With Abraham Lincoln’s birthday just behind us…he was born on February 12, 1809. Most of us know that Lincoln had no formal education. We know that he gave amazing speeches and that he freed the slaves. We also know that he was assassinated, but there are a number of other Lincoln Facts that I didn’t know, and maybe you didn’t either. One sad fact is that Lincoln lost his mother at the tender age of 9 years old, when she drank poison milk. She wasn’t poisoned, but it turns out that many people died of a strange “milk sickness” that was caused by a cow eating a “poisonous to humans” plant called White Snakeroot. I’m sure it was a horrible time for Lincoln, but his father remarried, and the widow, Sarah Bush Johnston was a kind woman, who got along well with her step-son.
At the age of 21, Abraham Lincoln became a champion wrestler. I don’t know how he would have fared in WWE, but then that is a lot of drama and show too. Nevertheless, he wrestled in approximately 300 matches, and only lost once. It is thought that his long legs helped him lock his opponent down. Lincoln reportedly talked a little smack in the ring too. According to Carl Sandburg’s biography of Lincoln, “Honest Abe once challenged an entire crowd of onlookers after dispatching an opponent: ‘I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.’ There were no takers.” Lincoln’s grappling exploits earned him an “Outstanding American” honor in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Lincoln is also the only president to have personally test-fired rifles outside the White House, including one by my ancestor, Christopher Spencer who was the inventor of the Spencer Repeating Rifle. When Spencer signed his new rifle up for adoption right after the Civil War broke out, it was not well received by the Department of War Ordnance, that felt soldiers would waste ammunition by firing too rapidly with repeating rifles. The unit was also more expensive than Springfield Model 1861 rifled musket in use at the time. Nevertheless, shortly after the famous Battle of Gettysburg, Spencer was able to gain an audience with President Abraham Lincoln, who invited him to a shooting match and demonstration of the weapon on the lawn of the White House. President Lincoln was so impressed with the weapon that he ordered General James Wolfe Ripley to adopt it for production. Unfortunately, Ripley disobeyed the order and continued to use the old single-shooters.
President Lincoln is also responsible for the safety of the presidents that followed him. Yes, there were failures, but without Lincoln’s decision to create the Secret Service on April 14, 1865, just hours before he was assassinated, many presidents in the future would not have had the quality of protection they did. The Secret Service did protect President Lincoln after his death, when grave robbers attempted to steal his body and hold it for a ransom of $200,000 and the release of one of their gang from prison. Their attempt was foiled by the Secret Service that President Lincoln had initiated.
My dear uncle, Bill Spencer, who left us on Christmas day, 2020, was such a favorite of mine. We were a lot alike, and we had many of the same interests. It was Uncle Bill who taught me to play cribbage, but was never one to let me win. I learned to play well, and when I won…I knew I had really won. Back when you could get away with letting your kid drive on your lap, or even themselves with you in the car, well before they were of an age to get a permit, he let me drive to their cabin when we visited. Even my dad was ok with it, so I drove the three of us for quite a while. As a mom, when my kids needed family history information, I knew that my Uncle Bill was the guy to go to. He was the family historian from the time he was eight years old, and I quickly became as obsessed as he was. Uncle Bill did his research the old fashioned was, by making trips to different places to look in cemeteries, county and state records offices, and libraries. It was much harder work back then, and those of us who have been the beneficiaries of Uncle Bill’s hard work, can say that he has done a great work.
Uncle Bill is my dad, Allen Spencer’s older brother. Uncle Bill was ten years younger than his sister, Laura Fredrick, and three years older than his younger sister, Ruth Wolfe. The two boys were in the middle. The family lived many years in Holyoke, Minnesota, and ran a farm there. Uncle Bill, being the oldest son, played a big part in the farming. He, along with mostly my dad and Aunt Ruth helped with haying, and growing the the gardens. Their dad worked for the railroad, and so the farm was largely left to my grandmother, Anna Spencer, and the kids. My Aunt Laura was married during a good part of the younger children’s growing up years. Nevertheless, Uncle Bill and Aunt Laura were very close during his childhood years when their mother was working and Aunt Laura took care of him. They grew to have a close friendship, as well as being siblings.
