The Red Cemetery of West Weber Hides a Secret

It looks like thursday posts are becoming a habit. So thursday it is.

This Cemetery is Hiding a Secret

I found the West Weber cemetery while driving the back roads in Weber County.    It is in a small farm town located West of Ogden, Utah on the plains between the mountains and the north end of the Great Salt Lake.
red cemetery and mountains 1As I got closer to the cemetery itself, I noticed that most of the tombstones, even the newer ones, are a deep rust color.  The newer tombstones are a lighter red, while the older ones are almost brownish-black.

red cemetery almost brown close

While it’s a bit disappointing to see the tombstones covered in a reddish-film, it’s also pretty cool. The dark color of the tombstones make it difficult to get a decent photograph for identifying people buried there, but the dark red color adds a mystique that can even be called “creepy” at Halloween time.  However, the secret of this graveyard is not in the discolored graves. Continue reading

Springville Cemetery Tells its own Stories

It’s rare that you come across a cemetery this well-loved. Around here, cemeteries are clean, lawns are watered and mowed regularly, and a caretaker cleans up old grave decorations.  But I’ve never seen a cemetery like this one.  As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew that I would get some good pictures, even though I was using my cell phone. I didn’t expect to get a panoramic view that I could use for my header photo, but as you can clearly see, it worked out great.  Here’s another panorama:

Springville wide1

I don’t think Springville Cemetery  always looked this good.  I can imagine it overgrown with weeds, and tombstones knocked over and used for target practice by rambunctious kids.  Now it is completely fenced and cleaned up, but the oldest tombstones needed rescuing. Some, beyond repair, were rescued anyway:

row of broken tombstones Continue reading

Post Postponed

This week’s post is postponed due to malware linked to one of my posts through a Holocaust website. Since I am unable to remove the link, I will either remove the offending post or have it fixed tonight, so that I can finish today’s post by tomorrow.

In the meantime, check out my header photo.  It is a photo of the Springville, Ut. cemetery. Would you believe that I took it with my cell phone?  I’ll be blogging about it tomorrow.

Thanks for your patience, and sorry for the inconvenience!

October is Graveyard Month

October is  my favorite month of the year.  It may or may not be because of my birthday, but I do know that it is because of Halloween.  It is probably a combination of things:  Halloween, my birthday, autumn, and the general feeling of anticipation mixed with dread as the harvest is gathered in preparation for the coming of the dark, cold days of winter.   I feel a sense of romance as leaves change colors, pumpkins appear on porch steps, and figures of ghosts are hung from molting trees.  I love the dark evenings when candles are lit and ghost stories are told. I love the cold crisp smell of the air. It’s the perfect month for celebrating cemeteries.

Balyna Parish Cemetery in Ireland. Did you know that our modern day celebration of Halloween comes from Ireland?

October is a time for romance, the kind of romance that elicits feelings of excitement, nostalgia and mystery–a sentimental mood that lends a listening ear towards the unknown things of the past.  Graveyards are some of the most romantic places I know.  They are the places that keep the things of the past in a state of limbo–we know the stories are there, but they are buried with the storytellers and remain in the realm of the unknown.  Cemeteries are the true places of Untold Stories.

So in the spirit of cemeteries and storytelling, I will be sharing bits and pieces of stories of the past told by others.  Today, I’d like to share a comment made on my own Untold Stories from a fellow blogger, Jeff Roberts:

“We grow up believing graveyards to be haunted. It was almost a rite of passage to test your bravery by visiting the forgotten after midnight. We all thought we saw ghosts as shadows danced from grave to grave by the reflective moonlight….. given time and some maturity this perspective changed. The hauntings became monuments. The monuments became people. These people became giants. Not all who walk this earth are compelled to understand the past that shapes our present.

I am one so fortunate. As a kid hiking the sage & juniper, I saw much more than just nature. Humanity had been here. An arrowhead, a wagon trail trace, a metate, a stump, a rusted ring from a barrel, and a purple glint… glass from a pioneer traveller. Eventually it became my task to make sense out of 150 years of cemetery records. An opportunity to find the lost or the misplaced or the forgotten. An opportunity to connect this grave with that grave or that grave with that family. An opportunity to reconnect people with their past. An opportunity to tell a hundred stories. And what stories and what men and women and what toil and what sacrifice and what tragedy and what sorrow and what joy.”

Thank you, Jeff, for keeping the romance alive; and Happy Graveyard Month!

She looks just like me. But who is she?

I missed posting on Wednesday. Writing about my Tante Rosa was important, but it took a lot out of me.  By the time I had completed the post, I was emotionally worn down.  I didn’t feel like I was just blogging about my aunt; I was writing for all of  the families of the holocaust. As a parent and grandparent, I imagined being forcefully separated from my young children and grandchildren.  From a child’s standpoint, I imagined the horror of discovery that the people whom I put your deepest faith in could not keep me from being snatched away from my family and sent to an unimaginable doom. It was tough and I needed a break. So Wednesday’s blog comes today.

We are pretty sure that the woman on the right is Gisela. Standing in the back is Helene (we knew her). But the woman sitting to the right and the one in the doorway–we are unsure of . They are most likely Rosa and Sommer (Hermine?), but which is which?

I talked with my mother at length regarding September 3rd’s post (Why Grandma Cried). But memory is a fickle thing, coming and going without permission as we get older.  From my childhood I remember mom talking about Grandma’s four sisters; but as I started putting records together and gathering photos, I was only able to find evidence of three.  I told my mother this, and she began questioning her own memory.  Together, we decided that our memory had failed us. We labeled the photo of the four women according to this discussion, despite Mom’s insistence that her mother had four sisters.

