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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Later the parish moved to its present location on Fullerton Avenue,
and is still known as "Old St. Pauls".

My piano and organ lessons were now augmented l)y violin and
composition. I never cared much for the fiddle, nor especially for
])iano, but an organ gave me an immensity of feeling, which could
not 1)6 ])ut into words. It seemed so lofty in x^urpose ; so noble in
structure ; so glorious in power. Many an afternoon, Theo and I
would steal into the empty church — he to sit on the pul])it in our
pastor's great carved chair, dreaming no doubt of his ministry to
come, while I with legs barely reaching the huge wooden ])edals,
would struggle with the various ''stops" and keyboards, improvising
blissfully. Once my father crept in, and sitting in the silent dark-
ness of the church, paid me the honor of remaining until my childish
concert was over.

But I was not allowed to drop the other musical instruments.
The piano, which seemed like pale sugar cookies beside the plum-
pudding tones of my favorite pipe organ, was the A. B. C. of my
education, and although I was never proficient at the violin, it never-
theless became part of my daily routine. One incident, however,
soon ended my fiddling performances for all time.

J\Iany small boys sell magazines or run errands to eke out their
allowances, but I played my violin in the small orchestra at Mc-
Vicker's Theatre (the first of the three theatres bearing that name)
and because of my youth — I was only thirteen — and the size of the
salary I earned, I became the envy of every boy on the North side.
A few of the larger and older chaps took it upon themselves to
threaten me, demanding that I give up my job.

For quite a while I stuck it out, scurrying to the stage-entrance
in the wake of the cellist, who happened to be a man of large pro-
portions. But one night they caught me as I was leaving the theatre
to go home, and the bully of the gang struck at me with a base-ball
bat. The blow, grazing my hat and landing on my nose, broke the
bridge and almost blinded me. The ])ain and shock knocked me un-
conscious. This, Cara mia, ended my theatre engagement.

Father lost no time in reporting the assault and I believe the
bully Avas punished in proportion to his crime, but that did not help
matters with my nose, which carried a rather flattened bridge to the
end of my days.

My professional career was now fully launched. I was organist
at the age of fourteen at tlie Holy Name Cathedral — a position T
held until I left for my studies abroad. Mother hesitated before she
allowed her boy to enter a religious atmosphere so far removed from

24



her own faith, but father, caring nothing for any one l^elicf when
it, came to music, allowed me to accept, and as he always got his way,
I entered upon one of the happiest engagements of my youth. And
may I add here, Cara mia, that the last church I entered, upon the
Palm Sunday only a few weeks before I passed into these silent
spaces, was dear, old Holy Name Cathedral.

I also had many concert engagements, for at that time there
were very few children "virtuosi" and my small fame spread. One
appearance was with Tom Thumb, famous dwarf of the last cen-
tury. If you could have seen me on that concert stage, carrying
"Mr. Thumb" in my arms onto the platform, in order to accentuate
the size of a pigmy in relation to a lad of my years, you would have
smiled. My father was becoming inordinately proud of my accom-
plishments. It was — "Mein sohn Loo'ee" — day and night. But I
was never in danger of becoming spoiled, for the more he praised
the harder he made me study. Thorny is the path of a musician's
early youth.

In my fourteenth year the greatest sorrow of my boyhood came
into my life, blotting out all ambition and joy for the time. My
gentle mother died. In my grief and bewilderment I clung to Theo-
dore. He became my only comfort in those first hard days of loss.
That he undoubtedly suffered far more than the other children never
entered my head. He was the oldest of the little family of five boys
and to him we all turned. Father, always stern, seemed to close his
heai-t completely. Stoical, silent and strict as ever, during those
early months of his bereavement, he repelled instead of inviting our
mutual condolences, and we would no more have thought of going
to him for sympathy, than to one of the cold stone statues dotting
the lawns of Lincoln Pai'k.

A distant relative now came to live with us, as John and
Florenze were still small tots. She must have been a good house-
keeper, or father would not have kept her. Our home routine con-
tinued as usual, but what this admirable relation looked like or what
she said and did, never registered. She simply made no impression
whatever. Only through love, Cara mia, can our companions enter
into that realm known as memory.

