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The Outbreak of World War One

Over the next few weeks, if you’d like to experience the outbreak of WWI from the perspective of an American student (my grandfather who was 24 at the time) who was planning a tour of Europe but got stranded in Nuremburg, Germany when the war began, check in to this blog.

I have transcribed the letter he wrote to his parents when he returned to the United States after his three week odyssey and will post each day as he experienced it. I am amazed by his resilience and his remarkable ability to put a positive spin on what must have been a disappointing trip.

We begin with his letter to his folks and his arrival in Germany on July 28th after crossing the Atlantic on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse:

Washington, D. C. September 5, 1914

Dear Folks:

It is 1:30 p.m., and I will see how much I can write all alone here in the office before supper time. I am going to make three copies so I can send one to Forrest and Frank at the same time. (That reminds me, I had better make an extra one for Dean at the same time.) Then you can keep them as long as you want to. I hardly know how to tell everything, unless I just follow my diary, although that isn’t a very systematic way to describe things. You have all read the letter I wrote on ship board, so I will begin with July 28th the day we landed in Bremen.

July 28, 1914

Our porter waked us early (that was the only thing he did on the whole trip to earn his tip) and we went on deck to watch for the first sight of Germany. It was cloudy and rather dark, but we could see a low stretch of land on our right (starboard, I should say) about 6 or 7 miles away. It was very shallow, for there were light houses and light ships and buoys right beside us to mark the channel. Northern Germany has no decent ports at all, it is so flat and sandy. About 9:30 we stopped and a lighter took us all off, – 800 third class passengers and baggage. The Germans were overjoyed at the sight of their native land, though it started to rain hard as soon as we got on the lighter, and we landed at Bremerhaven two hours later in the rain. Bremen is not the port, it is 35 miles above where the big steamers land, and passengers are taken up there by train from Bremerhaven. Being low tide, we couldn’t even land at Bremerhaven, but had to stay about ten miles out.

I was the second one off the boat, and the first one to go through Customs inspection, which consisted of opening my suit case and bag and shutting them, – no questions asked. We had hot chocolate and coffee cake in the waiting room and about 11 o’clock the train took us up to Bremen. The sun came out, and our first glimpse of Germany was more than satisfactory. The country is low and somewhat marshy, but pretty. There were big herds of Holstein cows in almost every pasture, and I suppose dairying is the principal industry around Bremen, though there were quite large rye fields, which looked good. It didn’t look at all like America – – as soon as you began to think it did, along would come a pretty stone house with a red tile roof, windows full of flowers, lace curtains, and immaculately clean doorsteps and front yards; or a shed (always of brick or stone) with a thatched roof, green with moss. My first impression of the country was that it is pretty and prosperous. I didn’t see a single hut or shack or poor looking building. The only thing that didn’t look right was to see the women loading the wagons, plowing the potatoes, and doing the hardest work while the men did the easier work.

At Bremen we went up to the hotel with Rogers and Edwards who were going to buy bicycles and ride up the Rhine leisurely, reaching Geneva, Switzerland in about a month. (I would like to know where they are now.) We thought we would stay till evening, and all the “University Club” of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse would have dinner together in the Rathaus, but we found that a train left for Berlin right away, so we told them all good-bye and got on. That was a dandy ride, through the prettiest country in Germany, except the Rhine; maybe it looked so because it was the first we had seen for so long. The land certainly looked and felt good, though it rocked under my feet for a day. Our train made about 50 miles an hour for about 5 ½ hours (pretty good for a toy train) and it cost us about 1 cent a mile. We came out just as clean as we went in. I like the German trains. In every compartment there is a good map showing just where you are going. We had a delicious dinner on the train: soup, veal, potatoes, gravy, vegetable compote, chocolate and rolls for less than 70 cents. A woman and little girl sat in our compartment. The little girl wanted awfully to talk to us but she couldn’t say a word of English and she laughed at the way we tried to talk German.

We arrived in Berlin about dark and took a droschke to the Hotel Stadt Weimar, which had been recommended to us by Mrs. Roemmele on the boat. It was a very good place, the best possible location in Berlin, right near the intersection of the two principal streets. The crowds were beginning to gather on Unter den Linden. They were singing The Watch on the Rhine, the Austrian National Hymn and something to the tune of “My Country tis of Thee,” and we supposed it was all about the war between Austria and Servia. The crowds and noise kept increasing and the police on horseback had to keep chasing them up and down the street so they wouldn’t block the traffic. We took a little walk and when we tried to come back the police wouldn’t let us cross Unter den Linden. We walked back and tried another street, and they put us back. One of them told us it was too late to get back to our hotel, and we began to think we were out for all night, but we finally did get back and were satisfied to watch the crowd from our balcony after that. Our rooms looked like they might have been made for entertaining the royalty – a great large room with two fine beds, large dressers, wardrobe, etc. and a smaller room with the same furnishings – little electric lamps on a stand beside your bed so you could lie there and read. It was so nice we hated to go to sleep, but when we got inside and pulled the soft, light eider down quilt over us, we couldn’t stay awake a minute.

