Barbara Drechsel’s story begins with a mystery. Who is this beautiful young woman? Is it Barbara?
Let this be a lesson – write on the back of every photograph you own, preferably in pencil – but do it one way or the other. Crayon would be better than nothing. Oh, and then don’t stack the pictures together either so the writing on the back of one leaches or rubs off on to the one below it. It just kills me seeing unidentified photos that I know are someone’s ancestors, someone’s family members – and especially when they are mine!
This unidentified female in the Kirsch family documents was originally believed to be Barbara Drechsel as a teen, based on comparisons to other photos that are identified as Barbara, like the ones below. Of course, we don’t know what Barbara’s sisters looked like. However, there was a fly in this ointment. Barbara Drechsel was born in 1848, so she would have been a teen in the 1860s, smack dab in the middle of the Civil War and before the camera was really in use.
Given that information, this is more likely to be a photograph that was taken about the same time as the known ones of Barbara Drechsel, below, and is likely one of Barbara’s daughters. Her oldest daughter, Nora, would have been about 14 or 15 at this time, and this person looks to be about that age and resembles Nora, so perhaps we have a photo of Nora here. Nora’s next younger sister was born in 1871, so would only have been about 10, and this young lady looks to be older than 10.
I know Barbara is my relative, so I might be a tiche biased, but I think she is a beautiful woman. I wonder if her hair was naturally curly or if this was artificial for the photos. Photography at that time was very much a “dress up” affair.
This photo was unlabeled, but based on the photo below where the clothes are the same, it is Barbara Drechsel Kirsch.
This photo is labeled Barbara Drechsel Kirsch. I found this necklace, now broken, in Mom’s jewelry box after she passed away. The photo frame says Brownell’s formerly Kelly’s Photo Gallery No. 196 W. 5th St, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Research on Fold3.com in the Cincinnati City Directory tells me that Kelly, a photographer, did business at that location from 1876-1880 and Brownell, another photographer, took over at that location in 1881, so this was probably from the 1881-1882 timeframe. Brownell would not have had the “formerly Kelly’s” tag for long especially since Kelly was only in business since 1876. So, this photo of Barbara was from when she was about 33 or 34 years old.
Let’s Meet Barbara
Barbara Drechsel was born on October 8, 1848 in Goppmansbuhl, Germany to George Drechsel and Barbara Mehlheimer. She was the oldest of their 6 children, two of whom would be born in Germany before they immigrated to the US.
Barbara was baptized in the protestant church in Wirbenz, above, the closest village, on October 22, 1851. She was also christened in June 1857, according to the Aurora church records. Her godmother in Germany was Barbara Krauss of Windischenlaiback, likely a relative and possibly a sister, aunt or other relative to one of her parents, probably her mother, since Barbara’s mother was, well, ahem, not married to Barbara’s father. However, it was not because her parents were uncommitted to each other. In fact, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The records pertaining to Barbara and her parents were exceedingly difficult to obtain. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was fortunate enough to find a retired Reverend in that area who was interested and willing to drive from little village to little village and look through the old church books. Because he was a Reverend, the churches would allow him access not otherwise granted, and he knew what to look for and transcribe. Plus, he still read Latin, because the German of that time was interspersed with Latin and written in German script. If I recall correctly, Reverend Grieninger was in his 80s or 90s at that time, but his many years of working with the churches gave him a wonderful perspective of what life was like in Germany especially pertaining to records during the time that Barbara’s parents would have been living there, and leaving there. He was also a very kind man and very non-judgmental.
George Drechsel’s emigration papers say they left from Bremen, his age was 29, and they arrived in Baltimore July 24, 1852 on the ship, “The Harvest.” Barbara wasn’t quite four years old. She probably had no memory of the trip or of Germany. Her earliest memories would have been of Aurora, Indiana.
We don’t know how the family traveled from Baltimore to Aurora, nor why they selected Aurora, but they did. They arrived sometime before the end of 1852, because George Drechsel applied for citizenship January 7, 1853 in Dearborn County, Indiana. His citizenship application would have covered his wife and two children as well. Barbara’s parents, George Drechsel and Barbara Mehlheimer were married three days later, a right we take for granted here, but a luxury they were not allowed in Germany.
Sometime after their arrival the name was changed to Drexler, which was probably the English phonetic pronunciation. It is also misspelled in other ways such as Drechsler and Drexel making it very difficult to find family members in records.
The Family Home
When Mom and I visited in the early 1990s, we found what we believed was the location where the Drechsel family lived according to the deeds we found and an 1875 map.
We discovered that Georg Drechsel had several entries in the Grantee and Grantor Deed Indexes 1826-1982.
Drechsel, Georg – (from) Riedel, Christian book 11 page 597, Nov. 1, 1856, Aurora lot 254. Note that Christian Riedel is the same person who witnessed for Georg’s naturalization. I was hopeful of finding Christian in the census, but had no such luck.
George Drecksel to Louise Giegoldt Book 47 page 411, March 12, 1891, lot 254 the north half.
George Drecksel to Barbara Kirsch, book 66 page 19, lot 254 the East half lot 254, Dec. 15, 1905.
Except, there was a fly in the ointment. The 1875 map I was using was a black and white copy of an original. I thought I could read it, then and now, but fate played a really cruel trick on me.
Mom and I went and found these properties in 1990. They have been “mine” ever since, until tonight when Jenny Awad from the Dearborn County Historical Society sent me a color scan of the original map. I looked at it, realized it wasn’t the original map, but a better one with additional landmarks noted, and immediately thought, “wow, how clear.”
Then, I looked at the lot numbers and thought something looked odd. Yep, you’ve probably guessed it by now. Mom and I had the wrong lot number. For 25 years now, I’ve been coveting the WRONG property. But it does make the 1900 census confusion go away. The reason George Drechsel lives on 4th Street in 1900 is because his lot IS on 4th Street and his house IS on 4th Street – and HAS BEEN on 4th Street ever since he bought it in 1856. So all those lovely photos of the wrong houses….bye bye.
Oh, and yes, I get to go back and “fix” a couple of other articles too. Well, all I can say is better late than never, but am I ever, ever mad at myself.
So, here’s the really good “new” map where I can see the lot numbers clearly.
The map above, from 1875, shows the Drechsel House on the Aurora map.
George Drechsel owned lot 254, on 4th Street between Bridge and Exporting. It was a block away from the barrel factory where he probably worked. He was a cooper.
If the original house still stands, it’s this house, at 510 4th street today.
The 1885 Dearborn Co. History for the City of Aurora says that George Drexler was a founder of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. “The church was formed in 1856 by a small number of settlers who were convinced that it was a necessity, as well as their Christian duty, to assemble on the Lord’s Day for divine worship.”
