson Poetry Prize; he won the Poetry Society of America's annual prize in 1925. 

Also in 1921, Adventure Magazine published one of Sarett's poems entitled "Sweetwater Range" in their Mid-August issue.

In 1922 Henry Holt and Company published another volume of Sarett's poetry.  This one was called The Box of God:

These poems reflect life among the Chippewa.  Contents: Part I The Box Of God -- Broken Bird ,- Whistling Wings, and Talking Waters.  Part II - Green Altars -- Wind In The Pine, Teton Mountain, Mesa-mist, The Red Dragoon, Dust, Sweetwater Range, Leave Me To My Own, Marching Pines, Yellow Moon, Timber-line Ceda, Whooping Crane, Let Me Flower As I Will, October Snow, Indian Summer, Drouth, Fisher Of Stars, Alkali Pool, Old Oak, and Look For Me.  Part III Red Gods -- Thunderdrums, The Drummers Sing, Double-Bear Dances, Jumping-river Dances, Ghost-wolf Dances, Iron-wind Dances, The Drummers Sing, Indian Sleep-Song, To A Dead Pembina Warrior, Medals And Holes, Fire-bender Talks, and Maple-Sugar Chant. The book concludes with an Appendix and this Explanatory Note: "The following supplementary notes concerning the poems of Indian theme in Part 3, Red Gods, may prove helpful to the reader who is unfamiliar with the American Indian by providing for the poems a background of Indian legends, customs, and traditions."

Some reviewers mistakenly identified Sarett as an American Indian.

As more and more of Sarett's work was published, he gained a reputation as a noted orator, and professor of English and Public Speaking.  He also served as an adviser on Indian affairs to the Department of the Interior.

In 1924, Sarett had another of his poems, "Frail Beauty" published. It appeared in Everybody's Magazine, in their November, 1924 issue.

Henry Holt and Company published another collection of Sarett's poetry in 1925.  This one was called Slow Smoke:  

Reviewers said that Slow Smoke was a book that revealed Sarett's increase in technique and wider outlook upon life.  Here's the review from the South Dakota Library Bulletin:

Sarett, Lew - Slow Smoke. Holt, $1.50.

The new collection of poems by Lew Sarett contains some more of his delightful out-of-door verses.  In this you will find "Four little foxes" which the author gave on his program at the Sioux City meeting last fall.  The book also contains "Colloquy with a coyote" with its prolonged howl which sent shivers up and down our spines. Animals, bits of scenery, and Indians catch the attention of this nature lover, and he expresses his emotions in fanciful verses which will elude anyone not in sympathy with the same things.  

In the mid 1920s Seratt found himself becoming more and more disheartened with city life.  Finally, he worked out an arrangement with Northwestern whereby he would return to Evanston three months of each year; the other nine months he lived in wilderness surroundings.

He talked about his state of mind and the arrangement he worked out with Northwestern in this article from the Ironwood (Michigan) Daily Globe from July 7, 1926:  

Can’t Really Live in City; Poet Finds Haven in Forest

Chicago – “A civilization that makes a man unable to live with himself and his family, unable to find contentment in simple, wholesome home life close to the soil, that makes a man dependent on an artificial, hectic jazz life outside of his home – a civilization like that is tragically defective somewhere.”

That short statement sums up the creed of Law Sarett, poet, scholar and woodsman. It is the creed that made his life as professor at Northwestern University seem barren, cramped and unreal to him, so that last winter he abruptly gave up and went to look for a wilderness haven.

In Virgin Forests. 

He has found what he was looking for.  This summer he is going to build a home for himself, his wife and their son in the little town of Laona, up in the Virgin forests of Forest county, Wisconsin.  There they will and try to regain their vigor by getting close to the earth.

Behind them Sarett will leave the cultivated secure life of Evanston, university town on the edge of Chicago.  The only connecting link will be his professorship in the School of Speech. Three months each year he will return to Evanston to teach.  The rest of the time will find him in the north woods, where the wind rustles the pine branches and the suns glints off the copper surface of winding rivers.

