Maxine Elsner “Sylvia” Gretsch

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For a long time, I thought this was New Year’s Eve 1947, Chicago. I thought that my mother above, Sylvia was pregnant with me.

Later I found a picture of her in November of 1946 wearing the same dress as in this picture. I doubt that she could wear this dress when she was 9 months pregnant!

I was so happy at first to find a picture of my mother when she was pregnant with me.
However, this must be 1946, the year Freddie was born the previous July.

To see other revelers at this event, scroll down to New Year’s Eve, 1947


March 1 The Zimmerman telegram is made public.


Although the telegram was at first met with some question of its authenticity, Zimmerman himself quelled these feeling by admitting, ” I can not deny it. It is true.” The public was inflamed. It seems certain that the United States will enter the war.

April 16 War Declared by the United States against Germany.

September 17 Maxine Lois Elsner is born in Joplin, Missouri. She is the third child and first daughter of Hattie Helen Dieter and Max August Elsner.

Maxine was named after her father. Her older brothers did not want to have a sister. They wanted to have a brother. So they called the baby Mike and they continued to call her that her whole life.


Radio is newest most modern phenomena. Maxine is only five years old and radio is the talk of every household. Perhaps, it is at this time that Maxine decides she wants to make her mark in this new medium.

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The above picture was taken in 1922 and sent to me, Gretchen, in 2013 by my cousin, Lee Elsner.

Hattie and her sister Kate, and her family are on a camping vacation.  Perhaps, someone else was on the vacation too, the person who actually took the picture.  Hattie’s husband Max was very handy with cameras. Perhaps, he set the camera up and someone else took the picture or perhaps, there was a timer involved. In this case, Max could have set up the camera, set the timer and then joined his family in the photo—-or perhaps, someone else was present—-

Note the crispness of the image—even the bird feathers are very clear.

Lee purchased a 1922 Studebaker in 2012 just like the one pictured above! Thank you cousin Lee for this wonderful photograph!


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Maxine in 1st Grade at Columbia School


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Maxine in 1925 probably 3rd grade.


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Maxine possibly 1924, 4th grade. the reverse side of this original photo reads” AYRES Photographs, Anything, Phone 897 R2


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Maxine possibly 1926 in 5th grade (GradeV).

According to a questionnaire Maxine filled out when she began her studies at Northwestern University, she began studying dramatics when she was ten years old. From age ten until she entered Northwestern she studied speech with the idea of making it her career. Through a small radio station in Joplin, she became interested in broadcasting. Always with the idea of working and writing for radio.


August 1 On this date, Maxine, not yet 11 years old, wrote this letter in long hand to her Dad:


Henderson Farm, Noel. Mo.

Wednesday, August 1, 1928

Dear Dad,

I enjoyed the papres (sic) you sent me today. I read allof them. I noticed in the paper where mother accompanied Mrs. Hurlburt and Perry, to Noel., Fine, Eh? I also see that Mr. and Mrs. Elsner, Paul, Ralph and Maxine, accompinid (sic) by Mr. & Mrs. P. K. Hurlburt and son Perry, Jr. moved to Spavinaw Sunday from Noel. Now which am I to believe? I think we will go home with you Sunday. In other words we will come home Sunday or Wednesday.

the boys both wrote before me so I have nothing to say.

Your Namesake , Daughter, & and (sic) the only person in the family that lookes like you,

Maxine Lois Elsner


Maxine is at Camp Ramona, Galena, Missouri.

She is 13 years old. This was probably a Girl Scout Camp.


May 16

8 p.m. Graduation Exercises of Jr. High School, Joplin.

Maxine Elsner, graduated.


January Hitler came to power in Germany.


” Mr and Mrs. Elsner and daughter Maxine, accompanied by Mrs. C.A. Deiter (sic) and Miss Kate Deiter (sic), returned last night from Columbia, where they visited Mr. and mRs. Elsner’s sons, Paul and Ralph who are students at the university of Missouri. Ralph is a patient at the Noyes hospital recovering from serious injuries received in an accident. His condition is improved but he will remain in the hospital for some time.”

June Mr. and Mrs. Elsner and daughter Maxine, have returned from Columbia, where they attended the commencement exercises at the University of Missouri. Mr. and Mrs. Elsner’s son Paul, who was a member of the graduating class accompanied them home. They were also accompanied by their son Ralph, a student at the university, who is recovering from an accident last winter.”

June 15

On Thursday evening, June 15, Maxine at the age of 15, gave a speech recital at the studio of her teacher Mrs. Thomas Korn.

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In the days before television, recitals were popular entertainment events. This very beautiful announcement printed on parchment paper was circulated for Maxine’s recital. The silhouette of Maxine which highlights the announcement suggests that it was Maxine’s family who took the lead in preparing this circular. The silhouette was copied from the picture below and the over all design was created by Thomas Korn, perhaps, the son or husband of Maxine’s teacher.

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An article saved by the family appeared in one of the city papers.

” Mrs. Thomas Korn will present her pupil, Maxine Elsner, in a speech recital June 15 at her studio, 812 West Fifth street. Miss Elsner is a a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. M.A. Elsner, 620 Jaccard place. She will be assisted by Betty Lou Phillips, a violin pupil of Elizabeth Keith. The public is invited to attend.

“Three Episodes” (Draper)- Miss Elsner.

“Air with Variations” (Doncla)

“So Glad for Spring” (Daley), “Rosa” – Miss Elsner

“Kamazur” (Haesche)- Miss Phillips.

“Biller Sweet” ( Seifert)- Miss Elsner

1933 “Little Woman” was the largest grossing motion picture of the year. Katherine Hepburn played “Jo” and Jean Parker played the part of “Beth.”

Maxine played the role of Beth in a local production.


February 8 “The Spy Glass” a magazine published in the interest of the Joplin High School Student Body reported the first round of the Annual oratorical contest, February 5, 6 and 7. Maxine Elsner, speech is “Who will go?”

April Joplin Girl Wins Oratorical contest.

Maxine Elsner wins Unanimous Decision of Judges in Competition at Springfield.

Maxine Elsner, a junior in the Joplin senior high school won first place in a southwest Missouri invitation oratorical contest yesterday afternoon in Springfield. Decision of the judges was unanimous. She is a dughter of Mr. and Mrs. Max A, Elsner, 620 jaccard place.

She competed with representatives from ten other southwest Missouri high schools. The contest was sponsored by the Omicron Club, composed of honor students in public speaking at Southwest Missouri State Teachers college at Springfield. The contest was held at the college.

“Who Shall Go”, was the subject of Miss Elsner’s oration. The theme was relative to the question of who shall go to college, and set forth that entrants should be selected by talent and industry.

A Silver Trophy cup was awarded to the high school and Miss Elsner received year’s (sic) scholarship to the college.

May 6 St. Louis Post Dispatch,

“Maxine Elsner of Joplin, winner of Southwest Missouri invitation oratorical contest at Springfield, silver cup and year’s scholarship in (sic) Springfield Tearchers’ College.”

A picture of Maxine accompanied this article. She is wearing the same dress as in her 1934 photo above. The pose however is different.

The Chicago World’s Fair, A Century of Progress.

The Fair was originally scheduled to last only one year. However, the Fair board decided to extend it for one year in order “to pay off its original bondholders and to turn a profit.”

“Before the fair had opened, Fortune magazine had predicted good attendance despite the depression: “[The Century of Progress] will attract many mid-western families who in more prosperous times would vacation in the mountains or at the seashore but who this summer will content themselves with piling into the family car and setting off to spend a few inexpensive days at the fairgrounds.” This magazine’s prediction was borne out. Over its two seasons the Century of Progress attracted some forty-eight million visitors and earned a modest profit of $16,000. The fact that those figures could be attained during a catastrophic economic depression is a tribute to both the attractiveness of the exhibition and the purposefulness of the businessman who saw it as means to check the nation’s economic free fall.

( Fair America, Rydell, Findling and Pelle, Smithsonian Institute Press, 2000. pg 85)

Maxine attended this Fair in 1934. A picture of her taken by a street photographer and the hand written words “Chicago World’s Fair 1934″ are the only memory that has been passed down of her visit.

Perhaps, Maxine’s trip to the Fair was a reward for doing so well in the Oratory contest. The family often took summer trips together.

At the fair something else was also happening. Les Paul, a 19 year old guitarist from Wisconsin was playing in a trio with Fry Peters and Joe Wolverton for the Reliance Manufacturing Company. They played at the General Exhibition Pavilion. Their style was popular hill-billy-country, jazz flavored tunes. Les and Joe had played previously as the Ozark Appleknockers on radio shows around St. Louis and Chicago. (The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy, Robb Lawrence, Hal Leonard Books, 2008)

After the fair, Les Paul went on to play at the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago. He would become mighty famous in the years to come but in those early years in Chicago, he was a young newcomer to the larger world of music.

Bill Gretsch was also a newcomer. He had come to Chicago in 1933 or a little earlier to work for his father’s company, The Fred Gretsch Mfg. Co. He was full of energy and his father, Fred Gretsch, felt that Chicago offered more room for his energies than the stayed offices of the company in Brooklyn.

Bill Gretsch was looking to make his mark in the music business which his grandfather had started and his father was now running. Bill noticed the young talent of Les Paul both at the Fair and at the Bismarck and he encouraged him. Introduced him to others in the business, make some connections for him in New York and generally welcomed Les into the world of Music as Bill had known it since his childhood

When Maxine visited the Fair in 1934, she was 17 years old. She knew nothing yet of Bill Gretsch.

But, perhaps, she stopped to hear the music trio who played such fascinating music for the company which made ” Big Yank” work shirts. Perhaps, a young business man, Bill Gretsch stood near her also listening to Les Paul and his friends. Perhaps.


23 & 24 Kansas City State Teacher’s College, Debate, Maxine went.


January 10 “The Spy Glass”. The finals of the first oratorical contest were held in the High School auditorium Friday, January 4th. Jean Roth speaking on the subject “Constitution” was awarded first place. Eleanor Kincaid whose topic was ” A life for a life” was awarded second place. Bernice Payne “Today’s Challenge to the World” placed third. Fourth Place went to Maxine Elsner. Her subject was “the Root”.

Maxine Elsner and Bernice Payne will represent the school at the district tournament next spring. There will be a contest at the Kansas State Teacher’s College At Pillsburg to Strive for the cup which was won by Maxine Elsner last year at Springfield.

Please note, this speech, “The Root” my mother wrote herself. Years later in the early 1960’s, her daughter Gretchen (me) gave the same speech at a contest in New York. I didn’t do so well.

February 14,

Thursday Debating teams, Orange Brocktetls (sp?) and Olympiads

Jean Mills, Anita Raymond, Rebeccah Blair and Maxine Elsner.

Martha Emerson, one of our well known seniors left January 23 to spend a mild winter in Florida.

She will be missed.

April 15

Twelfth Night. Ladies in Waiting: Eleanor Blair, Rebekah Blair, Maxine Elsner

April 18,

Thursday In the final debate of the Annual Spring Intramural Tournament Thursday morning, Maxine Elsner and Rose Marie Montaldo affirmative defeated Allan Seiter and Bob Burke negative by a 2 to 1 decision by the judges.

The names of the two winners together with that of Rebekah Blair , Maxine’s Colleague who was unable to participate in the final debate because of illness swill be engraved on the Fleischaker Trophy cup which is the permanent property of the school.

Allan Seiter was adjudged the best individual debater in the tournament by 6 points. Maxine Elsner was runner up.

May 22 Maxine’s High School Graduation invitation reads:

” The Senior Class of Joplin High School announces its Graduation Exercises on Wednesday the twenty-second of May Nineten hundred and thrity-five at eight o’clock at Memorial Hall.


March 1

On this day the Joplin Globe printed a picture of Maxine Elser and Lola Oliver.

The caption read, ” Miss Maxine Elsner (right) a student at Lindenwood College, St. Charles, Mo., and Miss Lola Oliver ( left) of St. Charles were the recent quests of Miss Elsner’s parent’s, Mr. and Mrs. Max Elsner, 620 Jacard place. Miss Oliver is a senior in the University of Missouri at Columbia and is a member of Chi Omega sorority.

May ” Miss Maxine Elsner of Joplin had a leading part in the recent play, ” Heart Trouble”, presented by Alpha Psi Omega, dramatic honor sorority at Lindenwood college, St. Charles. Miss Elsenr has written a series of essays for the English department, which were chosen to apperar in the literary supplement of the Linden Bark, the bi-weekly publication of the college”

This news clipping was found in the papers belonging to Fred Gretsch in Savannah, GA.

May 1 Maxine at the end of her first year at Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri, spends the week-end in Columbia, Missouri. May 2nd is the 50th birthday of her mother. No doubt the family met there to celebrate.

May 12

This column written by Maxine, appeared in the school newspaper on this date.

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May This newspaper clipping with no exact date, and no reference to its source was found among the Elsner paper.

Written in pencil, May 1936

“Miss Maxine Elsner of Joplin had a leading part in the recent play, “Heart Trouble” presented by alpha Psi Omega, a dramatic honor sorority at Lindenwood college, St. Charles. Miss Elsner has written a series of essays for the English department, which were chosen to appear in the literary supplement of the Linden Bark, the bi-weekly publication of the college.”

May Lindenwood Horse Show

Joplin Globe prints a picture of Maxine and another woman in the show. The caption reads:

these smart equestriennes will tke part in the Lindenwood horse show to be presented next Saturday at the college in ST. Charloes, Mo. Miss Maxine Elsner (left) is a daughter of Mr and Mrs. M.A. Elsner, 620 Jaccard place. Miss Margoire Jane Briggs ( right) is a daughter of Mrs. James Jewell of Bone Terre and Joplin.

Summer Maxine, her mother, her aunt Kate and her grandmother all drive out to Colorado together.

Maxine sends her father (P.O. Box 144 Joplin, MO.-a post card from Estes park, Co. August 31, 1936. On postcard ” Longs Peak from Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park”

” Dear Dad, We just drove by this lake, It’s as pretty as this etching. On our way home now. Love, Maxine”


Edward 8th abdicated in England.

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The above photo of Maxine was taken at 620 Jaccard Place in Joplin circa 1936.

Winter, 1936

William Revelli came to Ann Arbor, Michigan to begin his career as band master at the University of Michigan. William Revelli and Bill Gretsch would become good friends.


September Maxine enters Northwestern University.

Tony Randall, the American comic actor who won an Emmy for his work on “the Odd Couple” also attended Northwestern from 1937-1938. His name at the time was Arthur Leonard Rosenberg. He was from Tulsa, Oklahoma. My mother who had lived for a while as a young girl in Tulsa definitely might have met him at Northwestern. They were both in the School of Speech. He was however, two years younger than she. The archive at Northwestern University has his spiral student notebook from his time on campus. His doodling in the margins show his playfulness in trying to decide on a stage name.

Japan invades China

Maxine filled out a questionnaire upon entering Northwestern. I was able to receive a copy of this questionnaire in June of 2005 from the Alumna Office at that university. Here, in her own hand Maxine wrote about her plans for the future:

“When ten years old, I started taking lessons in dramatics. From then until now I have studied speech with the idea of making it my career. There is a small radio station in my home town , and through it I became interested in radio broadcasting. I chose Northwestern University because of its superior speech division and its radio courses. When I finish college I plan to do both writing and speaking for radio.”

She is quite clear about what she wants to do after graduation: radio broadcasting. Perhaps, it is her insistence about pursuing her career which attracted Bill. He was not himself interested in getting married.

Also in the questionnaire I learned that she weighted 120 pounds and was 5 feet 6.5 inches tall. She also states that she has never worked for pay.

The following article published on November 11, 1945 in the Chicago Daily Tribune entitled ” Want to Crash Radio? Get into N.U.’s Playshop”. written by Larry Wolters shows exactly why Maxine—with her desire to go into Radio—chose Northwestern University.

“A good way to get into big league radio is to enroll in Northwestern University’s school of speech. That is only the first step. After you’re in, try out for the Radio Playshop, which presents student written produced, and performed shows over WIND every Sunday night at 9:30 o’clock.

The Playshop now in its 7th season, has a great record: Scores and scores [it may be hundreds] of former Northwestern students now are carving out successful professional radio careers. Former Playshoppers that come to mind at once are Sondra Gair, playing leards on the Chicago Theater of the Air over WGN-Mutual and Meg Haun and Beverly Taylor of NBC.——-”

This article goes on to name many men and women who have benefited from this program stated by Albert Crews in 1939—-“Dozens of Playshoppers have landed jobs at stations and with the radio departments of advertising agencies from coast to coast. As an example, WBBM gave jobs to Rosalynn Freund, Peggy Montegut, Shirley Decker, and Kay Wear. RElatively few men appear on the list mainly because they went diretly into the military service from the campus. Barbara Will, a gradu of the playshop, heads the radio department of Briarcliff college: others teaching radio ar various colleges are Muriel Landers, Estelle Speto, and Jane Nyvall.

The Playshop was organized in 1939 under the direction of Albert Crews, then the chairman of the school of speech. He becamse so interested in radio that in 1943 he left Northwestern to join the production staff of NBC. Armand Hunter succeeded Crews and still supervises the project.”

I found this article in October of 2006 while doing research at the Northwestern Archive. At the time, I was staying at the home of my good friends Sue and Jerry Canter who were both closely associated with the school of speech. Jerry taught there for many years and Sue was a student there and received a post graduate degree in speech therapy. She worked for many years as a speech therapist on the North Shore.

It was very interesting to talk with them at night, after spending the day in the archive about the history of the speech department and my own mother’s history there.

To learn from the above article that Sondra Gair was a graduate of the speech department and most probably knew my mother was quite a revelation. I was a big fan of Sondra Gair in the 1980’s. She had a mid-day public affair show on WBEZ, “Midday with Sondra Gair” . One of the only women’s voices on the radio as I remember. I was always impressed with how smart she was. Now, through my research to learn that she was connected to my mother seemed absolutely right.

I remember hearing Sondra Gair saying on the radio that she went to bed early in the evening and sat in bed surrounded by books and article which she read late into the night. I remember my mother in bed too—reading, reading, reading.

Sondra Gair died of complications from Breast Cancer in May of 1994 at age 70. I remember thinking when Sondra died that my mother also died of cancer and was very interested in radio……but I didn’t know at the time (1994) that they might have actually known each other. Nor did I know of my mother’s own history with breast cancer or that I would in the near futuresoon be dealing with breast cancer myself.


Radio History In 1931-32, The first course in Radio was offered in the Medill School of Journalism and was entitled, “Radio Advertising Copy”.

In 1935, Albert Crews of the School of Speech offered courses in Radio Acting and Writing.

However, before 1935, as the notes below demonstrate radio was being taken more and more seriously on campus. The idea of adult education by radio was being explored nationally and Northwestern University was at its forefront.

This allowed students interested in this very popular medium a fine opportunity to sharpen their skills while working on the various radio programming for adult education offered through Northwestern University.

NB: The following notes are from a paper by Ansel H. Resler, May 1941.

“The history of Northwester University’s broadcasting activities has a comparatively early beginning. In 1928, Baker Brownell went on the air with his lectures in Contemporary Thought. Throughout the early 1930’s the publicity department of the university planned and produced miscellaneous (radio) programs. …in these years, the broadcasting activities were of an occasional nature with no stress on continuity of long term programming.”

“In 1933, station WENR had carried a series of talks entitled “Twentieth Century Bookshelf”. This was a fifteen minute series carried twice weekly from 4:00 to 4:15, and was a discussion of books and evens from the period of 1911-1925. Each week a different professor spoke about the books and events of a different year.”

“Also In 1933, Northwestern broadcast a short series entitled “the World of Tomorrow” , described as a glimpses into the future of government, literature, and society”. Station WGN carried this series each Thursday evening from 7:15 to 7:30. ”

In the fall of 1934 NU began to develop more clearly its interest in radio Adult education.

In October of 1934, WGN radio in Chicago ordered and paid for the wire and other charges involved in making it possible for programs from the Northwestern University campus studio located in the basement of Annie May Swift Hall (then the school of speech) to be broadcast on WGN’s radio station. The first program “Reviewing Stand” was aired on October 14.

At the time, Ed Stromberg, the publicity director at Northwestern University wrote ” WGN has shown a fine spirit of cooperation. We have been given for our programs very desirable hours, which have been guaranteed for the period of the schedule. In addition ,WGN has agreed to pay wire and other charges involved in broadcasting these programs from out studio located on the Evanston campus.”

In June 1935, a contract was signed between University of Chicago, Northwestern and De Paul University establishing the University Broadcasting Council. Disorganized competition between these local universities was duplicating the form and content of their programming. The University Broadcasting council would address this issue and resolve it. The N.U. representatives were Dean Ralph Dennis from the School of Speech and Ed Stromberg, the director of Publicity for the University.

October 6

Wednesday Article in the Daily Northwestern, the school newspaper:

NU Radio Guild Holds Auditions Thursday at 4:30

The N.U. Radio Guild meeting yesterday afternoon in the Student Building arranged audition for announcers, actors and and actresses. Auditions will be held in the basement of the school of speech building.

Twenty five students all professionally interested in radio were present at the meeting. The organization was divided into three groups: talent and production, announcing and continuity writing. Heading these divisions were Robert Danon, Robert Martin and Gertrude Crippen talent and production; Nick Cy Harrice Announcing; Rod Holmgren and Dorothy McDowell, continuity writing.

Surely, Maxine attended this meeting.

October 12 Article in Daily Northwestern.

Two New Radio Series to Start. Northwestern University will inaugurate two new radio series this week in addition to the two already on the air. Dr. James Roscoe Miller, assistant dean of the medical school will conduct “The new Advances of Medicine” over WIND, 7-7:15 every Thursday evening. This Thursday the first broadcast will discuss “Infantile Paralysis” with Dr. James K. Stack, professor of surgery.

On Sunday afternoon, Dr. Shirley Mamrin of the school Education faculty will begin another 13-week series, “The Right Job” to be heard over WGN, 1-1:15. Dr. Mamrin will specialize in Field guidance and vocational counsel to young men and women with real problems. As far as possible during the series, the occupational families of medicine, business, teaching, personal service, public service, building trades, metal trades and transportation will be covered. A special broadcast will be devoted to occupations for women.

The program next Sunday will be “Choosing a Vocation.” During the 15 minute session, Dr. Mamrin will show students how to decide on a career, where to find reading materials on occupations, and will give positive facts about real careers.

The “Bookshelf” Friday of this week, will again feature John R. Frederick, professor of Modern Letters of the Medill School of journalism at 6-6:15 p.m. over Columbia Broadcasting system. Professor Frederick will review: “Native American Humor” by Walter Blair.

Things are really bad in China. Lots of news in the Daily Northwestern.

October 28,

Thursday While representing the Dieter and Elsner family at the wedding of a distant cousin in Chicago, Maxine first meets Bill Gretsch. Lillian Dieter Cain, the mother of the Groom Louis P. Cain, is descended from George Dieter a younger brother of Maxine’s Great Grandfather, George Wendell Dieter. So the mother of the groom was a cousin of Maxine’s grandfather.

At this time Bill Gretsch is working at The Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company. They have offices at 529 Wabash Ave. He is living at 151 Burton Place in Chicago.

In 2006, Louis P. Cain, the son of Louis Cain and Mary C. Dale send me this information about his parents’ wedding:

“I’ve checked with my two cousins who attended my parents’ wedding as small

children. They confirmed my recollection that it was a small wedding with

family, plus a few school, church, and work friends – perhaps 40 at

most. The wedding was at the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago, with

that church’s minister and my grandfather presiding. The reception was at

the home of the bride’s brother and sister-in-law, the parents of my two


An earlier reference to the Cain family in Chicago can be found in Maxine’s mother’s travel diary from 1908, Here Maxine’s mother, Hattie, describes when she first came to Chicago with her sister Kate and met Lillian Dieter Cain and her family.

“Tuesday June 2, 1908. Kate and I took the train at 8 o’clock for Chicago to see cousin Lillian Cain. Her husband was at the station to meet us but was too early, so we telephoned to the house, received instructions and went by ourselves. We made our first trip on the Elevated Railway. Cousin Lillian and her two children, Helen and Louis, me us at the Edgewater. She certainly has a beautiful home. We had luncheon at the Presbyterian Church where her husband is in charge. The church is finished with mission wood. After luncheon Rev. Cain took a carriage and we took the Lake Shore Drive. This is a long Lake Michigan. Then we drove all through Lincoln Park. The park is beautiful. We saw all kinds of animals, birds, flowers monuments, people and everything. Rushed home, had lunch and hurried to the station. Rev. Cain took us to the Chicago and N.W. and we were again speeding on our way to west Chicago.”

This essay below was inserted into this website on February 21, 2019 by GES who just found it on her computer.  It was originally written on Marcy 18, 2016. (GES)
I never thought I would find out more information about how my parents met. They died long ago and no one seems to remember the details I want to know…but slowly I am finding out and it gives me such great joy.

My parents met shortly after my mother came to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. They met at a wedding on the north side of Chicago. It was the wedding of my grandmother father’s cousin Lillian Dieter Cain’s son. Louis Cain. My mother was certainly distantly related. But perhaps, my mother knew of the family from an earlier visit, or perhaps the family were somehow close.

I found another reference to the Cain family in my grandmother’s Travel Diary from before she was married. My sister Charlotte had this diary and gave it to me around 2000. So I knew that the Cain’s in Chicago were cousins but I didn’t exactly know how. Later in a collection of pictures at my brother’s house I found a picture of the Cain’s and in my Uncle’s writing the inscription, “ Maxine met Bill at a wedding at their house”. It was a picture from 1954 in California. Lillian Cain and her daughter Lillian were visiting my grandparents who were living in California by there.

So there were 50 years of my grandmother visiting with Lillian Cain in Chicago, in California and who knows where else. And somewhere in the middle my grandmother’s daughter met her future husband at Lillian Cain’s house in Chicago.

Somewhere in the middle of all this waiting to find out more about my parents and how they met, I came across a “Mrs. Killian”. An Aunt of my mother’s grandfather, C.A. Dieter, Mrs. Kilian showed up at the funeral in 1886 in Wichita, Kansas of  C.A.’s brother. It was not the first I had heard of earlier generation of Dieters in America. However, it was the first I had heard of a woman in this generation….a woman living out west, in real cowboy country, and traveling to her nephew’s funeral. She was coming from Junction City, Kansas.

Mrs. Killian showed up again at the baptism of her brother’s only daughter in 1864 in Langen, Germany. This time I learned her fist name, Justina. The baby girl was Christianed Justina Eva as is the couston in Darmstadt. To name the baby after the god parents. Eva Kaffenburger, was the other godparent. Justina was a sister of the father of the baby and Eva was a sister of the mother of the baby. Justine was listed as a widow. She was visiting from America.

But I don’t think she was really a widow then. I think that at this time, Hesse was embarking on war with Prussia, the six week war. And probably searching for all the men they could get. It was probably thought best for Justina to say htat she was a widow and not be hasseled by the authorities about her absent husband. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe, he was presumed dead, perhaps, in America’s civil war.

What is certain is that he showed up very much alive in the 1870 census in Junction City and lived there until his real death some years later.

Later research showed me that Justina had come to America as a single woman in 1852. Married George Killian and had a son, George in New York. Her husband was also from Hesse Darmstadt and was a barber. A useful trade in the west and one that the next generation of Dieter’s would follow. Several of my CA Dieter’s brothers were listed as barbers in the 1880 census of Wichita.

This connection through the career of barbering and the fact that Justina showed up at her nephews funeral, led me to believe that the Dieter’s stayed close in America. So In 1937, I shouldn’t be surprised to see the Dieter’s congregation once again….at a wedding. My mother, whose mother was a Dieter, was invited by Louis Cain whose mother was a Dieter to attend his wedding…and there my parents met.

October 30 H.G. Wells spoke at Patten Gym on Northwestern Campus. A crowd of 5,600 attended. Did my mother go? it was just days after she met my father at the Cain wedding.

At that lecture, H. G. Wells forecast a World Community in which all knowledge would be within reach of every intellectual mind, He advocated for a world encyclopedia. Sounds like he was talking about the “net”.

November 5 Home Coming. The parade started at 10 Roycemore Field and went south on Sheridan and Chicago to Davis, west on Davis and north on Orrington to University Place and east to Sheridan and back to Roycemore.

The parade route was not far from where my mother lived on Library Place.

November 19 Daily Northwestern

Page 2.

Five N.U. Students to speak on Radio- Five N.U. Students will speak today over station WIND at 1:30 this afternoon on the history of the school.

Don Heap, Jean Shunway, Mary Alstead, Ruth Coale, Janet Powers will talk under the sponsorship of the Women’s Business Club of Chicago.

The program which will originate from the School of Speech was announced for Monday over station WJJD but has been changed because of program complication.

Page 3

Dr. Frederic will be heard over WBBM. Medill faculty member broadcasts reviews every Friday.

November 27 At a time when Japanese atrocities in China were filling the newspaper this appeared in “Chicago American, Andover 1234- Chicago’s Most Widely Read Evening Newspaper”.

On the Bottom right hand corner of page 3 of the above newspaper, the following picture and caption appeared:

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” A rose by any other name, etc.; and so, a shapely limb in lisle is just as shapely as in silk-this proves it, for the six attractive sets you see here are encased in threads that did NOT come from Japan. And they won’t be until Japan restores herself to the world’s good graces, so have sworn their owners, who happen to be Northwestern University co-eds. Who are they? Thumb over quick to page 4.”

Top of page 4, Large photo of terrified Chinese

Headline “Chinese in ‘Flight from Death’ at Shanghai”

” Jammed like sardines, thousands of native residents of Shanghai pour down a narrow street as they flee the death of Chapei and seek the comparative security of the International Settlement. Behind them they left hundreds of victims of the unceasing gunfire of the Japanese troops, who took the great city of Shanghai a few days ago after a three months siege.

Page 4 bottom right hand corner:


Click to enlarge image

“Chapter 2- Northwestern’s boycotters of Japanese silk stockings, left to right: Betty Philips, Mary Von Lopik, Barbara Jordan, Dorothy Harden, Roberta Racine and Maxine Elsner. Thirty of the university’s sorority girls have banded together in their boycott and hope to enlist 1,500 others. (Besides lisle stockings at two bits a pair are a lot cheaper.)” ( Evening American Photo.)

The same picture (not cut up) appeared the following February in the New York printed publication “College Humor: The Best Comedy in America”. The caption read “Northwestern University: Co-eds Betty Philips (left) Mary Van Lopik, Barbara Jordan, Dorothy Harden, Roberta Racine and Maxine Elsner, out of sheer loyalty to a cause, wear lisle stockings instead of silk as a protest against the Japanese occupation of China”.

The picture appeared in a section entitled “Campus Parade.” “College Humor pays $5.00 for pictures like these. Prints must be on Glossy paper and accompanied by details and return postage”

I wonder who sent this picture into College Humor? I wonder who earned the five dollars.

The magazine was sent to Charlotte, Maxine’s oldest daughter by Paul Elsner, Maxine’s oldest brother in 1986.

November 30 Daily Northwestern

“A series of dramatic dialogues written by Walter Kern will be presented by Marjorie Hurtibese and Hugh Franklin members of the School of Speech, at the school of speech and this afternoon at 4 o’Clock. Admission is free and the university is invited.

Kern was the collaborating author of last years WAA-MUU show, a radio script writer of some repute and the writer of several plays and a musical comedy published by Samuel Frish and Row, Peterson and Co. He is a graduate student at the school of speech. His work has previously been distinguished for satire and barbed wit being similar to George Kaufman. The recital today will be the premier of his first venture with dramatic verse form.”

December 3

Friday Daily Northwestern

“Frederick, Crews talk on Radio.

Book Shelf and Reviewing Stand Programs feature faculty members.

Discussion of “Seed from Madagascar” By Duncan Alf Hayward, “I was a sharecropper” by Harry H. Kroll, “The Wasted Land” by Gerald G. Johnston will be carried on during the Northwestern University Bookshelf program Friday afternoon., Prof. Frederick who will speak on the Columbia Broadcasting Systern from 6:15-6:30.

The Reviewing Stand program entitled “listen and learn” will have as its speaker Albert Crews of the Speech School faculty and Parker Wheatly discussing the second Annual Educational Broadcasting Conference help this week at the Drake Hotel. The program is heard Sunday morning at 10:00 on WGN and the Mutual Broadcasting System.” ( NB: The first conference was held in Washington, DC, the previous year)

December 7

Tuesday Daily Northwester

N.U. On Air Nine Times During Coming Week

N.U. will be represented on 9 different radio programs, five of which will go over the networks, this week. Seven faculty members and three students will speak on the various programs.

