Emilie Elizabeth Schwinn Flesch:
"When I Was a Child"
Emilie (Amelia) Elizabeth
Schwinn Flesch

known to her grandchildren as

Born in Chicago on October 1, 1896, to Caroline Bonnefoi and William Schwinn

Married on April 6, 1918,
to Arthur Herman Flesch

Died in Chicago on March 29, 1984

Grandmother of Marilyn Doyle
copyright 2002

  We lived in Chicago and, as my dear Mother's illness got worse, our family moved to a larger place from Belmont Avenue, two doors from St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church, to what was then 142 Melrose Street (later they changed the same place to 2218). We were on the second floor -- my Dad, Mother, sister Elsie, Uncle George, Uncle Henry, my Grandma Schwinn, and I. Mother had TB and my sister Elsie was born a blue baby. Her fingernails showed blue skin underneath. 

We had three bedrooms, a homey parlor and kitchen, kerosene lamps, and a wood and coal stove. A coal-burning heater was in the parlor. Our kitchen floor was unfinished and was almost white with scrubbing. Our beds were iron, enameled white. My parents' bed was brass, curved real fancy. Most of the mattresses were dried corn husks. Grandma dried the husks and then would restuff them. We had feather beds of goose down and feathers. Our springs were uncovered coil springs. We had oilcloth on our kitchen table, but had pretty white linen for company. Gas jets were placed in our home but our lamp was kept lit all night in the kitchen on low.

One day Mother got so ill. Uncle George took me to Aunt Minnie and Uncle Oscar's and then he went back home. In no time, he was back and ran all the way home with me. I remember him picking me up and running upstairs. My Grandma hollered out the window, "Hurry!" When we got upstairs, my Mother lay very still. I was four and a half. Grandma had a footstool by the bed and she put me on it and said, "Love your Ma." I recall putting my arms around her neck, but she had her eyes closed. Later Grandma said she had left us. Poor Mom, she was 25 years old on April 10 and this was May 4 of the same year. My sister, who would have been two years old if she had lived until June 1, had died April 13 and, knowing Mom was bad, they put my sister in a vault at Rosehill Cemetery so that at Mom's funeral they could pause there, pick up the little casket, and bury her with Mom in the same grave. Two years after, my Dad married Minnie (Kroll) Schwinn.

My first memory is going into a store marked W. Wieboldts. There was a wide, wide staircase of four or five steps leading to the front door. My Grandma Schwinn had me by the hand and pulled me up the stairs. A counter went all around the small store, all but in front of the door. In the middle were tables side by side with bolts and bolts of dress goods. All kinds of notions were on one side and I remember lots of men's canvas work gloves.

Our front lawn in the "parking" space between sidewalk and street was kept very nice. A green board fence surrounded that and two immense catalpa trees were there.

I just loved them. Their large blossoms would fall before they dried and then bananas (very thin pods) would develop. Two doors away was a lovely willow tree. The flowers from them all scented the whole neighborhood.

Our neighborhood (Melrose between Leavitt and Oakley) had many children. Several were orphans being raised by relatives. Lillian Topel, whose folks were killed when she was very small, was raised by an aunt who also raised her two older brothers, Otto and Fred. Frieda Shroeder was with her grandma, too. One was next door and one across the street.

My Grandma sent me to school about a month before my seventh birthday. My cousin Emma (Mullamen) Kramer took me. I went to a school called the "Branch of the George Schneider School." It was a barn-like wood structure at the corner of Robey (now Damen Avenue) and Belmont. The ground floor was enclosed for storage for the janitor and two toilets (boys and girls), and under the front stairs was a pipe about three feet up from the ground with a faucet on top. A tin cup fastened to the pipe with a brass chain was the place to get a drink or wash our hands. One day I was hit in the nose by a batted ball and I nursed my nose there. We had three rooms: Grade 1, 2, and 3. Later two portable school rooms were put on the grounds near the old school. Miss Joyce was my first teacher, Miss Brickers was second, and my favorite -- a homely looking woman with a big heart -- was Miss Berg in fourth grade. The principal was Miss Fisk and the singing teacher was Miss Ella Flag Young. Now (1969) a playground for young children is on the site. Later, I went on to George Schneider School at Hoyne and Wellington to Grade 8, Room 1, with Miss Maatchman.

In first grade (1903), our class went to German Sharpshooter Park. We each had a note from our folks saying that we could go. We brought 6 cents (3 cents a ride each way on on the Riverview street cars) and we all brought a sandwich. There was a large building on the grounds, lots of picnic benches, and a large band shell. The beer garden had round tables all around and chairs. That area was for grownups and the band played and they sold beer.
A club called the Sharp Shooters used the park. Later rides were added -- first the merry-go-round and then a ferris wheel. The only ride at this time was "Shoot the Chutes," run by a man named Schmidt on the northwest corner of Belmont and Western Avenues. A boat was hoisted to the top of a hill made of boards with a waterfall on it, and the boat went down and hit a pond of water. It was then a nice peaceful park. 

doll buggy

There was great excitement when our street was to be paved with those wooden 5 by 5 inch "pegs." The men used picks and axes to make a deep bed in the street. One block at a time was fenced off. Then the pegs were put in place, sand dumped on, and tar between the cracks.