Not for Everyone. 

When Sarett announced his intention of moving to the woods, a Chicago business man who knew him told him:  “It may be all right for you, Sarett, but the average man would die if he had to do that.  He needs many contacts – luncheon clubs, cabarets, lodges and social events. The average man hasn’t the ability to live by and within himself; he doesn’t want to.  He has grown dependent on artificial life outside his home.”

“And that,” replied Sarett, “proves my point.  It is a worse indictment of modern civilization than I have ever voiced.

“What are we here for? To make money, so were can buy things that will make us want still more money?  To spend our days working and our nights dancing?  To live in apartments, one home piled on top of another?  Perhaps.

Fishing Too. 

“But I think the enduring things are simpler things; wholesome home life, the enjoyment of our families, playing and wrestling with our youngsters, sitting by open fires with good books and a plate of apples nearby, rambling in October woods, casting trout flies over pools.

“I think it is more important that a man grow within himself than that he have many lodge pins to wear on his coat.  And to grow inside, you have to be alone much of the time.

“Of course, I don’t mean that every family should move into the country.  But I do think that this would be a more beautiful, healthy and more Christian world if every one of us went into the woods some part of every year.  I think every man ought to live in closer touch with nature, ought to commune somehow and sometime with the spirit that makes itself manifest there in bird and tree and waterfall.

What the Town Gives. 

“These things are so much more accessible if you live in a small town.  You can live on the edge of a village, in natural surroundings.  You can live in a house – and that is wonderful, after a period of apartment dwelling.  You can go hunting, and go fishing an hour or two in the evening after work; you can go camping, or have a cottage for week-ends at some lake.

“All you have to do is stay in tune with the song of the flicker, the voice of the wind, he call of the fields that lie close to the little towns,  And yet so many of us scamper to the city to run with the pack!”    

Lew Sarett circa 1930

In Laona, he lived on East Mill Street in what is now known as the N. MacRae house, which he rented for $25.00 per month.  That's where we find him in the 1930 US Census.  The household consisted of 41 year-old Lew, a "Professor of English at Northwestern University," 36 year-old Margaret, 12 year-old Lew Jr., 4 year-old Helen, and a live-in servant from Denmark, 48 year-old Alvia Schultz.  

Lew Sarett continued this arrangement until 1932 when he moved back to suburban Chicago - Highland Park, Illinois.  

Just before he moved back to Illinois, Sarett published his fourth volume of poetry, Wings Against the Moon:

In addition to the regular binding shown above, Wings Against the Moon was also sold in a publishers 'designer' binding by the Monastery Hill Bindery consisting of three quarter crushed morocco with inlays of light green and black depicting a goose in flight:

Sarett was quoted as saying that Wings Against the Moon was "largely a Wisconsin book."  The Wisconsin Library Bulletin said, "...not specifically perhaps, but many of the poems were inspired by the region in Northern Wisconsin where he now lives."

In addition to his poetry, Sarett also had the reputation of  being one of the nation’s authorities in the field of speech.  In 1932 he published his first non-poetry volume Personal Power Through Speech.

Through the 1930s Sarett kept busy with teaching at Northwestern, writing and appearing on the lecture circuit.  He also developed a great interest in horticulture.  During his lifetime he produced six new varieties of dahlia, each of which won many awards. 

As his first speech textbook became widely used in the academic world, he decided to write another volume.  Modern Speeches on Basic Issues was published in 1939.

The 1940 US Census found the Sarett family still living in Highland Park, in a house they owned at 1732 South Green Bay Road.  A shopping mall occupies that space today.  Sarett valued the home at $25,000.00.  He listed his occupation as "Professor - University."  The family consisted of  51 year-old Lew, 46 year-old Margaret, 22 year-old Lew Jr., and 13 year-old Helen Osgood Sarett.