They buried our mother in Clraceland, that beautiful cemetery of
the young growing city. It is still beautiful, with its wooded paths
and old walls. Many of the graves from Linclon Park were being
transferred to Graceland, as the older burying-ground was being
completely surrounded now by the rapidly spreading city. Soon it
l)ecame the ])ublic ])ark, that it has i-emained unto this day, with
no reminder of its former character save the white mausoleum of
the Couch family, and the huge stone that covers the historical grave
of David Kennison, hero of the Revolution and the War of 1812.

25



Theo and I went often to Graeeland. We took the ear on North
Clark Street to the end of the line, then tramped the rest of the way
on foot. We usually made the trip on Saturday, taking our lunch
with us. Sitting in the long grass beside the country road, that is
now Irving Park Boulevard, we whispered together of our mother.
With a wholesome boyish viewpoint of such things, we talked of life
and death and the eternity that was to come. We had not reached
the doubtor's age and our faith was that of a little child. Theodore
reverently renewed his pledge given to our mother to become a
minister, while I, not wishing to be outdone, i)lanned to write a
great requiem to her memory.

There is a little faded picture of my mother, Cara mia, in an old
red plush album. Study it carefully. Below that severely parted
hair, lay a brow calm and serene from her deep religious convictions
and her mother-love. And under the old-fashioned folds of her funny
plaid silk gown, beat the gentle heart that quieted all too soon. Old
photographs give amusement to many, but I think they are touch-
ingly beautiful. Styles so quickly change that it is not worth while
to ridicule their eccentricities. It is character that remains un-
changed and lasting through the passing of time.

The months that followed were uneventful. Study, small duties
to perform, time for reading, hours of practice, concerts and church,
simi)le meals and early bedtime. Fatlier, a great disciplinarian, Avas
also a wise, kind mentor. In after years, I realized that to him we
owed our health and good habits. Our l)odies were sti'ong and our
minds clean and wholesome.

But before two years had passed, another change came into our
home. My father married again, and the map of our lives was
decidedly altered.

This new wife — Louisa Sandway — was really a very fine woman
and indeed fortunate were the younger children in having so good
and kind a step-mother. She was capable, strong, wise and kind-
hearted and made my father an excellent wife. But Theo, Rudy
and I — the sons who had crossed the Atlantic in those far-off years —
recognized only one mother — the mother who had brought us to this
new country, had placed our baby feet on the path of life and who
had left us only so recently. (She of tlie lovely name and lovelier
spirit.) And remembering her with such deep affection, we could
not give to this new wife as much love as did the other little sons;
especially John, who was drawn to her by kindness and understand-
ing. Later he told me of his eai-liest memories of this new mother
(for I was away in Euro])e so mucli of the time). He can remember
her feeding returning Wisconsin soldiers cami)ing in the street in
front of oui' home, and of her being constantly at work, sewing or
cooking, for the needy in those dreadful days after the war.

26



Two little sons were born into this new home — only to die in
infancy — and two daughters. It was strange that only the sons of
Wilhclmina lived, and only the daughters of Louisa. Bertha was
born in Chieago before tlie fire and the last cliild, Louise, after they
had moved to Ohio (where both are living today).

But this family history must he hv'iQi, my Cara, so we will leave
it here and continue to speaiv further of my work.

The services of a great Catholic Church take many hours of an
organist's time, and I was only a young lad after all. From fourteen
to sixteen were two of the busiest years of my life. I was teaching
both hai'mony and organ, with a few piano lessons on the side, and
I i)ut in at least five hours practice a day. If ever I found a little
spare time for composition, it was in mj- room at night, but I was
usually too sleepy to do much along this line. And besides, I was
never intended for a great composer. The organ-sonatas, fugues,
songs and cantatas that I wrote during my sixty-five years of music,
were not many. Mine w'as the active life of instructor and performer.

We had moved from the rapidly changing and disintegrating
neighborhood of Townsend Street to the shady thoroughfare known
as Oak Street. Our white-painted frame house stood on the very
lot the Opera Club graces at the present time. The little park
between Clark and Dearborn Streets became the new playground for
my younger brothers — a quiet square, so different from today. Unity
Church, with its tall spire, stood across from our rear lawn, while
down the street a popular Congregational edifice vied with its neigh-
bor each Sunday for the greater congregation. This New England
church boasted of a bit of Plymouth Eock sunk into its corner-stone,
and father teased the boys until they w^ere frantic at not being able
to discover its whereabouts. We were always rather chagrined over
the fact that St. Pauls had no historic pebble.

