Man rescued from fiery trap

Last week’s challenge from 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks was “fire”.  I am a little late in posting this time.  Today’s post is about my husband’s aunt, uncles, and cousin and the house originally owned by  his grandfather.

Early on Monday March 9, 1959 a fire started in the first-floor living room of 4916 W. 32nd Place, Cicero, Cook, Illinois and quickly spread to the rest of the house.  By the time the fireman arrived the fire was already eating away at the attic walls.  Fire equipment was called to the scene from Morton Park, Warren Park, Clyde and Hawthorne fire stations.   Bystanders alerted the firemen that a man was still in the building.  They rushed in and found Eugene Jelen, a tenant, unconscious on the second floor between the kitchen and a hallway door.  The Firemen carried him down a stairway to safety.  Eugene suffered from smoke inhalation and second and third degree burns on the left side of his body.  If the fireman had arrived a few seconds later Eugene would have died.  Leo Gorski, owner of the building, was also hurt with first and second degree burns on his hand.  It is not known if the others who lived there were home at time.  The firemen deduced that the fire started in the first floor living room by a cigarette. The damage to the 70 year old building was $8,000 and $4,000 for the contents.[1]  Leo had no insurance on the house so they were unable to rebuild.  What was left of the house was sold, torn down, and a new house built by new owners.  Leo and his brother Stanley rented an apartment across the alley.  Constance, John, and Eugene Jelen moved to another apartment in Cicero.[2]

My husband’s grandfather, Stanley Gorski, bought the house sometime during the 1920’s.[3]  Stanley emigrated from Poland to the United States in 1891 and settled in Cicero, Cook, Illinois where he and his wife Mary raised seven children.[4]  Stanley worked in a stone quarry and for a railroad during his life and somehow managed to save enough money to buy a house at 4916 W. 32nd Place in Cicero.[5] 

The building was a two flat with a ground floor basement.  In 1930 Stanley and his wife are living in one unit with four of their sons, Stanley Jr., Leo, Chester, and Felix.  Their daughter, Constance, is living in the other unit with her husband, John Jelen, and two children, Eugene and Geraldine.  Also living in the house is his married son, John, with his wife, Frances and their son, John Jr.[6]  My husband said that there were rooms in the basement so perhaps that is where John, Francis, and their son lived.  By 1951 the only ones left living in the house were Stanley Jr. and Leo living on the first floor, and Constance and her family living on the second floor.[7] 

In Cicero the houses are close together with a gangway between them, but on one side of this house is an empty space, room enough for another house.  But in 1930 – 1960 this space remained empty and was part of the property at 4916 W. 32nd Place.  The entire yard was fenced in and there was a garage in back.[8]   Mary passed away in 1933[9] and Stanley passed away in 1951[10] leaving the house to his son Leo.[11]  Too bad there was such a tragic end to this house that Stanley worked so hard to purchase back in the 1920’s.

Here is the original newspaper article:

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Copyright © 2020 Gail Grunst

[1] Berwyn Life , (Berwyn Illinois), 11 March 1959, Page 5.

[2] Person knowledge from their nephew, Bruce Grunst.

[3] Year: 1930; Census Place: Cicero, Cook, Illinois; Page: 32A; Enumeration District: 2099; FHL microfilm: 2340233.  Source Information: 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002.  Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Year: 1900; Census Place: Cicero, Cook, Illinois; Page: 22; Enumeration District: 1150; FHL microfilm: 1240292  Source Information: 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.

[6] Year: 1930; Census Place: Cicero, Cook, Illinois; Page: 32A; Enumeration District: 2099; FHL microfilm: 2340233  Source 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002.  Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.

[7] Personal knowledge from their nephew, Bruce  Grunst

[8] Ibid.

[9] Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: “Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916–1947.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2010. Index entries derived from digital copies of original records.

[10] Chicago Tribune, (Chicago, Illinois), 18 December 1951, Page 45.

[11] Berwyn Life , (Berwyn Illinois), 11 March 1959, Page 5.

Long Line at Western Electric

This weeks 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompt is long line.

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In 1905 Western Electric Company built a large factory complex in Cicero, Illinois.  It was named Hawthorne works after the original name of the town Hawthorne, later incorporated into Cicero.  Hawthorne produced telephone equipment and also some consumer products such as refrigerators and fans.  The Hawthorne plant employed 45,000 people at the height of its operation.[1]

My husband had a long line of family members that worked for Western Electric that included his father, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Some of the family members working for Western Electric moved on to other jobs, but not his father and brother. 

