Jacob Katzenstein: Before, During, and After the Flood

My great-great-uncle Jacob Katzenstein was, like his sister Brendena, a man who faced a great deal of tragedy but managed to survive and, in his case, start all over with a new family.  In 1889, he lost first born child, Milton, at age two and a half, and then both his wife, Ella Bohm, and his other young son Edwin in the devastating Johnstown flood.  I’ve written about Jacob and these events in prior posts.

In one of those posts, I also described my search for more information about Ella Bohm and my hypothesis that she was the daughter of Marcus Bohm and Eva Goldsmith; I assumed Eva was her mother as Ella is listed on the 1880 census as the niece of Jacob Goldsmith, Eva’s brother.  Eva Goldsmith was also my distant cousin—her mother was Fradchen Schoenthal, my great-grandfather Isidore’s sister; her father was Simon Goldschmidt, my great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt’s uncle.  And if I am right that Ella Bohm was Eva Goldsmith’s daughter, then Ella married her cousin when she married Jacob Katzenstein, as he was Eva Goldschmidt’s son.

jacob-katzenstein-to-jacob-goldsmith

But I had no definitive proof that Eva Goldsmith was Ella’s mother.  I also had not been able to find out when Jacob Katzenstein married Ella or why their first-born son Milton died.  On my cousin Roger’s old genealogy website, he had included a quote about Jacob from a book called The Horse Died at Windber: A History of Johnstown’s Jews of Pennsylvania by Leonard Winograd (Wyndham Hall Press, 1988).  I decided to track down this book to see if it revealed any more information about Jacob Katzenstein and Ella Bohm and their lives.

I was able to borrow a copy of the book through the Interlibrary Loan system from my former employer, Western New England University, and have now read the book.  Unfortunately it did not answer my two principal questions.  I still don’t know for sure who was Ella Bohm’s mother, and I still don’t know what caused the death of little Milton. I did, however, learn more about Ella’s father Marcus Bohm, about Jacob Katzenstein and his second wife Bertha and their children, and about the Johnstown Jewish community at that time and its history.

According to Winograd, in the second half of the 19th century when many Jewish immigrants started arriving from Europe, many made a living as peddlers, as I’ve written about previously. Pittsburgh was a popular hub where these peddlers would obtain their wares and then travel by foot or horse and wagon or train to the various small towns in western Pennsylvania. Winograd states that by 1882 there were 250 to 300 peddlers operating this way out of Pittsburgh. (Winograd, p. 12)

Eventually these peddlers would find a particular town to settle in and would set up store as a merchant in the town. But Pittsburgh remained the center for Jewish life.  These merchants and peddlers would attend synagogue there, participate in Jewish communal life there, and be buried there. Often they would move on from one town to another or return to Pittsburgh itself. (Winograd, p. 12-13)

Johnstown was a bit too far to be part of this greater Pittsburgh community (65 miles away), and although peddlers and merchants did come through there and even settle temporarily there, it was a more isolated location than the towns that became satellites of Pittsburgh.  Thus, its social, economic, and religious life was independent of the Pittsburgh influence.

 

Winograd reported that Johnstown had a population growth spurt between 1850 and 1860, jumping from 1,260 to 4,185.  In 1856, there were nine churches in Johnstown, but no synagogue (although there was apparently an attempt to start one in 1854).  The Jewish families in the town had services in their homes; there was not a large enough population to support the establishment of a synagogue at that time. (Winograd, p. 26) In 1864, the Jewish merchants in town formed a merchants’ association regulating store hours. Most of these merchants came from the Hesse region of Germany, as did Jacob Katzenstein. (Winograd, p. 48)

Two of those early merchants in the 1860s were Sol and Emanuel Leopold. (Winograd, p.56)  It was their sister Minnie Leopold and her husband Solomon Reineman with whom Marcus Bohm was living in 1910; Solomon Reineman came to Johnstown in 1875. (Winograd, pp. 77-78) Sol and Emanuel Leopold’s other sister Eliza Leopold Miller was Bertha Miller’s mother—that is, Jacob Katzenstein’s mother-in-law when he married Bertha Miller. As Winograd points out in Appendix C to his book (pp. 281-283), many of the Jewish merchants in town were related either directly or through marriage.

