Francesca Falk Miller.

Across the little space; the life of Dr. Louis Falk, as told to his great-grand daughter, Dorothy Cara Strong online

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Online LibraryFrancesca Falk MillerAcross the little space; the life of Dr. Louis Falk, as told to his great-grand daughter, Dorothy Cara Strong → online text (page 1 of 7)
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Dorothy Miller Strong

Mother of "Cara Mia"




Dr. Louis Falk



Little Space

TKe Life Story


as told to
His Qreat'Grand'Daughter


Written hy his daughter

Francesca Falk Miller
(Mrs. Franklin Miller)

The W. D. Bauman Company



Copyright, 1933

Chicago, Illinois

Printed in the IT. S. A.



THIS Story of a niusiciaii's life, written by his daughter, seems
to me one of unusual beauty and charm. I confess I read the
last chapter through tears.

Francesca Falk Miller is a poet and when she uses words, she
paints pictures with them. How faithful is the picture she has
drawn of her German grandfather's household . . . the stern man
whose fealty to Carl Schurz exiled him from his native land . . .
the gentle grandmother, with the fine sons w^ho adored her ! Hoav
delightful is the story of the young Louis Falk's student days in
Germany . . . days when he walked thirty miles, in order to
hear "Lohengrin" for the first time!

It is a satisfying tale . . . early recognition for the great
organist in Europe and America . . . joy in his work .
complete happiness in his marriage to the beautiful woman who
herself had so large a part in the musical life of Chicago, and who,
through fifty years, was so devoted a wife, so congenial a companion.

Mrs. Miller's story of her father's life, told to a little great-
grand-child of the musician, is a distinct contribution to the history
of Chicago, particularly from the standpoint of music. It is a book
which any Chicagoan should enjoy.

Herma Clark.

I I 52896







My Childhood.






The Great Fire.






My Wife.




Sunset and Evening Star

Dr. Louis Falk (Frontispiece).
At the Age of Twelve.
Dr. Florenz Ziegfeld.
Mr. Falk in 1874.

Cara Dayton Dickinson (Mrs. Falk).
Mrs. Louis Falk as "Josephine" (Pinafore),
The Falk Brothers, 1880.

Concert: Unity Church, 1871.
Concei-t : 01c Bull, 1877.
Opera: Pinafore, 1879.
Oratorio: The Creation, 1891.

Cover of Music


And there shall come a day ... in Spring,

When death and winter

Loose their chill, white hold

Quite suddenly. A day of sunlit air

When winging birds return,

And earth her gentle bosoms bare

So that new, thirsty life

May nurture there.

That breathless hour . . .

So filled with warm, soft miracles

That faith is born anew.

On such a day . . .

I shall return to you !

You may not touch me . . . no,
For you have thought of me as dead.
But in the silence lift believing eyes
Toward the dear infinity
Of skies. And listen . . .
With your very soul held still . . .
For you will hear me on some little hill,
Advancing with the coming of the year.
Not far away . . . not dead . . .
Not even gone.

The day will suddenly be filled

With immortality and song.

And without stirring from your quiet place,

Your love will welcome mine .

Across the little space,

And we will talk of every lovely thing . . .

When I return ... in Spring!

Francesca Falk Miller.
(Mrs. Franklin Miller)


IF I had lived to see you born, Cara mia, this might never have
been written. I would have been too busy admiring those deep
blue eyes, which you inherited from your great-grandmother;
that wee l)ud of a mouth curled so warmly when you smile, or your
strong fine little body. But when you decided to come upon our
grim old earth to live, I — your great-grandfather — had gone out
into the fragrant mists that envelop and veil the strange bourne of

For the mists are fragrant, Cara mia. Fragrant with memories
of lieloved ones still on earth and the myriad unborn descendants yet
to come. Fragrant with unspoken words and unheard melodies.
That dear intimate fragrance of silence — silence deep and calm.

You can never see me, Cara mia, until you too pass through
those strange mists of silence. But that will be in long years to come,
for you are not yet one year old. Your sweet days are reckoned by
months not years.

But you must know me and know me well, that you may under-
stand this thing we call heredity. For into you has gone the blood
of generations of ancestors. A bit here and there in your life's
stream, from two lines of humanity, that blending in you, make you
Avhat you are today — your little self.