In 1941 Lew Sarett published his fourth and final book of poetry.  It was called Collected Poems of Lew Sarett which contained a foreword by his friend Carl Sandburg:

Here's one of the poems it contained.  This one is called "To a Grove of Silver Birches:"


Good morning, lovely ladies! I've never seen
You half so fair - I swear;
How beautiful your gowns of apple-green!
and the ribbons in your hair!

What rapture do you await? What coming Swain?
Such rustling of petticoats!
Such wagging of heads and prinking in the rain!
such fluttering at your throats!

Dear winsome vessels, your flurry is no whim.
I know you sly design;
And why the sap goes pulsing up each limb
Sparkling as apple wine.

O ladies, trick you in your gala-best;
For out of the ardent South,
Young April comes with a passion in his breast,

And a kiss upon his mouth.

Margaret Husted Sarett died on February 27, 1941.   

Margaret Sarett was buried in Memorial Park cemetery in Skokie, Illinois.

Two years later, on March 13, 1943, Sarett married Juliet Barker, a voice teacher with a graduate degree from the Northwestern University School of Speech (1924); she died from ovarian cancer on November 7, 1945.  Here is her Death Certificate:

Her Death Notice and Obituary appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 8, 1945:

Like Margaret Sarett before her, Juliet Sarett was buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie.

In 1946 Lew Sarett he married Alma E. Johnson, who had received her M.A. (1938) and Ph.D. (1942) degrees from Northwestern. Alma Johnson Sarett (Anderson), a professor of speech at the University of Florida, died in 1982.

Here's an advertisement that Sarett's agent put together to help the public become more familiar with Sarett and his work:

In his later years, in addition to his lectures, Lew Seratt continued to write for the lucrative textbook industry.  He published Speech: A High School Course in 1943 and Basic Principals of Speech in 1946.

In 1950 Seratt was granted a three-year leave of absence because of poor health, and at the end of this leave he retired.  Upon his retirement, Northwestern University established the Lew Sarett Chair of Speech.  From 1951-1954 Sarett was Visiting Professor of Speech at the University of Florida.  He died on August 17, 1954 in Gainesville, Florida, after a series of heart attacks.  He was 66 years-old.  Here's his obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune from August 18, 1954:

Lew Sarett was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Gainesville, Florida:

Buried alongside him is his third wife Alma, who died in 1982.

Lew Sarett was described by Carl Sandburg as one of the nation’s most perceptive poets.  In addition, Sarett was considered one of the nation’s authorities in the field of speech.  

Here's a photo of Sarett taken by noted Evanston photographer J.D. Toloff:

Lew Sarett - Poet of the Wilderness - may he rest in peace.

Friday, September 30, 2016


I have become acquainted with some very nice people during the fourteen years I have been involved with the Find a Grave website. I have even been contacted through the site by distant cousins who I didn't know existed.  Every Find a Grave photo request I accept is a chance to "meet" someone who shares my interests in history and genealogy.  Such was the case recently when I filled a Find a Grave photo request for Alix H. who had posted a photo request for her relative Adolph Karpen, who died in 1935 and was interred in the Rosehill mausoleum. 

I had already created a Find a Grave memorial page for Adolph - I had run across his listing and photo in the wonderful book History of the Jews of Chicago edited by Hyman L. Meites and published in 1924 by the Jewish Historical Society of Illinois.  [Note: Copies of this rare book can go for as much as $1,200.00 but you can access a scanned copy for free at:]

Over time, I transferred the memorial page to Alix and she added Adolph Karpen's obituary from the Chicago Tribune.  After reading that I decided that he would be an interesting subject for this blog, so let's see what we can "dig up" about Adolph Karpen.