In May 1878, after renting a church from the Baptists, they began to build their own church on Mechanic Street, pictured above. According to the local history, the church members made a procession out of leaving their old church and “moving into” the new one. I of course don’t know what the procession actually looked like, but I view it probably as somewhat of a pious and somber parade with maybe everyone carrying a Bible, a hymnal and a candle.
It was a short walk from the Drechsel home to the new church, located at present day 222 Mechanic Street. The Drechsel family likely walked this path every Sunday together.
In 1992, Mom and I visited Aurora, including the church of course, and took photos.
Every now and again you take a photo that is far more profound than anticipated. I feel like Mom is reaching across the generations in this photo.
The stained glass windows appeared to be original, and mother though they were beautiful. We took several photos, including the one above that shows the reflection of mother pointing to the windows. Now she too has gone to join her ancestors who lived and worshiped here, and we are left with only the reflections of their lives on earth.
Religion played an important part in the lives of the German immigrants. Most of the German families were Protestant, but a few were Catholic. Churches delivered their sermons in German until the advent of the First World War. Eloise, Barbara’s granddaughter, remembers hearing German spoken at the Kirsch House, but she recalls that the adult children of Jacob and Barbara Kirsch told them that they needed to speak English, not German, when WWI broke out, and they “never spoke German again.” They were afraid that people in America would think they were not loyal.
The Jacob and Barbara Drechsel Kirsch family attended the church that Barbara’s parents helped to found, as did their children who were educated in St. John’s Lutheran School held in the church. Free schools did not exist in Aurora at that time, so everyone who educated their children paid tuition in some location for their children to attend school. Mother and I perused the records when we visited and found several “interesting” records that conflicted with dates in the family Bible – mostly marriage dates or birth dates that appeared in the Bible to have been “arranged” so that births occurred more than 9 months after marriages. So much for the family Bible being the most accurate source available.
The side of the Lutheran church in 1992 and the front entryway, below. Note this window says 1874 where the history book says this church was completed in 1878. Maybe it was begun in 1874 and not finished until 1878.
The 1860 census shows us that George Drexler, age 37 is a laborer in Aurora. He doesn’t have much of a personal estate, and it doesn’t show him owning property, although the deed records show differently.
Perhaps the most interesting piece of information on this census is Barbara’s name, or nickname – Babbit. What a sweet name.
Barbara Drechsel married Jacob Kirsch on May 27, 1866. He hadn’t been back from the Civil War long. I wonder if they courted before he left. Did she write him letters while he was gone? Their marriage probably wasn’t planned for long, because their first child arrived on Christmas Eve of that same year. Many of these marriages that were originally a bit hurried lasted for a lifetime. Theirs did.
By the time the census was taken in 1870, Barbara Drechsel and Jacob Kirsch had three children, Nora 3, Martin 2 and three month old Edward. Jacob is listed as being a cooper, probably working for the cooperage houses in Aurora – maybe the one behind the property that would one day become the Kirsch House. They did not own a home, but they did live in Aurora.
Barbara and Jacob bought a house (or a lot and then built a house) in 1871, just down the road from the Drechsel home. They spent the first several years of married life in this location. This life-event must have been a huge achievement for the young couple – to purchase and own their own home. The land was described thus: Dearborn County a certain lot or parcel of land known and designated as lot number six in David H. Walker’s sub-division of out lot number 49 in the City of Aurora, Dearborn Co., Indiana.
That location is shown by the lowest red arrow, the Drechsel home at the middle red arrow, and the location of the Kirsch House which Jacob and Barbara would purchase in 1875 at the upper red arrow.
Jacob and Barbara didn’t live in Walker’s subdivision long, because by August of 1875, they bought the French House from James and Ellen French, renamed it the Kirsch House, of course, and moved on up the street to town, right beside the depot.
Thus would begin the legacy of the Kirsch House, an Aurora and family institution that stood as a landmark beside the train depot for the next 46 years, nearly half a century. Oh my, the stories those walls could tell if they could only talk!
The Kirsch House Legacy
In the 1880 census, Jacob is shown as a saloon keeper and having a boarding house. In fact, they have 3 boarders and Barbara’s sister, Mary Drexler, age 17, is living with them as a servant.
Barbara is “keeping house.” Indeed, she is – and what an understatement. Barbara has her husband, 6 children between the ages of 4 and 13, her sister who I’m sure is there to help, plus three boarders that live there – and that’s not counting overnight lodgers that come and go. In addition, they maintain a pub and restaurant and you can rest assured it’s not Jacob who is cooking and washing dishes.
Prior to Jacob and Barbara’s purchase in 1875, the establishment was called the French House. An ad in the 1876 business directory shows Jacob Kirsch as the proprietor, still gives the name as the French House and says, “The house is pleasantly situated near the railroad depot and will be found the most desirable place in the city of Aurora at which to stop. Good wines, liquors and cigars.”
When I was able to tour the building in 2008, I recall that it seemed quite large. There were several hotel type rooms in the annex area that reached towards the rear of the property, visible at left below. I seem to recall that there were about 20. The family sleeping area seemed to be on the second story above the front area, parallel with Second Street, as seen above. All of the rooms on the second level were very small, as was the hallway and the only access to the upper level was the stairway in the parlor.
The public spaces, including the pub (accessed through the door at left, above), dining area (behind the pub) and parlor (accessed through the door at right, above) were located in the front part of the building on ground level, facing the street. In the photo below, second street is to the right and Mom is standing in the parking lot of the depot. The annex area where the boarders would have slept was in the extended area to the left.
This photo shows the property from the rear. The private garden would have been the area that is growing in weeds today. Mother said it was bricked in at the time and the well was located there.
Surprisingly, even though the building spans 3 or 4 city lots, it is only about 2100 square feet. That’s not a lot of space for the public spaces, the family area and the boarders areas. I doubt the family had a lot of privacy and I suspect everyone shared a bathroom, such as it was at the time.
Not only was the Kirsch House a landmark establishment in Aurora, it was the hub of Kirsch family activity for nearly half a century. Memories of the Kirsch House, references to it and stories about it filled the 1900s and live into the 21st century, firmly planting the Kirsch House as an icon of the Kirsch family shortly after their immigration and representing the Kirsch family version of the realization of the American dream. It seemed larger than life, especially to a child hearing all of those interesting stories from a time and mythical place “long ago.”
Mom and I found the original Kirsch House in 1992 when it was still being used as a restaurant. We were lucky enough to discover the bar that was there when Jacob and Barbara were proprietors still graced the front room of the building where the pub part of the building was located.
The Kirsch House was located beside the depot on Second Street. This allowed them the opportunity to provide service to any hungry or thirsty travelers departing or arriving on the train, and they were only a couple of blocks from the Ohio River where passengers arriving by steamer would disembark as well. Because of the proximity to the train depot, the hobos would come to the back door of the Kirsch House and Barbara would feed them all. The Kirsch’s were looked upon, according to Eloise, as elite shop and property owners. Photos above and below were from our late 1980s or early 1990s visit.