According to Winograd, both Marcus Bohm and Jacob Katzenstein came to Johnstown in the 1880s. Here’s what he wrote about Marcus Bohm:

marcus-bohm-in-winograd-book

(Winograd, p. 78)

Winograd wrote that Jacob Katzenstein first came to Johnstown in 1882 as a clerk for another merchant. He married Ella Bohm on March 26, 1883, (Johnstown Daily Tribune, May 16, 1883, p. 4, col. 7).  Winograd even mentioned their wedding.  In discussing what he described as “the first public Jewish wedding” in Johnstown, which took place in 1886, Winograd says, “There had been an earlier Jewish wedding, that of Jacob Katzenstein to Ella Bohm on March 26, 1883, a private ceremony conducted by J.S. Strayer, Esquire.” (Winograd, pp. 93-94)  The implication appears to be that Jacob and Ella might have been the first Jewish couple married in Johnstown. Based on the date, I was able to locate a marriage notice from the May 16, 1883, edition of the Johnstown Daily Tribune (p. 4, col. 7).

According to Winograd, Jacob and Ella lived in rooms over the store of another Johnstown merchant, Sol Hess. Sol Hess was the brother-in-law of Emanuel Leopold, who had married Sol’s sister Hannah. In March 1884, Marcus Bohm moved in with Jacob and Ella and soon thereafter, Marcus lost his own store when an Eastern dealer executed a judgment of $2,625 dollars against him. (Winograd, pp.78-79)

According to Winograd, Jacob moved back to Philadelphia for a few years.  This must have been when Jacob and Ella’s first son Milton was born in 1886, but by June 1887 when Edwin was born, they must have returned to Johnstown. Here is a photograph of Johnstown in 1880s, showing what it must have looked like when Jacob Katzenstein first settled there:

As noted, 1889 was a tragic year for Jacob.  First, there was the tragedy of Milton’s death on April 18, 1889 (Johnstown Daily Tribune (April 18, 1889, p. 4, col. 2), and then the deaths of Ella and Edwin on May 31, 1889, during the flood.  According to Winograd, Ella and little Edwin were in their house on Clinton Street when the flood waters rushed into the city, causing the house to collapse.  After the flood, Jacob lived in one of the temporary structures erected in Johnstown’s Central Park. (Winograd, p. 79)

In March 1891, almost two years after losing his two sons and his first wife, Jacob married Bertha Miller, the daughter of Eliza Leopold and Samuel Miller of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Jacob and Bertha had six children: Helen (1892), Gerald (1893, presumably named for Jacob’s father Gerson Katzenstein), Eva (1894, presumably named for Jacob’s mother Eva Goldschmidt), Leopold (1898), Maurice (1900), and Perry (1904)(named for Jacob’s brother Perry). Jacob was still a clothing merchant.

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census
Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

It was during the 1880 and 1890s that formal, organized Jewish life really developed in Johnstown. Before that time, the primarily German Jewish residents of the town, who came from a Reform background and, as Winograd observed, identified more as German than Jewish in many ways, had services in their private homes and holiday celebrations with their families, but there were no official synagogues or rabbis in the town. (Winograd, pp. 77, 87-88, 103-107)

Then, with an influx of Russian Jewish immigrants in the 1880s who came from a more traditional, Orthodox background, there was a demand for more of the organized elements of Jewish communal life, including a synagogue, Hebrew school, and kosher butcher.  (Winograd, pp. 76-77) In the 1890s, two synagogues were organized: Rodeph Shalom for the more Orthodox Jews in town and Beth Zion for the Reform Jews.

