August Helfer

24 November 1916, 101 years ago today, my father’s youngest sibling died.

August Helfer was born 9 August 1916 in Chicago, Illinois, the tenth and last child of Julius Helfer and Katalin Schnur. He was baptized at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church in October. He died on 24 November 1916 at the age of 3 months, 14 days, of “non traumatic erysipelas”, four days after first receiving treatment for the disease, as recorded in his death certificate. On 25 November 1916 he was buried in a “2nd Class” grave, number 25, row 28, section 1 of St. Boniface Cemetery on Chicago’s north side.

These are the simple facts of August’s brief life. They are few, but I wanted somehow to celebrate him, acknowledge that he existed. Because, as someone once said, one is truly dead the last time any person speaks one’s name, and even if his lifetime was only a few months I thought it should not be ignored entirely.

Helfer family 1912

Nagyszentmiklós 1912
Left to right: Erna, Jenő, Katalin, István, Gyula the younger, Lájos

August’s death illuminates a bit of the social and economic condition of my Helfer family in their first years in the United States.

My grandparents were immigrants to the United States from an area of Hungary with a large ethnically German population. They were fluent in German and Hungarian (and possibly spoke some Romanian) when they arrived, but they did not speak English. From what I gather, it didn’t take them long to learn at least basic English — Julius was naturalized, along with his wife and children, on 13 May 1920 — but they spoke with distinctly foreign accents. While this accent probably wasn’t unusual for the part of Chicago where the family lived, it must at times have caused some confusion. Perhaps dealing with officialdom could be difficult.

First, there’s the matter of August’s name. His birth certificate calls him Anton August, but he was baptized as August Michael and his death certificate reads August M. On the rare occasions my father or his siblings mentioned him they always called him August.

Second, there’s the oddness of his death certificate. My grandfather is listed as the informant, but some of what the certificate says is weirdly false. August’s place of birth is listed as Austria rather than Chicago, and his mother’s maiden name is listed as Sophia Schuar rather than Katherine Schnur. Judging from the writing on the death certificate, I think the doctor, a man named AEW Jourdan, actually filled it out. It’s not hard for me to imagine the scene. Poor Dr. Jourdan, not speaking either German or Hungarian, was called in at the worst possible time for the child’s parents, then had to get answers to the official questions on his form. The combination of the parents’ grief and conflict of languages undoubtedly led to these odd answers.

My father’s family came to the United States in the early 20th Century from “The Banat of Temesvár”, an area of mixed ethnicity which at the time was part of Hungary but which, after the First World War, was divided between Romania and Serbia. My family came from an ethnically German enclave in the part that is now in Romania. My grandfather, Gyula (Julius) Helfer, was born in a very small village then called Honoros (now Honorici). My grandmother, Katalin Schnur, was born in a larger village then called Nagyszentmiklós (now Sânnicolau Mare). They were married in Nagyszentmiklós in 1900. Julius was a tailor in Budapest in 1900, but after his marriage he relocated to Nagyszentmiklós and Temesvár (now Timișoara). Between 1901 and their departure for the United States Julius and Katalin had eight children, three of whom died before reaching their first birthday.

Julius sailed to the United States in 1911, joining relatives in Chicago, and Katalin followed with the five living children in 1912. A ninth child, Mathilde, was born in Chicago on 30 August 1914, and then, in 1916, August followed.

Over the years I was told several stories about why my grandparents decided to leave home, some of them on reflection seem a bit wild and unlikely. I think it most likely that Julius and Katalin were simply trying to improve their economic condition and provide for their children like thousands of other families from Central Europe who were flowing into New York harbor in those years. They had little when they first came to the United States.

I don’t know whether any member of my family ever visited August’s grave. I tried once, searching for an hour or so through St. Benedict’s maze of plots, but I never located “row 28, section 1”. There is no staff at the cemetery, so there was no one for me to ask.

Julius Helfer family, ca. 1925

Chicago ca. 1925
Back row: Julius the younger, Eugene, Lewis, Erna;
Front row: Steven, Katalin, Mathilde, Julius the elder

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Carrollton Covered Bridge, 2017 Update

Maybe I should drape a black border around this post. It is, in some sense, a death announcement.