On the conier of Clark and (then) Whitney Street, stood the
big square house belonging to the Ogden family. On the whole, it
Avas ciuite an interesting neighborhood, my Cara, with the horse-cars
jogging up Clark Street toward Lincoln Park and to the left the
noble old homes along Chestnut, Rush and Pine (now ^lichigan
Avenue). To the south we could see the spires of the Catholic
Cathedral, while still further on, rose the .stubby turret of St. James,
where a famous altar was later dedicated to the soldiers of the
Civil War.

But I must go back and speak of that war, Cara mia. especially
its end.

We boys talked and played at war every spare moment. Little
John and Florenz were always the Johnny Rebs, while Rudolph and
I were Yankees. The great difference in our ages lost the rebels
every skirmish — but they never gave up.

27



Father's sympathies were with the Northerners. He gloried in
the triumphs of his friend and hero, Carl Sehurz, and regretted out-
wardly with loud voice that he was too old and his sons too young
to serve their adopted country. Inwardly, I think he gave tlianks
that we were still under drafting age.

When Abraham Lincoln was shot, Chicago became a bedlam of
angry, stunned and hopeless people. And when that silent, beloved
body was borne back to its native State, men and women wept openly
and unashamed in the city streets.

Before the burial at Springfield, the body lay in state in tlie old
City Hall, and every boy in our neighborhood fought to sing in the
choir that was hurriedly trained for the solemn service.

I was sixteen now, with a voice that had developed into a light
high tenor, and knowing the choirmasters at ])oth Holy Name and
St. James, it was no trick to be counted in their groups. That I
sang in that memorable service with other awed and reverent youths,
was one of the proudest events of my life. Can you see it, Cara mia ?
White dresses on the little girls; black ties on the boys; muffled
drums and solemn choruses; the beautiful strains of the funeral
march ; white faces and tears ; flags drooping at half-mast, and vast
crowds of heart-broken patriots. While in the midst of it all, the
long, pathetic casket, holding the mortal remains of America's mar-
tyred President.

He seemed so alone, lying there, in his little oasis of everlasting
sleep. But looking out over the great throng, I realized that he
could never be quite alone, for love would accompany him wherever
he fared.

"Alone? Within the tomb of everlasting sleep.
Where lullabies of wind and river sweep
Above his quiet rest,

While life goes on . . . resistless as the sea . . .
Sweeping the years aside eternally?
Alone . . . that martyred dead with folded hands?
No, not alone . . . beside thee . . . millions strong . . .
A Nation stands!"

But changes were coming fast, my Cara. Even wars fade rapidly
into dim, sad memories and brother soon clasps the hand of brother,
forgetting all quarrels.

Father, although an exile himself, decided that only in his native
country — das Vaterland — should his son complete his education.
Germany stood in the eyes of the world the greatest music center of
Europe. There one could study with the masters of that day and
remain as long as one wished. For in those times, students did not
make the crossing for a few months of hurried study. It was a
matter of years.

28



We were not wealthy, but father had saved what he could with
this in mind. Theodore was to enter a Divinity School at the same
time, but the expense would be much less. Many evenings were spent
around our library table with pencil, paper, and no little argument,
the younger boys looking on Avith awe.

Our church at last came to the rescue. A purse had been raised
for their parishoner's ambitious son, and this with what father had
saved, was enough to keep me in Germany four years.

Those were exciting days, my Cara. Music to be selected for my
audition, simple clothing to be purchased, everything carefully
])acked (the entire family assisting) and the last tearful goodbyes
and ''auf wiederseJiens" said. Then the long, last instructions from
father carefully noted — grand old man that he was! I often won-
dered how he felt to see his son returning to that beloved Vatcrland,
to whose shores he, himself, was never allowed to return.

On November 9, 1865. a "Grand Farewell Concert" was given
me at Bryan Hall. It seemed that all musical Chicago was on hand
to bid me bon voyage. Friends from the Holy Name ; Pastor Joseph
Hartman and his entire Lutheran congregation ; neighbors, fellow-
students, and even strangers who had heard me play, packed to over-
flow that old concert hall. And so I was sent on my way !

