He was also a composer of songs about subways. Having read this and even recited it (to myself, softly, when nobody else is home), I can definitely say that it is … heartfelt. I leave further artistic judgments up to you, dear readers.
Long Island Daily Press, Jamaica, N.Y., April 1940:
“Ex-Beer Champion Pens ‘Van Wyck Subway Song’ ”
A father in Yorkville said on Sunday morn,
“Come Mother and children, get ready for the shore,
“I’ll show you something new that never you did see
“The Eighth Avenue Subway to Rockaway.”
The father smiles, the mother laughs, the children too,
And little Freddy swings his flag, red, white and blue.
But father starts to sighing, the big express was flying
And stopped on Van Wyck Avenue.
Three times in, four times out, we don’t care,
The whole trip to Rockaway is only five cents fare.
And little Freddy with his flag, was first to leave the train,
He cried: “That trip to Rockaway was nothing but a dream.”
And the mother, Fred, and Annie said, “Papa will you say,
“Papa will you say which is the shortest way.”
And the mother, Fred, and Annie said: “Papa will you say,
“There is no Eighth avenue subway down to Rockaway.”
And father said: “I know, myself, there is no such train,
“We’ll have to wait till Jimmy Walker is mayor once again,
“He and President Joe Coyle, they tried, and very hard,
“But when Mayor LaGuardia came, the subway was forgot.”
And little Freddy raised his flag, with colors red white and blue
He looks his father in the eye, “God help your wish come true,
“The best intention of two good men, should never be so spoiled,
“Three cheers for Jimmy Walker and hurrah for Joe Coyle.”
The article: The upcoming debut of George’s song rated two columns at the top of the local news page. Here is the accompanying story:
The Van Wyck Subway Song, with words and music by George Rudroff, former beer tester for a brewery, will have its premiere at a meeting of the Dunton Civic League Thursday night in Masonic Hall. The song was dedicated by the 70-year-old composer to the league and its president, Joseph A. Coyle, fiery veteran of half a hundred South Side civic battles.
Rudroff, who lives in Richmond Hill, became famous in his salad days for his beer-drinking capacity, and recently was the subject of a Believe-It-Or-Not cartoon.
Every day for eight years, Rudroff drank 90 glasses of beer a day. That was before prohibition. It was just about this time, too, that Rudroff composed a war song, “The Pride of Uncle Sam.”
His latest effort is inspired by the civic league’s campaign to win an extension of the 8th Avenue subway from Queens boulevard southward under Van Wyck boulevard to the Rockaways.
Rudroff also courts the Muse on behalf of ex-Mayor Jimmy Walker, who, he believes, could get the new subway built with a minimum of delay if he were back in City Hall.
The subway issue: Uncle George and the Dunton Civic Association were referring to a proposed expansion of the IND Queens Boulevard Line under Van Wyck Boulevard. I’m working my way through accounts of the subway system’s development in this area and era, and it is complicated.
George appears to have been waxing eloquent about an expansion that was under discussion (and a big political football) in one form or another between 1929 and 1940. There is a lot of information here, at the nycsubway.org site. But please feel free to chime in with any additional insights!
George, who died in November 1940, did not live to see many changes to come on the IND line, including an expansion to Rockaway in the 1950s. The song, however, endures.
The clipping: This was viewed as a digital image at Old New York Newspapers (
: accessed 17 June 2013). The scan did not include the page number or edition date. Judging from references in other articles on the page, it seems likely this article ran in early April 1940. A calendar of events in the Brooklyn Eagle for 11 April 1940 (page 24, col. 3) mentions a meeting of the Dunton Civic League as taking place that night, and 11 April was on a Thursday.
Meet my great-uncle George. The guy with the beer, not the guy with the basketball. Naturally.