The First program last night consisted of a discussion of Prof. Robert E. Seashire research on vocabulary size, called “How many words do you know?” This afternoon at 5 o’clock , Mr. Margery Carlson of the botany department will be heard on station WCFL on the “Science in the news” series discussing her work in Chemical gardening.

J. Roscoe Miller MS and Ass. to the dean of the Medical School will speak Thursday everying on ” The Heart” at 7 pm over WIND. Dr. Miller is in charge of the “Advance of Medicine” series.

John T. Frederic, Professor of Modern Letters at the Medill School of Journalism will present “The Bookshelf” heard locally over WBBM on Friday afternoon at 6:15. Prof. Frederic will discuss “Upper Mississippi” by Walter Hairghurst ( sp?).

Two Northwestern debaters will compete with 2 U of Chicago students in a radio debate on “Can the United States remain neutral?” on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 over WBBM. The discussion will be the second in a series called “Let’s hear your side”

Dr. Oliver J. Lee Prof of Astronomy and director of the Dearborn Observatory will go on the air Saturday night in a discussion of ” Music in the Spheres” on his “Night Sky” series. Lee will be heard at heard at 10 o’clock over station WGN and the Mutual Broadcasting Station.

“The Reviewing Stand” N.U.’s oldest radio series will be broadcast on Sunday morning at 10 o’clock over station WGN and the Mutual Broadcasting Network.

Dr. Shirley Hamrin of the School of education will appear on “The Right Job” series again on Sunday afternoon at 1 o’Clock over station WGN and the Mutual Broadcasting Network. Dr. Manrin will interview a student interested in entering the Metal trades.

December 10 Northwestern Daily

Peggy Dunn and Stanley Franket will represent N.U. in a round table discussion with two U of C students over WBBM on Saturday in “Can America Remain Neutral?” The discussion will be broadcast from 3:30- 4 o’clock.

December 13
Japan attacks Nanking. Bill Gretsch’s 31st birthday. Bill and Maxine were probably already dating. the only clue I have of this is that just two weeks later Maxine sent Bill a telegram. So they must have known each other on Bill’s birthday.


January Over the course of their courtship Bill sent many many telegrams to Sylvia aka Maxine.

The first telegram of their courtship to be saved however is one that Sylvia sent to Bill.

It is dated January 2, 1938. Perhaps, there were earlier ones but they have not yet surfaced and the bulk of the ones to follow were all sent to Sylvia from Bill.

It is interesting that the first telegram to be saved was from Sylvia. Perhaps, Bill or someone who went through his papers did not save the ones that Sylvia wrote.

All the telegrams which were saved were found carefully safely stored inside a manila envelope.

On the outside of this very old file folder Maxine had written ” Bill’s Mass Cards”.

The Mass Cards did not survive.

Perhaps my mother (Maxine) discarded the Mass cards when she decided to save the telegrams in their place.

Or perhaps someone else after my mother’s death in 1964 decided to save the telegrams and not the mass cards.

The telegrams were sent to me by my sister Katie circa 1995.

January 2 To William Gretsch, 529 South Wabash Chicago, ILL


Sent from Kansas City, Missouri

Although this message, doesn’t give us a lot of information today, it does show that Maxine is now calling herself by Bill’s pet name for her, Sylvia.

This telegraph also tells us that the couple are keeping in touch and letting each other know their whereabouts.

We can assume that since they first met a little more than two months ago, they have been spending time together.

Telegrams from Bill arrived at Maxine’s sorority house, 628 Library Place, every two or three days over the next few months.

March 3 Telegram from Chicago


March 12 The Anschluss. the annexation of Austria into greater Germany by the Nazi regime.

March 16 Telegram from Chicago


I remember a story that Mary Curtis, my mother’s college roommate told me. My mother and father had decided to meet in an hotel lobby. My father was very fond of my mother’s blond hair. My mother decided to play a trick on him. She and her friends changed her hair color to dark black. They did it as I remember with mascara. Macara was a think coating of dark that was applied to the eyelashes to thicken the lashes.

When my father arrived at the appointed hour, he did not recognize my mother and keep looking around for her. It was very exciting because usually it was Bill who was playing the tricks on everyone. This time he had been had!

Perhaps, this was the meeting in the Congress Hotel Lobby that she played the trick on him.

March 19 Telegram from Chicago


March 20 Telegram from Chicago


Mach 23 Telegram from Chicago

“Will I still love you when you have false teeth a rat and a corset=Perpetual Youth.”

March 24 Telegram from Chicago

” Are you cheering your Professors this afternoon?

If not would like you to make a cup of tea this afternoon to refresh my aunt and her mother-who will have two hours in town between trains, leaving at three thirty.

If you can arrange it-tea pound cake lemon- cream are in the ice box- landlady has key wash your poirty neck and wear the while uniform behind door you make tea by boiling fresh water in clean pot for ten minutes=call me Mr. Gretsch”

March 25 Telegram from Chicago

“Stand behind Mary grab phone when she stops to take a breath=HOCHACTUNEVOLLBILL”

March 26 Telegram from Chicago, 6:58 A.M.

“martex you have brought new color and cheer into our home=the two grateful bachelors.”

Telegram from Springfield, Ill. 6:25 P.M.

“Just visited the home and tomb of the immortal Lincoln. consult lLncoln reference at the Northwestern Library at once understand modern theory is that Lincoln owes his fame to a nagging wife=a Gay Bachelor”

March 28 Telegram from St. Louis, Missouri

“Congratulations on leading your cloass we are proud of our Joplin Girl making good= Gov. LLoyd. C. Stark”

March 27-April 1

Click to enlarge image

“Gretsch Missionaries at Music Educator’s Convention” in St. Louis. Pictured here in an article from Piano Trades Magazine, are many people who will play a big role in Maxine’s life in the coming years. Including Bill Gretsch, Duke Kramer, Mrs. Arthur Neu and Mr. Neu.

Thank you Fritzie Kramer for sharing this clipping with me.

March 31 Telegram from St. Louis, MO.



April 2 Telegram from Hannibal, MO, sent 8:10 pm


April 3 Telegram from Moberly MO, sent 12:40 p.m.



April 7 Telegram from Chicago, sent at 12:25 p.m.



April 9 Telegram from Chicago, sent at 9:41 a.m.


April 11 Telegram from Youngstown, Ohio, sent 9:11 a.m.


April 13 Sylvia is going home to Joplin perhaps on Spring Break. Bill sents her a telegram at three different stops of her train.

Note all the telegrams were sent at the same time circa 3 pm.

Perhaps, he sent them as soon as he said goodbye to her in Chicago.

Telegram from Chicago to Sylvia, Joplin, Missouri bound A Lincoln 6:34 pm leaving Alton Station, Bloomington Ill, sent at 3:12 p.m.

“MY VICTORY IS HALLOW WITHOUT THE WOMAN I LOVE=JUDGE JARECKI.” ( N.B. Jarecki was a Cooke County Judge who went after Al Capone)

April 13 Telegram from Chicago to Sylvia, Joplin bound Alton Line Abe Lincoln leave 733 Springfield.


April 13 Telegram from Chicago, sent at 3:11 p.m., to Sylvia Elsner Alton Station arriving on Abe Lincoln from Chciago arriving 9:25 p.m. St. Louis


April 26 Telegram from Forest Hills, New York at 12:44 a.m. Sent to: THE AUTHORESS SYLVIA=628 Library Place.


This very intriguing telegram suggests that Sylvia made up a story which perhaps Bill read on his way to New York. Had she written a story about a German Catholic boy like Bill? Was she suggesting Reno, as a possible marriage site?

April 27 Telegram from New York sent 3:28 p.m. To Sylvia, 628 Library


May 4

May 8

Telegram from Kansas City, sent 11:22 a.m. To Sylvia, Evanston, Ill.


Joplin Newspaper Clipping reads:

Personals: Announcement has been made that Miss Maxine Elsner, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. M.A. Elsner, has been initiated into Phi Beta, national honorary speech sorority, at Northwestern university in Evanston, Ill.

May 9

Telegram from Chicago, To Miss Maxine Elsner, 628 Library Pl, received 10:41 a.m.



Walter Dill Scott was president of Northwestern University from 1920 until 1939.

Actually, Walter Dill Scott was well know for his personnel selection methods which included tests to measure certain desirable characteristics and rating scales to rate applicants on necessary skills and attributes (appearance, demeanor, neatness, judgment, accuracy).

So Bill was very correct in his use of Walter Pill Scott to critic Sylvia’s behavior.

May 9 Telegram from Chicago, sent at 10:29 a.m.

To: Sylvestro (Personal) 628 Libary Place, Evanston, Ill.


Sylvia must have been really mad at Bill. First she slams the phone done and then she obviously hurt him.

May 10 Telegram from Chicago, sent at 2:49 p.m.


May 11 Telegram from Chicago sent 7:36 a.m.


May 12 Telegram from Detroit, sent 7:01p.m.


May 16 Telegram from Chicago, To Miss Sarah Bernhardt, sent 1:05 p.m.


May 26 Kiddiegram sent from Chicago,


May 31 Telegram from Chicago, sent 3:37 p.m.


June 7 Telegram from Chicago sent at 7:21 a.m.


June 13 Telegram from Muskegon, Michigan, sent to Sylvia Elsner, 620 Jaccard Place, Joplin, MO. 10:06 p.m.


I wonder what Maxine’s parents thought of this telegram. Apparently, it was phoned in at 11:05 p.m.

June 15 Telegram from Detroit, Michigan, sent to Sylvia, 620 Jaccard , sent at 11:31 p.m.


June 18 Telegram from Chicago sent at 3:47 p.m. To Sylvia


June 18 Telegram from Chicago, the same station as the previous telegram, To Sylvia


Obviously, Sylvia did not go to the wedding of Bill’s friends. The Mahoney’s became good friends of my mother. The wedding was at South Shore Country Club.

(insert picture)

Date is written on back of picture but not clear.

June 22

Joe Louis ko’d Max Schmelling in the first round of a New York City fight that the world was watching and the Gretsch and Elsner families were certainly discussing.

June 23 Picture of Bill and another woman with Ross Mahoney and his bride, Mary.

“South Shore Country Club” is written on the bottom of the picture.

June 23 Telegram from Chicago, sent at 2:42 p.m.

to Miss Maxine Elsner, personal care Mr & Mrs. Max Elsner



Was this the first time that Bill meet Sylvia’s parents?

Note the telegram was sent to Maxine and not Sylvia. Perhaps, he was trying to endear himself to her parents by not joking about their daughter’s name.

June 27 Telegram from St. Joseph, Missouri sent 12:00 a.m.


June 28 Telegram from Kansas City, Missouri



Does this refer to the telegram from Mary of June 18 saying that Sylvia will be the next bride?

June 29 Telegram from St. Joseph, MO, to Miss Maxine Elsner care of Max Elsner, sent 3:09 pm


It must have been exciting for Sylvia/ Maxine waiting in Joplin for Bill to arrive.

July 3 Bill is visiting Maxine and her family in Joplin. Paul and Lola, Ralph and Max and Hattie are there too.

Click to enlarge image

Perhaps, Bill took this picture of the family together on their patio on Jaccard Place.

Picture of Bill on his knee before Maxine.

July 10 Howard Hughes took off from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, the city’s first municipal airport and went around the world.

September Hitler annexed Austria..

October Northwester University’s student magazine ” Purple Parrot” published an article entitled “When Charlie Went to Class” by Edgar Bergan as told to Bobette Kobey. “Radio’s Only Ventriloquist Tells His Own Story of Northwestern Days.”

October 31 Dorothy Hale, an American socialite and aspiring actress, commits suicide by jumping from her 16th floor apartment at the Hampshire House in New York City. She was a close friend of Claire Boothe Luce. The evening before her death, she had given a farewell party and told her friends that she was going on a long journey. Afterwards she went to the theater with Mr. & Mrs. J.P. Morgan to see “Oscar Wilde” by Leslie and Sewall Stokes. This play at the Fulton theater stared Robert Morley and was a major awarding success on Broadway.

Maxine as a theater major would have been well aware of this play and of Dorothy Hall.

December 29 On January 1, the Joplin Globe reported that on this date Thursday, December 29th, Miss Hazel McDaniel announced her engagement to Armand Helm at a party in Joplin attended by Miss Martha Emerson, Miss Martha Dennis, Miss Mary Margaret Alcott, Miss Nadine Sharp, Miss Maxine Elsner, Miss Rebekah Blair, Miss Gwyneth Waring, Miss Josephine Davison, Mrs. C. W. Helm and Mrs. H. V. Peters.

December 30 On January 5, the Joplin Globe reported that on this date Friday, Miss Maxine Elsner entertained with a surprise shower Friday night at her home, 620 Jaccard place in compliment to Miss Nondas Mc Daniel, whose engagement to Armand Helm of Pine Bluff, Ark., was announced recently. Refreshments were served. Bridge prizes won by Mrs. C. W. Helm and Miss Mary Rupard, were presented to the honor guest.Other guests included Misses Nadine Sharp, Martha Ruth Kendrick, Josephine Davison, Martha Emerson, Mary Louise Jennings, Rebekah Blair, mary Margaret Alsott and Margaret Dennis, Mrs. M. A. Elsner and Mrs Hazel McDaniel.


January 1

Mike Dieter born. Mike is the son of Maxine’s cousin Gus Dieter and his wife Willodean.

January 1

Telegram from Richmond Hill, New York to Sylvia , 628 Library Place,


January 5

Thursday. The Society page of the Joplin Globe reports:

Miss Maxine Elsner entertained with a surprise shower Friday night at her home, 620 Jaccard place, in compliment to Miss Nondas McDaniel, whose engagement to Armand Helm of Pine Bluff Arkansas announced recently. Refreshments were served. Bridge prizes won by Mrs.C.W. Helm and Mary Ruppard, were presented to the honor guest. Other guests included Misses Nadine Sharp, Martha Ruth Kendrick, Josephine Davison, Martha Emerson, Mary Louise Jennings, Rebekah Blair, Gwyneth Waring, Eleanor Blair, mary Margaraet alcott and Margaret Dennis, Mrs. M. A. Elsner and Mrs. Hazel McDaniel.

January 6

Telegram to Richard Gretsch care of Marion Reserve Power Co, Marion, Ohio.

From Brooklyn, New York

Bill Remaining in Florida until Sunday. Have a good trip, Fred.

January 7 Telegram from MIAMI FL to MISS SYLVIA ELSNER 628 LIBRARY PL

‘YOU SHOULD WORRY LOVE= SALLY” Possibly this is the sister of the grown Courtney Fitzpatrick who had just gotten married in Florida. This wedding is remembered by Marion Gretsch Wells as being very wild.

Fred Gretsch is there too for the wedding.

Someone told me a story one time about how the groom had gotten really drunk at a wedding in Florida and my father put him on a boat to Cuba. It was a really wild story. Maybe this was that wedding.

January 16,

Click to enlarge image


According to this article from Music Trade Review, Duke Kramer was given a farewell party by Gretsch employees in recognition of his going on the road for Gretsch in the traveling musical merchandise field. His territory will be Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. Duke has been working for Gretsch for about five years. The farewell party was held in the offices of the Gretsch company, note all the accordians which line the room. Thanks to Rob Cook for pointing that out to me.

Note Bill Gretsch one of the few people identified in this picture. Margaret Mitchell and Dick Metchs (sp?) were also identified by Duke’s wife who wrote their names in at the time. I wonder who that older woman is, sitting just in back of Bill Gretsch and Dick Metch’s. I bet she knows a lot of stories about the music business in Chicago at the time.

This article was saved by Fritzie Kramer, Duke’s wife and shared with me (Gretchen Elsner-Sommer) in 2005. Duke and Fritzie were always ready to share a great deal of information with me about the early courtship of my father, Bill Gretsch and and my mother, Maxine Elsner. They also shared stories of Duke’s early years with the Gretsch company working along side my Dad.

One such story is how Duke got his job at Gretsch. In the early 1930’s, Duke was living at home with his mother in Downers Grove. He was playing music in a lot of clubs in Chicago and staying out late. His mother naturally worried about him and asked a neighbor who worked in downtown Chicago to help Duke get a real job.

This friend told my father, Bill Gretsch that there was a young musician looking for work. My father went to hear Duke play, met him afterwards and later offered him a job at Gretsch.

So it was all because of Duke’s mother that that Duke got the job at Gretsch.

January 18

Click to enlarge image

This poem was found among Maxine’s papers. Did she write the poem on her father’s business stationery, or did her father write it or did perhaps, Fred Graves whose name appears on the letter head write it. This strange poem entitled “Pillars of Society” was submitted to “Pictorial Review” a magazine based in New York. The repetitive beat of the poem is reminiscent of the German troops who are marching across Europe at the time

This poem can be read is a stern indictment of how unfeeling men can be. Or it can be read more naively in praise of men. It should be noted that Maxine’s father was a member of the Kiwanis Club and also a Rotarian. Both clubs are mentioned in the poem. So the poem can also be read as an indictment of Maxine’s father.

Perhaps, this was written by Max and his daughter found it and kept it. But most likely, it was written by Maxine on her father’s stationary.

January 30 Telegram from John in Jamaica, New York to Richard Gretsch Hollywood Athletic Club LosA.:|

Arrived safely saw Bill Chicago had lunch with him and quite a gang appreciate your thoughtfulness spoke to Freddie tonight hes sailing aquitania saturday call me when you get back.

This telegram paints a pretty lively picture of what the Gretsch boys were up to in 1939.

February 6 Telegram from NEW YORK to SYLVIA 628 LIBRARY PLACE



February 11 Paul and Lola are married at her parents home in St. Charles, Missouri. Maxine lit the candelabra.

Years later Lola remembers the pranks that Bill Gretsch played at her wedding. I don’t think she was too thrilled with these unforeseen additions to the celebration.

February 21 Maxine comes down with the Grippe and visits the infirmary at Northwestern University.

February 23 “Telegram from Chicago, Ill. to Maxine Olivia Dione Elsner, Evanston Hospital, Evanston, Ill.


Apparentely, Maxine has been admitted to the hospital most probably to deal with the Grippe.

The same day that Bill sent this telegram to Maxine in the Evanston hospital, the Joplin Globe reported that ” Mrs. M. A. Elsner was assisted by Mrs. Clause E. David and Mrs. C. R. Henrick in entertaining the Unity Literary Club Monday afternoon at her home, 60 Jaccard. place. Mrs. J. W. Jackson reviewed “Grandma Called It Carnal” (Bertha Damon). Mrs. Mary Williams and Mrs Edwin Perkins, former members of the club were guests. a shower of handkerchiefs were presented to Mrs. Kirby S. White, president of the club who is leaving the city. A dessert bridge was served. Mrs. H. B. Sanders, 120 Moffet avenue will be hostess at which time officers for the club for the coming year will be elected.

February 25 The infirmary at Northwestern University again reports a visit by Maxine because of the Grippe.

She is reported as 5 feet 6 1/2 inches and 120 lbs.

March 7 Telegram from Louisville, Ky to Sylvia Y.S. 628 Library Place, Evanston, Ill.


March 12 Telegram from Richmond Hill New York to Sylvia, 628 Library Place, Evanston, Ill.


Grover A. Whalen was the World’s Fair president and chief spokesman. He was also the official greeter of the New York World Fair.

At this time, Bill’s cousin and his wife, Ted and Kay Clauss were both working at the French Pavilion at the World’s Fair. They had something to do with the selling of musical instruments there. Bill must have been spending lots of time at the Fair, doing advertising for the business there.

March 14 Telegram from Boston, Mass. to Sylvia, 628 Library Place, Evanston, Ill.


March 15 Hitler invades Czechoslovakia.

March 17 Telegram from New York, to Sylvia, 628 Library Place, Evanston, Ill.


April 4 Telegram from Chicago, to Sylvia personal delivery only= 628 Library Place, Evanston, Ill.


April 5 Easter recess begins at Northwestern.

April 8 The Joplin Globe reports on April 16, “Miss Maxine Elsner entertained with a “knick-knack” shower for Miss McAllister at her home, 620 Jaccard place, Saturday night (April 8). The guests were Miss Martha Emerson, Miss Gretchen Hurlbut, Miss Rebekah Blair, Miss Louetta Kendrick, Miss Martha Ruth Kendrick, Miss Mary Ruppard, Miss Nondas McDaniel, Miss Mary Von Lupik, of Castle Rock, Colo., a house guest of Miss Elsner, Mrs. Mc Allister and Mrs. M. A. Elsner.” ” A Sunday night coffee was given by Miss Gretched Hurlbut in her home at 635 North Moffett” Maxine and Mary and Hattie also attended with many other.

April 9

Easter Sunday The paper further reports that last Sunday night April 9, a dinner was given in compliment to Miss McAlister at the Lou Davis Tea room. Miss Elsner and Miss Von Lopik were there among others. Miss McAlister left last Monday for the east. She had attended Joplin High School and Lindenwood College and the university at Fayetteville. She was married to Cecil W.Wight of the U. S. Marines in D. C. last Wednesday.


“On Easter Sunday (April 9), 1939, the contralto Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. the Daughters of the American Revolution had refused to let her appear at Constitution Hall, Washington’s largest concert venue, because of the color of her skin. In response, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the D.A.R. and President Roosevelt gave permission for a concert on the Mall. Seventy five thousand people gathered to watch Anderson perform. Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, introduced her with the words “In this great auditorium under the sky, all of us are free.” The New York April 13, 2009

April 11 Classes resumed at Northwestern.

April 16 The Joplin Globe also reports on this date that “Mr. and Mrs. Max A. Elsner have returned to their home 620 Jaccard Place after visiting their son and daughter in law Mr. and Mrs. Paul Elsner in Fulton, Mo. They were accompanied to Fulton by their daughter Miss Maxine Elsner and Miss Mary Von Lupik who were returning to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.”

April 21 Telegram from St. Louis, Mo. to S-y-l-v-i-a (DON’T DELIVER AT W C T U HEADQUARTERS)=628 Library Place, Evanston, Ill.


April 25 Telegram from Chicago, to Mary and Sylvia Giggle=628 Library Place, Evanston, Ill.


April 28 Telegram from Chicago, to Sylvia 500-908= 628 Library Place, Evanston, Ill.


April 29 On this day, Maxine sat at her typewriter and filled out a questionnaire for the alumni office. I was able to get a copy of it in June 2005.

She named two people other than her parents who will always know her address: Paul A. Elsner, 1212 N. Vine St. Fulton, Missouri and Nondas Mc Danials, 2319 South Wall, Joplin, Missouri.

She named Mary Van Loppik Class of 1939 and Betty Lewis, Call of 1940 as two of her best friends at school.

Have you secured a position following graduation? No.

Honors,scholarships Awards: member of Phi Beta, honorary professional speech and mucis fraternity, Member of Alpha Psi Omega, honorary speech fraternity

First Prize, Oratorical contest, Lindenwood College, 1937.

May 3 Telegram from Chicago, to Sylvia Limberger, personal care Mrs. Lewis, 628 Library Place, Evanston, Ill.


May Lou Gehrig reported as stricken with infantile paralysis. This is the wrong disease but it was widely reported. Bill had the same disease as a child.

June 6 Tuesday, The Joplin Globe reports ” Mr and Mrs Max Elsner of 620 Jaccard Place will leave today for Evanston, Ill. where they will attend commencement exercises at Northwestern University. Their daughter Maxine Elsner will receive a degree in Speech at the ceremony. Mr. and Mrs. Paul Elsner of Fulton will accompany them. They plan to return home next week

June 8,

Bill’s best friend and first cousin Ted Clauss and his wife Kay’s first child is born, John Edward who was always called Jed.

He was named after each of his grandfather’s John Clauss and William Edward Quillen, his mother’s parents.

Maxine would have been well aware of this because Bill would be very much involved.

Jed was born as was all of his following siblings at Brooklyn Hospital. He was delivered by Dr. Winfield Stumpf whose father with the same name was a medical missionary in China. Kay had once dated this doctor who delivered her babies.

June 10 It rained all day.

President’s Reception at Deering Library ( 2006, The University Archive is Deering Library)

7:30 p.m. Bacculoriate Service at the First Methodist Church.

8:00 p.m. Band concert.

8:300 Illumination Ceremony. Deering Meadow was too wet for this traditional ceremony. It was held in the Great Hall of the Methodist Church

June 10

Friday Maxine graduates from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Speech. 5 PM Dyche Stadium.

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

Maxine’s graduation picture from Northwestern Univeristy.

Telegram from Chicago to Miss Maxine (Sylvia) Elsner=628 Library Pl.


Notice the use of real names. Perhaps, Bill is aware that Maxine’s parents are in town and that calls for some formality.

Perhaps, Bill did not attend the graduation because they were feuding. He was obviously in town.

June 28 According to the Joplin Globe of July 2, Nondas Ruth McDaniel, daughter of Mrs. Hazel MacDaniel, was married on this Wednesday to Armand Helm in First Community Church. Maxine was maid of honor. She wore a gown of iris net over taffeta with ribbons of dusty pink. Nondas graduated with Maxine and went to business school in Chillicothe. The couple will live in Columbia. Large picture of the bride.

July 12 Maxine’s father signed power of attorney over to his son Ralph. Did Max know he was leaving town?

The Ozark Press in July printed the following artilce:

Mr. and Mrs. Max elsner of Joplin spent the week end at Henderson Camp on Elk River, Mr elsner and “ye editor” made a float trip to the state line Monday and several fine bass and some perch were caught. Artificial bait, both flie and plugs, were used, the largest, a four pound line side bass was caught on a River Bunt plug.

A picture accompanied this article with the caption: Line side bass caught on ELk River newa Henderson Camp by Max. A. Elsner of Joplin, Mo.

Noel, Ozark Press, July 1939 is written in long hand across the clipping.

July 25 Telegram from Chicago to Sylvia=620 Jaccard St Joplin Mo=


Telegram undated from Brooklyn= Sylvia. Personal=720 Jaccard St


July 29 Telegram from New York to Sylvia=620 Jaccard st


August 1 Music Industry Trade show opens in New York City at New Yorker Hotel.

August 4 Telegram from New York to Sylvia 620 Jaccard Joplin Mo


August 21 Telegram from Chicago to Sylvia 620 Jaccard


Bill was visiting Maxine in Joplin apparently. Ralph Depalmer was a very famous race car driver.

August 28 Telegram from Chicago to Sylvia Teacher 620 Jaccard Joplin M0


It seems to me a little late in the year to be getting this position.

Maxine took a job at Webb City High School. There she taught English and Speech. She was the debate coach, the dramatic coach and the sophomore class sponsor.

Maxine’s Aunt Kate and her grandmother Helen Dieter move from the large family home at 410 North Pearl to a home they had built at 321 North Pearl.

UNDATED Undated telegram from DETROIT MICH to SYLVIA TEACHER 620 Jaccard st=


(These three following telegrams are printed on the same paper as the above which obviously was sent right after Maxine took the job at Webb City High School. Therefore, I enter tham all here. Perhaps, they were received during the summer before Maxine secured her job)









September 1 Germany invades Poland.

The Women, a movie of the successful play by Clare Boothe with an all women cast is released. It is considered the ultimate women’s movie of the 1930’s, staring Norma Sheare, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell.

September 3 Prime Minister in England on the radio ” This country is at war with Germany”. Almost before the words were said, the sound of air raid sirens filled the air.

September 7 JG reports ” John Beal Enthused over Television”

“Alex Bliedung known on stage as John Beal…the youthful stage and screen star…he is in Joplin for a two weeks visit with hid parents, Mr and Mrs. Edward A. Bliedung, 209 North Byers ave and other relatives..”

For sure Maxine saw him at this time, she would have been interested in talking with him about her field and his theater.

UNDATED Undated telegram from Chicago to Miss Maxine Elsner Personal DLVY ONLY WEBB CITY HIGH SCHOOL WEBB CITY MO=




September 14 Telegram from CHICAGO to SYLVIA= DELVR BEFORE 7:15 AM THURSDAY 620 JACCARD












October 8 JG reports that a luncheon Bridge was held yesterday at the Women’s Club. Rebecca Blair and Maxine Elsner were there among many others.

November 5 Telegram from CHICAGO to SYLVIA, 620 JACCARD ST, JOPLIN, MO



November 10 JG Reports” Webb City debaters to Pittsburg today.

Webb City, Mo. Nov. 9,- The Webb City High school debate squad will go to Pittsburg tomorrow for an invitational debate tournament tomorrow and Saturday. The following debaters will make the trip: Herbert Stogsdill, Max Myers, Mary Lou Nance, Max Custis, Harvey Saysler, Fred Spille, jr, Lloyd Pruitt, Kenneth Smith, Clyde Elliott, Bob Myers and Rob Roy Ratliff. Miss Maxine Elsner, the debate coach will accompany the squad.”

November 22 Telegram from CHICAGO to SLYVIA, JOPLIN, MO



There were the dates for a three day session of Missouri Music teachers that took place at the Connor Hotel. Gerald Prescott leader of the University Band of Minnesota was the guest speaker. He was a friend of Bill’s.

See 1946 pictures below of the Fred Gretsch Mfg. Company Dearlers Meeting held in the fall of 1946 in Minnesota. The meeing which was really a party was hosted by Bill and Sylvia Gretsch. Gerald Prescott, William Revilli from the University of Michigan and others attended. The meeting was held at the time of the Minnesota- Michigan football game.









Was Bill planning on coming to Joplin the day after Christmas?

some Christmas telegrams but not sure of dates, could be ’38 or ’39.

December 23 According to the Joplin Globe, Maxine Elsner was at a shower for Miss Nadine Sharp at the home of Mrs. Hazel McDaniel and Mrs. Armand Helm. Rebekah Blair was also there.

December 29 Nadine Sharp’s wedding. Maxine’s name not mentioned in paper nor was Mrs. Armand.








January 30 Telegram from CHICAGO to MISS MAXINE ELSNER 620 JACCARD ST=


February 12 JG reports that the engagement of Miss Nondas McDaniel to Mr Armand L. Helm of Pine Bluff, Ark.was recently announced. His mother entertained at bridge Wednesday night at her home, 211 Jackson avenue. Mrs. Max A Elsner was there among many others.

Nondas was one of Maxine’s best friends.

February 14 Fancy Valentine Telegram from BROOKLYN to MISS MAXINE ELSNER= 620 JACCARD ST=



Claire Boothe Luce in the NBC Studio around 1940.

” In February of 1940, Clare Boothe Luce , an American playwright and socialite, arrived in Europe as an accredited observer for “Life”, an enviable status acquired more through her marriage to the magazine’s publisher, Henry Luce, than any previous experience as a war correspondent…..Boothe was privy to the opinions of countless European leaders who confidently touted the Allies’ superiority and ‘pooh-poohed’ the pending German offensive.” Jennet Conant, NYT, May 3, 2009

Maxine might have been keeping her eye on Clare Boothe Luce and her articles in Life magazine. Boothe was an elegant and witty writer. Maxine also looked quite a bit like Luce.












April 19 On this Friday, according to the Joplin Globe of April 14th, Miss Maxine Elsner directed the Webb City High School senior play. “the Green Vine” whose plot centers around an old mansion and its former owner and occupant, Uncle George who is a practical-minded old country gentleman, returned in spiritual form to help his nephew with several of his problems. Staring Max Meyers and Elroy Thomas among others.

May 10 ” It was 5:20 in the morning of May 10, a month into her (Clare Boothe’s) listening tour, when she awoke in her room at the American Embassy in Brussels to the sound of bombs falling. Boothe had gone to Europe as an observer and returned an impassioned advocate and determined to warn America that ignorance and inertia had combined ” to cause France to fall and to leave Europe naked to invasion”. Jennet Conant, NYT, May 3, 2009

May 28,
Walter Gretsch, uncle of Bill Gretsch dies after a long illness. He ha set up his own musical instrument company 25 years ago “Gretsch and Brenner” and also “New York Musical instruments”. Competitors with his brother Fred Gretsch’s business. They hadn’t spoken in years.
Katie told me the story that when he died someone said to his brother Fred, “your brother Walter has died.” my Grandfather said, “I have no brother named Walter”.

i wonder what my mother thought of this family feud? I wonder what my father thought of it.

June 14

(early June)

German troops march into Paris and Paris surrendered.

Dunkirk, British troops evacuate from France.

The Battle of Britain begins.

