(This post is part of a serial blog. Please see previous post: GENERATION THREE, MATERNAL: ARTHUR & RUTH).
I am now embarking on unfamiliar territory, as both William Otto and Charlotte died before I was born. I did not know them in my lifetime. However, I have stories from my parents and public records to piece together their lives into the semblance of a story, fleshed out over a mere skeleton of dates and places.
Both William and Charlotte were born in Germany (then Prussia), immigrants to this country between the two world wars. William was born in Halberstadt in 1896, although I suspect he (and possibly his family) moved to Magdeburg, the birthplace of Charlotte Helena Gaedike in 1899.
William Otto was born to Henry Pape and Dorothea Erbe on November 10, 1896. The Great War loomed just eight years on the horizon. The family story was that he fought in World War I, in the German Army. He would have been a ripe and prime 18 year old young man at the start of the war. Kaiser Wilhelm II was on the throne, and Germany’s economy was booming. Germany had set her sights on acquiring colonies in Africa and Europe, and aggressively expanding its dominion. This had to be an exciting time to a young man to take up arms for his country.
As happens to almost every man who falls romantically in love with the notion of war, the honeymoon was short-lived. My grandfather was injured: stories vary on what happened. One story tells of shrapnel embedded in his leg. Another story tells of a wall falling on him. Yet a third story tells of him being shot out of the torpedo chute of a submarine (it is hard to imagine what he would have been doing in a submarine as a member of the German Army). Perhaps none of these stories are the whole truth; perhaps all of them are partly true.
The truth is that the war left my grandfather a shell-shocked and broken man, as were evidenced by his violent flashbacks my father witnessed as a child.
In 1921, at the age of 24, William Otto embarked upon the ship Mongolia bound for New York. He may have decided to come to America to escape his memories of the war, or to escape the debt-ridden, poverty-stricken, expensive nation Germany had become. Likely it was both. He had a sponsor in Sheboygan, Wisconsin (Edwin Puls) who vouched for him, guaranteeing a job would be waiting for him so he would not become a drain on American society.
It is unclear whether my grandfather at this point intended to send for my grandmother with the intention of making her his bride. Family story says they were just friends from “the old country” and that she was just coming over for a visit, never making it back home. Given the poverty in Germany at the time, and the price and length of a voyage, this seems unlikely. It seems especially unlikely after reading the article from The Sheboygan Press-Telegram from October 11, 1922:
Bride-Elect From Germany Finds Sheboygan “Heaven” Compared to Old Country
Miss Charlotte Gaedike has arrived from Germany and will make Sheboygan her future home. Miss Gaedike, accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Otto Maas when they returned recently from their European tour, but due to immigration regulations, Miss Gaedike was delayed at Ellis Island for a week. She will be married to William Pape of this city in the near future. Mr. Pape just recently came from Germany and has been in this country but a year. While in Europe Mr. and Mrs. Maas visited with Mr. Pape’s parents and thus brought the young bride-to-be to this country.
Miss Gaedike possesses a very pleasing personality, friendly and entertaining. She cannot speak any English, but converses in the most fluent perfect German. She was employed as a telephone operator and mail clerk in the post office at Magdeburg near Berlin, where she and her parents, her four brothers and five sisters reside.The following is a substance of an interview obtained yesterday from Miss Gaedike by a member of the Press-Telegram staff, in her own language:
Every family obtains through its government a card or as it is called in German a “labensmittelschein.” This card gives the mother or person who does the family cooking, the right to purchase additions, flour for each child. When a child dies, or leaves the family in any way, the government has to be notified, the card for the child is annulled and the mother’s amount of flour and other food stuffs is cut. So when Miss Gaedike left Germany, the food supply in her family was cut proportionally.
“Auf Marken” is an expression frequently used in Germany. By this is meant that a family with numerous small children who need a quantity of milk daily, are privileged to purchase milk at a lower rate than others. Due to the low value of the mark, the people are not in a position to purchase such real food stuffs as butter and meat. Most of the meat markets are on the verge of bankruptcy. One pound of butter costs 300 marks, and as this price is too enormous for the people to pay, they are obliged to resort to margarine and coco-fat, which is really unfit for eating purposes. In order to relieve this, most of the people have marmalade, made from fruit which has rotted and could not be sold. “It is indeed very sad,” Miss Gaedike said in her fluent German, “to see so many children undernourished; who are just forced to die away because of lack of real sustaining food. There are not very many real healthy people left in Germany.” This land used to be noted for its “pretzels” but as they cost 5 marks each, they do not find a ready market at this time.
In regard to the beautiful houses and large lawns and yards here, Miss Gaedike was very much elated. She said that in Germany, where three or four families reside in one house, it is almost impossible for the children to have any fresh air whatsoever. Due to lack of space to hang up washing and also to the enormous price of soap and washing powders, many of the German folk are often obliged to go without washing their clothes for weeks. They take great care in keeping their clothes clean, as they know that they will have to work many days in order to have the privilege to buy a bar of soap.
Because the mark has decreased to such an extent, a working man and woman can hardly make a living. Many people are out of employment, and beggars are numerous. Women and girls who toil daily in the factories and stores for a small sum of money are obliged to lead a licentious life in order to live. This has brought the health and morals of the German women and girls to a low degree and there are hundreds upon hundreds of women and girls just dying day by day because of shattered health. Many of these people who ought to be at a sanatorium, are obliged to die slowly because of the lack of funds to pay their expenses at an institution.
