A Friendship and a Diary
My grandmother’s finely tooled leather diary has long since lost its key. Now, anyone can open the small brass lock that sits on its cover making its contents accessible to all. Its inside pages measure only 3 by 6 ½ inches but their intricate binding makes the book seem slightly larger. A delicate gold braid of tulips frame the face of Charlotte’s diary. Unlike its worn leather corners, this gilded design doesn’t show its age. The faded green and red panels painted on top of the brown leather cover offer a sense of something missing but not quite forgotten.
A very important piece of information about Charlotte’s life can be found on the very first page of this diary. Here, the little book is inscribed with a flowing hand, “To Charlotte from Jennie”. Over the years I’ve learned that Jennie Jonas was a very close friend of my grandmother. That this book survives is a tribute to the strength of Charlotte and Jennie’s friendship. It is one of the few possessions of my grandmother’s which still exists.
When Charlotte died in May of 1928, she was 47 years old. She surely had other diaries, address and appointment books. These, I imagine, were filled to the brim with her fine handwriting, smudges and erasures. Unlike this precious book, they were used by my grandmother on a daily basis; and, in the years after her death, they were discarded. This exquisite five year diary was the only one saved by her husband and her sons. Perhaps, they knew that it was given to her by a dear friend. Perhaps, the beauty of its cover rescued it. Perhaps, the comfort which can still be found holding it in one’s hand insured its survival.
Recently, Charlotte’s diary was sent to me at in Ann Arbor by my cousin Molly. It had been saved for almost eighty years by Charlotte’s youngest son, Dick, Molly’s father. Molly is graciously sharing it with me so that it can be copied to my website. Neither Molly nor I knew our grandmother. She died in 1928, long before any of her grandchildren were born. Insured and in UPS packaging, Charlotte’s diary arrived just days before I was to leave for Chicago to help my daughter prepare for the birth of her second child. As I readied myself for the trip, the arrival of my own grandmother’s diary seemed quite appropriate.
By Spring of 1925, Charlotte and Jennie had known each other for almost twenty years. Jennie’s husband Nathan Jonas and Charlotte’s husband Fred worked closely together on several business adventures. Nathan was a banker and my grandfather was a businessman. Together, they also shared a love of golf and in April of 1925, they established together Lakeville Golf Course in Fresh Meadows, Long Island. From Nathan’s autobiography, I first learned that the couples often vacationed together and that indeed Charlotte and Jennie were “intimate friends”.
I believe that it was in the spring of 1925 that Jennie gave this diary to her friend. The dated first entry is Friday, April 24, 1925. Newspaper reports of the time announced the grand opening of Lakeville Golf Course just shortly after that date. While their husbands shared the celebrity of the Golf Course they established together, Charlotte and Jennie might have exchanged gifts as tokens of their shared friendship.
The entries in this diary are sparse. Over the five years time span of Charlotte’s diary only 70 of a possible 1,825 days have entries. The entries begin right at the time of the opening of the Lakeville Golf Course, Spring 1925. Some twelve days in April and May of 1925 record specific activities. There are more short entries in late 1927. The proximity of these entries to Charlotte’s death only months later makes them much more important than their brevity implies. Other calendar days bear witness to the births, weddings, and deaths of friends and family members. In contrast the address pages are full. Many names I don’t recognize.
Before I began my trip to Chicago, I carefully copied by hand into my journal all of the diary’s calendar entries. I wanted to take them with me – in a certain way- to Chicago. The actual book was put away until there would be more time to copy it into my website.
In Chicago, happily active with grandmotherly duties, the diary’s presence added to my own presence in my grandchildren’s lives but for two and a half weeks there was hardly time to think about Charlotte’s diary. Indeed, in those busy days, I forgot that I had copied it into my journal even as my mind often wandered back to the lovely book that waited in Ann Arbor for my undivided attention.