Beth Zion grew out of a Jewish social club, the Progress Club, of which Jacob Katzenstein was an organizer and founding member in 1885. (Winograd, pp. 80, 148). The group used their building (known as the Cohen building) for services, but it was not until 1894 that they had their first Reform High Holiday Service; there was still no full time rabbi, and lay people often led services. (Winograd, pp. 148-151)

Beth Zion synagogue in Johnstown Courtesy of Julian H. Preisler. The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey (Fonthill Media 2014), p. 74 Courtesy of Beth Shalom Synagogue and the Johnstown Area Heritage Association

Beth Zion synagogue in Johnstown
Courtesy of Julian H. Preisler. The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey (Fonthill Media 2014), p. 74
Courtesy of Beth Shalom Synagogue and the Johnstown Area Heritage Association

Jacob was an officer in Beth Zion Temple. (Winograd, pp. 79-80)  In 1905 he donated five dollars to a fund to provide assistance to Jews in Russia who were being persecuted. (Winograd, pp. 114-116) In 1907, his son Gerald celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah the evening before Rosh Hashana; in 1912 when Gerald’s brother Leo became a bar mitzvah, it also was celebrated during the high holidays. Winograd described the Beth Zion congregation at that time as small, but tightly knit.  (Winograd, pp. 150-151) Obviously, Jacob Katzenstein and his family were active members in this community.

By 1910, Jacob and Bertha’s children ranged in age from five to eighteen and were all still living at home. Jacob listed his occupation as a retail merchant, the owner of a clothing store:

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1910 US census Year: 1910; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1323; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0118; FHL microfilm: 1375336

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1910 US census
Year: 1910; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1323; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0118; FHL microfilm: 1375336

Six years later on October 4, 1916, Jacob Schlesinger died at age 65 from chronic myocarditis and acute cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gall bladder. Rabbi Max Moll, a rabbi from Rochester, New York who was in Johnstown for the high holidays, presided at Jacob’s funeral. (Winograd, p. 80) Jacob left behind his wife Bertha and his six children ranging in age from 12 (Perry) up to Helen, who was 24.  In his will, executed on September 6, 1916, a month before he died, he appointed his wife Bertha to be his executrix and left his entire estate to her. Jacob was buried at the Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown.

Jacob Katzenstein death certificate Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 102541-105790

Jacob Katzenstein death certificate
Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 102541-105790

My next post will address what happened to his six children.

Jacob Katzenstein headstone courtesy of Find-A-Grave Member Brian J. Ensley (#47190867).

Jacob Katzenstein headstone
courtesy of Find-A-Grave Member Brian J. Ensley (#47190867).

(Does anyone know why that World War I sign would be posted near Jacob’s headstone? He died before the US entered the war so was not a veteran.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Was Ella Bohm Katzenstein? A Genealogy Adventure

This was truly a genealogy adventure. I’d written most of this post before I made two surprising discoveries that required me to rewrite substantial parts of it. The story of Jacob Katzenstein’s first wife Ella is heartbreaking. She was only 27 when she died in the 1889 Johnstown flood, and for a long time I knew almost nothing about her.  I’ve finally made some headway in learning more about her.

Here’s what I now know about her from various sources, more or less in the order I found them. Her first name was Ella, as seen from the birth record indexed on FamilySearch for her son, Milton B. Katzenstein.

milton-b-katzenstein-birth-record

Her birth surname was Bohm, as seen in a newspaper report of her death and as implicitly confirmed by the fact that Milton’s middle name was Bohm; that fact I learned from Milton’s burial record at Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown.

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent,, June 7, 1889, p. 3

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent,, June 7, 1889, p. 3

I know that Ella was probably born in February 1862, as indicated on the memorial stone placed at Eastview Cemetery in Cumberland, Maryland.   Her father’s name was apparently Marcus Bohm; that fact I inferred from the fact that Ella’s widower Jacob Katzenstein included Marcus in his household on the 1900 census and described him as his father-in-law (even though by that time Jacob had remarried). Ella presumably married Jacob sometime before or around January, 1886, since their son Milton was born in September, 1886. Milton died on April 18, 1889.  I also know that a second child, Edwin, was born June 5, 1887, and that he and Ella were killed in the Johnstown flood on May 31, 1889.

ella-katzenstein-and-edwin-katzenstein-headstone-from-findagrave

But where was Ella before marrying Jacob and having these two little boys?