Laminated onto the top of the bar in Aurora, we found original postcards, shown below, featuring the depot and the Kirsch House next door.
The Kirsch house at that time had a roof covering the sidewalk. In 1992, the sidewalk roof, which I think they referred to as a portico, was gone.
It’s difficult to imagine the Kirsch house in its heyday, although having seen that bar, I can close my eyes and give it a pretty good shot! Just look at those swinging saloon doors! I doubt that the Kirsch girls were allowed in the pub area.
Unfortunately, over the past quarter century, the Kirsch House property has continued to deteriorate. The bar was removed and in essence ”disappeared” among legal wrangling. The City owned the property for a while, but just today, literally, Jenny Awad with the Historical Society notified me that the property had been donated to an organization called Indiana Landmarks that is refurbishing the property and will put it on the market this spring, giving it in essence, another life as the gateway building to the City of Aurora, beside the historic depot, now functioning as the library annex.
Interestingly enough, during WWII, the former Kirsch House building served as a repository for the caskets of soldiers awaiting family. That made sense, given that it was located beside the depot. I wonder if they put each casket in a private room so that the family could have some privacy when they came to claim their loved one. Finally, in the 1950s, when train travel declined and the trains from Cincinnati to St. Louis ceased operation, the establishment fell onto hard times. Hopefully this facelift will give it a new life.
It seems that the Kirsch House as an establish has always been quite unique in unexpected ways.
Barbara was an unusual woman in her own right too. She owned the Kirsch house, outright, free and clear, beginning in 1887. Indeed something very unusual happened. Jacob conveyed the Kirsch House to his wife Barbara Kirsch. Now that’s something that just didn’t happen – ever. Mom and I knew this was “odd” when we found that deed, we just didn’t know why.
In the 1960s, my mother, with down-payment money from her parent’s estate in hand and a job she had held for years, still couldn’t obtain a mortgage without a co-signer. Women simply did not own property as a “femme sole”, meaning a woman not subordinate to a husband, even some 80 years later – let alone owning land as a married woman but without your husband. And to make things even stranger, Jacob conveyed the property to Barbara. And no, they did not get divorced. What was going on? Women just simply did not own property under these circumstances. But Barbara did.
But then again, men generally didn’t lynch people either. That’s right, Jacob was embroiled in a legal suit filed by the widow of a man who murdered another man, but was then immediately lynched by a mob, of which Jacob was apparently a member, perhaps a ringleader. Apparently, in order to protect the Kirsch House, Jacob conveyed the property to Barbara and it remained in her name until she sold it in 1921, 35 years later, three years after Jacob’s death.
However, the years between 1885 and 1920 were simply brutal. One strange occurrence after another beset this family. In 1886, when Jacob was involved with the lynching, Barbara was 38 years old and had six young children, all 6 born within a decade. Then, Barbara had no more, even though her last child was born in 1876 when she was only 28 years old. How would Barbara ever have raised those children and maintained the Kirsch House without Jacob, had he gone to prison for murder? Why did Barbara have no more children?
By the 1870s, contraception was available, albeit underground due to the intolerant “Comstock Act” which made the trade of or mailing of anything to prevent contraception, to procure an abortion or any contraceptive information illegal. Some states went so far as to pass laws preventing contraception. In any event, condoms were still sold as “rubber goods” and cervical caps as “womb supporters.” I don’t know what Barbara did or how, but it was effective because she was evidently done having children.
Given the work load Barbara had with the Kirsch house, meaning the daily housework, laundry for family and guests and all of the daily cooking for the restaurant portion of the Kirsch House, in addition to taking care of and looking after her children, it’s possible that Barbara was simply, literally and figuratively, “too tired.”
Barbara maintained this pace for almost 50 years. Had her husband gone to prison in 1886, she would somehow have carried on. When her brother-in-law, disabled by the Civil War, came to live with them, she simply carried on. When her 80 year old mother-in-law came to live with them in August of 1887, Barbara carried on. I’m sure Barbara cared for her mother-in-law in the final 18 months that she lived at the Kirsch house, before her death on February 1, 1889.
When Barbara’s daughters began marrying in 1888, some leaving, and some adding another family member, she carried on. I think Barbara just got up every day and put one foot in front of the other, treading that oh-so familiar path from one end of the day from dawn to dusk, up and down the stairs a million times…and carried on regardless of what life deposited on her doorstep.
One thing we do know about Barbara, and that’s what she did every Tuesday at the Kirsch House.
Turtle Soup aka Mock Turtle Soup
In fine German tradition, one could purchase a mug of beer and a bowl of turtle soup at the Kirsch House for ten cents. You could probably pull a stool up to the bar and engage in some fine conversation to go along with it too, along with a cigar.
Barbara Drechsel Kirsch made turtle soup every Tuesday, and she took orders for home delivery. Buckets of soup were delivered by the young Kirsch daughters using a wagon, up and down the streets of Aurora, probably to other German families. Perhaps this was the first form of take-out and delivery.
The original recipe for Barbara’s Turtle Soup is below, probably in the handwriting of Nora Kirsch Lore. Note the Kirsch House stationery and the note that says Mama’s recipe. Also, the word Kirsch on the second page still retains a bit of high German script. Nora was educated at the German Lutheran Church School, so that would not be unexpected. The second image is the back of the page. The third image is the Turtle Soup recipe again, this time in the handwriting of Edith Lore Ferverda, and noted as her Grandmother’s recipe. Notice the changes and modernization of the recipe.
Given the location in Germany so near to the Rhine River, I have always wondered if the recipe came from Germany with this family, and they simply substituted veal for turtle because turtle was not readily available here. This is probably not be the case, because in Germany, Mockturtlesuppe, mock turtle soup, is a staple. Clearly, at some historical time, a real turtle was involved. Turtle populations though cannot recover quickly when a breeding adult is killed, so it’s possible that mock turtle soup has been without turtle for hundreds of years, hence the name. Mom always called it mock turtle soup, which I assumed was to preventatively eliminate the “ewww” that would have resulted if someone got focused on the turtle part. I didn’t realize that “mock” was actually part of the original German name of the soup.
Although I assumed that this recipe descended originally from the Kirsch family because of their proximity to the Rhine River in Germany, it may have instead originated in the Drechsel family. It was Barbara Drechsel Kirsch who made the soup at the Kirsch house.
Mother made this soup once a year, generally in the winter at or near Christmas-time. One either loved this soup or hated it. My brother and I both loved it, as did mother, but I suspect this heritage recipe will die with me, as neither his children nor mine care for it and it takes a long afternoon to make.
