Friday, October 31, 2014


Frequent readers of this blog already know just how much I love Chicago's historic Rosehill Cemetery.  I'll never forget the first time I went there - it was to see the gravesite of R.H. McElroy, the father of my friend "Babe" Drake.  It must have been about 1972.  It was a typical fall day in Chicago - cool and crisp - and although it was overcast, Rosehill was still beautiful with all the trees changing color.  I stopped in at the office to get the grave location.  In those days they gladly filled requests for grave locations - and at no charge!  As I drove down the winding roads to Section S, I thought Rosehill was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen - and certainly the most beautiful cemetery.

Little did I know then, that the beauty that was Rosehill, as well as its sterling reputation, was largely due to the efforts of one man:  Elmer A. Hennig, who had been the President and Superintendent of the Rosehill Cemetery Company from 1952-1975, and a long-time employee before that.  But Hennig's efforts alone could not have done this.  It came about because the integrity of Elmer Hennig inspired all who worked at Rosehill.  From the very start, Elmer knew that Rosehill was a sacred place, dedicated to the memory of all who rested there, and he conveyed this to the employees of Rosehill by his every action.  But more about this later.  

Before we look at what he did at Rosehill, let's see what we can find out about the man, Elmer A. Hennig.

Elmer Arthur Hennig was born May 14, 1905 in Chicago, to Hermann Frederick Hennig (1869-1945) and his wife, Paulina, nee Runzheimer (1874-1939).  Elmer's mother was known as "Polly" to the family.  Elmer had four brothers and one sister who lived to adulthood:  August Horace (1892-1976), Herman Martin (1895-1931), Raymond Clarence (1902-1968) and Bernice Laura (1914-1975).  There was also an infant son who was born in 1901 but did not live.  Hermann Hennig had come to the United States from Wesel, Germany in 1884; Polly was born in Chicago. They married in Chicago on October 10, 1891.  Hermann Hennig was in the drapery business.

In those days, children went to work to support the family before they were able to complete their education.  Elmer wanted to be an attorney so he worked for a law firm during the day while he finished high school at night.  These were difficult times for the country and the law firm had to downsize, so Elmer went to work in the office of the Corticelli Silk Company in Chicago.

In 1925, when he was 20 years old, Elmer heard of a job opening at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  The job was to be responsible for the care and condition of the grounds, and Elmer was very pleased when he was hired.  This began his 50 year association with Rosehill Cemetery.  

However, his time at Corticelli was not wasted, because it was there he met the love of his life, Bertha Marie Lee (1903-1977).  Bertha was the daughter of Elmer Lee (1877-1936) and Marie Jenette, nee Graabeck (1872-1931).  Both of Bertha's parents were immigrants from Norway.  Elmer and Bertha were married in Chicago on August 5, 1926.

The 1930 US Census shows the newlyweds living at 1723 W. Thorndale in Chicago.  They paid a whopping $51.00 rent per month for their apartment.  Elmer listed his occupation as "Clerk in a Cemetery" and Bertha was "Cashier at Silk Company" meaning that she was probably still with Corticelli.  The one bedroom apartments like Elmer and Bertha rented for $51.00 per month are now condominium units selling for over $200,000.00 each!

1723-25 W. Thorndale, Chicago

The 1930s were good years for Elmer Hennig and his family.  On August 21, 1935, Elmer and Bertha's daughter Judith Ann Hennig was born in Chicago.  At Rosehill, Elmer steadily worked his way up through the ranks and in 1938 was named Superintendent of Rosehill Cemetery.  In addition to the prestige that came with this position, Elmer and his family were also entitled to a house - at 5350 Bowmanville Avenue in Chicago:

5350 Bowmanville Avenue, Chicago

The 1940 US Census shows the Hennig family living in the house at 5350 Bowmanville Avenue.  Elmer listed his occupation as "General Superintendent of a Cemetery."  Bertha did not work outside the home, and 4 year old Judith is listed as a "son."  So much for the accuracy of the census data.

The 1930s and 1940s were exciting times to be at Rosehill Cemetery.  In 1931 the Park Addition north of Peterson Avenue was added to Rosehill after overcoming significant neighborhood opposition.  Only flush-with-the-ground markers were allowed in the Park Addition offering Rosehill's customers the option of burial in a park-like setting for those who didn't like the look of above ground monuments.

In 1935 construction was started on the 5th Addition to the famous Rosehill Community Mausoleum, followed by the 6th Addition in 1942.  Elmer Hennig was actively involved in supervising both of these projects. 

Elmer A. Hennig at his desk at Rosehill.  Note the picture of the Mausoleum on the wall behind him

Elmer's hard work and love of Rosehill was recognized in 1951 when he was named President and Superintendent of the Rosehill Cemetery Company, a position he held until his retirement in 1975.