As they grew older, Uncle Bill and my dad were the definitely the boys of the family. They loved getting into all kinds of trouble. The jumped on the moving trains, even though they had a pass to ride. They played with dynamite, even sinking the gatepost couple of inches. They also loved to go fishing, and often brought home a good catch, which all the family got to enjoy. Even though they were typical boys, I guess they weren’t all bad. I’m sure that when Uncle Bill got to Heaven a little less than a month ago, there was a wonderful reunion between the brothers, as they rest of their family too. It makes me sad to know that all of the siblings are gone to Heaven now, but only for myself and those of us left here. For the siblings it a big celebration. They are all together again. Today would have been Uncle Bill’s 99th birthday…and his first birthday in Heaven. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Bill. We love and miss you very much.
Yesterday, we received the news that our sweet Uncle Bill Spencer had passed away from Covid at the Middle River Health and Rehabilitation Center in South Range, Wisconsin. He was a little under one month from his 99th birthday. Uncle Bill had lived at the Middle River Center for about ten years now, and we have had the opportunity to visit him there twice. I wish it had been more, but we live a long way away from them, so it wasn’t to be. The center was a nice place, and the people there loved Uncle Bill. We could see that the people there had a heart for their residents, and that gave us peace of mind. Uncle Bill tested positive for Covid on December 14th, and was doing ok until the morning of December 25th. By that afternoon, he had gone home to Heaven.
Uncle Bill was the last of my dad’s generation in their parents’ line, and lived the longest of them all. He was the second child of my grandparents, Allen and Anna (Schumacher) Spencer, born in Tomahawk, Wisconsin on January 21, 1922, when his older sister, Laura (Spencer) Fredrick was 10 years old, born August 3, 1912. We don’t know why there was such a distance between the two older children, because the younger three were pretty close together. My dad, Allen Spencer followed on April 27, 1924, and Aunt Ruth (Spencer) Wolfe on November 9, 1925. As they grew, the brothers, William and Allen were good friends as well as siblings. The fact that both were boys gave them many interests in common.
I recall some of their stories told when Uncle Bill came out for a visit in 2006. One of my favorites was about Independence Day celebrations. Growing up on a farm in the Holyoke area of Minnesota, they boys worked to plow, and remove rocks and tree stumps from the fields. This made them experts with dynamite, a fact that we hadn’t heard before. That in itself is very interesting, but they were also kids, and…well mischievous to say the least. Their July 4th tradition was to set off a dynamite blast…at daybreak. When I asked if people got mad at them, they said that they were out in the country, so who cared. Indeed!! One time though, they decided to try something new. Their mom had gone into town, leaving the boys at home. Their curious minds kicked in. They decided to find out what would happen if they set off a stick of dynamite on the top of the gate post. Yikes!! Well, they found out what would happen. When the dynamite exploded, the gate post sunk several inches into the dirt. The gate would no longer close, of course, and he boys immediately set about fixing it before their mom came back from town. They had no desire to find out what she thought of their prank.
While it makes me so sad that my uncle is gone now, I can feel his excitement as he entered Heaven to find his parents and siblings waiting for him. And what a wonderful thought…he was home for Christmas this year. I would imagine the celebration was wonderful. The boys were back together after so many years. I can picture them…just like kids again, filled with excitement, but I can also imagine one other thing. I can hear God saying, “The boys are back together…hide the dynamite!!” God knows his children well, and it simply wouldn’t do for those mischievous Spencer brothers to set off a stick of dynamite, right there on the gate post of the Pearly Gates, and sink one side several inches into the ground!! Nevertheless, I can see their minds clicking, sharp as ever now, thinking…”Hey, lets give that a try!!” Dynamite or not, there is a party going on in Heaven today. Grandma and Grandpa Spencer, and their kids are all together in Heaven again, and that’s worth celebrating. Uncle Bill we all love you very much and we will miss you always. You are in our future now, and we can’t wait to see you again.