As a child of about 5, I have vivid memories of standing on a chair in front of the stove with a wooden spoon stirring the flour in the cast iron skillet as it browned. Unbrowned flour will not work, and the flour was easy to scorch, so browning the flour was a VERY important job, especially if you were five.
I still make this family recipe today, and of course, I’ve modernized the process even more.
Instead of the old bolt-on-the-table meat grinder, which took two people to operate, today I use a food processor – and I feel guilty, like I’m cheating, every time. However, I still stand and brown the flower in Mom’s cast iron skillet. What memories that brings back.
There is no way to make a small batch of turtle soup, so making it once each year and freezing portions for lunches is always a memorable way to spend a Sunday, and a bright spot every time I have lunch and think of the generations of my ancestors who enjoyed this same lunch, every Tuesday at the Kirsch House. I may not be sitting at the bar, visiting with Barbara and Jacob, but I’m with them just the same.
I’ve modernized the recipe once again, and I hope that one of you will continue this wonderful family recipe. If your family was German, try it and see what you think of this legacy heritage dish.
Now the contemporary version of Barbara Kirsch’s Turtle Soup:
- 1 veal or beef shank (knee down, bone in) – have butcher slice into several pieces
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 large onion
- 5 large carrots
- 1 32 oz bottle of V8
- 1 8 oz bottle of catsup
- 5 or 6 hard boiled eggs
- 6 cloves
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 or 2 lemons peeled and sliced thin
- 4 or 4.5 cups of flour
- 1/2 cup of good sherry
Also, the amounts of anything don’t have to be exact. I think this was made when they put in what they had, if you know what I mean.
- Place shank, chunked onion, carrots, and celery in a large soup kettle, and cover with water. Add cloves and bay leaves.
- I put the bay leaves and cloves in a little muslin baggie that I tie with a string and just throw it away afterwards. I don’t like the spices to stay in the soup. If the bay leaves are whole, it’s less of a problem.
- Cook under medium heat until tender (about 2 hours or so – maybe 3)
- Remove meat from bone and set aside to cool, return bones back to pot, and continue to cook for at least another hour, or more, until you’ve extracted all the possible flavor out of the vegetables and bones. The vegetables should pretty much just be mush.
- Let cool. Strain broth removing vegetables and spices. You will throw away what you strain out.
- Put the broth back on the stove. Add V8 juice, catsup, and sherry.
- Grind meat and hard boiled eggs (I used a food processor, it works great).
- Add meat and eggs to broth.
- Brown about 4 cups of flour over low to medium heat in a cast iron skillet until light toasty brown. Sift into warm soup, stirring to mix thoroughly. I have my helper shake it slowly through a colander while I stir to keep it from clumping.
- Cut rind off of lemon and slice lemon into slices. Add to soup and heat thoroughly. The lemon really does add something to the soup, but I don’t eat the lemon slices. I just push them aside in the bowl if I’m served one.
- Taste and finish seasoning with salt if desired.
- Enjoy and think of the Kirsch House or your own German ancestors.
Apparently Barbara maintained the Kirsch House for a few years before she sold it after Jacob’s death. Jacob died in 1917 and the above stationery with the recipe is preprinted for the 1920s. B. Kirsch is listed as proprietor. She was 72 years old in 1920 when this stationery was printed. She was one ambitious lady and in none of her pictures does she look any worse for the wear. In fact, she looks like an incredibly well put-together Victorian lady.
This photo shows Barbara Drechsel and Jacob Kirsch. It was probably taken the same day as the one below, as Barbara is wearing the same clothes.
We can date the photo somewhat by the age of Eloise who is in the photo and looks to be about 3 or 4 years old, so the photo must have been taken about 1906 or 1907 but before 1909 when C. B. Lore died and after 1905 when Philip Kirsch died, or he would have been included in the picture. Barbara would have been 59 or 60.
This is the only photo where all of the Kirsch children appear to be present with their parents. Left to right, I can identify people as follows:
- Seated left – one of the Kirsch sisters – possibly Carrie.
- Standing male left behind chair – CB Lore – which places this photo before November 1909
- Seated in chair in front of CB Lore in white dress, his wife – Nora Kirsch Lore
- Male with bow tie standing beside CB Lore – probably Edward Kirsch
- Male standing beside him with no tie – probably Martin Kirsch
- Woman standing in rear row – Kirsch sister, possibly Lula.
- Standing right rear – Jacob Kirsch.
- Front adult beside Nora – Kirsch sister, possibly Ida.
- Child beside Nora – Mildred or Eloise Lore, probably Eloise
- Adult woman, seated, with black skirt – Barbara Drechsel Kirsch
- Young woman beside Barbara to her left with large white bow – probably Curtis Lore, Nora’s daughter
The Decade(s) from Hell
I didn’t know Barbara personally. My mother knew her as a young child. Barbara died when Mom was 8. Mom said that Barbara encouraged her to come and sit on the porch swing beside her, but she was afraid which made Barbara sad.
My grandmother clearly knew Barbara well as she had lived at the Kirsch House as a late teenager. Barbara seemed to be a woman who simply handled whatever she needed to at the moment and rolled exceedingly well with any punches. She had a lot of experience. She was dealt far more than her share of work and grief in her lifetime, and the years of her life beginning about 1905 had to be just living hell. If she thought 1886 and 1887 were difficult, those were just training wheels.
Barbara’s brother-in-law, Philip Jacob Kirsch, who had lived with them since Jacob’s mother’s death in 1889 died on September 5, 1905. From his will and other family oral history, Barbara and her family were very close to Philip who had lived with them for about 15 years. Barbara ran a boarding house, so it probably mattered little who was occupying a room. She had to do the same amount of work regardless. The difficult part was that Philip was ill and Barbara likely administered whatever medical and palliative care was available to him. His intestinal problems that developed during the Civil War plagued him for the rest of his life and caused him a great deal of pain and suffering. Philip’s mother, then Barbara cared for him. He clearly knew he was very ill because he made a will in July 1905, leaving what little he had to his siblings and their children and saying very kind and grateful words about Jacob and Barbara.
“The balance that is left after all my legal debts are paid, this includes all of which is left, I want my dear brother Jacob Kirsch to have this being for the kind treatment which has always been given me by him and all of his family.”
Four months after Philip’s death, Barbara’s mother died on the third day of January 1906. Her official cause of death was listed as “cardiac arthmia” (probably cardiac arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat), but given that she was born in 1823, at 79 years of age, “old age” played a large part, I’m sure. However, that doesn’t make losing your mother any easier. Not at all. Losing your mother is losing your mother. Losing parents is a natural progression of life, and you can take at least some comfort in that they had a long life, a good life and that they had the opportunity to live a full life. But none of that makes burying your mother less painful.