Elmer Hennig was the type of person who felt that it would be inappropriate to have newspaper publicity about himself unless it was in conjunction with his job - and even then it should be rare.  In his 50 year career at Rosehill Cemetery his name appeared in the Chicago Tribune only once - in 1959 in an article about a Revolutionary War Veteran buried at Rosehill:

And no one was prouder that Elmer and Bertha Hennig when their daughter Judith made them grandparents, with a girl in 1958 and a boy in 1961.

Elmer Hennig turned 65 in 1970 and began to think about retirement.  By then he had completed 45 years with the company and 18 years as President and Superintendent.  But the Rosehill Community Mausoleum was being added to - again - and the owners wanted Elmer to stay on until construction was completed.  They realized that Elmer had been involved with every addition to the mausoleum since the 1930s and his experience and expertise were irreplaceable.  The addition was scheduled to be completed in early 1975 and that would give Elmer an even 50 years with Rosehill.  But the owners had a surprise for him...

I wrote an article for this blog last year about the May Memorial Chapel at Rosehill:  It was a gift from Anna May to Rosehill in memory of her late husband Horatio Nelson May.  It turned out that the new mausoleum addition was going to include a chapel.  Up until that time if chapel space was needed in the mausoleum, they utilized the space outside the John G. Shedd family room in Unit A.  But that area was not meant to be used as a chapel and other than some built-in stone benches and a few single chairs did not have sufficient seating, except for the smallest funerals.  So, as part of the 1975 addition to the mausoleum a beautiful chapel was built with warm wood paneled walls and built in pews for sufficient seating.

Elmer Arthur Hennig Chapel - Rosehill Cemetery

The owners of Rosehill Cemetery decided to name the chapel after Elmer Arthur Hennig as a permanent testimonial to the man who had dedicated his entire business career to Rosehill.

Elmer retired from Rosehill Cemetery on April 30, 1975 at which time he was honored with a ceremony dedicating the chapel in his honor.  The Tribute presented to Elmer by the Rosehill Cemetery Company said in part, "He has an uncanny feel for and unending concern for the propriety of places, persons and actions, that they be right and proper for the time and occasion, and nothing disturbed him more than activities or designs that he felt were improper."

Rufus Beach, on behalf of the Board of Directors said of Elmer, "The calm beauty of the Rosehill grounds is a tribute to his care and concern for the property.  "Beautiful Rosehill" is not just a slogan, it is a fact."

And with that Elmer and Bertha Hennig began to enjoy their retirement.  They bought a small place in Rock, Michigan, and split their time between Michigan and Lubbock, Texas where their daughter Judith lived with her children.  During the cold winter months up north they enjoyed spending time with the family in Lubbock.

Unfortunately their happiness was short-lived.  Bertha Hennig took ill during one of their trips to Lubbock, and that's where she died on January 29, 1977 of heart disease. 

She died one day past her 74th birthday.  She and Elmer had been married for just over 50 years.  Here is a photograph of Elmer and Bertha taken for their 50th wedding anniversary in 1976:

Elmer A. and Bertha Lee Hennig

It goes without saying that Bertha was buried at Rosehill Cemetery in the beautiful plot she and Elmer bought in Section 15.

Here is the memorial card from her funeral:

Her funeral was held in the Hennig Memorial Chapel.  What a wonderful way to honor this special lady.

Life goes on, and Elmer continued to divide his time between Michigan and Lubbock, stopping in Chicago occasionally to visit Bertha's grave and see old friends at Rosehill. 

Elmer A. Hennig, Lubbock, Texas Feb 29, 1979

During one of these visits to Rosehill he was in the office when he ran into Catherine Newren (1910-1984) who was at Rosehill visiting her brother's grave.  Her brother Frank Newren (1905-1975) had been Elmer's best friend when they were growing up, and Catherine was Frank's little sister.  Elmer and Catherine became reacquainted and were married in Lubbock, Texas on June 2, 1979.

Elmer's daughter Judith had this to say about her step-mother Catherine, "She was a special, delightful lady who brought love and happiness to all of us."  Catherine must have been a wonderful person and Elmer was blessed to have re-discovered her after all those years.  The fact that they re-met at Rosehill may have had something to do with it.  Remember, Elmer always thought that Rosehill was a special, sacred place.

Here's a photo of Elmer and Catherine (also known as "Kay"):

Elmer and Kay Hennig

Elmer and Kay continued spending the summers in Michigan and the winters in Lubbock.  Their happiness came to an end however, when Kay died on February 1, 1984 in Lubbock.
Like Bertha before her, Kay was of course, buried in Rosehill Cemetery.

  Here is the memorial card from her funeral:


When Kay died Elmer was 79 years old, and the family felt that it would be better for all of them if he gave up the place in Michigan and moved in with Judith and her family.
Elmer Arthur Hennig died December 10, 1989 in Lubbock, Texas.  He was 84 years old.  As you have already guessed, he was buried at his beloved Rosehill.  Here's his death notice from the Chicago Tribune of December 12, 1989:

Here's what his daughter Judith had to say about Elmer's funeral, "When we buried Dad at Rosehill it was a very cold bitter day and we did not expect that many of his friends would be able to attend, but we were wrong.  The service was held in the chapel.  The thing that warmed my heart the most was when we went to graveside there were so many people that braved the cold and we found many men there in work clothes.  I was delighted to recognize so many familiar faces.  They were men who did not realize until that day that they had prepared a grave for their boss and friend.  They asked if they could be his pallbearers.  Hard to keep a dry eye even now.  They told me that he was the most honest and fairest boss they could imagine.  One of a kind." 