Adolph Karpen was born October 5, 1860 in Wongrowitz, Posen which was then part of Prussia and is now part of Poland.  His parents were Moritz Karpen (1823-1886) and Johanna, nee Cohn (1835-1902). Moritz and Johanna had nine sons:

Solomon (Sam) Karpen  (1858-1936)
Oscar Karpen  (1859-1953)
Adolph Karpen  (1860-1935)
Benjamin (Ben) Karpen  (1862-1895)
Isaac (Ike) Karpen  (1865-1918)
Michael (Mike) Karpen  (1866-1950)
Wilhelm (Will) Karpen  (1867-1915)
Leopold (Leo) Karpen  (1870-1950)
Julius Karpen  (1873-1907)

Jews in Prussia, unlike Jews in the other German areas in the early nineteenth century, were allowed to learn crafts. The Karpens had been cabinet makers there for several generations.

On April 10, 1872, emigration papers were signed by the Prussian District Court, Wongrowitz for Moritz Karpen (an established cabinet maker), Johanna (Cohn) and eight sons under the age of 12. In early June the family took a train from Wongrowitz to Poznan, Prussia to Germany.  From there they boarded a ship, crossing the North Sea to Glasgow, Scotland.  Their transatlantic travel to America began on 15 Jun 1872 on the maiden voyage of the SS 'California' (Anchor Line). For safety, each of the younger boys was tied to an older sibling.  The ship stopped at Moville, Londonderry to pick up more passengers and arrived in New York (Castle Garden) on June 29, 1872. From there the family traveled to East Lyme CT having been promised work in a woolen mill.   In 1873, the Karpens moved to Chicago to take advantage of the great opportunities offered in rebuilding the manufacturing district after its destruction in the 'Great Chicago Fire' of October, 1871.  The 1873 Chicago City Directory finds "Morris" Karpen, carpenter, living with his family at 481 N. Franklin.  

During their first year in Chicago the last of the Karpen children – their ninth son, Julius – was born. At about the same time, the Karpens severed their remaining financial ties to Wongrowitz by selling both their home and Moritz Karpen’s workshop. Moritz initially worked in a Chicago furniture factory but then started a small upholstered furniture business. Solomon (usually called “Sam” or “S.K.”) attended night school, apprenticed as an upholsterer to acquire expertise, and worked for several upholstered furniture manufacturers in Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri. He rose to the level of foreman.

When Solomon was twenty (1878), his parents started allowing him to keep his earnings. He quickly accumulated $580 (approximately $15,000 in today's funds) and decided to go into business for himself. He wanted to fulfill his elderly father’s dream of building a factory that would “combine progressive American ideas with the craftsmanship of the Old World, where building fine furniture was an art, not just an industry.”  At the time, Chicago had not yet become a center for furniture manufacturing, and the city had fewer than forty firms that produced upholstered pieces.  

Solomon Karpen's younger brother Adolph had received his early education in the grammar schools of Germany, but once in Chicago he attended the Chicago Atheneum and night schools while he worked in the daytime to help maintain himself.  In 1879 he entered the Chicago College of Pharmacy and after three years graduated with a Graduate in Pharmacy degree (PH.G.) no longer offered in the United States.   

Adolph Karpen participated in the 1880 US Census on June 5, 1880. He was nineteen years old and living as a "Boarder" with the family of druggist John G. Schar at 671 (now 2020) South Blue Island Avenue in Chicago.  Adolph listed his occupation as "Clerk in a Drug Store." 

2020 S. Blue Island Avenue, Chicago

In August 1880, after only eight years in America, Solomon Karpen founded S. Karpen & Bros., which he named after himself and his brothers – in anticipation of bringing them into the business.  Solomon opened a workshop in the basement of a building a few blocks from the family home.  Using hand tools, he and his brothers produced upholstered parlor suites and chairs, which Solomon then sold to retail furniture stores and department stores in Chicago. Oscar was the first of the Karpen brothers to join Solomon.  Oscar had already worked as a furniture gilder (a skilled craftsman who applies gold leaf to ornate furniture). Brothers Isaac and Michael were still teenagers when they joined the business.  In its first year, S. Karpen & Bros. realized profits of more than $7,000 (approximately $155,000 in today's funds), kept moving to larger workshops, and added a showroom.