A few days after my post appeared I got a phone call. It was my dad. “Your Grandma Rothsprack had four sisters. The one that was missing was named Hermine.”  Okay, now the story is starting to make more sense.  I remember Mom saying that Grandma had four sisters. So I did a little more digging and sure enough, it came out of my own Grandmother’s mouth.  My father had tape-recorded my grandma’s life story when I was just a baby and had made type-written transcripts for each of his children.  This is what grandma said:

“I am one of five girls in the family–no boys. [She lists them] Gisela who lives in Austria. Rosa: killed in Auschwitz (sic). Not Married. Helen: Lives in Graten [California]. Sommer – lives in Austria.”

Wait.

Didn’t dad say the other sister’s name was Hermine?  This is confusing. Tante Leni didn’t have any children, I’ve never met my Austrian cousins, and Tante Leni and Grandma are not around to help us get it straightened out.

Same eyes, same nose, same smile, same tilt of the head. Even the same eyebrows!

Same eyes, same nose, same smile, same tilt of the head. Even the same eyebrows!

As we were looking at the photograph I noticed something interesting.

She is either Rosa or Sommer (or Hermine?)

She is either Rosa or Sommer (or Hermine?)

When I pointed it out to my husband he disagreed. I kept thinking about it, and I was pretty sure that he was wrong. Until last night.  I was at our local family history library because I was trying to solve the mystery of the missing sister. I showed the genealogist my information and the photograph from my blog; as she looked at the photo, her jaw dropped open, her eyes got big, and she pointed at the photograph. “Do you see this woman?” She asked. I laughed with relief. She saw it too.  We know it is my grandmother’s sister. Because Rosa and Giselle were the oldest, I think it is my Tante Rosa. And she looks like me!

For me, this is the most awesome thing about genealogy.  I am living proof that I am related to this woman, and she is an integral part of my past. My dad tells me that he just uncovered several more photographs of Rosa.  I can’t wait to get the copies and make the comparisons.

Why Grandma Cried

My mother was born in 1940, one month after Germany began it’s attack on Great Britain. A few months later, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the United States entered the war. By that time, Hitler had been rampaging through Europe for more than four years. Two days after Mom’s fifth birthday, Emperor Hirohito agreed to unconditional surrender and Hitler had been dead five months. Mom was very young when she heard her mother crying late at night when she thought no one could hear.  Grandma was heart-broken, but it would be at least another twenty years before Mom would learn why.

Josephine Daniel Rothsprack, my grandmother, grew up in Austria with her four sisters, Giselle, Hermine, Rosa, and Helene.  I usually hear them referred to as “Tante” (German for “aunt”). Although Grandma was close to her family, she was tired of being poor.  “All our clothes were rags,” she told my dad. “They were patched and patched until there were patches on top of patches,” she complained. Grandma told of a friend who had gone to New York and was living as a maid making $50.00 a month. “That was a fortune to us in Austria,” she said. So Grandma left her three sisters behind to seek her fortune in the United States.

Grandma was on the Manifest for the “Bremen” arriving in September 1923. The Bremerhaven was renamed Bremen in March of that year.

Grandma arrived in Boston September 14, 1923 (National Archives and Records Administration (Ancestry.com), Passenger Ships and Images database). From Boston, she took a train to San Fransisco where she stayed with friends until she could make a living on her own.  That’s where Grandma met my grandfather, Wilhelm (“Willie” or “Bill”) Rothsprack.  They were married,  settled into a home of their own, and had three girls. My mother was the youngest.

Grandma's sisters in Austria

Grandma’s sisters in Austria. Tante Leni is standing in the back. I can’tbe certain, but I believe the woman seated to the right is Tante Rosa.

Back in Austria, things were getting worse for the Jews.  Giselle and Hermine had married  influential Germans who kept them safe from harm; but news reports, letters and phone calls told Grandma that Rosa and Helene (Leni), her two other sisters, were still in danger. Grandma began saving money to bring them to the United States.

Hitler invaded Austria in March of 1938, and with very little violence, annexed it, declaring Austria part of Germany.  Jews and Gypies were not allowed to vote in the annexation, making the vote nearly unanimous.  At that time, what was tough became even tougher. When Kristallnacht came in November, Rosa and Helene remained safe due to the fact that they were the only Jews in a very small town.  But things did get worse when my Tante Leni’s boyfriend turned the family in to the Nazis.  My mother tells me that Tante Leni’s boyfriend was himself a Nazi. Continue reading

Wednesday’s Child: the mystery of Benjamin Skeen

In the process of understanding the Skeen family’s story, I’ve had to do a bit of digging into the Skeen family’s genealogy.  William Skeen and his wife were Mormon pioneers sharing in the responsibility of settling the town of Plain City Utah, so there is plenty to be found on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. Unfortunately, though, there is not much to be found about little “Benny” (Benjamin Davis) Skeen who died at just three years-old.

I originally found little Benny in a graveyard. I have absolutely no blood relation to Benny and his family, so I had no clue that he had been forgotten by current generations. But as I began researching the family to tell their story, I discovered that little Benny had been forgotten in his family group. There are several family trees on Ancestry.com that don’t have Benny listed as a family member; but FamilySearch does not have him added at all to his family group sheet. It’s not that Benny needs a piece of paper to prove that he existed, or that his family deeply mourned his death, but I feel a deep urge to have him remembered–especially by his family.  This is why I need to tell his story.

I had to do some adjusting on this photo in order to see the names and dates clearly.

I had to do some adjusting on this photo in order to see the names and dates clearly.

Continue reading