From someone you may have inherited religion or a love of the
open spaces. From another a spark of wit, a dash of coquetry, a bit
of common sense or a great deal of genius. And, God grant it — you
may have fallen heir to someone's sense of humor. But from me —
your great-grandfather — and from her who was the wife of my years
on earth — your great-grandmother — may come a talent, or at least
a love for music.

For, oh my little one, music is the divinest of God's great gifts to
the human race ! It can comfort, calm, and refresh. It can inspire,
revive and create. It is the voice of eternity loaned to mortal souls
for a little while.

And so, Cara mia, I am going to tell you my own story — my
life and music — and because I cannot write it myself from beyond
these fragrant mists, your gi-andmother — my daughter — must do it
for me. She loves you, little one, and she alone understands what
it means to be born into a home consecrated to this divine art. This
art of melody, of harmony, of symphonic beauty.

This little biography will not only tell you of my life and my
small contribution to music, but it will be a tale of early life in
Chicago among the musicians and artists of that day.

It will not be a child's story, Cara mia. You must wait until

you are a grown girl to read it. But I have a conviction that you
will always cherish the picture it unfolds— of your own people living
in those "way back when" days of your city — your birthplace—
vour century-old Chicago.




Wintp:r came early to the little village of Uiiter Ostern near
the city of Darmstadt in the year 1848, so long- ago. My
mother has told me how the gardens were dead by October,
even in Southern Germany. But the frost-kissed grapes were abun-
dant and the harvests had been rich. The country-folk had stored
their grain and made their wines and beer and were now turning to
the happiest of seasons — Christmas. Soon they would ])e trimming
the green tannenhauni and calling to their neighbors ''Die beaten
Gliick-Wiinsche zum neuen yalire!" Happy hearts! Simple joys!
And into this season I was born.

My father, Cara mia, was a professor in the parochial school
next to our church. He taught mathematics, organ, piano, and the
theory of music. On Sundays he played the organ at the church
service, but I regret to say, this effort on his part, never implanted
religion very deeply in his care-free, stormy soul. We were Luther-
ans, as were all our relatives and friends. Father's name was John
Falk. He was an admirer of Carl Schurz, noted German Sociali'^t.
He followed with staunch affection and loyalty every move of the
great man, but this same constancy and devotion lost him his coun-
try, as you will read of later in this chronicle.

My mother was the daughter of the Biirgermeister. Her long
but beautiful name was Wilhelmina Franceska Roesing. The Roes-
ings were a proud, stern, and "highly respectable" family, and when
the gentle young daughter fell in love with gruff, hot-headed John
Falk, they raised hands, eyes and voices to heaven. Such a marriage
w^ould be a calamity. Mina would be wedded beneath her social
position. A poor professor? Pouf !

But ]\[ina had listened to romance — and all musicians are great
lovers and sentimentalists. She had tuned her ear and heart to the
fiery pleading of her ardent lover. They defied opposition — wore it
down — until exasperated and wearied, the Roesings capitulated — and
the marriage took place.


Ill 1846 their first child was born. He was named Theodore —
Gift of God — and the gentle mother promised him in her heart to
the ministry.

This was a tradition in her family — that the first -liorn son should
be given to God. Theodore therefore grew up with his mother's wish
in mind.

In 1848 — the cold winter mentioned — at an early hour of De-
cember 11 — another son was born to Wilhelmina Franceska and John
Falk, but this time, the delighted father promptly dedicated his sec-
ond boy to music. And I was that son.

When christened in our parish churcli, I took the names of the
four Godfathers who stood sponsors for me — Ludwig, Rudolph, An-
ton, Friedelin — but dropped three of these good Teuton appendages
before I was out of Kindergarten One short name was good enough
for father — one short name was all his son needed. I never kept
even an initial, and after coining to America, dropped the German
spelling for the English — and as Louis Falk, lived and died.

]\Iother was up for the Christmas festivities with young Theo-
dore hanging to her full wide skirts in feverish excitement. But I —
fourteen days old — lay in my clumsy wooden cradle and used my
lungs lustily. Later I heard that there was extra celebration in my
honor, for was I not almost a Christmas baby? And any excuse is
enough for a German feast !