However, losing her mother presented Barbara with the problem of what to do with her father, George, who was the same age as her mother and either was or was becoming senile. Perhaps Barbara’s sister, Lou, helped. Lou’s husband had died in 1901 and she lived next door to her parents with her two daughters. George had sold Lou half of the lot in 1891 and they had built a house next door. In the photo below, George’s house is on the right and Lou’s is on the left.
Nora’s daughter, Edith, lived at the Kirsch House about this time. She would have graduated from high school in Rushville about 1906 and she attended business school in Cincinnati while living at the Kirsch House – taking the train back and forth to commute. I don’t know long Edith lived with her grandmother at the Kirsch House, but Edith married John Ferverda in Rushville in November of 1908, so she was back in Rushville by then. Learning that Edith spent this time under Barbara’s tutelage perhaps explains a lot about Edith’s independent spirit that was frustrated by the social restrictions placed on women of her generation, especially in the highly conservative Brethren/Mennonite/Amish community of northern Indiana.
The other, unspoken reason that Edith may have gone to live at the Kirsch House was to help Barbara with her father or to perhaps help with duties at the Kirsch House so Barbara could attend to her father.
Barbara’s father died two years and a month after his wife, so in February 1908, Barbara found herself once again standing in the Riverview cemetery beside the Ohio River in the dead of winter, burying a parent. Barbara probably expected this at some level, even though I’m sure she dreaded it terribly. What she could not have expected was what was lurking in the shadows.
On October 23rd, Barbara’s niece, Nettie Giegoldt died of tuberculosis, the same disease that took her father in 1901. Nettie was one of Louisa’s two daughters. Louisa had been living beside George before he died, married to Theodore Bosse in May after her father’s death, then was stricken by her daughter’s death in October. But seven days later, something even more unthinkable happened.
Three of Barbara’s daughters had married; Nora in 1888 to C. B. Lore, Lou in 1899 to Charles “Todd” Fiske and Caroline in 1902 to Joseph Wymond. Barbara’s two sons had married and moved away. Daughter Ida was living at home, unmarried.
Lou’s husband, Todd Fiske lost his job as a civil engineer and depression set in. Lou and Todd moved back to the Kirsch House. On October 31, 1908, a Saturday night, Halloween night, Todd stepped outside behind the Kirsch House in the garden, took a gun and ended his life with a gunshot to the head. On Saturday night, the Kirsch House would have been full of guests. Were they hosting a Halloween party? Did the guests hear the gunshot? Did they think it was an act, just part of the festivities? Did Barbara know in her heart what had happened before she got there? Was Lou at home? Did she see him in that condition? Who found him in the garden? Todd’s death had to be something that haunted everyone involved for the rest of their lives. And poor Todd, to be so heartbroken and despondent to end any opportunity for the future. His anguish must have been awful. I can only imagine the chaos and heartache in the Kirsch House. As a mother, it’s bad enough to suffer through something yourself, but it’s even worse to witness your child’s suffering and be able to do nothing about it.
It was about this same time that Barbara’s eldest daughter, Nora, would have come home to have a talk with her mother too.
Nora’s husband, C. B. Lore contracted tuberculosis. He died on the 24th November of 1909, the day before Thanksgiving and just a year and a month after Todd’s untimely death. I don’t know if the family would have been thankful that C. B. was no longer suffering or grieving his death, or both. I am under the impression that he was seriously ill for at least a couple of years before his death. Finances were difficult. I don’t know how they survived. I know Nora began to do alterations and sewing for people.
Google tells me that 50% of untreated TB patients die within 5 years. Nora and the girls took care of C.B. at their home in Rushville. So, during this time when Todd was out of work and subsequently killed himself, Barbara also knew that her other daughter’s husband was dying as well, that Nora was suffering trying to care for him, and there was nothing she could do to help that daughter either.
But there was even worse news waiting. I told you it was the decade from hell.
Barbara’s daughter, Carrie, had married Joseph Wymond in 1902, the son of a wealthy Aurora family. However, in 1910, Joseph too reportedly killed himself… before syphilis could take him, at least the newspaper tells us the story of his despondency over being ill and his suicide. Of course, the newspaper said nothing about syphilis. Yes, syphilis. Yes, incurable. Yes, Carrie had it too and yes, it would eventually kill her as well. In spite of what the newspaper said, Joseph’s death certificate says that he died in the Wabash Valley Sanatorium, in Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indiana, of Bright’s disease…the exact same thing that Carrie’s death certificate would say 16 years later. Perhaps Joseph’s family had friends at the newspaper?
We don’t know if Barbara knew about Carrie’s situation in 1908 or 1909. If not, she would surely learn of it sometime before July 3rd, 1910 when Joseph Wymond supposedly shot himself in the chest and the coroner determined it was suicide due to despondency over his illness. It’s odd that a coroner’s report says one thing and his death certificate says something entirely different. If Joseph did shoot himself, I don’t know if what he did was cowardly or brave. I do know that he was not living with his wife at the time, and Carrie was living with her parents at the Kirsch House – so clearly Carrie knew and understood how he had contracted the disease.
That may sound like an odd comment, but I knew someone in the 1970s whose husband “gave” them a similar gift and the physicians even then were less than frank, instead asking questions like, “Have you been with someone other than your husband?” “No.” “Well, then…..”
That was the end of the conversation with absolutely no explanation of what “well then” meant or that the diagnoses was indeed something that could only be sexually transmitted. People were and are extremely uncomfortable with these topics. In the Kirsch family, what “really” killed Carrie was a topic reserved for only the closest family members and then only when adults and only conveyed in muffled whispers of modesty and embarrassment.
That must have been some conversation between Joseph and Carrie. “Well honey, I have syphilis and guess what, so do you! Yes, we’re going to die, but we’ll still be together.” Disbelief, betrayal and shock must have followed. Poor Carrie. I wonder how long she waited before telling her mother and sisters and I wonder if anyone ever told her father. Being the proprietor of a bar it’s unlikely that Jacob was in the dark.
How do you tell your mother that your handsome husband from the “right side of town,” from the upstanding family, whom you trusted and promised to love for better or worse…has given you syphilis? In the Victorian era, how do you even talk to your mother about a sexually transmitted disease? Because if you have an STD, it means you had S part of STD. OMG! However, at some point, you have to say something. Your mother is neither blind, deaf nor stupid – and Aurora was a small town with an active grapevine. You know syphilis is a death sentence, a slow, horrible, torturous, death sentence. And you know the day you tell your mother you are laying a burden on her heart that can and will never be removed. Not to mention that your father, who lynched a man in 1886, might just go and kill said husband when he finds out.