This is not the place to talk about how Rosehill has changed, but it is safe to say that it is not Elmer Hennig's Rosehill any more.  I asked Judith what Elmer would say his greatest accomplishments at Rosehill were.  She said:

  • Keeping the grounds beautiful out of respect for those who rested there
  • Keeping the grounds private and dedicated to the purpose for which they were established.
  • Being a fair and honest employee and treating all of the workers with respect and getting to know them well.
  • Knowing all he could about the people resting there and the fabulous history the grounds held.
  • Overseeing the additions to the mausoleum.

Now you know the story of Elmer A. Hennig.  I will end this article with the final comments I got from his daughter Judith:

"He loved his job at Rosehill, the people there, and the beautiful city."

Elmer A. Hennig - a gentleman in every way - may he rest in peace. 

Acknowledgements:   Thank you to Elmer Hennig's relative Victor Lee for the photos and funeral cards, and most of all for putting me in touch with Judith Bray.

A very special thank you to Elmer and Bertha's daughter Judith Bray for providing photos and being willing to tell me the story of her father and share personal details that helped us to get a better picture of Elmer Hennig.

And most of all thank you to Elmer A. Hennig - a man I never met but greatly admire.  He was mostly responsible for creating the Rosehill Cemetery that I fell in love with, and still enjoy to this day, albeit in a diminished way.  I'm sorry we never met because he had my dream job:  President and Superintendent of Rosehill Cemetery.  I'm sure that the grounds of heaven will be made even more beautiful if Elmer Hennig is in charge of their care.

Friday, October 24, 2014


While photographing graves at the Free Sons Section of Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, I happened to glance down at a tombstone:

This one marked the grave of "Our Son and Beloved Brother Michael Alexander."  He was born in 1891 and died in 1916 at the age of 24.

I looked a little closer, and Michael seemed to be looking right at me, with a casual half-smile and open white shirt:

His death in 1916 was too early for the Spanish influenza so I wondered exactly what  caused the death of one so young, who appears so healthy in his photo.  Let's see what we can find out about young Mr. Alexander:

Michael Alexander was born August 15, 1891 to Herman Alexander (1869-1942) and Rosa, nee Lowenstein (1867-1931).  Herman came to the US from Frankfurt, Germany in 1887 when he was eighteen years old.  He was a butcher in Germany.  He did not mention it, but it would not surprise me if he had been a shochet in Germany.  Many shochetim went into the meat processing industry after they came to the US.

Rosa Lowenstein also came from Germany, and depending on which source you read, she came to the US in either 1886, 1888 or 1889.

One thing we do know for sure, Herman Alexander and Rosa Lowenstein were married in 1890 in New York City.  In 1896 or 1897, the Alexanders had moved to Chicago - and what better place for someone in the meat processing industry?  Because of its central location by rail, Chicago was the world's largest processor of meat and meat byproducts. 

Herman and Rosa had six children in total:  Rebecca (1890-1946), Michael (1891-1916), Simon/Samuel (1893-1947), Nathan (1895-1932), Sidney (1899-1988) and Birdye/Bertha (1906-2000). 

The 1900 US Census shows the Alexanders living at 281 (now 221 E.) Thirty-fifth Street in Chicago. Today a McDonalds Restaurant sits on that spot.  Herman lists his occupation as "Provision Dealer". Rosa said that she had given birth to seven children; five of whom were still alive in 1900.  The Alexanders must be doing well for themselves - they have a live-in servant - seventeen year old Anissa Kregg from Germany.

By 1910 the Alexander family has moved to 3813 S. Rhodes Avenue in Chicago.  Today there is a Chicago Housing Authority building on that site.  Herman listed his occupation as "Butcher", and indicated that the Alexander's native language was "German", as opposed to Eastern European Jewish immigrants who usually indicated their native language as Yiddish.   Eighteen year old "Mike" indicated that his occupation was "Driver" of a "Grocery Wagon."

The next mention we have of Michael Alexander is his death certificate:

In January of 1916 the Alexander family moved down the street to 3841 S. Rhodes Avenue in Chicago.  Today this is a vacant lot also owned by the Chicago Housing Authority:

3841 S. Rhodes Avenue, Chicago

Michael Alexander died April 24, 1916 after being ill for only five days.  The cause of death was "Acute double lobar pneumonia", complicated by "Endocarditis" - an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart.  The informant for the death certificate was "A. Alexander."  I could not find any record of an "A. Alexander" except for "Sidney A. Alexander."  Michael's occupation is listed as "Meat Salesman."  Michael's younger brother Sidney would go on to found S.A. Alexander Meat Wholesalers at the Union Stockyards in Chicago.

