TRAIN ACCIDENT. FAMILY TRAGEDY. FILLING IN THE GAPS.

4 Wendt Kids (Circa 1923)
The four Wendt children before tragedy hit. Circa 1923. My grandfather, Glenn C. Wendt, is the younger boy on the left.

 

100th Birthday Anniversary!

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth of my late grandfather, Glenn C. Wendt, who was born in Deuel County, Nebraska, on December 13, 1918. Glenn’s life symbolizes a man who was hard-working, gentle, funny, but very private, especially about his upbringing.

Loree 1
My Wendt grandparents. 1990s.

It was only after his death-many 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 (the details are forthcoming). This is THE family story, which transformed what had been an interest in genealogy into a passionate (and later a professional) journey! As I traced my Wendt line further, there was no turning back, especially since I had 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 unequivocally and simply assigned a cause and effect scenario in which 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 split up was 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.

Digging Deeper!

Despite all of the new, amazing discoveries that I had uncovered-that living relatives had never even known about (for many of them these details are about their own grandfather)-they still do not answer why the family split apart. It is said that Hugo was a violent man and that my great-grandmother gave a baby up for adoption, who was conceived by a railroad worker (right before she left with the girls to go to California). My suspicion is that perhaps a re-injury to my great-grandfather’s head (a metal plate, according to his obituary, had been implanted following the train accident) could have been decisive. By then he was also in his 50s. Also, another factor to take into consideration is that there was a minor economic recession that took place around this time-frame, which could have facilitated the family’s break-up or at least had exacerbated living conditions for the family (by 1923 Hugo was no longer running his dry goods store).

Obviously, there are more avenues worth pursuing. Time-permitting, between client projects, I hope to pay a visit to a specific public library in Deuel County in Nebraska. It has limited hours, but it has the entire collection of the local town newspaper on CD that I would like to investigate. The Deuel County Historical Society recently disbanded, unfortunately. Given that reality and other unhelpful county agencies, I am resolved to fill in more of the gaps that persist. So, again, time-permitting, I will visit the library and other institutions while I am there. Given the fact that Hugo published widely in the major Nebraska papers, I am cautiously optimistic that I will find out some of the answers that I am looking for in the local newspaper.

A Wonderful Role Model

Glenn Curtis Wendt - US Army Officer picture
Glenn C. Wendt. 1942.

So, this family tragedy shaped my late grandfather’s life. He suffered with this pain associated with this 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 US Army Officer. He was a devoted husband and father. He faithfully provided for his family by working the graveyard shift 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 are able to share together at family parties and other events over the years!