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Gerhardt John: The Eldest Niehaus Child

Imagine the feelings of an eleven-year-old boy leaving not only his hometown but moving to a country across the ocean, never to return. In 1885 Gerhardt John Niehaus experienced that exactly. He must have thought: “Will our family make the long journey okay?” “What will our lives be like there? “ “How will the neighbors treat us?” This young Niehaus family member found the answers to all his questions in America.

To pull together what we know about Gerald's life in America, I asked for help from Pat Niehaus Cracraft, Gerald's granddaughter and daughter of Bernie and Ruth Niehaus. What great history she provided. Drawing from Pat's input and other family history, I give you a short synopsis of the eldest Niehaus child.

Gerhardt John Niehaus was born to Joseph and Gertrude (Wilmsen) Niehaus at their home in Emsdetten, Westphalia, Germany on the 28th of January 1874. When he was 11 years old Gertrude and Joseph brought him and his five brothers and two sisters to Indianapolis. It must have been difficult for this young man to step into a completely new world. However, he most likely found familiarity and acceptance among the many German people where they settled on Indianapolis' south side.

We know this young Niehaus man made a fine life for himself in his new country. He learned to be a cabinet maker. At some point he worked at his trade in Peru, Indiana. There he met a lady named, Amanda Marsh, of Swedish descent, who became his wife in 1906. Gerald and Mandy's family eventually included five children, Geraldine, Joseph, Bernard, Harvey and Gerald, Jr., “Abe,” all born in Indianapolis.Gerald built a home on Habig Lane in Indianapolis, next door to his sister, Feenie, and her husband, Al Stull. Pat recalls: “From what my Dad and Abe said, he was a much better cabinet maker than house builder, as none of the walls were straight.” She also remembered: “They didn't have indoor plumbing until .....about 1950.”

But, sadly, at 44 years of age and after only twelve years of marriage, Gerald passed away suddenly after returning home one evening from work. His son, Bernie, gave these details in an interview a few years ago: “Where the street car line ended, there was a saloon, Berringer's. His death occurred during the time of prohibition (May 1918). The doctor that pronounced him dead said that if it hadn't been for prohibition and the fact that Berringer's couldn't sell whiskey, he might have lived. He was feeling badly when he got off the streetcar and walked home (about 3 miles). Had he been able to stop in at Berringer's, he probably would have survived the heart attack. Carrie Nation was responsible for my father's death.”

Gerald's family had many struggles after his death. Especially since Mandy was pregnant with their fifth child when he died. Bernie said: “All of us, including my mother, worked at whatever jobs we could find where we would earn even a very small amount of money.” And Pat adds to this story: “My grandmother really had it hard financially. They moved from relative to relative for a while, received flour, sugar and other foodstuffs from Catholic Charities. The kids worked at the Fletcher Estate and for the truck farms around Bluff Road. Abe told that they were allowed to bring home damaged vegetables. The boys hunted and fished to help put food on the table.” She remembered too that her father and his brothers and sister rode a manure wagon from Habig and South Meridian to Sacred Heart School. And that her uncle Bud had a car with a fabric roof and his brother, Abe's, goat ate the roof off the car. These are the types of events that are much funnier after a few years have gone by. And, it seems they may have played a part in the family's unity.

One of Pat's memories is, perhaps, the best way to conclude Gerald's story: “On Sundays we would go to my Grandma's and Aunt Feenie's children and grandchildren would be there for Sunday dinner. After dinner the cousins (my Dad's generation) would play euchre, sometimes volleyball, mostly cards, though.”

Surely Gerald would be pleased at the results for the family.