Here is Michael's Death Notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of April 26, 1916:

In an unusual move, Michael's funeral and burial was not held until three days after his death.

And that is all I was able to find out about Michael Alexander.  Frankly that's the way it is with 90% of genealogy research.  I have over 1,000 people in my family tree and there is no one famous, nor infamous in my lines.  Most people we research are born, they live, they get married, they have children, they die.  Some are immigrants, some serve in the military, some may even hold public office, but their lives are not notorious in any particular way.  They used to say that a lady's name should only appear in the newspapers three times:  when she is born, when she is married, and when she dies.  Unfortunately Michael Alexander couldn't even match that - his name was in the newspaper only once.

However, that is not to say that Michael Alexander should be forgotten - doubtless he loved and was loved by others.  I am sure that tears were shed at his funeral over the loss of one who's adult life was just beginning.

Michael Alexander - neither famous nor infamous, but taken from us too soon.  May he rest in peace.

Friday, October 17, 2014


My mother used to complain that whenever my father or I noticed a historical plaque in our travels we immediately wanted to stop and read what was on it.  She, on the other hand, could not have been less interested in historical plaques.  I guess I inherited my love of history from my father.  I always say that I would much rather talk about what happened on this spot 100 years ago, than what happened here yesterday.

On of the most widely read posts from this blog was the one I did on William Grant Edens, for whom the Edens Expressway was named.  That got me to thinking about other nearby places and who they might be named after.  We know that Illinois is named after the Illini Indians who used to live here, but what about Cook County?  It must be named for some well-known politician.  He was a politician, and was fairly well-known in his era but is all but forgotten today.  Cook County, Illinois is named for Daniel Pope Cook (1794-1827), who was a newspaper owner, lawyer, Illinois attorney general and member of the US House of Representatives - and all before he died at the age of 33! 

Daniel Pope Cook

Daniel Pope Cook was born October 16, 1794 in Scott, Kentucky, to John Dillard Cook (1753-1828) and Mary Jane, nee Mothershead (1748-1840).  Cook used to say of his family that they were "an impoverished branch of the prominent Pope family of Kentucky and Virginia."  Daniel has six siblings who lived to adulthood: Nathaniel (1775-1852), Sarah (1779-1859), Elizabeth (1784-1872), Nancy (1785-1824), John Dillard (1789-1852), and Eleanor (1790-1858) and two siblings who died in infancy.  

Daniel Cook moved to Kaskaskia, Illinois in 1815 and took a job as a store clerk, but soon began to read law under the supervision of his uncle, Nathaniel Pope.  Territorial governor Ninian Edwards appointed young Cook the territorial Auditor of Public Accounts in 1816, so he moved to Edwards, Illinois where he purchased the Illinois Herald newspaper and renamed it the Western Intelligencer.  

Cook's uncle, Nathaniel Pope, became a delegate to the U.S. Congress from the Illinois Territory, so upon the election of James Monroe as president, Cook moved to Washington, D.C. to establish his career in the nation's capitol. In 1817 Cook traveled to London to deliver dispatches and bring back John Quincy Adams, the country's representative to Great Britain, whom President Monroe appointed to serve as Secretary of State. Cook and Adams became closely acquainted during the long voyage back to the U.S.

Shortly after Cook returned from England, tired of service as a mere dispatch-bearer, Cook moved back to Illinois, where he became an ardent supporter of statehood. Cook used his newspaper and new appointment as clerk to the Territorial House to influence the Legislature, which unanimously passed a resolution urging statehood (and forbidding slavery) on December 10, 1817. Cook also lobbied his friends back in Washington and Virginia, and his uncle conveyed the territorial resolution to the U.S. Congress on January 16, 1818. After both the U.S. Senate and House agreed, President Monroe on April 18, 1818 signed the law authorizing Illinois to hold a convention to adopt a state constitution and elect officers. On December 3, 1818, President Monroe than signed the law admitting Illinois as the 21st state.

Despite his successful advocacy of statehood, Daniel Cook was unsuccessful in his first attempt to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, losing to John McLean by only 14 votes for the short term remaining after Illinois became a state. However, the new state's legislature appointed Cook as the first Attorney General of Illinois. Cook also had briefly served the territory as judge of the western circuit.

Again running for Congress in 1818, Pope defeated McLean in the general election, and again in 1820 (after a debate over slavery), 1822 and 1824, thus serving as the second representative from Illinois (although the first to serve a full term).

But it was not all politics for Daniel Cook.  On May 6, 1821, he married Julia Catherine Edwards (1801-1830) in Madison, Illinois.  Julia was the daughter of Cook's mentor Ninian Edwards (1775-1833) and Elvira, nee Lane (1780-1829).

