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Wahn and Wilbers Family History
Sophia Augusta Haunert Wahn 1903-1994

     The life and times of Sophia span over ninety years.  Ninety years of our nation’s timeline that brought feast and famine, war and peace.  There were personal tragedies that gripped her young heart with deep sorrow and shaped a need so strong for family you could not tell where Sophia ended and her family began.  

     In Newport, Kentucky, William (Will) and Martha (Mattie) Betsch Haunert were the young parents of a daughter Elizabeth, age 3 when Sophia arrived on Friday the 9th of January 1903.  She was named after her godparents.  Sophia Haunert was her father’s sister and August Haunert his brother.  Sophia was born at 846 York Street, in an apartment on the second floor, above the shoe store where Uncle August worked.  

     The year Sophia was born, Theodore Roosevelt was president and there were 45 states in the Union.  In December the Wright Brothers made the first flight in an airplane changing the world forever.  Also in 1903, legends Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Lou Gehrig were born.

     Around 1905 the family moved to 911 Ann Street in Newport and brother John William was born.  Named for his grandfather John and his father William he was always called Jack.  

     Sophia’s younger sister, Florence was born the day after Sophia’s seventh birthday on 10 January 1910.  The family now lived at 1111 Central Avenue, two blocks from Will’s parents, John and Theresia.  Shortly after Flo was born, the Haunerts moved to their new home on Second Avenue in Dayton, Kentucky.  In June of 1912 brother Clifford was born, Arizona became the 48th state and the Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage.  While its sinking has been immortalized in our generation, I wonder what impact the tragedy of the Titanic had on Sophia, nine years old at the time.  Her home was just a few hundred feet from the great Ohio River and perhaps she had already experienced a sinking boat or barge in her young life. 

     Second Avenue was the street where Sophia’s grandfather John bought homes for most of his children.  Sophie’s childhood home was next door to her Uncle August and Aunt Alice.  Her cousin Alice was also born in 1903 and the girls probably went to school together at St. Francis Catholic School now St. Bernard’s on Berry Street.  The walk from home was about three blocks.

     Sophia lost her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Grossmann Betsch in 1915.  Her death was the first of many over the next few years.  Elizabeth was 74 and lived with her daughter Maggie Thiel near St. Francis Church.  It is likely that Sophia had some kind of relationship with her grandmother but the extent of which is unknown.

       Later that same year, Will Haunert grew ill and was diagnosed with the deadly disease tuberculosis, the same disease that took his older brother, Bernard just two years earlier.  It was believed that fresh, dry and cold air would help the afflicted breathe easier.  So a special porch was built onto the Second Avenue house and there Will spent most of the fall and winter of 1915.  His family attended to his needs over those long months.  I’m sure many family members came to visit him even though the disease was contagious.  Young Stell Braun recalls visiting Uncle Will a few times and never worried that she might get sick. 

     Tuberculosis was thought to be a hereditary disease aggravated by humid air, damp soil, lack of exercise, inadequate diet, and overcrowded and poorly ventilated housing. However, in 1882, A German physician discovered that the microscopic bacteria traveled in tiny droplets of moisture floating in the air and were impossible to destroy unless exposed to heat or light. Since most infections came from people with pulmonary TB, such people needed to be isolated to check the spread of the disease.

     Early symptoms often went undetected, and not until a person lost weight, contracted a dry cough, a rising afternoon fever and night sweats was it assured that he or she had "consumption." Advanced stages would be manifest in severe chest pains and bloody sputum produced by hemorrhages in the lungs.

     Will suffered those long months mostly outside on the porch in the cold.  Average temperatures in January and February are in the mid-30s and would have created additional health concerns for he and the members of his family who spent so much time with him. 

     Sophia described her father’s death to me many years ago.  “He was sick for a long time and lived on the porch that was built especially for him.  Then one day, he coughed up his lung into a bucket and died.”  I recall her saying it almost just this way and thinking that it must have been horrible to see your father suffer and then die.  For Sophie it could not have felt as trite as she put it to me especially since she was thirteen years old, very young and very impressionable. 

     Mattie, 36, was now a single mother with five children ranging in age from four to sixteen.  Will was a life insurance salesman with the Western Southern Life Insurance Company in Covington for twelve years before his illness and hopefully he left his family with a bit of financial stability.  Lizzie and Sophie did not attend high school and quit school altogether around the age of twelve or thirteen.  They were seamstresses during their teens, I suspect working from home either helping their grandparents in their home tailoring business or as piecework.  It is likely they helped their mother with the housework and tending to the younger children.  It appears that Mattie did not take a job after Will’s death. 