June 18 Churchill gives his famous speech about the fight against Hitler—“Britain’s finest hour”

Maxine would have been listening carefully to this speech—

June End of Maxine’s (Sylvia’s) teaching job at Webb City High School.

July 12 Sylvia is with Bill in Chicago.

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This picture has the date July 12, 1940 written on its back.

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Sept.20 Hattie in Kansas City with her sister Kate.

September Picture of Maxine and Hattie on the street in Kansas City. Maxine looks very irritated with Hattie.

Maxine is wearing the same jacket she looked so happy in the July 12th picture in Chicago with Bill.

September 7 The beginning of the London Blitz.

Edward R Murrow began making his spectacular radio news broadcasts from London. The power of radio was at its height.

Sylvia/ Maxine who was trained in radio must have been very attentive to these broadcasts.

There was so much going on in the world of radio. Radio is what Maxine trained for and dreamed of all her life….no wonder she and my father disagreed over her career…she wanted to work in radio, he no doubt wanted her to stay closer at hand…..she was off to Texas after her job at Webb City was over….she would search for a job in radio.

Perhaps, she saw herself working in radio in a different place than Witchita Falls, Texas. Perhaps, she had more of a world view. But the situation with her parents might have forced her to settle in Wichita Falls with her mother for the moment. Perhaps, this is the crux of the stress between my mother and her mother on the streets of Kansas City in this same period.

Knowing this about Edward R. Murrow and his radio addresses to American, and seeing my mother as a young college graduate gives a little more clarity to the situation my mother was in, in the summer of 1940. Her desire to work in radio was large, the world situation opened up lots of opportunities and her family situation, her parent split forced her to curtail her ambitions for the moment.

She left her job in Webb City teaching High School speech and debate. But intstead of being off to see the world, she went to Texas with her mother, her aunt and her grandmother, to comfort her mother. Her father had gone off with another woman perhaps.

She took a job (in June of 1941) at a local radio station ( KWFT). She would sharpen her radio skills in that small Texas station.

But what was she doing all this time between her job in Webb City which ended in June 1940 and the time of writing radio copy in March of 1941. Living already in Wichita Falls with her grandmother and mother?

December 29 The most terrible night of the London blitz. A night of terror intended by the Germans to bring England to her knees. Thousands of incendiary bombs let loose on the city causing fires everywhere.


January 6 This week’s issue of TIME magazine pictured Churchill on its cover proclaiming him “Man of the Year” quoting from the Foreign News ” Blood, Toil, tears and sweat–and untold courage”. In homage no doubt to the on going bombings of London.

In the theater section of the same magazine, a long article Mantel of Barnum described the new Michael Todd Theater Cafe which has just opened in Chicago in the old Rainbow Ball Room which once housed the high priced French Casino during the Chicago World’s Fair. Below is a picture of Bill and Sylvia at this “hot” new nightclub. It is located on Clark street between Lawrence and Ainsle.

Michael Todd was 33 years old at the time. He had just recently run four of the biggest and most popular shows at the New York World’s Fair. Described by TIME as a “showman” worthy enough to wear the mantel of PT Barnum. Michael Todd would go on to marry Elizabeth Taylor, find the wide screen process of Todd A-O and finally die in a plane crash in the early 1960’s.

Click to enlarge image

Bill and Sylvia with friends including Tiny Hoff and his wife at Michael Todd’s Theatre Cafe located at 4812 Clark Street, Chicago. It was billed as the world’s largest night club. It seats 3,700 people and has a 400 foot balcony bar.

Wichita Falls, Texas City Directory lists: Helena Dieter (wid Aug) h. 1507 Speedway, Maxine Elsner, continuity Director Wichita Falls Broadcasting Co. r.1607 Speedwell. Mostly, Maxine was already living there in 1940 when the city directory was compiled.

Maxine and her grandmother are living in Wichita Falls. Perhaps, Kate is also living there. Perhaps, Hattie is also there.

There is no record of contact with between Bill and Maxine during this time. Was my father really angry that my mother took this job in Texas. Perhaps, she did it to be near her family. Is this time that Max left Hattie?

February 1 Ralph marries Betty Ann Heinz. Max and Helen are not there.

Joplin Glove in the announcement of Ralph and Betty’s engagement states that “Mr.& Mrs. Max Elsner of Kansas City, formerly of Joplin”

I imagine that this was time of big trouble.

Maxine was maid of honor. Paul was best man. Large article in paper.

February Hattie’s in Fulton, Mo visiting Paul & Lola, Bill & Maxine are there?

March 7 Max applies for a social security card. He lists his business address as: Beach Hill Inn, 27 Main Street, Santa Cruz, California.

He lists his wife as Hattie Helen Dieter. Perhaps, she is living with him. Perhaps, he is hoping that she soon will.

Oddly, Max lists his name as Max Fritz Julius Adolph Elsner. His name was August not Adolph. Max also lists his father’s name as Adolf. It was in fact, Gustave Adolph. It seems a strange time to be using the name Adolph so much.

March 17-

April 1 Maxine writing copy for radio in Wichita Falls, TX

March 11 Lend-Lease came into existence with the passage of the Lend-Lease Act of 11 March 1941, which permitted the President of the United States to “sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government [whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States] any defense article”. Roosevelt approved US $1 billion in Lend-Lease aid to Britain at the end of October, 1941. ( Wikipedia)

Click to enlarge image

May, Hattie is in Wichita Falls with her mother, her sister and Maxine.

June 3 Paula Elsner, Hattie’s first grandchild, Maxine’s first niece, is born in Fulton, Mo.

In Paula’s collection of letters, there is no letter from Max, her grandfather. the first letter from Max comes one year latter when he is living in San Francisco with Hattie.

June 9 Hattie writes a letter from Wichita Falls, to Paul, Lola and Paula. So Hattie is in Texas. Has she been her awhile?

“Maxine is so tickled about her new job and not yet fired…send the bed spread in care of KWFT …& she can get it at the office.” “Our address now after tomorrow is 1821 Collins or 321 North Pearl.” ” We hope to be in Joplin Saturday or Sunday providing we get to leave.” Sounds like Hattie is living with her mother and sister, at least for awhile. She also writes ” Your announcement sound swell. We are anxious to see them. Whatever you do, do not send one to the Cardens–we are enemies—–” Is this a clue to what the trouble was with Max?

Note that Mr. & Mrs. W.E. Carden sent an undated graduation card to Maxine, either in 1935, 1937 or 1939. The card suggests that the Cardens and the Elsners were at one time friends.

Note that Hattie is clearly stating her address as 1821 Collins while Max is writing in his February S.S. application that they are married.

Hattie must have decided to stay in Joplin while Max went to California. Later, in the year, Hattie would join him there.

June Maxine is in Wichita Falls, TX with Willodean

August Maxine writing radio copy in Wichita Falls,TX.

August 5 Helene Dieter, Hattie’s mother writes her will in Joplin. Witnesses are Mary Laird, Kenneth Schuessler, Cowgill Blair, Jr.

December 6 The bombing of Pearl Harbor. Max and Hattie are living in Califormia. There must have been lots of worry and talk about the bombing but nothing is mention in the existing letters.

December 7 All of America huddled around their radios listening to President Roosevelt ask congress to declare War on Japan.

Maxine is in Texas working at her job. She is planning on going to Joplin at Christmas.

Bill is probably in Chicago thinking of heading home to New York for Christmas.

Max and Hattie are together in San Francisco. Hattie must have arrived there between September and late December.


Sylvia is in Joplin with her Grandmother and her Aunt Kate. The war must have been their main topic of conversation. Imagine, Grandmother Dieter’s distress to know that we were going to war with Germany again. She sill had at least one sister living there and many nieces and nephews. She and Katie visited as recently as 1936.

This telegram is the first record I have of Bill and Maxine ( Sylvia ) in communication since July 1940. Notice that Sylvia mentions first that she has been fired.

I remember hearing previously from my mother I think, that my Dad did not like her working in Texas. He wanted her closer to him. So her being fired was “big news” for their relationship.

Pictures suggest that they were together earlier in the year in February. Perhaps, they were having lots of phone calls and meeting in person often so that telegrams were necessary. Or perhaps, their arguments around my mother working in Texas has “split” the relationship and now they were beginning to come together again.



( This was from Lucille Jacobus who was good friends with both Bill and Maxine. She obviously wanted Bill to know that Sylvia was coming to town. Bill was obviously home for Christmas.)

December 30 Maxine writes ” Dear Mother and Dad, Just a note to think you for the million presents which arrived yesterday.

The mission bell is wonderful. Betty is borrowing it till I have a room to call my own again. The ring and pin are perfect on my turquoise blue sild dress. The bed jacket has already been initiated. It’s terrific for reading in bed—a real luxury, and a beauty if I ever saw one. And the spoons are loves , too.

I’ll tuck part of the candy in my suitcase, the rest is in Ralph’s ice-box.

Tomorrow I leave for Chicago to spend New Year’s Eve. Then on to Paul’s called him Monday and he said he’d probably still be in Fulton next week—if he has a rush call he’ll let me know and I’ll dash right down to see him, then stay a few days to visit with Paula and Lola.

Betty is playing cards this afternoon. I had planned to leave today so she accepted the invitation. But then I changed my plans. Ralph was mad that she didn’t call off her bridge game but kismet.

This stationary is part of Dieter’s Christmas to me. I surely do like it.

Will stay with Lucille and Wally in Chicago at 112 Derbyshire Lane.

Got a lovely Indian bracelet from Mary Van Lopik. Forgot to send her anything.

Surely would like to come to San Francisco now. Let me know at Paul’s how the “Help Wanted” adds run. I’m foot loose and fancy-free.

Again–a million thanks for my present, The Toyan (sp?) berries are in a vase at Betty’s and really look smart-

All my love, Maxine P.S. Here is wishing you the happiest new year ever! M.


Fulton, Thursday, (January !?)) Dear Family in K.C., S.F. , and J.

Boo….here I am! ( She has obviously been out of communication for awhile while visiting Bill in Chicago.)

Well, let’s see. I arrived in Chicago on New Year’s Eve at nine thirty…and Bill had a lovely party set up at the Illinois Athletic club. Wore my brown taffeta, and had a marvelous time.

Stayed with Wally and Lucille in Arlington Heights…. New Years day, calls around church, back to Arlington. By then we had discovered that my big suitcase with all my clothes in it was frozen in Wally’s trunk, so I had to wear the same dress from there on out. Friday. Lucille and I did a little shopping and then saw “Claudia” one of the big shows. Saturday dinner at Barney’s….with the Mahoney’s, and then all night with them. Sunday, church visits, Arlington Heights, Monday, Bill worked a little in the morning, and we had dinner at the Yar, the fancy Russian spot, then I took the eleven fifty train for here. Missed connection in St. Louis, so arrived in Mexico late Tuesday morning. Slept most of yesterday…had my pictures taken for an application I want to get in, and a quiet evening at home.

This morning I used Lola’s washer on my accumulated dirty clothes, then ironed everything I own, and now here I am. Mean to write business letters all the rest of the afternoon.

Hey…don’t get a bigger apartment in S. F, yet! There’s a job in Port Arthur, Texas, I might want, and I’ve got some awfully good leads around here. I’ll also write to California, but won’t make any definite plans for a week or so yet….not until I get more answers from more letters. I might decide, too, to return to Wichita Falls.

Tante, had your letter this morning (sic) , wondering where I am. Here. Sure enjoyed visit with you folks, and will be back soon if I’m still welcome. Plan to spend a day or so with Ralph , then Joplin for a spell.

Gramma, sorry you’re having a little relapse, will it be hard on you if I come down. Tante, I’m definitely planning to see you off for Kansas City and Fulton soon after I arrive.

Ralph and Betty…I’m staying over here until the week end so that you can come get me. Lola and Paul are looking for you, and Paula is so excited about all the company she can harldy wait.

Paul is really as extraordinary as you all said she was….as a matter of fact, she’s some babe! I was ready to leave town after watching her first feeding but her parents insisted that it wasn’t always like that so I stayed for a second one, and I guess they were right.

Paul says to tell you that they all, including Sugar, say hello.”

Bill also asked about you all, and told me to wish you a Marry Christmas and Happy New Year. He’s coming down for the week-end …arriving tomorrow night or Saturday morning, depending on weather he drives or takes the train. He may continue (sic) on to Kansas City Monday, on account of business. IF you don’t make it down, Ralph, I’ll arrive Monday either with Bill or on the bus. I’ll arrange to arrive at a decent hour, and call you when I come in. No…on second thought, don’t expect me until I let you know more definitely. May decide to stay here a little longer.

Paul and Lola tried out their Chinese soup spoons today, and they liked them a lot. And I have my cinnabar rign and pin, and ladt night mafe further use of my bed jacket. Also have on my Joplin Barbason Slip. Do I like Christmas?

Will try to keep you a little better posted in the future. love, Maxine

January 6 Mission, Kansas

Dear Families,

In the first place, congratulations, Dad on your job which is one hundred percent wonderful! I was thrilled to death when I heard about it, and I know every one else was too. That’s really a tidy sum of money to make, and I;ll bet you have plenty of fun spending it.

I’m still jobless…haven’t written near enough letters. And to make matters worse, I left my letter writing equipment in Fulton. Paul, You’ll find it in the second drawer for the bottom in the office desk next to the typewriter. On the side next to the windows. Paper, envelopes, sample forms, and a Radio Advertising magazine. Please ship it to Mission as soon as you possibly can. We’re all excited your your job , too, Paul. I really thought you were on a wild goose chase going to Detroit with only the little prospects you had of getting work there. Ralph and Betty send their congratulations too. How about a loan?

To catch Joplin and San Francisco up on my latest travels…Bill arrived in Fulton a week ago today….Friday. Brought his roommate with him. Stayed til Tuesday….Bill, that is. George, the roommate, returned to Chciago on MOnday, and Paul drove up with him. Bill and I took the train for kansas City on Tuesday, and yesterday Thrusday, Bill left for Chidago. He was supposed to call me tongiht but hasn’t yet, the louse.

Oh…. I forgot to mention…we’re on speaking terms again.

We did the Kansas City night spots with Ralph, Betty and Customers, Ralph and Betty got a big bang out of all the free meals…and even succeeded in buying Bill a swim! And when you can buy Bill something, you’re quite a person.

Really had a grand vsit in Fulton….and now that you folks are moving , I’m especially glad I got to see you and the baby. Quite a beautiful child, I must say.

But I’ll never forget how charing she looked iwth that essence of peas spread all over her puss on the first day.

Lola, will you please forward the list of things Mother asked me to bring to California? I may want it in a week or two.

Thanks for your letter, Tante, I passed it on to Ralph and Betty , too. It’s a shame you had trouble with your pipes…hope it doesn’t happen again. But then it is good that you have some excitement once in a while.

Dad, I think it is swell that you’re selling policies on Saturday afternoons, providing you get pleny of rest. Hope your insurance company doesn’t make you stop…but I don’t see why they should. You don’t take the place of another man, you just supplement their staff of sales men.

Looks as if Bill will have to look for a job soon. There isn’t any music business now.MOst of their business was imorting, and the rest was the manufacture of brasses and drums…both of which require metal which they can’t get. He’ll be on the bread line soon.

I may stay the week out here and come to Joplin the end of next week…..but don’t expect me until I arrive. I’ll let you know.

Now that Dad and Paul are doing so well, it’s about time for me to jump on the band wagon of success too. As soon as I get my letter writing supplies, I’ll start writing to every station in California.

love, Maxine

January Maxine possible in San Jose with her parents.

February 9, Monday. The country went on War Time today.

February 10 Ted and Kay Clauss’ second son is born. William. He was named after Bill Gretsch and his mother’s father, William Edward Quillen.

Maxine must have known about his from Bill. Bill would have been very proud to have a baby named after him.

March War going badly

Apr 3 Telegram to William Gretsch 529 South Wabash, Chicago

From Kansas City

“Believe my coming now might give Wally even further excuse to remain away. saying that with you and me both on job Lucille would be taken care of and he wasn’t needed. However if Dieter’s still indefinite, Wally not home in two weeks before date, will come, Sylvia.”


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Letter to Maxine also known as Sylvia, from Bill’s father Fred Gretsch.

June 1 In a letter dated, June 1, 1942, and written by Maxine there is a reference to her and Bill staying at the Kliegl house in Elka Park. Perhaps, it was this summer. Perhaps, they went to Elka Park the end of May, or maybe they went the summer before, 1941 and stayed at the Kliegl house.

Note the pictures below of the Kliegl Cottage in Elka Park.

In taking Sylvia to Elka Park, he was introducing her to some family history. Bill as a boy had gone there with his family to visit the parents of his Aunt Francis Kliegl Sommer.

In the 1950, Sylvia would take her children there to spend a few weeks in the summer at a rented house.

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“From the collection of Timothy J. Mallery,“.

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“From the collection of Timothy J. Mallery,“.

Maybe this is the summer that Barbara Sommer Shea remembers my father and mother being there. Barbara was sewing the canvass top on her Opa Kliegl’s car. ( Note: Opa Kliegl was one of the inventors of Klieg lights.)

Opa said that Barbara could not go off with Bill and others for a walk, she had to stay and keep working on his car. Barbara was only 11 but was very upset because she loved my father and wanted to be with him. Barbara remembers that her older cousin, my father, wasn’t around much and she really enjoyed spending time with him.

The letter to Sylvia’s parents dated June 1, 1941 describes the “marvelous trip” from New York to Washington, D.C. back to New York and then a planned trip up the Hudson to Albany.

August Maxine is in California with her parents. Several pictures were taken on the beach at Seabright, Monterrey Bay.

Max and Hattie must have been delighted to have their daughter with them again.

August Churchill goes to Moscow to meet with Stalin.

Mid August Dick Gretsch, Bill’s younger brother arrived in Chicago to set up the Army War Show which is touring the country.

To read more about the Army War Show and the book which describes it all, please go to the library section of this website.

More information about the Army War Show is also available here:

The show started in Baltimore on June 12th and traveled to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Akron, Detroit, Milwaukee, Des Moines, Omaha, Chicago, Cleveland, Louisville, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Birmingham and ended in Atlanta on December 20th.

There were 24 events in the Army War Show each lasting from three to 15 minutes. They were ” Handy Talkie”, airplanes Hdkf. Stunt, Review, Close Order Drill, Butts Manual, Artillery, Medical Detachment, Horse Cavalry, Automatic Weapons, Jeep Comedy, Jeep Jamboree, Motorcycles, Flame Thrower, March Trick, Salute to Industry, Living Flag, Signal Corps Obstacles, Tanks, Tank Destroyers, Engineers, Anti-Aircraft, Chaplains, Battle Action, Fireworks, Star-Spangled Banner.

In each city, the show began at 8:15 in the evening and ended at 10:15.

There was also a radio contingent to the show . Stg. Bert Park and Stg. Bob Waldrop used the radio as a promotional devise to get the message out to as many people as possible. ” More than 86 radio stations cooperated with the War Department by broadcasting War Show programs.” My mother who studied radio in college and worked in a radio station in Wichita Falls, Texas must have been very interested this aspect of the show.

Chicago Newspaper clipping undated glued to the inside back cover of the book, included in the article is a picture of Lt. R. F. Gretsch.

” Although the opening of the Army War show in the Stadium is nearly two weeks away, work on its lighting system started today with arrival from Washington of Lieutenant Richard F. Gretsch of the Army Corps of Engineers, a former Hollywood lighting director.

While the Stadium’s lighting for night events is supposed to be pretty super -super, Lieutenant Gretsch doesn’t think it’s such a much, and he is going to install his own system, utilizing, however the old “house” light system of Commissioner Herbert Buckman’s yawning bowl.

“Our show loses some of its effectiveness under lighting that is too brilliant,” Lieutenant Gretsch said. ” Our own effect lighting doesn’t penetrate it. We use white, blue, red and amber lights, using an illuminating system that is as bid and complex as that at Radio City in New York.”

The officer grinned asked how much equipment he supervises.

“I’ve probably got more copper than anyone in Cleveland. We use between 11 and 12 miles of wire, carry 225 lighting fixtures- spots and floods-and a complete switch system for the remote control of all Stadium lighting.”

The show’s own lighting system is a 540-kilowatt set-up to which 500 kilowatts will be added by use of the Stadium’s old system- enough juice, the Army engineer explained , to light 20,000 lamps of 50 -watt capacity.

end of August Germans start bombing Stalingrad.

500,000 Red army soldiers died in Stalingrad, more than all of the British soldiers killed in the whole war.


2-12 Army War Show at Soldiers Field in Chicago.

” America was financing a war effort. It wanted to know how its money was being expended. Major General Alexander D. Surles, Director of the Bureau of Public Relations, thought it would be wise if a cross section of the Army could be presented to the people of the country in the form of an Army War Show….An itinerary of eighteen key American cities was arranged to be completed December 21.

With the cooperation of Lieut. Richard F. Gretsch, Electrical Engineer, Mr. J. W. Collins, Chief Electrician and Mr. George Holtrey, Electrical Construction, the problems of lighting the Army War Show were solved.

September 11 To Bill Gretsch, 37 Shorthill Road, From California

Impossible to jilt boss without notice much as Id like to come Please come here united airline leaves sunday 5 pm arrives birthday noon or hereby officially postpone birthday until wednesday 8 a.m. if you take united pacific 930 saturday morning love= Sylvia

September 18 Telegram to Richard Gretsch in Cleveland from Bill in Brooklyn,” Leaving for Chicago next Thursday looking foreword to spending the weekend with you in Louisville”

(NB, the Army war show was in Cleveland on the 18th and on its way to Louisville.)


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Maxine is hired as Editor of “Western Hotel and Restaurant Reporter”. Established in 1896 this is the West’s oldest Hotel Magazine. The previous editor held the job for one year and left to be married. Maxine would hold the job for only one month before she left to be married.

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On October 17, 2016, I am organizing the garden house and find a picture of my mom with “San Jose, California, January 1943′ written by my grandmother on the back. Below that is written in pencil by me ” I don’t think this is ’43 maybe it is ’42 before her marriage . there is no date for my note.
I decided to put this solitary picture in my mother’s album and found the same picture already there with a different date ” San Jose, California, November, 1942.” Also, in my grandmother’s writing. This was probably written at the time the picture was taken.

How interesting, my grandmother, Hattie Dieter, was having trouble remembering dates—just like me. I imagine her putting the 1943 date on later and wasn’t remembering it correctly.

My mother told me circa 1958 that around the time of my father’s birthday in 1942, he called her on the phone. They had been fighting for quite a while and she was giving Bill a hard time on the phone by acting very uninteresting in what he had to say. Looking back, I realize that they were probably fighting over the fact that she took a job in California so far away from Chicago and New York where his business was based. He was probably playing the confirmed bachelor and she was playing the “career girl”. Both were well suited for their roles but it didn’t make for a happy romance.

As my mother related the story to me, my father said ” You know my birthday is coming up”

“Yes” she said with no enthusiasm in her voice.

“You know what I want for my birthday”, he asked.

“No” she said pretending that she didn’t care.

“I want you”, he said.

Plans were immediately made for the wedding which took place on December 14, the day after his birthday in California, Missouri.

October 20 Telegram from Bill to Dick Gretsch in Washington, D.C. ” Arrive today Ann, Jim and kids well staying army navy club leaving 4 New York Sunday nite.

November Success of Allied forces in Africa.

December 1,

Click image to enlarge

On December 1, Maxine wrote the above letter to her Grandmother and her Aunt Kate whom she called “Tante”.

The letter is hard to read because the paper is folder and the ink bleeds through. Never the less, it is fun to read in the original and Maxine’s controlled excited flies off the pages.

Below is a transcription of the letter.

December 1, 1942

Dear Grama and Tante, I want you both to be the first to know that i plan to marry.

I do hope you like Bill as much as he does you, because you both are among his favorite people.

Probably this in more of a surprise to me than it is to you. It happened several nights ago. Bill called from Chicago, and we argues 25 minutes, and then decided to get married.

By the next morning I wasn’t so sure, so I waited until I got a letter from him to let you in on the secret.

Bill wants to make it Dec.13 (his birthday) in California, Missouri. You’ll simply have to come, Tante, if its there. Grama, I want you there too, or it won’t be official.

However, I’d rather make it here, so now the whole thing is undecided. We will very likely wait ’til after Christmas.

We’ll live in New York. I wrote Bill about my furniture ( the parlor set) and how I want to decorate our living room around it. But he wants to wait ’til after the war to furnish a place of our own–that will be in Chicago.

As soon as I know more definitely what our plans are, I’ll write or wire.

Tonight, I’ll also write Paul, Ralph probably Gus and Emma. Please tell your friends whenever you want.

Today, I bought the first item of my trousseau with your check. A black 100% wool coat (fitted, very plain) with a huge silver fox collar. It (the collar) fits square over the shoulders, comes to a V in the front….(here Maxine has made a little drawing…see the above letter) Just like that (with an arrow pointing to the drawing). Thank you very very much. Its as pretty as your coat, Tante. Very much like it. And I know Bill like it.

So I’ll be seeing you both very soon at my wedding. then afterwards, it’s possible that I’ll spend a day of my honeymoon trip there, if we’re invited. I don’t know for sure, because I never know what Bill is going to do next.

all my love, Maxine

P.S. No ring yet so I still don’t feel 100% engaged—love, M.

December 9

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Letter written to Maxine (aka Sylvia) from Fred Gretsch her future father in law just before she and Bill were married. Note the reference to his wife Charlotte Sommer Gretsch.

Stalin was on the cover of Time magazine as the “Man of the Year”.



Part of a letter written my Maxine to her family.

“So we immediately started tearing the room apart. It was really quite a deal. Twenty-seven pictures on the wall, a seven foot bookshelf, twin bed, mammoth chest of drawers, bed side table, overstuffed chair, stand lamp, magazine rack, calendars from 1936, all in a room about 14 by 16

I fast talked Bill into taking the heard boards off the beds…they just screwed off….and piece by piece we have removed furniture. the second night we were home, we painted the room after putting plastic wood in the picture holes, and washed all the woodwork down. Now the walls are a pale blue…did it with Kem-tone, and one coat covered everything, including lots of the cracks. We decided to would be more fun to to it ourselves than to hire a painter…and besides, we couldn’t have gotten one for weeks.

So Teddie and Kay Claus, cousins who live about 6 blocks off, came over, and we did the whole job with a gallon of Kem-tone and two quarts of bourbon. We had quite a party and really loved it.

The next day Kay and I had a conference. She was quite an artist before she married ( they now have 2 children….4 and 8 mos.) and then went down to the local decorator and picked some material for drapes. Then home to get the financial o.k., and ordered them the next day. Bill had been so upset when he walked into the room with me for the first time, that I think he would have agreed to any price.

We are having yellow valances, with jabots, in a double swag over the long wall, and single swags over the short one. The drapes are broad yellow and white stripes, with wide blue polka-dot ribbon bows across. Very cute. We are using the present glass curtains…cream silk marquisette. The twin beds have rose chenille spreads…which I will sew together, to make them look like one big bed. The beds have footboards….too high to put the spreads over, but not too awfully high…and we are using the comforters to make high, round bolsters at the heard.

Then I got two bedside stands, two drawers each and we enameled them yellow. Moved out the overstuffed chair, stand lamp, magazine rack, all pictures, one chest of drawers ,and left in the desk with a much smaller desk chair, the one big chest, and that kinda cleared the air a little. also took out four throw rugs leaving a mere three in the room. Orientals. But the colors are bule and rose, so we may keep them, instead of buying new ones. I’d like to carpet the room but since we don’t know how long we will be here, it hardly seems worth while.

Oh yes, we painted the ceiling cream, and now the Fred Gretsch Mfg. co and Kliegl and sons ( Uncle Herbie, thank heavens) are working out a special design on indirect lighting fixtures to take the place of the wall brackets we now have. They well be drums finished in rose and yellow.

………Tomorrow night the Chairman of the Board at the Bank Mr. Gretsch is president will have dinner here and the place is in an uproar. Thank heavens, I don’t have to do anything for the occasion except look pretty. And shine up my ring. It has paint on it.”

April Hattie visiting Ralph and Betty at 5506 Roe Blvd, Mission, Kansas.

April 13 German’s announce to the world the Russian massacre of several thousand Polish officers at Katyn. They had been missing since April 1940. Russia didn’t admit to the crime until 1990.

Instead in May,  “Mission to Moscow” a film from the book by Joseph E. Davies about his time as US Ambassador to Moscow. Painted Stalin in a very favorable light

Late April and May, Maxine is in Joplin visiting with her mother, Aunt Kate and her grandmother. Lola and Paula are also there. Max did not come to Joplin but wrote his wife often. On May 9th, there is a picture of all the Dieter/Elsner/Gretsch  girls in the Joplin paper.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

April 29,

Max in a letter to Hattie writes “Guess Maxine will leave soon- Then i suppose things will quiet down”

May 6,

Max writes ” It is swell that Mike stays so long and I hope that no blow up has developed–she said none had at the last time she wrote.”

So there is some tension between Mike and her Mom…..not unusual for a newly wed daughter and probably a very demanding mother.

June 2 Jennie Jonas, a good friend of Charlotte Sommer Gretsch, died.

Bill and his family were certainly aware of this death.

Would they have mentioned Jennie and her friendship with Charlotte to Sylvia the new Mrs. Gretsch.

July 17,

Saturday Bill Gretsch wrote a three page type written letter on this date.

Under the date was written,” In out Seventh Month” referring to the length of his recent marriage.

Usually below the date of business letters is the inscription ” In our…..year” referring to how many years the Gretsch company has been in business. This reference to the length of my parent’s marriage is very poignant. Since their years together were so few, it is lovely to know that my father was taking note of every month.

The letter was written on the Gretsch letter head. He ended the very business like letter with this last paragraph,

” Your father and Bruck were out Wednesday. Sylvia gave them roast beef and all the trimmings and for breakfast they thought they were in Forest Hills, what with pot cheese, bran, etc,

Love from Sylvia and I, cordially Bill”

This letter was found in Ridgeland, South Carolina at the Gretsch offices. It had been saved in an old binder of business letters. I found it on July 27, 2001 when I was visiting Freddie for his birthday and was on my way to Luc’s graduation from South Carolina with an International Business Master’s Degree in Business Administration.

This letter was written from the Freeport house that my parents had rented for the summer. No doubt Bill and Sylvia spent many long week-end there. Maybe my mother typed it for him on her typewriter. A typewriter she no doubt took with her from Northwestern to Joplin to Texas and California. I remember when I was very young my mother writing letters to her parents on that typwriter. The same typewriter I took to college with me in 1965. I had no idea of its history then. That typewriter, I gave to a priest who was on his way to South America to work in the missions there. I am sure i thought I was doing the correct thing. I am sure I thought that my mother would approve.

November Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt meet for the first time at Tehran.


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While Bill and Sylvia were settling into their new married life, Bill was always busy at work. This advertisment features Bill Gretsch from 1944 and highlights the  Gretsch Company’s  support of the drummer Helen Manny, daughter of “Manny” who is also pictured. Note also visible is the famous woman drummer Viola Smith of the Phil Spitalny All Girl Orchestra.  This ad is for the “Gretsch Defender” drum set.

January 12

The New York Times reported that the daughter of Clare Luce Boothe, Ann Clare Brokaw, age 19 was killed in an automobile accident. She was a student at Stanford University.

My mother must have been paying attention to this.

January 8
Fritzi Hesse and Duke Kramer are married in Downers Grove, Ill.

The wedding diamond was purchased from “Charles W. Sommer & Bro., Inc.” and sent to Mr. William Gretsch care of the Illinois Athletic Club, Chicago, Ill.”

They honey mooned at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. The next day,Bill sent flowers addressed to Lieutenant Kramer and Frieda Hesse. The hotel would not deliver them because the insinuation was that they were not married. Fritzi was so mad at Bill.

At the time of her marriage, Fritzi kept a “Wedding Book”. In the list of guests, “Mr. W. Gretsch” is written. I wonder if my mother did not attend the wedding. Fritzi remembers it was a snowy winter night. People came on the train from Chicago office to the wedding. She remembers that both my parents were there. From the formality in which she long ago entered my father’s name in her wedding book, Fritzi signaled a distance from my parents. Or perhaps, she was just trying to maintain a formality with her husband’s boss. At any rate, my father’s name appears alone without my mother’s in the list of guests at Fritzi and Duke’s wedding.

Perhaps, my mother stayed in New York while her husband went on this trip to Chicago. Perhaps, Fritzi’s memory of my mother and father being at her wedding was wrong.