While he was in Congress, Daniel Cook served on the Committee on Public Lands and later on the Ways and Means Committee. He secured a grant of government lands to aid in the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. In the 1824 election, Cook also helped defeat a proposed convention to legalize slavery in Illinois, and at year's end helped elect John Quincy Adams as President (by one vote when the election was thrown to the House).

Daniel and Julia Cook's one child, John Pope Cook was born in Belleville, Illinois on June 12, 1825.  He went on to become a famous Union general during the Civil War and ultimately to serve in the Illinois General Assembly.

In the election of 1826, Daniel Cook  was in poor health, so he did not do much campaigning.  Cook again scored more votes than McLean, but the pro-slavery Jacksonian Democrat, Joseph Duncan, won the election.

In the spring of 1827, President Adams sent Daniel Cook on a diplomatic mission to Havana, Cuba, but that did not restore his health.  Upon his return home, Cook asked to be taken back to his birthplace in Kentucky, where he died October 16, 1827.  He was 33 years old. 

Daniel Cook was first buried in Kentucky, then reburied with the Lamb family (relatives of his son's wife) in 1866 in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, where he rests today, under a monument where his name had become illegible as a result of time and the elements.

Surely he deserves better.

Daniel Pope Cook - tireless advocate for the people of Illinois - may he rest in peace.

Friday, October 10, 2014


About two years ago I photographed a large number of the graves in Section 111 - Lomzer, at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.  I posted all the photos to Find a Grave, creating memorial pages when necessary.  One of the pages I created was for Joseph Stein, a nine year old boy who died in 1929.  Nothing about his gravestone indicated anything unusual about his death, and I just assumed that he had probably died from some disease.  Although childhood mortality rates in the US are down significantly from where they once were, the fact remains that children still do die from disease.  I posted the photos to the page I created and forgot all about it.

Recently I was contacted by Find a Grave member "dm wms" who made the following suggestion about me memorial page for Joseph Stein:
"Hello, I found this in an old newspaper and thought you might like to add it to the memorial.


Chicago, April 19. -

Two youths who frequently were seen loitering about the John Marshal high and grade schools were ordered arrested today after several school children had been questioned concerning the death a week ago of Joseph Stein, 9, another pupil of the school.  The boy died shortly after telling his parents that he had been beaten by older boys.

The Jacksonville Daily Journal; Jacksonville, Illinois.

April 20, 1929; Page Five"

So it looks like Joseph Stein did not die from disease after all - he was killed by bullies. 

The Chicago Daily Tribune from April 13, 1929 carried the following story:


Fillmore street police and the coroner's office last night began an investigation into the death of Joseph Stein, 9 years old, 319 South Kedzie avenue, a pupil in the John Marshall Elementary school, at 3250 Adams street.  Joseph died in his home yesterday afternoon, complaining that his head hurt because "the boys pushed me down."

George A. Beers, principal of the school, said he would make inquiry among his 4,000 pupils on Monday in an effort to learn who was responsible for the boy's injury.  Joseph was unable to name any of the boys who pushed him, according to his father, Paul Stein.  The father said his son fainted a few minutes after he entered the house and remained unconscious until his death.

When the boy collapsed, Stein summoned physicians, who in turn called in a fire department inhalator squad.  The firemen worked for an hour to save the child's life, but their efforts were in vain.

People think that bullying is a recent phenomenon, but bullies have always been around - they certainly were around when I was in school. Before we get back to the stories surrounding young Joseph's death, let's see what else we can discover about the Steins:

Joseph Stein was born January 28, 1920 in Chicago to Paul Stein (1893-????) and Florence, nee Poncher (1896-1973).  Paul was an immigrant from Russia, but Florence was born here in Illinois.  They married in Chicago on January 25, 1915.  Paul and Florence Stein ultimately had four children:  Joseph (1920-1929), Leona (1915-1997), William (b. 1925), and Jean (b. 1932).  Paul Stein owned a retail ladies clothing store.

I was unable to locate the 1920 US Census for the Stein family - that would be the only one Joseph was alive for, but when he died the family was living at 319 S. Kedzie Avenue in Chicago.  There is now a parking lot at 319 S. Kedzie.

Here is a picture of the John Marshall School at about the time Joseph Stein attended:

The April 14, 1929 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune carried a follow-up story:


The inquest into the death of 9 year old Joseph Stein, 319 S. Kedzie avenue, pupil of the John Marshall Elementary school, Kedzie and Adams street, who was alleged to have been beaten fatally by other pupils of the school, was continued yesterday until April 19.  The boy returned from school and told his father that he had bumped into other boys and fallen,  He fainted and died without regaining consciousness.

The Warren avenue police were asked to make an investigation by deputy coroner Jacob A. Schewell, and Mrs. Mary M. Abbe, assistant principal in charge of the elementary classes.  She questioned several pupils but could not learn whether the lad had been beaten by bigger boys or had merely stumbled and fallen.  The parents, however, said that the boy had been slugged by others and that they hold those in charge of the school responsible for his death.