For the longest time, I could not find her on the 1870  census, no matter how many ways I tried to spell her name, with and without wildcards. And then somehow she popped up after I’d just about given up.  I decided to search for any Ella with a surname starting with Bo born anywhere in about 1862 living in Pennsylvania or any state bordering it.  And there she was, listed as Ella Bohn, living in Philadelphia, an eight year old child born in Pennsylvania.  Her father was not living with her, nor was there anyone else in the household named Bohn or Bohm. So who was she living with?

Ella Bohm (Bohn) on the 1870 census Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 12 District 36, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ella Bohm (Bohn) on the 1870 census
Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 12 District 36, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I took a deep breath when I saw.  She was living with Jacob Goldsmith. Who was he? The son of Simon Goldschmidt and Fradchen Schoenthal.  Simon Goldschmidt was the brother of my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt, the father of Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein, whose son Jacob would later marry Ella Bohm.  And Fradchen Schoenthal was the sister of my three-times great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal, father of Isidore Schoenthal who would later marry Hilda Katzenstein, daughter of Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein and brother of Jacob Katzenstein, who would later marry Ella Bohm.

jacob-katzenstein-to-jacob-goldsmith

So little Ella Bohm was for some reason living with the first cousin, once removed, of her future husband Jacob Katzenstein.  And with in-law relatives of her future sister-in-law, Hilda Katzenstein, my great-grandmother. And they were all related to me.  Yikes.

But where was her father? Why wasn’t Ella living with him? Why was she living with Jacob Goldsmith? Unfortunately, the 1870 census did not include information about the relationships among those in a household, so I couldn’t tell.

A search for information about Ella’s father Marcus Bohm turned up nothing explicit connecting him to Ella, though I was able to piece together some information about Marcus. He was born November 9, 1834, in Warsaw, Poland, and immigrated to the United States in 1849, arriving in Baltimore.

marcus-bohm-manifest-from-family-search

Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-897J-P6W?cc=2018318&wc=MKZ4-GPF%3A1004777901%2C1004778901 : 25 September 2015), 1820-1891 (NARA M255, M596) > image 404 of 688; citing NARA microfilm publications M255, M596 and T844 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

One document indicates that he was living in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1853, which, of course, is where many members of my extended family also settled, including Jacob Goldsmith, who was a clothing merchant there as early as 1850, and Jacob Katzenstein’s brother SJ, who arrived around there in about 1871.

It appears that Marcus Bohm owned a clothing store there from at least 1853 from ads I found online in the Washington newspaper.  There was a fire at his store in April, 1860:

Washington Reporter, April 12, 1860, p. 3

Washington Reporter, April 12, 1860, p. 3

I also found an advertisement for Marcus Bohm’s clothing store in the Washington Reporter of August 30, 1860 (p.3):

ad-for-marcus-bohm-1860

 

But by November, 1860, Marcus was closing down his Washington store:

marcus-bohm-closing-down-store-in-wash-pa-page-001

It seems he then left Washington, Pennsylvania, because according to a New Jersey index of the 1860 census, Marcus was living in Hudson Township, New Jersey, in 1860, although I cannot find him on the actual 1860 census records.  He is listed in the 1867 Trenton, New Jersey, directory as working in the clothing business and living at Madison House. On the 1870 census, he is listed as living in a hotel in Trenton and working as a clothier. There is no wife or child living with him.

