FAMILY HOME PAGE
As written by Josephine McGee Keller, June 1977
Note: This computer transcription is being made verbatim from her typewritten ms. by her nephew, Robert A. Hervey, October 2001. Care has been taken not to make any alterations, corrections, deletions or gratuitous editorial changes. See the “Riemenschneider Tree” file below for the ancestral lines.
My mother LINA CHARLOTTE RIEMENSCHNEIDER McGEE was born December 22, 1869 in Brahorn’s Mansion on top of the Palisades in Weehawken, N.J. and died in Bergenfield, N.J. July 7, 1961 at the age of 93 and was buried in the McGee family plot in Fairview Cemetery, Fairview, N.J.
My mother was one of ten children born to ANDREAS RIEMENSCHNEIDER, who was born in Hessen, Germany in 1825 and died February 3, 1904 at 79 years of age in Union Hill (now Union City), N.J. and ANNA MARIE GOEBELS born in Cologne, Germany 1838 and died August 1915 at the age of 77 in Jeffersonville, Sullivan Co., N.Y., her summer home. She, also, is buried in the Riemenschneider family plot in Fairview Cemetery, Fairview, N.J.
My mother, was third oldest child of this union. The oldest was Ida, then Rudolph, mother, Frederick, Mollie, Olga and Alma (twins) Martha, Otto and Josephine.
After my mother was born the family moved to Hudson Boulevard, Union Hill. They later bought property on the main thorofare (sic), Bergenline Avenue, where they had a large Spanish influence home (veranda on the second floor). My grandfather was a very successful business man who operated a feed and grain store as well as a trucking business. However, he was a very generous and trusting man and extended too much credit to his customers. As a result, he lost almost all of his assets due to these people and the PANIC (depression). Naturally, he became very discouraged after his losses and being used to living as the well-to-do did in those days, he just gave up. My grandparents up to that time entertained often and lavishly; they always had a cook, maids and even a stable boy. Often they had guests who stayed with them a year at a time! However, when the business failed my grandmother, who was a most efficient and intelligent individual, took over the reins and rebuilt their fortune. This she could not have done without the assistance of her oldest children; though very young, had to go to work to help her during these rough times.
Although the finances of the family changed drastically, my mother never forgot their former life style. She never went out without being impeccably dressed, hat, gloves and purse. She developed into a very strong and fearless woman, afraid of nothing and no one and her children followed in her footsteps.
In 1890 my mother married JOHN McGEE, born September 10, 1853 in East Mauch Chunk, Pa. My father was employed as Chief Engineer on one of the West Shore railroads tugboats. My parents bought their first home in Brooklyn, N.Y. where my father worked. Six of their eight children were born there; Mollie September 25, 1891; Rose October 15, 1893, Martha October 16, 1895; James July 6, 1898; John July 27, 1900; Andrew October 18, 1902; Josephine was born in Union Hill, N.J. November 1, 1904; also Hugh Edward March 19, 1909.
My parents bought our home in Union Hill in 1903 where we lived until 1913 when they bought a working farm in Jeffersonville, Sullivan County, N.Y; my mother preparing for my father’s retirement. After it was bought my father decided he did not want to retire and returned to Union Hill and continued working on the tugboats. When James became old enough he left the farm to work with my father. By this time, Martha was employed as a governess for the children of a wealthy family in Woodcliff, N.J. and Mollie and Rose were nurses in a Middletown, N.Y. hospital. That left, Mother and three brothers and me on the farm.
My mother, with the help of my brothers, operated the farm very efficiently and profitably but after working all summer and seeing our fields of rye, corn and oats flattened by a terrible wind and rain storm she decided after spending three years on the farm she had had enough and we returned to our home in Union Hill.
My parents kept the farm a few years longer, using it as our summer home. It was a beautiful farm, on a state road. The house had seven large bedrooms upstairs, two large living rooms, a bedroom, a large dining room and a big kitchen with pantry downstairs. We had a huge barn, big chicken coop, an ice house, a play house with attic which was mine, plenty of well and spring water and a beautiful fast running brook. The farm totaled almost one hundred acres, equally divided by the state road. We had a woods of maple trees which were tapped for making maple syrup in the spring and there was a good sprinkling of pine trees too. Our pastures were always green and our cattle well fed. We kept a team of large grey horses and raised cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, guinea hens and geese. Our garden produced enough food for the winter. We raised delicious potatoes. Our large apple orchard produced beautiful apples; some used for cooking and eating and the rest were made into cider and vinegar.
We also had an old graveyard on the farm – so you see, we had a complete farm!
The boys hunted; for there was plenty of game and caught many trout in the brook. It was a wonderful experience for adolescents, even though we had to walk two and one half miles, each way, to school which began at nine o’clock and ended at four o’clock.