The marvelous kiichen baked with almonds ground into sweet
white butter and fine sugar! The rich gingerbread figures cut into
shapes of fat men and obese dogs and cats ! The quantities of saus-
ages and black bread ! And oh, the gallons of foaming dark beer,
that Germans love so Avell !

Was it not the l)irthday of the dear Christ Child? Was not
Kris Kringel — j^atron saint of all children — good children — some-
where near, with his pack bursting with toys and red mittens? AVas
not the gentle Mutter safely through her delivery of another man-
child — the red-headed little knahe named Ludwig? And was not
Germany God's good place to dwell? Das Vaterland?

And then suddenly, Cara mia, Germany was not so good to her
sons — the sons who dared think for themselves. Carl Schurz was
the target of Imperial disapproval. His sympathizers were thrown
into military prison or banished. Schurz and thousands of German
Socialists left for America — that land which already had gathered
into her ample bosom all the crushed, broken and suppressed of
Europe. And in adopting her as his foster-mother, Schurz served
her faithfully until his life's end.

Many of the Roesings had emigrated during those stormy days.
Two of Mina's brothers were living in the States. She herself had
grown fearful of constant suspicion and s]>ying. John, her husl)and,


was too free with his speech. She lived in daily dread of his arrest
and perhai)S imprisonment. In 1850 a third son was born, and close
upon the heels of this event, John Falk, who had spoken too force-
fully in his class-room regarding the treatment of his friend Schurz,
was arrested and held in prison with other prominent town-folk of
Unter Ostern.

Her distracted family helped Mina off to America — to that far-
off city of Pittsburgh, where the brothers had located. Her husband
was to follow when — and if — released. She was not allowed even
to bid him "good-bye".

That voyage, Cara mia, was not as we know a crossing today —
no, nor as you will know of it Avhen you are grown to womanhood.
It took over a month, with the old vessel buffeting the storms of the
Atlantic with more force than sympathy for her passengers. The
little mother, although surrounded by friends and other kindly Ger-
man refugees, had a hard voyage. She, with her three baby sons —
Theodore, Ludwig and now Rudolph — huddled on the mist-drenched,
narrow deck and fought off sea-sickness, loneliness and a great fear.
Only the w^arm, clinging bodies of her babies saved her from despair.

But sturdy German hearts are strong and courage runs high in
Teuton blood. Mina weathered the storms, the homesickness, and the
crazed fear that threatened to creep over her spirit with crushing
intensity — the fear that she might never see husband or parents
again. Many another Avoman would have lost her reason, but not
Wilhelmina Franceska Roesing, daughter of the Biirgermeister, and
mother of three German sons.

But at last it was over, and following a very rough trip througli
the coal mining country of Pennsylvania, she reached her brother's
new home.

I wish you might liave seen those three little boys, my Cara !
Such round red faces, with staring eyes under their mops of tow-
colored or red hair. Such baggy little pants over fat legs. Such
funny quilted hoods and home-knitted mufflers and mittens. Dutchy,
you say, Cara mia? Oh, very!

The home of the Roesings in Pittsburgh was so new and strange.
Fine graceful furniture, far more impractical than those huge pieces
left behind in the German village. Nottingham curtains, stiff' with
Pittsburgh smoke. Brussels carpet, with great crimson roses woven
into a green field. A wonderful lamp hanging from the ceiling in
the center of the room, that could be pulled down in order to light,
then shoved up mysteriously. Theodore tried to climb it once, play-
ing monkey, and was promptly spanked for the venture.

Mina loved the color and newness of her brother's home. She
thrilled to the noise and .swiftness of life in the busy American city.
It was only a few months until the father and husband followed


his little family to the Western Continent, and then — her happiness
nearly complete — she accepted this adopted land for her own. Mina
never saw her parents again, for the Falks never left American shores
for the country of their birth.

By this time Germans had come to the United States by the
thousands. The " Forty-eight ers" they were called. They poured
over the states of the Central West, settling upon the rich farm-
lands of Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri. Some went even as far
south as Texas, where they built their homes and laid out their fields
after the manner of the old country. And to this day, Cara mia,
they so remain, in all their quaint style and sturdiness.

After four years in Pittsburgh, we moved to Kochester, New
York, and very briefly, let us skim over those early years of child-
hood, in that city.