My husband’s grandfather, Robert Knox came from a long line of political figures, but he was not a political man. The ancestors who were political were pretty far in the past. There were also some military connections, which he probably never knew about, other than his own family members who served, like his brother Frank Knox. Grandpa’s life fell between wars, so he was not called to serve in the military.
Truth be told, Grandpa was more of a farmer/rancher type. It was where he felt most at home. I will never forget the early years of my marriage to Bob, when Grandpa would spend hours in the family garden growing tons of vegetables, which the women in the family would can to supply vegetables for the coming year. It made Grandpa feel useful in his retirement years.
I think that one of Grandpa’s greatest joys, however, was the day when his great granddaughter, Machelle Cook Moore was born…on his birthday. It gave them a bond much like the one Grandma Knox had with their first great granddaughter, Corrie Schulenberg Petersen, who was born on Grandma’s birthday. I suppose that continued the Grandma first teasing that had gone on their entire marriage, because Grandma was six months older than Grandpa was, and she enjoyed teasing him. And I’m sure he enjoyed it too over the years, but this idea of having a granddaughter born on his birthday…that was cool.
Grandpa left us in 1985, and we still miss him and Grandma. Today would have been his 112th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Grandpa. I know you and all the family who have gone one before are having a great time. We love and miss you very much.
America has been the land of opportunity since its inception, and people often worked years to save enough money to pay for passage to what many considered the promised land. It wasn’t cheap, but the money for passage was just the beginning of the grueling process of becoming a citizen of the United States. They knew some of what they would face, but not all. Still, it did not deter them. For a chance at a better life, they came. Many immigrants came through Ellis Island, passing by the Statue of Liberty on their way. It was their first glimpse of what they considered the symbol of America. Then they went on to Ellis Island, where their pre-entry screening began.
First, they were rigorously questioned…what we call vetting today. They asked things like: “Are you meeting a relative here in America? Who? Have you been in a prison, almshouse, or institution for care of the insane? Are you a polygamist? Are you an anarchist? Are you coming to America for a job? Where will you work? Are you deformed or crippled? Who was the first President of America? What is the Constitution? Which President freed the slaves? Can you name the 13 original Colonies? Who is the current President of the United States?” Providing they passed this first test, they moved on to the next level. Many people these days would take offense at some of these questions…especially the health questions. What they don’t understand is that an unhealthy person or one with a disability could have been a burden to society…even more so than the problems with disabilities today. I know that sounds bad, but they couldn’t afford to take lots of people that the government was going to have to support. They also couldn’t take people with a communicable disease that could cause an epidemic in our country…something we can all understand these days. Every immigrant with a medical condition was marked on their on the shoulder of their clothing with their condition. Things like “PG” for pregnant, “B” for back problems, “SC” for scalp condition, etc. That way, every station down the line knew the problem. Sick children had to be quarantined away from their parents.
Sometimes people had to be held at Ellis Island for a time…weeks and even months, until they got well, or could get someone who would agree to sponsor them with their disabilities. That said, another problem or set of problems occurred. There were minimal beds available at any given time, and people spoke different languages, making communication difficult. Often, fights broke out and had to be settled, and sometimes people had to sleep on the floor. Sometimes, children came over alone. Their parents were dead, and they were sent to live with relatives or maybe to be adopted. Sometimes they were on Ellis Island for months…so long in fact that a playground was build so they could play. A school was started because they needed an education. And sometimes children had to be sent back alone or with a parent if they had one. Some people were rejected. It was part of the process. It was hard…on everyone, but the reward was a better life, if they were accepted. It was tough, and still, they came. They knew it was worth it. The nation has always accepted immigrants. We just expect them to do so legally. The process is difficult, but it is worth it.
My husband’s Uncle Butch Schulenberg is such a sweet man. Bob and I went up to Forsyth, Montana a couple of years ago, and Uncle Butch was so gracious and kind to show me so many pictures of himself and his family. They were pictures we had never seen before, and it was such a treat to receive them, along with the stories that went along with them. Uncle Butch is my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg’s half-brother by their dad’s second marriage, and to me, he is such a precious part of the family. His is loving and kind, and he is a man of integrity and honor.
