Downright Immoral! Unseemly! Wrong! In 1911 that would have been the reaction if Elisabetha Ebner lived by herself upon arriving in Chicago (only “bad” girls did that), and moving in with her future husband, Josef, in Chicago was out of the question!
But she hadn’t come 5,000 miles to second guess her decision to marry Josef. No. They were married within two days of her arrival in Chicago. But how did it come about?
I found out in a “letter” she wrote to Lisbeth Plattner, née Jickeli, the little girl she had cared for back in Transylvania.The letter was dated September 25, 1972, sixty-one years and a day after Lisi had stepped off her ship, the Kaiser Wilhelm II, in New York.
That little girl was by now a 70-year old woman, with grandchildren of her own, and she and Lisi were still corresponding!
But why did I have a letter that should have already been mailed?
Lisi labeled this “letter.” “An der Rolle.” On the roll? What could that mean? Lisi thanked Lisbeth for an audio tape she had sent to Lisi and her family. “Thank you so much for the ‘Rolle’ with your voice.” Aha—now I knew. Lisbeth had sent Lisi a tape so now my grandmother was going to send one in return, but first she had written out a script for herself to be sure to say exactly what she wanted. Hence “on the roll,” the roll of audio-tape.
Lisi’s “script” was a brief summary of her life from her arrival in Chicago in 1911 to the time of the letter in 1972. It’s a fascinating insight into the mindset of two immigrants determined to do whatever was necessary to make it in their new land. This is what Lisi wrote about her initial arrival in Chicago (translated into English):
When I first came to Chicago, my husband had a two-room apartment and a Neppendorf [my grandfather’s hometown in Transylvania] man paid him to sleep there. [Josef] made only 7 dollars a week and worked every day from 5:00 in the morning until 7:00 in the evening and also received meals.
On October 11, I arrived in Chicago and rented a bed with a woman neighbor until October 13th, a Friday. In the morning my husband went to work as always at 5:00 am until 3 in the afternoon. Then he came home with the Neppendorf man and we three went to the judge. There was a pastor who blessed us in marriage. George Fleischer [perhaps the Neppendorf man] was witness. On October 14-15, my husband went to work from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 pm as usual. Then on October 16th I began a job as a cook in a restaurant from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 pm for six dollars per week, meals included. We always had work—even when those born in America didn’t.
Sound familiar? The hardworking immigrant willing to do whatever was necessary to get and keep a job, not so different from what we see today. It wasn’t long before Josef was able to double his salary. A photo of him at his job, coming up.