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Hannah Brown Kingsbury – A Lifter, never a Leaner – Week #5 – 52 Ancestor Challenge

With Winter Storm Juno bearing down on New England, it seems like a good time to write about my great great grandmother Hannah Brown who was born in Vermont in 1830. (Even though it is a week early for Challenge #5) No doubt she had her fair share of plowing through snow during her childhood in Vermont and perhaps plowing of a different sort when she and her husband Joseph Kingsbury began their life as pioneers in the Midwest; first in Illinois in 1852 and five years later in Fayette County, Iowa where they secured a quarter section of land, built a log cabin and began farming.

Hannah was the youngest of three girls born to Orrin Brown and Mary Read Cheney. Her father died when she was only 3 years old and her mother remarried a few years later. Mary and her second husband had four sons (Clark, John, William and Nathaniel) and one daughter Lucy Ann. The 1850 census for Jamaica, Vermont shows 19 year –old Hannah Brown living with her mother, step-father and half siblings.

Hannah met her husband Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury while he was building a barn for her stepfather. Hannah and Joseph married on October 4, 1852 and they moved west that same year. Their first child, Mary Lucinda, was born in Cherry Valley Illinois in1853. In 1857 they moved to Iowa and began life on the prairie where their next three children were born, Fannie Ella (1857), Wayland Briggs (1859) and Emma Brown (1861).

SaltoftheEarth.1.27.15I have a book written by Hannah’s daughter Ella Kingsbury Whitmore entitled Salt of the Earth. She published the book in 1944 in Monrovia California and dedicates it to the descendants of Joseph B. and Hannah Brown Kingsbury. She wrote the book at the request of her daughter to capture some of her memories of life in the Midwest. It describes her childhood growing up in Iowa and provides a detailed account of daily routines – everything from making soap and candles, making and washing clothes, and the importance of music and religion to her family.

On page 12 Ella writes of her parents when they were young:

“One can picture the young Vermont couple, Joseph with his dark hair and eyes, tall, and thoughtfully serious, Hannah, short and plump, blue eyed and earnest, as they grew interested in each other. Her voice was a rich soprano, full and true through the years, such as is rare. His was bass, sweet but not strong, and before many years, was but a whisper. His love of music was deep.”

Their wedding was a simple ceremony at the minister’s home with Hannah’s older sister Mary and her husband as witnesses.  The young couple left for Cherry Valley, Illinois where they had relatives, as soon as they married.They carried all of their worldly possessions, “a strong tool chest, filled with carpenter tools, a small trunk of Joseph’s make, containing his wardrobe and a ‘big box’ of Hannah’s store of clothes and bedding, and keepsakes. They had youth and health, and habits of frugality and industry, and a good share of the rare quality, common sense.

After a few years in Illinois, the family visited Vermont with their first child, Mary Lucinda.

“A daguerreotype picture of them at that time shows three earnest, thoughtful faces. The young mother and little daughter have their dark hair parted over their broad foreheads, and smoothly combed over their ears, not very different from the style of young people today.”

From the story of Joseph’s tall silk wedding hat dropping to his shoulders when he put it on, and the reference to Hannah and her daughter’s “broad foreheads,” I think it’s a safe bet that my “bulgy Kingsbury brow” as my husband lovingly calls it, might actually have come from the Browns and not the Kingsbury side of the family.

In 1881, Joseph and Hannah sold the farm and moved into the town of Oelwein, which was a new railroad town. They eventually moved to Osage and Joseph worked with his son Wayland in the family hardware store. The hardware store in Osage stayed in the Kingsbury family until the mid-1950s, with Wayland’s second son Frank as the final owner.

Hannah and Joseph stayed with Wayland and his four sons after the death of Wayland’s first wife, Flora Jane Bush in 1900. Ella writes:

“Father and mother willingly gave up their quiet home and went to that of the desolated family. They were glad that they were wanted, and could still be useful. When the children were told that grandpa and grandma were coming to stay with them, and they would all be careful and try not to tire them, Joseph said gently, ‘We will be quiet, we are used to walking on tiptoe.’ And what little Joe said, was sure to be acceptable to his small brother Dean.”

Ella recalls her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary as a grand celebration held at the home of Mrs. N.J. Berger. Grandchildren played violin and piano and recited verses. Their children and friends shared stories of Joseph and Hannah’s life together. There was a picture taken in the yard with 34 people in it (sadly, not reproduced in the book) and the next day 24 family members went to the photography studio for a more formal picture (also, not reproduced).

Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury died in September 1909, a month before their 57th anniversary and Hannah later moved to the home of her son Wayland and his second wife, Annie Walker Kingsbury. On August 24, 1914, Hannah wrote to her daughter Ella, then living in California:

“I am settled with Wayland and Annie again, with no prospect of unsettling, and I am satisfied. Shall try to be cheerful and agreeable and useful, as far as I am able.” After describing her day at church she continues: “Dean received a letter from a girlfriend in Washington, with a clipping containing a whole lot of names of Americans that were stranded in Europe, and Joe’s was among them, as also the two friends that were with him. They were in Nuremberg. We have to keep satisfied with ‘watchful waiting’ for awhile, probably. Oh, the cruelty and meanness of such a war.”

Hannah died when she was 84 and her daughter Ella describes her as brave and helpful to the end. In one of my favorite lines in the book she writes of her mother:

“No self-pity, no whining, no grumbling, do I recall. Trustful and true to the last. To her it was humiliating to be a leaner. A lifter was her habitual character.”

Good advice – the world could use more lifters!