In 1905, my Grandma let me take my wicker doll buggy and, after promises that a neighbor girl would watch me, she let me join the kids to go to Western Avenue (1-1/2 blocks away) and pick up the pegs being removed from the street to make room to lay the street car tracks and bridges.

In early morning and early evening, we used to watch for the lamplighter, especially in bad weather.

He had an instrument like is used in church to light the candle, only this had something added that was used to turn the gas light down and up.

The dog catcher was also much in evidence and children from a block away would come running to warn all the families.

The waffle man used to come by.

He'd make the waffles in a wagon with windows and then put oodles of powder sugar on them.

Then the scissors grinder would stop and we'd all watch him sitting on one end of the stand on which he had a stone grinder. He'd put water in a tin cup tied above the stone. The cup had a small hole to let the water drip down, and he'd work his feet on the pedals that made the stone go round. He fixed umbrellas, too, soldering them.

The jolliest people were the German Band. They would stop at the corners and then in the middle of the blocks with their "ump-pa-pa." There were always five men and one had the largest horn imaginable.

The frightening time in summer was when the gypsies came. All we children were scared to death. Grandma was always sure to tell me to come in if I saw them. They begged for pennies. So many stories were told of them stealing and taking children, and my Grandma believed these stories. I remember crawling under the bed all the way to the wall. I trembled like a leaf. The gypsies wore lots of beads and bracelets and their dresses were voluminous and had all the brightest colors. They would want to tell the elders their fortunes and look at their hands. 

The ice man used to call his wares. We had a white sign reading "ice" that we put in the window and the ice man would know how big a piece we needed. It cost 10 cents.

A pan was put under the ice box and, boy, you'd better remember to empty it before it would overflow. 

Ice man

In the early morning and evening the street cleaner in his white uniform would push his white cart down the street. he had a push broom and a very large shovel -- this was to clean up the manure made by the horses. 

A man with a large wagon would have vegetables and fruit. He'd call his wares and most all the women came out to buy.

In season, the man would make extra trips with watermelons and then pumpkins.

The weddings in the neighborhood used to be something. We would shivaree and stand around to watch the festivities. We wanted to see the bride and groom leave. Sometimes there were street parties. Not overly exciting for us little children but the teenagers had a good time. 

I remember my first pair of skates. They were iron and the clamps needed a key to fasten them on the soles of our shoes. We kids sure had shoe trouble! The skates would loosen our soles. We had wooden sidewalks and sometimes the wood would warp so we bounced up and down at times. Jacks and jumping rope were number one with us.
The prairies, empty lots near home, had beautiful wild flowers. Where Hamlin Park is at Wellington and Hoyne was one very small cottage. An old widow resided there and on her death the land was sold to make room for the library and park. Along with other flowers, it had the biggest sunflowers I've ever seen. I passed here on the way from and to school.
One of the prettier horse and buggies belonged to a dear friend of my Grandpa Bonnefoi. It was a dark brown horse whose coat was so very shiny and the buggy was made of some kind of reed or cane. The owner was Captain John Schuttler of the fire department next to the police station on Sheffield near Diversey. Grandpa Bonnefoi held court in the police station next to this fire station. At one time he and "Uncle John" took me to see the fire engines and then put me up on Grandpa's court desk or bench.
Grandpa passed away in the early 1900s. Uncle Joe Bonnefoi took over Grandpa Bonnefoi's clientele when he graduated as a full attorney and was located at Wrightwood, Lincoln, and Sheffield Avenues. Later the building was torn down and a White Castle hamburger place was there. 
  My Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Bill Bonnefoi lived half a block away and Uncle Joe, Uncle Henry, and Uncle Charles Bonnefoi lived with them and their young son Bill. Grandma would take me to visit them. Then later she'd put me on the streetcar and I'd go alone each week to visit.

I got off at Wrightwood and Sheffield and it was always thrilling to see the horse team come out of the car barns there, be hitched to the front of the street car, and pull the car into the barns.

They would tug away to get the car in.

Then I'd first stop at Uncle joe's office because that's the way he wanted it. And, he was so nice. One day when I reached the age of 13 years, he had his arm around his secretary and told me they were going to be married and wanted me to make my home with them. My Grandma Schwinn, Uncle Henry, and Uncle George had raised me that far and I couldn't think of ever leaving them, so I told Uncle Joe that I couldn't. Twice after Grandma passed away they asked me again. 