This panel ran during the height of the Ripley’s craze of the Depression years, when readers from all over the country vied to catch Mr. Robert Ripley’s attention with stories of amazing or just plain odd behavior. Ripley’s items ran in two parts. The first day was the cartoon, which as you can see was calculated to make the reader say: “Whoa! Wait, what? How can that BE????” The following day, they’d run additional details about the cartoon, which in this case read:
EXPLANATION OF YESTERDAY’S CARTOON:
DRANK 90 GLASSES OF BEER A DAY – On display in an honored position at Mutt and Jeff’s Beer Garden in Richmond Hill is the mug from which George Rudroff (Mut [sic] at the firm) drank 90 glasses of beer each day for eight solid years. Before prohibition, Mr. Rudroff tested beer in New York breweries and every day for the entire eight years he was so employed, he consumed 30 pitchers of beer, equaling 90 glasses – a total of 225,640 glasses, or 1,560 half barrels of beer – all from the same mug.
I just found this. I am still trying to
get my head around it discover more about it, but for the moment I can tell you that there aren’t a whole lot of Rudroffs in Richmond Hill between 1915 and 1940, other than George (1870-1940), his wife and kids.
George’s niece Therese Rudroff Haigney (1927-2003) was my mother. Her uncle was “a character”, which in Mom’s vocabulary could be a good thing or a bad thing, but was certainly a somewhat flamboyant thing. For example, George was said to have shopped a song to Kate Smith. (She did not buy it.) I have found evidence that he wrote and copyrighted a comic play, as well.
Reviewing my notes of talks with Mom, I see she did say he was a tavern keeper. And censuses (mostly) bear this out: In 1900 and 1910 George was listed as a brewery helper and a brewer, respectively.
By the time of the New York census of 1915 he was at 61 Zeidler Avenue (present-day 55th Street) in Maspeth, Queens, where his occupation was listed as saloon keeper. The censuses of 1920, 1930 and 1940 all list him in Richmond Hill. In the first two of the Richmond Hill censuses, George was a motorman and a drug-company salesman. Well, I guess he couldn’t exactly be a tavern keeper during Prohibition.
His death certificate of 1 November 1940 said he was retired from the restaurant business. And there really was a Mutt and Jeff’s Bar and Grill on Atlantic Avenue in Richmond Hill, according to the Queens telephone directory for 1940. (Thanks, NYPL!)
So at least at some point, George had an occupation that required beer tasting. But did he really drink 1,560 half barrels? It was typical of Ripley’s contributors to, ah, color the facts a bit, according to this NPR story. Given what I’ve heard and discovered about him so far, I think my great-uncle George was perfectly capable of spinning a good story to land himself in Ripley’s.
I can just see my mother rolling her eyes.
Every so often, a snippet of saved information comes up that strikes me as so useful that it’s a crime not to amplify it, even at the risk of boring the more experienced among us.
I rediscovered today’s snippet during my fall computer-file reorganization. (When the kids go back to school, I do too, figuratively speaking.)
It’s about how Germans handle first names, which can mystify the average American investigating German ancestors in the 19th century and earlier. My mother’s paternal ancestors, for example, largely confined themselves to Johann and Georg for baby boys. Occasionally they would go wild and spring for Johann Georg. But even that combination repeats — my grandfather was one of two Johann Georgs, born six years apart. Fortunately for our sanity, Grandpa emigrated to the U.S. and began calling himself John, leaving the original form to his older brother, who remained on the family farm.
Now, a lot of us are familiar with the practice of re-using a given name for a younger sibling in the sad event that a child dies young. But that isn’t what is happening in my mother’s family tree. Having three surviving Johanns or two Georgs or a couple of Johann Georgs in the same sibling group bothered her ancestors not one bit.
Especially from a present-day U.S. vantage point, where a passion for … inventive first names is a given, this ancestral approach looks pretty strange. Also confusing. How did they call everyone in to dinner? The answer, as you might guess, is that German baptismal names in this period were rarely the name you used every day.
Back in 2009, Rootsweb’s Hesse mailing list contained a great explanation from German member Thierry Dietrich, who spelled out the important terminology:
Vorname = First, or given name(s). If there are additional given names, there isn’t a separate term for “middle name.” Germans simply use the plural, Vornamen.
Rufname = The name you actually use, which could be an abbreviated form of the baptismal name, a middle name, or a completely unrelated name. (Dietrich gave as an example a Theresia-Maria whose Rufname was Rosemarie.)
