“Family Archaeologist” explores a century of family letters, diaries, and artifacts, and how they illuminate history and our shared humanity. To get an overview of the blog, click: “Welcome to Family Archaeologist”
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"Russell Baker died Monday at his home in Leesburg, Va. He was 93." That's the opening to the New York Times obituary after the death of one of the twentieth century's greatest newspapermen, memoirist, writer, and overall high quality human being. I didn't know Russell Baker personally, but after reading and rereading his Pulitzer Prize–winning memoir, Growing Up, to the point I could quote passages verbatim, I wanted to know him.
On Jan. 11th, 1911, (1/1/11) a massive steamship, named "Friedrich der Grosse" (for Frederick the Great, a one-time Prussian ruler) pulled into New York Bay. My dad's father, Josef Gärtz, was on that ship, peering out at the Statue of Liberty, greeting him and the other hopeful and exhausted boat-load of immigrants. It was the beginning of a life entirely different from the lives of the family and friends he left behind.
On New Year's Eve, 1910, a young immigrant boards a steamship from the Port of Bremen to head out into the unknown, across the Atlantic to America. Using his wits, Josef Gärtz overcame every obstacle in his path—and recorded how he did it in letters and diaries. That's why I can share with you today a first-hand account of what he experienced 108 years ago. Read on to find out what happened.
On Christmas Eve 1910, my grandfather, Josef Gärtz, set off on what would become a harrowing journey toward America. His burning dream of a far-off land and the fiery drive he needed to get there, turned out to be the best Christmas gift he ever could have imagined for his future bride and their children and grandchildren. It was a gift that would keep on giving for decades to come.
Tis the season to spread the magic of Christmas to our children–and a letter from Santa can be just the ticket, especially when the letter comes directly to their door, in a real envelope, from a human being, not via email or text. But that letter can do so much more than promise goodies. It has the power to instill empathy early on.
On Veterans Day, I always think of my beautiful, young, handsome Uncle Frank Ebner, whom I never met in person, yet I feel I know intimately. Why? Because I have nearly 300 letters written to and from him from January 1943 to the end of September 1945. Then the letters stopped coming home.
Joan Baez was an iconic singer for those of us who came of age in the 1960s. I bought six tickets in February of this year for her "Fare Thee Well Tour," which came to Chicago on Friday, October 5th. I was not prepared for the surprise that awaited me.
I met the real Black Klansman, Ron Stallworth, author of the memoir, BlackKklansman, last Monday night at our local Evanston Book store, Bookends and Beginnings. It's a small, indie bookstore with nooks and crannies, that somehow packed in about 100 people. The event was sold out weeks in advance with a waiting list.