Marcus continued to be listed in Trenton city directories in the 1870s up through 1876, and he is consistently listed as a clothing merchant and tailor and living in various hotels in Trenton. But in 1878, he declared bankruptcy in Trenton:

marcus-bohm-bankrupt

Why was his daughter Ella  living with the Goldsmiths in Philadelphia in 1870 and not with her father in Trenton? I decided to dig deeper into the background of Jacob Goldsmith, someone I had not yet really researched as I am (ahem) not yet focused on my Goldschmidt line (yet somehow they keep popping up everywhere).  I searched for him on the 1880 census, and this is what I found:

Jacob Goldsmith's family on 1880 census with Ella "Baum" Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1173; Family History Film: 1255173; Page: 158D; Enumeration District: 210; Image: 0325

Jacob Goldsmith’s family on 1880 census with Ella “Baum”
Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1173; Family History Film: 1255173; Page: 158D; Enumeration District: 210; Image: 0325

Jacob, Fanny, and their many children were living in Philadelphia, and living with them was a niece named Ella Baum, age 17.  This had to be Ella Bohm, who would have been turning 18 in 1880.  She was living with Jacob and Fanny Goldsmith because she was their niece! So her mother had to be either Fanny’s sister or Jacob’s sister. For reasons described below, I believe she was the daughter of Jacob’s sister Eva.

Jacob had several sisters, but for all but one, I’d found married names, and they had not married Marcus Bohm.  But there was one sister for whom I’d been unable to find anything more than her name on the passenger manifest with her father Simon and stepmother Fradchen in 1845 and her listing on the 1850 census with her father Simon and stepmother Fanny and several siblings. Her name was Eva Goldschmidt/Goldsmith.

Simon, Fradchen, and Eva Goldschmidt on 1845 passenger manifest The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85

Simon, Fradchen, and Eva Goldschmidt on 1845 passenger manifest
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85

On the 1850 census, the names seem confused. It shows Simon’s wife’s name as Lena. Her name was Fradchen or Fanny in the US. Simon had a daughter Lena, who is also listed on the census.  And then there is a daughter named Fanny.  I think that daughter was really Eva, and the enumerator somehow thought Fanny was the daughter’s name instead of the wife and heard “Lena” instead of “Eva” for the other daughter’s name and thought that was the wife’s name. (Remember these were recent immigrants whose English might not have been very understandable.)

Simon Goldschmidt and family 1850 census Year: 1850; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_745; Page: 135A; Image: 274

Simon Goldschmidt and family 1850 census
Year: 1850; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_745; Page: 135A; Image: 274

But Eva is not listed as living with Simon in 1860 when he and two of her younger half-siblings had moved to Washington, Pennsylvania, to live with her older brother Jacob. So where was she then?  I don’t know, but here’s my theory.

My guess is that Marcus Bohm and Eva Goldsmith, Jacob’s sister, were married sometime around 1860. After their daughter Ella Bohm was born in 1862, Eva either died in childbirth or sometime shortly thereafter and before 1870. Supporting the theory that Eva had died is the fact that her brother Jacob named a child born in 1871 Eva.

I believe that Ella’s widowed father Marcus Bohm moved to New Jersey after losing his wife and his business in Washington, and he left his little daughter to be raised by her uncle, Jacob Goldsmith. That little girl then grew up and married Jacob Katzenstein, who was her second cousin.

I don’t know when she married Jacob. I cannot find Jacob or Ella on the 1880 census, although Jacob was listed in the Pittsburgh directories for 1879 and 1881, the Johnstown directory in 1884, both the Philadelphia and Johnstown directories for 1887, and the Johnstown directory in 1889. When their son Milton was born in 1886, Jacob and Ella must have been living in Philadelphia. And by 1889 they were living in Johnstown.

Where was Ella’s father Marcus in the 1880s? The 1880 census report shows that he was then living in Washington, Pennsylvania, boarding in a hotel there and working in a clothing store.  But by 1884, Marcus had moved to Johnstown, as the 1884 Johnstown directory lists Marcus living at 251 Main Street and working at 272 Main Street in the clothing business. That same directory lists Jacob Katzenstein as a commercial traveler living at 241 Main Street, just a few houses away from Marcus. I assume that Marcus moved to Johnstown because his daughter Ella had by that time married Jacob and was living there, but I don’t know for sure.