  Fourth of July and Memorial Day were always exciting. Old veterans would visit our schoolrooms days before Memorial Day to tell us thrilling stories of the wars they had been in and sometimes about their buddies that had died. Sometimes classes went to the cemeteries and put a flag on every grave. proud vets marched in the lead of the parades and we stood on the sidelines with our little American flags and were so thrilled. And, Fourth of July meant great celebrating. Cannon crackers were put on the sewer lids and made a tremendous noise. My Dad loved to celebrate that day. He had been too young to be in the war. What a thrill to see our American flag pass by.
horse and wagon

One Memorial Day my cousin Bill Samuelson took his folks and aunts, uncles, and cousins in his grocery wagon. He had made side seats and we children sat on the floor.

We all were to visit Rosehill Cemetery where so many loved ones were. Grandma took me there every week.

We were going under a viaduct at Lawrence Avenue and a streetcar came along right behind us. Bill's horse Nellie wasn't exactly a race horse and I got so frightened. I thought the streetcar would ride into us, so I started screaming and the horse took off in the fastest time possible. Everyone was upset because of me and I wouldn't or couldn't shut up. So the harness broke and there we sat with the horse still running. Bill spent the time outside the cemetery. It happened close to the entrance and was he mad! No stores around or open to get tools to fix it. Don't know how he did it. He's mentioned it in later years, and said he never was so mad before in his life.

St. Patrick's Day -- that was the day. Everyone was Irish, especially my Uncle George. He had red curly hair like my Dad's but he must have weighed 185 pounds and was almost six feet tall. My Dad was 5' 7" and 114 pounds, and wore a size six shoe. My mother also was little, between 5'2" and 5'4" and slim. 

Grandma wouldn't let me outside after dark although on hot nights all the children were out. But I sat on my Uncle George's lap and watched them play under the street light. I loved my Uncle George so much; he could do no wrong. He liked his beer on payday and would stop in the saloon of John Altman just a few doors from our home. Sometimes Grandma would have to send me to remind him to come home and eat.

One St. Patrick's Day (no work that day!) he joined the parade and they ended at John Altman's. At that time beer was 5 cents a glass and lunch was free. in the corner of the saloon was a square table of bread and many kinds of lunch meat and cheeses. The men didn't have to go home, and Uncle George stayed. When he walked the short way home, he just flopped himself on the inside stairs. My Grandma was scolding him from the top of the stairs. I told him to put his arm over my shoulder and I'd help him. I coaxed him, so he did. I must have been nine or ten. Finally he was up the stairs. I held one hand on the banister and his hand that was around my neck. He got into the bedroom and flopped on the bed after I steered him. I took off his shoes and tie and coat, of course, and Grandma told him what a disgrace he was. He started to answer a bit loud and I put my mouth to his ear and said, "Don't answer, don't answer. She's right, you know, but don't answer." He didn't and I put my cheek to his. I felt he couldn't help it and I loved him so much.

Sometimes I'd go to a birthday party where they would show magic lantern slides and then ice cream and cake were served.

We would play London Bridge Is Falling Down, Follow the Leader, Drop the Handkerchief, and Post Office when with boys. 

Our neighbors downstairs, Mr. and Mrs. William Albrecht, used to make smoked sausages, hams, and other meat like they had in Germany. Their smokehouse was put in the middle of the yard and they burned hickory limbs. Those odors were out of this world. They made those to be ready for Christmas.

On Saint Nicholas Day, which I think is around December 5, candy and nuts were the treat. Grandma was in the kitchen and nuts came flying in the kitchen door. While I picked them up, open flew the front door, and candy and nuts came in there, too.

iron stove

We had kerosene lamps, gas light, and a wood stove with a warming oven. There was a reservoir attached to the back of the stove so we could have hot water when the stove was lit.

Paper, wood scraps, and larger wood sprinkled with a little bit of kerosene got the stove going.

Lamp chimneys were cleaned by rubbing with newspaper. They came out shining. 


We had to run from the second-floor back door down an open stairway and go under the last stairway to the toilet room.

Above, near the ceiling, was a "flush box" that held the water to flush the toilet. The toilet continued to the tile that led to the sewer. A handle attached to the flush box had a chain hanging down; it was pulled and the water ran down a pipe into the toilet. From the floor beside the toilet was a plain pipe. It had a "T" screwed on it and a six-inch pipe screwed to that. That shut off the water standing in the top box in winter.

Another toilet of the home was next to ours with boards between for privacy. That one belonged to the people downstairs (on the same floor as the toilets), but both were built on the one end of their porch, side by side.