Charlotte didn’t use this diary for her everyday schedule. She saw it instead as too fine an object to be handled daily. After her death, her husband and her sons also saw the diary as a treasure and like her memory they saved this treasure for years and years.
Charlotte herself might have been the one who instigated her family’s preservation of this book. Perhaps, when she saw her own death approaching, she decided to use this lovely book to keep alive for her children the memory of distant relatives. She stopped writing her own appointments in it and began writing dates she did not want her children to forget. She identified each of her brothers as “Uncle” as she jotted down their birthdays. Her own parents she refers to as “Grandma” and “Grandpa”. The circumstances surrounding each inscribed date must have been full of memories for Charlotte, the weddings of her younger brothers, her own grandmother’s death, the birth of her nieces. In an important way, these unwritten memories are present though unrecorded, left behind to be found by others. Charlotte knew the diary would be saved. It was too beautiful to be cast away.
This diary given to Charlotte by her good friend, used for a short while and filled with only dated fragments of memories is today Charlotte only surviving written personal possession. It is a book that can be treasured not only for its beauty but for the memories which Charlotte sparingly wrote into it and which she silently passed on.
In order to spend time with the silent memory of each page, I worked very slowly through the copying process studying what Charlotte included and imagining what she left out. First, I wrote out each entry by hand. Then, through a series of time consuming steps, I electronically scanned each page. Next, the scanned pages were printed and an extra copy carefully photocopied. Finally, all the scans were uploaded and transferred to the World Wide Web. A virtual copy of Charlotte’s diary now lies here on this library shelf. Inside the lovely cover of this finely crafted book, one can read the silent tenacity of Charlotte’s efforts to pass her history forward.
To Charlotte from Jenny
(This Diary was given to Charlotte by her friend Jenny Jonas. To read more about the relationship between Charlotte and Jenny Jonas go to Through the Years on the Library page of this website.)
If lost please return to Mrs. Charlotte S. Gretsch
37 Short Hill Rd.
Forest Hills, Long Island, U.S.A.
Uncle Leo Died, January 16, 1919
(Leo was Charlotte’s younger brother.
Note the two different colors of inks.)
(Clara was the wife of Charlotte’s older brother Louie.
Note the two different colors of ink.)
January 19, Aunt Sophie’s birthday
Our Mother’s Wedding Day.
Our Mother’s Wedding Day. January 20-1904
(Note the two different colors of ink.)
Anna Meyerdick’s birthday
Peter Sweeney’s birthday
Rose Rosenthal’s birthday.
(Rose was the granddaughter of Jenny and Nathan Jonas. She was born in 1919.)
Lizzie Moeller’s birthday.
(Lizzie was the daughter of Charlotte’s father’s sister, Eliza Moeller Kruger. Lizzie was born in 1860 and was Charlotte’s first cousin. Lizzie never married and died in 1929)
Fred Gretsch Esqu.born 1880
(Charlotte’s husband was later known as Fred Gretsch Sr.)
(This is Charlotte’s father, William Sommer. He lived with Charlotte and her family at the time this diary was written.)
Harold Gretsch Born-February 28/13 died March 9/13
(Harold was Charlotte’s fourth and last child.)
Charlotte R. Sommer birthday
(Charlotte R. Sommer was born in 1916. She was the daughter of Charlotte’s brother Leo and Gertrude Sommer. Charlotte obviously felt very close to her namesake.)
Fred Jr. birthday
(Note the two different colors of ink.)
Uncle Charlie’s birthday
(Uncle Charlie was Charlotte’s younger brother.)
Uncle Leo’s birthday
Uncle Walter’s birthday
(Walter was born in 1882. He was the brother of Charlotte’s husband.)
