My great-great grandmother must have had to muster tremendous strength each year at Christmas time. Her name was Gretje Folkerts Mùller, and she was born October 15, 1835, in Bangstede, Hannover, Germany.1 She moved from this small community to the “big city” of Emden, Hannover, Germany in her early teens, to work for her eldest uncle as a maid.2 It was while living in the seaport of Emden, that she met and married, Albert Heinrich Klöfkorn, born June 4, 1833,3 a ships captain. Albert came from a long line of seagoing men, and he owned and captained a ship he had named Drei Schwestern, or Three Sisters. The couple married in Emden, on March 5, 1865, he was 31, Gretje was 29.4 Albert and Gretje would have four boys, all born in Emden. Johannes Warnerus, born May 18, 1865,5 Folkert, born July 22, 1866,6 Anton Herman, born February 14, 1868,7 and Heinrich Albertus, born March 11, 1870.8 I would like to think that they had a good marriage and a happy family life, although family legend, and some knowledge of the times, there was friction from the Klöfkorn family as this Lutheran woman married into their Catholic family.
December 1870, and Christmas was just around the corner. Albert was out at sea with load of grain. On December 20th, his ship went missing when it reached the point where the river Weser flows into the North Sea.9 Five days before Christmas, Gretje and her four boys, ages five to just six months old, were preparing their home for the birth of Christ, when word came that her husband’s ship was lost at sea. He was 37 years old. I can only imagine what that Christmas must have been like. The devastation. The despair.
I have no idea what Gretje did to survive the next years, how did she support her family? But I do know she was still in Emden in January 1872, when her eldest son Johannes tragically died a the age of six.10 She stayed in Emden for another year, before packing up her three sons and making the trip to the United States. Her younger brother, Johann (John) Folkert Müller was already residing in Lake County, Indiana, USA at this point in time, and letters had been going back and forth between them. It was on April 20, 1873 that she, along with her three sons boarded the S.S. America in Bremen, with a stop in Southhampton on May 3rd, before finally entering the New York harbor on May 16th. It was not an easy journey, as they had “experienced westerly winds with high seas the entire passage.” They traveled steerage, and numbered four of the 737 other passengers. It must have been a miserable trip.11 Reaching Castle Garden, they were noted on the manifest, dated May 16th, that entering the country were Aug H. Klöfkorn, age 38, Volkert Klöfkorn, age 7, Anton Klöfkorn, age 5, and Hinrich Klöfkorn, age 1.12
There is not only the question as to why did she travel using her husband’s name, but she gave the ages for herself, and two of her children incorrectly. At the time that she sailed for America, Gretje was 37 years old, her son Folkert was 6, Anton 5, (correctly stated for the manifest), and Heinrich was 3. Family legend states that Heinrich died at sea. He is not noted on the manifest taken at Castle Garden as having died at sea, but if Gretje could pass him off as a one year old, he must have been a small, possibly sickly little boy. We lose all sight of him after his arrival in the United States.
Gretje and her sons headed across the country, most likely first stopping to rest at the home of her brother John in Indiana, before moving to Chicago, Cook Co., Illinois. It was here on January 4, 1875, that she married Edzard Heinrich Tapper.13 Edzard was also from Ostriesland, Germany. Born about 1841, his roots, and actual age are a bit of a mystery. Edzard had emigrated in 1869, and was a general merchant. The couple first resided in Lansing, Cook Co., Illinois, before moving the family to Hammond, Lake Co., Indiana in 1879, where they set up a general merchandise store on two acres of land, at the corner of Hohman and Sibley Street.14
Fast forward to Christmas 1881. On December 20th, 40 year old Edzard headed into Chicago to attend to some “law business.”15 While he was in the city, he decided to stop in to see a dentist, the Sovereign Brothers, who were located at 107 Clark Street, and have his teeth extracted. (??!!) It was noted by the dentist that he appeared to be “under the influence of liquor,” so he at first declined to administer chloroform. Edzard insisted, a doctor was called to administer the drug and to monitor the patient during the extractions.16 Soon after the dentist began extracting the teeth, Edzard did not look “right,” and so he stopped. But unfortunately, it was too late, Edzard passed away from the effects of the chloroform.17
Two Christmases, eleven years apart. December 2oth. Two husbands. Two tragic, unexplained deaths.
