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#614 – Dick Bernard: The Summer of 1920

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Several photos are at the end of this post. Click on any to enlarge them.

Entrance to Veterans Memorial Park August 16, 2012

A conversation, a letter, and a visit to three ladies this summer brought to the surface some long ago memories, worth sharing.

Best I know, 1920 in North Dakota was a pretty ordinary year for farmers on the prairie. The horrid World War I had ended two years earlier; the Roaring Twenties were set to begin. It was, in relative terms, probably fairly good times on the prairie.

August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted. It was the Women’s Suffrage amendment. Finally, women had earned the right to vote!

But the summer of 1920 was a bit more dramatic for three farm families, as I had an opportunity to revisit this summer with three surviving first cousins, Marion Placke, Ruby Fitzgerald and Edith Busch.

My grandparents Busch had farmed between Berlin and Grand Rapids ND since 1905; their sister and brother, August Berning and his wife Christine, came in1906 and lived the next farm over, a short mile walk across the pasture (if the bull was nowhere to be seen). Grandma and August’s oldest sister, Kate Placke, lived in the home country, at the base of Sinsinawa Mound, in rural Wisconsin, a few miles from Dubuque Iowa.

Farm families were large then.

By 1920, Kate had been married 25 years and had a dozen children. Grandma Rosa by then had six of her nine children; and Christina nine of her thirteen.

That summer, Rosa and Christina were both pregnant. Christina was carrying twins, and the pregnancy may have been difficult. Rosa had Edith on July 20.

Harvest was looming and while we normally hear stories about the men “trashing” (as Grandma wrote “threshing”), harvest time was where the women’s work was truly never done.

Of course, everyone’s harvest came about the same time, and it was not a good time to share labor between farms.

What to do?

Likely through letter, but possibly telephone as well, It was decided that Kate would come west to help her sisters. Kate probably brought with her the three youngest kids, Lucina, 10, Florence, 7 and Marion, 4. Another sister, Lena Parker, also lived nearby and probably helped as well.

At some point, Christina Berning came home to her parents home, the Wilhelm Busch farm in rural Cuba City, and gave birth to twin daughters on September 25, 1920. Ruby lived, Ruth died in infancy.

Sometime that summer, probably after the harvest, and before Kate Placke and family and the Bernings left for Wisconsin the families gathered at the new Veterans Memorial Park in Grand Rapids.

Grandpa Busch most likely brought out the old ANSCO box camera, which had accompanied them to the prairies 15 years earlier, and took the below group picture. (The camera was last used about 1963 – we know because it had an unused roll of film with an expiration date of 1964 when we opened the box a few weeks ago.)

Life went on.

The Bernings resettled in Dubuque IA, living there till 1933 when the Depression caused them to return to the ND farm during the awful Depression years. The Dubuque plant in which August made radio cabinets closed, and the reasoning was that at the farm they at least could eat. Even that became questionable during the dry years. Uncle Vincent remembers 1934 as the worst of them all.

Busch’s and Berning’s survived the Depression, but barely. The Wisconsin kin seemed to fare quite a bit better.

Seven years after 1920 Verena Busch, then 15, died as a result of a ruptured appendix, the only one of the Busch’s children to not survive childhood; Ruth was the second Berning child to die in infancy; the Placke’s had seen one child die at age three.

Today, there remain only three of the children alive in 1920: Marion, 96; Edith, 90; and Ruby, soon to be 90.

They’ve all lived good long lives.

Thanks for the memories.

Group photo at Grand Rapids Veterans Memorial Park in 1920. Standing at center were the park caretakers, Art and Lena Parker. Lena was the sister of Kate, Rosa and August.

The Busch's Ansco camera, probably brought with them from Wisconsin in 1905

The "innards" of the camera, all wood.

Verena Busch gravestone at St. John's Cemetery Berlin ND

#471 – Dick Bernard: Armistice (Veterans) Day 2011

Friday, November 11th, 2011

UPDATE: A reader sends along this Eyewitness to History link from the actual day/place in 1918.

Today is a unique date: 11-11-11 (November 11, 2011).