Oh, the utter desolation and homesickness that swept over me
as the train chugged over the rich prairies of Indiana and Ohio.
The four j-ears seemed a life time! En route I visited my mother's
relatives in Pittsburgh. They had heard of my musical progress and
I was feted royall}^ A few days later I stood on the dock with
mingled feelings of pride and sorrow, and sailed from the very pier
where fourteen years before, I had landed on foreign soil, a fat
"Dutchy" little boy, clinging to my mother's hand — a hand now
stilled forever. From that moment, Cara mia, I became a man.
Gone were hours of boyish play — I was entering on real adventure.
Far to the West were my own loved ones, but from now on, I must
travel the path alone.

Of course I was wild to go ! I would see my birthplace. I
would hear the great orchestras and opera companies of Europe.
Germany meant music. It was the land of Beethoven and Goethe.
I would feast my soul ! But as the New York harbor slowly faded
from sight, a great revelation swept over me, and my heart gave a
Avild leap in my breast. Thank God I was to return some day !
Nothing could wean me away. I was not German in my soul. I
loved this adopted country of mine, where my dear ones lived and
where my beloved mother slept.

America ! That was it — America ! I had become one of her sons !



29



CHAPTER III



Europe



IT WAS late summer when I arrived in Hesse Darmstadt. The
fields were lush from long hours of hot sunshine and ])aths of
early dew. Between long rows of grain, blue corn-tiowers lifted
azure heads. Here and there red poppies lent a splash of color
rivaling the setting sun. The air was aromatic.

Unter Ostend, spreading over the low hillside, looked quaint and
very foreign to me as I walked up the steep village street. The
rough stone houses and shops built against the curb impressed me
with a sense of friendliness. Doors were widely open and upon
every deep window-ledge fuchsias bloomed. The entire atmosphere
of the town, Cara mia, breathed a gentle, huml)le hospitality.

At one of the smaller cottages I paused with deep emotion.
They had told me at the Kajfeehaus that here I would find Frau
]\Iaul, who had been the nurse attending my mother when her first
three sons were born, and I was very anxious to see her. She had
been a young woman when we left Germany — possibly thirty-six or
thirty-seven — so that now she would be in her fifties. 'Sly dear
mother had been greatly attached to her, often telling us of her
many virtues.

A small boy, answering my knock, told me that die Tante was in
her garden down the hillside and directed me how to find the spot.
The residents of the village had their gardens quite a distance from
their homes, each family owning a small plot of ground which was
planted with vegetables, flowers, and shrubs, according to the choice
and taste of the owner. These gardens adjoined, giving variety and
naturally a friendly rivalry every season. In the early evening
neighbors would stroll doAvn the steep narrow streets leading to
their garten-platz to gather the vegetables for the next day, to
pluck a few weeds from the flower-beds, and of course to gossip.

Frau ^laul did not see me approach. She was bending over
her lettuce bed pulling off stray withered leaves. But when I spoke
her name she rose al)ru])tly, turned and studied my face witli kindly

30



shrewd eyes. In silence we stood facing one another, then suddenly
she cried with joy,

''I cannot he wrong! You are one of Mina R5esing's sons!"

And flinging lier arms wide, she welcomed me home.

There were Nightingales singing in the hedge behind us as we
sat on the little wooden bench in that garden ... so gorgeous
an evensong as to make the heart skip a beat. In our Southern States,
Cara mia, one hears the mocking-bird's golden voice, but they, like
other feathered folk, sing with the day and sunshine. But it takes
the twilight, the early stars, or the crescent moon to inspire the
nightingale, and coming at such an hour, his limpid, sweet notes
create an impression of a symphony that is near to being angelic.

Far into the evening we talked. I told Frau Maul of America,
of our new life and of my own musical progress. We wept together
over my mother's death. When at last I left her at the door of her
stone cottage, she kissed me, saying:

"If you are not happy with your own kin, my Louis, come
back to your old nurse!"