After the tragic deaths of his daughter Ella and his two grandsons Milton and Edwin in 1889, Marcus seemed to disappear for some years and does not appear in any city directories. The next record that does include Ella’s father Marcus is the 1900 census where, as noted above, he was living in Johnstown with Jacob Katzenstein and Jacob’s second wife Bertha Miller, their three children, Bertha’s brother Maurice, and a servant.  Marcus is described as Jacob’s father-in-law, widowed, and retired.

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census
Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

I find it rather heartwarming that Bertha Miller took in the father of Jacob’s first wife.

Ten years later Marcus was still living in Johnstown, boarding in the household of Solomon Reineman, according to the 1910 census. I thought perhaps Solomon was a relative or married to a relative, but Solomon was born in Germany, not Poland. In 1880, Solomon had been living in Johnstown, so I assume that Marcus had become friendly with him during the 1880s when both were living in Johnstown.

And then I found a connection to Solomon’s wife, Minnie Leopold, though not directly. While researching Jacob’s second wife, Bertha Miller, I saw that her mother was named Eliza Leopold.  The name jumped out at me, and I thought—could there be a connection to Minnie Leopold? A few more steps of research, and lo and behold, I learned that Eliza and Minnie Leopold were sisters! So somehow Marcus Bohm ended up living with his son-in-law’s second wife’s aunt and her husband.

Two years later, however, Marcus had moved to Philadelphia. The 1912 Philadelphia directory lists Marcus Bohm living at 3333 North Broad Street. Four years later on February 25, 1916, Marcus died in Philadelphia.  He was 81 years old and died of chronic emphysema.

Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 021751-024880

Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 021751-024880

He’d been living at the Masonic Home of Pennsylvania, and the informant was William H. Sivel, the superintendent at 3333 North Broad Street, which I assume is the location of the Masonic Home and where Marcus had been residing.  There is no other personal information on the certificate except for Marcus Bohm’s birth date, birth place (Poland), age, and occupation, which the informant described as “gentleman.”  I was unable to find an obituary or any other document that would reveal family information for Marcus, only this death notice.

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1916, p. 18

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1916, p. 18

Thus, I was lucky enough to learn a little more about Ella Bohm Katzenstein and can only speculate that her mother was Eva Goldsmith, that Eva Goldsmith Bohm had died, and that Ella had been left to live with the family of Jacob Goldsmith while her father tried to recover from losing his wife and his store in Washington, Pennsylvania.

If I am right in this speculation, it makes her short life even more tragic. It was heartbreaking enough to know that she’d lost her first son Milton and then was killed along with her other son in the Johnstown flood of 1889 when she was only 27. But adding to that the loss of her mother and in some ways her father as a young child makes her story especially poignant.

 

The Flood

As we saw in my last post, by 1880, four of the five surviving children of Gerson and Eva (Goldschmidt) Katzenstein were on their own.  SJ, their oldest child, was married to his second cousin Henrietta Sigmund and living in Washington, Pennsylvania, where he was a merchant.  Brendina, the older daughter, was married to Jacob Schlesinger and living in Philadelphia, where Jacob worked as a butcher.   Jacob and Perry Katzenstein, the second and third sons of Gerson and Eva, were living together in Pittsburgh and working as salesmen.  Only my great-grandmother Hilda, who was seventeen in 1880, was still living at home with her parents in Philadelphia.

During the 1880s, Gerson and Eva were blessed with many grandchildren. SJ and Henrietta, whose first child Moynelle was born in 1879, had four sons in the 1880s: Milton (1881), Howard (1882), Ivan (1884), and Earl (1885).  Brendina and Jacob already had four children by 1880, Heloise (1874), Solomon Joseph (1875), and Alfred (1879), and a fourth child, Sidney, was born in 1880.  Their daughter Aimee was born seven years later in 1887.

In 1884 or 1885 (sources vary), Perry Katzenstein married Rose Elias, daughter of Samuel Elias and Fanny Greenwald.  Rose was born in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, which is, strangely enough, nowhere near the New Jersey shore.  In fact, it’s about 250 miles west of the Atlantic and about 190 miles west of Philadelphia and 180 miles east of Pittsburgh.   Rose’s parents were both German immigrants, and her father was a merchant. In 1880, her father was selling liquor; in 1870, he’d been selling clothing. In 1887, Perry is listed in the Philadelphia directory at the same address as his father, Gerson—870 Marshall Street.