Spitzname = The most accurate translation for the English term “nickname.” The Rufname and the Spitzname are not necessarily the same thing. It’s possible to have a Rufname and a Spitzname.
The post is archived here and is well worth a look.
In addition, Mr. Dietrich provided some insight into how first-naming practices have evolved in modern Germany. It’s all very interesting if, like me, you have a lot of Johann Georgs to keep straight.
Next up in my initial 1940 census snapshots are my maternal grandparents, who emigrated from Germany’s rural Upper Franconia district in the mid-1920s and settled in Greenpoint.
Names: John and Eva Rudroff
Relationship: Maternal grandparents
Background: After crossing the Atlantic, John (1886-1969) and Eva (1895-1963) didn’t move around. They moved to 39 Sutton Street in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn shortly after they married in 1927, and that was it until Grandpa died in 1969. This was where they raised my mother and her twin brother. It was also the place from which Grandma Eva sent a care package after World War II to cousins in bombed-out Wurzburg, one of whom recited the exact address (with zip code) to me forty years later, by way of explaining just how memorable that package was to her as a little girl.
• Did the 1940 census taker get the surname spelled right? In 1930, the enumerator listed it as “Rutkoff.”
• How did Grandpa’s employment and wage information stack up? Mom always said they were very lucky that he held on to a good job at Standard Oil of New York all through the Depression years.
• Yay for the 1940 enumerator, who spelled the name the same way my grandparents spelled it. OK, so my grandma was listed as “Eve,” not “Eva,” but whaddya gonna do. Also consistent with other family records, my grandfather was a naturalized citizen (he became one in 1933); my grandmother was not (and never did become one).
• Grandpa and Grandma Rudroff had both completed eight grades of school, according to this census. My mother and her brother, now 12-year-old twins, had completed six, and I assume that they were in the seventh grade at the time the census was taken.
• As I expected, Grandpa’s job was “fireman, oil co.,” meaning he tended boilers at the Standard Oil of New York plant not far from where the family lived. During the week of March 24-30, 1940, he’d put in 32 hours, which was on the low side compared to some other entries on the page. (Most were in the range of 40 to 45 hours, although one factory watchman listed a whopping 84 hours.)
• Grandpa’s yearly salary was $1,150, or about $17,680 in today’s dollars. Not bad, but definitely below the yearly average for the mid-1930s in New York City ($1,745, or $27,425 today). This squares with my mother’s description of her childhood as being free from anxiety over where the next meal was coming from, but without a lot of spare change for anything besides the necessities.
Takeaway: At first glance, I don’t see a lot of surprises here, but then, this is a pretty familiar part of the family story. However, I am having a lot of fun comparing the information on this entry to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Report, 100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending, the source for the New York City average salary figure listed above. If you’re curious about how far your family’s income might have stretched, check it out (at the link, you can download a .pdf file).
Next time: The mysterious distant cousin.
Embarrassingly often, this blog is about all the stuff I don’t know, as opposed to what I do.
But hey, it’s a method. From an early age, I’ve had this tendency to talk and write problems out — apparently I’m a very verbal/auditory learner. I listen well and take fantastic notes; then I talk about it to firm it up. (On the other hand, I seem to have no visual learning sense whatsoever.)
I took a test once about this, a real one, not a Cosmo one. It was a relief to have a validation of the habits that led my normally sweet and tolerant college roommate to flee the premises at exam crunch time, saying: “No, no! Really. You can have the room. I can always study in the library … you, um … you can’t.”
She was right. Then, as now, I would tease out thorny problems or concepts by talking to myself about them. (Miraculously, we are still friends.)
So bear with me while I talk to myself about what is shaping up to be my Big Genealogy Quest for next year: The mystery of my great-aunt Anna Kunigunde Rudroff.
To recap: All my life I just knew that my German-born grandfather, Johann/John Rudroff, had only one other sibling who also emigrated to the U.S.A.: his much older brother Georg/George.
