By Rita Maisel
The research for this week’s column began when a postcard fell out of an old album designed to hold postcards, a fashion of the early 1900s. Probably many homes in our area have discovered similar books. If they did not recognize the scenes they may have sold the cards on e-Bay or tossed out what might by now be a tattered book. I tend to hang on to things. There was no date or stamp on the card that fell out so it must have been handed to one of my aunts or enclosed in a letter or package. The message on the back was from her sister-in-law and mentions a small niece born in January 1913 who she says “can walk good now” and then goes on to give other family news.
Opening the book to about where the card had been stored, postcards with greetings for Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, birthdays and Christmas dated the book and the time it covered to roughly 1910-1915. Most had dated messages, but quite a few were of scenes not available locally. There were important looking buildings, parks, and places nowhere near Cavalier County. The people sending these cards were either relatives living elsewhere or people on trips. Yet, most of the postmarks were Osnabrock or Langdon.
There was a vague memory of a time when my grandmother, who had not been back to Ontario to see her parents for several years, decided she would go by train and spend Christmas with her relatives. We know her father died in 1915 and her mother the last day of 1918 so this trip was a few years before. Never having travelled alone on such a trip, Grandma wanted her husband to go with her. He was not interested so two of the older daughters who had been working away from home decided to go along as they had never met their grandparents personally. Grandpa took them to the train at Osnabrock, and they did well until they got farther along the line and realized that they had no papers to cross the border into Ontario. Citizenship papers were in Grandpa’s name. He must also have realized this predicament. Telegrams were sent back and forth that they were to wait for him in Minneapolis or Chicago – two stops the train would make. While in those places they purchased postcards to send back home to the rest of the family.
Most of the cards were seasonal or decorated, but one stood out as very unusual. The picture is titled “On the Way to a Fire” and shows a modern, for that day, fire engine with ten firemen “in uniform” on board. The uniform was dark pants held up by suspenders (not all standard issue) and long-sleeved shirts, leather boots, and bow ties. Some of the ties are more like a scarf tied into a bow, but most are the regular small size. All 10 are wearing firemen’s hats which were sort of cone shaped with a 2 ½ inch brim all around and decorated with shields on the front. The writing on the shields is too far away to be legible. The hats, ladders and spokes on the wagon are all a bright red! The wagon is pulled by three white draft horses. Nothing on the card, front or back, tells where it was taken, but the background appears to be a city street in front of a building with many windows. The bright colored picture would never have reproduced for a Remember When, but it was interesting and raised the question of where they might have purchased the card plus did the firemen in Langdon ever have uniforms?
Now, if you are reporting a fire ,you can call 911, but who do you ask about firemen of the past? I had a few firemen in mind who are no longer in the phone book and was not sure I know where they might be during a snowy winter. Current firemen I could come up with also operate on cell phones so the best shot was to call one where he worked. He gave me a few suggestions but did not remember seeing any pictures of old fire departments from Langdon – too young for the 1963 Jubilee Book which lists the department at that time and has two pictures. None of the 1963 firemen shown are in uniform. Out of that group five are hopefully alive, and Dick Perius still makes his home in Langdon.
But I still wanted to track down those distinctive red hats so tried the internet and the dates 1910-1915 for answers. The style was “invented” around 1820 and used not only in America but also in some other countries. The hats were made of leather and not just any old leather. Goatskin was the favorite material for nearly a century although they did try out metal (used for helmets by the military of that era), until man-made substances like bakelite, plastic and fiberglass were available. Leather did not heat up like metal and repelled water so the helmets were known as leatherheads. These distinctive hats were painted with red, often a popular color. Also hand-painted were the leather shields the men wore to designate their official positions. When not posing on their wagons, chiefs and at times other members held what looked like a long gold scepter with a trumpet like ending. This might have been a megaphone for giving orders in the bustle of fighting a fire.
And to make a long story short, while learning about their clothing, the internet came up with another version of the same picture- this time with only three or four men on the wagon pulled by two white horses. A sign in the background spelled out Chicago Fire Department. Readers now know as much about the picture as I do, and yes, there are stories of hours spent waiting in the Chicago depot for Grandpa to catch up with the others before proceeding on to Ontario.
Spell it anyway you want……
And then came a phone call from the Walhalla Library. They had received a call from Carol Anne Moore who they thought might live in California. She was researching her grandparents, Adam and Rosie Stremich, who she was sure had lived in Cavalier County. In her search a relative had reached a realtor in Minot named Jeff Stremick, and with his help they had narrowed the search to Walhalla. A phone search had turned up three Walhalla people named Stremick who felt they were not related because the name was spelled with a “k” not an “h”. Try Cavalier County – which apparently was what the lady calling thought she had done! The Walhalla Stremicks could, of course, be no relation, and it is possible that Langdon Stremicks are also not related. There are no obituaries in the clipping file for Adam, Rosie or his brother, Rudolph. But there are lots of clippings for other people named Stremich, Stremick, Stromich, Stroemick and some with unlauts over the “o”. Believe it or not, they all came from Galicia when it was part of Austria, and as near as I can tell, all lived in or near Kaluszh or Dolina, towns that are close together.
However, this was not the first time people have called wanting Stremich/Stremick history so a number of people in Cavalier and Pembina Counties met Doug and Pam Stremick from Iowa who first called and then visited here in the 1990s. In fact, while Pam has died, Doug has continued to call some of us from time to time including quite recently. In their search for history 20 years ago, Doug and Pam acquired baptism and marriage information for Doug’s grandparents, Joseph Stremich and Eleanora Petri, both now buried at Calvary Cemetery in Langdon. That couple had earlier lived in Perry Township on land known as the Tom Sheehan farm. Joseph died in 1919, and his wife stayed here until the children were grown and then moved to Iowa to live near them. When Mrs. Stremich died, she was brought to Langdon for burial as well. Other relatives were known to have remained in the Chicago area. Because they had many other Galician names in their heritage, Doug and Pam enjoyed meeting dozens of possible cousins on visits here. They also continued to work with a researcher in Poland and to share that research with friends and possible relatives in Langdon. Copies of the marriage certificate for Joseph and Eleanora indicate that at the time they were married, the name was spelled Gromich (with an umlaut over the o), and it appears over the years they and other Stremichs who came to Cavalier County used the Stremich/Stremick spellings interchangeably to the extent that obituaries used one spelling and tombstones another in several cases. Were they all related? We do not know.
However, on a listing of Joseph Stremich’s original brothers and sisters, there is the name of his father’s second wife (Anna Wohn) and a list of siblings which include Anna and Adam Stremich (twins) and the names of the people they married more than a century ago as Joseph’s half brother and sister. Whether they were related to the current Stremicks in Langdon or Walhalla or not, we do know they are related to Doug in Iowa. Stay tuned. Doug and his second wife are planning a visit “maybe this summer”.