There was great excitement when the clanging fire engines passed by. A big brass cylinder was in the middle of a low truck, and the back had a platform for firemen to stand on and keep poking wood in the bottom opening. We could see it blaze. Ladders were hanging on another truck and the big powerful horses were running like mad. Bells would be clanging and ropes seemed to be hanging everywhere on the vehicles.

They'd attach a hose to a water trough and the kids went crazy playing there as the water would squirt out around the plug. Seemed they never worked without leaking. But children never got on the trucks like they do now. They took orders and obeyed their elders with no back talk. 

FAMILY MEMBERS -- maternal side

Emilie (Amelia) Schwinn Flesch -- "Mammy" to her grandchildren, and "Toots" to her sons-in-law -- was born on October 1, 1896, in Chicago, Illinois. She married Arthur Herman Flesch -- "Pappy" -- on April 6, 1918. They had met when coming home from Riverview Park Skating Rink at the end of 1916.

At age 16, Emilie and a partner danced exhibition dancing (the Hesitation Waltz with the "big dip") on the stage of the Lincoln Theatre and won fourth prize. They danced later out of town and won second prize, coming in behind a professional team.
Mammy's mother, Caroline Bonnefoi, was one of the seven children of Johann Heinrich (Henry) Bonnefoi and his wife, Emilie Auguste Kretzschmar (Steuernagel). Caroline was born on April 10, 1876, in Chicago and died of tuberculosis on May 4, 1901. Caroline's brothers and sisters were William Kaiser (Uncle Bill Bonnefoi, the child of Caroline's mother by a previous marriage, who married Aunt Lizzie), Joseph Bonnefoi (Uncle Joe Bonnefoi, who married his secretary Hallie Colburn), Emma Bonnefoi, Bertha Bonnefoi, Henry Joseph Bonnefoi Jr. (Uncle Henry Bonnefoi), and Charles Carl Ludwig Bonnefoi (Uncle Charles).
Mammy's maternal grandfather Johann Heinrich (Henry) Bonnefoi is the "Grandpa Bonnefoi" in the story. He was born on December 20, 1849, in Kassel, Germany, and had at least one brother, George, who died in Germany at age 15. Henry supposedly ran away from home around age 14 because hs parents were going to make him become a priest. He got a job on a boat to pay his passage to America. He came to the U.S. in 1867, and to Chicago around 6 years later. Henry first worked in Chicago as a journalist for the "Abendpost" and other German daily newspapers. Later he published the Lake View "Tribune," a German Republican weekly. In 1888, he was appointed Deputy Postmaster of the Lake View postal Station. In 1895, he was named Justice of the Peace, and later was named Police Magistrate of Chicago. He held court at the police station on Sheffield near Diversey. His law office was at Wrightwood, Lincoln, and Sheffield. An 1896 publication states that Henry "is a prominent member of the 25th Ward Republican Club, and is one of the most popular German-Americans in the North Division of the city." Henry died November 27, 1902. 

Emilie Auguste Kretzschmar (Steuernagel) Bonnefoi was Caroline's mother and Mammy's maternal grandmother. She was born October 19, 1849, probably in Germany, and came to the U.S. in 1867. She and Henry Bonnefoi were married around 1875. She died December 24, 1895, a year before Mammy was born.

FAMILY MEMBERS -- paternal side

Mammy's father William Schwinn was one of the 13 children of Peter Schwinn and his wife Katherine Geller. William was born on October 17 of about 1877 in Chicago. He married Caroline Bonnefoi in 1895, and they had two children: Emilie Schwinn (known as Amelia Schwinn from childhood until almost the time of her death) and Elsie Schwinn, who was born June 1, 1899, and died April 13, 1901, a month before Caroline died. About two years after Caroline's death, William remarried to Minnie Kroll. William died in April of 1919. William's 13 siblings included Minnie (Aunt Minnie who married Oscar Samuelson; their son Bill Samuelson is also mentioned in the story), John, Theodore, Louis, Amelia, George (Uncle George), Mary (who married Frank Card), and Henry (Uncle Henry Schwinn). 

Katherine Geller Schwinn was William's mother and Mammy's paternal grandmother. She is the "Grandma Schwinn" in the story -- the woman who raised Mammy after her mother's death. Katherine was born June 3, 1835, in Germany. She came to the U.S. in 1848 with her mother's sister, husband, and son. They lived in Buffalo, N.Y., where she married Peter Schwinn. She died December 2, 1911. Katherine's parents were John and Kate Geller of Hessen Darmstadt, Germany.


William's father (Mammy's paternal grandfather) was Peter Schwinn. He was born around 1830 in Germany. He married Katherine Geller in Buffalo, New York and later moved to Chicago. He was first a shoemaker and by 1871 had a new factory with 14 employees.

He became a fireman after his factory burned down in the Great Chicago Fire. He died in 1895, a year before Mammy was born.

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last updated 11/24/2008