There was another follow-up article in the April 20th Tribune:


Two youths, who are said to be friends of a girl student at the John Marshall High school, were being sought last night in connection with the death of Joseph Stein, 9 years old. 319 S. Kedzie avenue, a pupil at the Marshall Elementary school, who died a week ago in injuries believed to have been suffered when he was thrown down by the older boys.

The search was started when Gertrude Stein, 10 years old, 3300 Warren avenue, also a pupil at the school but not a relative of the dead boy, testified at the inquest yesterday of hearing a group of girls discussing the youths who are alleged to have caused Joseph's death. She said she did not know the boys' names, but added that they came to the school to meet a girl who she only knew as Corey.

Here is the death certificate for Joseph Stein with the results of the Inquest:

The cause of death was listed as:  "Shock & hemorrhage following traumatic laceration of the anterior branch of the left middle meningeal artery and vein due to external violence."

Unfortunately, I could find nothing further about the sudden death of Joseph Stein - no story of an arrest of the "two youths" - nothing further at all in the Chicago Tribune archives.  Perhaps they were never able to capture the youths who had assaulted Joseph.  Joseph had either been unable or unwilling to name his attackers, and apparently no other witnesses came forward.  If anyone has any additional information about the aftermath of this crime, please contact me.

We will not forget Joseph Stein - his young life taken by bullies, and now thanks to the miracle of the internet, Joseph and his story will be available for all.

Joseph Stein - gone but not forgotten - may he rest in peace.  

Friday, October 3, 2014


When I left off telling the story of Ailzia McElroy (Babe) Drake last week, I related how she was living in the Independent Living section of Lincolnwood Place in Lincolnwood, Illinois.  Her beloved husband Dukie had died in January of 1998.  I mentioned that she was still quite sharp mentally but physically she was starting to deteriorate.

I also mentioned before, that over the course of her lifetime she suffered a broken hip five times, the last one coming when she was 99 years old. Up until that time she was still able to walk unaided but she did use a wheelchair for long distances.

She recovered from this broken hip as well as she had recovered from the previous ones, with one major exception.  Her orthopedic doctor told her that her bones were so brittle, they would break if any weight was put on them at all.  Even the effort of trying to move her from the bed to the wheelchair put a tremendous strain on her brittle bones.  So, starting when she was 99 until her death at 102, Babe was confined to her bed.   

We made it as pleasant for her as we could.  We rented a hospital bed and put it in the living room, instead of the bedroom in her apartment at Lincolnwood Place.  Her friends still called or stopped by to visit, but it was not the same.  Babe still worked the crossword puzzle in the Tribune, but now she had to do it by herself.  She was no longer able to go down to the dining room for her meals, she had to have the meals delivered to her apartment.  Her doctor suggested that she might want to move to the nursing home section but she absolutely refused.  She had spent time in the nursing home section when Dukie was there at the end of his life, and she had been a patient there several times after her own broken bone episodes.  In fact, she was a patient in the nursing home section on January 1, 2000 because I remember sitting with her watching Y2K come in around the world when they had everyone scared that the world as we knew it was going to come to an end.  Luckily for all of us, it didn't.  Babe's doctor did insist, for her mental health, that she get dressed in regular clothes every day and put on makeup even though she was confined to her bed.

Babe had turned over the daily management of her investment portfolio to the Northern Trust Company but she still followed the markets religiously and went over each month's statement line by line.  Her attitude about money at that time in her life was rather contradictory.  At times she could be very generous, at other times very stingy.  One summer day in the 1990s my home on Harvard Terrace was broken into. When I related the story to Babe she insisted that I call that very day and have an alarm system installed - at her expense.  She said "I'm not going to sit over here every day and worry that something is going to happen to you or your mother."  And yet whenever I did her grocery shopping I had to present receipts for everything, and if the total bill was $19.72 she would count out nineteen dollars and seventy two cents, whereas other people would probably have given me a $20.00 bill and told me to "keep the change" - a whopping 28 cents in this example. 

I told Babe's daughter Florence that neither she nor I could begin to imagine the hell that Babe must be going through by being bedridden. Here was a woman who had been independent her entire life, and now had to depend on others for everything.  If her caregivers had to leave the apartment for any reason Babe was terrified that she would be trapped there if something happened.  We finally decided to put the telephone in the bed with her if the caregivers had to leave, but we made sure any time away was kept to a minimum.  You may remember that I related that Babe had been one of the original "Polar Bears" who used to break the ice on New Years Day to swim in Lake Michigan, but now she couldn't even get out of bed without endangering her life.  