     Three months after Will passed away, his parents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary and a great party was held on Second Avenue.  The entire family with exception of one granddaughter attended the day’s festivities. 

     The United States entered World War I when it declared war on Germany in April of 1917.  Anti-German sentiment was strong in the Cincinnati area but all of the Haunerts living in 1917 were America born with the exception of Theresia, Sophia’s paternal grandmother.  She left Germany with her parents and a brother in 1859.  Now almost 50 years later, she probably held few loyalties or corresponded with family in the Old Country.

     In June of 1919 John Haunert, Sophia’s grandfather died and two weeks later Woodrow Wilson signed the treaty at Versailles ending the Great War.  Despite illnesses contracted during his short stint in the Civil War in 1865, John lived to the age of 76.  He and Theresia were living with their daughter Sophia Haunert Speier on Second Avenue at the time, the family providing care to the elder Haunerts in their advanced age.  When John died, he and Theresia had been married for 53 years and one month.  Quite an accomplishment!

     The next year began an era of abandonment this country had never seen and was an eventful decade for Sophia.  The Roaring Twenties were ushered in when her mother remarried.  Thomas Edward Huff – called Ed became her stepfather.  He was an insurance salesman and a veteran of the war.  Younger than Mattie by about twelve years, the newlyweds kept the house on Second Avenue.  Sophie’s sister Elizabeth married Vincent Nieman the same year and it is believed they lived with Mattie and family. 

     Both Lizzie and Sophia worked at the Wadsworth Watchcase Factory in Dayton for a few years.  The factory was at Fourth and Clay Streets, six blocks from the Second Avenue house.  The girls’ Aunt Maggie and Uncle Joe owned a café called “Thiel’s Café” across the street and it probably provided a good place to rest and visit with family after a long day.

     Ed and Mattie Huff had a daughter, Charlotte, in May of 1920 and the following July, Elizabeth and Vincent had a son, Raymond.  The family must have been overjoyed to have new babies in the family especially the first grandson for Mattie who doted on him all her life.  But tragedy struck again in February 1923 when Lizzie fell victim to tuberculosis and died when her son was just eighteen months old.  She was 23 and had been married for two and a half years. 

     People say that Sophie and Lizzie were very close.  Mattie never got over the loss of Elizabeth – Charlotte remembers her mother crying out for “My Lizzie” many times over the years.  Vincent moved to his parent’s home with his young son Ray and his grandmother, Katherine Lonnemann took charge of the infant.  Mattie cared for Ray as well, bringing him to her home for weeks at a time while he was a boy.  None in the Haunert family ever lost touch with Ray.  He was an important family member and the Haunerts were important to him.  Ray’s story is one that needs space of its own to be told.

     After Lizzie’s death, Sophia became the mainstay for her mother by helping at home and bringing in a paycheck from the watchcase factory.  She was not a shy girl and must have had many young men pay attention to her.  The beaches of Dayton were just across the street from her home on Second Avenue providing a playground of sorts and a place to hang out with girlfriends and meet boys.  One girlfriend was Catherine Gastright whom Sophia described to me as her best friend.  I believe Catherine grew up in the same neighborhood as Sophia and probably attended school or maybe worked at the watchcase factory too. 

     In March 1924 the family sold the house on Second Avenue and moved to Fort Thomas.  That probably meant the end of working at Wadsworth’s since the commute would be difficult and lengthy.  Sometime during the twenties, Charlotte was said to have fallen off the porch and from her injury she contracted polio.  She had braces for many years and wore special shoes all her life. 

     As Sophia reached age 21 there were speakeasies, flappers, Model T’s, and jazz music signaling a cultural evolution if not a revolution. An area of conflict was the changing role of women in American society. The transformation from an agrarian economy to an industrial one created new opportunities for women, particularly single young women. Now enjoying the freedom that comes from having an independent source of income, many women created a new culture for themselves that centered on consumer culture and mass entertainment. Many, however, considered the new woman to be a threat to social morality and opposed the flapper, the icon of the new woman in the 1920s, and what she represented.  Moreover, attitudes toward women were changing during this period, and it became more acceptable for women to drink -- and to drink socially with men. 

     Prohibition, enacted in 1919 by the Volstead Act, meant closing of neighborhood bars which in turn led to corruption, speakeasies, and homemade concoctions like bathtub gin and home brew.  Many Haunert men ran saloons at various times over the years including Will, Sophia’s father.  Restrictions on alcoholic beverages and beer in particular would have left a gap in the social life of the Haunert family members not easily remedied over the next thirteen years.  