I cannot imagine what she must have been thinking, feeling, that December 20, 1881, when news came from Chicago that her husband was dead. She must have had vivid flashbacks of another December 20th, when news came that her husband was lost at sea.
But she carried on (well what else could she do?), creating a sort of empire with her son Anton (Tony), my great-grandfather, out of the business she had started with Edzard, and later through real estate dealings. She passed away February 24, 1900, at the age of 64, and we believe that she is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Hammond, at the Tapper monument.
- Ludwig Janssen Hans-Rudolf Manger and Harm Harms, editors, Die Familien der Kirchengemeinde Bangstede (1724-1900) (Aurich, Germany: n.p., 1987, 2nd edition 1994), number 1353. Cit. Date: 20 Jul 2001.
- Compiled by the Miller Family, The Miller Family (Canada: Self Published, ca. 1970s), from a “Copy of paper written by John F. Miller in German.” Cit. Date: 20 Jul 2001.
- Janssen and Harms, Bangstede Ortssippenbücher (OSB), number 1353. Cit. Date: 20 Jul 2001.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Pedigree Resource File,” database, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 5 Apr 2009), entry for Johannes Warnerus Kloefkorn (PIN 3642478, Disk 126); submitted by Reiner Gerda Schuchardt, Emden, Germany. Cit. Date: 5 Apr 2009.
- Database and images (www.vorfahrensuche.de : accessed 24 Jul 2001); 5 Sep 2008: no longer online. Cit. Date: 5 Sep 2008.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Pedigree Resource File,” database, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 5 Apr 2009), entry for Antonius Hermannus Kloefkorn (PIN 444161, Disk 90); submitted by Reiner Gerda Schuchardt, Emden, Germany. Cit. Date: 5 Apr 2009.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Pedigree Resource File,” database, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 5 Apr 2009), entry for Hinrich Albertus Kloefkorn (PIN 3642585, Disk 126); submitted by Reiner Gerda Schuchardt, Emden, Germany.
- Karl-Heinz Wiechers, Und fuhren weit übers Meer. Volume 2: Die Häfen der Ems [And Drove Over the Sea. Vol. 2: Harbours of the river Ems] (ISBN: 3922365434), transcribed copy, received from Gerriet Backer. Cit. Date: 28 Feb 2000.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Pedigree Resource File,” database, FamilySearch, entry for Johannes Warnerus Kloefkorn (PIN 3642478, Disk 126). Cit. Date: 5 Apr 2009.
- “Marine Intelligence. New York…Friday, May 16. Arrived.,” The New York Times, 17 May 1873, p. 12, col. 5-6; digital images, ProQuest Historical Newspapers (www.proquest.com : accessed 17 Feb 2006).
- Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36; National Archives, Washington, D.C., “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” database, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Oct 2004), Anton Klöfkorn; manifest for S.S. America, dated 16 May 1873.
- Illinois. Cook County, Vital Record: Illinois Certificate of Marriage, Volume 91, license number 19890. Cit. Date: 11 Oct 1999.
- The Hammond Daily News, editor, Hammond Indiana, Industrial Edition of The Hammond Daily News (Hammond, Indiana: The Hammond Daily News, December 1904), 21. Cit. Date: 27 Feb 2002.
- “THE CITY ~ The Chloroform Victim,” (Chicago) The Chicago Tribune, 24 Dec 1881, Saturday, p. 8. Cit. Date: 30 Nov 2004.
- F. J. S. Gorgas M.D., D.D.S. and James B. Hodgkins D.D.S., editors, The American Journal of Dental Science (Baltimore, Maryland: Snowden & Cowman, 1882), Vol. 15, Third Series: 409-416. Cit. Date: 2 Sep 2009.