Uncle Butch, like many of the young men of his era served honorably in the Army after high school, and was one of the lucky guys who got to be stationed in Hawaii part of that time. He did find out that not all of Hawaii is a tropical paradise, when he got to go up to one of the high peaks that are between 10,000 and 13,000 feet, and are the only places where Hawaii gets snow every year. Butch tells me that it was absolutely freezing while they were up there. Yikes!! I had no idea. Still, knowing Butch as I have come to, I know that the views he had while he was in Hawaii were spectacular, and some that he cherishes still today. Butch loves the outdoors, and takes lots of walks near his home. He probably has the best view in Forsyth, Montana, especially if, like Butch, you love taking pictures of sunrises and sunsets. His home overlooks the Yellowstone River, and the sun sets on the horizon behind the river view…making for a spectacular image.
Butch married Charlys Stull on June 25, 1966 and their marriage was blessed with three children, Tadd, Andi Kay, and Heath. They also have seven grandchildren. Their marriage has been blessed with many wonderful years, and is still going strong. They love to travel around, and especially to go visit their children and grandchildren. Butch is also a very strong supporter of the local school teams, and knows the players personally. Forsyth is a small town, so most people know each other, and Butch is well known as an encourager of the teams. What a wonderful way to be known. Of course, I know just how they feel, because Butch is that way with everyone, and I have been privileged to receive his words of praise many times over my writing…something that blesses me more than he could possibly know. Today is Uncle Butch’s 80th birthday. Happy birthday Uncle Butch!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
My aunt, Sandy Pattan is the youngest child of my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer. Being the youngest, gave her a unique perspective concerning her family. The rest of the siblings grew up around each other, so their lives didn’t really seem like anything special. They were kids, doing kid things, but Aunt Sandy was born just two years before her eldest sibling, Evelyn Hushman was married. Her first niece, Susie Young was born just after Aunt Sandy turned three, making her an aunt for the first of many times. As she grew up, her siblings were getting married, working at jobs, and going to school.
Aunt Sandy had a tendency to catch just about every bug that went through, so she also spent more time with her mom during those days when she was sick. That gave her access to the many family stories that her mom told, when they were still fresh on Grandma’s mind. The stores Grandma told were also from a unique perspective these days…one of being there during times we would classify as history. Days of Cowboys and Indians were basically just another day for Grandma, and she made the stories come alive to her youngest child. Of course, being sick was not a blessing, but those stories were…both to Aunt Sandy, and now to any of her family who want to hear them.
I love talking to Aunt Sandy on the phone, because She always has so many interesting things to say. She remembers all those stories, and is happy to share them, and I love hearing them. Her parents were born in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The American Indian Wars raged in this country from 1609 to 1924…probably one of the longest wars ever. Many of us think of growing up in times of wars in other nations, in which our young men might have to fight, as being scary. We think of times like the current unrest as scary. So, imagine having 315 years of wars on our own soil. Of course, none of us would live through all of that period, but many people lived with it for their entire lifetimes. It was always there. It was part of everyday normal life. That was the world my grandparents grew up in. Those of us born after 1924 would really not know what that was like…living with the fear of war that could erupt right in front of us at any moment. Aunt Sandy, like me, loves history very much. It’s like a time machine, giving us a really interesting glimpse into the past. That is probably why we can talk about it for hours.
I’m sure that as a little girl, she loved hearing about things her older siblings were doing. I’m sure it all seemed very glamorous to her. She did get to do some cool things as the youngest, like take a train to Superior, Wisconsin with her mom to visit my mom and her sister, Collene Spencer. Since Bob and I traveled by train a while back, I can relate to that trip. Things were quite likely much different on her trip, because the more modern trains, while not like flying, are more comfortable than their predecessors. To ride miles and miles sitting up straight would be awful. Aunt Sandy has lived an interesting life, and I enjoy talking to her about it. Today is Aunt Sandy’s 75th birthday. I feel very blessed to have her still with us. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Just before midnight on September 7, 1860, a palatial sidewheel steamboat named the Lady Elgin left Chicago bound for Milwaukee. She was carrying about 400 passengers. She was returning to Milwaukee from a day-long outing to Chicago. Also on the water that night was the Augusta, a schooner filled with lumber. The captain of the Lady Elgin took notice of the Augusta around 2:30am. The night was stormy, and visibility was poor. Storm clouds raged and the waves were intense.
