Joseph Wangard, My Great-Great-Grandfather
7 May 1846 • Bickenbach, Sankt Goar, Rheinland, Germany
25 Aug 1925 • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The second of seven children, Joseph married his wife, Barbara Liesenfeld, on 16 Feb 1874. Seven months later, he departed from Hamburg on 30 Sep 1874 aboard the Cimbria. He was listed as a shoemaker.
He and Barbara first settled in Cedar Creek, Washington County, Wisconsin. From the birthplaces of their eight children, they moved around Washington County frequently until finally staying in Milwaukee. Their eldest, John, was my great-grandfather.
Three of Joseph’s brothers also emigrated to the U.S. Another brother stayed in Germany. His children, Hans, Josefine, and Benno, inspired my debut novel, Friends & Enemies.
According to family lore, Joseph wore a full beard to hide a saber scar he received while fighting in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.
At the age of 82, he was struck and killed by an automobile while walking to a neighborhood drug store for ice cream. He had waited for an eastbound vehicle to pass, then walked directly into the path of a westbound car.
In an interesting aside, the Cimbria sank in 1883, the biggest civilian maritime tragedy in German waters. The 16-year-old steamship operated by the Hamburg-Amerika Line sailed from Hamburg on 18 Jan 1883 with 302 passengers and 102 crewmembers. In a heavy fog that morning off the North Sea island of Borkum, a smaller steamer crashed into Cimbria’s portside. Seven lifeboats were inflated, but they weren’t filled to capacity. Three disappeared in the fog. Hypothermia and drowning claimed 357 lives. The disaster made headlines around the world. I wonder if Joseph, busy raising a young family, heard the news.
Heidi became a widow when her husband’s U-boat sank in the Atlantic. She wonders how her American school chum Rachel is faring. Her husband Paul must be at war too. One day a strange man approaches her. But no, he’s not a stranger. Paul, now a widower, has been shot down over Germany. With German ancestry, he’s fluent in their language. She takes him home to pose as a German soldier. They’re betrayed and the Gestapo comes calling. They flee across Germany in a desperate journey for Allied lines.