Wymond’s 1910 obituary suggests that he had been ill for about 3 years. If that is correct, then Carrie probably had that talk with her mother sometime between 1907 and 1910. So Barbara knew what Carrie was facing, but she didn’t know how soon or when. Barbara didn’t know if she would live long enough to care for Carrie, or if she would be able. All Barbara knew was that her child was going to suffer horribly and eventually die through no fault of her own, and due to the betrayal of the man she trusted to be faithful…and wasn’t. I think Wymond is lucky Barbara didn’t kill him.
Based on what we know, Nora would have known C.B. was in trouble maybe as early as 1905, Carrie knew about Joseph’s disease about 1907 and Lou’s husband lost his job and killed himself in 1908. Those things, combined with her parent’s deaths surely made Barbara’s heart very, very heavy.
But that wasn’t all. Nora’s daughter, Curtis, had contracted tuberculosis caring for her father. They surely knew this for several years before Curtis died, so while Barbara was dealing with Carrie’s situation, not to mention Todd’s death and that of C.B. Lore, she also knew that her granddaughter would succumb too. In the one photo of Nora during this timeframe, she looks like a walking zombie. I’m glad there aren’t more.
They tried everything to save Curtis, including remedies that were extremely painful to Nora, like having Curtis live on the front porch in the winter cold, with the belief that the cold air would cure tuberculosis. Nora was desperate and I believe she would have tried anything. Fate was not to smile on the family, and Curtis died on February 12, 1912, at age 21, 2 years and 2 months after her father, leaving Nora and the rest of her daughters utterly devastated. My grandmother, Edith, said that when Curtis died, she lost her best friend.
Nora blamed herself for Curtis’s death, unnecessarily. Curtis wanted to go to the Southwest, either Arizona or New Mexico with her boyfriend’s family for “better air” when she was sick and her mother didn’t want her to go. Nora wanted Curtis to be where she could help her. In retrospect, Nora felt she should have let Curtis go because she might have been cured and lived. In reality, at that time, nothing could have saved her, except antibiotics which had not yet been discovered.
Ironic that the same antibiotics that would have saved Carrie and her good-for-nothing husband would also have saved C.B. Lore and Curtis.
By 1912, Barbara, now 64 years old was living with 2 widowed daughters who had no children, meaning there would be no one to care for them in their old age. Not long thereafter, Carrie would move to Indianapolis until after Jacob’s death in 1917. Syphilis is known to behave as if it has remitted, outward symptoms abating, while in reality it is wreaking havoc and destroying your internal organs.
Barbara’s third widowed daughter, Nora, was struggling to make ends meet in Rushville, Indiana by being a seamstress while taking care of her daughter who was critically, then terminally, ill. The amazing thing is that Nora did not contract tuberculosis herself, despite caring for two family members who died of the disease over a period of several years, maybe as long as a decade.
This strain of tuberculosis was not done with the family however. Nora’s daughter, Edith, married John Ferverda in 1908, before C.B. Lore passed away. John caught TB, but it lay dormant in his lungs until the late 1950s when it reactivated, causing him to have to be admitted to a tuberculosis sanitarium. Tuberculosis did not kill him, because liver cancer claimed him first. Mom and I had to have chest x-rays for years afterwards to check for TB.
In 1913, the Ohio River flooded, twice, once in January and once in April, flooding Aurora so badly that it was called “the greatest disaster of modern times.” The water was to the roof of the train depot next door, which was about the second story of the Kirsch House.
In 1916, Jacob Kirsch became ill. He had stomach cancer, according to his obituary. He lived about a year and died on July 23, 1917. Barbara assuredly cared for Jacob during his illness.
While all of these things were going on in Barbara’s life she still continued, every day, to do what needed to be done for and at the Kirsch House. After all, that was her living too and she had a lot of people to support.
Barbara had endured an incredible amount in a relatively short time. Deaths are terrible, but they are also an end where healing begins. Carrie’s sickness could only end in death and the suffering on that path was daily and unremitting. Yet, it was Carrie who moved back home to help her mother after Jacob’s death.
In the winter of 1917/1918, the Ohio flooded and caused ice dams to form and break, again flooding Aurora. What else could go wrong for Barbara?
I’m sure there were bright spots too. In 1915 and 1922, Edith Lore Ferverda would give Barbara two great-grandchildren, but unless Edith visited Barbara from Silver Lake, in northern Indiana, Barbara was in no situation to leave the Kirsch House and visit Edith.
Son Edward had 4 children, two of whom died shortly after birth in 1891 and 1896, but the other two born in 1892 and 1899 lived. He had moved away by 1910.
Martin had two children as well, in 1889 and 1892 but had moved away by 1900.
Barbara didn’t get to spend much time with her grandchildren.
In many ways, selling the Kirsch House in 1921, although I’m sure Barbara hated to do it, was liberating for her. She could go someplace. She could stay someplace. She was no longer tied to sheets and toilets and cooking for other people every minute of every day of every week of the year. I hope she enjoyed her new-found freedom.
Now, the absolutely amazing thing is that when you look at this photo, below, of Barbara, at right, and Nora, at left, you would never, ever imagine the level of grief and devastation both women had survived.
A four generation picture with Barbara Drechsel Kirsch (far right), Nora Kirsch Lore (far left), Mildred Lore Martin (center) and Jim Martin, infant, born in 1922.
This picture would have been taken about a year after Barbara sold the Kirsch House. She may have been 73 years old at the time, but she does not look haggard or worn out after being an innkeeper for half of a century. Innkeeper in this case I’m sure means cook, maid, washer-woman and not just for her family, but for however many people were staying at the Kirsch House, 7 days a week, 365 days a years, every single day of every single year. And given that the Kirsch House catered to traveling men by advertising fine wines and liquors, you know that Barbara got to clean up after way more than her share of overly-inebriated customers.
After selling the Kirsch House in 1921, Barbara and Carrie reportedly moved to Indianapolis, although I could find no record of them living there. It is inconceivable to me that Barbara left Aurora after all those years. What I did find was a record of Barbara purchasing property in Aurora, at the corner of 4th and Exporting, lot number 247, right across the street from where she grew up.
Today, this property is 516 4th Street, according to Google maps..
Mother said the property where Barbara lived with Carrie was described as “the house on the hill” and this house certainly fits that description.
It’s interesting that we also have proof that this house is original, through the photograph taken in 1883 that included just the side of this house, but we can see enough to tell that the doors and windows are in the same location – so this is the original house that Barbara and Carrie lived in for a few years.
The top right arrow off to the side of the picture is pointing to Third Street. The arrows below third street is pointing to Fourth Street, which is the first street running parallel with the bottom of the photo, closest to us. The arrow on the corner of 4th Street and Exporting is the house that Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, George’s daughter, would purchase in 1921 when she sold the Kirsch House.