Daisy Gorman’s birthday
1925 Friday Luncheon at Maillard with Gertrude
(Maillard’s Ladies Lunch Room was located at the corner of 5th Ave and 35th Street)
Mories in afternoon- Tea at Penn Hotel
(Perhaps, Gertrude is Walter Gretsch’s wife or more likely Gertrude Rohe Sommer’s, Leo’s widow. Since Charlotte’s husband Fred and his brother Walter were freuding at this time, it is unlikely that Charlotte would have met Walter’s wife for Lunch)
Luncheon at Mrs. Gemerich’s
Kaffee Klatsch at T.C. Schwegler
Opera in the evening
Frances and John- Mr. and Mrs. L. Mills
( Frances Kleigh and John Sommer were married on October 25, 1925. I can find no record of the marriage but I am sure that Charlotte was there.)
Banjo and String Ensemble. Mr. Baxter- Mr. and Mrs. Fort
1925 Sunday May 3rd
Equity players Mrs. Davidson-Mrs. Baxter-Mr and Mrs. Nicols- Mr. and Mrs Mrs. Penfield. Mr and Mrs Fort
1925 Monday Mary 4th
The opening of the Northside bank. Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Jonas.
Beef Stak Party.
Irish and Scotch.
1925 Tuesday May 5th
Miss L. Eifert-Good Will
(The dates of May 3rd and 4th are left out of this diary. Charlotte writes them in herself while recording her very busy schedule on these days in 1925)
1925 Spring Luncheon of the Good Will Circle
1925 Folly Begisrre at 11 a.m. of the Women’s Federation Club
Luncheon at home of the P.L. Assn.
Golf in the morning. Entertainment, dance and dinner at night. At the Lakeville Country and Golf Club.
(N.B. the opening of Lakeville Golf Course was Declaration Day, 1925.)
Uncle Charlie’s Wedding Day.
(Charlotte’s brother Charlie married Francis Kaiser in 1915.. Charlotte’s brothers John, Leo and Louie were best men)
Uncle Louie’s birthday
(Charlotte’s brother Louie Sommer)
Mrs. McDonald’s Wedding Day
Mrs. Rohe’s birthday
Aunt Elsa’s Wedding Day
(Charlotte’s husband’s sister Elsa Gretsch married Joe Clauss on June 2, 1909)
Grandma Sommers birthday
(Charlotte’s mother Theresa Leicht was born circa 1854 in New York City.)
Richard Gretsch’s birthday. 14/08
Fred Graduated from Cornell-June 14/26
(Note the two different colors of ink)
Cousin Susie’s birthday
Grandma Sommer’s death ( This entry refers to Charlotte’s mother, Theresa Leicht Sommer)
June 16-1913 R.J.R. June16/27 birthday
Bill’s God’s child
(Note the two different colors of ink used.)
Grandma Kling’s birthday
(Fred Gretsch’s mother Rosa.)
Aunt Frances’ birthday July 17th/27
Mrs. C.W. Sommer
( Note July 17th/27 is written in a different color of ink. It is very unclear what this date alludes too)
Born July 20-1900
(Charlotte Elizabeth Sommer was Charlotte’s niece. She was the daughter of Philip and Augusta Sommer)
Amelia’s birthday 1902
Died November 10, 1919
Mr. Nathan Jonas’s birthday
Aunt Clara’s Sommer’s birthday
(Clara was the wife of Charlotte’s brother Louie.)
Aunt Gussie’s birthday
(Augusta was the wife of Charlotte’s brother Philip)
Grandma Susan, Leicht
(Charlotte was 13 years old when her grandmother died. Charlotte’s middle name was Susan and she undoubtedly remembered her grandmother well.)
Grandma’s Strauss birthday
(Jenny Jonas’s mother’s name was Strauss. Perhaps, she was close to Charlotte’s children and they might have called her Grandma.)
Seth Rosenthal’s birthday.
(This was the grandson of Jenny Jonas. He was named after Jenny’s son Seth who died of polio in 1916 at the age of 12.)
Aunt Gertrude’s birthday
Mr. Leo Sommer
Aunt Gussie’s Wedding Day
Helen Welch’s birthday
( Helen is Charlotte’s husband’s sister)
1925 Uncle John’s Wedding Day
4.41 lastic light.