March 17,

Charlotte Susan Gretsch was born in Kansas City, Missouri.  An orphanage by the sisters of Mercy took care of her.
Her adopted mother, Maxine “Sylvia” Gretsch took the train from New York to pick her up in Kansas City and bring her home to New York City.

I do not know if any of my mother’s friends meet her in Kansas City. My mother knew the city well and could have been comfortable traveling there.

Fritzi Kramer told me that my father sent her and Duke a telegram asking them to meet my mother at the train coming from Kansas City. When Duke and Fritzi saw my mother walking towards them carrying a baby, Fritzi said to Duke “I didn’t know that Sylvia was pregnant!” They had no idea that she had just adopted a baby.

Apparently, my father met my mother and their new baby at the train station in New York. On the way home in the taxi, baby Charlotte started to cry so loudly that Bill told Sylvia he had to get to work and he jumped out of the cab. My mother told me this story. My father, like most fathers in the 1940’s was not very comfortable with babies.

Also, I remember being told that my father was not as into adopting a baby as my mother was. He did however, agree if they adopted a girl—-if they had a boy, my father wanted it to be a born Gretsch. It was agreed that the new baby would be named after my father’s mother, Charlotte Sommer Gretsch. For awhile, they considered naming the baby after my mother’s mother, Hattie, Helen Dieter Elsner.

My cousin Happy tells me in 2014 that of course my mother traveled by train alone to pick up Charlotte. It as war time, Happy explains and people were not  allowed to make unnecessary train trips. Also, my father was running the Fred Gretsch Company.  I agree but I also know that my father was on very good footing with the War department and could have made whatever travel arrangements he wanted. I think mostly my father, thought that babies were women’s business and he left every detail of his children’s lives in his wife’s hands


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Sylvia, her father in law and her new baby, Charlotte Susan Gretsch.

On April 25,

Maxine/ Sylvia wrote to her parents:

“We have two sets of pictures of her, some black and while some color…by Major MacNeal, who had quite a group of CasaBlanca(sic) pictures in the National Geographic. He appointed himself official baby photographer, and comes out with a car load of spotlights, etc. He is a doctor….unfortunately will be shipped out soon, but since he is stationed on a transport, I hope he will be back at frequent intervals.”

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

Herbert P. MacNeal was the photographer for an article which appeared in National Geographic magazine in July 1943. The article was entitled “Americans on the Barbary Coast”. The article was written by Willard Author Price. The piece included a photo insert by MacNeal entitled “Casablanca Smiles”.

Just three years later in June of 1947, Herb Mac Neal shows up again. He comes to Bill’s sick room at the Palmer House soon after Bill’s surgeries at the Mayo clinic.

Again my mother wrote to her parents:

“ Herb has been a great help to Bill, getting him on a good diet, giving him iron, locating this infection from the tooth, and generally giving him sound advice. Don’t know what we would have done without him, as only a personal friend would spend so much time and diagnose so carefully. If it hadn’t been for Herb, Bill probably wouldn’t have gone to a dentist for a year.”

Herbert P. MacNeal died in Morristown, New Jersey in December of 1987. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

At this time Bill and Sylvia were living at 301 Burns Street. They had moved in the previous fall.

Bill had rented a house in a row of houses while Sylvia was out of town. When she came back home, all of her thing had been moved into this house and set up there. Palmer Seeley’s parents helped my father set up all of Sylvia’s and Bill’s things in this rented “new” home.

Jack and Madeline Hogan . Bob and Rita Cuskley, Martin and Mae McConnaughey also lived in houses along that row. They all became good friends and partied together often.

The Hoff’s lived across the street. Palmer Seeley and Bob Cuskley jr., who were little boys were very good friends.

Bill and Sylvia had lots of parties. Gene Kruppa and Buddy Rich were young musicians who my father knew through his business and who came the parties on Burns Street.

One night, a musician arrived for a party that was already in full swing but there was no piano at Bill and Sylvia’s house. So a piano was carried from one of the neighbor’s houses to my parent’s house for the visiting musician. This story was told to me by Bob Cuskley jr, circa 2007. However, in a letter sent to her parents around this time, Sylvia ( Maxine) describes an upright Steinway piano which was in the basement recreation room. The piano was painted black and had a “B” on one side and an “S” on the other side.

Perhaps, this piano wasn’t good enough for the visiting musician and a better one was carried in from the neighbor’s house.

May 22,

A birth announcement was sent to Miss Vanett Lawler , Grande Hotel, Bogata Colombia.
The hand writing on the envelope is Sylvia’s.
70 years later, in 2014, the envelop along with a letter from Vanett was found in Charlotte’s papers.  After Charlotte’s death, the letters were given to me, Gretchen, by Charlotte’s oldest son, Jimmy.
Vanett was the Music Education Consultant for Inter-American Music Center of the Pan American Union. She apparently was friends with Bill and Sylvia Gretsch.

Bill Gretsch was very interested in Music Education.

June 26-28

Clare Boothe Luce was the first woman Keynote speaker at the Republican National convention.

She spoke against Roosevelt’s handling of the war. she called the united states a ” dictatorial bumbledom”.

Summer In the summer, my parents went to Freeport, Long Island where they had a summer place on the water.

Duke and Fritzi Kramer came to New York and stayed at my parents home on Burns Street.

Duke was working in the city with…..and Fritzi kept the house on Burns Street in order.

Fritzi and Duke had a room on the top floor.

Fritzie told me that Bill used to hid pennies in the corners and then ask Fritzie how much money she had found that day while she was cleaning. That way, he knew if she had done a thorough job. Understandably, this really made Fritzie mad. My father I am sure thought that it was funny.

Duke Kramer told me that he was with a military unit but that Bill Gretsch got Duke transferred to a desk job in New York City. Later in the war, Duke’s outfit was sent to Europe and fought in the battle of the Bulge where many of his friends were killed. Duke always felt that Bill Gretsch saved his life by getting him transferred out of the unit he was in.

July 24
Sylvia and Bill are in Chicago.

Duke and Fritzie are living at Bill and Sylvia’s house on Burns Street. Duke is in the army.

The following letter is written on Gretsch letterhead.

Lt. & Mrs. C. W. Kramer

301 Burns Street

Forest Hills, Long Island, New York July 24, 1944, In out 61st year

Dare Fritzie and Duke,

Tonight, Sylvia and I are having dinner with your mothers at Little Bohemia in back of Union Station.

Fritzie, your mother comes in for treatment. Will be down at the hotel about 4:o’clock. she can sit down and take a nap until Mrs. Kramer gets there and then we can go out and eat at Little Bohemia.

I spoke to Duke’s mother this morning about additional information, but Mrs. Kramer said she had been in contact with the family and the information is about the same as you have it.

Cordially, yours, Bill Gretsch


In 2002, Fritzie Kramer told GES that Bill Gretsch bought her mother a robe made her lie down and rest. Mrs. Kramer lived until she was into her 90’s. Bill Gretsch died in 1948.

insert pictures from Freeport!

Note picture of Margaret E.Simons, a good friend of Bill’s mother, Charlotte Sommer Gretsch. to read more about Margaret Simons and her friendship with Charlotte, go to Charlotte’s time line on this website.

It was at Margaret Simons home in Sag Harbor where my parents spent the summer of 1947, see below for more details.

Bill remembering his mother’s friendship with Margaret, invited her to all of his parties.

Sept. 3 Lee Elsner is born to Paul and Lola Elsner.

He is their second child and first son.

At this time, Sylvia was already in the very early stages of her first pregnancy.

Sept. 3 Margaret Simons sent a postcard from Royal Oak, Michigan to: Lt. and Mrs. Duke Kramer, 301 Burns Street, Forest Hills Gardens, Long Island, New York. “Dear Fritz and Duke, Just came from lunch-at the cornor Drug Store- Rita was in the hospital a week- Had cool weather but today is very warm- Will be seeing you soon- Leave Wednesday. Sept. 6-

Hope the apt is coming along satisfactorily- Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do about the furniture- Remember-I didn’t like the “bar”- From my experience here drainer space is everything. Love, Margaret.”

Fritzi and Duke were moving into their own apartment on Ascan Ave which Margaret had found for them. Margaret had an old beautiful house full of furniture. Her house was half way between Bill and Sylvia’s at 301 Burns Street and Duke and Fritzi’s apartment on Ascan Ave. Margaret had told Fritzi and Duke that she would give them furniture from her house for their new apartment.

September 18 Gertrude Gretsch, only child of Walter Gretsch and first cousin to Bill Gretsch, is married to John Jacob Astor son of Col. John Jacob Astor who lost his life in the Titanic tragedy in 1912. She was given in marriage by her Uncle Fred Gretsch.

I imagine that Bill and Sylvia were there but I have no way of knowing for sure. I do know that Gertrude adored her cousin Bill.

Gertrude’s father and her uncle had been business partners but their partnership broke up before she was born. They never reconciled before her father’s death. It is quite amazing that she asked her uncle to give her away thus reconciling a long standing family disrepute.

They were married at the bride’s home, 3 East Seventy Seventh Street, only close family members were present.

October 30 Margaret E. Simons died suddenly. She was about 64 years old.

Margaret only lived a few blocks from the house on Shorthill Road.

Fritzi Kramer knew her and could remember 60 years later the way to her house from my parent’s home on Burns Street.

Everyone was surprised by Margaret’s sudden death.

Before she died, Margaret had offered Fritzi and Duke furniture from her home. they had hardly any furniture in their apartment.

After her death Fritzi and Duke no longer felt comfortable taking furniture from her home. Apparently, no one else in Margaret’s family knew that she had offered furniture to Duke and Fritzie. In the suddenness and sadness of her death, Duke and Fritzie thought it best just not to mention it.

Instead, they bought a new coffee table. A bill never came in the mail for the table. Duke called the store looking for the bill and he was told that it was already paid for by Bill Gretsch.


Click image to enlarge

In November, Maxine’s mother comes to New York to see the new baby, Charlotte.

Hattie also come to visit another grandchild, Lee Elsner who was born on September 3.

Max was home alone in California for a long time while Hattie was away.

November 22 Sylvia saved in the scrap book which she meticulously pieced together for the birth of her first child, Katherine this telegram sent to “William M L Gretsch, 301 Burns Street, Forest Hills, New York”

“Your announcement of ability to meet contractual requirements is received with much enthusiasm by entire industry. I add my personal commendation for this desirable achievement=Max A Elsner Product Engineer.”

December First week end of December, Jean, the fiancé of Bill’s brother Dick, spent the week-end with Bill and Sylvia on Burns Street.

Maxine wrote to her parents ” …we gave a cocktail party for her… had the women here for a lingerie shower, while Bill had the men at Uncle John’s…then later they came here too, and we had a buffet in the basement. wish you could have seen the lingerie! It was all family…and they really tried hard to out-do each other. There were about 24 gifts, mostly real silk and hand made. gowns, slips, panties, bed jacket, robes, etc. Also two pairs of nylons from Mrs. Astor!”

In the same letter she writes,” I am going to hire me a practical nurse today….for the big event. Bill wanted me to get Mickey, Ray’s wife, but I was afraid it would be an imposition for her, and might conflict with ehr other responsibilities. So I will get Esther Kaiser, a very good friend of ours, and a registered nurse, or a Mrs. Monroe who is very highly recommended. It will be a weight off my mind.”

December 16 Dick Gretsch and Jean married. This is the date of Dick’s mother’s, Charlotte Sommer Gretsch’s, birthday. Marion Gretsch Well who was about 17 at the time remembers in 2010, going to the wedding in Washington, D.C. with Bill and Sylvia and Sally Gretsch, the daughter of Walter Gretsch. She said that was the only time she ever saw, or the last time she saw her cousin, Sally. Marion remembers going to a Russian Restaurant for dinner. She also remembers a big party at the Officers Club and staying in an hotel for a couple of days. She was a freshman in College.

Click to enlarge image

 The elegant picture above is thought to be the official wedding photo of Jean and Dick. Many thanks to their daughters, Molly and Judy for identifying this picture, searching it out and sending me a copy. (Ann Arbor, 2012)

Bill and Sylvia wanted to be married on this date too but it was in the end not possible. The boys were obviously keeping their mother very much in mind.

It was probably around this time that Frizie Kramer and Francis Bronson had a little talk with my mother.

My newly married mother was doing everything that my father asked her to do: having parties and friends over at the last minute, going along with all of my father. outlandish pranks, etc. She was not complaining and working very hard to accommodate her husband.

Frizi and Francis felt this made them as wives look bad. So they talked to Sylvia to try and get her not to acquiesce so much.

They were all living in Forest Hills at the time.


March 16

A quote from Katherine’s baby scrapbook ” Francis Bronson and Fritzie Kramer gave a surprise luncheon for the baby on March 16 (They thought that she was due on the 19th). I had no suspicions, even when told not to bother to come on time. Appeared long after the other quests, with Nondas Helm, [Mom’s good friend from Joplin]who was visiting us. Everything was pink and white with a paper umbrella Fritzie and Duke had make. Many, many lovely gifts. Guests included:Tessie Vorbach, May Emerson, Francis Sommer, Kay Clauss.

( A napkin from the party included on this page is distinctly pink, white and blue. Perhaps, in retrospect, everything seemed pink and white to my mom.)

March 17 Charlotte’s first birthday. She was called Sherry at the time.

In April of 1945, Bill and Sylvia are living at :
144-45 Coolidge Ave, Jamaica, New York!

April 1 Katherine Elizabeth is born in New York City on Easter Sunday at the Lying-In-Hospital-Women’s Clinic, 530 East 70th Street. She is eight pounds, seven and one half ounces, twenty two and one half inches.

She is born at 4:22 p.m. A low forceps delivery.

April 2 Pasted into the scarp book is the Monday cartoon from the Daily News of “Gasoline Alley” in which Nina has just had a baby, 8 lbs, ten ounces! Below it is written, “We weren’t the only ones!”

Also in the scrapbook is a hand written letter,

“San Francisco, California

Dearest Maxine and Bill and Daughters- How wonderful to receive your telegram this morning! Congratulations and the very best of wishes! An Easter Sunday Baby, how grand! Now if we only knew how you are feeling, could be with you and help you! There is not much I can say being so very far away, we are as happy as we can be and are certainly sharing our joy with you.

We are so glad that you didn’t not have to wait the extra month that so many first baby’s take but the shock is so great that I;n afraid the Doctor ( if I had one) would put me to bed- so I’ll just have to relax and bear it in the best I can.

Dad is able to walk and is now composing a telegram that will pass all censors as no congratulatory messages can be sent.

Yes, we are very very happy! and anxiously awaiting all further word. Sincerely hope, Maxine, that you are feeling extremely well and Bill, hope that you now you have recovered! Take good care of all four of you and bring the baby down to see us as soon as possible, much, much love, Mother

Dearest Maxine, plus your multitudinous family- We are very happy to get the good news and very anxiously await talking to you direst. all my love to you and to little Sylvia. POP

Also in the scrapbook, an envelope with the name “Mrs. W.W. Gretsch”.

The hand written letter inside reads: Monday April 2, 1945

“Dear Mommie, Yesterday I was talking to Peter Rabbit and Daddy and I asked him for something to bring along for Mama to celebrate my first birthday.

So Peter Rabbit dug down into a large group of envelopes that he had with your name on and took this one off the top.

Gee Daddy is swell to Mama. He sure is going to be broke when

all my sisters and brothers deliver all of these envelopes with your name on.

Love from your second daughter.”

Also in the envelop is a receipt dated March 28, 1945 from E.W. Clucas & Co. 70 Pine Street.

This receipt is for 100 common shares of Congoleum Nairn Inc.

The stock is made out to Mrs. Maxine Elsner Gretsch.

This must have been a present from Bill to his wife on the occasion of Katie’s birth.

It is interesting to note that Bill had the stock made out to Maxine which was his wife’s legal name and not Sylvia which was the name he always called her. Business is Business!

early April While Sylvia was in the hospital, Mary Lois, Sylvia’s roommate from Northwestern was staying at the house. Bill had painters come in and paint the whole house in a hurry. He asked Mary Lois to go in the bath room and take a bath while they were painting the bathroom….he said it would keep the painters awake.

This story was remembered for years by Mary Lois Debevec,and told to her daughter Betsy.

July Fritzie Kramer has pictures of herself and Sylvia sitting in a little car called a Crosby. The car is a convertible.

On the back of the pictures Frizie has written “July 1945”, “Surf Club”, “Keith Davis little Crosby. Four fellows can pick it up”. In one picture, Fritzie and Sylvia are hamming it up. Fritzie is being hugged by a man in a uniform. On the reverse of the picture is written “Harley, Fritzie and Sylvia” It must be Harley who is hugging Fritzie. Sylvia is leaning next to a man in sunglasses and an army hat. I don’t think it is Bill but it might be. Unfortunately, the quality of copies I have is too poor to copy here.

Fritzie was really pregnant at that time with Ken who was born on August 13. When I talked with her more than 60 years later about this picture, she remembered that little hat she was wearing in the picture.

In the background is a wooden structure. Lots of people are standing on the wooden steps of the building. Perhaps, that is the “Surf Club”. Perhaps, the Surf Club was in Freeport, New York where Bill and Sylvia has a summer home.

It must have been a fun summer in Freeport with the end of the war nearing and the birth of two new babies, a Gretsch baby born in April and a Kramer baby due in August.

A picture was taken at a huge party in Freeport, Long Island.

Present were several generations of family, friends and work associates.

Perhaps, the party was celebrating Fred Gretsch Jr being home from the war.

Fritzi Kramer remembered the maternity dress she was wearing, so we know the picture was taken before August 13, 1945.

August 6 & 9
Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombed.

August 13
Duke and Fritzi’s Kramer’s first child, Ken was born in a military hospital in New York.

August 14
Tuesday, at 7 pm the president announced that the Japaness had accepted the Allied terms of surrender.

October 19,
The first child of Dick and Jean Gretsch is born in Milwaukee, WI.
Fred Bruch Gretsch is named after Fred Bruchhauser who was a very good friend of the baby’s grandfather.
Dick’s brother, Fred Gretsch, Jr and Frances Kliegl Sommer are the godparents. Apprently, they were not present for the baptism on November 4, 1945. Mary Krembs and Lt. Francis Krembs were the proxy godparents.

December 16,
A 14 Karat gold Waterman fountain pen and matching pencil was given to Bill on this date.

It was inscribed,” WWG, Gift of The BRKYN Gang, Dec,, 16, 1945″

The inscribed date is not Bill’s birthday, maybe someone got the date wrong, Bill’s birthday was December 13.

A Program book from Carniege Hall announces this event:

December 29 Carnegie Hall, Saturday morning, December 29th at 9:00 o’clock

Drum Demonstration and Clinic

Sponsored by the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company

60 Broadway, Brooklyn 11, N.Y.

Drum Makers since 1883

The Rudiments of Snare Drumming and Their Application in Music

Frank Kutak and Phil Grant of the Goldman Band

Demonstration of Bass Drum and Cymbal Technique

Gus Helmecke-Formerly of Sousa’s Band-

America’s Foremost Bass Drummer

Ensemble Drumming Symphony in Drums

Goldman Band Drum Section

Specialty Number

Viola Smith of Phil Spitalny’s All-Girl Orchestra

Rudimental Drum Solo The Downfall of Paris

Al Moffat-Former Instructor Navy School of Music

The Tympani-Technique and Use in the Symphony Orchestra

Saul Goodman of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra

The Art of Dance Drumming

James Crawford of Cafe Society Uptown

Accompanied on the Vibraphone by Phil Grant

Phil. Grant your Master of Ceremonies, is head of the Education Department of the Fred. Gretsch Mfg. Co., drum makers since 1883.

Phil. Grant comes from a musical family. For many years both his father and mother taught in the Music Department of Pennsylvania State College, from which institution Phil. himself was graduated with a degree in Educational Music. Since then Phil. Grant has taught public school music, has played drums professionally with several popular dance bands, and in recent prewar years has been snare drum, tympani and xylophone specialist with the Goldman Band and the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Recently, released from the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant, this Carnegie Hall Drum Jamboree is his first civilian activity.

He is anxious to be of service to you in all matters relating to percussion and will be happy to come to your school or American Legion Post to assist on any problems you nay have.

Through Phil. the Fred. Gretsch Mfg. Company cordially invites you to visit our Brooklyn factory. Phone or write Phil. Grant, who will be happy to arrange a tour of the plant for you at any time.

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The above picture is most likely from the Carnegie Hall Drum Demonstation on December 29, 1945. Note the fourth man from the right has an  “x” over his head. That man is Richard Dickson. He was a drum maker for Gretsch from 1925-1954. His Grandaughter, Florence Asciolla sent this picture to Rob Cook in October of 2012. Florence had only recently discovered her grandfather’s connection to the Gretsch Company. She was hoping that Rob Cook could identify the people in the photo. Rob Cook sent the photo to me. He mentioned that the picutre might have been taken at Carnegie Hall. No one knew anything about the picture.

Luckily, I rememered the above mentioned event and the pieces fell together of just when this picture was taken.

Bill Gretsch is the third man from the right, Phil Grant is the tallest man there and a smiling Fred Gretsch Jr. stands next to him. Bernie Benson, a long time sales man for Gretsch is just behind Fred Gretsch Jr. Viola Smith stands on the other side of Fred Gretsch Jr.

Note: In October of 2009, Fred W. Gretsch, sent to his sister, Gretchen Elsner-Sommer (me)a more recent program book from Carnegie Hall. In that program book, there is biography of Frederick Chopin. Chopin’s teacher, Jozef Elsner, director of the Warsaw Conservatory in 1822 is mentioned. Fred goes on to note that he has just had an event with Sam Ash Music and Ian Goodrich. “Lots of family connections and on the agenda for our next phone conference.”


February 17
The New York Times reported that Clare Boothe Luce has converted to the Catholic faith. She had been taking religious instruction with Fulton Sheen.

April 24
Marion Downey Gretsch, daughter of Mr.& Mrs. Louis Gretsch of Brooklyn and Bayport, L.I., was married yesterday to John J. Flemm Jr. also of Brooklyn in the rectory of St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn.

early July, shortly before Freddie was born.

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From Left, “Bill Gretsch, Bill McCarty, Ted Korten, McCarty, Elly Sylvia, Ted
Barney’s July, 1946”
The names and date and place of this picture were supplied from a photograph album kept by Elly McCarty, Ted’s wife (October, 1999).
N0te, how beautiful Silvia looks just weeks before the birth of her third child.

July 23
Freddie born in Chicago.

Telegram sent to Max and Hattie:

Message sent this noon to wrong address resending now Baby express left house 5:00 AM bouncing boy, 8 1/4 lbs. born 6:45. Mother and baby fine. Swedish Covenant hospital 5145= The proud Father.

November 2,

The week-end of the Michigan/ Minnesota Football Game, in Minnesota, Bill Gretsch held a “Fred Gretsch Mfg. Dearlers Meeting- Northwest Division”. This business meeting was really a party!

Arthur Neu was the Master of Ceremonies

Guest Speakers :

Forrest mcAllister, Editor of School Musician Magazine.

Duke Kramer

William Revelli, Univeristy of Michigan, Music Dept.

Gerald Prescott, university of Minnesota, Music Dept.

Alfred K Edgar, Iowa State University

Harry Anderson, B.B. Rose Music Co.

Peter M. Scott, “attorney for the banquet”

Bill Gretsch, William W. Gretsch, Pres. Fred Gretsch Mfg. Co.

Michigan won the game 21-0.

Photos at the event were taken by Wright Studios in St. Paul and assembled into a small booklet which was distributed to various people in the industry. The pictures below were copied from the orginal booklet which is held by Fred Gretsch in Savannah, Georgia.

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Unknown Couple Click on image to enlarge

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Bill and Sylvia Gretsch Click to enlarge image

MF3,1946, Dorothy and Ed Trificante, dealer in Minneapolis, unknown couple

Ed and Dorothy Traficante, dealer in Minneapoli- other couple unknown

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MF4 Forest McAllister, editor School Musician Mag, unknown girl, William Rivelli, U of M, Mrs. McAllister.

L to R: Forrest McAllister, Editor School Musician Magazine, Girl unknown, William Revelli, unknown girl

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MF5, 1946, unknown


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MF6,1946, from top, Mrs. McAllister, Art Neu, Mr. and Mrs. Rive

L to R, Mrs. McAllister, Art Neu, Mrs.& Mr. Revelli, Kate Neu

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MF7,1946, Bill Gretsch 4th from left, others unknown

Fourth from left, Bill Gretsch, others unknown

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MF8, 1946, unknown


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MF9, 1946, unknown


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MF10, 1946, left to right, Bill Gretsch, Art New, Duke Kramer,

L to R- Bill Gretsch, Art Neu, Duke Kramer, couple unknown.

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MF11, 1946, left to right, couple unknow Forest McAllister, Bill Gretsch

L to R- Unknown couple, Forrest McAllister, Bill Gretsch

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MF12, 1946, unkown


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MF13, 1946, left to right, Forrest McAllister, Duke Kramer, Bil

L to R – Forrest McAllister, Duke Kramer, William Revelli, unknown, Art Neu.

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MF14, 1946, unkown


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Note that Kate and Arthur Neu would take care of Charlotte the coming spring when Bill went to Mayo’s.

Ed and Dorothy Traficanti who were music dealers in Minnesota also attended. They also ran a chain of music schools. Perhaps, Ed and Dorothy were some of the clients that Bill and Sylvia got together with when they were in Minneapolis the following spring.

Sylvia was wearing the pearl necklace which her daughter Gretchen gave to her daughter Margaret Wade on Margaret’s 40th birthday.

Duke Kramer tells the story that he was on the road selling in the south when  Bill Gretsch called him. Bill Gretsch said that Duke had to come to Minnesota right away —- there was a very important meeting coming up. So Duke changed his planes and rushed to Minnesota where he found a big party going on for the Michigan Minnesota Football game.

This was the way Bill Gretsch did business. There were university Band Leaders there and lots of music dealers from the area. Less then two years later in January 1948, a similar party would be held and billed as a christening party for Bill and Sylvia’s newest baby girl. Gretchen. It was also a big party full of business acquaintances, music dealers and family.

Nov. 13 New York Times reports “Fred Gretsch, president and trustee of the Lincoln Savings Bank of Brooklyn, has been elected to the board of directors of the Manufacturers Trust Company, it was announced yesterday. Mr. Gretsch is also chairman of the executive committee of the Group V Savings Bank Association of the State of New York; a member of the board of directors of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Real Estate Board of Brooklyn.”

Nov. 26 Ted and Kay Clauss’ third son, Thomas, in born at the Brooklyn Hospital.

Dec. 13 ” The Bill Gretsch Temperance Society” celebrated its 40th Anniversary.

Was this another party organized by Bill gathering together businessmen.

This was Bill’s fortieth birthday. The party was held I think in Chicago.

Dec.16 Dick Gretsch and Jean married.

Note this is the date of Dick’s mother’s, Charlotte Sommer Gretsch, birthday.

Bill and Maxine were married on Dec. 14.


early in the year Fritzie Kramer remember a big party my father had at the Chicago Athletic Club for the Army Band.

She remembers that it was that night that he said he had to leave the party early to go home and prepare for a test he was having the next day at the doctor’s. This was the first clue that Fritzie had that Bill was ill.

It was shortly after that Bill and Sylvia left to go to see other doctors in New York City.

April “It was quite sudden (in) April when she and Bill first left the children in Chicago. Easter Sunday was April 6th and my mother had chosen that day to celebrate Katie’s second birthday. Katie whose real birthday was April 1st, had actually born on Easter Sunday and my mother wanted to keep the jubilation of that day associated with her daughter’s birth. She had even made matching dresses for the girls to wear and there were two large stuffed bunnies that took part in all the indoor festivities.

The bunnies didn’t accompany them that day however as family and friends piled into the brand new Oldsmobile station wagon for the short drive to an outside amusement park. 16 mm movies show the girls and Freddie riding on a kiddie train and my parents flirting with each other like teenagers. I was not yet in the picture.

Just a week later, my mother was writing to her parents from New York City and explaining why she was there and not visiting them in California. My parents “were on a strenuous round of seeing a doctor a day…Charlotte was with them.” Charlotte was the oldest of the children. She was the easiest child to travel with, no bottles, no diapers. Her first year of life was spent in New York and she could easily be left with familiar friends there while her parents achieved their mission. The letter was light and didn’t give much information. My mother choose instead to write in detail about the dress pattern she was considering for the girls and new dresses she had purchased for herself that were wrinkle free and just right for traveling.

By the end of the week my parents would be back in Chicago and on their way to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota. In Rochester, after several days of tests my father was admitted to the hospital on April 24th. It was in this time frame just before he entered the hospital that I was conceived. I like to think that I grew out of the comfort my parents gave each other in this hectic and uncertain time. ”

Excerpts from the essay “Traveling” . To read more about this period go to the “Essay” section on the navigation bar of this website.

April 20 Maxine sends this telegram to her parents in San Francisco….”Operation Highly successful. No Danger of reoccurrence. Bill Comfortable. Love, Mike” (original telegraph with Freddy in Savnnah).

May 3 another telegram arrives for Hattie’s birthday ” Happy Birthday Bill sitting in chair today to celebrate. Duke and Fritzie just arrived for day send their love, Dick still here Bill’s father arrives tomorrow very pleased with Bills progress what do you want for your new house for your birthday love Maxine

June 4 Postcard from Maxine to her parents “Leaving via sleeper for Chicago tomorrow.”

June 7 Maxine’s roommate from Northwestern University, Mary Lois Heflebower was married to John Debevic at St. Luke’s Episcopal church in Evasnton on this day.

The story has been told that Bill Gretsch was too sick to attend the wedding. Maxine stayed with him aating at the Palmer House hotel in downtown Chicago where he was recouperating. Apparently, he was too sick to go home to their apartment full of small children on Palmer Square.

Mary Lois the bride and Maxine’s good friend, came to the Palmer House in her wedding dress after the ceremony to visit with Bill and Maxine.

July 3 New York. On a light blue postcard with “Private Mailing Card” written on front where return address usually appears. Verso: printed -Mrs. William Gretsch 301 Burns Street Forest Hills, New York.(301 Burns Street is crossed out and 37 Shorthill Road is written in.) Monday, Arrived safely and will have an ideal set-up here. Big fenced in back yard with plenty of room to keep the noise away from us. Bill looks better already getting tan and getting his appetite back. He is enjoying the girls and Freddie…all well and getting browner by the minute! Taking Freddie to the doctor for shots right now.-love, Mike

Summer As my father recuperated in Long Island that summer perhaps Bill and Sylvia listened together to “Meet Tex and Jinx”. This new radio program was a pioneer in talk shows. It was hosted by the popular couple Jinx Falkenburg and her husband Tex McCrary. This new show was a summer replacement for “Duffy’s Tavern”. Maxine had her own short history in theater and radio before she married Bill. She would have been very interested in the career of this actress and model, Jinx Falkenburg and her popular husband.

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This wonderful picture of Bill and Sylvia Gretsch at Sag Harbor in 1947 was sent to Gretchen Elner-Sommer in 2012. In this picture Sylvia was pregnant with Gretchen who was born the following January. Rita and Bob Cuskley would be Gretchen’s godparents. It was probably during the early months of this summer while Bill was recovering that Sylvia learned that she was pregnant.

Pictured here in the bottom row are the Cuskley’s two boys in front, their daughter Ann and little Charlotte.

In the second row, Bill, Rita, Sylvia, Bob and Bill’s father, Fred Gretsch Sr.

That summer my parents rented a cottage on Sag Harbor. Perhaps, it was Walter Simons cottage. The cottage closest to it was rented by the Bob and Rita Cuskley, very good friends of my parents.

The Cuskley’s had lived in a house near my parents on Burns Street in 1943-44. The MacConicky’s (sp?)lived near by and the Nixons. They were quite a partying bunch. Bob worked fro Douglas Eliniom selling real estate in Manhattan. Rita went to Manhattanville.

Their oldest son Bob jr. remember my father going out in a little boat and fishing in the early morning. He would come back and cook his fish on the beach, stripped bass, etc. (conversation August 21, 2002)

September Sag Harbor, Long Island, “Ray Mahoney is spending the week-end with us- He plans to be in S. F. this month. The Bronsens from Virgina and Kramers from Chicago are here for a visit.” Post card sent by Maxine to her parents.

