Monday, January 24, 2011

an obituary

My father said that his grandfather, Louis Windmuller, kept a diary but I've not seen it and know of none who have. You'll find articles by and about him in the newspapers and magazines of his day but will find in them almost nothing personal. They're not about himself but rather give his thoughts and deeds toward making things better in the world. He did write a few pieces that tell what he could recall about the merchants of New York and the business slumps they endured, and these do give personal anecdotes of "the writer," as he styled himself. However they provide nothing approaching the connected story of a memoir.[1]

There's one long letter which he sent back to his German aunts and grandfather soon after immigrating to New York. In it he marvels at the boistrous, polyglot city where he wanders daily, penniless and looking for work; he complains that almost all the family relations whose names he's been given have been unhelpful; and he expresses both determination and hope that a cousin who's taken him in will give him the opportunity to make good. There's no further correspondence showing how he did indeed make good, and then proceed to do good as well.[2]

Little can be found which allows us to imagine what it would be like to spend a few moments with this friendly and outgoing man, and that, to me, makes the following obituary in the New York Evening Post a valuable find. See whether you agree.

I give the text first and then a scan. I've used both hyperlinks and footnotes to convey explanatory context. Since the hyperlinks disrupt reading somewhat I haven't wished to add the further disruption of numbered footnotes and for this reason simply repeat phrases from the text in the unnumbered notes section at bottom.
The Evening Post, October 2, 1913

Louis Windmuller Dead

He Had Long Been a Familiar Figure in New York

Trustee of Title Guarantee and Trust Company, Banker, and a Director in Several Corporations — A Great Walker — Some Interesting Reminisces of His Early Days

Louis Windmuller, trustee and one of the organizers of the Title Guarantee and Trust Company, and a familiar figure in New York Life for half a century or more, died yesterday in his home at Woodside Heights, Queens Borough, at the age of seventy-eight.

Louis Windmuller, one of the best-known German-Americans of the days of Carl Schurz, Gen. Franz Sigel, and the others who left Germany during the disturbances which antedated the American Civil War, was born in Munster, Westphalia, in 1835. He attended the Gymnasium at that place, but left there before completing the school course. In 1853 he came to this country, and soon became a citizen and a successful business man. In 1859 he married Annie Eliza Lefman, who was a descendant of an officer in the Revolutionary War.

He stated out in business for himself as exporter and importer, and later branched out into several other fields of commerce, notably banking and insurance. After the great Chicago fire of 1871, he was quick to see the need of better protection against loss from fire, and with others he founded the German-American Insurance Company. Furthermore, ten years after the records of land ownership in Cook County, Ill., had been destroyed by the fire, Mr. Windmuller took the initiative in founding the Title Guarantee & Trust Company, an institution designed to safeguard property-holders against just such risks. He was also president of the Maiden Lane Savings Bank and director in several other corporations.

One of his principal activities was the treasurership of the Legal Aid Society, work to which he gave abundantly of his time, even after his age had come to be a handicap upon him.

Politically, Mr. Windmuller was an independent of a particularly sturdy kind. He was consistently in favor of tariff reform, was a prominent member of the Reform Club, and for many years its treasurer. He supported President Cleveland on the tariff issue, and President McKinley on the financial issue. With Carl Schurz and others, he organized the German-American Cleveland Union, which did much to bring about Cleveland's second election.

Walked with Gaynor

Mr. Windmuller was one of the familiar figures of downtown Manhattan. Walking was his favorite exercise, and he once took up a project with the late Mayor Gaynor to form a walking club for men of advanced age as a proof that the doctrines of Osler and others were wrong. Mr. Windmuller thought nothing of walking from his office at No. 20 Reade Street to the East Ninety-second Street ferry, and if he did not take this walk, he never filed to tramp up to the Pennsylvania Station at Seventh Avenue and Thirty-second Street to take a train for his home in Queens.

Several years ago he was run down by an automobile while crossing Seventh Avenue after dark on his way to the station, and he complained to Rhinelander Waldo, Commissioner of Police, of the inadequate lighting at this corner. Commission Waldo replied by specially detailing a policeman to watch out for Mr. Windmuller at this corner every evening and escort him across through the traffic. Mr. Windmuller claimed that the lamps of the automobile which knocked him down were unlighted; the policeman on duty said they were lighted.