After my parents sold the farm we rented and old farm which we named FROG HOLLOW. Here we spent our summers and later when we went to work our vacations were spent here. As we married, we returned for the summer with our friends and families who enjoyed it as much as we did, swimming, fishing, hiking, hunting, berry-picking and enjoying life to its fullest.
Both my maternal grandparents were musical; they sang beautifully, I was told. They were active members of various singing groups. Grandmother’s brother was an opera singer in Germany. He was on his way to America when he became sick aboard ship and died before reaching New York City. Her sister Katherine Appold lived in Union Hill and would spend time with her in Jeffersonville. And the two women would sing duets from various German Operas, in which they were well versed.
Grandmother started painting very late in life and did some very fine work without formal instruction. After thinking about this, I remember my mother telling me that they always had a number of “guests”, usually artists who stayed with them. Perhaps Grandmother received assistance from them. Later in life, she became deaf and practically blind.
Grandfather, in his day was quite a “dandy”, very well dressed at all times. He was a member of Hexheimer’s Riding Academy of Weehawken and you had to be SOMEBODY to be a member of that group. [Note: Grandfather was Andreas. (RH)]
As to my grandfather’s occupation – he left Germany a very young man, due to illness. He landed in Cuba where he had an uncle who had a vast sugar plantation. He stayed there some time, later moving to New York City where his brother Henry resided. The hotel in which they lived was owned by a wealthy widow. Although she was older than my grandfather, she was taken by his good manners and looks. He was reported to be a very handsome man being described on his U.S. Passport as 5’9” tall, large blue eyes, curly brown hair, straight nose, proportioned mouth with round chin, oval face and healthy complexion. She died not too many years after their marriage, he moved to Hoboken, N.J. where he had another brother John. Here he met a very lovely young woman and fell in love with her. They had two daughters, Amelia and Bertha. I have seen photographs of both of them and can truthfully say “they were beautiful young women”. [Note: Cousin Martha McGee still has his Passport, signed by then Secretary of State, William H. Seward. - RH]
When Amelia was about fourteen or fifteen years old a business man visited my grandfather. His name was George Kooper. He took one look at Amelia and asked my grandfather for her “hand”. My grandfather, jestingly, said “Why don’t you wait until she is at least sixteen”. They completed their negotiations and Mr. Kooper left. Believe it or not, on Amelia’s 16th birthday who should appear but Mr. Kooper to claim Amelia for his bride. They were married later and she lived a life of luxury in New York City and Oceanio, (sic) N.J. where they maintained a summer home. She had servants and everything and anything money and a doting husband could buy. He adored her all his life. It was a very happy marriage. Later, as Mr. Kooper lay dying, he told the nurses to “light all the lamps so that I can see my beautiful Amelia once more” and then he died.
Bertha married Louis Hauenstein of Union Hill, brother of the Judge, but this marriage was not a happy one and later they were divorced. She then married a Mr. O’Meara. They had a son, an actor, who was killed in an automobile accident in California. He and his widowed mother had resided there. Bertha visited us in 1931 in Union Hill. It was a very touching moment for me when I saw them greet each other after many years. She came east to see her family and asked at that time to be buried with her father whom she adored. That was the last time we saw her. She died soon after she reached California and, as she requested, her ashes were buried with her father in the family plot in Fairview Cemetery, Fairview, N.J.
Returning again to my grandfather’s second wife, who died very young, leaving him with their two young daughters, Amelia and Bertha. He had to have someone take care of the children and supervise his home so he employed my grandmother, whose sister, Katherine Appold lived in Union Hill at that time. Eventually, he fell in love with my grandmother and they married. This union produced ten children and lasted over thirty years; he died in 1904.
Before marrying my grandmother, his third wife, grandfather was a partner in a paper box manufacturing business. His partner invented the machine which made the boxes; a revolutionary method. Both partners delivered, by hand the boxes ordered - R.H. Macy being one of their customers. Eventually, they both became bored with the business and sold it and the invention, dividing the money – each receiving $80,000.00 as their share.
Later my grandfather went into the grain and feed business, as well as trucking. He owned a number of brown stone houses in Garden Street, Hoboken (a fine residential section at that time) and a large piece of property on Bergenline Avenue, Union Hill, N.J. and a summer home in Jeffersonville, Sullivan County, N.Y.
Grandfather was the first tax collector in Union Hill. It was not unusual for him to be thrown out bodily when he called at homes to collect.
My great great grandfather Riemenschneider was “shanghaied, as we say” by some Hessians, put in uniform and shipped to America as a Hessian Mercenary soldier to fight with the British during the American Revolutionary War.