November 9 Dear Folks,

Having a good visit here at the Arrowhead lodge with Ralph , Betty and the Reinerts. Visited Helen and Bruce Janes last night. Joplin Tomorrow…home through K.C., Love, Mike

December New York City experienced a swirling blizzard that dropped 29. 3 inches of snow of the city. It was the biggest blizzard since record keeping began in 1869. Bill who was from New York certainly kept track of his friends and family in NYC.

Bill and Sylvia spent their 5th wedding anniversary at the elegant Stevens hotel in Chicago. ] (The Stevens Hotel was subsequently bought by Hilton Hotels and is today the Chicago Hilton and Towers. see wikipedia.) Sylvia was very pregnant!

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The holiday card from Bill and Sylvia Gretsch!

December 31,

Bill and Sylvia celebrate the New Year in Chicago. Note in the picture below that Sylvia will have a baby girl in just 15 days. Peggy Meyers sits next to Sylvia. Others included in this picture are Duke and Fritzie Kramer and Ted McCarty.

Correction: i think now in 2018 that this picture was taken in 1946 New Years Eve.
Recently, I found a picture of Sylvia wearing that same dress in November of 1946. I doubt she would be wearing the same dress one year later when she was 9 months pregnant.

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January 1 Michigan played in the Rose Bowl.

Surely, Bill was very interested in the game.

January 15 Baby Girl Gretsch born at Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago. 250 East Superior Street. “the Cathedral of Healing”.

January 19 Dear Mother and Dad,

Your new little Granddaughter, whose name is either Gretschen (sic) Gertrude or vice versa, is a dusky beauty…big brown eyes, long dark brown hair…well filled out. Always finishes her meals, and is a perfect speciman (sic).

I am feeling wonderful like my doctor and the hospital is just like a good hotel. Plan to stay awhile.

Received a beautiful new suit, blouse, slip, gloves and hose this mornig from my husband.

Certainly was wonderful of you to call, Love, Mike

(This letter written on Pink stationary was found in the Menlo Park Collection at my brother’s house in Savannah, GA. Pencil marks exaggerate the date and add the year 1948 with a question mark. Next to that is written Gee Gee, Yes! Born 1/15/48. Apparently, these papers have been gone through. First by either my grandmother or my grandfather and later by Uncle Ralph. I am not the first family historian. )

January 29,


From a post card sent on this date to her parents at 371 El Bonito Way in Milbrae, California., Maxine wrote: This was it- Room 1484- Chicago’s newest and fanciest!”

The post card describes Wesley Memorial Hospital as ” a new modern twenty-two story structure with 515 beds and 35 transparent bassinets. This hospital is built on a plan which provides a maximum of light and air to all and is equipped with the very latest hospital facilities.

January 29 On the same day as the previous post card, my mother wrote another card to her parents.

This one with a picture of the Stevens, The World’s Largest Hotel. My mother wrote briefly ” Our Fifth Honeymoon Hotel!”

Perhaps, my parents stayed here on their anniversary December 14th. But it is also possible that they went there after I was born for a few days.

The children would have all been taken care of at home by nurses, etc. And my parents would have had some extra days of rest alone at this hotel. which was not so far from my father’s business.

The postcard describes the hotel ” Located on Michigan Boulevard at 7th Street opposite Grant Park, and overlooking Lake Michigan, THE STEVENS is conveniently near Chicago’s Loop- but away from the noise of the down town district. Three thousand delightful outside rooms with bath. THE STEVENS is the home of th Famous BOULEVARD ROOM which features fine cuisine, dancing to famous orchestras and a full hour musical comedy review starring the BOULEVAR-DEARS.

January 29 Also, on this date, an interesting invitation was written up:

Infernal Revenue Dept.

Special Intoxicating Bureau

1651 N. Kedzie Avenue

Chicago, Illinois

January 29, 1948

Dear Sirs:

You are hereby notified that your Reports to this Department have been brought to our attention.

A Special hearing has been arranged at which you may present further information to substantiate your position.

Your appeal will be heard:

February 8, 1948

3:00 P.M. at the Bar

4:30 P.M. at the Smorgasbord

Dania Hall

1651 N. Kedzie Avenue

Chicago, Ill

Please signify your intention of cooperating with the Bureau by notifying address below that you will be present.


William Gretsch

Special Officer in Charge

3052 Palmer Square

Chicago, Illinois

Belmont 10454

This was the invitation to a huge party which was part business party and part Christening party for me.

Fritzie Kramer remembers that people didn’t know that it was a Christening party until they got there. The Christening was held earlier in the day.

Fritzie remembers the invitation as very cute and clever. It was sent around Income Tax times and was designed to give a little “worry” to the reciprient.

This particular invitation which was found in the Menlo Park Collection in Savannah was postmarked February 11, 1948. It was sent after the event to my mother’s brother and his wife: Mr.& Mrs. Ralph Elsner, 8205 Summit, Kansas City, Mo.

Did my mother find herself in an awkward position, with the christening party for their new baby advertised in such a silly way? I wonder if she sent an invitation to her parents.

Or perhaps, she wrote the invitation herself. On this date January 29th, she wrote two postcards to her parents, so obviously she had some time to write.

Note: The area around North and Kedzie in Chicago was a Danish neighborhood known as “Little Denmark”. Dania Hall was built by the community and held social gathering. My parents rented out this space for my Christening party. It was very close to Palmer Square where they lived.

Gretchen and David stopped here on their way to Mary Wade’s fourth birthday in Evanston in 2007. The building is still there but no longer Dania Hall. The words “Dania Hall” are engraved in the stone on the face of the building.

First week of February

At this Christening party many pictures were taken which were then assembled and hand tied with a black cord and tassel.

My god parents, Bob and Lorraine Cuskley, flew in from New York. My grandparents from California were not there. However, many friends and business acquaintances attended. A very striking catalogue hand tied and bound

“Gretsch Special Catalog

Presenting 1948 Edition

“Gee Gee”

Also showing earlier Models,

1944 “Lottie”

1945 “Katie”

1946 “Fritz”

William and Sylvia Gretsch Production Co. Founded 1942

January 15, 1948 Chicago, Ill.

No doubt this little booklet which pictures many customers of the Gretsch company and other musical businessmen in the area was a also a clever piece of advertising .

This little booklets contains the only picture that I know of in which the whole family is together:

my mother and father, my sisters Charlotte and Katie, my brother Freddie and me, three weeks old.

Copies of this booklet were found in Savannah in the Menlo Park Collection.

February 22 A photo of Fred Gretsch Sr., Charlotte, Katie and Freddie sitting in a beautiful wooden elevator.

Grampa Gretsch is smiling broadly.

On the back of this picture the folllowing is written….some of the letters might be Greek….

Nick presenting Two pretty

Mr. W. W. Gretsch and

2 Princesses and brother.

Has visit the Drake Hotel and also rode the famous Royal car

of Queen Marie and King Paul and Prince Carl. Now sitting in the

Royal Car. Photo by Nick the Greek J. Teszakis I Tipzauis Atto.

Tabepra Mezurn Messervia & made official

February 22, 1948

Maybe this picture was taken by Nick and later given to my father by Nick.

March 14 An article in the Chicago Tribunes states that the Fred Gretsch company has doubled their sales quarters. They doubled the space that they rented at 218 S. Wabash.

My father must have been positive about the future of the business in Chicago.

April 27,

Tuesday Mr. Richard Gretsch, the Danbury Gas and Electric Company, April 27 1948, In our 65th year

Dear Dick,

Congratulations on being elected President of the Danbury Gas and Electric Company–strictly confidential I was hoping you would be fired and would take a crack at the factory situation. But you certainly have a spot that will give you a lot more pleasure in life than running a facoty these days.

Sure would like to rent a cottage on Candlewood Isle but I am still undecided at to plans, but I would like to get near salt water and might consider renting Walter Simons cottage again.

What would a large size ice box cost and a large size electric water heater. Have you got a couple of boys to install them some weekend.

have an opportunity of buying a GE automatic electric at wholesale. How so you think it compares with the Bendix? Is it worth the difference?

We tried to reach you the night we had the good news of your election, which was about 10:00 Sunday night but evidently you had gone out celebrating and your baby sitter must have had the doors closed.

Sylvia joins me in sending you and Jean congratulations for we certainly think it is swell. Sincerely, Your Brother, Bill

(My brother Fred sent me a copy of this letter in February of 2001 with the note “Here is one for your scrap book”. Dick had recently given him the letter with a note which read, ” Fred, If I had fulfilled your father’s hopes I probably would be working for Dinah, too- My best-”

This wonderful letter gives a little vignette of my parents on Sunday night April 17th.

In this time so soon after my birth, I know very little about their lives. Now, I know that that particular Sunday night they were trying to reach Dick and congratulate him.

I also know that they were making plans for spending the summer again at Sag Harbor like they did the previous summer. There was apparently not very much hot water in that cabin by the bay and a very small refrigeratro.

May 14 Dear Mother and Dad,

We are in Kansas City—arrived this afternoon and leaving tonight—-taking the train back to Chicago and Ralph (and Betty) is driving the car. The trip was very pleasant but we caught no fish.

Chicago, Sat. Morning

Had a pleasant train trip back home….R& B driving our car up….will be here tomorrow. they both look extra well, and both seem to be enjoying life.

Tante and Grama look the same as they did last November …or better. Grama hardly mentioned “when she is gone”, helped with the dishes, enjoyed the girls and kept saying she “didn’t feel so good”

Saw Monas for a minute…she looks good a little heavier which is becoming. Dieter are expecting you this Fall, so we will expect you , too. After all you do have a granddaughter you haven’t seen. She is angelic.

Bill is on a quite limited diet, and has lost weight. We are not very encouraged by his condition. The trip was hard on him. The girls were good little travelers , but even so it was a noisy journey.

Love to you all, Mike Still hope to see Paul

May 16 Telegram to Bill Gretsch at Kahler Hotel

Geib Jr leaving with car tomorrow morning Monday, should be there Monday afteroon, Duke”

Nick Geib made guitar cases and was a good friend of Bill’s. He also had a big boat.

May 19

(the date May 20th is written in on top of this letter but it is not the correct day. In May of 1948, Wednesday was the 19th)

Someone, either Max or Hattie, has gone through these letters trying to put these tragic time in sequence.


Dear Mother and Dad,

Suddenly decided to come to Rochester for a check up.—left Sunday morning without seeing Ralph and Betty–the babies all home with Emily, and C& K are in Wisconsin Rapids again.

All our news here has been good so far…blood, urine and blood pressure tests, good. Bill has been having pain in his chest which they are trying to explain. Have had millions of X-rays, and still no diagnosis. Perhaps, this afternoon they will prescribe the treatment …or perhaps only ask for more tests.

Right now he is having gall bladder X-rays. Tat is a series, taken at intervals during the day. So far it has not shown up at all which means it is pathological or non-functioning. Which isn’t too important, as you can live forever in that condition. They onlyoperate of 40% of the pathological gall bladders here, and as Bill’s is not acute, and he does not suffer with it very much, he will be one of the 60%.

The chest business is probably something that can’t be diagnoses.


The gall bladder won’t be touched now—as long as Bill watches his diet a little, it is all right.

(May 20- again a written in date) Dear Mother and Dad,

Here we are in Rochester again…Bill is having his first X-ray treatment today. He has a small amount of fluid in his left lung….which may be caused by any one of a number of things. He has had considerable pain in his chest—-could be plurisy (sic) or a tumor…at any rate this treatment should help. Six treatments on 6 successive days…will be through on Wednesday. In 2 months he comes back for a check up and more treatments.

The X ray had a cumulative effect over a period of 2 months, so we won’t knoe until the chieck up how much it has accomplished. The weather here is beautiful, and we have a simply marvelous room at the biggest hotel in town. Three friends from St. Paul were down last night, and others will be down on Friday. May go to Wisconsin Rapids Sunday if we can make proper train connections. Don’ want to tire ourselves with the driving.

Will enclose the letter I started several days ago. Afraid we missed Paul but perhaps he’ll be East again Soon. May decided to stay in Chicago this summer after all, if so will make a determined effort to find a year round house to rent instead of a summer place, love to you all, Mike

(May 27- again written in) Thursday morn. 8 A.M.

Dear Family,

Bill was taken to the hospital quite suddenly Tuesday evening when he developed jaundice.

They haven’t yet decided what is causing it but are taking lots of X-rays and blood tests.

He was suffering a lot of pain Tuesday but rested well yesterday. I was with him all day, and as he doesn’t like to hear me write, this is my first opportunity. have talked to Fred, Jr. twice, he is anxious to come out, and will, as soon as we are sure he can so so without alarming Bill.

The trouble could be an infection, or gall stones, or liver damage. Probably won’t know for 3 or 4 more days. This more than Bill knows so please be careful what you write.

He is not confined to bed but doesn’t feel well enough to walk in the sun porch , which is right next door.

He has a private room….quite nice and very quiet.

The children are well situated now. But Fred Jr. has offered to get them and deliver them to jean & dick…who now have help….two at a time. For the present, we won’t change the arrangements.

Will keep you posted , but probably with brief news bulletins, love, Mike

Lucille is in California- her house is not winterized—-is extremely cold for winter use and is rented year round now at great risk to occupants health.

May 29 From Rochester, Mnn. “Dad fish are en route be sure to pay express on weight of box when it arrives…don’t let them charge you for the weight when it left Missouri. for that California Sun should save you a few dollars.”

Maxine was sending a father’s day present.

I am sure that this little joke about the melting ice gave everyone something to grin at in this terrible time of worry.

May 30 Dear Mother & Dad- Paul & Lola

The doctors are still testing…it looks as if it maybe a gall stone. Don’t believe we will know for another week.

Fred. Jr. is flying out tonight…he will stay as long as we want him.

Bill’s doctor….the one who operated a year ago….is out of town. Will be back the 7th of June.

Meanwhile about umpteen doctors come in per day. love Mike

June 4 (again the date is written in) Friday,

Dear folks,

The situation is the same here…Fred left Tuesday night, will be back when we ask him.

Bill is being prepared for an operation, but they haven’t decided on it definitely yet.

Treating him now for amoebic dysentery which he had 10 years ago while on a cruise—they are really double checking everything before they operate.

Expect Wednesday will be the day, if they do it.

Bill looks good and feels well sometimes. Still has some of the pain, tho, Except for his color, he doesn’t look sick.

The children are well. Fred saw them yesterday. Love, Mike

Mother did you ever get the package from Fields?

Happy Father’s Day – Dad-We are lucky to have such wonderful Fathers to congratulate this year- Hope package arrives on time.

June 8 The following is written on the back of the above letter.

“Telegram -June 8- 48- exploratory operation tomorrow. Bill in good condition. Will wire tomorrow. love, Mike”

June 9 The writing on the back of the letter continues.

“Telephone call- June 9-48- Maxine

Generally spreading now between gall bladder and liver- not much pain. Still something new to arrest- will try. May go to Chicago or Forest Hills. Father will come Friday. Have three nurses. All we can is hope.”

June Mike ( Maxine) sends telegram to Mrs. Max Elsner 371 Bonita Way, Milbrea, CA. from Rochester, Minn. “Hope to start home Tuesday please come direct to Chicago your earliest convenience stay apartment with children. We go to Hotel wire me your plans, love, Mike

July 21 Fred Gretsch Jr. buys plot of land at St. John’s Cemetery in New York.

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August Hattie is in Chicago at Palmer Square helping with the kids while Bill is very sick in NYC with Maxine and Charlotte.

September 10 My father died.

Bob Cuskly, Jr. remembers in 2002 that his father cried when Bill Gretsch died.

Bob Jr. was only 11 years old and he remembers this vividly.

A lot of people must have cried when they heard of my father’s untimely death.

“When Bill Gretsch died last month, although only a young man, our industry lost one of its most widely loved and respected leaders. William Walter Gretsch, would have always commanded the world’s respect but to his intimates he towered as a model of unassuming courage. Bravery has been defined as race under stress, and no one could have been more gallant than Bill. The victim of an incurable disease, to the very end, he remained on the job, and always in humorous, uncomplaining spirits. Few people in our time ever faced such a bleak future with greater forbearance and selflessness.” (Obit in a music trade magazine).

This obit which includes a picture of my dad was given to me by Duke and Fritzie Kramer in 1966. I had never seen it before.

Late September

Click image to enlarge

Shortly after her husband’s death, Maxine, her mother and her children are at Onslow Place in Kew Gardens, New York.

October 7,

My mother wrote the following letter to Fritzie and Duke Kramer:

“October 7, 1948
Dear Fritzie and Duke-
Heartiest congratulations to you both. Personally, because we like you, and for business reasons, because as stockholders we know you’ll continue the Chicago Office as a money making operation.
Bill was pleased for you, that this was on its way—and I know it was a great comfort to him to be able to count on you. Always remember that you have Bill’s complete confidence in whatever you undertake for the welfare of the firm. He trusted you to do the job the way he could have done  it himself—but with the added Kramer sparkle, of course.
To make the Kramer success story complete, we are awaiting news of the expected arrival of twins.
Hope to be out to inspect your wonderful home this fall.
Love, Sylvia”

I found this letter again on April 22, 2013. It was amazing to me that my mother had written it less than a month after my father’s death. The plural pronoun “we” still easily flowed from my mother’s pen—- not yet accustomed to the solitary “I”. Perhaps, by using we, she was emphasizing her own input into the decision making process that had led to Duke’s being appointed the new head of the Chicago office.

It was wonderful for me to see again my mother’s lovely, confident handwriting—- and intriguing to note that my mother was “doing business”, so soon after my father’s death. Writing this letter, must have helped her feel that my father was still somehow close, that they were still operating as a team.

Duke and Frizie Kramer gave me a copy of this letter on March 27, 2004. I had driven down to their home in Cincinnati from Ann Arbor to spend some time with them. They also told me the story of the letter. Fritzie explained to me —- I can still see even today her sparkling eyes and her sweet smile— that before my father died, Duke was mostly a salesman for the Gretsch Company. He traveled all the time. Most of the time, Fritzie didn’t even know where he was because Duke never called her. Fritzie told me that she had to call the Gretsch office to find out where her husband was.

They both told me that they thought that throughout my father’s illness my parents had spent a lot of time discussing the business and what would happen with it. Everyone was surprised when Fred came to Chicago after Dad’s death and asked Duke to run the Chicago office. Tiny Hoff had been running the office and everyone thought Tiny Hoff would continue to do so. Tiny Hoff was so angry that he quit.

Duke and Fritzie told me that they felt that my parents were also probably of the mind that Duke should be home more with his family—especially now that twins were expected. Fritzie  was so large that everyone thought that she was having twins. She had been a twin herself. This letter written by my mother so soon after Bill’s death assured them of Bill’s confidence in Duke. Perhaps, that is why they saved it for more than 50 years.

Duke also told me that once when he visited my Dad shortly before he died, Bill had made Duke promise that Sylvia would always have a job at the Gretsch Company. After Bill’s death, when Fred was taking over the company, Duke told Fred about this promise he had made to Bill. Fred’s reaction was “Sylvia will never have to work!” Fred was of the mind that women should not work.

My mother’s letter and the stories surrounding it that Duke and Fritzie told me still helps me envision how my parents spent their last many weeks together preparing for what was ahead, knowing that Bill was dying.

October 29

The Brooklyn Record reports, “One Millionth New Depositor Receives Check, Flowers, Lunch from Lincoln Savings Bank. Fred Gretsch, president of the Lincoln Savings Bank is shown above presenting a check to Mrs. Lydia C. Moore of 6804 Seventh Avenue. Just as she opened a new account at the Bay Ridge Office word came from the Main Office that she was the one millionth new depositor in the bank which is the Seventh largest Savings Bank in the United States.”

It would have been perfectly within his character for my grandfather so soon after his son’s death to be back at work. My mother had the same ethic and would have like her father in law, stoically continued forward.

November 7

“Pop’s 63rd birthday, Joplin, Mo.”

This caption was written on the back of a picture of Max and Hattie standing in the driveway of Kate’s house on North Pearl Street.

December 25 New Yorker Magazine, “Talk of the Town”, mentions Gretsch Banjos.

This Christmas was the first of 15 that Sylvia would celebrate without her husband. It was also my first Christmas. Being the youngest child and born so soon before my father’s death, I never celebrated Christmas with my father. It was a difference between me and my siblings that they would never contemplate. It was a difference that I was always aware of.

On this January 1, 2009, I imagine that my Grandparents weren’t with us on that Christmas in 1948. My mother’s parents continued on their long car trip from New York, thru Missouri to California. If they had come back to New York for that first Christmas without my father, there would have been pictures. There are no pictures. Perhaps, the memory of their last Christmas together in New York in 1945 were still too complicated so soon after Bill’s death, to bring them to New York again. Now, the anger and frustration of that last Christmas visit would have been too hard to handle. Maxine wanted to be alone with her children without the complication of her parents.

Pete Sweeney was part of my first Christmas as he was of many Christmas’ to come. He was a childhood friend of my father and my uncles. They all grew up in Brooklyn. He was very tall and the always put the star on top of our tree. That was a real tradition that started I am sure on that first Christmas in 1948. Uncle Fred would always bring us the tree and we would all decorate it together.

My mother was alone that Christmas but she was surrounded by all of her husband’s family and friends. All the people to whom he had brought poinsettia’s to just three years earlier, must have rallied around his widow and her children on this first Christmas after his death.

Perhaps, this is the first Christmas Eve that we all went to sing Christmas Carols at the Square in Forest Hills. Perhaps, Uncle Fred, picked us all up and drove us to the Sommer’s house. I was left there while the older children walked to Fountain Square to sing Christmas Carols. It was a tradition that continued through the years. Surely, all the children saw Santa Claus as he drove through the Gardens on his sled. Surely, the children were allowed to take advantage of all of these Christmas traditions. Christmas eve at the Sommer house and carols in Fountain Square

My grandfather, I am sure must have been sure to lend support to the little fatherless family. Uncle Fred was living on Shorthill Road with his father in the house I would later grow up in.. Imagine the conversation between these two men, in the familiar rooms I grew up in, about how best to help Bill’s family during this holiday season. Or perhaps, there was no conversation.


Clare Boothe Luce’s play, “Come to the Stable” nominated for best picture.

My mother must have been paying attention to the Catholic theme of this film, see below>

Clare’s Catholic Valentine, 6 August 2005


Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York

During the late 1940s Clare Booth Luce, wife of Henry Luce of the Luce Publications, noted playwright, Republican Congresswoman had a celebrated conversion to Catholicism courtesy of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. There’s nothing like the zeal of the newly converted so this screenplay was written to show how God does move in mysterious ways for the believers.

What’s hard to believe is that the same author of The Women actually wrote Come to the Stable. But it’s true and Luce is a skilled writer and she fashioned a very easy to take tale of two nuns over from France trying to build a children’s hospital in memory of the kids they couldn’t save in World War II.

The two nuns are played by Loretta Young and Celeste Holm. There was no doubt that Young would be one of the three leads. Loretta Young, Irene Dunne and Rosalind Russell were three of the leading female Catholic lay people in the country at that time. I’m sure all were approached with this film.

Young and Holm were both recent Oscar winners, for The Farmer’s Daughter and Gentlemen’s Agreement and both were nominated for Best Actress here. Both lost the big sweepstakes to Olivia DeHavilland who was also a recent winner for To Each His Own. Strange are the ways of the Academy voters. Elsa Lanchester was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the religious artist who offers the nuns shelter and lodging during their quest. Lanchester is her usual charming, but off the wall self in her part.

In today’s audience some may find all the happy coincidences a bit much. But then again that is precisely the point of the film, that God will help those who help themselves.

One other thing. Some very rough and irreligious people contribute to the sister’s endeavor and I think the message there is that on occasion, man can rise above just looking out for himself and think of the human race at large.

May 3 In a letter dated on this day, Sylvia wrote to her parents about the plans for her upcoming trip for the summer.

” By the time you receive this, I hope to have a lease signed on the house. A family from Colombia…a delegate to the U.N. child, fourteen months old , and another expected this summer…and their maid…are to come in on the 14th. My net rental for 3 and a half months will be $864. 50. which will just pay my transportation, it is a great relief to me.”

May 12 Sylvia, Emily and the children leave on the train for Chicago. They have connecting bedrooms. From Chicago, they take a day coach, the Santa Fe to Kansas City. Then, they drive with Ralph and Betty to Joplin.

It was during this trip to Joplin, that moving pictures are taken on the porch at 321 North Pearl Street. Emily is in these pictures.

May 26 American Banker reports, ” Roses for Good Will, Fred Gretsch, president of the Lincoln Savings Bank, Brooklyn, greets Carol Lundgren, one of the more than 15,000 visitors to whom the bank played host last Saturday at the opening of its enlarged Bay Ridge office. Roses were distributed to everyone and the 2, 871 people who opened saving accounts received ball points pens.

May 27 They leave on the train from Kansas City at 9:30 p.m. to arrive in San Francisco on the 29th at 6:50 PM. Again they hope to have connecting bedrooms.

September 1 Return to New York via Longview, Washington and Chicago.

It must have been shortly after this trip that Emily starting having trouble with her health. Katie who was only four years old at the time remembers Emily giving herself insulin shots.

Also at this time, Sylvia started making plans with Fred for working at the Gretsch company. Perhaps, this is the time in which the small company ” Katherine Frederick” was first conceived.

September 16 Russia exploded the A bomb….a scary time.


February Maxine starts working for the Gretsch company on various project.

The first project was writing “an editorial”. She wrote to her parents, “Fred was invited to write (an editorial) for a little publication…MUSIC…and he liked it very much and is thinking of having reprints made for hanging in music stores when it comes out.”

Later in the year she would work on a guitar booklet and a manual for dealers to help organize outside selling.

In the same letter she reports that “Emily is back in the swing of things. She has Saturday afternoon and Sunday off….I have a girl in Sunday morning to baby sit while we got to church, and a man in come once a week for heavy cleaning.”

March Debbie Elsner born in Kansas City.

March 27

“We all have good health…except for Emily. she suddenly developed pneumonia again a week ago today, and had to be taken to her daughter’s home in an ambulance. She is improving , but her daughter doesn’t think she will be ale to work full time again. This has been coming for a year, almost, and I’m not surprised, but we all feel very very sorry for Emily , of course.”

Sylvia goes on to tell about he new girl who is taking Emily’s place. Pauline is a D.P.and has been in America for 3 weeks. She is from Yugoslavia but speaks German as she was displaced to Austria about nine years ago. Sylvia hopes to learn German from her.

” Of course I won’t work until I have her under control but did want to let you know all about us.

If Emily is well enough, I will want her to come on Pauline’s day off……not because I need her, but because I want her to be with the children a little.”

That unfortunately was the last mention of Emily in any family papers.

September Charlotte starts at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.

November 21 Mary Mertes of Chicago marries Dan Mooney of New York City. The marriage took place as Holy Name Cathedral and the reception was at the Black Stone Hotel. The marriage was reported in the Chicago Tribune on January 7, 1951.

Fred Gretsch Jr. was on his way to Chicago for business and he met on the train his long time friend, Dan Mooney who was on his way to Chicago to be married. One of Dan’s ushers was sick and could not attend and Dan ask Fred to take his place.

Fred took his place and that he when he first met Dan’s sister, Helen, whom he later married. Of course he probably knew of Helen as Dan’s younger sister. It was at this wedding that he became really interested in her and they began dating.

Their daughter Happy tells me years later that Helen’s friends said to Helen “Don’t waste your time dating him, he will never get married”.

December Fred Gretsch Sr. elected to Chairman of the Board of the Lincoln Savings Bank.


Helen Opferman Von Salten, a childhood friend of my sister, Charlotte shared this memory with me in 2016:
” Well, Gretchen, as previously mentioned, I only recall tidbits from our childhoods. I have a vivid image of the first time I ever met you.
Your mother invited my mother and me over to your house in Kew Gardens and you were just a toddler and you were hiding behind the curtains. All three of my granddaughters (Coco now 12. Anna now 10 and Cheyney now 8) hid behind the curtains for years and they always reminded me of you doing that even though I was only 5 or 6 years old when I first met you.

Your sister, Charlotte, and I were classmates at OLQM (Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills) from 1949-1957. We lived in Kew Gardens when we met when we were in the First Grade and, even though only a few Kew Gardens families attended OLQM, Monsignor McLaughlin hired a school bus for the Opfermans, Gretschs and Corcorans for a short period of time. This kept my siblings and me in proximity to your siblings for those early bus rides.

Early in our acquaintance, your mother told my sisters and me that we could call her “Aunt Sylvia” and that is how I have thought of her throughout my life. My sister, Suzy, sometimes babysat for you and your siblings but she only did it a few times. My older sister, Babette, and my younger sister, Dorothy, were often invited to watch TV at your Kew Gardens house in the years before we had a TV and – later – your family had the first color TV that I ever saw and that was in the Forest Hills Gardens house.”

January 8,
The American Banker reports ,” Fred Gretsch, chairman of the Lincoln Savings Bank and director of the manufacturers Trust Co., has accepted the chairmanship of the banking and utilities section in the Brooklyn Red Cross 1952 Fund Drive, Rodney C. Ward, commerce and industry chairman , announced…..”

Saturday, February 24


On March 5, Maxine wrote her parents from Shorthill Road about an accident which happened on Saturday, February 24 “Katie hit a bump on the sidewalk while whizzing around the block on her two wheeler, and tumbled off with the handlebars hitting her abdomen. We have just spent a week in the hospital, have a week to spend here, not out of bed, and then two weeks rest before returning to school.

It was such a simple accident…she must have fallen off her bike nine hundred times before. She jumped right up and ran into the house to me, and started screaming. It was a few minutes before I realized that anything was seriously wrong. She went into mild shock before I could get her to the doctor’s office…and he took one look at her and said that she must have a surgeon and go to the hospital.

I called Fred and neither one of us had a surgeon on tap so we told Dr. Pratt to arrange things, and within 40 minutes after the fall, she was in in bed in a little hospital in Hollis…about 15 minutes from our house.

She came out of the shock nicely, but was in a great deal of pain. This all happened a week ago Saturday morning.

It was a 24 hour vigil…I didn’t leave the room for 36 hours, but we finally decided that we must get special nurses…I was too foggy to keep close watch by then.

On Monday morning they decided that the pains had become so acute they would have to operate, but within half an hour they had subsided, and we started watching again. The red blood count kept going down, which meant she was continuing to bleed internally.

However, on Wednesday she was without pain, and that was our first good sign. On Monday night they had given a blood transfusion, and tests showed that she was retaining all or part of that blood. Thursday, no pain, and Friday we brought her there to 37 Shorthill Road, where she will be on bed rest for a week….no walking, no stirring about…before she goes home. She is still under 24 hour surveillance, but I am just eating and sleeping right with her, and so catching up on my rest along with her.

The doctors say there is no way of knowing what organ was effected, tho there was blood in the urine and in the stool. The x-rays showed a vastly enlarged liver, but that might just be a blood clot or something pressing against the liver to increase its size.

What apparently happened is that the wound gradually clotted over and sealed itself off. Now we must see that it doesn’t rip itself open again, and while one week took us out of immediate danger, two weeks are needed to be completely out of the woods and more care after that to prevent too much activity.

She didn’t eat anything all the time she was in the hospital, but started when we arrived here. Even a sip of water brought on the pain before. However, her spirits are wonderful and she has been very cooperative and gay.

Of course the 24 hour attention has been quite a joy to her.

Charlotte is staying at the Sommers, and the babies are at home, redoing Katie’s room for her as a surprise when she comes home.

Grampa is in Florida, and of course doesn’t know anything about it. The picture has changed so rapidly that before a letter could get to Florida or California whatever I would write would be changed completely.

By the time you get this, she will be well on the road to recovery.

A trip to California would have been cheaper. Keep us posted on all the fun you are having,

with love, Sylvia ( This is very strange that she signs her name Sylvia in writing to her parents. She was obviously thinking of other things.)

Katie remembers being put in a crib in the hospital. She remembers being alone and terrified. She remembers trying to climb out of her crib. These must have been memories from when she was much better. Initially, she was terribly ill and would not have been able to climb out of her crib.

Monday, March 5

Maxine writes her parents about the accident described above. She begins the letter with the six paragraphs listed below, before she tells them of the frightful accident.

This letter is typed and written on stationary with the logo “Katherine Frederick” at the top and ” Virginia 7-5848-106 8nd Avenue- Kew Gardens 15, New York”. This is the paper from the musical instrument rental company that was only recently begun. Maxine had taken her work stationary and her typewriter with her to Shorthill Road. She was working while she and Katie recuperated.

“Dear Family,

By now I am in hopes that you’ll heading for a busy reunion in California. Aunt Kate, I certainly hope you are part of the group…I would be if I could manage it.