"I could overlook the difference of opinion regarding the lamps," said Mr. Windmuller to the Commissioner, "but I take exception to the report of your officer, who says that 'Mr. Windmuller is seventy-six years old and feeble.' I have been tramping New York streets for almost sixty years, and I am strong enough now to walk from my office to the Ninety-second Street ferry."

Mr. Windmuller went to live in Long Island before the Civil War at a time when modern transportation facilities were undreamed of, and he could tell many amusing stories of the troubles of commuters of those days. Of this period, he once said:

"The experience of missing one of the two night trains run by Oliver Charlick down to Woodside is about as keen as any of my recollections. If I missed the James Slip boat I was obliged to go by way of Williamsburgh and cross the penny bridge, pass Calvary Cemetery, and walk three miles to Woodside, sometimes in the dark. It wasn't pleasant. Sometimes it rained; sometimes it snowed. If I missed the morning train my wife could drive me to Hunter's Point through Joh Jackson's turnpike tollgate. When I went to Woodside for the health of my child there were only five families there. Ravens Wood was pretty well built up and Mr. Oliver Hoyt, the leather merchant of Spruce Street, lived there.

In the Olden Days

"I haven't been in a wreck, not in forty-six years. But taxes have gone up. There used to be a good many burglaries. I was robbed several times. I never lost much of great value. I never had anything of value except books, and burglars don't take those. The burglaries continued one after another so that I got a good watchdog and he scared prowlers away. Since I've kept a good dog I haven't had any trouble.

"Charlick, who owned the road and allowed two trains a day to stop at Woodside was a queer figure: kept a liquor saloon. If I remember rightly. I don't know how he became interested in railroading. Anyway he was a rough sort.

"The cars were ricketty, and the service bad as long as Charlick ran the road. Then Poppening was the great mogul of College Point. He got hold of it and made a good road for himself and the rest of us to ride over, the only commuter perhaps, who has run his own railroad.

Mr. Windmuller was a frequent contributor to numerous periodicals, including the North American Review, the Forum, the Outlook, New York Times, Evening Post, Staats Zeitung, Berlin Nation, and Meyers's Konversations' Lexikon. He was also an ardent collector of books and pictures.

He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, for many years serving as chairman of the committee on internal trade; managing director of the Board of Trade and Transportation, a life member of the New York Historical Society, a member of the Germanic Society, vice-president of the Germanic Museum Association, of Cambridge, Mass.; a director of the Tree Planting Association, of Queens, chairman of the Hudson-Fulton celebration committee for Queens Borough, and a member of other societies of a social and charitable nature.

After his youngest daughter, Miss May Windmuller, was burned to death in their home on Woodside Heights, in April, 1912, Mr. Windmuller lost much of the strength and vigor which had distinguished him from other men of his age.
Here is the obit iself:

{The Evening Post, October 2, 1913}

This is Louis Windmuller at about 75 years of age.
{Source: "The Commercial Progress of Gotham," by Louis Windmuller, in The Progress of the Empire State: New York State and City by Charles Arthur Conant (The Progress of the Empire State Company, 1913)}


Numbered notes:

[1] Here are three of his writings in which he relates some personal experiences:
  • "The Commercial Progress of Gotham" by Louis Windmuller, in The Progress of the Empire State: New York State and City by Charles Arthur Conant (The Progress of the Empire State Company, 1913)
  • "Reminiscences of Financial Problems" by Louis Windmuller, in The Forum, Vol. 40 (Forum Pub. Co., 1908)
  • "Some Reminiscences of Old Times; Long Before a North River Bridge Was Thought of," Letter to the editor of the Sun newspaper by Louis Windmuller, February 23, 1893.
[2] I've reproduced the letter in this blog post: Secondat: river crossings.


Unnumbered notes:

"Evening Post"
At the time of his death, the morgue of the Evening Post was likely to be rich in material about Louis Windmuller. He wrote for the paper and was friends with a former owner (Henry Villard) and editor (Carl Schurz). From Wikipedia: "In 1881 Henry Villard took control of the New-York Evening Post, as well as The Nation, which became the Post's weekly edition. With this acquisition, the paper was managed by the triumvirate of Carl Schurz, Horace White and Edwin L. Godkin. When Schurz left the paper in 1883, Godkin became editor-in-chief. White became editor-in-chief in 1899, and remained in that role until his retirement in 1903. In 1897, both publications passed to the management of Villard's son, Oswald Garrison Villard, a founding member of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union. Villard sold the paper in 1918, after widespread allegations of pro-German sympathies during World War I hurt its circulation." - Wikipedia: New York Post. See also: New York Evening Post

The Evening Post obit writer seems to have drawn upon biographic dictionaries as well as the paper's morgue. If you compare elements in the obit with, for example, Who's who in finance, banking and insurance, you'll see quite a bit of unacknowedged borrowing.