When my mother, LINA RIEMENSCHNEIDER McGEE was a very young child her father took her by boat up the Hudson River to Newburgh, N.Y. to visit the Newburgh Revolutionary Museum. Upon viewing the war mementos, flags, etc. he spied an old worn leather boot. Upon examination he saw his grandfather’s logo on it and unashamedly burst into tears. He related to my mother how his old grandfather, at bedtime, told him stories of the war and the hardships he had suffered “losing his boot during a skirmish and having to go on without it”. He also described in detail how very beautiful this country was with its mountains and lush farmland and rivers fairly jumping with fish (the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, no doubt). He advised him to come to America when he grew up. [Note: The Hessian was Heinrich. (RH)]
When our girls, Kathleen and Barbara Keller, were quite young, we took them to the Museum. I looked all over for the famous Riemenschneider Boot but couldn’t find it. I finally inquired and was told they were making “changes” and they had carefully packed it away for it was one of their “treasures”.
I suppose they were surprised that a descendant of its original owner would ask to see it after all those years.
After leaving Germany, my grandfather saw to it that he sent money to his father regularly. When he was thirty years old he decided to visit his old home and see it once more. When his ship docked, he hired a carriage and driver. As they were riding along the road they passed an old man. My grandfather instructed the driver to stop. Grandfather asked the old man if he would like a ride and the old man accepted. As they were riding the old man talked of many things and among them that he had his own home and that his married niece had moved in with him but he was quite unhappy with the arrangement. He said he had very little money left, his niece having taken advantage of his age and situation and he didn’t know how long he would be able to tolerate it since he was treated poorly by her. He also said he had a son who lived in America but that he hadn’t heard from him in years. By this time, my grandfather had apprised (sic) the situation and told the old man he would have the driver take him to his home. On arriving at the home, the old man got out of the carriage as did my grandfather, both entering the house together. It was only then that the old man realized that the man who had given him the ride was his own son Andreas! It must have been great reunion for both of them. After telling his father that he had been sending him money regularly, they knew the niece had been taking it without his permission. Naturally, things were straightened out right there.
As was the custom in those days, a room in this house belonged to my grandfather as long as he lived. He was not interested in living in Germany, being an American citizen. Since he was a very generous person, before leaving for America he signed his rights to the room over to his cousin who promised faithfully to treat the old man as he should have been all along. This she did until the day he died.
When I was a little girl my grandmother lived in Union Hill and in her living room hung an almost life size picture of her girl friend CHARLOTTE WOLTERS. She told me she used to help Charlotte carry “wash” her mother had launderd to her customers (the Wolters were very poor and this augmented their income). Charlotte and grandmother used to play on the steps of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Cologne, German. Their games always included singing and acting.
When we were in Vienna, Joe and I ate in and “old” restaurant, a “must” according to the travel brochures. On our way out, I stopped to look at some old photographs on the wall and what did I see but a picture of CHARLOTTE WOLTERS. She was, as I said, always interested in the theatre and as a result, became one of Germany’s renown tragediennes. The cashier was quite shocked when I told her that Charlotte was my grandmother’s girl friend. Grandmother and Charlotte always corresponded. Later Charlotte had a lover – none other than Maximilian (Napoleon’s brother) Emperor of Mexico. Charlotte was not permitted to write to him so she sent her love letters to my grandmother who forwarded them to Maximilian for her. Grandmother said Charlotte was the mother of Maximilian’s son who died at an early age. Later Charlotte married Count Sullivan.
I have an autographed picture of Charlotte Wolters dressed in a gypsy costume; a smaller on of the picture which hung in my grandmother’s living room (a costume from one of her theatrical roles). Aunt Jo Riemenschneider gave it to me before she died. It is dated “1866”.
When we went to Mexico we went to Chapaultepec where we saw Maximilian’s portrait – he was riding a magnificent white prancing horse – a beautiful picture of a very handsome man. No wonder Charlotte fell for him!
Grandmother had a friend when she was a child whose father worked in St. Peter’s Cathedral. As children do, they coaxed her father to take them into the “cellar” of St. Peter’s Cathedral where they saw the various devices of torture which were used – racks, etc. etc.
German was the only language taught in Union Hill public schools (it was a German town) until the town passed an ordinance changing this to English. The Irish and Italian immigrant children, as a result, spoke, read and wrote German equally as well as the German born children.
My Uncle Rudolph was very fond of walnuts which were very expensive when he was a boy. He was asked before Christmas what he would like and he said “Walnuts”. On Christmas Eve the children were ushered into the parlor to receive their many gifts. Among his was a bushel of WALNUTS!
