Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Romance in Omaha

Today would have been my grandfather’s 87th birthday. Would have been. Last month he passed away, and is at long last back with Grandma. One of his all-time favorite stories to tell was the account of how he met Grandma, and it was also one of my favorite stories to hear. This story is doubly appropriate right now, given that yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and this is the tale of a real-life romance.

Grandpa’s real name was Francis Albert Hoyt, Jr., but he always went by “Jack.” Grandma was born Rose Stroesser, but she had the nickname of “Frenchie.” Both had served the U.S. Navy during WWII, but that is not how they met. Rose had been stationed most of the time in Washington, D.C. , whereas Jack served aboard the U.S.S. Moffett and saw quite a bit of action in the Mediterranean. When the war was over, he became restless, never content to stay home.

He lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the river from Omaha, Nebraska. He spent a great deal of time in Omaha, as it was the larger city. There was a dance hall on 19th and Dodge Street called the Music Box. Many local big bands passed through there, including Lawrence Welk in his early days. The Music Box was more than just a dance hall; above the dance floor was a mezzanine containing a lounge, and on the third floor was a bowling alley.

Jack occasionally worked at the Music Box as a bouncer. The dance floor was for all ages, but the lounge was only for those 21 or older. Perhaps he helped to enforce the age restriction. He has also mentioned that there were rules against letting go of your partner’s hand, and he would remind the jitterbuggers to hang on. One evening, as Jack was in the bar (whether he was bouncer or patron that night, he has never mentioned), a lovely young woman and a group of her friends passed through on their way to the bowling alley. 

Rose and a date (not Jack) in the lounge at the Music Box, 19 Jan 1947

“Who is that woman?” Jack asked the bartender.

“That’s Frenchie Stroesser,” the bartender replied. “Stay away from her. She’s out of your league.” (Or words to that effect.)

Jack remained nonplussed. “Joe,” he said, “I’ll have you know I’m going to marry that woman.”

The bartender bet him a fifth of bourbon that he wouldn’t. But of course, Jack won the bet. And whenever he told this story he would always add, “I never got the bourbon, though.” But that didn’t matter to him because he did get the girl.

Quite often Jack would end the story there, but my favorite part was in a postscript. There were several things he had to do before marrying Rose. He had to ask her father for her hand, and he had to convert to Catholicism. But also, most delightfully to my ears, he had to persuade her to marry him.

Jack had been born 15 Feb 1925, but Rose had been born 5 May 1924. Although their ages were close, the fact remained that Rose was older. Her brothers and sisters teased her about “robbing the cradle,” and she was self-conscious about it. But Jack found the perfect way around their nine month age difference:

God made a man for every woman, he told her. However, there was a slight error when He created Rose—there was no man for her! So He immediately got to work. Nine months later along came Jack. This clever anecdote did the trick. Jack Hoyt and Rose Stroesser were married on 25 June 1949.

Wedding portrait of Jack and Rose Hoyt

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Brosius Family: South Shenango, 1862-1863

The petition of John McGranahan Administrator of the Estate of Adam Brocas late of said County deceased, respectfully represents… That the personal Estate of said decedent is insufficient to pay his debts and that it is requisite to sell a portion of his real Estate for the payment thereof…
—Petition of Administrator to sell land, 10 Apr 1862

The Civil War had been raging for a year, already a much longer and deadlier war then either side had expected, but in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, life went on much as usual. Perhaps the newspapers were read more assiduously, and perhaps some of the neighbors had enlisted and were off fighting the war or had already been killed, but still all the ordinary chores must be attended to and debts must be paid.

The widow Margrette Brosius was presumably living with her three children on the family farm in South Shenango Township. The two older children, Mary and John—ages 13-14 and 10-11 respectively—were old enough to help out around the house and on the farm, but the youngest, Rebecca, was now only about a year old. Upon the death of her husband, Adam, Margrette had been left not only the three children, but also debts amounting to over $950. It need hardly be said that this was an enormous sum for the year 1862. Adam’s “personal assetts” were able to cover a part of the debt, but the family was still left with a balance of $585.27. There seemed to be but one solution: sell some of the real estate.