AVe lived in a small frame house, directly facing a side street,
so that when the family sat on their front porch on summer evenings,
they could look for a long distance down this street and watch sedate
horses, drawing surreys, hacks, and low phaetons, jog placidly along.
As a very small boy I often wondered what would happen if some
old nag were to refuse to turn either left or right, and continue right
on, through our front yard and up onto our wide, low porch. But
of course it never happened — much to my disappointment.

Very little is clear of those early days, save school, church, and
skating on the wide sweep of the Genesee River. I lived simj^ly and
normally as any little boy would do. But as I grew older, two in-
cidents stood out in my memory, remaining with me all these long
adult years.

My first was a battle with parental authority.

My father was a firm believer in the rod, without which the child
would be spoiled. Only in this case the rod was a small leather
strap. He also had a fiery temper, which only my dear mother could
control. She stood between father and sons with some success, but
always with mixed emotions, until the hour of her death. Her wide
full skirt was sanctuary to her brood.

The church where my father played the organ and in whose day-
school he was a professor, was a tall, solemn building with a narrow
spire. Under this spire hung the old church bell and from this
belfry, reached by a wooden ladder, one could look down upon the
congregation. And — if one happened to be a small boy of eight or
nine years — could drop pebbles slyly down upon i-everently bowed
heads, ducking back into the shadow of the ])ells i)rotection.

My brother Theo and I had braved the dizzy height many times
for the joy of hearing the stones plop on unsuspecting craniunis
bent in prayer and the faint little shrieks that followed.

One morning, while indulging in this pleasant pastime, we


happened to glance out from the ])elfry and saw our father standing
like the Judgment Day on the sidewalk below us, with the strap
swinging from his strong right hand. ^lother, white-faced and plead-
ing, stood by his side.

We pondered a moment together, then decided that it was far
more to our advantage to creep out upon the sloping roof than to
remain near the ladder. It was a perilous decision and I could hear
my frantic mother imploring us to go back. One false move and the
art of music and the Lutheran ministry would have lost two of their

Theodore weakened first and called down to his mother.

"Have father promise not to whip us and we'll come down!"

There followed a family conference, but father was obdurate.
I purposely slid a few inches and mother screamed.

"Promise them, John!" she wailed, "They'll be killed!"

Father considered. I really believe he was weighing the pros
and cons between a maimed child and a bad one. Finally mother
won — or thought she had — and called to us, "Come down, JiehclienI
Father Avon't touch you!"

We crept slowly backward, like two fat crabs, until our feet
touched the belfry window. From there it was only a matter of a
few seconds before we reached the ground and were in our mother's

Father whipped us, of course. He never intended it otherwise.

But mother never knew, and we were too loyal to tell her.

The other incident left a deeper impression; in fact it drew my
brother and me so closely together, that in after years we were in-
separably bound like David and Jonathan. Both lived to pass "three
score and ten" and with the years our love and loyalty remained a
firm and beautiful thing.

We had gone swimming in a "hole" with other boys — a thing
forbidden at home, as neither could swim a stroke. But pride and
shame before our companions made us dare family wrath and deep
waters. Before I realized it I was out beyond my depth. Theo
turned in time to see this, and gentle soul that he was, plunged in
after me and sank at once. When we both came struggling to the
surface, he grabbed me and hung on. Again we sank together, but
three of the other boys rescued us. This ended my swimming for-
ever, for it created a fear of deep water that unfortunately I was
never able to overcome.

As I grew older, more was expected of me. I attended school
under my strict father, read my Bible daily at my mother's request.
devoured all the books I could lay my hands on, and practiced my
music long hours on our huge square piano. I was not popular at
school, Cara mia, for I teased the small girls by pulling their ])l()nd


pig-tails, and blushed with embarrassment before the older ones. I
was carrot-headed and had freckles as thick as dandelions in our
front yard. Only when absorbed in my music, did I lose self-con-

Theodore, on the other hand, was the pet of all mother's friends
and of every girl at school. He was quiet, studious, artistic and a
great lover of beauty. Only to please our mother did he follow his
studies for the ministry, for had he been given the choice, a pre-
paratory school of art and later a trip to the famous galleries of
Europe, would have been his preference. But we were boys of
another generation, Cara mia. We were directed, led and taught to
obey. We never dared dream of disobedience. Even at our meals,
where we were forced to eat all that was put upon our plates, we
patiently submitted. Mother told me in later years, how she dis-
covered — while house-cleaning her huge I'ound dining-room talkie in
the spring — a little dried-up row of old bits of carrots and turnips,
that her boys simply could not choke down. We had slipped them
on a convenient ledge, when father's face was turned.

