Let’s start from the very beginning.
Edited transcript of a letter to my grandfather Herbert Kohler, from his sister Helen Kohler Palaski:
Grandma Augusta Drager and her mother, Great-Grandma Wenzel, were born in Berlin, Germany. Grandpa Earnest-Bernhart Drager was born in Berlin, Germany. He was a mason contractor. His parents disowned him, because he married their servant. When he came back from their wedding trip, all his belongings were on the outside of a very high fence they had around their home. Later on in years, his wife died. His second marriage was to Grandma Augusta Wenzel Drager.
Because of small wars breaking out now and then in Germany, the men would have to go into service. So our grandparents moved over the bridge to Warsaw-Gaberna. Russia ruled there at that time. Our mother Amelia and Aunt Alvena Drager were born there. At that time, all schools were teaching German in the village. So when Russia changed the law to stop teaching German, most Germans went back to Berlin. They had to hold Grandma Wenzel by her hands to run back over the bridge. Russia did not want to let the Germans go back. They sent their soldiers to Berlin to try and bring them back, but because the grandparents were all born in Berlin, they could not.
Grandma Drager’s sister married a rich man; his name was Von Havenfelts. They came to the U.S. first, and Aunt Alvena came with them. Later on, they sent for our mother, grandma and great grandma. Our mother was about 12 years old. When they arived at Ellis Island, the aunt took off their kerchiefs and put hats on them, so the people would not know that they were foreign.
Later on, they sent for Grandpa Drager, but he was too sick. Members from the church wrote that he had died.
John C. Kohler was born on November 5 in the stone house on Main and Stone House Rd., in Trumbull, Conn. His father Engnatz and brother Thom came to U.S. from Germany. They were born in either Bonn or Posen. They settled in Trumbull, farming.
Grandma Margurete Rice Kohler came from Germany when she was 5 years old and settled in Danbury, Conn. Later on in years, she became a nurse. Her sister Katherine Rice was my godmother.
Later on in years, our grandparents moved to the home on Madison Ave. in Trumbull. The house is still there. Her brother Thomas had his farm a few miles away on Madison Ave. They were called the “Irish Kohlers,” and Grandpa was the “German Kohlers.”
Our grandparents had 8 children: Julia, Katherine, Margurete, John, Fritz, Anton, Joseph, and Conrad. Anton was the one who drowned in St. Mary’s By The Sea. A father with his daughter in his arms and about 4 others also drowned. They were all from Trumbull, on a picnic.
In later years, Grandpa Kohler gave up farming. Uncle Joe took over the farm. Our grandparents moved to Madison Ave. in Bridgeport, a few homes away from St Joseph’s Church. Grandpa was a member there. He was a coachman for the priest.
The last memory I have of him was holding Aunt Ida and me by the hands, walking up to the fire house on Madison Ave. to see the horses and the fire engine. I remember Grandma as being tall with grey hair. Grandpa had a long grey beard.
Of all the random people and events to whom I owe the unbelievably improbable fact of my own existence, none is more enigmatic than the mysterious, rich world traveler Von Havenfelts.