Grampa’s Wedding Day
(On this day in 1872, Charlotte’s parents were married.)
Uncle Herbert’s birthday
(Herbert is the youngest brother of Charlotte’s husband.)
Saturday Bed, ill with cold.
(This entry was made in 1927. Was this the beginning of Charlotte’s ill health. She died the following May.)
Wednesday Dinning with Forts at the Warwicks
Marietta’s birthday. Dec1/06
died Aug 5/23
(Note the two different colors of ink used.
(Marietta was Charlotte’s nice, daughtet of Louie and Clara Sommer)
Mr and Mrs. Foeth are calling.
Saturday Von Elms fancy dress ball-
(This was 1925)
Monday at Campo 2:30 p.m.
Mary Immaculate Hos.
William Gretsch’s birthday
(Note the two different inks used.)
Our Mother’s birthday
December 16- 1880
(Note the two different inks used.)
Grampa Leo Leicht.
(Charlotte was only 7 when her grandfather died.)
1924 Cousin Susie died.
Uncle Philip’s birthday
Uncle John’s birthday
(this is written in a child’s hand.
8645-106 St- R.H. L.I.
Mrs. Marie Gretsch. c/o Mr. Albert W. Scott c/o Am. Vic consul of Basel, Switzerland
GA 6 4055
Please note that the address pages below are listed according to the alphabetical index on the right hand side tabs. Also note that some addresses were not entered under the correct letter.
For example, Mr. & Mrs. Harry Edwards appears on the page reserved for the letter “B”.
If you are searching for a name, please search the whole address section.
Rev. M.P. Rourke, Chaplin of St. Mary’s Chapel for Catholic Students at the University of Michigan, 326 N. Ingalls Street.
In 1926, Charlotte would have been very interested in her son’s catholic life at the University. of Michigan.
However, the Catholic Chaplin was actually named M.P. Bourke. How did Charlotte get his name wrong?
Rev. Bourke was first appointed to Chaplin of St. Joseph’s Sanitarium in Ann Arbor. Contemporary newspaper article describe his appointments in Ann Arbor as meeting with an” unusual amount of satisfaction by Catholics and Protestants alike” He obviously carried out his job to the “keen satisfaction” of the community.
Did Charlotte ever have contact with him? When Bill and Dick came to Ann Arbor, the new St. Mary’s Chapel (completed in 1925) was surely a place they visited often. Father Bourke a very well like student Chaplin died in 1928 after a long illness.
Also on this page:
Mrs. William Rohe, 258 Riverside Drive, New York.
Charlotte’s brother Leo was married to Gertrude Rohe. Her parents were Mr.& Mrs. Charles Rohe, 17 West 87th Street. Perhaps, Mrs. William Rohe is also a relation and a friend of Charlotte’s.
After Leo’s early death in 1919, Gertrude went to live with her parents on 87th Street.
Amelia Strudwick is the fourth entry on this page. In the 1930 census she was still living at the same address, 213 Paulison Ave, Passaic, New Jearsy. She was the same age as Charlotte and like Charlotte she was born in New York. In 1930 Amelia had a 19 year old daughter, Elma A. Amelia’s husband name was Frank and he worked for a New York firm as a payroll agent. They lived in their own house valued at $16,000.00. Was she a close friend of Charlotte’s?
Miss Wilma Schultheis, 9 Place des Vosque, Paris, France. Perhaps, this was the sister of Charlotte’s sister in Law, Clara Schultheis Sommer. Clara was the wife of Charlotte’s brother, Louis Sommer.
Also note the address of Katie Von Hellerman, 1 Reisignestrasse, Dresdan.
Katie was the sister of Charlotte’s husband’s father. Katie came to America in the early 1880’s and lived in San Diego with her mother’s brother, C. P. Von Gerichten and his family. She had a daughter born in 1884 there. She returned to Germany in 1886..
Inside back cover