But let it not appear, my Cara, that I am criticising that great
strong spirit that was my father. To him I owed much — my al^ility
to bear hardship and handicap — to persevere until the end of human
existence. And I know he understood me as possibly no one else
in my family did.

Serious work began with me when I was offered the position
of organist at the North Street Baptist Church at the age of eleven.
It hardly seems possible, Cara mia, that a little boy dared accept
such an offer, but of course my proud father said yes, so yes it had
to be. I remained at that church until we moved from the city. I
wish I could describe my pride in that first position as organist of
a large church. It was a wonder that I was not spoiled, but father
saw to that. He understood the growing mind so well, and would
not let me dwell on my work too much, but kept me humble befoi'e
my elders.

It had been ten years since a bewildered mother and her three
little boys stepped from the slow vessel that had rocked her across
the Atlantic onto a new continent. Four times she had gone down
into that dim valley, that lies between birth and death, and brought
back a new morsel of humanity. Two little sisters — frail like herself,
who lived only a little while — and two sons. John, named for his
father, and Florenz. And now the family turned their steps West-
ward, as so many of their race had done, and in 1860 settled in
Chicago — there to establish the home that has lived even to your day,
my little one. Into the musical annals of this city ; into its Historical
Society ; even into its beautiful cemeteries — Rosehill and Graceland —
have gone memories that I am hoping will l)ecome precious to you


and to your children — oh, little flower, growing in another genera-
tion from mine.

And so the exiles came to the city by the Lake — (the city we
love best) — and with thankful, loyal hearts, called it Home!


Louis Falk
At the Age of Twelve


My Childhood

TOWNSEND Street in 1860 was a charming avenue of small houses,
green lawns and a varied collection of shade trees. Today, my
Cara, it is in the heart of Little Italy, and the intersection of
the two thoroughfares, where my brothers and I played '"tag" after
school, is now called "Death Corner" — because of the many killings
in the deplorable gang- wars of 1927 to 1933. "Where mother's
flowers grew, no doubt some bootlegger came to his end, and the
echo of the "plud-plud" of horses hoofs on wooden block pavements
is drowned entirely now by rushing automobiles.

But when father moved from Rochester to Chicago, Townsend
Street seemed grand to our young eyes. Only a short walk to La
Salle Street, where St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Chu]-ch and
School stood, and only a block or so farther to Lincoln Park — then
a cemetery — at the North boundary of the city. There, in the shadows
of prim old grave-stones, we played at "ghosts" — a game that sent
alternating thrills of adventure and chills of apprehension down our
boyish spines. Another glorious play-ground was on North State —
the ruins of an old brewery. This gave us a setting for German
castles and feuds.

The blue waters of Lake Michigan lay only a few blocks to the
East, but in 1860 it had practically never been discovered. Where
Oak Street beach now gathers its thousands of bathers onto its golden
bosom, then rose mounds of sand and hummocks of coarse grass,
while over this desolation hung the stale smell of dead fish tossed up
onto the beach. Only when the Lady Elgin sank off the shore of
lower Wisconsin, did the lake register upon our minds. It immedi-
ately became a power, a mystery and a menace. We much preferred
the prairies beyond the western l)Ounds of the city, that were so sunny
and where wild strawl)errics abounded. Or the far-distant slopes
of the old Chicago river's Nortli l)ank, dotted with arbutus and
early violets.


At Pastor Hartman's school — still under my father's tutelage —
I continued my education. Many of the older German-Americans in
Chicago today, remember attending that seat of learning in early
childhood. It was an institution of note throughout the Middle West.

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Online LibraryFrancesca Falk MillerAcross the little space; the life of Dr. Louis Falk, as told to his great-grand daughter, Dorothy Cara Strong → online text (page 1 of 7)