Suddenly, the lumber on the Augusta shifted, causing the two ships to collide. Instantly, the party atmosphere that had been on the Lady Elgin, turned to chaos and confusion. The Augusta received only minor damage in the collision, and kept right on sailing to Chicago. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence in those days. It’s possible that the Augusta assumed that if it wasn’t badly hurt, that larger ship probably wasn’t either. I can’t say for sure, but I know that this collision, in which the Augusta did not stop is not the first I have heard of such an incident in Maritime history. A large hole in the side of the Lady Elgin doomed the ship, which sank within thirty minutes. Only three lifeboats were able to be loaded and set into the water. The ships large upper hurricane deck fell straight into the water and served as a raft for some forty people.
The ship had crashed two to three miles off the shore of Highland Park, but the waves were so strong that survivors, bodies, and debris were all swept down to the northern shore of Winnetka. In those days, the lakeshore in this area consisted of a narrow strip of beach rising up to clay cliffs almost 50 feet high. An angry line of breakers churned up from the storm were crashing ashore. Around 6:30am the first of the three lifeboats made it to shore in the vicinity of the Jared Gage house…which still stands at 1175 Whitebridge Hill Road. A desperate call for assistance went out to the town from the Gage house. The people of Winnetka rode horses down to Northwestern University and the Garrett Biblical Institute to find any young men to help pull out survivors. The regional newspapers were quickly informed by telegraph. The newly completed Chicago and Milwaukee train line brought people to Winnetka to help as word of the accident spread. The effort to save the people on the Lady Elgin would have been a phenomenal feat today, but it was carried out in 1860, making it even more amazing.
The crowds on the bluffs and beaches watched as pieces of wreckage washed up near the site of the present Winnetka water tower. By 10:00am, the bluffs were littered with people who had been strong enough to withstand the fierce storm of the previous night. Lastly came the hurricane deck with Captain Wilson and eight survivors whom the storm had thus far spared. Then, before their eyes, this storm-battered deck was dashed to pieces on an offshore sandbar and all on board were lost.
The storm left a tremendous undertow, creating the tragic situation…the exhausted victims had drifted close enough to the Winnetka shore to see it, only to be held back by the breakers. As the horrified onlookers watch, they died in full view of the people on shore, who could do nothing but watch. Men were lowered from the bluff with rope tied around their waists in attempts to pull people in to safety. One Evanston seminary student, Edward Spencer, is credited with saving 18 lives. Spencer is said to have repeatedly rushed into the sea, being battered by debris in order to save more people. I do not know, but I suspect that he is some relation to me on my Spencer side, and I feel honored that he was such a heroic figure. Spencer is said to have wondered many times in the aftermath, “Did I do my best?” It is the mark of a hero, never to feel like they did enough. Another man, Joseph Conrad, was said to have pulled 28 to safety. Other unknown rescuers pulled in survivors up and down the Winnetka and North Shore coastline.
The Gage house, the Artemas Carter house at 515 Sheridan Road, and other Winnetka residences served as temporary hospitals. The newly-built Winnetka train depot served as a morgue. Winnetka residents brought food and clothing for the survivors. It is estimated that 302 people lost their lives that day, the exact number is unknown, as the ships manifest went down with the ship. The 1860 census shows only 130 residents in the town of Winnetka. The tragedy captured the nation’s attention, but was quickly overshadowed by the 1860 elections and the Civil War. Such is the way of things. An tragic event is only well remembered, until another comes to take its place.