We have thoroughly enjoyed the correspondence about the trip…it was next best thing to being there.

Since we’re just beginning to get really settled here, we won’t be coming west this year. The work (possibly referring to the “Katherine Frederick” rental business) I’m trying to do might bet heavier as time goes on, but this year it wouldn’t keep us from coming.

We have just finished redecorating the dinning room, with grey paper all around…a combed plywood effect paper, with grey on three walls, and charcoal grey on the fourth. Dad gave us new living and dining room drapes…white background with huge chartreuse carnations….traverse, all of them. Then on the triple window in the dining room I also have fiberglass window curtains. We’re very fancy.

Also redoing the girls room…three wall pink paint, and the fourth pink paper with huge bouquets of mums. For their birthdays they are getting fiberglass ruffled curtains, and cedar green chintz drapes. So it will really be a feminine room…In a few more years, they’ll be getting a dressing table , I suppose.

They foyer and stairs and upstairs halls are next, but Joseph can’t do that so it will probably wait until summer.

Katie and I are convalescing at Grampa’s after a big scare. ( Here beings the description of the accident and recovery recorded above.)

March 29

The above clipping from the New York Times announces the death of Frederick Bruchhauser who was a good friend of Fred Gretsch Sr.
See above on July 17, 1943 , a letter written by Bill Gretsch to his older brother Fred. Bill wrtes that his dad, Fred Gretsch and Bruch were out to dinner the previous evening. Fred  Sr and Bruch were visiting the newly weds, Bill and Sylvia at their summer rental in Freeport, Long Island.

The clipping below from the New York Times was sent to me in 2013 by Anton Bruchhauser, great nephew of Frederick Bruchhauser.

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

According to my father’s cousin, Barbara Sommer Shea, Fred Sr. and Frederick Bruchhauser spent a lot of time together. Barbara remembers Fred Gretsch and Fred Bruchhauser coming to her mother’s house on Continental Ave. in Forest Hills after work for a cocktail. She remembers vividly that there would be lots of cigar smoke in the house. This was before 1948 when Barbara went away to college. Sometime in this period between 1945 and 1948,  Fred Gretsch and Bruchhauser had a falling out and were never friends again.

Fred Gretsch’s deceased wife, Charlotte Sommer Gretsch was the older sister of Barbara Sommer Shea’s father. My grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr.  obviously felt very comfortable at the home of John and Frances Sommer.

Apparently, the Gretsch boys, Fred, Bill and Richard were quite fond of Frederick Bruchhauser.  Apparently, he traveled around the world and told fantastic stories of adventure.

Richard Gretsch named his first son, Fred Bruch Gretsch after Fred Bruchhauer in 1945.


Charlotte’s first Holy Communion.

Large parade for Douglas McArthur.

The family rents a house at Bayville for the summer. This was the second summer in a row and we rented that same house.

It was at the end of a short road and right near the water. It was a one story house.

Charlotte is in school at OLQM. Katie will start there in the fall.

Nuns from the school come to Bayville to visit for the day.

In 2010, when I (Gretchen) was visiting Katie in Glen Cove, Katie drove Gretchen and her friend Sue Canter to the house in Bayville.

Katie remembers the nuns visiting. She mostly remembers them trying to eat corn on the cob in their habits. I sort of remember this too.

Katie also remembers that there was a huge bump running across the little road which our house was at the end of. Katie remembers that us children imagined that it was buried treasure. We decided to dig it up and went after it with an axe.

Turns out it was a water main.

Almost 60 years later, I sort of remember that adventure.

Fall Katie starts at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs

How did Katie and Charlotte get there everyday from Kew Gardens?

Fred was at kindergarten around the corner from our house in Kew Gardens.

Christmas Max and Hattie ( Grossmom and Grosspop) drive to New York to spend the Holidays.

I remember very well walking Freddie to school and then going on a long walk with Grosspop. We would often go and buy candy. This must have been some of the few times that my mother and her mother were alone together. Thinking of that time now in 2011, it reminds me of the time I now spend with my daughter Maggie and her children. I rarely get time alone with Maggie. History repeats itself.

Christmas Fred and Helen’s daughter Happy told me in 2009, that her mother really expected an engagement ring this year from Christmas. When it did not come, she and a friend of her cooked up a plan. See January below.


January Hattie and Max are in Joplin visiting with Kate on their way back to California from New York City.

Helen Mooney told the man she had been dating, Fred Gretsch, that she was planing an extended trip to Europe with a girl friend of hers.

Fred’s reply was ” Why don’t I meet you in Paris and we will get married there?”

Helen’s reply was ” Well if you really want to get married, I will cancel my trip and we will get married here.”

See February 11, below.

February Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s television show ” Life is Worth Living” begins.

It aired on the DuPont network in what was called the obituary spot i.e. between the two big shows of the day Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra. The show was a dramatic exposition of Sheen’s book Peace of the Soul.

Sylvia with her love of radio, speech making, theatrics and the catholic church would have loved this show. But was there a television in the house?

Certainly as a young widow with 4 children she needed encouragement the show offered.

A common subject was the evil of communism.

Clare Boothe Luce had been converted to Catholicism by Fulton Sheen in the mid 1940’s after the tragic death of her collage age daughter.

February 11

The New York Times reports, “Helen Mooney, Graduate of Manhattanville, To Be Married to Frederick Gretsch Jr. ”

March 19, Wednesday Maxine sent an announcement from the Daily Mirror to her parents about Fred and Helen being engaged.

” Both looking awfully happy- ‘s wonderful to be in love!

April 14 Fulton Sheen appears on the cover of Time Magazine. His show is a big success. A long article inside the issue attests to his success. I am sure my mother read every word. ” Sheen TV performance is remarkable not only for its length bur also for its adliberty 9sic). He speaks for 28 minutes straight without script or cue cards. Without even a written outline, hr produces gacts, dates, six-digit statistics with the precision of an electronic-calculator.”

With my mother’s training in speech and debate, she would have been very aware of artistry of Fulton Sheen.

In the same month, “Modern Romances”, quite a different magazine than “Time” publishes an article by Katherine Frederick entitled ” Sew and Save”. Maxine wrote the article. She and Gretchen had pictures taken in a studio which appeared alongside the studio

In these pictures my mothers hair is very long and tied up in a bun. I remember distinctly going to the studio to have these pictures taken. Mostly, I remember the balloons they gave me to play with while they shot the pictures.

May 24 Fred Gretsch and Helen Mooney are married. Charlotte and Katie attend the wedding. Gretchen and Fred do not.

Spring Katie’s first Holy Communion.

July 7-11 Republican National Convention in Chicago. First time the nation watched conventions on television.

July 21-26 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Sometime during the summer, a party is held at Dick and Jean Gretsch’s home on Candlewood Lake.

It is a convergence of many families. Here is a partial guest list complied from 16 mm footage taken by Maxine at the event.

Fred Gretsch Sr., Ralph Elsner, Bob Curry and his wife, Helen Mooney Gretsch’s sisters, Rose and Florence, and her brother Dan and his wife.

Dick and Jean Gretsch and their children. Pete Sweeney was also there.

More footage, possibly from later that same day of Grampa Gretsch with all Charlotte, Katherine, Fred and Gretchen in the front yard of the house we had rented.

August 22 A typed written letter from: Frederick Gretsch, 531 Broadway, Brooklyn 6, New York

To: Mrs. William Gretsch, Candlewood Isle, Danbury, Conn.

Dear Sylvia,

I have your letter of August 20th, and am glad to know that you are all well and still enjoying your stay in Candlewood. I reached home safely, and enjoyed being with you, if only for a few days. The children all looked very well and had a better color that I have seen them have for some time.

I called up the German woman. She seemed to be quite an intelligent person and was working for a doctor over in Richmond Hill. She was getting $50. a week, but would work for $40., if she can bring her 12 year old daughter. She has a position offered to her, but will get in touch with me again if she does not take it.

I have your list of investments and will look them over and report to you when you get back home. In the meantime, Mr. Kraft has been ordered to do the $80. job at Onslow Place. If this does not cure the trouble, we will have to to to the higher priced job later on. That house is getting to be a nuisance. It seem to require an awful lot of repairs.

My love to all the children. I will be looking forward to seeing them after labor Day,

Sincerely, ( signed ) Dad


(In Maxine’s writing) Dad’s last letter to us-

Summer This summer we had rented a house in Candle Wood Isle, not too far from Dick and Jean Gretsch and their children.

Mostly, I remember swimming in the lake and never wanting to get out of the water.

That summer our dog Pencil died. I remember Katie was so sad. We had a dive way made of gravel and Katie said that she was going to put a stone from the driveway in her pocket and never take it out, so that she would always remember Pencil. I was very impressed with the depth of her feelings. I was always impressed with whatever my siblings did.

I also remember Freddie taking me into the vacant lot across the street and fabricating adventures. He told me once that he had found real gold dust inside an old tree. It was actually the tree decaying…but I believed him. He also used to try and lose me in those woods and I was often terrified.

Also this summer was a nation wide polio epidemic. Symptoms : Fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, fatigue, pain or stiffness of neck, back, arms or legs, muscle spasms; in severe cases paralysis and death. Transmissions: Gastrointestinal; victims ingest the virus, which infects the lymphatic glands and nerves until it reaches the spinal cord and possibly brain>

approximately, 58,000 cases, and 3,145 deaths, primarily children.

Public heath Strategy: social distancing measures like canceling summer camps for children and closing public pools. (The Salk Vaccine was not widely distributed until 1955) Children of upper social-economic classes contracted polio out of proportion to poorer children who had developed antibodies through low-level exposure to the virus in unclean drinking water. (NYT, May3, 2009)

September Charlotte, Katie and Fred are at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School

Fred is in first Grade. Katie is in second and Charlotte is in third.

September 27 Fred Gretsch Sr. dies suddenly in his sleep from a heart attach.

He had just returned from a trip to Mexico.

He was 72 years old.

His granddaughter Charlotte recalls some fifty years later, that her mother Maxine wept uncontrollably when her brother in law, Fred told her of his father’s death. Charlotte recalls that they were in the kitchen in the house in Kew Gardens when they heard the news.

On the same day that the New York Times announced the death of Fred Gretsch Sr., it also published a review of the new book by Clare Boothe Luce, “Saints for Now”.

Christmas ( Hand written date in a different script, probably added later by Elsners) X-mas 1952

Handwritten letter from: Mrs. William Gretsch, 106 Eighty Second Street, Kew Gardens, New York

Dear Mother and Dad,

Merry Christmas from us !

We’re almost set for the big day. The children have no school this week, so they put up the tree this morning and have been decorating it ever since. Don’t believe they have ever enjoyed a tree so much.

They are all in very good health, and how I hope we can stay taht way!

The girls are getting ice skates for Christmas…hope I can find mine in time to go skating with them.

Your Christmas letter arrived today, and I read it to the children. They loved it, and so did I . Thank you.

Your lamps are no doubt there by now, I didn’t send the shades, because the store I bought the lamps in didn’t have pretty shades. So if you like the bases and want to keep them, you can get shades there, or I will here. The shades I bought for them before were 24″, silk shantung, like this top and bottom….{drawing}. They were between $15 and $20 dollars each.

The pictures arrived today and they are wonderful. I think you will love those lamps in the room, and that they will be a joy…we hope so at any rate. If not ship them back!

My silver fruit knives came thought, without the spoon I ordered to send you. However, it should come soon.

The fruit knives are beautiful …four of them I ordered. Thank you very much! Retail, they are $6 apiece, but I think they will cost me between $3 and $4. I’ll have them monogrammed after Christmas.

Hope the children’s pictures come thru on schedule. Charlotte was ill when the others were went with Uncle Fred to see “Tanto” so I took her a few days later.

We went to the Arion Society party yesterday…It was loads of fun!

We will probably move in January. This house isn’t sold yet, but we’ve had lots of people in looking at it.

We have millions of exciting boxes to open on Christmas!. We’re having dinner here. The children are pleased…they hate to leave their gifts. Wish you were here again this year!

With love, Maxine

P.S. Just finished 3 Christmas dresses…black velveteen bodices, read and blue taffeta skirts, with white pique collar…! M.

December 28, Saturday. A typewritten letter on plain white paper:

Dear Mother and Dad,

WE had a fabulous Christmas, as usual. The girls love their Horsman dolls…GeeGee had never had a doll with Saran hair before, and she has been washing it ever since Christmas eve. However, it s holding up beautifully, and she is thrilled with it. Katie and Charlotte are both delighted with their dolls….they are HUGE and beautiful!

The doll furniture arrived with Santa on Christmas eve, and the next morning the doll house was under the tree, so it is hard at work. They are the right age for it now, and seem to love arranging it.

We have hooked up the hiway flasher, Freddie and I, and the tank car is operating on the freight. Freddie had his track all decorated for Christmas…complete with big artificial tree, and spends lots of time with them.

The “potato face” is just the right age for him and we hear him chucking away with it every now and then. My fruit knives are beautiful…and I’m anxious to get them in service. However, I ‘m holding off until I can get the monogramming done.

Haven’t tried out my cook book yet, but I’m looking forward to it. The children are reaching the point where they don’t have to have such plain fare …thank heavens!

The skirts arrived today! They are darling, and I’m delighted with them, as are the girls. Are there any special washing instructions? They will be darling with their new wide red elastic belts and with white blouses.

They also received: ice skates, skirts, tights and socks (C. and K. from me) remote control switches, swivel vice, coping saw ( F. from me) Boll, wigwam, Indian boots (GeeGee from me) two octave pump organ and doll (GG from Fred and Helen) Gretsch Drum and plastic bugle and space Academy( F. from Fred and Helen) Dolls and games ( C.and K. from Fred and Helen), $25 bonds (each from Fred and Helen) dress for each Girl ( Fred and Helen). From Ralph and betty, GG a plastic apron, C. and K. tortoise shell bags, Freddy a sport shirt, me a fruit bowl. From Paul, etc., C. and K. stamp books, Fred and GG games and me a cook book and gloves. Also assorted purses, books, candy and stuff from various friends. Dick and Jean sent each a red plaid robe Jean had made, and a jersey , and a very small Motorola radio for me ( which I badly needed, having only one small radio in the house). Marj gave me a book and a gorgeous white wool stole, fred and Helen gave me a beautiful black suede purse lined with red leather. Fred took the children shopping, and financed their gifts…a blue nylon gown from Charlotte, handkerchiefs from Katie, stockings from GeeGee and a petit point compact from Freddie.

They all gave me their presents on Christmas eve except Freddie, who held out until just before he opened his presents on Christmas morn.

I gave Charlotte a simply beautiful manicure set…all the implements. She immediately stopped bitting her fingernails. And Katie a camera….a little Brownie. She was so thrilled I thought she could burst. She took a whole roll of film the first day which I have misplaced.

Couldn’t get my flash camera to work, so we took some pictures in the yard with the girls holding your dolls, and Freddy his train equipment. Hope they turn out. The girls had on the dresses I made for Christmas…black velveteen bodices and skirts and neckbands of red and blue plaid taffeta. They love them.

GG got a read coat and legging set, similar to the one I bought Katie last year. It’s English, beautifully tailored. Wish you were here to help me with the hem.

For her birthday she is getting a navy blue storm coat, and leggings. The red ones I bought last year are nver clean, and I’m switching to navy. Also bought one for Charlotte, as they both need a size larger already, and I will have to move Katie into Charlotte’s soon. They are growing by leaps and bounds.

They were all wonderful in the Christmas play. I took GG this year, and left her downstairs while I went to collect the other. When I came back she and Mons. McLaughlin were up on stage…he holding her hand, occasionally turning to her and talking to her, and GG being as good as gold. They were there about 20 minutes after I came down. He had seen her in the audience and invited her to go up with him.

Today the children were invited to a party with entertainment, and GG volunteered form the audience to assist the magician. I wasn’t there but I understand that she was very cute.

No offers on the house yet….how about yours?

Wishing you the best new year ever….with love, Maxine.

Some time between 1948 and 1953, Maxine corrected an Alumni card from Northwestern University.

Earlier her address had been given as “KWXT Radio Stations, Wichita Falls, Texas” . She now gave her present home address as 106 82 Ave., Kew Gardens, New York.

She also corrected her name as Mrs. Wm Walter Gretsch. She signed her name “Maxine Elsner Gretsch”.

In filling out this card, I wonder if she took time to think about the woman who was working at KWXT in Texas. The single woman with a dream of working in radio, vis-a-vis the woman she was now, widowed with four children.

There is no mention on the card she filled out of her husband’s death.

In the 1950, while Sylvia and her children were living both in Kew Gardens and in Forest Hills, Vincent di Domenico and his cousin Jerry Perito would occasionally come to the family home and do repairs. They both worked in Brooklyn for the Gretsch company.

My brother Fred remembers when we were living in Kew Gardens and they were working at the house. Vinnie was a real joker and Freddie watched closely everything they did and said. Fred must have been very happy to have some men around. Once, Vinnie told Fred, who was about 4 years old to take a hammer and hit Jerry with it. Fred of course was happy to oblige. He was only 4 years old. Luckily, Jerry saw the shadow of his little arm and the hammer and he was able to grab it before any damage was done. Years, later in 1965 when Fred went to work in Brooklyn, this story was told and retold by the workers in the factory. (story told July 28, 2009).

At Shorthill Road around 1956, Jerry and Vinnie came to the house to work in the basement, refinishing the bedroom set which my mother used. I remember them working for several days on this project. It was fun having them around.

The history of the bedroom set is unknown. Did it once belong to Charlotte and Fred Gretsch or was it brought by my mother to the house when she came in 1953? The pieces fit so perfectly into the Master Bedroom on Shorthill Road, I do believe that it was purchased for that room by Charlotte and Fred when they moved in circa 1920.

The bedroom set which includes a head and foot board for a double bed, a telephone table, a dressing table, a desk, two dressers and a large mirror are now in the possession of Katie Gretsch Cuddeback.


February 24 On this date, Bishop Fulton Sheen in his weekly television show, gave a dramatic reading from the burial scene of Julius Caesar entitled, “The Death of Stalin”.

My mother, with her background in theater, would have loved this. Sheen substituted the names of communist leaders like Stalin, Beria, Malenkov, Vishinsky for Caesar, Cassius, Marc Anthony and Brutus.

“Stalin must one day meet his judgment” Sheen warned.

Less than a month later, on March 5, Stalin died of a heart attack.

The press had a field day with this so called “prediction”.

March 10

Moved to Shorthill Road.

Soon after we moved, my mother had her hair cut. Quite a change!

March 16

Baby Helen (Happy) born to Fred and Helen Gretsch.

May 28 “Walter Gretsch, on the anniversary of his death, we recall the cherished memories of Walter Gretsch our well-beloved President an ardent co-worker. Employees of Gretsch and Brenner”

This small announcement appeared in the New York Times on this date.


Fred’s first communion.

May 29

Typewritten. 37 Shorthill Road, Forest Hills Gardens, Long Island, New York (Printed Letterhead)

Dear Mother and Dad,

The Peru deal is off….couldn’t get reservations. How does this sound…. “leave S.F. on the 16th, arrive Colon, Panama on the 28th, leave on the 3rd, and back in S.F. on the 17th of July.

We arrive on Flight # 23, on the 9th.

If I can pack all our things in one trunk, may I borrow luggage from you for the trip I’m taking? Am thinking of using Paul’s old wardrobe trunk with the insides out of it.

Mentioned going to California to the children tonight, and they are thrilled. They offered to forego their allowances all summer to help buy the tickets.

The high school girl…she should be prepared to listen to each of the three eldest read to her 30 minutes a day, aloud.

They are bringing their music and lists of scales to practice, etc. That is your department, Mother. Evelyn Repplinger called the other night…will probably be here over the week-end.

Love, Mike

June 19 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg executed.

June 26


Typewritten. Johnson Line, Sweden, m/s Portland (Printed Letterhead)

Dear GeeGee, Fred, Kate, Charlotte, Mother and Dad,

Yesterday we went ashore at San Jose, Guatemala. I had written lots of thank you notes, and mailed them from there. However, I wanted to wait until the last possible minute to write you, so that I could give you any last minute plans. But all of a sudden we were there and must get into the launch immediately….so I mailed 10 notes, none to you. I was sorry there was no opportunity to take care of that.

However, out of the 11 of us who went ashore, I was the only one who had something to be mailed anyway. So I was glad I had all those thank-you notes finished.

We went down the gangplank, into the motor launch, then about a fifteen minute trip to the pier. In order to get us to the pier, the passengers sat in a small wooden chair, and the chair was hoisted up on great ropes to the pier. It was about 20 feet above the water and quite an exciting trip. Of course the water was rough and we were all teasing one another about sharks in the water waiting to nip off an arm or a leg if anyone slipped. But of course there were no sharks and besides there were lots of people around to make sure no one slipped.

A Mr. and Mrs. Bianchi met us with two cars, and we all drove the 80 miles to Guatemala City. The Bianchi’s have a son who is employed by Mr. Fritz, who is the man with the Spanish wife and three children who were having so much champagne before we left San Francisco. So out of courtesy to the Fritz’s, the Bianchi’s took us all under their wing and we had a marvelous time.

First, we stopped at a native market en route, and saw lots of beautiful native costumes. But it was all very dirty. There were no store buildings, but anyone who had anything to sell just sat under a big tree, waiting for customers to come along. Imagine having something to sell, and not having to pay rent for a store to sell it in!

When we arrived at Guatemala City, we went to the ..Bianchi’s home to wash up and then to a delightful restaurant were all treated to a marvelous dinner and then taken to a shop run by a Canadian woman, who sells things the natives make. We didn’t have time to go to the Cathedral or the flower and produce market but had to get into our cars immediately and start back to the ship.

In the meantime, the ship had been loading 360 tons of sesame seed, and the last lighter was carrying out the last 40 ton load when we arrived.

So we all got back into our chair and were lowered into our launch, then back to the ship. The weather was even more rough than , and the ship seemed to roll in one direction and the launch in the other. But there were lots of strong men to help us get back on the gangplank.

The Captain invited the Bianchi’s to dinner on board, but we were an hour late returning, and nothing could be done but to hold up sailing until the Bianchi’s finished their dinner. The Captain was impatient to leave long before they had their last cup of coffee.

The only passenger who had not gone into the City with us, Mr. McGregor, had cocktails waiting for us on return. They really saved our dispositions, because it has been along and very hot day.

We finally set sail about 9:30, and about eleven, as we were finishing our liquors, the Captain came into the Salon to announce that we were coming into a little squall. We all rushed to shut our portholes, but the rain was coming in before we finished. Then I changed into my black corduroy slacks and a shirt and looked for a place to watch the storm. I finally decided that the bridge was the best place and looked for a place to watch the storm. I finally decided that the bridge was the best place, so up I went. If there had been any danger, I would have been asked to leave…but since there wasn’t so I was allowed to stay. There were three officers on the bridge and one of them was kind enough to show me the pattern of the storm on radar.

There was lots of lightening, both sheet and chain, but not much thunder. They say that the thunder never sounds as loud at sea, because there are no hills or building for it to echo from.

We were only in the rain for about thirty minutes, and then we could see the lightening in the distance for a long time. There was a beautiful fullmoon, which made the sky very light. .

At 1:15 we were supposed to pass an active volcano on Salvador, they say it erupts every 8 minutes and never fails.

So I had planed to set my alarm and get up to see it: and had negotiated with one of the officers to watch it from the bridge. However, it was late when the storm was over, so I just stayed up and waited for the volcano which is named Izalco. But the sky was too light from the bright moon and we never sighted it at all.

After such a busy and tiring day yesterday, I was very tired this morning. So I took a nap and a sun bath and felt like a new woman by noon. We also took a brief tour of the ship his morning…the engine room, the big ice boxes that you walk right into, the crews quarters, and the storage rooms. Tomorrow morning we are going to see the propellers…or rather, the shafts of the propellers, way down at the lowest part of the ship.

I have had a couple of swims in the little tank on board. It is about 15 feet square, and ten feet deep. Then I got some paint on my bathing suit and asked the stewardess to remove it for me. When she washed the suit in Tide and cold water, the colors ran dreadfully. So when I return I want to take it right back. They must certainly have had lots of complaints about these suits. If I could remember the name of the store, I would mail it to them from Panama.

I am looking forward very much to hearing from you all when we anchor tomorrow at Balboa, the agent will come aboard with the mail from Colon and Cristobel but we can’t leave the ship until we pass through the canal which will be sometime Monday (29th).

It was wonderful to talk to you all from Los Angeles, and to hear how much fun you are having. Please all take very good care of yourselves.

With love,


July 1

Handwritten. El Panama, Panama, Republica De Panama (Printed Letterhead)

Dear Family,

Having a simply wonderful time and am in excellent health.

How I enjoyed the letters from Charlotte, Katie, Freddie and Gee Gee and from my Mother! What beautiful letters they were. And the pictures are all darling! I showed them to everyone on board!

All the mail has not been coming thru, and those two letters and one from Marg are all I have received. So with no recent news I decided to leave the ship and wait here for a letter with a later post mark.

Took the train from Colon to Panama City on arrival and went direct to this hotel which is luxurious. My room has a white tile floor, and a very private lanai.

Was very lazy yesterday, but finally managed to go out and buy a few souvenirs. Mostly Swedish……the local stuff isn’t worth carting home. Had everything shipped directly to New York.

Will probably take a sight seeing tour today, fly to San Jose, Costa Rica tomorrow and return on the 4th and take the Silver Gate.

They also have a reservation for me on the next ship, but unless I get a letter, I will not stay over. I feel fine, and want to return while everything is going well there.

Had a swim in the beautiful pool here last night.

Some people from the ship are here too, and we did out shopping together yesterday.

Love, Mother.

July 1


Handwritten. El Panama, Panama, Republica De Panama (Printed Letterhead)

Dear Children,

Your wonderful letters arrived today, and I really am so proud of how well you write.

This hotel is really lovely but I prefer the simple rooms at 37 Shorthill Road. I think.

How about us staying home next summer and Grandmother and Grandfather coming to visit us?

Today, I went sightseeing. I saw Old Panama, the ruins of a a city that was destroyed by the pirate Henry Morgan about 400 years ago…and the gold altar in St. Joseph’s church in New Panama. When Henry Morgan sacked Old Panama the priests painted the gold alter white so he wouldn’t steal it. When he saw that white alter, he didn’t think it was worth anything, so he left it behind.

Please give my love to your Grandmother and Grandfather, and keep some for yourselves.

love, Mother.

July 5


Typewritten. Gran Hotel Costa Rica, San Jose, Costa Rica ( Printed Letterhead)

Dear Family,

Costa Rica was highly recommended to me by friends in New York, but after being here 4

days I still can’t figure out why.

I flew here the morning after I spoke to you, and was supposed to stay at the San Jose inn, but when I went there I discovered they had no private baths, so I came here instead. This building is supposed to contain the only elevator in Central America, and they are repairing the shaft now, chipping concrete manually 24 hours a day. Since the shaft is about 15 feet from my room, I don’t find this too restful.

Also, every word said in the hotel echoes up the air shaft my room is on, and the monotony of the conversations is appalling!

However, after the gay trip from San Francisco to Panama, I decided that I had better take more time before catching a ship home. I was having so much fun I was afraid I would arrive in San Francisco exhausted. Now however, if the return trip is anything like the one down, I’ll still be grateful for the noise of four healthy youngsters.

I am going to try to catch a banana boat back to Panama from Puntaranas or Limon, since I’m a confirmed sailor. Will see about that tomorrow. Today, I went to Cartago, to see the church of Our Lady of the Angels. You would all have loved it. Tomorrow or Tuesday I’m going to see Irazu, a volcano 11,000 feet high.

All the girls here are beautiful just like it says in all the travel books, but the women don’t live up to their promise.

Living here and in Panama costs just as much as in the states, so next year I’ll look for a spot with a better rate of exchange.

The city is very clean but lots of beggars everywhere, and so far as I have observed, I’m the only blonde in Costa Rica, which makes me look exactly like a tourist.

Didn’t hear a single firecracker on the 4th of July!

Will probably more on to another hotel tomorrow, where there is no elevator shaft to be repaired, so don’t use this as a mailing address. It will be the Hotel Europa. However, I will continue to keep in touch with the San Jose Inn in case you’ve already mailed anything there,

With love, Maxine.

July 6


Handwritten. No Letter Head. (San Juan, Costa Rica Central America written in later in different script. Possibly by her parents.)

10:30 pm

Dear Family,

Just finished packing, will be up at 5:30 to take a plane to Managua, Nicaragua. Stay there one day, then on the 8th to el Prado Hotel at Teguci…., Honduras. Back to the Gran on the 12th , then the Ft. Washington, in Colon, on the 13th. Latest word is that the ship sails on the 16th, but I’ll keep in touch so I surely won’t miss it.

Shall I bring a Mahogany tree home from Honduras for your patio, Dad?

Feeling fine and having fun…hope you are the same,

love, Mother.

July 10,


Typewritten. Gran Hotel Managua, Nicaragua (Printed Letterhead)

Dear Family,

About to leave this wonderful country…headed fro Taqucigigalpa, Honduras, El Prado


Don’t know how I will be able to describe these strange little lands but at least I will never

forget them.



No date

July 12, 1953 written in later, probably by her parents.

Handwritten. Hotel Prado, Tequcigalpa, Honduras, C. A. (Printed Letterhead)

Dear Family,

This is a lovely climate and am enjoying my stay here.

Met up with a woman in San Juan, Costa Rica, from Miami, Florida, whose name is Margaret McCarthy, and we have been together for there to here. She goes on north from here, while I fly back to Panama.

We haven’t done any strenuous sight seeing but have enjoyed the markets , shops and some of the night spots. She is typically Irish, and between that and knowing people along the way it has been fun to team up with her.

We were dancing at a local joint last night until two, and up to breakfast at 8 with a friend who has also been with us from Nicaragua and who left for Salvador at 9.

Leaving Monday-the thirteenth- for Panama about 7 hours by air with several stops. Had a cable from Johnson Line yesterday saying we sail about 16th from Balboa.

Have fun, love, Mother


(July 13)

Handwritten. El Panama, Panama, Republica De Panama (Printed Letterhead)

(Note: This is the same luxurious hotel where Maxine stayed when she first arrived.)

Dear Family,

Arrived in Panama Sunday the 12th by air from Tegucigalpa, Honduras and am here awaiting the ship. Should be able to board tomorrow afternoon.

This is the rainy season but its such a lovely hotel, and the rooms so cool, that I am enjoying it anyway. Am very anxious to get aboard and head for home. They tell me 15 days, so it will be about the 1st when we arrive.

Drove to Colon today, but no mail there for me. However, I didn’t receive 4 letters you had sent to Panama Agencies- mailed June 17th (I think), two mailed June 22nd, and one that could be July1. My Ridgewood Savings Bank book not among them.

Brining back very few souvenirs, because most everything looks like junk. However, I have bought myself a set of Swedish bone china, and Swedish crystal goblets, sherbets and wine glasses. They are being sent straight to New York, in bond, to arrive about Sept. 10th.

I am getting very anxious to be back with you all again., and while I’ve had a marvelous time, am sorry we could not all have shared the fun.

Understand, we will make lots of stops en route to San Francisco….hope we get to San Salvador, as it is the only spot I’ve missed.

Love, Mother

August 19 The New York Times Financial section reports,

“Election of Fred Gretsch Jr. as a vice president of the Lincoln Savings Bank was announced yesterday by John W. Hooper, president.

Mr. Gretsch will fill the vacancy left by William C. Hundt, who has resigned. Mr. Gretsch has served as a trustee of the bank since 1942. His father, the late Fred Gretsch Sr. was a former president and board chairman of the bank.

Mr. Gretsch is president of the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company, seventy-year old maker of musical instruments. He is also a member of the advisory board of the Manufacturers Trust Company . Williamsburg branches, a past president of the National Association of Musical Instrument Wholesalers, and a director of the Brooklyn Chamber of commerce.”

Fall, 1953 (circa)

Maxine has a party at her new house, 37 Shorthill Road.

I am not certain if this party was 1953 or 1954. However, the house on Shorthill Road was pretty much as it was when we moved in on March 10, 1953.

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

“Maggie and Bill Lidicker and Me (Maxine), Evelyn Repplinger, Loretta Krakes” Katie and Fred

1953 ShorthillRoad1

Katie and Charlotte on top, Gee  Gee, Maxine and Freddie

1953 ShorthillRoad

Doris Thompson, Frances Kleigl Sommer, Mrs Sarich

Charlotte and Gee Gee


Sylvia and the kids go to Connecticut for Thanksgiving Dinner. They stay at the Hotel Green in Danbury.