It is also Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I, when at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, a moment was taken to recognize the hope that the end of the Great War, was also the beginning of Peace (hope always springs eternal.)

My mother, Esther, then 9 years old, remembered the day vividly: “The hired girl and I were out in the snow chasing chickens into the coop so they wouldn’t freeze when there was a great long train whistle from the Grand Rapids [ND] railroad track [about 4-5 miles away, as the crow flies]. In the house there was a long, long telephone ringing to signify the end of World War I.” (page 122 of Pioneers: The Busch and Berning Family of LaMoure County ND).

WWI was very deadly and confusing: my grandparents and most of the neighbors in their home (Wisconsin) and settlement (ND) communities were German ancestry, first generation American, and spoke German. One of my grandfather Busch’s hired men was killed in the war, and Grandpa wanted to enlist. Mom’s younger sister Mary, born 1913, remembered “there was a lot of prejudice against Germany at that time so the language was kept quiet. Being called a “kraut” wasn’t the nicest thing to hear. Most of the neighbors had German ancestors. Most of them came to the U.S. to avoid compulsory military training.” (p.136)

Esther and Mary’s Great-Uncle Heinrich Busch in Dubuque, a successful businessman who with his parents and brother had migrated from Germany in the early 1870s, wrote a passionate letter, in German, home to his German relatives Nov. 5, 1923, saying in part “The American millionaires and the government had loaned the Allies so many millions that against the will of the common folk, [P]resident Wilson was pulled into the War. England had nine million for newspaper propaganda [for war] in American newspapers about the brutal German and that the German-Americans had come to suffer under it, they were held [arrested] for [being] unpatriotic and were required to come before the court for little things as if they were pro-German. The damned war was a revenge and a millionaire’s war and the common people had to bleed in this bloody gladiator battle…..” (page 271) He went on in the same letter to predict the rise of a regime like the then-unknown Hitler and Nazis because of Germany’s humiliation and economic suffering in defeat.

War was not a sound-bite. History did not begin with Pearl Harbor and WWII….

Armistice Day is still celebrated in Europe, especially.

In the United States, in 1954, the day was re-named Veteran’s Day.

Whether intentional or not, the original intention of Armistice Day has come to be diluted or eroded: rather than recognize Peace; the effort is to recognize Veterans of War.

I’m a Military Veteran myself, so I certainly have no quarrel with recognizing Veterans.

But today I’ll be at the First Shot Memorial on the Minnesota Capitol Grounds, recognizing Armistice Day with other Veterans for Peace. Part of the ceremony will be ringing a common bell, eleven times.

A block or so away the Veterans Day contingent will be gathering at the Vietnam War Memorial.

The same kinds of people; a differing emphasis….

Ten years ago today, November 11, 2001, we were waiting to board our plane from London, England, to Minneapolis.

At precisely 11 AM…well, here’s how I described it in an e-mail March 20, 2003: “One of the most powerful minutes of my life was at Gatwick airport in suburban London on November 11, 2001, when the entire airport became dead silent for one minute to commemorate Armistice Day, which is a far bigger deal in England than it is here. The announcer came on the PA, and asked for reflective silence. I have never “heard” anything so powerful. I didn’t think it was possible. Babies didn’t even cry.”

A year later at the Armistice Day observance of Veterans for Peace at Ft. Snelling Cemetery I related this story again for the assembled veterans.

Today, whether you’re observing Veterans Day, or Armistice Day, remember the original intent of the day.

Peace in our world.

UPDATE – Noon November 11, 2011
Some photos from the Armistice and Veterans Day commemorations on the State Capitol grounds. The ceremonies were about one block apart. I spent time at each. Factoring out the band and other official personnel at the Veterans Day observance, the number in attendance seemed about the same. At the Armistice Day observance, eleven peace doves were released after a bell was rung eleven times. At the Veterans Day observance there was the traditional 21 gun salute. (click to enlarge the photos)

Bell Ringing Ceremony

Some of the eleven doves of peace released at the ceremony.

At the Veterans Day observance at the Vietnam Memorial, Capitol Ground

Statue between the Armistice and Veterans Day observances today, at St. Paul MN