Family Secrets

June 24, 2010

“Every family has secrets. It’s what we do with them that counts.”
—Kay Elizabeth, Editor/Owner, The Cuckleburr Times

A few months ago I read an intriguing, at times heartbreaking, book called Annie’s Ghost, by Steve Luxenberg. It’s the story of his mother and how she hid the existence of her disabled sister throughout most of their lives.

The story initially caught my attention because it takes place in Detroit. My attention then grew to fascination because Luxenberg comes through with this ace investigative journalism—as well he should since he’s an associate editor at The Washington Post.

Luxenberg’s methodical research into his family’s secret interests me because we too have a family secret—unanswered questions that I would love to further investigate.

And like Luxenberg, who at times questioned revealing his mother’s secret, I too have been unsure of what to do with information many of my family members already know, but others do not.

Here’s a quote from Luxenberg’s blog. It’s the comment a reader made to him, and I’m taking it as my cue.

“I was talking about your book at a family gathering, and it led to a conversation about some family secrets that we had always avoided discussing. Thanks for making it safe for us to talk about things that we needed to bring out.”

—Comment made to Steve Luxenberg from reader of Annie’s Ghost

So here goes…

Years ago, there was an afternoon when three generations of my maternal family sat reflecting on the past—my grandmother Ruth, my mother Carol and I. We talked about things we remembered, some of them funny, some of them not so much. Naturally, I was intrigued by the story of Ruth’s father, Carl Hooge, who was a Chicago policeman and shot in the line of duty.

After our time together, my mom was upset. In private, she told me Ruth’s father was indeed shot in the line of duty, but there were rumors he wasn’t shot by someone else. He shot himself.

Does Grandma know this, I wondered?

My mother didn’t think so, and she wanted it to stay that way. She was insistent that Ruth be allowed to keep the noble image she’d always had of her father.

Well, it’s been more than 15 years since that afternoon together. My dear mother Carol died in 1999. And Ruth died seven years later at the wondrous age of 97. As far as we know, Ruth always believed her father was shot in the line of duty.

So what of those rumors? Are they true?

After reading Annie’s Ghost, I emailed Steve Luxenberg. He emailed me back. He even called. What a super guy!

Steve offered many helpful suggestions on how to research Carl Hooge’s death. He also did a little looking himself—apparently the reporter in him couldn’t resist. He sent me a Chicago Daily Tribune article, dated June 13, 1917, which reads:

Policeman Carl Hooge of Deering Street Station, 36 years old, 5340 South Wood Street, shot himself in the head while on duty at the South Halsted Street bridge yesterday. He died at the People’s hospital. A sealed letter to his wife will be opened at the inquest today.

Policeman Martin McFadden, who went to relieve him at 6 o’clock in the evening, found him in the bridge shanty shot. Hooge’s revolver lay beside him.

“So long, old pal,” Hooge murmured as he sank into unconsciousness.

No cause for the suicide is known to his comrades of the Deering Street station, where he had served four years.

—Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922); Jun 13, 1917;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 – 1986) pg. 17

A copy of Carl’s death certificate verifies this same thing and states that the officiating undertaker was Edward Hornburg, Carl’s brother-in-law.

Not too long ago, I called Edward Hornburg’s grandson. Mr. Hornburg is, at the least, a third generation mortician for the Hornburg & Sons Funeral Homes. He’s recently retired and has closed the doors of his family’s business.

Imagine the stories that come with three generations of working with people in their greatest time of need. Perhaps Mr. Hornburg knew something of ours? After all, we are distantly related and stories do get passed along.

Mr. Hornburg, however, said he knew nothing.

I asked if it was possible for Carl’s death to be publicized in the newspaper, yet facts kept so quiet that Ruth never learned of them, even later in life?

“Yes,” he said, in the nicest of ways. “In those days if something seemed disgraceful, they would have just kept it under wraps. They didn’t want to bring shame to themselves, they thought it was a reflection on their family.”

Here’s where the questions start to arise, some of them hypothetical and some of them ethical.

First and foremost, did Carl really shoot himself?

Could it have been a murder and cover-up?

Was it right or wrong for an 8-year-old girl to be safeguarded from the truth? To be allowed to grow up with the confidence that develops when a daughter can idolize her father?

Did Ruth ever know the truth? Did she choose to ignore it? Hide it?

And finally, there’s the question of transparency. Transparency—what a cliché word this is nowadays. We’ve become such an open society and we talk about everything, including family secrets.

Should we talk about ours? Here’s why I think we should.

Of the many possibilities concerning his death, one is that Carl could have suffered from depression. Knowing what we know today of this merciless disease—that it’s a medical condition no different than diabetes or heart disease—it’s important we be aware of our family’s full medical history. Our possible medical history.

Talking about Carl’s death also compels us to think with compassion. We wonder about his life, his work, his agonies. We sympathize with his wife Emma and the decisions forced upon her. Our hearts ache for his children, his daughter—our grandmother.