On Friday everyone went to see “Kiss Me Kate”

On Saturday, Sylvia brought the material ” for Christmas dresses for the girls…chromspun….blue for Charlotte, pink for Katie, and yellow for GeeGee.”

December 25

A few days before Christmas, a package arrived at 37 Shorthill Road from Central America.

It was address to my mother. This mysterious package was placed with all the other arriving packages beneath the Christmas Tree.

On Christmas Day, my mother opened the intriguing box to find a sterling silver dresser set. The inscription on the back of the mirror read:



June, 1953

I remember my mother opening the box and looking tenderly at the gift. I remember that she held it to her heart.

She told us children that it was from someone she met on board ship the previous summer. Nothing more is know about this gift or who sent it.

“June, 1953” is the time frame for this excerpt from her letter of July 5,

“However, after the gay trip from San Francisco to Panama, I decided that I had better take more time before catching a ship home. I was having so much fun I was afraid I would arrive in San Francisco exhausted. ”

She does not mention in her letter who she was having so much fun with.

Was it perhaps, Mr. McGregor who so graciously made cocktails for all the passengers. Or was it one of the officers on the Swedish ship with whom she had spend a moonlit night watching a storm for the bridge?

Several of her letters do mention the purchasing of Swedish made souvenirs and “I have bought myself a set of Swedish bone china, and Swedish crystal goblets, sherbets and wine glasses. They are being sent straight to New York, in bond, to arrive about Sept. 10th. ” Perhaps, she meant for these also to serve as a reminder of a Swedish officer.

The only certainty is that the precious sterling silver mirror invites a completely different reading of the above letters.


February 6 Dear Mother and Dad,

So sorry to hear about Lola, but how wonderful for them that you were there to pitch in with the chores! Hope she is well on the way to recovery now, and that it wasn’t too much of an ordeal for her.

spent last week in Chicago. Had a Mrs. Goudey here with the children. She was very good and I had a marvelous time.

Stayed with the deBevecs most of the time, but one night with Mary C. and two with the Mahoney’s. Sunday-met at airport at 3 pm by deBevecs, Egans, Kramers, Dinner with the DeBevecs and Mary Curtis.

Monday-lunch with Mary Lois and Mrs. Lewis. Dinner and theater with Courtney Fitzpatrick ( he is divorced and his children are in Florida with Betty who has remarried.) Spent the night with Mary Curtis.

Tuesday- Breakfast with Mary went to beauty parlor, tea with Eleanor O’Brien, dinner at Kramer’s in Naperville, spent the night at Mahoney’s in Des Plaines.

Wednesday-Phil McAniff had coffee with me at Mahoney’s, then Mary and I lunched, Phil picked me up and drove me to DeBevecs, Dinner was a surprise party for me at a private dinning room in the loop—-18 people. Mary Curtis and brother Justin and her date, the Mc Carty’s, MacAniff’s, Kramer’s, Eleanor O’Brien, Egan’s, Mitchell’s, Courtney F.,, de Beevic’s. It was magnificent of them all to come in my honor, wasn’t it!

Night at Mahoney’s.

Thursday, lunch with Mary Mahoney, Mary Lois and Sally Fitzpatrick ( Courtney’s mother). Cocktails with Mr. Carty’s, dinner with Al Lauer at his son’s new home. Night at deBevec’s.

Friday, lunch in the loop with Duke, two new salesmen, John Kassel, Grace Swengal and Mrs. Pelechowiez. dinner at Egan’s. Mahoney’s drove in to visit. Night at DeBevec’s.

Saturday, had planed to return home but checked by phone and found all well, so lunched with Mitchell’s, and dinner with the de Bevics and Courtney F. at the Pump Room, spent the night at the De Bevic’s.

Sunday- breakfast at the de Bevecs and John drove me to the airport. Kramer’s came to see me off but arrived too late!

all was well on my return. May and the children met me.

Charlotte sprained her right thumb on Wednesday while ice skating—very painful now in a splint to prevent further injury.

GeeGee’s birthday Panda has been a tremendous success. Don’t know when anything has pleased her more. Its as big as she is almost, and loves it. We were all thrilled with our packages…especially Fred’s bird and my grape fruit cutter!

The wonderful pictures you took this summer got lots of comment in Chicago…everyone asked who took them. The enlargement of Fred I sent you is one Dad took…off to bed its 10:45, love, Mike

(Mary Lois and John had a baby girl in late March. So Mary Lois was very pregnant at the time of Maxine’s visit.)

February 9 “Dear Mother, Chlotte roke her arm. After ice skates. Yesterday was Sunday we was at mass after as condane then stayed until 7 o’clock. Charlotte and Catherine stayed up until 9 o’clock Freddy and Gee Gee stayed up until 7:30 o’clock Mother was out. We have on help. We have on flowers. Love, Catherine.”

This letter written by Catherine on her mother’s stationary was enclosed in a letter sent by Maxine to her own parents.

“This master piece of Katie’s is really a gem. Enclosed picture was taken in the fall, they have grown up so since then. Katie is more beautiful everyday. Charl’s arm is not broken, her thumb is sprained. Feels better today.

Hope to go to dog show tomorrow, dentist Wednesday, ” Knights of the Round Table’ on Thursday, Met Mueseum (sic) on Friday.

Haven’t made any plans for the summer. How about taking a house together near Merida, Mexico? Its the heart of the Aztec country, supposed to be very cheap. love, Mike”


Katie, not yet 9 years old, apparently wrote this letter the week her mother was in Chicago.

Katie was trying to act very grown up . She sat down and wrote a letter like she had seem her mother often do. She even used her mother’s stationary.

Note in the letter that Katie refers to herself as Catherine and relates what Catherine had stayed up until 9 o’clock.


Shortly after Christmas, Maxine is thinking of returning to Central America.

Perhaps, she has been corresponding with the man who sent the mirror.

Perhaps, they are planning a reunion.

It is also interesting to note that my mother often took us ice skating in the 1950’s at the New York City building in Flushing Meadows. I remember we would always go to a near by Howard Johnson’s for ice cream after ice skating.

In 2005, I learned more about the history of the New York City Building in Flushing Meadows and its connection to the U.N.”….. the New York City Building (was) one of the few structures left over from the 1939 World’s Fair. Shortly before the war, the building had been divided in half; one side became an ice rink, the other a roller rink. There were ice shows and big band performances. In 1946,the skating surfaces were covered up and the spaces were converted into the seat of world government. The U.N. stayed for five years. Its Flushing sessions were productive and star studded: Eleanor Roosevelt, Andrey Gromyko, Adlai Stevenson. The creation of UNICEF, the birth of Israel, the debate of Korea. It happened in a rink in Queens.” Nick Paumgarten, New Yorker, Department of Yesteryear, May 23, 2005.

Of course, my mother had her own connections to the UN and to the New York Worlds Fair of 1939. These I would have to find on my own. She never told us about them but certainly she must have thought of them as she took us ice skating in such an historic building.

May Gretchen’s first Holy Communion.

Spring Sylvia hosts a dinner party at 37 Shorthill Road for Maggie Korten, the wife of Ted Korten.

Pictures from the party show the party goers, Bill Lidicker, Evelyn Repplinger, Loretta Krakes, Doris Thompson, Frances Sommer, Mrs. Sarick. Also pictures show Maxine and her four children sitting together posing on an upholstered bench in front of the brick fire place.

In one picture the Gretsch family coat of arms hangs on the wall above the piano in the living room. There must have been many things in these picture that are a hold over from when my grandfather lived in the house. We had barely lived in the house for one year when these pictures were taken.

I now have that coat of arms. Molly Gretsch Lynch sent it to me when their home in Connecticut was closed.

No one can find any direct relationship between that “coat of arms” and the Gretsch family. Where it came from no one knows. But one thing is for sure, it once held a place of honor in the house on Shorthill Road.

Perhaps, “the coat of arms” was something that Charlotte Gretsch or another member of the family picked up on one of the many business trips in which they accompanied Fred Gretsch to Europe.

The pictures were found in the letters that had been sent to Aunt Kate and Maxine’s parents.

Dick and Jean Gretsch and the Connecticut cousins move into a large house in Newtown, Connecticut. It is the same year Mary Pat was born.

July 3 A divorce suit is filed in a Mexican court again Gertrude Gretsch Astor …… after four years of effort to achieve a financial settlement ( NYT).

August 7 NYT reports that John Astor married his third wife on August 6.
My sister, Katie Gretsch Cuddeback,remembers going to the store to buy the
newspaper for Aunt Helene Gretsch Welsh who was living with us at the
time. Katie remembers that Gertrude Gretsch Astor’s picture was on the
front page. Katie was 8 years old at that time.
I wonder if my mother was out of town which is why Aunt Helen would
have been staying with us.

She the timeline for Helene Gretsch Welsh on the website for more
information about Aunt Helen, my grandfather’s sister.

September 17 Mary Patricia Gretsch is born to Dick and Jean Gretsch.

December 15 Walt Disney introduces “Davy Crockett” to television audiences. It became one of the biggest overnight successes in television history. It can be considered the first mini series on television.


In the timeframe of the 1950’s, Georgia Halperin McFarland remembers making taffy with my family. Here is a memory she shared with me in 2017:

“I can remember making salt water taffy at your house. All of us had a really good time pulling the taffy. To this day, I think of your mother coordinating the taffy pull.”

January 26 “Davy Crockett goes to Congress” airs on television.

February 23 “Davy Crockett at the Alamo” airs It is interesting to note that Davy Crockett was the first TV hero to die in a series. He was killed in this the final section of the three part original series.

In the summer, Walt Disney released the Davy Crockett movie staring Fess Parker. It was hugely successful.

Some time during this period, Maxine was in California visiting her parents with her children.

Friends of Maxine’s, Astrid Olin and her husband, had recently moved from Kew Gardens to Los Angeles where Astrid’s husband worked as a cartoonist for Walt Disney. Maxine and her children were invited to the Disney studios where they were taken on a royal behind the scenes tour in the process of which we all met Fess Parker. Fess Parker personally signed an 8 x10 photograph for each of the children.

Nov. 16 “Davy Crockett Keel Boat Race” airs.

Dec. 14 “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” airs.

This was the 13th wedding anniversary of Maxine and Bill.

No doubt Maxine watched the latest Davy Crockett episode with her children.

She didn’t mention her anniversary to her children.

Imagine what she must have thought about as she went to bed that night in the house on Shorthill Road, the house that her absent husband had grown up in.


June Maxine, known as Sylvia to her husband’s friends, goes on a cruise with Eleanor O’Brien. They travel up the St. Laurence seaway in Canada and visit Catholic shrines. Eleanor, was a long time friend of my father. She was also the god mother of little Freddie.

July 10 Gretchen was a flower girl in the wedding of Dick and Anita Sommer.

Maxine made her dress.

The pictures of the wedding were taken by a special 3D camera. They are really spectacular but unfortunately could only be viewed on a projector and are very difficult to make copies of. The copies are not as spectacular as the originals. when Gretchen vistied Dick and Anita in the summer of 2005, they very graciously had their project ready to show me the pictures.

August Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago nominating Adlai Stevenson.

The family rented a house in Elka Park.

I wonder if my mother was thinking that the polio scare was over and we could again swim in swimming pools.

October 23 The Hungarian Revolution begins……

October 26 on this Friday, the front page of the NYT carries the head line ” Soviet tank fires on the Unarmed. Peaceful Marchers bearing only Hungarian Flag are mowed down in Budapest.” This article was accompanied by a note from the editors: ” This dispatch from Endre Marton, the Associated Press correspondent…was the first direct word from the Associated press bureau in Budepest since Tuesday night”

Fifty years later his daughter Kati Marton wrote an editorial for the NYT recalling the events, which I read on the train to Chicago to visit my daughter and her children. (October 23, 2006) The quotes in these lines are taken from that editorial

October 30 Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty was freed by the rebels. Soon he was imprisoned again in the American legate’s office where he lived for the next two decades.

This situation of a catholic Cardinal must have been discussed by my mother.

November 4 Sunday “Soviet tanks rolled into the city…the first armed uprising against communism was about to be extinguished.”

November 10 “the wounded city was quiet: the soviets were again in control”

Soon after President Eisenhower declared ” Budapest is no longer merely the name of a city. Henceforth, it is a new and shining symbol of man’s yearning to be free.”

Christmas Max and Hattie visiting from California.

There are no pictures or letters from this time.


Summer Freddy attends Notre Dame Camp in New Hampshire. Freddie plays the bugle in the morning.

The family spent some time in Elka Park.

This 1957 Christmas picture on Shorthilll Road was taken the Christmas before we left for Europe in the summer of 1958.  At the time, I ( Gretchen ) was really into the television show, Rin Tin Tin. NB, I was wearing the uniform of a cavalry soldier in the wild west. I must have gotten the outfit as a Christmas present. You can see that even though I was wearing an cavalry uniform and carrying a rifle, on my feet were still the paten leather dress shoes which I had worn to Church that Christmas morning in my appropriate Christmas dress.

Christmas 1957 Click on the image to see an enlargement!


This year is the 75th Anniversary of the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company.
I remember that little lapel pins with the number “75” in small shinny diamonds (probably actually glass) were distributed as mementos. I was very proud to wear one.

In early 1958 or late 1957, Sylvia won a raffle prize of one oil painting.

She decided to have an oil painting done of each of her children.

I remember my mother saying that long after we were all grown and moved away, she would have the portraits of us to look at.

The woman who did the paintings was Helene Yaron. I seem to remember that she was Russian.

Molly Gretsch Lynch send me two articles in 2011 which Molly found in her parents papers.

One article which appeared on November 26, 1961 in the Albany, New York, Sunday Times-Union describes the career of this artist. Helene was born in Shanghai of Russo-French ancestry. Her husband Alexander Yaron was Estonian born. Alexander and his father moved to China when Alexander was 14 years old. Helene and Alexander met in Shanghai and had a colorful life as “upper class members of the international set” in Shanghai. World War two put an end to their way of life. “Three months before the communists took over, the family fled on what would be become a world tour in search of peace and portraiture”. By 1961, they had settled in Germantown, Pa. with their two teenage children. The author of this article, Ellen Scott, is obviously very taken with the elegance, intelligence and worldliness of Helene Yaron.

Another article written by Michael Pilley had appeared in the same paper two weeks earlier on November 12, 1961. This article tells the story of the portrait artist, Alexander Yaron, Helene’s husband. Helene is not mention by name and their is no mention of her own artistic work. Alexander is highlighted as an artist, his portraits acclaimed as “life like and almost invariably graced with elegance and poise”…but there is no mention of his wife. His portrait of Dag Hammarskjold and V.K. Krishna Menon are reprinted in the article.

My mother apparently was also very captivated by Helene Yaron. She persuaded several family members and friends to also have their portraits down by Helene Yaron. Helene’s husband always accompanied her and helped with the setting up of each sitting.

For more information go to :

This website is now in 2011 run by Helene Yaron.

All seven of the Gretsch children in Connecticut had their portraits painted by this woman that same year.

Stacy remember in 2011 “They came and took pictures first of all of us. Then at some point in time came and actually had us sit while they finished up the paintings. Mom had them done as a surprise for Dad’s 50th birthday. She had Dad come in the front door and we were all standing under our portraits and said “Surprise”..

Dick’s birthday was June 14. It is easy to imagine that my mother suggested to Jean that portraits of the children would made a wonderful 50th birthday gift for Dick.

Also, my mother’s roommate from College, Mary Heflebower Debevic and her husband John and their daughter Betsy, also had their portraits done by this woman.

In 2010 Betsy remembers “I think my portrait was painted when I was four. We were on our way to Bermuda and I think my parents decided, on the spur of the moment, to get it done. That would have been around 1958. I remember sitting for it in your parent’s house. It was very difficult to sit still for that long. Wasn’t it in Forest Hills? My parents also had their portraits painted….”

Sounds like my mother was busy that year, not only getting us all ready to travel to Europe for a year, but seeing up business for Helene Yaron.

On March 9, 2011 an article in the New York Times, ” A Shanghai apartment’s Art Deco Splendor Restored” refers to Alexander Yaron as the architect of the building. “Alexander: Yaron, an architect who had emigrated to China from Russia in the early part of the 20th century.” This is the father of Helene Yaron’s husband.”

It is interesting to think of the connections between Hertha Gretsch who also lived in Shanghai in the early part of the 20th Century and my mother and Helene Yaron……..

September 14 Sylvia and her four children are in Rome. They are living on the top floor of a Pension run by the Society of St. Ursula. This catholic order of nuns run the high School in New York City which Charlotte and Katie attend. My mother first found out about this school on West 79th Street from Helen Mooney Gretsch’s sister, whose daughters also attended this school.

It is my mother’s 41st birthday. It is also very close to the 10 year anniversary of the death of her husband on September 10th.

Almost, 50 years later, my brother remembers that our mother suffered terrible migraine headaches during the time of her birthday. After he mentions it to me in an email, I remember too how sick our mother was when we finally got settled in Rome.

It must have been a terrible strain on her to travel with two teenagers and two pre-teenager across Europe from Cadiz, Spain where our ship landed to here in Rome.

We had our car with us and my mother drove the whole way. We met some friends along the way like Ruth Slattery who met us in Spain and spent a few days with us. However, basically, my mother had sole responsibility for us all. It was soon after the war and many parts of Europe were still recovering. People often stared at us and our big American car.

I remember that birthday celebration when we were basically alone in a foreign country. We children made a cake for my mother’s birthday out of a shoe box and tissues. Katie and Charlotte knew how to take a tissue, fold it in a certain way and fashion it into quite a pretty flower. That is how we decorated the show box with flowers made from tissues.

I am sure we were all worried about my mother. At least, I am sure I was worried about my mother as she suffered with these debilitating migraine head aches.


March 3 Post card to Kate Dieter

Dear Tante, This is the way we looked last Sunday! Thanks for your lovely letter & Charl’s birthday gift. Now enjoying our Easter Holidays with lots of sight-seeing between dentist and oculist appointments, and shopping. When are you coming over? love- M.

May 5, Louis Gretsch, uncle to Bill Gretsch died suddenly.

In lieu of flowers, his obituary requests donations made to the Cancer Fund.

In a phone conversation on November 4, 2010, Marion Gretsch Wells, Louis only child told me.” He died at my house (Ridgewood, New Jersey) . He had gotten up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and he fell down a flight of steps. I was home alone with the children. My mother (Marion Downey Gretsch) was traveling. The police came and were so quiet they didn’t wake any of the children. I called Teddy and Kay Clauss and they came right away and stayed with me. It took me a long, long time to get over this. In fact, I don’t think I am over it now.”

Louis and Bill were very close. Their personalities were very much alike. His daughter told me that when Bill came to New York from Chicago, he often stayed with Louis and his family. They swam together at the St. George hotel not far from Louis Gretsch’s apartment.

When Bill Gretsch was in town, his wife would always say to her daughter, “Dad will be home very late tonight, he is out with Bill”.

I wonder when and how my mother received this information about the death of her husband’s favorite uncle. My mother was in Europe with the children then. It must have been hard for her to learn the news.

May 11

Click image to enlarge

The New York Times reported the death of Albert Crews in Port Washington, New York. See the obituary below.

Albert Crews was instrumental in starting the Radio Department at Northwestern University. No doubt Maxine worked with him when she began at NU in the fall of 1937.

He and his wife Lois both taught at NU. Lois was in Speech Re-Education.

His wife taught speech at Hofstra University on Long Island.

Maxine was in Europe at this time. Most likely she heard of his death from her friends Mary Curtis or May Lois Debevic who were her classmates at Northwestern.

May 26 My mother wrote this postcard to Eleanor O’Brien,

“Dear Eleanor, Sorry I didn’t reach you while were in New York. I enjoyed dinner with you. My trip is marvelous but far too short a stay every place. Enjoyed the kids over the week end & Freddie is a sweet guy- sends his love to you. Marge is upsetting all our hard won diplomatic prestige here in Austria, so tomorrow I am taking her out to Switzerland. Better come back and restore the Austrian faith in Americana! Love, Sylvia

May 29 Postcard from Eilsiedeln, Gnadenbild

Sent to “Gretsch Group” in Newtown, Connecticut

Brunnen, Switzerland, May 29, 1959

Dear Lovely People,

This is the great Shrine of Switzerland…as popular in 1400 as Lourdes is today. She has turned black from the wax candles fumes…am staying on the beautiful Lake Lucerne, viewing the spot where William Tell and the patriots declared the independence of Switzerland and the confederation of the “kantons” or states. Your cousins are slaving in school while I relax.


May 24 “I am no longer president of the Catholic Action Guild. Resigned over a matter of policy.” (Letter to her parents.)

According to Mary Ellen Millazo, my mother had invited Fulton Shean to come and speak at an event.

Something happened with the UN and the Guild no longer wanted him to come and speak. My mother was

so upset that she resigned. Mary Ellen’s mother Eileen, also resigned.

Summer Maxine and children go to California to spend the summer with Maxine’s parents.

Maxine and the children were just there the summer before in 1959.

If the family had stayed in New York, it would have been the children’s first summer home with their friends in two years. It must have been hard on all the kids to leave their friends behind again and head for California.

While in California, Katie has a falling out with her grandparents and is sent back to New York before the rest of the family. The plan is that Katie will stay with Helen and Fred in Manhasset until the family returns.

July 11 Lumumba asks the UN to help in defeating the defection of Katanga. Hammarskjold refuses. Lumumba asks Soviets for help.

August Plans change when the family returns and it is decided that Katie will live with Helen and Fred for a while.

Sept. 5 Maxine writes to her parents on a “very quiet Sunday afternoon”.

She writes about Katie in Manhasset, Marge’s illness, a visit from Eleanor O’Brien, a shopping spree with Gretchen and Fred, and how sorry she is about all “the trouble we caused” this summer.


Soviets denounce UN for sending troops to Congo

Sept. 12 Hurricane Donna hits the east coast.

October 12 Nikita Khrushchev bangs his shoe on the podium at the UN.

Somewhere in this time frame, my mother send a letter of support to Dag Hammarskjoeld. She received a telegram of thanks from him.

I remember coming home from school one day and seeing this telegram on my mother’s bed. She had been sick I think and spending the day

in bed.

My mother was certainly paying attention to current events.


January 17 Patrice Lumumba murdered in Congo.

February 22 ” I am trying to do a real job on the basement. Spent several days there recently, and even tho I am constantly throwing things out, there is still far too much around”

Years later, I wonder just what my mother is referring to in this letter to her parents.

Was she throwing out things from my father’s childhood which were certainly stored there in the basement of the house he lived in as child.

Was she throwing out letters from the time my grandmother, Charlotte Sommer Gretsch, was the first mistress of this house?

April 16 Gertrude Gretsch Astor and married Sonio E. Coletti-Perucca. Mary Jacqueline Astor was her mother’s attendant. The couple will live in Paris, France.

April 17 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

May 25 -May 29 “Maxine in Chicago “hope to go to Chicago on Sunday and return on Thrusday….Think I deserve a slight vacation…Will fly.”

May 30 Rafael Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic was assassinated. The official committee report said that no direct link between the White House and the assassins was never established.|

I wonder what my mother thought.

She had visited in Central America and probably had some opinions on what went on there. Who would she have discussed this with? Marge Mclean?

June 3 Charlotte Graduates from Notre Dame

June 4 “The trip to Chicago was a great success. Went on Sunday and came back on Thursday, and was royally entertained. The relaxation was good and i enjoyed seeing all the exciting changes in the children, especially. mrs. Coners took good care of the children while I was gone, and everything was quiet when I returned.

June 25 Gretchen Graduated from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. Maxine gives Gretchen a card with the poem, “If For GIRLS”

summer Joined beach club.

Jim O’Brien sent me a picture in 2016 of my mother in Chicago with Eleanor O’Brien, Mary Curtis, Jim’s Grandmother, “Granny Blue” and some other people….what was this event?
How do i get the picture off of my iPhone and onto this website?

Early July (Monday night) ” Marge returns tomorrow from Albuquerque….coming home faster than she planned. I think she is not feeling well at all. I’ll meet her at the airport, and try to get her to spend the rest of her vacation with us. I’m in hopes she will be well enough to go to work next Monday.’

Sept. 12 “I’ll leave in another hour to spend some time with Marge”

Sept. 14 Maxine’s 44th birthday. she has lunch with Eleanor O’Brien in New York City and writes to her parents “don’t know if she knows it’s my birthday.”

September 17

Dag Hammarskjöld, secretary General of the UN is killed in a plane crash in the Congo.

November Freddie Gretsch age 15 buys his first Harley Davidson motorcycle and keeps it at a friend’s house. He pays $200.00 for it which he took from his birthday money savings account at Ridgewood Saving Bank.

November 18 On this date, the NYT’s announced the separation of Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Mary Clark Rockefeller. They had been married for 31 years.

November 20 On this date, the NYT’s announced that the 23 year old son of Nelson and Mary Rockefeller, Michael disappeared in New Guinea while on an anthropological expedition. Nelson immediately went to New Guinea with Michael twin sister, Mary.

October 14 Gertrude Gretsch Astor is married to Sonio El Coletti-Pertrucca. I wonder what my mother thought of that. She certainly knew Gertrude, Bill’s first cousin.

Gertrude went to live in Paris.

Thanksgiving ’61 Charlotte home from College. Maxine and Charlotte go out and buy dress for cotillion. “Then we took the dress to the hospital and Charlotte put it on for Marge who approved”.

On Thanksgiving day, drove to Connecticut, “We left there about six, and went straight to the hospital, where we spent about 15 minutes with Marge…and then were home by nine.”

December 19 Lois Crew signs a petition in the New York Times along with many other University and College professors.

December 18 ” Marge is failing. ..still very slowly. One of her sisters plans to go home for Christmas, but the other will stay here. It’s a sad , sad thing.”

Christmas Charlotte’s Cotillion



This essay recalls the time of my 14th birthday with my mother and moves forward to a birthday time with Ben Cohen when he was a young man 1997.

First written in June, 1997, revised September, 17, 1998 and revised again October 10, 2012.

Here in October of 2012. I am not quite sure why I placed this essay about Ben here in my mother’s 1962 time line. However, I like the connectedness of the complicated acts of birthday present giving….and I like the perspective of 14 year old me, juxtaposed to 49 year old me and now a 64 year old me.

The Birthday present.

June 2, 1997

Whitesburg, Ky.

Ben and I have for a long time been working out a lot of things together. David has been in the middle. Ben and I have come a long way in our relationship in many ways and at the same time we are again at the place where we were a long time ago. For both of us I think there is a comfort this time around in having time and space to work out our differences. At first the parameters were not so clear.

We both love David and that is at the heart of it all—our both wanting David to be happy. Let me begin to try and tell the story.

The roots of my birthday present story go back very far to when I was about14 in the early 1960’s. Lumumba had been killed. Hammerskjold (Sept 1961) had been killed. Kennedy hadn’t been killed yet. My mother was still alive. There was a lot of constrernation in the UN about the Congo and what would happen there. But I didn’t know anything about any of that. It wasn’t until much later that I learned about my mother and Hammerskjold, about the Congo and Lumumba and the UN.

It was January in New York City and very cold. The after Christmas sales had been raging for a while and were pulling to a halt. It was very near my birthday.

I needed a new winter coat and my mother and I had been out shopping for one. We found what I thought was the perfect one a blue loden coat which was very fashionable for teenagers at the time. But my mother refused to let me wear it until my exact birthday. This made me incredibly angry. I felt my mother was being silly and I was loosing out on the chance to show off my new coat.

But my mother remained adamant (like Hammerskojld) and it wasn’t until my birthday that I found out why. She had come across a coat in one of her own shopping expeditions which she felt that I might like better and she wanted me to have a choice. It was red and I didn’t in the end like it better. On my birhtday I was presented with two coats early in the morning but I went to school wearing the blue coat which I had insisted I wanted to wear all long. The red coat was returned to the store.

This little event had far reaching effect. Every year at birthdays I am in a quandary about weather or not presents should be opened early. When I had children it became more problematic. I usually settled it by insisting that my children wait until the appointed day of celebration to open presents. I in the privacy and rebelliousness of my single adulthood would sometimes open one of my own presents early.

This somehow brings us to Kentucky. Walking the land that David’s grandfather and Ben’s great grandfather had taken ownership of in the early 1920’s. (the next day as we were leaving I told Ben that I would really like to go to the daily newspapper in Norton and look through back issues for the facts about the Cohen’s in the area. He said he was afraid of what would turn up.) No-one knows exactly why Jacob Cohen purchased this land. It is recorded that several members of the family which deeded it to him had to sign the deed. This assumes that it was an agreement of the whole family to give the land up. It also points to the aloneness of Jacob Cohen in the area. Here on this piece of paper the names of brotheres and sisters and wives and husbands of the seller’s family are alluded to and signed. Jacob Cohen however stands alone. He has no brothers or sisters mentioned. His wife isn’t even mentioned or his children. This can all be explained in a legal sense but in another sense it is a true rememinder of Jacob Cohen being alone here.

It’s David’s birthday and we have all come form various points to celebrate it in Kentucky. Rich came via Chicago from Kansas City and Ben and Gabriella came form Ohio on their long zig zag across the US. Six weeks ago I had purchased a present for David through a Catalogue. I had asked him about it at the time to be sure it was a gift he would enjoy using. It was a simple, beautiful Japanesse cutting tool that he could use in the garden. When the long triangular box arrived, David was the first to see it but I took it and put it away for his birthday. I don’t know if David knew what it was it. He didn’t mention it at all. I thought a few times, “should I give it to him he might be able to use it before his birhtday?” but I always decided to wait. It was to be a birthday celebration and it needed presents. The box was packed into the truck when we came to Kentucky.

Now the problem here is when to give you the back ground information on my relationship with Ben which is far more complicated than my relationship with the giving and receiving of Birthday presents.

September 17, 1998

so much time later…I find this essay

I can’t even remember writing this or what the point of it was as I find it now in my computer but I wonder if this is the time in KY when Ben got so mad because I had brought up the thought of doing something nice for Jenny when she finished her Ph.d.

Maybe that show of Ben’s anger was background for telling the above story. David opened my present and loved it. Ben said it wasn’t for gardening and forest work but for carpentry. This was incorrect  and David and I have used the tool many times in KY.

……and when David went to visit Ben and Gabriella at their new home in New Orleans in july, he came home with pictures of Ben wearing the t-shirt which I gave him from Florence. Actually Maggie gave it to him but it was stolen in South Africa and I gave him the one just like it that I had. I was cute to see him wearing it in the pictures.

Maybe the point of this essay, reread and reworked in 2012, is that if people live long enough, they can work out all of their differences.

Ben is now in 2012 helping David pass that same property in Kentucky into new hands. Ben’s expertice as a lawyer and his help with this complicated transaction is quite a gift to David and to me.


February 2 A short article in the New York Times reports a summer stag workshop to begin July 2 at Barnard-Columbia Summer theatre Workshop.

Michael Howard will teach acting, Bert Stimmel will teach Body movement and Lois Crews will teach voice.

Perhaps, my mother saw this as she read the morning Times which was delivered to our house every morning. Perhaps, she thought about her friend Lois Crews from Northwestern. Perhaps, she though about contacting her.

March 5 Marge McLean died after a four year battle with cancer. My mother wrote to her parents on the 25th of March, “to Catch you up historically, Marge died on the 5th after going steadily downhill, as you know, for some time. Both her sisters were here…and still are…and everything went well. despite the constant feuding between the sisters. She was buried at a cemetary (sic) in Westchester County…a long ways from here…and the mass and wake were nice indeed”.

March 29 This letter to Maxine’s parents is dated only “Friday”. Someone has added the date, April 1. That is crossed out and March 29 in written in a different hand. I can imagine that my grandparents and my uncle spent a lot of time reading and reading these letters after my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

Dear Mother, Dad and Ralph,

“This is the time I have really overtaxed myself! I haven’t a second to call my own, between various committments. Auctually (sic),.. I enjoy most everything I’m doing, but there are no moments for such equally pleasnt occupations as letter writing,….

Sunday night ( written in April 1)

So the time goes! This morning was the Communion Breakfast at Notre Dame, and for the rest of the day I’ve been working on my income tax. It’s ready to type up now, and send the figures to the accountant….but I think I’ll finish this, and take care of the income tax in the morning!

