Ralph Rossow

2 July 1896 – 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.


The fifth and final Rossow who died on the Eastland and is buried at Concordia is unrelated to the little family I previously profiled which was entirely wiped out in the disaster. He is, however, buried quite close by to that family, near the southwest corner of Section 8, overlooking the Desplaines River.

Ralph’s father Herman had immigrated as a young teenager from Germany and his mother Frieda (nee Siedler) was born and raised in Chicago. They married in February 1892 and four months later, oldest Arthur was born.

Herman was a pressman in the newspaper business, and before Ralph’s death, he had moved the family to Oak Park to a lovely house on South East Avenue (that is still there). This is the house where the services were held for Ralph’s funeral.

His parents lived out their lives at that house. We have no way to know, but by 1920, the house is paid for. A year after his death, probate records show a hefty $20K settlement recorded.

Six years before Ralph’s death, his little sister Gertrude had passed away at age 10. Frieda had lost one other child in infancy, so after Ralph’s death, only oldest Arthur and youngest Bernice survived.

Frieda died just a few years later, and though Bernice married and had a son, she appears to have lived with her father for the rest of his life. Bernice remarried in 1941 to a much older man, but he died just a few years later in 1948, and then Bernice herself died relatively young the following year.

Arthur followed his father into the newspaper business and was also a pressman. He married and had two children, one of whom – daughter Mary – died quite young in 1945. Arthur died in 1958 and was buried at Mount Carmel, suggesting he may have converted perhaps when he married.

Ralph Rossow Dies on Eastland

Ralph Rossow of 1141 South East was a victim of the Eastland disaster – another fine young man who met his death while on a day’s outing. His body was recovered early Sunday morning. The services were held at his home Wednesday, conducted by Rev. E.T. lams of Christ Lutheran Evangelical church of which Mr. Rossow was a member. The burial was at Concordia.

Ralph was a nineteen-year-old son of Charles Rossow. He was not employed by Western Electric company, but had planned to spend the day with his cousin, Herbert Buelow of Chicago.

Ralph was a member of the Lutheran’s Aid and Missionary league and attended school at the Lutheran institute in Chicago. He was very prominent on the south side in church and social activities and his death brought to an end a life that promised to be very useful. He is survived by his parents, a brother, Arthur and sister, Bernice. He was not related to the Rossow family of Chicago, which was nearly wiped out by the terrible catastrophe.

Oak Leaves Newspaper, Saturday, July 31, 1915, page 16

A detailed obituary for Ralph ran in the Oak Leaves newspaper (Oak Park, IL) on the same day as the Chicago Tribune special edition, and it gives us a lot more information about Ralph than we usually find for Eastland victims.

He was not a Western Electric employee but had attended the picnic with his cousin Herbert Buelow (who also died that day and is also buried nearby in Section 8). Ralph, unusually for the young people of the Eastland, was not working at all but was attending the Lutheran Institute in Chicago, a seminary, so it seems he’d been intending to become a minister.

This casts some of the information in the Tribune’s obituary in doubt, and makes me certain (as I’ve quietly suspected for a while) that much of the info contained in the hastily-assembled obituaries from the Tribune special edition are filled with exaggerations and wrong information. We have pretty strong evidence that Ralph was not one of “the main supports of his family,” as his father had a very good job and had recently moved the family to a house in a lovely suburb. Ralph himself was in college. The Tribune says he’d taken a vacation day from his job in the city which — it was summer — he may have had a summer job, but the Oak Leaves obituary does not mention one. It also, oddly, misses the detail that the Western Electric employee “friend” with whom he’d gone to the picnic was his cousin, and both obituaries neglect to mention that Herbert also died in the disaster.

This is not unusual — newspapers often get little (and big) details wrong — but I point them out to remind us all of this truth.

It’s hard to say why Ralph’s mother and sister died so young. My theory of stress from such traumatic loss playing a role in these things can’t be proven with the information available, and it’s possible there was some health issue the women shared (and possibly Arthur’s daughter Mary) that shortened their lives as well. In any case, it’s very sad.

RIP Rossows

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