Naturally, this turned out to be wrong, as do so many of the things I just absolutely, positively know about my family. When a German researcher very kindly shared notes on a Rudroff family history compiled on the other side of the pond, I discovered the existence of Anna Kunigunde, sister of Georg and Johann, and another immigrant to the United States. Never heard of her before.
What I know about her so far:
• 1883: Born in Kottweinsdorf, Bavaria, Germany (according to the German genealogy; it would need to be independently confirmed in the Roman Catholic parish records at Oberailsfeld, where Kottweinsdorf families attended church).
• 1907: Emigrated. (Again, according to the German Rudroff genealogy, but also consistent with the 8 June 1907 entry on Ancestry.com’s Hamburg passenger list database for Kunigunde Rudroff, female, single and age 24, ultimate destination: New York).
• 1910 United States census: Nothing found yet that fits someone of her approximate age. Doesn’t mean she isn’t in there, of course.
• 1914, 31 Oct. Arrived in New York (again), aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam, according to the New York passenger lists database at Ancestry.com.
• She apparently did not re-settle in Kottweinsdorf, according to the German research, which only records her departure in 1907 to the U.S.A. Was the 1914 trip a quick visit back home?
So what do I do now? Here’s what I’m thinking:
• Reach out to some of Georg’s descendants to see if any of their family stories mentioned this great-aunt.
• Take another stab at the United States census for 1910. She should be listed somewhere under her birth name, since in 1914 she was apparently still unmarried.
• Brush up on German records of the period to see where else there might be a record of Anna Kunigunde’s comings and goings.
• Explore what other NARA holdings might be of use.
• Think about ways newspaper database research might help. Maybe a marriage notice somewhere?
It’s strange to think of my grandfather having a sister he never mentioned, at least not to my mother. I know … uh-oh, that word again! All right, I’m reasonably sure that my mother never heard of Anna Kunigunde — I talked at some length with her about family history and there’s nothing in my notes from these conversations (I checked, I checked).
So what else should I be looking at here? Feel free to suggest away, and I promise I’ll talk to myself about it.
It was a dinnertime ritual enacted with gusto whenever my mother’s cousins Alma and Cecelia were in town.
The front door would bang open. My dad would sweep in and declaim:
“Home is the sailor, home from the sea!”
And Alma would reply, from upstairs or down:
“And the hunter home from the hill.”
Cue seven children rolling their eyes. It’s a wonder they didn’t get stuck that way, as my mother was always warning us.
Alma (1897-1981) and Cecelia (“Ceil,” 1898-1980) were Mom’s first cousins, the daughters of my grandfather John Rudroff’s older brother George. Since they were 30 years older than my mom, we gave them the courtesy title “aunt” in a triumph of seniority over genealogical accuracy. Their annual extended visits helped fill the grandparent gap in a family where only Grandpa Rudroff survived into our childhoods.
Aunt Alma was a demon worker, even when she was supposed to be having a nice relaxing family visit. After she whipped through all the laundry and ironing, she attacked the mending basket, then cooked everybody dinner. She thought my mother could use the break from dealing with the seven of us.
Aunt Ceil’s specialty was straightening out my dad’s bookkeeping. Hard to believe in today’s bloated health-care industry, but my dad, a dentist in solo practice, was truly a one-man band. There was always something for Aunt Ceil to straighten out, clucking in impatience at my dad’s handwriting as she sat at the dining-room table, paperwork piled high.
We loved them both to pieces, although Aunt Alma in particular could be gruff. One morning I happened to be alone with her at breakfast. Having an actual one-on-one with an elder was so novel that I began chattering nervously — and mindlessly.
“Tell me,” Aunt Alma said. “Are you planning on becoming a preacher?”
“Because you talk enough for two.”
It wasn’t a visit without Aunt Alma and my dad proclaiming their trademark lines at day’s end. I didn’t realize for years that they were written by Robert Louis Stevenson, in a poem he intended as an epitaph (inspiring a later poem by A.E. Houseman). Alas, unlike Dad and Aunt Alma, I don’t belong to a generation for whom reciting poetry was typical schoolwork.
Here’s the whole thing, in memory of them both.
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
– Robert Louis Stevenson, 1880 • First published in Underwoods, 1887