And finally, Carl’s death is part of Ruth’s story. It’s who she is. It’s what made her to be. It’s our story, as well.

Certainly, there’s no shame in that.

What do you think?


A Sad and Fearful Week

June 17, 2010

Back in 1917, this must have been a sad and fearful week for an 8-year-old girl. This was the week that little Ruth Hooge heard the awful news her father was dead. This was the week she saw him laid out in a casket in their home and then taken by procession to a cemetery.

Ruth’s father was Carl Hooge, a 36-year-old Chicago policeman, and, according to a Chicago Daily Tribune article dated June 13, 1917, he had been on duty at the South Halsted Street bridge. He died later at the People’s Hospital.

“He was shot in the line of duty,” Ruth always said of her father, when speaking of him decades later to her children and grandchildren, of whom I’m one.

In a 1990 family video, Ruth talks of this week that happened so long ago. Initially, she says she doesn’t remember much. But like the obscure things that embed themselves into a child’s mind, there are some details that stayed with my grandmother throughout her life.

“In those days, you were laid out at home,” says Ruth. “My father was laid out at home in his uniform. I remember we lived upstairs in this 2-flat and he was in the casket in front of the front windows. Right next to that was a bedroom with front windows and Aunt Bert (Hornburg Reimer) took me to that window. A police band was out in front and they played ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’ That song has upset me ever since.”

In the video, Ruth remembers the police band played and marched in front of the hearse all the way from their house to Bethania Cemetery where her father was buried. She says the police department paid for her father’s funeral and gravestone.

“My father — I have the funeral bill, and it was just under $500 — has a big, black marble stone, with gold printing and etching,” recalls Ruth. “My mother and father’s grave is now one of the first ones as you come into this big cemetery. It’s a Lutheran cemetery.”

Ruth also remembers the months after her father died.

“Aunt Bert and her son, my cousin Russell, lived with us for a year or so,” says Ruth. “My mother was getting $75 a month from the police department for our care.”

In the video, I’m still curious about the day her father died. I ask if perhaps a random street person shot him? Or a gangster?

“It was in the line of duty,” Ruth reiterates. “Grandma (Emma Hooge, her mother) never talked about it. She just wouldn’t talk about it.

“But I remember her sending me to a friend of hers — you’ve heard us talk of Marie Milke — and she sent me over there to tell her. They lived in a 2-flat upstairs and was I was in the front hall. She came down the stairs and I told her and she started to cry. The woman in the downstairs flat came out and she (Marie) told her what happened. This woman says, ‘Oh, you poor little orphan!’

“I said, ‘I’m not an orphan! I’ve got a mother!’

“I was eight years old,” says my grandmother.

Carl and Emma Hooge’s gravestone is in Chicago’s
Bethania Cemetery. When you drive in the front entrance off Archer Avenue, the stone is located just to the right.

Pictured here is Ruth’s husband George, probably decades later, tending to Carl’s grave. The handwriting is Ruth’s and is taken from the back of the photo.

Striking garment workers scuffling with policemen, 1915. Chicago Daily News negatives collection DN-0065587. Permission requested and granted from Chicago Historical Society, order #16922.

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich sure is a big news item these days. I happened to be researching Chicago corruption and his name pops up everywhere. Interestingly, for every story on Blagojevich’s alleged dealmaking, bribery and all-around racketeering, there’s a follow up on Chicago’s synonomous past. It seems Blagojevich and the Windy City’s epic cronies may have a few things in common.

“There is a culture of corrupt and history of corruption in Chicago that dates back to 1856 when county commissioners and aldermen were in (scheme) crooked scheme to paint city hall,” says Dick Simpson, Head of the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in this recent Time magazine article.

To visualize this culture, you’ve got to know a little of Chicago’s history. And a fascinating history it is.

Since its beginnings in 1833, Chicago has been a city of immigrants. This was particularly true after its first railways, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, and the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened in 1838. These two systems established the city as a transportation hub between the east and the west.

According to author Edward M. Burke, in a Pritzker Military Library podcast interview, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world in the 19th century. By 1893, when it hosted the Chicago World’s Fair, one million people claimed it as their home.

“Chicago was an immigrant city,” says Burke. “Many of the people came from nations where they were oppressed. They came here and suddenly had this new experience, new freedoms they enjoyed…in some instances it would get out of hand.”

Of that population, Germans comprised the largest ethnic group. The Irish came in a close second. And here’s were much of Chicago’s political story began. It was the Germans and Irish in 1855, who brought on the Lager Beer Riot when they objected to increased saloon licensing fees. And it was the Germans and Irish (particularly the Irish), who dominated politics, the police and the firemen forces. (1)

Fast forward to 1909, the year a little girl named Ruth was born.

