Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The hand seemed to reach out of the coffin ...

For the 58th edition Carnival of Genealogy, a group of us genealogy bloggers have committed to write a haunting story or weird tale taken from our family's history in honor of Halloweeeeeeen. Also it has been suggested that we keep from naming the subjects of our story so that readers might guess who they are. That would be difficult to do in my case unless the reader is a member of my family who rarely reads this blog. On the other hand, the reader could guess whether this story is fact or fiction, or perhaps creative non-fiction. I do not know if the following story is true or not, but as they say, there is always a grain of truth in family tradition.

Below, on the right, is the subject of my story, and for now, I'll call her simply "Grossmom". She will be identified after the deadline for submissions has passed. As a hint to her identity, she immigrated to this county in early 1900s and settled in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Also, she had converted to Roman Catholicism in order to wed her first husband, Joseph (surname temporarily withheld). Grossmom was Joseph's second wife, and she was married into a family of nine step children, seven of whom were still under the marrying age. As you might know, converts are usually quite zealous about their "new" religion, and Grossmom was indeed a zealous convert. She assumed all of her step-children would marry within the Catholic faith. It was the Eleventh Commandment.

Image: "Grossmom", about 1918, and her niece. For this story, you might take notice of the beaded necklace that Grossmom is wearing.

However, as time progressed, a daughter married a German immigrant who was a Lutheran, and moved to the north end of Pittsburgh. Grossmom showed her disapproval by withholding visits to her daughter's family, essentially disowning her. I think it is interesting that Grossmom's husband's behavior was quite different. He would often take the bus, alone, to his daughter's home for a visit.

I might add that a similar situation grew up in another branch of the family in which the mother seemed to show disdain for any family member who married a non-Catholic. And again, the father of the family showed indifference. Is this because men are just disinterested in a son or daughter's choice of faith, or is it that men believe that some romantic idea takes precedence over religious matters? I wonder what comments will come in response to this rather sexist notion.

In any case, Grossmom soon faced the fact that her step-son fell in love with not only a non Catholic but also a DIVORCED non-catholic with a son from her previous marriage. Oh, Heaven forbid. Despite Grossmom's objections, Frank Joseph Austel married the former Gladys Henshaw around 1924. Joseph was an adventuresome soul who had served two enlistments in the military before finally settling down in marriage. He certainly had a mind of his own. Seeing the beautiful lady he married, I can see why Frank disregarded his step mother's objections.

But here's the weird part of this story. It occurred during the funeral service of Frank Austel who died at the age of 46 years. Grossmom raised enough courage and forgiveness to attend the service. As she kneeled over the coffin, and as she described later in a shaking voice, a hand seemed to rise from the coffin, grab her cultured pearl necklace, and pull her closer. The force was so strong that the necklace broke and pearls darted everywhere across the floor. A granddaughter of Grossmom, Martha Imfang, who was 24 years old at time, told me that she ran after the scattered pearls to retrieve them. The pearls could have been restrung. However, Grossmom refused to have anything more to do with that pearl necklace.

NOTE after submission: Grossmom in the story above is none other than the former Rosa Friedrich, of Canton Thurgau, Switzerland. Rosa was about half the age of Joseph Austel when he took her as his second wife in 1897. Soon after Joseph died in 1924, Rosa remarried the widowed Joseph Poeschl. Joseph Austel and Rosa are buried together under the same tombstone at Braddock Catholic (All Saints) Cemetery, near Pittsburgh, PA.

For other weird and haunting tales submitted by Genealogy Bloggers for the 58th Edition, Carnival of Genealogy go to Jasia's Creative Gene


Jasia said...

That is indeed an eerie story, Bob! Strange things do happen. Who knows about that pearl necklace. I've always heard, "pearls are for tears". Perhaps she spilled her pearls instead of her tears...

TK said...

True or not, it makes a really good Haunting tale, Bob!

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Religion has never played a role in who married whom in my family but there have been other falling outs. As you say there is usually a grain of truth in these family stories and this one made me shiver.

Janet Iles said...

An eerie story well told.