The top left arrow is pointing to the train depot, and the right arrow at the top is pointing to the Kirsch House, which fronts Second Street, further away. You can see its portico over the sidewalk appearing below the white front of the building.
There was no one left in Aurora to help Barbara as she aged and she eventually moved to where her family was. But that situation may not have been exactly as it appeared outwardly either, meaning that at least initially, it wasn’t about someone caring for Barbara.
Barbara had another problem, a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching problem. Her daughter, Carrie, was getting worse and Carrie’s illness was likely part of Barbara’s decision to sell the Kirsch House when she did.
If there was any way Barbara could have cared for Carrie at home, she would have. Between 1921 and 1924, Carrie deteriorated badly. In early 1924, Carrie was institutionalized from the effects of syphilis and finally died one very long 2 years, 5 months and 3 days later, on July 24, 1926 in the Institute for the Insane, in Madison, Indiana, about 45 miles from Aurora. The neurological effects of Syphilis cause insanity and seizures and then it destroys your organs.
Fortunately for Barbara, and Carrie, there was train service from Aurora to North Vernon, and then from North Vernon to Madison. Barbara could have visited Carrie easily, although every visit must have been heartbreaking in its own right.
I can’t even begin to imagine Barbara’s pain watching Carrie endure this for roughly 20 years, growing increasingly ill as the disease progressed, or how much she much she must have disliked the man who visited this horrible fate upon her daughter. Dislike is probably not nearly a strong enough word.
I can’t imagine why she actually allowed Carrie to be buried by Wymond in the Riverview Cemetery, especially when there were spaces available in the Kirsch plot. In other words, it probably wasn’t a matter of money, although we’ll never know.
Barbara lived the final chapter of her life in Wabash, Indiana with daughter Nora. She probably moved there after Carrie’s death in 1926.
In 1929 when Barbara applied for Jacob’s Civil War pension, she lived at 279 E. Main (shown below) in Wabash. Eloise said Barbara had no money and they applied for the pension as a final way to try to help her. I suspect that Barbara may have used the money from the Kirsch house sale to pay for Carrie’s stay in the institution where she died. As a final insult, her widow’s pension application was denied, as they could not find Jacob’s service record. No problem, I found it, some 87 years later, far too late, of course, to help Barbara, but not too late to vindicate her honor and his service. I’ve got your back, Barbara!
Barbara went to Wabash, of all places, because her daughter, Nora lived there. Nora remarried after the death of C.B. Lore to a man who was a superintendent in manufacturing plants. Nora and her husband lived in Chicago in 1920, but by 1930 Nora was living with her mother in Wabash. Nora and her husband didn’t legally divorce, but they also didn’t live together, so it’s likely that Barbara joined her daughter whose children were raised and gone. I hope those two women enriched each other’s lives. I hope that after all of the pain and suffering, that these were good years of peaceful, relaxing companionship, joy and warming rays of sunshine. Truly the golden years. If anyone ever earned them, Barbara did.
In the 1930 census, taken April 11th, Nora McCormick is listed as renting property at 123 Sinclair in Wabash, 63 years old, no occupation, with her mother, Barbara, age 83 who arrived in in the US 1849 and is naturalized. The census doesn’t say whether it’s east or west Sinclair and I can’t tell from other clues. That area looks similar to the area above and is only a few blocks away. They apparently moved between 1929 and 1930.
Barbara Joins the Family at Riverview
Barbara died on June 12, 1930 in Wabash, Indiana. Her cause of death at the Wabash Health Department is listed as cerebral hemorrhage and intestated (interstitial) nephritis, also known as acute kidney failure. In other words, she either had kidney failure and then had a stroke and died, or she had a stroke and lingered until kidney failure finished her off. I hope the stroke simply took Barbara quickly, in her sleep, with no pain. Barbara’s body was returned to Aurora for burial.
Surprisingly, my mother had never been to visit Barbara’s grave, at least not that she remembered. My grandmother, Edith, tended to protect Mother from things like death and funerals under the premise that she was too young to understand.
Mother and I found the Kirsch stone in Riverview Cemetery shared by Barbara Drechsel and Jacob Kirsch.
Here, mother stands beside Jacob and Barbara, or at least as close as one can get on this side of the great divide!
Several of Barbara’s children and their husbands are buried on the same plot. Charles “Todd” Fiske and Lou Kirsch Fiske Wellesley, Ida Kirsch Galbreath with her husband William J. Galbreath and Barbara’s son, Edward Kirsch. Carrie is buried in the same cemetery beside Joseph Wymond, a location that mystifies me and causes me to ask all kinds of questions, for which there are no answers.
Barbara’s parents are buried nearby in the same cemetery as well.
It’s somewhat ironic that I’m normally begging for mitochondrial DNA lines, but in this case, I carry that line myself, so that test was easy. If you think for one minute that mitochondrial DNA isn’t interesting or useful, read about what we discovered here.
What isn’t easy is finding anyone else descended from this line to test autosomally. I can’t believe that no one has tested to date, but they apparently haven’t, or I’m incredibly unlucky and don’t match them. We do have matches from C.B. Lore’s line. If you descend from the Kirsch, Drechsel or Koehler lines from either Dearborn or Ripley County, Indiana, or the home locations in Germany for these family lines, please consider taking an autosomal Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA.
No discussion of the Kirsch women would be complete without mentioning their absolutely stunning needlework. Barbara Drechsel Kirsch was a lacemaker, and her daughters likely learned the craft from the time they were young, at home as well as in the German schools.
I have no idea how Barbara got all the tasks done she had to do, let alone have time for needlework of any kind. Aside from mock turtle soup, and the Kirsch House, Barbara Drechsel’s legacy was her handwork. Perhaps it was her sanity. Of course, at that time, handwork was not considered “anything special,” it was just one of the many things women were supposed to learn how to do.
Above, a beautiful lace collar. At that time, collars were detachable so that you could preserve the piece of lace and reuse it after the underlying dress was no longer usable. This was also a good way to change your wardrobe, creating something “new.”
In our family, every woman who marries receives a beautiful lace handkerchief to carry at her wedding. I guess this is our own family version of “something old, something new.” It includes and incorporates our ancestors as well in that special day. I don’t know whether the handkerchiefs will run out or the descendants will run out first. The one above is mine and was later mounted and framed.
In 1994, mother and I were asked to create an exhibit for the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana that included both the needlework and a genealogical aspect of the history of the family. Mother was particularly thrilled as so much of her family and her own personal history centered in and near Fort Wayne, about half an hour from where she grew up.
We titled the exhibit “Six Generations of Hoosier Needlewomen” and included works from Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, her daughters and their descendants.