The administrator for Adam’s estate, a man by the name of John McGranahan, petitioned the Orphan Court of Crawford County for permission to do just that. The request was granted, and the following month he sold forty acres of the Brosius land to a David K. Wier for $700, more than enough to pay off the debts Adam had left behind. It appears that for now Margrette and her children were more or less comfortably situated; they were able to settle their debts and still had over sixty acres, including “thirty-five acres improved” on which stood a house, barn, and orchard.

However, the nation was still in the midst of the Civil War, and no one could feel completely at ease. The famous Confederate general Robert E. Lee was achieving victory after victory, pushing his troops ever northward. By June of 1863, they had reached the state of Pennsylvania. Although their particular position was about two hundred miles away, it surely felt to close for comfort to the people of South Shenango. If the Confederate forces were to continue their advance, fighting could soon be on their very doorsteps.

Kitchen, Cyrus, recorder. Deed. 19 May 1862. Deed from Adam Brocius’s Administrator to David K. Wier. Office of the Recorder of Deeds, Meadville, Pennsylvania. Xerox copy sent to the author by Gloria Brosius.

McGranahan, John. Adam Brocus Dec. Petition of Administrator to Sell Land. 10 Apr 1862. Petition to the Orphan Court of Crawford County. Office of Clerk of Courts, Meadville, Pennsylvania. Xerox copy sent to the author by Gloria Brosius.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Brosius Family: South Shenango, 1861

Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Capitol building was a sight, looking strangely like a three-tiered wedding cake with an oil well in the place that should be occupied by figures of the bride and groom. The explanation for this unusual sight was mundane enough: the domed roof was in the process of replacement. Over 25,000 people, many of them strangers to the city, milled in the sun-warmed streets, but their interest did not lie in the reconstruction of a dome. They were engrossed in the events unfolding at the foot of the edifice.

A tall, homely man, seeming even taller in his high top hat, stood up after an introduction and approached the podium. There was a moment of uncertainty as he searched for a place to set his hat. The atmosphere was turbulent. Opinions regarding this man varied, and there was no doubt but that this crowd was about to witness history. Whether the history they were to witness was to be an inauguration or an assassination remained a question.

“…I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement,” said Abraham Lincoln. Clearly in his inaugural address he was going to discuss the divisive issues of slavery and the southern secession. He had not yet been sworn in, but his administration was already plagued with difficulties: two months before, partly in response to his election, seven of the southernmost slave states had already seceded from the Union, and four others were poised to follow suit. Moreover, when the newly created Confederate government insisted that the government of the United States hand over some of their Federal forts, they were refused. The South responded by seizing the forts. Tensions were high, and it was readily apparent that the country was on the verge of war.

Although the thoughts of many citizens revolved around the secessionists and the probability of war, one household in northwestern Pennsylvania was distracted by another, more immediate distress. Only three days before Lincoln’s inauguration, that is, on 1 March 1861, death had claimed Adam Brosius. Adam had been the head of the Brosius household which resided on 100 or so acres in the township of South Shenango in Crawford County. His young widow, Margrette, only 27 years of age, and possibly still pregnant with their daughter Rebecca, was left alone to raise three children.

The family had been started early; Adam had been only 31 or 32 at the time of his death, yet his oldest child, a girl named Mary, was already 12 or 13 years old. John S., the second child, was 9 or 10. The relative ages of Mary and her mother Margrette, as well as the large age gap between John and Rebecca, suggest the possibility that Margrette may have been Adam’s second wife and Mary and John’s stepmother. At this point no evidence has been found to either support or disprove this hypothesis, and it bears only academic relevance to our present narrative, so we will set the question aside for later research.

Whether mother or stepmother, Margrette was faced with the daunting task of running a farm and being what would now be called a single mother of three—and this just as the country was beginning its descent into the longest and the bloodiest war it had yet experienced. Just over a month after her husband’s death, the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter.


President Abraham Lincoln’s First Inauguration.The Civil War. Son of the South. Web. Accessed 7 Feb 2012.