{Who's who in finance, banking and insurance a biographical dictionary of contemporaries, by John William Leonard, Vol. 1 (Who's who in finance, incorporated., 1911)}

"Woodside Heights"
This 1927 photo shows one side of the Windmuller property at Woodside Heights

"Title Guarantee and Trust Co."
Here is a short timeline for Title Guarantee and Trust Company:
- 1883 Established German-American Loan & Trust Co of City of NY
- 1884 Name Change To Title Guarantee and Trust Company
- 01/01/1903 Acquire By Merger Manufacturers' Trust Company (1895-1903)
- 08/05/1950 Merge To State Bankers Trust Company

"The disturbances which antedated the American Civil War"
This phrase refers to the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states which have been on my mind lately: Secondat: forty-eighters. The obit lists only two German-American Forty-Eighters. Wikipedia has an extensive list of these men. Of the five I've profiled, wikipedia lists only Schurz and Jacobi, not Ottendorfer, Villard, or (as you'd expect) Windmuller.

"Annie Eliza Lefman, who was a descendant of an officer in the Revolutionary War"
Louis Windmuller's wife could trace her ancestors back to sixteenth-century England. The first to migrate to America became famous as a signer of the Flushing Remonstrance.

"German American Insurance Company"
Windmuller was a founder of this company in 1872. See Hayden's annual cyclopedia of insurance in the United States (Insurance Journal Co., 1911)
In 1908 the company built itself a distinctive structure.

{German American Bldg. by Irving Underhill, c1908; source: Library of Congress}

"Legal Aid Society"
This organization began life in 1876 as Der Deutscher Rechts-Schutz Verein (German Legal Aid Society). See The History of the Legal Aid Society and The lance of justice: a semi-centennial history of the Legal Aid Society by John MacArthur Maguire (Wm. S. Hein Publishing, 1982) and Legal Aid Society.

"German-American Cleveland Union"
Four of the five Forty-Eighters I've profiled were prominent members of this organization: Louis Windmuller, Carl Schurz, Oswald Ottendorfer, and Henry Villard. As the Times said of them, their names were "familiar throughout the land as representative German-American citizens and leaders in the reform movement in politics." -- "The German-American Spirit," New York Times, January 22, 1893.

"Famous walker"

{Noted Citizens Out For Walking Record, New York Times, February 7, 1913}

Some pedestrians of 1900. The location is near Windmuller's downtown office.

{Men walking on sidewalk, New York City, 1900, by Ernest C. Peixotto, published 1902; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

This LIRR timetable shows the trains that served Woodside.


The Pennsylvania Station at 7th Ave and 32nd St in 1910.

Manhattan at night, 1909.

{The things that tower by Joseph Pennell, in Harper's magazine, November 1909; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

Manhattan nighttime traffic a few years later.

{New York the wonder city, postcard by H. Finkelstein & Son, American Art Publishing Co., ca.1910-15; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

"went to live in Long Island before the Civil War"
This is an error. Windmuller moved from Dean St. in Brooklyn to Woodside, Long Island, in 1867. There was train train and trolley service in Woodside at that time, as well as a plank road turnpike to College Point.

"James Slip"
James Slip was on the East River waterfront in downtown Manhattan. You caught the ferry there to Queens. This photo was taken in 1935.

This shows the Astoria ferry terminal in Queens in 1910.

"Penny Bridge"
The Penny Bridge linked Brooklyn and Queens. This is how it looked in the 1870s. The train in the background went to Newtown, but not Woodside.


This is how it looked in the 1910s (photos taken in 1934 and 1938).

{Penny Bridge over Newtown Creek by Percy Loomis Sperr, 1934, 1938; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

This map shows Penny Bridge, Woodside Station, and the Windmuller property.


This photo shows the LIRR passing through Woodside in 1861.

{Source: Old Queens, 1991}

This photo shows the very first LIRR depot at Woodside, 1860.