I never had the opportunity to get to know my Grandpa Allen Luther Spencer, because he passed away before my parents were married, and 4½ years before I was born. Life was not always easy for my grandfather. His first marriage ended in divorce, following the death of his daughter, Dorothy, which was quickly followed by the birth of his son, Norman. The loss of a child can be so devastating, that many people never recover, and many marriages fail. It was a dark time for him, until he met my grandmother.
After their marriage and four more children, Laura in 1912, Bill in 1922, Allen (my dad) in 1924, and Ruth in 1925, it looked like his life was on the right track again. Of course, like many other people, this good period was followed by the Great Depression. Thankfully, my grandfather was a carpenter (mostly for the Great Northern Railway), and as near as I can tell, had a job throughout the Great Depression. Still, times were tough, and I’m sure the wages were not what a family of six really needed to live. Most people struggled during the Great Depression.
My grandfather was a product of his circumstances, and the times he lived in, and the two things together created a stressful life for him and his second family. Much more was expected of the two older children, and feelings were raw at times. The younger two children really never remember his being so hard on them. Grandpa had specific ideas of things the children should learn and do. All of the children learned to play the violin and some learned the guitar. My Aunt Laura never really liked learning to play the violin, but the rest of the children did…or at least they did later. Grandpa Spencer may not have been an easy teacher, or maybe it’s just hard to learn from your dad.
No matter what kind of a man my grandfather was, and whether circumstances led to his troubles, his children loved him very much. Like any family, kids and parents “lock horns” sometimes. That doesn’t mean you don’t love them. When my grandfather was dying, my dad drove from Casper, Wyoming to Superior, Wisconsin, 980 miles, in 17 hours. That might not seem like a big deal these days, but cars didn’t do what they can do now, and speeds were different then too. Needless to say, my dad made it home to see his dad before he passed away, and he was always thankful that he made the trip, and always thankful that he saw his dad one more time. I only wish I could have met him, and gotten to know him too. I feel like I missed out, on my grandfather and my Grandma Spencer, who passed away when I was 2½ months old. Happy birthday in Heaven Grandpa Spencer. I look forward to meeting you someday soon.
I can’t imagine having my first child on my own birthday, but it does happen, and did happen for my grandmother, Anna Schumacher Spencer and her first born, Laura Spencer Fredrick. Then, to top it off, it would be ten years before Grandma’s second child, my Uncle Bill was born. No one that I have talked to is sure why there would be ten years in between those first two children. After my Uncle Bill was born in 1922, my dad, Allen would follow in 1924 (15 months after Uncle Bill), and Aunt Ruth in 1925 (18½ months after my dad). Nevertheless, Aunt Laura was an only child for ten years, and during that time, she and her mom were very close. They did everything together. Of course in the early years, that made sense, since Aunt Laura was a little girl who didn’t go to school or anything, but even later, there were wonderful trips with family and friends into town and shopping.
During those early years, Grandpa Allen Spencer, worked a number of jobs. At one time, he worked in the lumber business, taking his little family to the camp in the middle of the woods. I’m sure it was rather a lonely existence for Grandma, but she had her little daughter to keep her company, and that helped a lot. For long months they didn’t really go anywhere much, but there might have been a few other wives living in the camps. Still, mostly it was Grandma and Aunt Laura. I can imagine the games they played and the walks they took. There wouldn’t have been much else to do, so mother and daughter would have bonded over the long hours spent together. It was always so obvious to me just how proud Grandma was of her well-behaved little girl.
Later, there were trips taken to see family. Grandma’s little family of three was excited to be going and the other family and friends were happy to see them. Aunt Laura always seemed to stay close to Grandma, but maybe that was just for the pictures. Aunt Laura was very well behaved, a credit to her mother’s upbringing. She was really quite grown up for her age, and in fact, when Uncle Bill arrived, she was his nanny at just ten years old. Grandma was running a hotel by then, and Grandpa had to work too, so Aunt Laura needed to help, and now she had a job too. I’m sure it made her feel grown up. She was very close to her brother, just like her mother had been with her. Like mother, like daughter. Today is the shared birthday of my grandmother and Aunt Laura. Both are in Heaven now, and we love and miss them very much.