Letter writing is a lost art. It is so easy to slam out a text or write that “quick email” that our penmanship is failing, and our ability to put together a proper complete sentence is suffering.
This past week I have been busy transcribing my mother’s travel journal. The summer after she graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, she and two of her sorority sisters left to spend the summer traveling around Europe. They rented a 4-door Renault in Paris, a car so small that only one suitcase and the coats fit in the trunk, the other suitcases were strapped to the roof of the car. Leaving Paris, they would drive 2900 miles over the next 31 days, traveling through France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, before returning the car, and boarding a train to spend another week between London and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Mom was diligent about recording the Date, Place, and Weather for each day, along with a short synopsis of how they had spent their day, and what they had seen. I thought that this small journal was giving me a great insight into her trip, and all of the wonders she had seen. That is until I read her letters home. My grandparents had saved each letter and postcard that she had sent home, mom had saved all the letters that she received at American Express offices throughout Europe, and neighbors had “returned” to her the postcards that she had sent to them.
After I had finished the journal, I started to transcribe the letters, inserting the transcription of the letter following the date of the journal entry. Suddenly the trip came alive! From her journal entry I learn: “… ate a wonderful meal of snails, wine (Claret) & ice cream & raspberries…” From her letter home I discover that “… That evening we enjoyed a wonderful meal of snails & claret & ice cream & raspberries. They are served in their shells on trays, which look something like tiny, shallow muffin tins. Each snail is covered with melted butter, garlic, and parsley. You are given a small fork and tong like things (to hold the shell) with which you eat them. After you eat the snail you soak tiny bits of your bread in the garlic butter. It is really very tasty — of course you leave reeking of garlic, but happy.” As my grandma said in her August 7th letter to mom “You will never know how much your wonderful letters & cards mean to us. Am saving all of them & just to read about what you are seeing and such thrills us to death. Your letters are almost like a travelogue. Gosh but it sure sounds wonderful and we are so pleased that you are having such a wonderful time.”
Speaking of grandma. In the summer of 1955, Verna Amelia Gray Tapper was 44 years old. My grandfather, Roland John Tapper, Sr. was 45, turning 46 on August 1st. That summer, on August 6th, they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. They were so young!! And grandma was just full of news to share. Mom’s trip spanned ten weeks, and grandma wrote seven letters during that time, and mom sent 12 letters home, plus several postcards. For grandma and grandpa, they received a travelogue, and for mom, she kept up with all the news from home. And me? Well, I can sit down and “see” into the past. I can enjoy mom’s trip along with grandma and grandpa, and I can feel the heat of the 100° days, the happiness that grandma felt when “Dad had my diamond reset & got me a new wedding ring. So — for the first time I have matched rings…The settings are simple but dainty & beautiful & he is so proud of them he could just burst.”
Now I am scanning and organizing the letters, the postcards, the travel journal, and the book that mom put together at my request. In 2011 I had asked her to document her trip, which she did in the form of a photo journal, as she organized and captioned the photos that she had from the trip. I am working on putting this together in book format so that the whole summer can be savored in one bite, “The Summer of 1955.”
Yesterday I purchased a SHOTBOX. What is a SHOTBOX? The developer describes it this way: “The SHOTBOX is an all-in-one portable light studio that allows you to scan faster, capture amazing photos, and have fun unleashing your creative side all just using your smartphone.” Here is a link to their website: https://shotbox.me.
Why did I purchase a SHOTBOX? To photograph family objects so that they can be cataloged and packed safely away in an archival manner.
Until now I was not interested in owning a SHOTBOX. I found them fascinating, but you see, in my old house the kid’s bathroom made the perfect “studio” for capturing images of family objects, and there was no setup or storage. Well, maybe some clean-up of toothpaste residue, but that needed to be done anyway. But that house is no longer mine, and the new house does not sport a similar photo opportunity. So I decided to take a second look at the SHOTBOX and started to watch the videos that had been produced for Rootstech. The videos, combined with a conversation that I had had with my mother three weeks ago, sold me.
Three weeks ago I was down in the basement amongst the yet to be opened boxes that we had moved from Appleton, and decided to open the box that contained my mother’s music boxes. I knew that many of them were not in the best shape having spent years in the basement, but they are full of memories. My mom had marked the bottom of each box with the month and year that she had received it, so I was looking for these dates as I unpacked each piece. I came across a box that had always been part of her collection but had no date marked on the bottom. I took it upstairs to ask her about it. This simple question of when she had received the box turned into an hour or more of conversation. And little did I know, it would be our last meaningful conversation, as she died last Sunday, February 21, 2021, from an aggressive form of kidney cancer.