His father, Elmer Grunst, started working for Western Electric in 1918.[2]  He started out as a draftsman and worked his way up to supervisor in the equipment engineering department at the Canal Street location in Chicago.  He was active in the science and the flower and garden clubs.  He was a member of Hawthorne Chapter, Telephone Pioneers of America.[3] Elmer retired from Western Electric in January 1962 after 43 years of service. A retirement party was held at the American Legion Hall in Riverside, Illinois, and in spite of 10 degrees below zero weather over 200 people showed up.[4] 

Elmer, Gary, Bernie Grunst 1971 (2)

Elmer’s son also named Elmer went to work for Western Electric shortly after serving in WWII.  Elmer as a newcomer in 1946 scored 11 points for the Western Electric Engineer’s basketball team.  Further down in the same article his cousin Elmer Weis is mentioned, another example of a family member working for Western Electric.[5]  Throughout his years he played on many teams for the Western Electric.  In addition to basketball, Elmer played baseball, football, boxing, golf, and bowling.  There may even be some other sport that I have forgotten.  Elmer was a very athletic person.  If my memory serves me right, Elmer retired from Western Electric shortly before it closed in 1983.[6]  Elmer retired with about 37 years of service. 

The two Elmer’s combined worked at Western Electric 70 years. 

Copyright © 2020 Gail Grunst


[2] Berwyn Life (Berwyn Illinois), W.E. To Honor 40-Year Vets, 7 December 1958, Sun, Pg.6

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brookfield Citizen (Brookfield, Illinois), 25 January 1962, Pg. 13

[5] Berwyn Life (Berwyn, Illinois), Four way tie in W. E. Cage Loop, 1 March 1946, Fri, Pg 8


Favorite Picture

Dorothy in Center, Left her grandmother (Eva) on right her mother (Helen)

The theme this week for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is favorite picture.  This fits in nicely with what I have been doing lately and that is posting pictures and telling a story to go with the picture.  I have many favorite pictures so it was hard to pick just one. This happens to be one of my favorite pictures because it is three generations of strong women.  The picture  was taken in 1938.  From the left is my great-grandmother, Eva Bowers, my mother, Dorothy Kaiser (age 14), and my grandmother, Helen Kaiser nee Bowers.  I think the picture was  probably taken in front of my great-grandmother’s place in Chicago.  By 1938 my grandparents were living in Villa Park, Illinois and this is not their home.  I wish I could have been in the picture to make it four generations, but I was not born yet and by the time I came along, Eva had already passed away.  I never knew Eva, but heard a lot about her from my mom and grandma.  Eva was born in Heidelberg, Baden, Germany to Johann Konrad Reinhardt and Anna Maria Schwebler on February 14, 1877. [1] Eva came to the United States when she was almost two years old.[2]  Her brother John was born on the boat.[3]  Her first home in the United States was in Amana, Iowa.[4]  They spent a few years in Amana and then moved to Ottawa, Illinois where Eva grew up with her brothers and sisters.[5]   Eva grew into a young woman and sometime around 1896 she married Robert Bowers also of Ottawa, Illinois.[6]  The family story is that Robert and Eva ran off to Chicago to be married.  I have never been able to find a marriage record for them in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. According to family stories, Robert’s family never accepted Eva as his wife or acknowledged that any of the children were Roberts.  I started to wonder if they were ever really married and that is why Robert’s family didn’t want anything to do with Eva or their children.  However, when Robert’s father died, Robert and Eva as his wife signed a quit-claim deed to a piece of property to Robert’s mother.[7]  I was told that if they were not married, Eva would not need to sign the quit-claim deed.  Perhaps they were married somewhere other than Chicago.  Robert and Eva had three children, Ralph born in 1897,[8] Helen in 1898[9] and Frances in 1900. [10]  Shortly after Frances was born Robert left Eva.  Again family stories say they were divorced, however I have never found divorce records for them.  In 1900 Eva was on her own and had to make a living for her and her three kids.  She raised the three kids alone and I believe this made her a strong woman.

My grandmother and mother did not have easy lives and to survive all their trials and tribulations they had to be strong.  My grandmother died at age 82 and my mother at age 62.  I believe my mother’s early death was caused by some of the problems in her life.

Copyright ©2019 Gail Grunst


[1] Certificate of Death for Eva Bowers;  State of Illinois, Department of Public health, Division of Vital Statistics, Springfield, Illinois, Registration Number 34633. Date of death: December 23, 1941; Place of death: County of Cook, City of Chicago.

[2] Ira A. Glazier and P. William Filbry, ed., Germans to America: List of passengers arriving at U.S. ports, Volume 34 October 1878 – December 1879; ( Wilmington, Delaware, Scholarly Resources,1993), Page 106.

[3] Ibid

[4] Conrad Reinhardt household, 1880 U. S. Census, Amana, Iowa; Roll 345; Family History Film 1254345; page 146D; Enumeration District 201; Image 0155.

[5] From family stories told to this author.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Quit-claim deed record from Robert Bowers and Eva Bowers, his wife to Alexena Bowers, City of Ottawa, County of LaSalle, state of Illinois; deed book 448, page 167.  LaSalle County Illinois Genealogical Guild collection.

[8] Eva Bowers household, 1900 U. S. Federal  Census, LaSalle County, Ottawa township, ED 76, line 37, page 6, dwelling 557, fmily124, National Archives film publication T623, roll 317.