In regard to the doctor, he does not stand far back on the scene of expense. Most of the people cannot afford a physician as he puts two items on his bill instead of one. He charges 200 marks for the visit to the patient, and 100 marks for gasoline used on the way to the patient.
A German head of a family does not have the right to own more than three rooms in his own private home. If a man has a house containing five rooms, he has to rent the other two or the law is after him. Even if the family is large, the law must be obeyed, and the large family as well as a small family must live in a three-room house. Often these rooms are such little dark rooms that sickness is inevitable and without the aid of a doctor, death claims its victims daily.
When asked what she thought of America and this city, Miss Gaedike exclaimed that here it was “Heaven and Golden.” She said that she couldn’t understand how people couldn’t be contented when they had their own homes and friends and such wonderful surroundings. This is truly a land of promise for the immigrant, she said, and she would never go back to live in Germany “that land of sorrow.” People in this country cannot realize how great the sorrow really is in the old country.
Miss Gaedike, who is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Gaedike of Magdeburg, has no other relatives in this country. She is a very pleasing young woman and has already made a host of friends who welcome her to this city.
I include this article, transcribed in its entirety, not only to prove the unlikelihood that my grandmother arrived here without knowledge that she was my grandfather’s intended bride, but also to demonstrate why so many German people immigrated to America during this time.
Little did my grandparents know that less than ten years after leaving poverty-stricken Germany, the Great Depression would hit America and extreme poverty would find them again. Then, in addition to having given up their homeland, their language, their culture and their families, they also gave up recently-regained material comforts. They must have felt like God was playing a very cruel joke on them indeed.
William Otto Pape and Charlotte Gaedike were married on October 14, 1922. I suspect my grandfather’s temper and shell-shocked condition did not take long to rear its ugly head to my grandmother. A notice appeared four months later in The Sheboygan Press-Telegram:
NOTICE! My wife, Charlotte, having left me without reason, I will not be responsible for any debts contracted by her. WILLIAM PAPE
Evidently, she came back. My father, William August, was born in August of that year. The following year, the newspaper reported on the fact that the Papes entertained a “company of friends” on Sunday afternoon to celebrate “Mrs. Pape’s birthday anniversary.” They are mentioned other times in the paper as having attended parties at the homes of others. My grandfather’s inability to control anger also appeared in the paper in 1929 with the headline: Slaps Girl on the Nose; Pays $5 and Costs:
William Pape was brought before Justice George Goodell this morning and pleading guilty to the charge of assault and battery was fined $5 and costs, amounting in all to $13.82.
Pape is employed at a local factory and, according to his own admission, lost his temper and slapped a girl who is employed at the same factory when, he said, she forcibly pushed him. Later he felt sorry and apologized to the girl, but this did not appease her wounded feelings, nor make amends for a soiled handkerchief, which became saturated with blood from her nose, as the result of the slap by Pape. Therefore, she had a warrant issued for the young man’s arrest.
The physically violent nature of my grandfather was attested by my father, in his recounting of tales of being beaten (see Generation Two, Paternal: William). Here you can also read about his repeated abandonment of the family.
My father never knew what happened to his father after he left for the last time and never came back. I was incredulous.
“He could still be alive!” I would say to him. “You could have brothers and sisters you don’t even know about!”
“Ach!” my father would say. “He died of a heart attack in Beaumont, California in 1953.”
I never thought to ask him how he came by that knowledge until after my father had passed away. I asked my mother. Had someone called the house? Who? Who had known about his family in Sheboygan? She didn’t remember how they received the news.
I sent away for my grandfather’s death certificate from California. It reports he was married at the time of his death. However, his wife’s name is not listed as Charlotte, but Lybroda (Librada) Pape!
Who was this woman??? I sent away for her death certificate, too. Her maiden name was Roque Robles, and her birthplace was Mexico. I have records that my grandfather crossed the border from Mexico into Laredo, Texas in 1942; did he bring a Mexican bride with him? Did she know about his other family in Sheboygan, Wisconsin? It appears that my grandfather was a bigamist!
As for my grandmother, Charlotte, I know very little. She was never caught outside the house without a hat, she had a thick German accent and proclaimed many things “ma-GEEK” (magic), she read tarot cards that she kept on a shelf that I have in my house to this day, and died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. My father said how she always talked about returning to Germany one day, but she never did. Once she set sail for New York in 1921, she never saw any of her family or friends again.
Once again, the theme of losing one’s home comes to light in my ancestral history. To voluntarily leave your homeland to escape poverty – – to seek a better life halfway around the world – – only to have poverty find you again must be one of the most disheartening feeling in life.
I have never known poverty to the extent that my father described it in his childhood, nor to the extent that my grandmother described it in Germany when she left. Yet the fear of it lurks in every corner: what if something happens to me or to my husband and we can’t work? What happens if we become sick? What happens if we become injured? What happens if our economy gets as bad as what it was in post World War I Germany, and a pound of butter or a bar of soap is simply more than could be afforded? Would we leave this country, our families and friends, our language, our traditions and culture, in search of a better life elsewhere?
Do these fears and anxieties I suffer stem from the life experiences of my ancestors, and not my own?