Not long after we moved to Clarksburg we took the wrong turn returning from an outing at Audra State Park and found ourselves on the Carrollton Covered Bridge. What a wonderful find, we said. And through the years since then we have escorted any number of visitors to see this charming bridge. I wrote a brief note about it in 2010, with a nice picture of the massive beams that support it (rshelfer.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/carrollton-covered-bridge/), and Lisa wrote a couple of notes about it as well (ldeg.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/easter-at-audra/ and ldeg.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/tygart-junction/).

Carrollton Covered Bridge, 19 April 2014

Carrollton Covered Bridge, 19 April 2014

The bridge was completed in 1856, and has stood as a crossing of the Buckhannon River ever since. It has survived the Civil War, storms and floods, and the destructions of age and changes in fashion. It’s part of the preferred route to Audra State Park for many people.

We were last there on Sunday, 6 August, this year when we took our friend Margaret to see it, unsurprisingly on our way back to Clarksburg from an excursion to Audra.

Carrollton Covered Bridge, 6 August 2017

Carrollton Covered Bridge, 6 August 2017

Plaque

Plaque

On the morning of 11 August we discovered that the bridge was on fire. Apparently someone decided that it had been there too long, so set it aflame the night before. At this time, it’s not known whether it can be restored. As far as I know, the arsonist has not yet been identified.

For more information on the bridge and its burning, see:

Rick Steelhammer (Charleston, WV, Gazette-Mail): www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170811/GZ01/170819888

Bridgehunter.com, Historic and Notable Bridges of the U.S.: bridgehunter.com/wv/barbour/carrollton-covered/

WVAlways.com: www.wvalways.com/story/36114576/crews-battle-fire-at-carrollton-covered-bridge

The Flatwoods Monster

#FreeBraxxie — The Flatwoods Monster first appeared to residents of Flatwoods, West Virginia, on 12 September 1952. We visited him while questing for a cemetery in the area on 17 August 2017.

Flatwoods Monster

Flatwoods Monster

Above is a representation of the monster, also known as The Braxton County Monster, or “Braxxie” to his friends, in the form of a ten-foot-tall chair. The seat part is on the other side of the monster. As described in the placard reproduced below, there are five of these chairs distributed along the Flatwoods Monster Chair Trail. The one pictured above is in Flatwoods itself, near the original sighting, indicated by the letter A on the map below.

Flatwoods Monster History

Flatwoods Monster History

You can read a summary history of “Braxxie” and the chairs by clicking on the image above (ignore the strange people who appear to be trapped in the sign — they’re just a mirage). Or you can visit the official web site at BraxtonWV.org/Braxxie.

Artwork and information are attributed to Braxton County CVB.

Fluffs in the Air

Fluff in the Air

Fluff in the Air

It’s not unusual to see bits of white fluff floating in the air. I usually assume that the fluff is carrying seeds — dandelions or milkweed or cottonwood or whatever — and maybe the seed has fallen off leaving just the fluff floating on its own. At some point, though, I began to realize that some of those bits of fluff show volition. They weren’t just floating on the breeze, they were flying in the air, choosing the direction they fly. I tried to get close enough to see what they really were.

Woolly Aphid on Sedge

Woolly Aphid on Sedge

The blighters are pretty evasive, but eventually I managed to get close enough to see more clearly. Instead of just bits of fluff I found rather pretty little white, winged insects encased in blueish white “fur”. They’re tiny, hard to see clearly even up close. And they tend to fly off suddenly. But I did manage to get a couple of clear pictures.

Woolly Aphid

Woolly Aphid

A search on the Internet revealed that these are Woolly Aphids (Eriosomatinae), members of a tribe of insects whose nymphs live, like normal aphids, by sucking the juices of host plants, but who, unlike normal aphids, adorn themselves with a waxy, whitish secretion that makes them appear to have fur. The adults, the ones I’ve seen flying about, are migrating from where they were born and grew to a new host plant to continue their life cycle, lay eggs, and create the next generation.

Woolly Aphid

Woolly Aphid

There are a number of different species of this beast, apparently named according to their primary host. I don’t know which ones we have — I’d probably have to get an entomologist to tell me. And I haven’t noticed much sign of fluffy colonies on any of our plants. But I think this stem might show evidence of a woolly aphid colony rather than a crowd of spittlebugs.

Fluff, left by Woolly Aphid?

Fluff, left by Woolly Aphid?

After reading a number of articles about Woolly Aphids and fruit trees, I think I should pay closer attention to our fruit trees from now on.