In addition to Barbara’s beautiful lacework, her daughter, Nora’s Climbing Vine quilt was featured in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Unfortunately, we have no photographs of it at the fair, but Mother told the story of their visit to the fair to see Nora’s quilt. Nora had entered the quilt in the local Sears competition, then it went to the regional and then the state competitions, finally winning and going to the World’s Fair, being exhibited in the Sears Pavilion.
Here’s a close up of Nora’s Climbing Vine quilt. This work is all hand appliqué with fine hand quilting.
The depression was in full swing, and money was scarce. The family could not afford to go for an overnight to Chicago, so they got up very early and left from Silver Lake with Nora and the entire family. They drove to the World’s Fair, took their food and picnicked, and the entire family saw the quilt hanging in its splendor in the exhibition hall. Then they drove the entire way back home, arriving in the middle of the night. All in all, the trip was about 24 hours in duration.
Sadly, Barbara missed this momentous event by just three years, but she was surely involved with Nora’s quilting while the two of them lived together in Wabash. I’m sure as Nora bumped along that road in the darkness of the night on the way to and from Chicago, she wished her mother could be along to share that day. For an Indiana woman, a quilt at the World’s Fair was about as much validation and infamy as one could ever hope to achieve. Barbara would have been so proud of her daughter and somehow, I know she was with them!
Mother would visit Nora, her grandmother, in “the little house” in Wabash, after Barbara’s death and she told about how Nora had a quilt frame that was lowered from the ceiling so that people could sit around it and quilt in the middle of the living room. When finished for the day, the quilt frame was just pulleyed up towards the ceiling and life went on just like in any normal room. You know that Barbara and Nora spent many hours around that frame in the 1920s. Those must have been peaceful, beautiful years for those women, a few years of calm after decades of storm.
The photo below is from the Six Generations exhibit and it shows my lace in a tray, center, Mom’s crocheted afghan and baby booties, rear, a table runner made by the Kirsch sisters that mother displayed on the piano under the beer stein and some lace in the far right corner.
When I first began making lace, many years ago, I didn’t realize that Barbara Drechsel had been a lacemaker too, nor that lacemaking was all but a deceased art. Neither my mother nor grandmother made lace, nor quilted for that matter, so I have to wonder about genetics. I’d be happy as a clam to find a quilting gene!
The quilt below is called Picket Fence. Mom also referred to it as Flower Garden. I always particularly liked this quilt, as it reminds me of the perfect family that everyone wants, and doesn’t exist anyplace. But the beauty within our family is nurtured and grows within the white picket fence. That is both prophetic and appropriate for the Kirsch family, especially the sisters.
This quilt is dated 1931. The fence is hand pieced, the flowers are appliquéd and the entire quilt is hand quilted with small, fine stitches. Perhaps Nora finished this quilt to ease the grief of her mother’s passing. These quilts took months if not years to create.
The yellow and white quilt below reminds me of sunshine. This nine patch and snowball block quilt was never used. Before Eloise passed away, she sent this to Mother, along with some other needlework and quilted family items. This quilt was made in 1927 or 1928, before Barbara’s passing.
Given that Barbara didn’t pass away until 1930, I’d wager that Barbara quilted on these and if she didn’t quilt on them, she surely sat with Nora and visited as Nora quilted. Mom and I did the same thing, some 50, 60 and 70 years later. I so wish there could have been a time for us all to quilt together.
All of these quilts are hand quilted and considering the timeframe, I’d say they are also hand pieced.
The crazy quilt in the photo below was made at least in part by Barbara Drechsel Kirsch’s daughter, Carrie Kirsch, who embroidered her name and “age 11.” The quilt is shown hanging on Mom’s quilt rack adjacent Mom’s climbing vine afghan she made in honor of Nora’s award winning World’s Fair Climbing Vine quilt. Carrie Kirsch was 11 in 1884, so this quilt is more than 130 years old. Unfortunately, the quilt is now in very poor condition. To me, when I look at this cheerful quilt, it speaks to me of happier times at the Kirsch House before the tsunami of devastation rolled over the family.
This quilt would have been made at the Kirsch House, probably out of scraps left over after making their clothing. Barbara surely put a few stitches in this quilt with her daughters and may have taught them how to do the embroidery work found on several of the blocks. I can see the four Kirsch sisters and their Mom, Barbara Drechsel sitting in the parlor at the Kirsch House after all of the dishes were done in the evening, the quilt spread between them, as they all worked on some part and chatted and laughed. Maybe they confided in each other as well and talked over any problems too. That’s what we do today. We’ve certainly solved all the world problems around the quilt frame!
This last quilt is actually one of my favorites because of how it spans six generations of our family and all of the “character” it has accumulated over the decades.
Nora made this quilt. It was probably one that Barbara witnessed or was involved with. The heyday of Nora’s quiltmaking seemed to be in the 1920s and very early 1930s which makes sense given that her children were grown, her husbands out of the picture and her mother lived with her. Of course, the part of the quilt that Nora would have made is the blue drunkard’s path, the original part of the quilt.
Edith, Nora’s daughter, my grandmother, owned this quilt and she used it on the beds. I remember it. Mom said that this quilt came to them because no one else wanted it because it was utilitarian and not showy and beautiful like the show-stopping applique quilts. So we really used it. Every day. When my kids when to visit my parents when they were little, they cuddled up in this quilt.
Mom washed it, in a washing machine, which, in retrospect, she should not have done, and the fabric began to deteriorate. Eventually, there were several rather large holes in the quilt, and Mom gave it to me to make bears or salvage what could be salvaged in some way. I brought it home and laid it out to cut for bears. My daughter came into the room and asked what I was doing with “Mawmaw’s quilt.” I told her and she was heartbroken, started sobbing, and blurted out between sobs, “You can’t cut up Mawmaw’s quilt.” So much for bears. Thankfully, I hadn’t cut yet. Little did my daughter know that it wasn’t Mawmaw’s quilt, but it was Mawmaw’s Mawmaw’s quilt.
At a loss as to what to do, I went and found the box of handkerchiefs, accumulated by the Drechsel/Kirsch/Lore/Ferverda women and combined into a single box over the years. We don’t carry “hankies” anymore, so we no longer crochet edges on them, embroider them or purchase them for souvenirs or gifts anymore either. But those women did. So, my daughter and I selected handkerchiefs that were in decent shape that we thought were probably owned and used by these women. Some had been washed so many times they looked as old as the quilt. I used the handkerchiefs to construct “patches” and the Kirsch family women’s handkerchief’s saved the life of Nora’s quilt. Karmic indeed. Yes, I still have the quilt today, of course and someday, so will my daughter.
Quilts wrap you in a blanket of love but the process of quilting, and apparently repairing quilts too, is bonding like no other. That bond is never broken or compromised, not across years or generations. If anything, it is solidified by surviving heartache together, and the deeper the heartache, the firmer the bond – creating a legacy that even survives death. Barbara lives on.