prospering in America
Ewald Weber was the youngest of nine children born to Samuel and Rosette Weber in Germany. The family wanted to avoid having the boys serve in the Prussian army, so Ewald followed brothers Gustav and Edward to the United States, arriving in 1881. "It was quite a move for their mother, knowing she would probably never see them again," said Ken Shabino, Ewald's grandson in April 2010.
Ewald, born May 15, 1864 in Dhunn, kept a journal of his voyage aboard the SS Elbe and his first year in the United States, sending highlights to his sister Aline in October 1882. He describes the angst of leaving his homeland, the challenges of the trip and the richness of possibilities he found in America. On a visit to Germany 116 years later, Shabino learned of the journal from family members who gave him a copy. He had it translated from its original German.
“I left the latter city (Bremen) with my tourist party in the early morning of October 26,” Ewald wrote. “A railway train brought us after a 12 hour journey to far off Bremerhaven where we spent the last minutes on the soil of our native land. A medium size steamer that held all the passengers for the Elbe carried us out to sea at first. The passengers of the 1st and 2nd class were already pouring onto the ship to the sound of rousing music. Now came the lines and the passengers of the 3rd class were called to the steerage without ceremony. The difference among these three classes is noticed in every respect.”
The trip was difficult from the start: “So far, I have not eaten and still lack appetite,” Ewald wrote. “Already, on the first evening seasickness hit me and left me unwell since then. Standing on the deck looking down at the surging waves I first noticed this. I thought of my loved ones and an inconsolable premonition told me that you too were having anxious thoughts. I cannot keep my thoughts from you.”
“A wretched night has passed,” Ewald wrote in his Oct. 29, 1881 entry. “The seasickness weakens me more and more. Even before sunrise I was on the deck and made a nocturnal stroll with a Heidelberger. It is interesting to let a strange man relate personal experiences to one and nowhere does one gain a better insight into life, existence and various goings on than when one is made a fellow sufferer so to speak by a sea voyage.” And yet in the same entry, the promise of what is to come shines through: “A silver clear voice speaks filling the bosom with wonderful feelings. It is as if the little brook of the homeland is singing us a farewell song and whispering the final words of love. Those are sea daydreams.””
As the sea journey wrapped up on Nov. 6, Ewald’s entry included the final toll: “Five dead were given up to the sea. A woman was delivered of a child, another suffered a stroke.”
Ewald joined his brothers in Evansville, Ind. “The train trip lasts 3 days, 2 nights without interruption,” he wrote. “We travelled through much beautiful scenery and by way of Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Terre Haute to Evansville. … We felt completely exhausted in Terre Haute where we had a three hour delay in order to divert to a branch line. … When our stomachs growled we were forced to use the English language. It was really hilarious.”
Using German spelling, Ewald described arriving in Evansville at 4 a.m. where he was greeted by his brother, Edward: “In vain I looked around for a familiar face. Wait, that is Edoard. ‘Good day Halzenberger.’ Then came many questions. … After a while Edoard said: Gustave caused that smoke over there. We turned our steps to the woolen mill where Sustav diligently working didn’t notice our arrival. I observed him until I could no longer stand it. Later on I saw Edwards family. The
children were much changed. Klara to my eyes was much grown, also Emil and Anna. Elise, Laura and Adele were also bigger. Berta was herself as before. All were healthy and lively. It was on November 11 just three years ago since Edoard said goodbye to Dhunn. In the evening we sat together. Dhunn and its inhabitants were the main theme.”
Initially, Ewald lived at 210 Lower Fifth Ave., according to the 1882 Evansville City Directory. He worked in the woolen mill. “For entertainment I joined a mixed church choir,” he wrote. “The work didn’t bring me sufficient satisfaction.”
Ewald had greater ambitions. “On July 1, 1882, I left Evansville to seek my fortune in Chicago,” he wrote. “ I must separate myself from Gustav although our brotherly relationship was so very fine. It touched us both painfully but the struggle for existence necessitated much sacrifice, so many tears, so much to be concerned about, how as an 18 year old youth to learn under certain conditions.
Ewald put himself through college and became a pharmacist."You have to hand it to him," Shabino said. "He probably didn't speak much English and he put himself through college."
On Nov. 15, 1888, Ewald married Marie Keitel at St. Paul's Church in Chicago. "As they came out of the church, the first snow of the season started to fall," Shabino said.
In 1902, Ewald returned to Germany to visit his very ill mother. Also in 1902, Ewald and Marie had the first of two daughters, Helen. Daughter Charlotte followed in 1909. Ewald's partner in the pharmacy business made off with the money and left Ewald in debt, Shabino said. But Ewald persevered, becoming a doctor around 1910. A general practitioner, he also served as house doctor for St. Paul's House, a home for the elderly, from 1910 until 1940.
As a doctor, Ewald was always on call. "I remember the phone would ring at any hour and he'd grab his little bag and head out to his Pontiac," Shabino said. Ewald lived most of his life in a house he had built at 5375 W. Lawrence Ave. in Chicago. His office was on the first floor on the lefthand side.
An avid pipe smoker known as "Poppy" to his family, Ewald had a gruff exterior but a kind heart. He often had those who couldn't pay for his medical services perform odd jobs to work off the debt. "When he retired, he had a whole drawer full of unpaid bills," Shabino said. "My uncles said, 'You should at least collect something on these,' but he'd say, 'No, that's over."
Ewald died March 15, 1958 in Chicago. Marie died Dec. 7, 1965 in Chicago. They are buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Ill.