Katie went to work today, so we didn’t see her. She started at eleven , and was going to work til nine…but called at eight and said she got off early. However, it was too late to go dashing out. I had asked her to take the day off, and we’d go to the theatre or something but she preferred to work.

So yesterday I took her presents out…yours, the letters from you all and from Aunt Kate…and your presents. I gave her a school jacket, a beautiful black petticoat…very frilly…that she wanted, a sterling silver ring, and a beach blouse. she said she loves the gown and slippers you sent…and tomorrow I’ll bo out and collect the presents you sent her for us.

Charlotte was home briefly over her birthday, and loved the gown…wore it immediately, even though I think she froze to death! She has been having exams, and so far is doing better in her studies. She loves it there and isn’t taking any chances on flunking out. And Jerry has every intention of seeing that she gets passing marks, too.

The Parent’s association has it big Bridge on Saturday the 7th, and we are doing alright so far. To date our profit on it is $3,200. We hope to run it up to $5.000. Earlier in the year we have made about $2,000, so everyone is happy with the financial picture to date.

Charlotte’s Cotillion pictures came through, and I’ll get them off to you as soon as possible. Which may be next week. This week is already a total loss. Monday, Manhasset, Tuesday, homework at the library adn school at night, Wednesday night, parent’s Association meeting …and so on.

Dad, the news about your tired heart was a surprise…but I knew all those tests were being taken for something! Is that one of those cholesterol situations? Are you on a diet…more rest…or what? We are interested, to say the least.

Ralph, your new title sounds great. It certainly means that they like you and want you to stay around. And I think it is simply wonderful that in spite of al the turmoil of your private life you have accomplished this. It is certainly shows what the possibilities are. You seem to be ina growing area…and you always likes a small town. Ill (sic) be anxious to know what happens next.

We are all well…have had remarkably few colds and things this winter. As a matter of fact, the total of my doctor bills for 1961 was $55.00! Of course the dentist came high, but I supposet that will slack off in a few years, too.

Oh, yes…..another time consuming factor…I bought the house last week. And some time this week I have to sit down and study the insurance, etc. And taxes are due, along with income tax, etc., so I’m up to ears.

The Musical Instrument Dealer Rental Company is also in a new flurry of activity.

However, I signed off on teaching two week ago…until after Saturday’s Bridge. That gave me time refund, but not financial relief.

Mrs. Coners leaves the end of May for 2 months in Europe. Mae McConnachie is in Ireland, visiting her son who is in college in Dublin.

Wrote to Paula this morning. Hope she lets us know when she plans to be here…we’d hate to miss her. She is welcome to bring a friend or two to stay here with her….by the end of their trip they won’t minds staying in a private home…they’ll probably be both broke and sick of hotels!

With love to all, Mike

April 7 Annual Bridge and Fashion Show for Notre Dame Parent’s association. Afterwards, Maxine is injured in a car accident and breaks several ribs. She was taken to a hospital. They wanted to keep her but she insisted on coming home as her children (Fred and Gretchen) were home.

April 30

May 2

Aunt Kate in a letter to Hattie and Max writes, “Also glad that you had news from Maxine that her broken ribs were ‘knitting nicely’. do hope no shock or other injuries develop, she certainly was lucky and fortunate to have Fred and Mrs. Conners.”

According to a letter from Aunt Kate, Maxine called her mother on her birthday,

May 7 Maxine writes her parents ” My accident is far behind me….On the 16th I’m having 26 women for luncheon. All the women who worked on committees for the Notre Dame Bridge will be here, plus the Class Mothers who worked so hard during the year. It will be Buffet…outside if it doesn’t rain. Ham, hot potato salad, gelatin salad, asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, meringue with ice cream, coffee and tea, hot rolls, and beforehand cold canapés…(cheese and Ritz crackers) and martinis or manhattans. I’ll be be glad to have it over. I have never had to feed so many before. I’ll have to rent some dishes…some of the women will help…and Mrs.Coners will be here. love Mike

May Handwritten letter, Dear Mother, Happy Mother’s Day! I selected and sent something I think will look lovely on you. ( written in and circled “Black Tall Hat, very very lovely”) I ‘m off to have a permanent…yes, I’ve let my hair grow a little..but I’ll be keeping it shorter that I used’s so easy!

Then to a luncheon, then I’m due at at cocktail dance…which I think I’ll skip.

The bulbs and azaleas are blooming and beautiful, Love to all Mike.

June 6 Handwritten letter “Dear Dad, Happy Father’s Day! WE send you loads of love and wish you many more Father’s Days full of health and happiness!

Your letter anti-bug killer arrived too late for me to send anything else, so I’m sending a check with the request that you do something special with it…like a double chocolate soda with real whipped cream, with two straws, so mother can have some too.

Fred is in the midst of his finals..Geeg has hers in a week or two and so does Katie..and it wonderful to have Charotte at home again. She is looking desperately for a job…really wants one now…and although her best prospects haven’t worked out, I’m sure something will turn up.

We’re all talking about your late summer visit and making plans for you. So far I haven’t succumbed to the car buying urge—its not strong enough apparently. The longer I don’t have one, the less I miss it. I’m thinking of stabling a horse in the garage. I think that would be more fun.

Once on Father’s day and always, Mike, and Charlotte, Katie, Fred and Gretchen

June 26 Letter from Kate, “Dear Folks,… your, Hattie, letter of 6/18! Wednesday. Glad to hear that you again talked to Maxine and that she was getting along alright,- do hope she takes care of herself. how nice that Uncle Fred has Fred and Katherine at their home- and that friends and neighbors are looking after Charlotte and Gretschen. Sure too bad Mrs. Conor happens to be away at this time.”

This is the first reference to my mother’s cancer.

Note it is only a few months after the death of Marge, that Maxine learns of her own cancer.

My mother must have been very worried but who did she confide in? Who comforted her? So far, I can find no letters from her at this time. However, she seems to be talking to her parents on the phone.

On October3, 2001, John DeBevic, the husband of my mother’s college roommate, Mary Lois sent me a letter. ” Sylvia was a sweetheart. Gentle and level-headed she had a beautiful disposition. One evening when I came to N.Y. and visited her we left to take in a variety of night clubs, which was her choice as I asked her to select where she would like to go. We did the town royally and it was only afterwards when I got back to Chicago that i learned that she had cancer and was terminal. Sylvia never gave me a sign of her distressing illness. That was a class act. she didn’t want to sadden me and instead wanted us both to enjoy a special evening.

Months later, she asked Mary Lois to be with her as she was nearing death, and of course ML went.”

I had always thought my mother told no one she was so sick…..but apparently she told her college friend, Mary Lois. When I first read this letter in 2001, I didn’t follow up with John Devic and ask more questions.  Mary Lois had died some years before. Now, in 2020,
when I rediscover this letter…I was so surprised to read that my mother had asked Mary Lois to be with her. In 2020, I almost did not reread the letter before i discarded it. I thought that I know everything that it said. So glad I reread it …….now can reimagine my mother’s death in the light of Mary Lois’ being with her.

It must have been early June that the cancer was found. They operated immediately. Perhaps, the cancer was found because of some tests they were doing around her car accident.

The cancer must have been very advanced when it was first discovered. It was only 18 months later, In February of 1963 that she passed away.

It was at this time, in June of 1962, that Freddie had his motorcycle accident. He was taken to St. John’s hospital—the same hospital that MOM was in recovering from her cancer surgery. The doctor’s must have known she would not survive, perhaps, she even knew.

Fred was in the hospital just a few doors down from MOM but it was decided not to tell MOM that Fred had been in a motorcycle accident. He was not yet 16 and had several out of state illegal drivers licenses with him—Billy Egan no doubt helped him get there.

Fred remembers that Dr. Hayes stitched up his hand with no pain killer—-because, Fred says, Dr. Hayes was so mad at Fred for being so delinquent while his mother was so sick!

July 23 Fred turns 16 years old.

The following email was written in 2008 by Fred recalling his own 16th birthday.

dear katie, charlotte, and gretchen,

today our grandson zach is 16. he lives in crawford ga with his

parents fritz and anne and 3 siblings.

katie, do you remember my 16th birthday july 23 1962? you were

working at the gretsch company in brooklyn and called me ( at camp st

johns ) from the switchboard or someplace to wish me a ‘ happy sweet

16th birthday ‘. sweet 16, for a boy that embarrassing.

thinking of you fondly today.




July 31 Ralph arrives in Forest Hills to spend time with Maxine and the children.

September Because of problems controlling his behavior, Maxine sends Fred to boarding school at St. Frances Prep.

Sept 4

Click image to enlarge

Paula Elsner MacQuiddy wrote in May 2006,

I well remember the summer of 1962. I had met Chuck earlier that year and was in love. I had also already scheduled a 3 month tour of Europe with a friend for that summer. I remember coming thru NY in June on the way to Europe and staying at the Waldorf……don’t remember seeing you all in June, but did stop by on my way home in early Sept. I remember staying at your home and being taken to the US Open grounds, I have located my diary of the trip and will quote the NY end of it…dated 9/04/62.”Arrived at 3:30 local time (8:30 London time). Aunt Maxine, GeeGee and Uncle Ralph met me at the airport (thru customs at 4:30). Drove thru Forest Hills Club to Aunt Maxine’s house. Talked and drank cokes until a Father joined us. All left for dinner (12:30 London time). Had a delicious meal. Came back and talked and showed and gave gifts. To bed at midnight NY time. Long but happy day”….. I was anxious to get home and still had to stop in St Louis also….and get home for the wedding of the couple that introduced us….I don’t remember anything about your mother’s cancer…..just remember a great whirlwind tour/visit. Seems I was obsessed with the time difference!!!

Paula and her diary remind me of the trip that our Grandmother Hattie Dieter took in 1908. She also kept a diary and visited cousins in far away cities.

Paula sent the adjacent picture in the summer of 2006.

September 9 Letter from Kate, Sunday pm

Dear Folks and Dear Ralph,

Ralph is it nice to be back in California? What a fine visit you had with Maxine and the children and what wonderful and nice outings, etc. roundabout, you all have had, and too your nice wait with your K.C. friends the Blatts in Washington.

Maxine will miss you very much of course you also will miss her and the children. That visit, I know was a very great pleasure and comfort for both Maxine and you. Today you all are very busy and happy hearing all about Maxine and the children. It will be so interesting and a pleasure to get all that news from Ralph.

since Charlotte and Fred will go away this month and Katherine at Uncle Fred’s Maxine and Gretchen will be alone at home. She should take it very easy regain her strength and be in good condition for the Christmas visit with you. Hattie and Max,

I ‘m so glad that Mrs. Connor is back on duty with her, too bad she wasn’t there during Maxine’s accident and this operation period…

September 10 This is the 14th Anniversary of Bill’s death. my mother must have thought of this when she dated this letter:

Monday, Sept. 10

Dear Mother and Dad,

Just saw Geeg off to school…first time I’ve been up so early for ages!

Ralph, Char and Fred are dressing, and we are all going in to the city to shop this morning, then the finals of the tennis matches this afternoon, and Pete Sweeney is coming for dinner tonight. Tomorrow night we will have dinner again at Katie’s restaurant where she starts again tomorrow. Then Ralph leaves on Wednesday for Washington, and home next Monday.

Fred did not go away….talked me into letting him stay home. so he starts at the same school again on Thursday. Char leaves on the 19th.

I feel fine, had a check up last week and the report was perfect—what more could I ask?

the car is a joy really runs like a top. and so comfortable!

Ralph has done a million things for us–weather proofing a side of the house, repaired the tile in my bathroom, straightened a table top, repaired screens, caulked mortar joints, adn today he will put in a couple of mercury switches for us. He had also repaired the motor for the blender and repaired the knife sharpener. he seems to be able to do everything. He even build me a fence to conceal my garbage pails outside, and repaired the chaise lounge on my outside porch.

On top of that he is so patient and thoughtful it is unbelievable.

so We’ll hate to see him go, believe me. But he doesn’t want to settle here and I don’t blame him, and I certainly won’t persuade him to stay or even try to when he wants to be there.

Time to get to work…we are all looking forward to your visit very much.

the comforter is beautiful and warm.

Sept. 19 Wed Dear Mother, Dad and Ralph,

Thank you first for the beautiful sweater….size perfect..lovely..and the necklaces and hangers…it was wonderful package! Isabelle Hayes had a surprise luncheon for me at her house and it was a very satisfying day.

Have had lots of letters from Fred….he must be homesick! He has gone out for football, hitchhiked to York on Sunday doesn’t complain about the food, liked Brother Joel and his room mate…do I guess he is adjusting! Ralph we miss you come back!

Char left yesterday. I drove her to Greenwich, Conn. where she spent the night with her room mate Mary…this morning Mary’s neighbors drove them to school. So Geeg and I will be busy making enough noise to keep the house in shape! Ralph sent the Gettysburg pictures to Fred—will get duplicates for you.

My first class was yesterday…it sounds hard and dull…

Geeg and I feel fine. Katie is now thinking that she wants to go to St. Francis next year. Thanks again love Mike Rec’d R’s postcard from the airport today.

Maxine and Gretchen (me) are living at Shorthill Road alone this fall. Charlotte is at College, Katie is living with Fred and Helen on Long Island and Fred is at boarding school.

Most likely, this is the time that Maxine was having isotope therapy for her cancer. Her major surgery was over and she had recovered well.

I can barely remember the mood in that big house which was now so empty. My mother must have been very cognizant of the extent of her cancer and the nearness of her death. I was 14, a sophomore in high school, full of thoughts of my friends, oblivious to what my mother was going through.

My mother was in graduate school.

We also had a dog. Rupert. I think my mother was closest to this dog. She was used to having dogs and always had pets as a child. Rupert was named after St. Rupert, the patron saint of dogs, at lease that is what my mother told us. rupert was probablu about 4 years old at this time. He was a mixed breed, very cute.

At this time, Barbara and Joe Shea and two or three of their small children came to stay at Shorthill Road. They had just moved from Chicago and were looking for a house.

Sylvia went to Florida to recuperate with Helen Welsh while the Shea’s kept an eye on things on Shorthill Road..

Nov. 11 Eleanor Roosevelt dies.

Dec. 27 Charlotte’s Post Debutante Party. Max and Hattie come from California.

Click image to enlarge


June 5 Ralph divorced. He continues living with his parents in Menlo Park..

July 5 Sunday, Dearest Geeg, We-are enroute from the Beach…Char the Chauf. Had lunch with BoB I’s Mother , Father and he and Elaine….food is delicious. Cookie has deserted us. WE couldn’t find the Tony Bennett album Sorry. the PP& M concert wasn’t too good, according to Fred, Love Mother. PS Love to the Sommers, Sheas and Turley’s (sent to Elka Park, Greene Country, New York)

August 6,
Fred goes to tour West Point with his god mother, Eleanor O’Brien and her niece,  16 year old Susie Kelley, who are visiting from Chicago. Fred has a good friend who goes to West Point, John “Buzzy” Calabro.
Fred who was 17 has borrowed his mother’s new car for the trip to West Point.
Sylvia has just purchased the “Checker”.  After her accident in the spring of ’62, Mom decided to buy a strong, sturdy car and she bought a “checker” which is what the New York Taxi cabs were. It wasn’t very stylish but it sure was safe. This was a really smart move for a family with four teenage drivers!

At West Point, Fred was pulling off a road and plowed right into a big Army truck. The “Checker was totaled but all the occupants were safe. The results would have been quite different if they had not been in such a sturdy car.

August 26,
Rich Luzinski, a friend of Charlotte’s from College came to dinner at out house in Forest Hills.
He wrote about it in a letter he sent to Charlotte that year. Charlotte’s letters were given to me by her children after she died in 2014.

September Fred returns to school at Loyola Academy.

October 26 Paula and Chuck McQuiddy married. Maxine and Charlotte come from New York for the wedding.

Click image to enlarge

Paula graciously brought these pictures to show me at Greg Gretsch home in San Francisco in 2003 (?). I had never seen them before. Then her husband Chuck carefully copied them and sent them to me on the net. Note Max and Hattie fore grounded and Charlotte standing in back.

Click image to enlarge

I was shocked to see this picture of my mother. Paula was so excited to show it to me and my first reaction was to think that this was not my mother. Of course it is my mother. Paula told me that my mother had brought to the wedding one of the first polaroid color cameras. Everyone was interested in looking at the camera and everyone crowded around my mother. The pictures that she took that day were the only color pictures that were taken at the wedding.

This picture had some writing on it in black crayon. Chuck spent a great deal of time figuring out how to remove those marks. Thank you Chuck!

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

November 7

Max’s 77th birthday. To celebrate Maxine writes in long hand three “Happy Birthday Bulletins” . Each is written as if it is newspaper copy

“Happy Birthday Bulletin—-Decorating Note——Max and Helen Elsner have installed an art museum in the great hall of their home. The remodeling was a joint birthday gift to them broth from their daughter, Maxine.” In my mother’s hand is written, “To Dad and Mother, May 2, 1963 Novermber 1-1963”

“Happy Birthday Bulletin—-Max and Helen Elsner spend night at ST. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, as guests of their daughter Maxine, following dinner and opera, which was as gift of their son Ralph” In my grandmother’s hand is written “Dad’s birthday-Nov-7, 1964”

“Happy Birthday Bulletin—–Max and Helen Elsner take Helicopter trip from San Francisco to Oakland as birthday present of son Ralph and daughter Maxine!” in my grandmother’s hand ” to Dad November 7, 1964. Ralph and Maxine went along-Wonderful Trip.”

Right around this time Max disappears.

mid November Maxine returns to San Francisco from New York.

After my mother’s died, I always thought that she went to California at this time to tell her parents about her illness.

I didn’t find out until April, 2000 that Max was not there and that my mother had traveled to California to help her own mother deal with her disappearing husband.

I doubt that my mother even mentioned her developing cancer and any fears she might have had about her own health.

Maxine was on her way home from San Francisco when she got the news in Kansas City that her father had died. Kate Dieter went back to Menlo Park with Maxine to be with her sister Hattie. Kate was 79 years old at the time.

Paula wrote in an email (3-29-2000) “according to Mom, Max disappeared many times during his marriage…and as you know, committed suicide on mom & dad’s front walkway, after ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night and seeing the porch light come on he shot himself…he had disappeared shortly after our wedding (which Charlotte and your mother attended) on 10/26/63.”

This email from Paula (4-14-2000) explains further: hi again…talked to mother this morning and she remembers that max had been gone for 2-3 weeks before he showed up on their doorstep…dad evidently traced his whereabouts to the half moon bay area (on the coast) where he had stayed long enough to get a gun permit and bought the gun…mom told me today that dad got the money back for the gun after max used it…on the premise that it should never have been sold to him in the first place….I believe dad traced some of the info (after the fact) thru a cab driver that brought Max to their house that night…but I could be wrong about that…I suspect that your mom kept a lot of what went on from you kids…. ”

This was the same time that John Kennedy was shot. I remember getting the news that my mother was not coming home but heading back to California because my grandfather had died. In Forest Hills, we were all watching the Kennedy news on television for hours and hours. We had no idea of our own family tragedy.

November 22 John Kennedy shot

Helen Opferman VonSalten, a childhood friend of my sister Charlotte shared this memory of my mother in 2017;
‘The last time I saw your mother she made a trip to a rented house we had in Douglaston in Queens. My parents had sold their house in Manhasset in order to purchase their prospective retirement home in Cape May, New Jersey but they rented a duplex house in Doughlaston so that my younger sister  Dorothy could take a bus out to finish High School in St. Mary’s in Manhasset, and I could take another bus to the bubbly in Flushing so that I could finish day hoping at MaryMount Manhattan College. Dad drove to work in College point, Long Island at the time.
I was the only person at home when “Aunt Sylvia” rang our door bell and I had to run down a flight of stairs (our complex apartment was on the second floor) to greet her.
I don’t think that I knew how very sick she must have been when I invited her to come up and have some tea with me. She had already had had to climb a flight of stairs from the street parking and declined to come up another flight of stairs. She was always so generous and kind to me and to our family and I still remember our last hug in that stairwell. How I wish i could have given her a cup of tea!”

December 26 Katherine Gretsch made her Debut at the Regina Cotillion on Long Island. The whole family was there in formal attire.

Sylvia and her four teen age children. Uncle Fred and Aunt Helen.

Everyone looked great, especially Sylvia.

there were no signs of strain on her smiling face of her father’s recent death or her own illness.

Charlotte recalls that she felt her mother was very relaxed and at peace. Charlotte is sure that her mother knew at that time that she was going to die.

However, others could not guess it from her healthy looks.


January 15
I, Gretchen, turns 16 on this day.
My mother went into the city on the train several days before hand to find a ring for me. It was a family tradition that on the 16th birthday of each girl, my mother gave her daughter a beautiful ring. My mother must have been sick and surely tired but she went anyway and picked out the perfect ring for me.

On the morning of my birthday, I came down to breakfast and found at my place, a hand written poem. The poem was composed and written by my mother on her light blue stationary. Fifty years later, I still have the poem.

The paper was folded in half –side ways—and propped up like a tent—-and the front portion facing me, read “Ode to Gretchen”

Sweet Sixteen” sounds sentimental,
Trite and some how plain passé.
But to me its monumental,
That you’ve reached this glorious day.

First, my dear, my precious baby,
Then an imp of childish glee—
Now a gentle, gracious lady—-
These three vignettes I see in thee.

I know what the future holds;
Pleasure, pain and dreams-come-true.
And as each precious year unfolds,
Love you’ll give and love you’ll hold.

I am sure I read the poem and went off to school on that cold, early, dark January morning. I am sure I didn’t think about the poem much. Little did I know that soon my mother would die and this poem would be the only time she ever communicated with me about my life after her death.

That morning like each of my high school morning, I would walk to the train down Greenway North, change trains three times and finally walk up W. 79th street to Notre Dame. I am sure I met my friends Mary Ellen Milazzo and Eloise O’Shea along the way to the first train at 71 and Continental Ave in Forest Hills.

I had no idea my mother was dying and would in three weeks be admitted to the hospital for the last time.

This poem was her only way of talking to me about the future.

Saturday, January 25, 1964
Maxine begins a letter to her Aunt Kate in Joplin. This letter gives a very good description of what is happening while she is so near her death:

Dear Tante-

What a shame that you arrived home for a cold snap! It must have been quite a shock to your system, after balmy California.

However, I imagine the peace, quiet and comfort of your own home made up for it.

You were certainly wonderful to go out with me and to stay so long. I’m so grateful—and I know Mother, Ralph and Paul are too.

Its amazing that your car startedup so quickly, I was sure you’d need a new battery, at least!

All sorts of things have happened since you were in Menlo Park—all with happy endings. Some of them you may already have heard of—– but I’ll jot them down anyway.

Fred sold his 1935 Buick—-still in pieces but with the motor runninf perfectly—for $425– He had bought it for $100- and spent another $125 getting it in shape—-what a lovely profit.

Then he had bought a 1937 Plymouth for $75, put about $50 into it and sold it for $250-!

Now he has a motorcycle he paid $150 for , and is putting in condition. He expects to sell it for $300 in the spring.

He enjoys working with the motors so much. And of course making a profit, too makes it especially exciting!

Charlotte was in a lucky automobile accident, if there is such a thing—–had only pulled leg muscles-

Feb 3, 196(3)4

Well, a lot of water has gone under the dam since I started this,

First, on last Thursday (about the 27th, I think) (30th written in) I went to get a shot for adhesions ( as a result of my operation) and before I got out of the doctors office (fortunately) I started having chills & fever. Apparently I was allergic to the shot!. So they took me to the hospital where I stayed 2 nights. Then I went home on a Saturday, but the adhesion situation didn’t clear up and I couldn’t eat and couldn’t get my strength back so last Saturday Tom Hayes, my friend, doctor and neighbor, brought me back to the hospital to build me up a little before treating me again. He is trying to figure out a way to keep from operating, I think—-and I am all in favor of that.

Meanwhile, Katie has moved back home! I am still not sure if it is permanent, but certainly hope so! It is a long drive for her back and forth to her college—about 50 minutes each way— so I hope it works. And especially I hope she doesn’t have an accident!

Gretchen keeps as happy as a lark. Her grades went down a little this term— I think it is to much “Cookie” —that’s her current boy friend. But she is doing alright and certainly is enjoying life!

We’re having a kind of mid-winter warm spell and hope you are too— I love that California climate.

Too bad you didn’t have more fun with Gus and Willodean. Hope she and her father are better now!

No I haven’t seen the picture of Katie—-thank you so much for sending it.

love, Maxine

Apparently, Maxine had been going to a hospital in Queens, St. Johns, which was close to Forest Hills. Finally, it was decided that she would go to Doctor’s Hospital in New York City.

February 8
Maxine is admitted to Doctor’s hospital, located at 88th Street and East End Ave. It is very serious.

Hospital records from this date read:

This patient was admitted with evidence of intestinal obstruction, secondary to extensive ovarian carcinomatosis which had markedly involved the abdominal cavity. She had been treated previously by intravaginal cobalt and applicator for recurrence in the vagina, as well bilateral isotopic lymphograms for control of iliac and inguinal lymph nodes.

On this admission an exploratory laparotomy was performed, at which time extensive carcinoma was encountered. Nothing further was done surgically and a polyethylene tube was placed in the abdominal cavity. Dr. Irvin Ariel

Her death reports reads:

This 46 year old woman had cancer of the uterus and had a hysterectomy and isotope therapy. Recently, she developed abdominal pain and had no bowel movement for ten days.”

Ralph and Hattie fly immediately to New York. They stay on Short Hill Road visiting the hospital everyday.

From Maxine’s hospital room, you could look down on Gracie Mansion which was directly across the street. New York’s Mayor, Richard F. Wagner, his wife Susan Edwards Wagner and their two sons live there.

Susan like Maxine were both dealing with severe cancer. Susan Wagner had lung cancer.
My sister, Charlotte remembers that her mother told her that she ( Sylvia ) has the same doctor as Susan Wagner.
Charlotte also told me that my mother had a really gorgeous hospital room.

February 10 Maxine has an exploratory laparoscopy. Dr. Ariel performs the operation, Dr. Po, a resident, assists.

” The entire abdominal cavity was one large mass of cancer.” The report goes on to describe the cancer and the involvement of other organs.

“Procedure: A midline incission permitted entrance into the abdominal cavity. The umbilious was removed, which contained a metastasis cancer. Efforts to lyse the adhesions were unsuccessful becasue of the adherance and extent of these adhesions.

Accordingly, a polyethylene tube was put into the abdominal cavity and the wound closed……The procedure was well tolerated by the patient”.

February 11
Long detailed report made by Dr. R. E. Carnes, M.D.

The histological pattern is consistent with ovarian cancer.

I remember going to visit my mother at Doctor’s Hospital after my school day was over. I would take the bus across Central Park. Sometimes, my faithful boyfriend, Cookie, would pick me up in his car and drive me. Mostly, he picked me up at the hospital and drove me home.
Once, I remember being there and my mother was delirious. It was very sad. She had so much medication. I was 16 and there alone with her.
Later that night, she called me and apologized for being so out of it while I was there. The whole thing was very confusing to me. I really had no idea that she was dying. No one was talking to us children about what was going on.

Another time, I remember my mother asking for “champale” to drink. This was a sparkling non alcoholic drink. It was sort of glamorous in its resemblance to campaign. I asked the nurse if she could have it. It would have to be given in a special tube which ran up through her nose. The nurse was very agrevated and said some thing like ‘ it is not going to do any good, it is just going to run right out of her”. I was very surprised that my mother was being treated so harshly.

One day, when I got home from school, about two weeks before my mother died, my sister Katie had three black dresses for me to choose from.  Katie had picked them out at the store for me and brought them home. This was the way I learned for sure that my mother was dying.

February 29
Maxine passes away at 7:45 on this Saturday morning. There is no family member with her.

Dr. Teofilo Po signed the death certificate. He writes that Dr. Irvin Ariel last saw her alive at 7:30 A. M on the 29th.

It is unclear to me, reading the death certificate in 2008, if Dr. Ariel or Dr. Po were with her when she died.

In a death report it is stated, ” Patient given chemotherapy P 32, 0 4 but did not respond well.”

March 1
Susan Edwards Wagner, Mrs. Robert F. Wagner, passes away in Gracie Manson at 12:35 p.m.

Gracie Mansion was right across the street from Doctor’s Hospital where Maxine died. I remember looking out of my mother’s hospital room and seeing Gracie Mansion. However, I had no idea that the Mayor’s wife was dying there of cancer at the same time my mother was dying of cancer.

Susan Wagner was 54 years old.

She was the wife of the Mayor of New York City.

March 5
On Thursday, March 5, 1964 Hattie is back home in California with Ralph. She described Maxine’s death in a long letter to her sister Kate in Joplin.

My Dear Kate,

It is now 1 P.M.-have just eaten a bowl of canned soup so will start this letter. The mailman is coming now- My what a wonderful letter you wrote. Your friends and ours, were so very considerate and kind, sending plants, coming to stay with you, and soon, how very nice that your minister came also. Your idea of going to the cemetery made it very complete and also unusual, what a fine way to attend services for our very lovely daughter, sister and niece.

I just don’t know how to tell you of our three weeks with Maxine and her final sleep in her Heavenly Home. It was too bad that she was not able to talk except in a very faint way, and sometimes very legible.- It was very hard for me to understand her but Ralph read her lips, as well as hearing her and then telling me what she said. We went to the Hospital every morning about 11 A.M.- a Visiting Priest who was on his Vacation from “Equator (sic)”, and not being too far from Maxine’s home took it upon himself to come by for us every morning about 10 or 11 and take us to the Hospital. We used Taxis also but most of the time some one brot (sic) us home.

Just had a lovely phone visit with Mrs. Warren, Zimmers were here this morning. Rhodes called & are coming tomorrow afternoon. Now I’ll finish my letter. We were shocked when Dr. Hayes, (back of Maxine’s house) & her Dr.-came over at 8 A.M. & said Maxine had passed away at 7:45- – He & his wife were so lovely to us all of the time. Dr. Ariel, the Cancer Dr. was consisdered (sic)the best one in N.Y.- He praised Maxine so highly also–Everyone at the Funeral Home did the same, at least 500 or more people were there, the Church was filled. Everyone praised her and also did not know that she was sick. Fred and Dick and their wives were so very wonderful- Fred was at the Hospital also everyday and evening. The Somers (sic) & 2 married daughters were so kind and considerate of us during the several last days.

They will keep the home, also Mrs. Conors as long as she will stay & will get a middle aged woman or couple to live with the them. All of the girls cook, but Char, stayed home from college of her own free will to take care of cooking, etc. Cath, is at home now too & helps with everything. They all intend to either work, or take some college work this summer. Fred is buying old cars, as you know but did not do anything on them when we were there– They wouldn’t let me do anything, they all, & everybody fell in love with Ralph & he kept busy doing things all the time. He was at the hospital all the time too and sometimes in the evening.

Maxine was buried in the blue, long skirted dress that she had here. I’m sure you saw it, she looked beautiful & peaceful & you could not tell that she had suffered for so long. she had no food at all except the interveinous (sic) liguid & sedatives, & sometimes they had to stop that.

The casket was a huge (Mahogany crossed out and Walnut written over) beautiful casket- Fred & Dick & Ralph-(maybe Paul) I don’t remember- yes, I guess he was- selected it. The flowers were immense, beautiful, and all around the walls in the funeral home, then at the Cemetery. The article in your paper was very lovely except about her husband, (how on earth could anything like that happen.)-Fred & Dick had a big Spray of White Chrysanthemums, there was a white crys. blanked (sic) on the casket from the children. We and you -had Spray just like the Brothers, & so was the one from Paul Lola, Paula, Chuck & Lee. A lovely big Spray of (believe) it was gladiolus, & also a lovely telegram from (them crossed out)Gus & Willodean. The number of beautiful Mass Card was in the hundreds, some in frames, a funeral could never have been more beautiful. Helen (Gretsch crossed out) Welsc was not there, they didn’t think they would let her know until afterwards. Her two college friends did not come back for the (family crossed out) funeral. We told all the families that you intended to come but was not well & the weather was so uncertain, etc. & they all agreed that was best also. Our Plane trip back was one hr. late, Lola met us, had groceries in the ice box, & a big Beef Stew in Our Roaster. Paul stayed on for business, to New Jersey, Chicago, etc. & home tomorrow nite (sic).

Much love, Ralph and Hattie, I’m going to lie down now- you take it easy too.

A woman from Connecticut came to stay with us.

She let Charlotte borrow her car to drive to Charlotte’s new job in Corona. Charlotte liked her very much.

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