Lying in her bed, she told me that she had purchased the music box with money from Uncle Norman (Norman Tapper), in Switzerland, while on her trip to Europe. In the summer of 1955 my mother and two college friends, sailed to Europe to spend 31 days traveling through six countries. She was 22 years old. She went on to say that she arrived in Switzerland knowing that she wanted to find a certain type of box, one that was similar to a piece that her father had brought home from his trip to Europe in 1929. I don’t remember the next question that I asked her, but she said that her journal for the trip was in her sitting room, in the blanket chest in a bag she had also purchased on the trip. I went to look, found the bag and journal, and brought it back to her bedroom. Inside the bag was an envelope that contained the pictures she took on the trip along with all of the letters that she had written – and family members returned to her – and her journal.
In the back of the journal was a “Cash Account” section where she noted every penny that she spent. The goal of each girl was to not spend more than $1,000, a goal they proudly reached. Looking through the book, I found the music box. She had paid 78 francs for it, and also included the conversion rate which was $18.09. Looking to see where she was on that day the “10th,” I find her in Geneva, Switzerland where the weather was “cool & clear.”
At my request, mom had put together a memory book for this trip, The Summer of 1955 which she had completed in June 2011. She wrote a great introductory page, with one of my favorite stories. You see, my mom never drove in my lifetime. Her early adult life was spent in Chicago, her early married life spent in New York City, and then Appleton, Outagamie, Wisconsin. In the first cities, she did not need a car, and arriving in Appleton, she and my dad only had one car, plus she could easily walk to what was then a vibrant downtown, from our little rental on Story Street. In her introduction, she wrote that her friends “…got their International Driver’s Licenses, but since I still hadn’t gotten my U.S. driver’s license I had to wait until we got to Paris to get mine. After I graduated [from Drake University] on June 7th I went home, applied for, took both written and driving tests, passed, and finally received my US driver’s license” My mother drove in the Swiss Alps, and took her turn throughout Europe, only to return to the United States, and never drive again.
While her book is amazing, with all of the photos organized and labeled, it does not include her journal. So that brings me back to the SHOTBOX and the video that decided the matter for me, “Journal Tips – Rootstech Live Stream” where Aaron Johnson talks about his mom’s journal and how he digitized it.
My SHOTBOX has been shipped, and while I wait, I am pondering how I will organize what I have. At this moment I am thinking that I will scan the journal, inserting the letters she sent home at the appropriate date within the journal. Once I reach the “Cash Account” I will photograph any items that we still have and add them to this section. In the final section, I will include the photo book she created in 2011, The Summer of 1955.
I am so glad that I decided to open the box that contained her music boxes, and took a look.
June 16, 1927 was the date that twenty-six-year old Gretje Sophia Tapper, daughter of Anton and Louise Tapper, and forty-two-year old Albert Juiius Warber, DDS chose as their wedding date.
Trinity Lutheran church in Hammond, Lake Co, Indiana was filled with 250 guests as she was escorted down the aisle by her father to Lohengrin’s Wedding March. Her brother’s Anton Jr., and Roland served as ushers, and her sister, Alice, served as her maid of honor.
The Lake County Times account of the wedding was filled with the usual language of the time as it described the wedding. The “attractive bridesmaids in yellow taffeta frocks made with bouffant skirts and trimmed with dainty rosebuds of taffeta.” They each wore a “large picture hat of horsehair braid, trimmed with yellow and orchid velvet ribbons and carried a vari-colored bouquet of spring flowers.” Fourteen-year-old Alice serving as maid of honor, wore “a bouffant frock of orchid taffeta with rosebud trimmings. Her becoming hat was trimmed with lovely flowers. Miss Tapper also carried a pretty maid of honor bouquet.”
The report continues: “The bride was lovely as she entered the church on the arm of her father in a wedding gown of white satin trimmed with brides lace and prettily beaded. Her cap-shaped headdress fell in soft folds of tulle to the hem of her gown and was touched with delicate flowers about her face. To complete her costume Miss Tapper carried a lovely bridal bouquet of lilies and roses en shower.”
Immediately following the 4:30 ceremony an enjoyable dinner was served at the Hammond Woman’s Club.