After he graduated from pharmacy school in 1883, Adolph Karpen continued working as a clerk in a drug store.  

By the mid 1880s, Adolph gave up his career in pharmacy and joined his brothers in the thriving furniture business.  

On October 26, 1886, twenty six-year-old Adolph Karpen married twenty-year-old Scandinavian beauty Eugenia Wilhelmina Svensson (1866-1943) in Wheaton, Du Page County, Illinois.

Eugenia was the daughter of Zacharias Svensson and Anna Johansdotter who emigrated from Sweden.  Zacharias Svensson listed his occupation as "arbetskarl" which translates to "workman."  The Svensson family came to the US and ultimately to Chicago in 1880.

Here is a photo of Adolph Karpen from about that time:

In the 1890s, Chicago continued to grow by leaps and bounds, and S. Karpen and Bros. grew right along with it.  The Karpen brothers built a magnificent building at 187-188 (now 900-910 S.) Michigan Avenue (a mixed-use high rise building currently occupies that space).  The building contained all the offices of the Karpen firm, as well as lavish furniture showrooms.  The building itself was called "one of the most beautiful in the City of Chicago."  The Karpens were so proud of their building they used it in their advertisements.  Here is an ad from American Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer, a trade journal, in 1899:


Even though Ben Karpen had died in 1896, the family continued to include his photo right alongside the living brothers.

The 1900 US Census finds Adolph and Eugenia Karpen living in the Leland Hotel on Michigan at Jackson in Chicago:

Adolph Karpen listed his occupation as "Merchant."  Both Adolph and Eugenia were naturalized US citizens.  They had no children.

In 1902 S. Karpen & Bros., was incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois.  Adolph Karpen was named Secretary and Treasurer of the new corporation.

The Karpen factory shown in the  advertisement above, was located at Twenty-second and Union streets in Chicago.  The factory employed seven hundred and fifty men producing quality furniture that proudly wore the name of S. Karpen & Bros.  In addition, there was a smaller factory in Brooklyn, New York. 

The 900-910 S. Michigan building was the principal showroom for the Karpens, but they also had showrooms in New York and Boston. For those who could not make it to one of their showrooms, they also produced catalogues of the furniture they offered.  Here is the cover from one of their catalogues:

The 1910 US Census finds Adolph and Eugenia Karpen living at 706-708 Sheridan Road in Chicago (now part of the campus of Loyola University.)  Adolph gave his occupation as "Secretary/Treasurer - Furniture Manufacturing."  

No story of the life of Adolph Karpen would be complete without mentioning his involvement with Bakelite and its creator Dr. Leo Baekeland.  Bakelite was one of the first plastics made from synthetic components.  After Baekeland had made his invention known and received the patents for it in 1910, many manufacturers rushed to take advantage of the new material's properties. Bakelite was used for its electrical nonconductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings and such diverse products as kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, children's toys, and firearms. 

About the same time that Baekeland was conducting his experiments, Adolph and Sam Karpen began working with chemist L. V. Redman to find ways to improve the varnish they used on the furniture they manufactured.  In 1911, Dr. Lawrence Redman and a subsidiary of S. Karpen & Bros. had applied for the patent for Redmanol, a plastic (phenolic resin) similar to Bakelite. Having secured the patent, the Karpens founded the Redmanol Chemical Products Co., which produced Redmanol smoking pipes, cigarette holders, and products for industrial uses. The Redmanol factory was located on the campus of the Karpens’ Chicago furniture factory. In the ensuing years, Dr. Baekeland charged the Karpens with patent infringement, eventually winning. Nevertheless, through Adolph’s financial maneuvering, Redmanol Chemical Products Co. (and Condensite Company) merged with the General Bakelite Company in 1921. The Redmanol name was used into the mid-1920s, after which all products were produced under the Bakelite name.  Adolph Karpen and later Leopold Karpen were officers of the Bakelite Corporation until the company was bought by Union Carbide in 1939.