When my mother was a little girl her father surprised her one day with a little wagon drawn by a Billy Goat which she loved. This goat would sneak out of the barn whenever he got the chance. When he was good and ready he would return home by himself bleating and staggering all the way and no one knew why. One day he was followed and they then knew WHY. The goat would walk behind one of the town’s saloons and drink his fill of stale BEER which the saloon keeper had thrown out! Needless to say, when he arrived home he would lie down and sleep.
Uncle Otto, evidently, was a very strong little boy. He used to go in the stable whenever he could sneak away and therefor (sic) was the pet of the hired men. One day one of the men lifted him up and told him to “punch me hard”. Otto wanted to get down and was angry with the man, so he did as he was told. He punched the man right on his nose which bled profusely. He was put down and the man said “You certainly are the STUFF” and from then on he had the nickname of “STUFF”.
When he was a young man he was very athletic and went in for boxing. He was a sparing (sic) partner for Joe Jeanette (at that time a very well known prize fighter).
Uncle Otto could whistle and had a beautiful basso profundo voice. Before he married Aunt Lucy Steffans, she, an accomplished pianist, used to accompany him at his recitals. On a number of occasions he sang with his cousin Clara Appold in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Clara was a paid soloist at the Cathedral.
Uncle Otto was visiting my grandmother in Jeffersonville when I was with her for the summer. Childlike, after listening him whistle, I asked if he could play a musical instrument. He said “I’ll show you” and walked away. In a few minutes he returned with a piece if elderberry bush out of which he made a “fife” and then played a number of tunes on it for me.
My mother’s brother Fred was a sickly child. He suffered from asthma all his life. When he was about fifteen years old he had a very bad attack and the doctor advised that he be sent out west. A local family had moved to Denver so my grandparents wrote them asking if they would take Fred as a boarder until he regained his health, which they did. After regaining his health, my grandmother insisted that he return to Union Hill. Later he used to tell stories of Colorado and how much he would have liked to remain there.
This is one of the stories he told:
One evening he went to “town” and overheard some men talking about a haunted mansion. Being young and daring, he checked the story. The owner told him that after the original owners of the mansion had died no one would go in it because of “eerie noises” which were heard. The owner said he would reward anyone who would stay in the mansion over night to prove it wasn’t haunted. So Fred volunteered and spent the night there alone.
The next morning the owner arrived to see if Fred had survived and found him waiting with the solution to the problem.
The mansion was large and drafty – Denver’s altitude being about a mile above sea level and, therefore, very windy.
In order to communicate with the help (the cook and maids’ quarters being downstairs) the original owners had “speaking tubes” installed throughout the rooms.
Fred explained that when the mansion was abandoned and empty of its furnishings, the rooms “echoed” and the least bit of draft affected the “speaking tubes” which caused the “eerie” sounds.
The owner was very pleased with Fred’s solution. As a reward, as he had promised, the owner presented Fred with a very beautiful gold watch which he had for many years.
Amelia married George Kooper
Mollie married Louis Holtje
Bertha married Hauenstein & O’Meara
Olga married Westhofen
Ida married Michael Wolpert
Alma died unmarried
Lina Married John McGee
Martha married Henry Sebecke
Rudolph married Katherine Weil
Otto married Lucy Steffans
Josephine - unmarried
Frederick - unmarried
I also have a picture of my great grandmother Goebels and both my grandparents but these are not dated.
Aunt Jo Riemenschneider gave me a page from a German newspaper called THE SONNTAGBLATT STATTS ZEITUNG --- HEROLD, dated May 13, 1951 showing the work of TILMAN RIEMENSCHNEIDER, an ancestor of ours. The article was written by Olga Hochstadter, in German. Some of Tilman’s wood carvings are exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Cloisters) in New York City as well as in the Cleveland Museum, Cleveland, Ohio. These works were purchased (Cleveland Museum) with an endowment from the Hanna estate. The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, N.C. also has one of his works. He was a master sculptor who not only worked in linden wood but also stone (alabaster). His works are also exhibited in the Louvre, Paris, France, Rothenberg, Creglingen and Aschaffenburg Germany.
Tilman Riemenschneider was a very religious catholic and said before he carved one of his beautiful works he always had a “vision” from above. He was a peaceful person and his is reflected in his art. The facial expressions depict this inner peace which he had and has never before or until this time been equaled.
I also have a page (picture) which was published in LIFE MAGAZINE of his St. Stephen which at that time was in a church in Germany, done in the early 16th century.
When Barbara Keller Saul visited Rothenburg (sic) she surprised the guide by saying “I am a direct descendant of TILMAN RIEMENSCHNEIDER”.
Click here for the Riemenschneider Family Tree.
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