The above article filled with vivid descriptions of what the bride and her bridesmaids wore was typical of the time. Every wedding was beautifully appointed and filled with “pretty” bridesmaids, and “lovely” brides. But it was a small item printed on the front page of The Lake County Times under the headline: “Did You Hear That” that really brought to life for me how big and “fancy” this Tapper wedding was.
The item reads: “This is a big afternoon for Tony Tapper. Aside from the marriage of his daughter, it’s his first appearance in a swallow-tail coat and a plug hat.”
A swallow-tail coat and a plug hat? Not knowing I turned to Google to see what I could learn. A tailcoat, for special occasions – think white tie, the coat has silk lapels and covered buttons with a single vent, with or without pleating at the back. The center vent rises up to the waistline and divide’s the coat’s skirt into two “tails,” thus inspiring the nickname swallow-tail coat, or claw-hammer tailcoat. These “tails” extend down to the bend of the knee in a straight line, with a curve the bottom.
As for the hat. Merriam-Webster defines a plug hat as a stiff hat, such as a top hat.
The out of copyright image to the left shows a man in a top hat at tails. AAHH I always think of Fred Astaire when I think of top hats and tails…
I wish that we had pictures of this wedding, but I do believe that this was not the first time that Anton appeared in formal evening dress. He was very well dressed at his own wedding twenty-seven years before his daughters.
But what I really love about these two articles is that together they provide a true look at how very formal this wedding was. The fact that it was a white tie affair is not reflected in the charming description of the bride and her bridesmaids.
Now if we only had a glimpse into what they served for the enjoyable dinner…
 “Miss Tapper and Dr. Warber Wed,” The Lake County Times, 16 Jun 1927, Thursday, p. 10, col. 2; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 16 Oct 2017).
Nines were pivotal years for Roland John Tapper, Sr. On August 1, 1909 he was born in Hammond, Lake County, Indiana, USA to Anton Herman Tapper Sr., and Louisa L. Normann. Today marks the 110th anniversary of his birth.
On June 5, 1929, he proudly graduated from Culver Military Academy, which is located in Culver, Marshall County, Indiana. He and his older brother, Anton, attended Culver from 1926-1929, both graduating on that June day in 1929. Grandpa loved his days at Culver, and was proud to have been a part of their Black Horse Troop, serving as Second Lieutenant of the troop for the school year, 1928-1929.
Shortly after graduation he, his father, and his brother Anton, and sister Alice, left for a trip to Europe. They left July 6, 1929, returning to the United States, September 17th. They visited Germany, Switzerland, and possibly other countries (more research to be done), and the trip deserves its own blog post.
Sadly, not long after they returned from this amazing European adventure, his mother fell ill, and she passed away of an embolism on November 29th. She had entered St. Margaret’s hospital for an appendicitis operation, after which a blood clot had formed. The Times reported on November 30th that “…Last night members of the family visited with her in her hospital room until 9 o’clock and plans were merrily discussed for removing her within a day or two. Less than two hours later she was dead. It is believed that an unabsorbed portion of the blood clot was carried to her brain.
Mrs. Tapper was 50 years old and is survived by the husband, three sons, Norman, Anton and Rowland, [sic]and a daughter, Alice. She also leaves three grandchildren…”1
Fast forward to today, August 1, 2019, and as I am working to unpack our household from the move to Rhode Island, I came across a tube, which had marked upon it: “RJT Culver Certificates.” Thinking I knew what the tube contained, and curious at the same time, I opened it. Inside were my grandfather’s graduation certificates looking as perfect as they did that June day, 90 years ago.
So with unboxing still to be done, I felt I just had to take a moment and write this quick post about Roland John Tapper, and the 110 years spanning from 1909 to 2019.
Happy Birthday Grandpa. Miss you.
“Mrs. Tapper Dies From Embolism,” (Hammond)The Times, 30 Nov 1929, Saturday, p. 1, col. 6.
It has been many years since I last had the opportunity to stop at Hammond, Lake County, Indiana to visit the graves of my grandparents and great-grandparents. In fact, the last time was in 1999, and on our way home, Mom and I stopped in Tomah, Wisconsin to pick up our new miniature schnauzer puppy, Gretchen. Today in 2017, as we drove home from moving our son to Rhode Island, my husband and I did not have the luxury of time to stop as we drove by the exit, as we had to get home in order to pick up our 4 month old miniature schnauzer puppy, Lizzy, from where she was being boarded during the move.