     In 1920 women had earned the right to vote.  For Sophia her first chance at exercising that right in a Presidential Election came in 1924 when candidates included Republican and current President Calvin Coolidge, Democrat John Davis, and the Progressive party’s Robert LaFollette.  Interestingly, this election is credited with development of radio as a communication tool for the country.  The Democratic convention and hundreds of speeches were broadcast across the country to the millions of radio “receivers” that American’s had purchased over the last decade. 

     Coolidge's final speech was on a record 26 stations, coast-to- coast. It was estimated that his audience was the largest in history to listen to one man speak.  Coolidge's speech was non-partisan; he simply urged citizens to vote, then finished, "To my father, who is listening in my old home in Vermont, and to my other invisible audience, I say 'good night'". Many listeners remembered the personal warmth of his ending.

     Americans went to the polls the next day, and the following evening almost every station in the country carried election returns in some form, with an estimated twenty million people tuning in. Many stations received the national results from the wire services and made other arrangements for state and local offices. Music and variety programs usually filled in the gaps between reports. WLW in Cincinnati interspersed the returns with a comedy program.
The states of Kentucky and Ohio voted in favor of President Coolidge and thus he won in a landslide victory.

     In 1925 the infamous “Scopes Trial” took place in Dayton, Tennessee.  John T. Scopes, a high school biology teacher was accused of teaching evolution in the classroom, and the trial took on a life of its own when prominent politician William Jennings Bryan agreed to serve as prosecutor while famed lawyer Clarence Darrow came to Scopes' defense.  Today we think of Evolution as a normal course of study but in 1925 and especially to Catholics, Darwinism was nearly blasphemy.  This was yet another significant event in the 1920s creating headlines when Americans and especially its youth began to embrace new ideas and shed the past.  Sophia, her siblings and friends were right in the midst of these exciting yet turbulent times.

     Another significant event of the Roaring 20s were movies and then mid-decade the introduction of sound.  Screen heros and divas were immortalized and idolized.  Defining women's roles was a major preoccupation of the 1920s and Mary Pickford, the biggest star of the silent film era was "America's Sweetheart."  Pickford became famous playing the "good" girl. She was always loyal, always pure, but also very fun-loving.  Parents hoped their daughters would grow up to be like her.  The alternative was to grow up to be like Louise Brooks, a “flapper”.  Brooks was not nearly so big a star but did exert an extraordinary cultural influence.  Her haircut, the "Bob," became all the rage. She too played "good" girls but she also played girls who dressed up as boys. And she played chorus girls, girls who swung across nightclub stages on trapezes wearing costumes made of feathers.

     Flappers were part of something quite new in American culture, a self-conscious generation who had their own styles of dress, their own dances and music, their own slang. It is said that girls "parked" their corsets when they were to go dancing.  The new, energetic dances of the Jazz Age, required women to be able to move freely, something the "ironsides" didn't allow.  Replacing the pantaloons and corsets were underwear called "step-ins."  Never before had American parents had to deal with "Flaming Youth."  Never before had Americans generally had to deal with the influence of mass media. Movie stars went to nightclubs, danced to jazz orchestras, drove luxurious automobiles. Ordinary Americans, in ever increasing numbers, did likewise. Nightclubs, often illegal speakeasies, sprouted up in every mid-sized city. Dance bands, already common, proliferated.  Middle America developed a taste for "sophistication," a development which alarmed self-appointed protectors of the nation's morals. They were horrified as young women started smoking cigarettes, society matrons started wearing dresses that showed their knees, college students started holding "petting parties."  Especially they were alarmed by the widespread defiance of the Volstead Act, the measure adopted to enforce Prohibition.

     So imagine Sophia and her girlfriends and the young men she knew and dated living in an era filled with vice, excess and a spirit of freedom never before experienced in America.  She was unquestionably influenced by the early loss of dear family members as well as the society within which she lived and worked. 

     It is believed that sometime during the 20s Sophia started calling herself Marge or that friends or a relative named her that.  She always hated the name Sophia or Sophie.  I remember my grandfather calling her Soph from time to time so I know her real name did not disappear.  I will refer to her as Sophie throughout this story.

     In 1981 I asked Sophie how she met her husband Elmer Wahn and this is what she told me along with some other information thrown in for context.
Elmer lived in Covington at 11th and Scott Streets and Sophie lived in Fort Thomas so their relationship did not develop from being neighbors.  It began when a friend of Elmer’s asked him to date Sophie and they went out once.  I would suspect it was a double date.  After that one time, she didn’t see him for a while.  They probably ran in different circles for the most part and got together when one group of friends met up with another at a dance, party or picnic. 