My visit to my mother's old home was a shock and bitter dis-
appointment. The displeasure of her parents was so clearly and
heartlessly shown. That mother had married my father was bad
enough. That America had claimed nearly all their children was
still worse. But that IMina had died in that far-off, alien country
was the blow that had crushed their spirit and aifection. I was a
Falk — ya woM, it was stamped on my face ! I was a musician like
my father — lieher Gott, what a tragedy! They received me coldly,
haughtily, and with cruel indifference. I tried to find one spark
of the gentleness and love that my mother possessed, but it was not
there. They were still wealthy, respected, and as proud as they had
been in their youthful years, but they had not grown old with
grace and they were hopelessly old-fashioned. We talked auto-
matically for awhile and then I was ceremoniously ushered out.

"That night, Cara mia, I slept under my nurse's humble roof,
deep in one of her hand-plucked duck-feather beds, sheltered and
content in the warmth of her faithful love. I never saw my grand-
parents again !

From Darmstadt I went direct to Cassel, there to present my
letters of introduction and play before the great master, Dr. Wilhelm
Volckmar of Homberg. That he accepted me as a pupil was gratify-
ing, for there were many who enviously sought the honor, but the
master could not give time to all.

For two years I studied with Dr. Volckmar, and as it was only
a matter of a short ride to Darmstadt and Heidelberg, some of the
brief vacations I could afford, were spent in or around these pic-
turesque old cities.

31



Heidelberg Avith its University Avas ever a source of wonder
and joy. I knew one chap from Chicago who was a student there,
and he took me into the ''inner circle" of that life, that has thrilled
students the world over.

Being timid of physical hurt, caused no doubt by the super-
sensitiveness of my hands, I never understood the custom of duelling
among the students. Now this is all past, but in those days it was
impossible to walk the streets of Heidelberg without seeing young
men with faces ci-iss-crossed with scars from these honor duels. The
more scars, Cara mia, the more the student strutted.

I roamed for hours among the old university buildings and over
wooded paths of the campus. The ancient i)lace seemed alive with
long-dead students. The atmosi)here was charged with the past ;
with echoes of love and life that once had been the pulse-beat of the
famous old place of education.

The country of Hesse-Cassel was the noble, finished ])roduction
of Central Germany. Winding rivei-s cut the green hills. Charm-
ing villages nestled in a riot of gardens. Clrapes ripened on the
slopes, perfuming the air. Everywhere one felt that settled, orderly
completeness, as well as the beauty. In such environment must
Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn have put out their best effoi'ts.
From such beauty must the poetry of Heine and Goethe have sprung.
Was it any wonder, my little one, that my soul nearly burst with
youthful ambition? And my dreams came true, for Dr. Volckmar
promised that before I left Germany, he would arrange a concei't
tour of the principal cities for me, and he honora])ly kept his Avord.

From Cassel, two years later, I went to Leipzig, where I enrolled
in practically every musical study known. This sounds far more
terrifying than it was, for in the German conservatories of that
day, one paid a stated price to enter and could take all the studies
one wished. So, realizing the value of my limited funds, I decided
to waste nothing. I even went back to violin lessons, and — whisj^er
it gently behind one of your pink little baby hands — vocal lessons
as well. Today a first-rate teacher would not have taken me.

My instructors at the Leipzig Conservatory were famous men
of their day. Richter, Hauptman, and David, masters of their art.
And foremost among them was Carl Reinecke, at that time Conductor
of the Gcivandhaus concerts at Leipzig.

Great teachers ! Able to do Avonders Avith an embryo musician.
But stern and relentless taskmasters. From the day of matricula-
tion every hour Avas spent in either lesson periods or long grinding
practice.

I roomed Avith a chap who was specializing in piano, and who
became one of the really famous pianists of Europe and America.
But when I knew him best he was simply "Barney" to me, and just
as penurious as I was obliged to be.

32



We liad found a peyision in a modest home for a few pfennig and
where we were allowed to cook(?) our own meals. In reality we
did very little housekeeping. Coffee and a sweet roll was our break-
fast ; a couple of crackers our lunch. The main meal was eaten at
one of the cheaper Hofbraus in the college town and consisted of a
thick soup, black bread, cheese and of course, beer. We walked an
allotted three miles each day to keep fit, either in the early dawn or
in the twilight. For another pfennig or two the landlady did our
washing and often darned our socks or sewed on buttons. Every
cent we saved from our limited income, went into an old cracked
stein on our cupboard shelf. This Avas a fund to be used only for
concerts and opera, and then, spent judiciously.


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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 2 of 7)