The drudgery of being bedridden was reduced somewhat by the celebrations surrounding Babe's 100th birthday on May 6, 2002.  It was a joyous occasion and as the song says "everyone who was there, was there."  Unfortunately most of her friends and relatives were dead.  She used to tease her doctor that she had "already outlived four doctors (and one dentist) so watch out!"  Babe's daughter Florence came in from Utah, and of course I was there, and Babe's niece Valerie and her husband Joe were there as well.  It was very frustrating for me in one respect:  I had wanted to present a slide show of Babe's life through photos, only to find out that she had destroyed almost every photo from her past.   Florence and Valerie were able to give me a few photos (most of which I have used for these articles), but certainly not enough for a slide show.  When I asked Babe where all her old photos were she told me she had torn them all up.  She said she didn't think anyone would be interested in old photographs!  (I guess she didn't know me as well as I thought...)  By that time it was too late for me to do anything about it.  We did use one of the 50th wedding anniversary photos for her birthday cake:

We had a grand time, and were so glad to have been able to celebrate that auspicious day.

Babe with Val and Joe

In October of 2002 my mother fell and broke her hip, but unlike Babe her recovery was incomplete.  Physically, my mother came through the ordeal just fine, but mentally it pushed her over the edge.  We had been dealing with some early symptoms of dementia before her fall, but afterward the dementia was out in full force.  I was finally forced to put my mother in a nursing home in February of 2003.  It was the same nursing home where Babe's mother had been, although by 2003 it was owned by an Order of Catholic nuns.

My mother's decline was steady but when she died on July 12, 2003 it caught everyone by surprise.  I had been starting a trip to New York to do some genealogy research when the call came through that she had died, so after I returned to Evanston and signed all the papers I had to tell Babe.  I called her caregiver and prepared her for the news.  I told her to have Babe's nitroglycerin handy as well as a shot of brandy if she needed it.  When I walked into Babe's apartment she said "What are you doing here - I thought you were on vacation?"  So I sat on the bed and told her the news.  She took it very hard because she and my mother had been very close friends for many years.  

Babe was dealt another psychological blow when her niece Valerie McElroy Hunley died on August 30, 2004.  Val had had her share of health problems, but her death still came as a shock to all of us.  Val's husband Joe called me and asked me to break the news to Babe.  They were all worried how it would affect Babe, and Joe said he did not want to just call Babe and tell her the news.  So again I called the caregiver and told her to get out the nitro and the brandy.  But this time when I came into Babe's apartment she knew that I must have bad news.  Again, it was very hard on Babe.  She said "Everyone important to me is dead - why am I living on so long?"
As you can imagine, because of Babe's age and the losses of her loved ones, death is something we used to talk about.  Not all the time - but not infrequently, either.  Babe's constant question was "Why am I living so long?"  She also used to say, "I don't think I'm ever going to die."  To which I used to respond, "there are not many things I can be 100% sure of, but I am 100% sure that you will die - someday."

We used to talk about what we thought was on "the other side."  Babe told me that during those long days and weeks that she had sat at the dying Robert McElroy's bedside, they had discussed death as well.  "He made me promise that I would be buried next to him when my time came, and he told me that if there was any way that he could contact me from the other side, he would."  The lack of any after-death communication from her beloved father often caused Babe to question whether there even was an afterlife.  "Sometimes I think that when you're dead, that's it," she used to say.

So that brings us back to where we started - the morning of October 28, 2004.  Lincolnwood Place had called the paramedics to come get the body, but that took a while because they had to get someone from the coroner's office.  Babe had made me promise years before that if I felt her death was in any way suspicious, that I should demand a full autopsy.  I guess that came from reading all those Perry Mason books.  The thing was, that even though Babe was 102 years old, no one had expected her to die at that time.  We had had many deathwatch vigils for Babe over the years, but this time it was unexpected.  Babe had several serious bouts of pneumonia through the years including one in the 1990s where her doctor told me that this was it.  I started a vigil by Babe's bedside when all of a sudden she sat up and said "I'm not going to die this time, I'm going to be OK.  And two days later she was home from the hospital.

After we knew that the paramedics were on their way to pick up Babe's body, I sent her caregiver home.  The caregiver had obviously had a horrible night, but the agency asked her to stay in case there were any questions.  I'm sure she was relieved to be able to go home.

So now Babe and I were alone, so I asked her, "Well, what's it like?  Are you with your father?  You waited so long to get to this point, tell me what it's like."  But like her father with her, years before,  Babe gave me no response from the other side.

One incident did happen the night before Babe died, but when it happened I did not connect it to her.  I had just gotten into my bed at home when my cell phone lit up.  It used to light up only if a call or message came through so I got up and looked at the screen - but nothing.  There was no call or message.  Toward the end of my mother's life she had a very distinctive walk.  She was so afraid of falling that she used to "scuffle" her feet along in her slippers which made a very distinctive noise on the wood floors.  After I realized there was no call on my cell phone I got back into bed, and then I heard my mother's distinctive scuffle.  Remember, at this time my mother had been dead for a year.  So when I heard her scuffle I said, "Mother, is that you?" and my cell phone lit up again.  Again no call or message.  That was all, so I went to sleep.  Several hours after that, Babe died.

When I related this story to the funeral director, she told me that they heard stories like this all the time.  She said, "your mother was coming to help Babe make the transition to the other side, and as long as she was in the neighborhood she stopped by to see you.  Her lighting up your phone was her way of trying to tell you that she was there."  That may be true, or it may have just been a coincidence, but it was interesting nonetheless.