His brother Jacob is listed right down the street at 919 Marshall Street in that same directory for 1887. Sometime before September 16, 1886, Jacob Katzenstein had married Ella Bohm, daughter of Marcus Bohm.  I cannot find any official records for Ella, except for this birth record indexed on FamilySearch:

milton-b-katzenstein-birth-record

Unfortunately, it did not reveal Ella’s original surname or anything else about her.  But it does show that their son Milton was born in Philadelphia in 1886, suggesting that they were all living there at that time.  I found her original surname and her father’s name from other sources, discussed below.

Jacob’s residence during the 1880s is a bit of a mystery.  I cannot find him on the 1880 census.  In 1881, he is listed in the Pittsburgh directory, living with Perry.  In 1884, he is listed in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, directory, and in 1887, he is listed in both the Johnstown and Philadelphia directories.  I have no idea whether Ella was from Philadelphia, Johnstown, or someplace else. I don’t know where or when she and Jacob were married. I did find this quote about Jacob on my cousin Roger’s old website:

[Jacob] came to Johnstown in 1882, as a clerk for Louis Cohen.  He returned to Philadelphia for a few years but then came back to take charge of the Economy clothing Store which belonged to Amos Sulka and himself. (quoting Leonard Winograd, The Horse Died at Windber: A History of Johnstown’s Jews of Pennsylvania (Wyndham Hall Press, 1988)).

Jacob and Ella had a second son named Edwin born apparently on June 5, 1887, a date I determined from his headstone, as discussed below.  But June 5, 1887 is less than nine months after Milton’s birth date of September 16, 1886.  It seems highly unlikely that a woman could have had two children less than nine months apart. I assume one of those birth dates is off by at least a few months, or that Edwin was premature, or that Ella conceived almost immediately after Milton was born. Or that Ella was not the biological mother of one of those two children.

In 1888, Gerson and Eva saw their youngest child get married.  Hilda, my great-grandmother, married Isidore Schoenthal in Philadelphia. As I’ve written previously, Hilda and Isidore first lived in Pittsburgh, where on December 3, 1888, their first son was born, my great-uncle Lester Schoenthal.

Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal

Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal

Thus, by 1888, Gerson and Eva’s children were all married, and there were twelve grandchildren.  Things must have seemed quite good for them all, but in 1889, their fortunes began to change.  First, on April 18, 1889, Jacob and Ella’s son Milton died; he would have been only two and a half years old.  I learned of his death from an entry on FindAGrave showing his headstone at Grandview cemetery in Johnstown:

But the headstone says he was born in 1888, not 1886 as the Philadelphia birth record stated. So I searched the interment database for Grandview cemetery in Johnstown and saw that the interment record indicates that Milton was two when he died in April, 1889, suggesting that the headstone is wrong and the birth record and interment record are right.  Very odd.  I also learned from the interment record that Milton’s middle name was Bohm, his mother’s birth name.

A little over a month after Milton’s death in Johnstown, one of the most tragic events in American history occurred: the Johnstown flood of May 31, 1889. Over two thousand people died that day.  According to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA) website, that was the largest loss of civilian life in America in one day until September 11, 2001.

The JAHA website and several other sources describe how after several days of heavy rain, the South Fork dam, which was in need of repairs, collapsed, causing havoc and death as the rushing waters swept everything in its path under and aside.

 

The aftermath of the Johnstown Flood (Johnstow...

The aftermath of the Johnstown Flood (Johnstown, Pennsylvania). “The Debris above the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge.” In: “History of the Johnstown Flood”, by Willis Fletcher Johnson, 1889. P. 199. Library Call Number M79.4 J71h. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is how the JAHA described it:

20 million tons of water rushed down the narrow Conemaugh Valley like a moving mountain of water at an average speed of 40 miles per hour. The “terrible wave” picked up houses, trees, and even trains on its way down the valley. It flattened a railroad bridge. It swept whole towns away as it made its way to the city of Johnstown.