Ruth Hooge, my grandmother, was born in Chicago at a time when the American economy wavered between the promise of new businesses and exciting job opportunities, to the panic of bank runs, labor strikes and unemployment. In just 20 years, Chicago’s population had doubled, bringing its population to two million people. And it was “politics as usual” as “mayoral appointments ensured that the Police Department and other civic agencies would be controlled by partisan commissions,” according to the book To Serve and Collect, by Richard C. Lindberg. (2)

Wouldn’t you think life went on for most Chicagoans in spite of these political shenanigans? After all, crime and corruption happen everywhere, yet we still manage to play happily as children, grow up to be adults, and possibly raise families of our own.

For Ruth, however, life may not have been the same as most little girls’. Ruth’s father was a policeman, and in Chicago, being a policeman was not an easy job.

Author Richard Lindberg writes about it in his book:

“A policeman’s lot was never a happy one. The hours were long, and in the early years of the twentieth century, payless paydays were all too common because of repeated fiscal crises in city government. Disease, despair, and the prospects of an early death awaited the police officer. In addition, he had to be resourceful and keep his wits about him, because his own livelihood often depended not on how well he performed his duties, but how well he pleased his masters.” (3)

“To continue his employment on the force, the police officer was openly called upon to perform political work or to sell tickets to fund-raising events that lined the coffers of the ward organizations. The policeman, who wanted to do his duty in a forthright manner, quickly realized the perils involved when he attempted to arrest gamblers and brothel keepers who had ‘clout’. ” (4)

I once asked my grandmother about her father. She said she didn’t remember much about him.

Unlike most little girls in Chicago, Ruth’s father died when she was eight.

1. Richard Lindberg (1991). To Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption from the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal. Praeger Publishers 1991.
2. Richard Lindberg (1991). To Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption from the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal. Praeger Publishers 1991. pg. 53.
3. Richard Lindberg (1991). To Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption from the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal. Praeger Publishers xiii.
4. Richard Lindberg (1991). To Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption from the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal. Praeger Publishers 1991. pg. xiv.

More good reading:

End of Watch: Chicago Police Killed in the Line of Duty 1853–2006. By Edward M. Burke, Edward and Thomas J. O’Gorman (2006). Chicago’s Neighborhoods, Inc.

City of the Century, The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, by Donald L. Miller (1997) Simon & Schuster.

Purses and Impressions

June 3, 2010

Aren’t the impressions we have of things as kids funny? And later, when we learn how off we were, isn’t that funny too?

For example, when my son was little he thought his great-uncle Ken was Watertown’s claim-to-fame astronaut Dan Brandenstein. He thought this because Uncle Ken had emphysema and toted a portable oxygen tank.

Or, when I was little, I often heard my grandmother Ruth speak of her brother Carl and his wife Maybelle. Because Carl and Maybelle lived in Chicago, I never remember meeting them. But being a young, impressionable Michigan girl, I assumed Maybelle was Mabel, from Black Label Beer commercials.

(By the way, this week, would have been Carl’s birthday. He was born June 6, 1906.)

Perhaps my most profound, yet disappointing, misconception was of my grandmother’s sister Charlotte. Before I can ever remember meeting her, Aunt Charlotte sent my sisters and me glamorous gifts such as party dresses, umbrellas and little white gloves. She also regularly attended the Ice Capades and afterwards would send us the program filled with pictures of beautiful skaters wearing flowing taffeta gowns.

Now, I wasn’t much of a girly-girl back then so the flowing gowns weren’t that important. But I did have this sense of Aunt Charlotte being an Ice Capade. When I finally got to meet her, I remember feeling greatly disappointed because she was just like every other old lady. I may have even thrown a temper tantrum about it, which supposedly was common for me at the time.

In retrospect, when I first met Aunt Charlotte, she couldn’t have been old at all. She was was born May 21, 1921, and was twelve years younger than my grandmother.

Unlike Carl, who was never part of our lives, Aunt Charlotte involved herself very much with the younger generations. She had no children of her own, but she had money and time to spend. She adorned us with the most impractical and delightful fluff. That’s where the previously mentioned little white purses come in, also the purse pictured above.

In Aunt Charlotte’s view, the little white purse was as much a needed fashion item as the little black dress. I could easily supply a boutique had I saved all the purses she sent during my childhood and young adult years (before she gave up on my sense of style). Obviously, my disregard for their value was another of my off impressions.

How about you?

Do you still have your purses?

What funny ideas did you have as a kid?

I had always thought this was a picture of Carl Hooge (Ruth’s brother). However, now that I know more of history and dates, I’m not so sure. This looks like a military uniform, doesn’t it? Yet his age doesn’t coincide for either World War I or II.

Ruth also had an uncle named Carl Hornburg. Perhaps it’s him?

This picture was taken during the “Charlotte-is-not-an-Ice Capade” visit, circa early 1960s.

Seated from l-r, Charlotte (Arendt) Matz Prischman, Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt (Charlotte and Ruth’s mother) and Ruth (Hooge) Larson (my grandmother).