I had one more immediate duty with regards to Babe's death - I had to call her daughter Florence.  Florence lived in Utah, and they are one hour behind Chicago so I waited until mid-morning and called Florence.  Her husband George answered the phone and when I told him who I was he passed the phone to Florence.  When I told Florence that her mother had died, she couldn't believe it.  "But I just talked to her, and she was fine."  And Babe had been fine.  She had had a cold for several days, but when I called to check on her before I went to bed, her caregiver said she was doing much better.  She said that Babe's fever had broken and she was breathing easier.  In fact, the caregiver only realized Babe was dead when she no longer heard Babe breathing.

Babe had specified that she wanted a very simple funeral, so that's what we gave her.  Florence came in from Utah, so it was just the two of us at Babe's service.  They left the location up to me, so I requested the beautiful May Chapel at Rosehill Cemetery, where Robert McElroy's funeral had been years before.  I had an ulterior motive - I wanted to see the inside of the May Chapel, so what better way, than to have a service there?

The May Chapel at Rosehill Cemetery
May Chapel - Interior

The service was simple in beautiful surroundings.  It was a crisp fall day, and many of the trees at Rosehill were changing color.  The May Chapel was as beautiful inside as I thought it would be.  Babe had asked for two readings, and so the funeral director did them for us.  They had asked me to do the readings, but that would have been too difficult for me.  The first reading is called "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant: 
To him who in the love of nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty; and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy that steals away
Their sharpness ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;--
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings, while from all around--
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air--
Comes a still voice. Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix forever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mold.

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world -- with kings,
The powerful of the earth -- the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun, -- the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods -- rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste,--
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom. -- Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings -- yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep -- the dead reign there alone.

So shalt thou rest -- and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glides away, the sons of men--
The youth in life's fresh spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man--
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn, shall follow them.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
And the second one: "Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep" by Mary Elizabeth Frye:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

I come from a very religious background, and I thought that a funeral that was limited to two nature poems was very cold, but it was Babe's funeral, not mine, so we did what she wanted.  But you can believe I was praying silently while all this was going on.

Florence did not want to stay for the interment, so we went back to Lincolnwood Place and began the task of breaking up Babe's apartment.

Once I got Florence settled in back at Lincolnwood Place I returned to Rosehill by myself and made sure that Babe's ashes had been buried between her father and Dukie, and I left one red rose on her grave.

And that ends the 102 year story of Ailzia McElroy Drake.

Florence did not inherit her mother's longevity - she died on May 18, 2011 from complications of COPD.  She was 87 - not a youngster, but not 102.

Many people asked Babe the secret to her long life.  She not only lived to a ripe old age, she had the most beautiful skin I have ever seen.  Even at 100 years old, she had very few wrinkles and her skin was as soft as a baby's behind.

She credited her longevity to her genes.  Her mother had lived to 90, so it was not unreasonable to expect that Babe would meet or surpass that.  It was not due to living a life free of vices - both she and Dukie had been heavy smokers and heavy drinkers - and both always had big appetites for full course meals.  Just because Babe lived to 102 does not mean that she had been healthy - as a matter of fact she had many illnesses through the years - and many that required surgery.  During one of her surgeries her heart stopped and they had to work to revive her.  Babe told me that she was disappointed - no long tunnel, no bright light - she wasn't even aware that it had happened until they told her after the surgery.

I think it is safe to say that Babe lived to 102 in spite of her lifestyle and her illnesses.  I personally feel that we cannot discount the long term effects of a happy marriage.  Dukie idolized Babe and she was crazy about him.  Even after 60+ years of marriage, their faces immediately brightened when the other came into the room.  They were happiest just puttering around the house, shopping or going out to eat - as long as they were together.  Babe did not pick well when she married the first time, but she sure made up for it when she married Dukie.

And the secret to her beautiful skin?  She stayed out of direct sunlight and used nothing on her skin but Oil of Olay.

I have tried over these past few weeks to give you an idea of why I found this woman so fascinating. 

It is not unusual to have dear friends who have an age difference, but it is unusual for two people born over 50 years apart to get along as well as Babe and I did.  It has been ten years since she left us, but I still think about her every day.  So many times since she has been gone I have thought, "I can't wait to tell Babe about this," or "Babe's going to love this," then I remember that she is gone.   Every time I am in Rosehill Cemetery (and my blog readers know that is very often) I stop at the graves by the road in Section S that Florence McElroy bought back in 1938 and pay my respects.  Just as Babe's father never contacted her after he died, I have received no communication from Babe since she died (but I didn't really expect to).

I was very blessed to have had such a wonderful friend for so many years - not long enough, but then it never is.

I love you, Babe, and I sure miss you.  Until we meet again -

Ailzia Lathrop McElroy Harper Drake - Our beloved Babe - May she rest in peace.