"Job Jackson's turnpike"
The turnpike eventually became Jackson Avenue, then Northern Boulevard: "This road was opened about 1860 to connect Flushing with the ferries at Hunters Point. The president of the Hunter's Point, Flushing and Newtown Turnpike Company was John C. Jackson whose leadership and effort caused the road to be built. The road extends in a straight line from his house, which was at 51st Street, to Flushing." -- HISTORY TOPICS: NAMES OF LONG ISLAND CITY, Greater Astoria Historical Society.

"for the health of my child"
Louis and Annie Windmuller's first child, Adolph, was healthy, but the second, born in 1866, was not. Bertha died soon after the move from Dean Street in Brooklyn to Woodside in Queens.

Ravenswood is near Roosevelt Island about two miles west of Woodside.

{Ravenswood, Long Island, Near Hallet's Cove by Nathaniel Currier, a hand colored lithograph; source: Brooklyn Museum}

The "forgotten NY" web site shows lots of photos on its page on Ravenswood.

"I haven't been in a wreck"
Windmuller uses the word wreck in the sense of "rack and ruin" (which phrase comes from "wrack and ruin," wrack been a variant of wreck. See OED.
"Wreckers.—This elegant appellation is bestowed upon those who make a similarly-organized attack as bears upon some stock, rotten or good, according to their power, and force down the price by large and successive sudden sales. They trust to the well known fact that the ignorance of investors about the merit of the stocks they hold is so great and their fears so readily excited that they are sure to come to the help of the Wreckers, and enable them to close their transactions at a handsome profit. A Corner, Pool, Clique, Ring are all terms equivalent to a Rig or Wreck. Banging the Market only means producing a temporary fall by sheer audacity and impudent offering of stock in large quantities, or by the circulation of false telegrams and mendacious statements. The American terms for bulling and bearing are selling long and selling short, or, as they sometimes say, To go long, or go short." -- Ye outside fools!: Glimpses inside the London stock exchange by Latham Smith (Lovell, Adam, Wesson & company, 1877)

"I was robbed several times"
I wrote a blog post about one of these attempted burglaries: Secondat: helpful neighbors.

"Oliver Charlick
"The flushing rail road opened June 26, 1854 and had a station at penny bridge to serve calvary cemetery. Connections were made with the calvary omnibus line which served brooklyn via the penny bridge. The f.R.R. Was sold in bankruptcy and reorganized march 22, 1859 as the new york and flushing railroad. On july 13, 1867 the line was purchased by the long island rail road which sold it to the new flushing and north side railroad on august 11, 1868. The f.& n.S. Operated the n.Y.& f. Until their line was completed from long island city to winfield on october 8, 1869. They then abandoned service between winfield and long island city via penny bridge and sold that portion of railroad to the south side railroad of long island giving that line a terminal in long island city." -- THE FLUSHING RAIL ROAD COMPANY
by Arthur John Huneke.

This was Conrad Poppenhusen. See History of the Long Island Rail Road. "the building of branches was retarded by the presidency of Oliver Charlick between 1863 and 1875. Charlick was known for only building branches where necessary to cut off plans by locals to build competing lines.[2]" "From the 1850s through the 1870s rail service expanded considerably throughout Long Island, with several competitors vying for market share and making small if any profits. In 1875–76 a wealthy Whitestone, New York rubber baron named Conrad Poppenhusen acquired all the railroads. Poppenhusen, and his later successor Austin Corbin, were able to reorganize them under the umbrella of the LIRR thus forming the extensive network of lines that make up the railroad today." Poppenhusen was connected with Windmuller's friend Carl Schurz via Shurz's wife, Margarethe. She was a persuasive advocate of early childhood education and in 1856 she had set up the first kindergarden in her home. In 1870 Poppenhusen set up the first free, public kindergarden in the U.S., located in College Point.

"frequent contributor to numerous periodicals"
There are some connections here between Windmuller and the four other Forty-Eighters I am profiling. The New York Evening Post was at one time published and edited by Henry Villard and had Carl Schurz as one of its most prominent writers. The New Yorker Staats-Zeitung was run by fellow Forty-Eighter Oswald Ottendorfer and both Villard and Schurz wrote for it at one time or another.

"Chamber of Commerce"
Windmuller as an active member of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York and Chairman of its Committee on Internal Trade and Improvements. Oddly, it was he who nominated John Jacob Astor for membership in the Chamber.

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