My great-grandparents are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. In 1909 Anton Tapper placed a large, well massive, granite monument in the cemetery, the TAPPER monument. This monument, reported to be the largest monument in Oak Hill Cemetery at the time, weighs 17 tons, stands over 8 feet tall, and sits on a base that is 8 X 5’6.” Cut by the Rossi & Casellini Company of Barre, Vermont, it was delivered and placed by the Ernst Wunderlich Granite Co., of Joliet, Illinois. It was “put in position without damage to a single shrub in the cemetery.” ((“Among the Dealers, Trade Changes and Work Being Done. Joliet, Ill,” The Reporter, August 1909, 9, p378 pdf; digital images, Google, Google Books (books.google.com : accessed 2 Jun 2012).))Anton was reported to have paid $1,500 for the stone to be cut and placed. ((”The Rounder Says,” The Hammond Times, 12 Aug 1908, Wednesday, p. 2, col. 5-6; digital images, NewspaperARCHIVE (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 26 Feb 2016).)) I find it interesting that the stone was described as being “a plain monument,” but even more interesting, was the statement that “in the lot will be placed several concrete receptacles for the bodies which will repose there in the future.” “When the coffin is placed in these receptacles they will be hermetically sealed with concrete several inches thick so that the bodies could only be removed by blasting away at the concrete.” ((Ibid.)) I wonder what his reasoning was for this? Grave robbers?
According to records at the cemetery, Anton purchased 14 grave sites, with the monument covering three of them. I am not sure when he purchased the plot, but the cemetery records show that six graves have been filled: Gretje Tapper, his mother; Lois Tapper, his daughter who was born pre-mature at 6 months, and living just one day; his wife, Louise Tapper; his grandson, stillborn child of his daughter Alice; and himself. There is one remaining grave that is occupied, but not noted as to who is buried there. Two people come to mind as to who it might be, and obviously further research needs to be done. It could be his step-father, Edzard Heinrich Tapper, who died 22 Dec 1881, or it could be his brother, Folkert Tapper who passed away 18 May 1888. The cemetery was established in 1885, so Folkert would be a likely candidate. So we circle back to the question of when the plot was purchased, and by whom. It is likely that a couple of lots were purchased by Gretje when Folkert died, but at this point it is only speculation.
When Anton designed the monument, he chose very specific images. There has been much written about the symbolism of carvings on a tombstone, gravestone or monument. While I am sure that many choose what symbols to decorate these eternal stones from the standard catalogue and meaning, I believe that these symbols can also have a different, or secondary meaning.
Included on the stone are these images: An Anchor, traditionally a symbol of hope, or eternal life. I love the idea that early christians used it as a disguised cross.
A Column traditionally symbolizes the noble life of the head of the family.
Ivy, traditionally a symbol of eternal life.
Ferns, traditionally a symbol of humility and sincerity.
A Lily traditionally symbolizes purity or resurrection. In this case the flower is below the leaves, it could represent a broken flower, meaning pre-mature death.
Putting myself in my great-grandfather’s shoes, I believe that he took all of this into consideration, but also looked at it from a slightly different angle.
The Anchor and Cross. Anton was the son of a sea captain, his father having died at sea when he was just two years old. He lost his brother when he was six, and his younger brother died either on the voyage to America, or shortly after landing. I wrote about this in my blog post titled “Strength at Christmas.” His only remaining brother, Folkert, died at the age of 21 in 1888. The anchor and cross, symbols of hope, faith, eternal life, and a symbol of his father, the captain of the Three Sisters.
The Column. The noble life of the head of the family – his mother. A strong and determined woman, who did all she could to create a good life for her family.
Ivy and Ferns. Again hope for eternal life, with humility and sincerity.
A broken lily. Pre-mature death. He certainly experienced enough pre-mature death.
The reason for his choices have been lost in time, but the monument stands, tall and solid. A testament to the strength and endurance of this pioneer family of Hammond, Indiana.
The news that the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus would be shutting down after 146 years, reminded me of this story.
One year while visiting my grandparents in Hammond, Lake County, Indiana, my brother and I went with our grandfather, Roland Tapper, to run some errands. We must have driven near where the family home used to stand on Ann Street, as it triggered a memory for Grandpa, and he told us that his father used to house the circus elephants in their garage. Sadly, that is where my memory of this conversation ends, but the story stuck with me.