The business world was learning to never underestimate Adolph Karpen.

Although the Karpens branched out into different businesses, their primary product was still upholstered furniture.  Originally the Karpens produced and sold furniture on a wholesale basis only, but eventually they expanded the business to include direct sales of furniture to the consumer.  One way they did this was through their elaborate catalogues that showcased the furniture they produced. If you go to the link below you will be able to browse through S. Karpen & Bros. 1914 catalogue:

Here's a Karpen ad from the Ladies' Home Journal Magazine:

Although he never actively engaged in politics, Adolph Karpen had always been interested in movements for the political and civic betterment of Chicago and the State of Illinois.  In 1914 he was appointed by Governor Edward F. Dunne as a member of the Illinois Commission to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and was made chairman of that body.  Despite the many demands on his time, both business and personal, Karpen found time to take a personal interest in the Illinois Building and exhibit at San Francisco.  He devoted much time to arranging the details of the proposed building and the exhibits placed in it.   When the fair opened, he personally made the trip to San Francisco and assisted in getting the Illinois Building into final shape for opening.  Much of the credit for Illinois' excellent showing at the Exposition went to the tireless efforts of Adolph Karpen.

On the business front, everything was going well for Adolph Karpen. On the home front, however, he was not so successful.  On July 1, 1916 Eugenia Karpen separated from her husband.  In response to questions, Mrs. Karpen said, "He tormented me until there was nothing left for me to do except leave.  We had been quarreling about a friend of his whom I refused to accept."

Eugenia Karpen

After the separation, Adolph Karpen divided his time between Chicago and New York.  I was unable to find any 1920 US Census entry for him, so the census taker must not have been able to catch him in either place.

On January 12, 1923, the Chicago Daily Tribune ran an item about Adolph Karpen:


Adolph Karpen, a member of the firm of S. Karpen & Brothers, was elected president of the Chicago Furniture Market Association yesterday.  Other officers are J. W. Caswell of Huntington, Ind., vice president; A. C. Hehn, Sheboygan, Wis., treasurer; Irving L. Brown, Chicago, secretary.   

Although Adolph and Eugenia Karpen had separated in 1916, they did not actually get divorced until 1927.  The Chicago Daily Tribune from July 17, 1927 carried the following item:


An alimony settlement of $500,000 has been arranged out of court, it was reported yesterday, to be paid by Adolph Karpen, 67 years old, secretary and treasurer of S. Karpen & Bros. Furniture company, who was divorced yesterday by Mrs. Eugenia W. Karpen of 3520 Sheridan Road.  They were married on Oct. 8, 1886, at Wheaton, Ill.

Judge George Fred Rush indicated he would grant Mrs. Karpen a decree on the grounds of desertion.  Mr. Karpen did not contest the case nor did he appear in court.  He was represented by Attorney John E. Kehoe.

Eugenia Wilhelmina Svensson Karpen died December 5, 1943 from cancer in Progresso, Texas.  She was 77 years old.

Apparently her body was shipped back to Chicago for burial, but I have been unable to find out where her grave is.

The 1930 US Census shows Adolph Karpen living at the Shoreland Hotel, 5454 South Shore Drive in Chicago.  

He was living as a "Lodger/Friend" to Otto and Mayme Kaspar and Mayme's father.  Adolph listed his occupation as "Treasurer-Furniture Manufacturer."  The rent for the apartment was $1,125.00 per month - quite a sum for 1930. 

