Edward “Eddie” Hennings

Edward Hennings

23 January 1897 – 24 July 1915

The Eastland, one of five chartered excursion boats meant to ferry employees, their families and friends from Chicago over to the Michigan City shore for the annual Western Electric Company picnic, keeled over into the Chicago River while still at dock, trapping hundreds inside its hull and leading to the deaths of 844 of the 2,500 passengers aboard at the time of the incident which became known as The Eastland Disaster.

Edward was the youngest son and second youngest child of Fred C. and Sophia Brahst Hennings, German immigrants who had both come to the US with their families as children. The couple married when both were 20 years old, on 7 September 1889, and their oldest child, Louis, was born four months later.

Edward was their fourth surviving child (after Louis, Amalia “Mollie”, and Fred Jr.). The 1910 census lists his father as a foreman at a wholesaler of some sort. The family was living on West 21st Place in the Pilsen neighborhood. The stretch of West 21st Place where they lived no longer exists, the area where it was now completely industrialized.

By 1910, youngest child Helen had been born, a full ten years after her nearest-in-age sibling Edward (the censuses list Sophia as having had six children total and having lost one before 1900). At this point, Fred Sr. was working at a grocery firm. Since 1900, the family had moved to South 41st Court which also doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Louis, Mollie, and Fred Jr. are all working outside the home, while Eddie is not quite yet old enough to leave school and go to work (eighth grade being the normal highest level of schooling for most working class families back in the day).

At some point after that, Edward entered the workforce, probably a year or two after the 1910 census. Whether he immediately found work with Western Electric or did some other work first is unknown, but by 1915, he was employed at Western Electric’s Cicero location. In the years between the census and his passing, Mollie had married but it seems as if the rest of the family were still living together, now in the Little Village neighborhood at 4224 West 31 Street (a location that most recently was a neighborhood restaurant with a primarily Mexican menu though I can’t tell if the building itself dates back to 1915).

Less that two years after Edward’s death, his father also passed away at the relatively young age of 47. He was listed as a saloon keeper on his death certificate, which may have been the aim of the move to West 31st Street if the current building is some revision of what it looked like in 1915 — the building today seems to be one that has long had a restaurant on the ground floor and living space above. It’s also possible Fred Sr. pursued the career change using the settlement money from Edward’s death.

By 1920, Only Sophia, Fred Jr., and young Helen are living together, having moved again though only a few blocks away from the prior address. Sophia is listed as working as a seamstress while Fred was working as an inspector at a rubber factory. Helen, only thirteen, is still at school.

The fact that Sophia is having to work makes me wonder if the settlement money was squandered as it was quite generous (the insurance payout was $20K per the probate record which is about half a million in today’s money, and that might not have been all the money paid out to the survivors’ families).

Later in 1920, Fred Jr. married and at some point after that moved to Berwyn. It’s unclear if Sophia and Helen moved with him or followed to the area and lived nearby, but in early 1930, Sophia passed away at just sixty in Berwyn and was buried with her son and husband.

Though I cannot track down what happened to Helen after this, she is mentioned along with Mollie as surviving Fred Jr. in his obituary many, many years later. Louis also appears to have survived to old age, and though I can’t find a death record or obituary for him, we do know from Fred Jr.’s obituary that he passed away before his younger siblings.

RIP Hennings family

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