     Mattie liked Elmer and encouraged her daughter to date him again.  Finally, Elmer asked Sophie out some time later and she declined telling him that she had plans to go out with her girlfriends.  She had lied to Elmer.  In reality, she had a date with a young man named Lou Bischoff and they were going “over town” to a show.  “Over town” is how you said you were going over the Ohio River to Cincinnati.  They took a bus from some point in Northern Kentucky to the terminal in Cincinnati – probably the same Dixie Terminal where the Green Line buses reached the end of the line, dropping their Kentucky passengers into downtown Cincinnati.

     As Lou and Sophie disembarked from the bus she looked up and there stood a group of young men, among them was Elmer.  She had been caught in her lie about her plans for the evening.  Sophie didn’t enjoy the show at all and Lou noticed.  He remarked after their date, “You sure must be in love if you can’t enjoy the show.”  After that she started seeing Elmer a lot.  They had a long courtship.

     In 1927 Lindbergh made the infamous solo Trans-Atlantic flight and in July 1928 Sophie’s brother Jack married Carrie Sprague in Fort Thomas.  In October 1929 the stock market crashed and threw the nation into a depression it would not recover from for over ten years.  Sophie had a job as a button hole maker at a shirt factory with her sister Flo who was a shirt maker.  Cliff worked at a printing shop.  And in March of 1929, Sophia's grandmother, Theresia Weier Haunert died.

     Elmer, who was also employed in a print ship as a linotype operator, wanted to marry but Sophie refused because she wanted to live at home and help her mother.  Finally Elmer got tired of waiting and Sophie mentioned this to her mother.  Mattie said, “I was wondering when you two were going to get married.” 

     On August 7, 1930 Elmer Frederick Wahn and Sophia Augusta Haunert were married by Father Herbert Hillenmeyer in the Rectory of St. Thomas Church.  Elmer wasn’t Catholic so the couple could not be joined in the traditional Catholic manner.  Their best man was a good friend of Elmer’s Harry Lindemann.  Flo was Maid of Honor and Marge Lindemann was a bridesmaid.  A small reception was held at Joe and Angie Thiel’s home, a cousin of Sophie’s on 5th Street in Dayton, Kentucky. 

     Elmer and Sophie’s wedding picture shows the simplicity of the ceremony.  It was a clear, warm, sunny day.  Elmer is wearing a dark suit with a broad striped tie and a flower pinned to his lapel.  Sophie is elegant in a sleeveless, mid-calf, floral dress with a layered drop waist bodice.  She is wearing long strands of pearls and a floppy light-colored hat over her bobbed hair.  Her outfit is quite “flapper like”.

     After their wedding, Elmer and Sophie went to Indian Lake for their honeymoon.  This was a favorite vacation spot for many years to come.  The guests threw rice at the couple and it was still on the car as they left for the lake in a rainstorm.  Sophie recalled to me the rice was stuck to the car and it didn’t come off after the rain stopped. 

     When they returned from their honeymoon they lived with Mattie and Ed in Fort Thomas for a few months.  They had purchased land and were having a home built with Elmer’s parents, Laura and William “Pop” Garner.  The house was on a new street called Madison Court perched on the side of the hillside known as Monte Casino. On top of that hill was the former monastery and winery of the Benedictine Monks who had vacated the area in the late 1800s.  The little church known as the “Worlds Littlest Chapel” stood on that hill until it was moved to Thomas More College in the mid-1960s. 

     You have reached the end of the current work on this chapter of the Haunert Family History.  Sophia’s story is one of four chapters on the history of this great family.  Many thanks to Carol Darpel for her help on this chapter so far. 

Sophia Haunert
circa 1920

Sophia Haunert and Catherine Gastright
near St. Bernard's School circa 1920

Haunert Nieman Wedding 28 Sep 1920
Lizzie, Sophia, William Enzweiler, Vincent Nieman

Elizabeth Haunert Nieman with son Raymond
2nd Avenue, Dayton, Kentucky circa 1922

Sophia and Elmer with Marge Lindemann
One of the beaches in Dayton, Kentucky ca 1927

Sophia Haunert and Elmer Wahn
Possibly their engagement photo - circa 1929

Wahn Haunert Wedding Party 7 August 1930
Harry & Marge Lindemann, Florence Haunert, Sophia and Elmer


Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Wahn
7 August 1930 Ft. Thomas, Kentucky

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