Even at the age of 74, Adolph Karpen was actively involved with the running of the firm, as evidenced by this article from the Chicago Daily Tribune of May 20, 1934:


One of the largest furniture leases of the year was closed yesterday when S. Karpen & Brothers, furniture manufacturers since 1880, rented 18,000 square feet of space on the eighteenth floor of the Merchandise Mart.  The lessees will move at once from the Karpen building at Wabash and 8th, which they have under long term lease.

Adolph Karpen, secretary, treasurer and general manager of the company, said a thorough survey of all American furniture markets was made before signing the lease.  The firm has factories in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.  It started in 1880 with a small wood working shop and has grown to be one of the largest producers of fine upholstered furniture in the world, according to Mr. Karpen.

T. J. Reed, general manager of the Merchandise Mart, stated that this was the sixth furniture lease closed in the last two weeks.

Adolph Karpen died on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1935 from heart disease.  Here is his Death Certificate:

He was 75 years old.  Here is his Obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune, January 1, 1936:


In Business 55 Years; Passes at 75.

Adolph Karpen, secretary-treasurer and general manager of S. Karpen & Brothers, furniture manufacturers, died yesterday at Michael Reese hospital after a brief illness.  Mr. Karpen, who resided at the Sherry hotel, 1725 East 53rd street, was 75 years old.

He was born in Posen, Poland, and came to the United States when he was 12 years old.  He attended the public schools of Chicago, and graduated from the Chicago College of Pharmacy.

With Company Since 1880.

In 1880 he joined two of his brothers, Oscar and Salomon, in the furniture concern with which he remained for 55 years.  He branched out into other business fields, and at the time of his death was a director of Drying Systems, Inc.  He was one of the early presidents of the Chicago Furniture Manufacturers' association.  In 1923 he helped organize the Bakelite corporation of New York, in which he remained active as vice president and a director until recently.  The company maintains offices in Chicago.  He assisted in the reorganization of the Autopoint company, pencil manufacturers, with which he was connected for about a decade, part of the time as president.

Mr. Karpen was chairman of the commission which erected the Illinois building a the Panama-Pacific exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

Funeral To Be Tomorrow.

A bronze plaque was presented to the Illinois group for its energy in completing the building in time for the exposition after a late start.

Mr. Karpen is survived by his four brothers, Solomon, Oscar, Michael, and Leo.  He was married in 1886 and divorced in 1927. He had no children.  Funeral services will be held tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. from the chapel at 936 East 47th street.

As mentioned in his obituary, at the time of his death Adolph Karpen was living in the Sherry Hotel, 1725 East 53rd Street in Chicago:

Postcard courtesy John Chuckman's Places:

Now the family had to decide where to bury Adolph.  The Karpens did not have a family plot.  The parents, Moritz and Johanna were buried in Jewish Graceland Cemetery.  Benjamin, who died in 1895 was buried at Rosehill; Julius, who died in 1907 was buried at Forest Home; William who died in Hollywood in 1915 is buried in Los Angeles; and Isaac, who died from the Spanish Influenza in 1918 is buried in the Sons and Daughters of Jacob section of Jewish Waldheim.  So for reasons lost to history, they decided to inter Adolph Karpen in the mausoleum of Rosehill Cemetery:

Here is his Death Notice from the January 1, 1936 Tribune:

Adolph Karpen - business was his life - and he was good at it - may he rest in peace. 

PS - when I wrote this story I mentioned that when Eugenia Karpen, Adolph's ex-wife, died in 1943 her body was shipped back to Chicago but I didn't know where she was buried.  Today I was in the Rosehill mausoleum looking for the crypts of the grandparents of someone who lives out of state.  I found his grandparents and photographed their crypts.  As long as I was there, I decided to photograph all the crypts in that section to add to Find a Grave at a later date.  I was going along looking through the viewfinder as I snapped the photos when all of a sudden I saw this:

There she was - interred in the Rosehill mausoleum right around the corner from the crypt of her ex-husband. She said during the divorce that he gave her no choice but to leave.  Well, she didn't end up going very far away from him after all.