Anton H. Tapper Sr. moved into his new home on Ann Street, in August 1908.1Anton had chosen property directly across the street from the new Masonic Temple, whose cornerstone was laid May 1, 1907. The three story red brick building was built in the Gothic style, and boasted 65,000 square feet of space, which included an auditorium large enough to host a circus. Sadly the temple was torn down in 2009, having been abandoned by the Masons in 1999. Time and a leaking roof had taken its toll. Pictures of the temple at the time it was torn down are available online here:http://www.flickriver.com/photos/jordannicolette/sets/72157620768953484/
In November 1922, when my grandfather was 13 years old, the Shrine Circus came to town, and set up in the Masonic Temple. The circus was held Wednesday, November 8th through Saturday, November 18th. Two performances were held daily, one at 1:30, and the second at 7:00 p.m. Amazingly this full circus was held inside in the temple’s auditorium! The “regular thirty foot circus ring, with dirt foundation and sawdust, [was set up] just like it’s under the big canvas top.” “The ring was laid out on the floor in front of the auditorium stage. [Pictures of the auditorium are included in the link above]. The seats which used to be there have been removed and circus seats put on the stage. First a heavy plank flooring was laid. It was covered with tar paper. Then tons of clay were packed on this foundation until a firm surface had been provided on which the elephants will perform and the galloping horses cavort.”2
The elephants arrived Monday, and after a quick tour through downtown, were enlisted to help pack down the clay that had been laid in the circus ring. That evening, they moved to their evening quarters in “Tony Tapper’s garage.”3
As if the circus being in town was not exciting enough for the children of Hammond, Tilly the elephant celebrated her 107th birthday on November 11th, and they were invited to her birthday party. In 1922, 11-year-old Margaret Hagedorn was in sixth grade. She was living in her grandmother’s household with her mother, and 10 year old sister ,at 11 Rimbach Street. As girls of that age often do, she wrote about Tilly’s birthday party, and her account was published in The Times on November 20, 1922.4
So while I don’t have a first hand account of this time from my grandfather, I do have Margarets memories. She states that “Such a party I never expect to witness again and I am writing this out so that I can always remember it as I believe I will never go to a party quite like it again.”
“The elephants were quartered in Mr. Tapper’s barn, which is just across from the Masonic Temple, and as we live less than a block from there we became very well acquainted with theelephants and their keepers and we used to visit them several times a day. The keepers were kindly men and told us many interesting things about these wonderful beasts.”5
If Margaret was visiting the elephants several times a day, and was tolerated by the keepers who were “kindly men,” I can only imagine that my grandfather was also spending time in his father’s garage with the elephants. After running our errands, and returning to the apartment that day many years ago, Grandpa continued reminiscing about the circus, and told the story that he and his brothers had fun taking the elephant, umm droppings, and throwing them around the yard. Which brings to mind what a mess four elephants must have left behind.
The highlight of the circus was celebrating Tilly’s birthday, and thankfully Margaret wrote about the party in detail. She described the table that was placed in the center of the ring and covered with a white cloth, and where “good crisp cabbages cut in halves and loaves of bread” were placed. On a separate table was placed the cake. “Such a cake!!!. It was five feet across and made in tiers thickly frosted in white with festoons of chocolate and pink frosting.” She was amazed at how the elephants, Tilly, Clara, Tony and Pitt, sat “down on tubs in front of the tablejust like human beings at a feast,” and waited for a signal from the keepers before beginning to eat. When they had finished the first coarse, the cake was cut into large pieces. Margaret’s favorite memory was how the elephants ate their piece of cake. She writes: “Each elephant was given large share [of cake]. Tilly, Clara and Tony behaved very nicely and lifted their piece of cake with their trunks to their mouths, but old Pitt opened his mouth wide and acted as though he expected to have the whole cake shoved in.”6
What a party this must have been! What an exciting ten days it must have been for the children of Hammond! And what a smell must have been left behind in the Tapper garage when the elephants got back on the train, and headed to the next city. I am grateful that Margaret wrote about the event “so that she would remember this occasion always.”
“Change Residence,” The Lake County Times, 7 Aug 1908, Friday, p. 2, col. 2; digital images, NewspaperARCHIVE (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 21 Feb 2016).
“Circus is Loading for Hammond,” The Times, 4 Nov 1922, front page, col. 4; digital images, NewspaperARCHIVE (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 29 Jan 2017).
“Orphans of Region to be Greeted,” The Gary Evening Times, 6 Nov 1922, front page, col. 5; digital images, NewspaperARCHIVE (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 29 Jan 2017).
“The Shrine Circus At Hammond,” The Times, 20 Nov 1922, page 6, col. 6; digital images, NewspaperARCHIVE (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 29 Jan 2017).