On 7 September 1883, the S.S.Elbe left the harbor of Bremen sailing for America. Anna Ertl Bohman, her brother Joseph, her mother Dorothea Masanetz Ertl, and her four small children (Anna, Margaret, George, and Maria) were aboard the steamship.
Anna later said from the harbor of Bremen she could see France from a distance. The banks of the harbor of Bremen were laden with abundance of white sand; it looked like salt.
“The steamship Elbe left behind it a 400 ft. rushing and bubbling mass of foam. It started heading in great spirit for the Western Hemisphere. Sailing the fourth day silver-tipped waves made a perfect scenery, but red was the morning sunrise.
Before night fell the storm spoke the truth itself. Waves of enormous size rose and tilted throwing themselves over the Elbe, and rocking the ship fiercely. It appeared as if water and sky touched. The passengers believed it was the end of the world.” writes Helen Jo Breu in a letter to my grandmother.
“When at last the steamer sailed into less turbulent waters the shouting of “Land” brought the passengers on deck. The weight of humanity nearly tipped the ship to one side. The Captain bellered orders for all passengers to return to their quarters. It was only a monsterous whale that surfaced. This was about the second day before landing. Far out in the ocean two big splashes of water appeared. Then a subject like a mass of sand lay beyond. It was a whale.”
“Two days after the S.S.Elbe left the harbor of Bremen, Anna said that immense sized fish jumped up against the sides of the ship.
The S.S.Elbe stood for two days out in the waters of New York harbor after arriving. It took that long to process all the incoming visa routine. Next came Castle Gardens. The ladies spread their skirts to build a taffeta fortress. Anna was in the middle changing and cleaning rears. Her children had all developed runny bowels. Poor Gramma!”
Helen later wrote,”After many years I finally found material about the sinking of the S.S.Elbe. This was the steamer that brought Grandmother Hamus [Anna] to America. It was the S.S.Elbe’s second trip. The third trip the ship sunk on its way to Glasgow, Scotland. From there it was heading to America. All board died. The Atlantic Ocean devoured many a ship.”
Helen was a gifted story teller. Her letters are very detailed and she had some very clear memories of the stories passed down to her as a child. Her writing is all the more remarkable in that she never spoke English very well. She told me on one letter that she spoke “Bohemian and Bavarian” much better.
Helen never shared how Anna and her family traveled from New York to Wisconsin, how long they took to end up in Auburndale, or why they chose to go there in particular. The earliest mention of the family being in Wood County is the birth of a daughter Theresa in 1886. It would have taken years to build a home and clear land for farming. The undertaking of homesteading would have been made all the more difficult with an unhappy marriage and an abusive husband.
You can read the first chapter in this story here: Stories from Squaw Creek Homestead: Hyršov
These memories were passed down by Helen Jo Breu in letters written to my great great grandmother, my grandmother, and to me over several years from the early 1980s to the late 1990s.