[9] Delayed Record of Birth for Helen Bowers, State of Illinois, Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Statics, LaSalle County, City of Ottawa, State of Illinois, Date of Birth: December 3, 1898, Dated August  7, 1957.

[10] Eva Bowers household, 1900 U. S. Federal  Census, LaSalle County, Ottawa township, ED 76, line 37, page 6, dwelling 557, fmily124, National Archives film publication T623, roll 317.


Our Pets at Christmas

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

On the left is Skipper the dog I was promised when my parents had to get rid of our dog Taby mentioned in a previous post.  I got Skipper when we moved into our first house in 1953.  This is 1966 and Skipper is 13 years old.  He was part Cocker Spaniel and part Poodle.  Today he would be called a Cockapoo, but back in 1953 he was just a mutt.  Skipper lived until September of 1968 and died at age 15.  We left him shaggy with long hair, and he was all black except for some white on his chin and chest.  He some hairs that hung over his eyes.  Skipper had a rough start to life.  We had  him a short time when he became sick and was diagnosed with distemper.  The vet wanted to put him down, but my mother said, “no.”  He stayed at the vet’s for awhile and then came home but was still sick.  My mom coddled eggs for him and spoon fed him.  The vet was amazed at the progress Skipper made.  He had never had a dog live through distemper before.  At two years old Skipper was hit by car, and he had internal injuries, bruised ribs and a sore leg.  He walked with a limp for a long time.  A family friend gave Skipper lots of sympathy and she would massage Skipper’s leg.  Long after Skipper healed when ever they came over Skipper would limp to get sympathy and a massage.

On the right is a picture of Pierre our Poodle.  This is also 1966 and Pierre is one year old.  Pierre lived to ripe old age of 16.  The last few years we wondered if he was senile.  He would try to go behind the stove and get stuck.  Pierre stayed with my folks after I married.  He led a pretty quiet normal life compared to Skipper.

In the picture with Skipper the aluminum tree appears again, and those are my mother’s legs in the picture.  I don’t know what she is giving him, but he seems excited about it.

Pierre is posing on the chair like a typical Poodle.  He is in front of that fire place that was  mentioned in a previous post.

Meet Susie (left) and Brittney (right) two Golden Retrievers.  Susie and Brittney were sisters born in 1992.  Brittney was actually my brother’s dog, but lived here with us for many years so I feel as though she was mine too.  My husband and I would take them to the state park near us for walks.  I would take Susie because she was smaller and didn’t pull as hard. Brittney was bigger and heavier built.  Her coat was darker golden than Susie’s.  The first couple of years they played and played until we were worn out watching them.  Susie being smaller would get underneath Brittney and take a little nip.  Over all Brittney was the more aggressive of the two.  This picture was taken in about 1997.  Brittney died first at age 13 and Susie died a couple of years later at age 15.

We have had other dogs as well, but I don’t have pictures of them at Christmas, so I will tell their stories another time.

Christmas 1966

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. img002 (2)

I decided on this picture because of the story that goes with it.  My parents bought this house in 1963 and it was the first fire place we had.  We had trouble with smoke coming in the house instead of up the chimney.  Someone told us that it was because the furnace and the fireplace shared the same chimney, and when the furnace turned on it created a down draft and the fireplace smoked.  However, my mother decided one Christmas Eve day that she wanted to burn some pine to get that pine smell in the house.  We had an aluminum tree so no longer got the nice pine smell from the tree.  I went with her to a Christmas tree lot and she asked for the scrawniest tree they had.  We got one that was bare.  I remember feeling embarrassed as we carried it to the car and hoping I didn’t see anyone I knew.  We brought it home and sawed it up.  That evening she threw some of the pine branches on the fire and it smoked so bad that we had to leave the house.  We left the house with windows and doors open as our company and us walked around the block a couple of times until the house cleared.  

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My mother asked my father to saw a branch off one of our trees in December.  He obliged her and she spray painted it white, put lights on it and few little ornaments.  She diplayed it on our front porch.  At the time she took a lot of teasing from everyone because it was just a bare branch painted white.  At the time we had never seen anyone else do this, but since then I have seen them all over and in store window displays.  I guess she was a little a head of time on this one.

Copyright © 2019 Gail Grunst

Christmas 1960 and 1962

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

Mom's Christmas Table

Mom’s Christmas Table

My mother’s Christmas Table in 1960.  Behind my mother is a built-in china cabinet.  On the top left she has some dishes and on the top right is my doll collection.  You can see part of an old-fashioned telephone on the right.  My grandmother is sitting on the chair against the wall and above her is the Knick-Knack shelf that went from house to house with us.  On the table is a terrarium.  The camera flash can be seen reflecting off the glass doors behind my mother.


Pictured here is my brother with our second cousin, Diana in 1962   Look at all the presents behind them.  This was the first year that we did not have a real tree and my parents went with an aluminum tree.  In the background is our Grand Aunt Helen. 

Copyright © 2019 Gail Grunst