Train Accident. Family Tragedy. Connecting the Dots.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of my late grandfather, Glenn Wendt, who was born in Deuel County, Nebraska in1918. Glenn’s life symbolizes a man who was hard-working, gentle, funny, but very private, especially about his upbringing.
It was only after his death-years ago-that I learned more about the tragedy that befell his family. As a child at around five years of age, his life had changed overnight! This is THE family story, which transformed what had been an interest in genealogy into a passionate, personal (and later a professional) journey! As I traced my Wendt line further, there was no turning back, especially since I had also discovered my Prussian roots!
Family Lore and the Facts
When I was growing up, the family lore, which had been passed down over the generations, was that my grandfather’s family was split up due to the head injury which his father, my great-grandfather, Hugo Wendt, had suffered in a train accident. In other words, the family narrative was that Hugo’s head injury suffered because of the train accident was the basis for splitting up the family. Regardless of this family narrative, the end result was that the girls left with their mother, my great-grandmother, Elsie Wendt, for California and the boys remained with their father in Nebraska.
As horrible as these events certainly were, however, there were other pieces to the family puzzle which were not handed down. It took countless hours of personal research via primarily online historical newspaper research to discover that the train accident had actually taken place long before in 1900, while the family's separation took place in 1923. In between this period which had spanned almost a quarter of a century, Hugo Wendt had finished law school, made an unsuccessful run for Congress, settled down and got married and owned a dry goods store. All the while, he wrote thought-provoking articles in the various major Nebraska newspapers on what were controversial issues of the day, such as his view that Prohibition (of alcohol) was immoral. Consequently, one would think that given all of these extraordinary accomplishments that the earlier train accident would not have played a direct role in breaking up the Wendt Family. More recent historical online newspaper research paints a much more highly complex picture.
A Wonderful Role Model
Undoubtedly, this family tragedy shaped my late grandfather’s life. He suffered with this childhood family loss for his entire life. While he could have adopted false coping mechanisms or addictions in an effort to mask the pain, he was absolutely courageous in this regard! He did his duty, having served honorably in World War II as a First lieutenant in the US Army.
He was a devoted husband and father. He faithfully provided for his family by working the graveyard shift for many years as a linotype operator for a few newspapers. He was an excellent grandfather. I am grateful to him, my late grandmother and other loving family members (both living and deceased) for their example and for all of the wonderful family memories that we were able to share together at family parties and other events over the years!
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