By the time it reached Johnstown the flood didn’t even look like water anymore. People who saw it coming said it looked like a moving, boiling black mountain of junk. 35 feet high at its crest, it had the force of Niagara Falls. Even the best swimmers couldn’t swim in that mess. Many people drowned. For most, the only warning was a thunderous rumble before the water hit.

In minutes, most of downtown Johnstown was destroyed. Survivors clung to roofs, debris, and the few buildings that remained standing. Others who weren’t killed instantly, were swept down the valley to their deaths.

Just when it seemed like it couldn’t get worse, it did. All that wreckage piled up behind the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Stone Bridge. People who managed to survive so far became trapped in the huge pile of debris, all wrapped in a tangle of barbed wire from destroyed Gautier Wire Works. Then the pile, which was 40 feet high and 30 acres across, caught fire!

Four square miles of downtown Johnstown was completely leveled, including about 1600 homes, 280 businesses, and much of the Cambria Iron Company. Even more tragic was the loss of life. 2,209 people are known to have died in the flood waters. 99 whole families perished. 400 children under the age of ten were killed.

Among those who lost their lives in the flood were Ella Bohm Katzenstein, Jacob’s wife, and their younger son, Edwin, who was just five days short of his second birthday.

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent,, June 7, 1889, p. 3

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent,, June 7, 1889, p. 3

Note that this list includes Ella (identified by her birth name incorrectly as Ellen) and her son among those who were killed and Jacob on the list of those who survived.

Jacob Katzenstein had lost his entire family starting with Milton on April 18 and then, 43 days later, he lost Ella and Edwin in the flood.

ella-katzenstein-and-edwin-katzenstein-headstone-from-findagrave

Headstone of Ella and Edwin Katzenstein, FindAGrave, courtesy of Byron http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=118211407&ref=acom

The headstone allowed me to infer the birthdates for Ella (February 1862) and Edwin (June 5, 1887), as it says Ella was 27 years, six months, and zero days old at her death on May 31, 1889, and that Edwin was one year, eleven months, and six days old that day.

The odd thing is that this headstone is located at Eastview Cemetery in Cumberland, Maryland, not at Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown where Jacob and Ella had buried Milton the month before.  Also, note that the stone says “In Memory of,” an indication to me that it is not marking a grave, but is just operating as a memorial.  Maybe the bodies of Ella and little Edwin were never found. (I’ve contacted the Eastview Cemetery to see if they have more information, but so far they’ve not found any information about the stone, who put it there, or whether Ella and Edwin are in fact buried there.)

But why is this memorial in Cumberland? Jacob was living in Johnstown; his parents were living in Philadelphia. The only Katzenstein family members I know of who were living in Cumberland at that time were some members of the family of H.H. Mansbach, Jacob Katzenstein’s first cousin.  Did the Mansbach family install this memorial?  I am still trying to figure this one out.

It is hard to imagine the devastation caused by this flood. Over two thousand lives lost as well as all the injuries and the destruction of the town itself.  Just as we cannot really grasp the full meaning of  the more than two thousand people who died on 9/11, we cannot truly understand the impact of this tragedy unless we focus on one life at a time and the story of that life. Trying to imagine what this must have been like for Jacob Katzenstein gives me a better sense of how horrifying and devastating the flood must have been, multiplying his story over two thousand times.

English: After the Flood at Johnstown -- Main ...

English: After the Flood at Johnstown — Main Street, a wood engraving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It also makes me want to know more about Ella Bohm, the woman he married.  I am still trying to learn more about her.  All I know now is that she was born in February, 1862 (based on that headstone), that her father’s name was Marcus Bohm, that she had two sons, Milton and Edwin, and that both of them died as toddlers.  She was only 27 on May 31, 1889, when she died along with her son Edwin and the 2,207 other people who were killed in the Johnstown flood.

I will write more about her in my next post.