Clara Will

19 August 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.

Clara was the oldest of seven children (five surviving infancy) born to William and Augusta (Schalk) Will. William had immigrated with his family when he was just a toddler but Augusta had arrived as a teenager (though it’s unclear when for certain as she changes her immmigration-year answer wildly from census to census). She and Will married in November 1895 — nine months before Clara was born.

Clara was not yet working in 1910 — she was only 13 when the census was taken — but it’s likely she entered the workforce either later that same year or early in 1911. If so, then Western Electric was not her first job, as she had only been working there two and a half years at the time of her death.

I couldn’t find an obituary for her in the Chicago Tribune July 31st special edition, sadly, so there really is very little more to say about her life. Her family seems to have weathered her loss better than many. Though they had already been living on South Keeler Avenue in part of what was a 2- or 3-flat building at the time of Clara’s death, by 1920, they’d moved into a single-family house a block down the street from the address listed on Clara’s death record.

In 1920, the entire remaining family were all still living together on South Keeler. In 1929, father William passed away, and in 1930, the census shows that all the children except Lillian had married and moved away. Lillian had also married, but she and her husband and two sons were living with Grandma Augusta at the house. It appears that they all continued to live together at that address for the rest of Augusta’s life (d 1956), with the grandsons still living with the family in 1950, both as yet unmarried.

All of Clara’s siblings married and had children of their own, and all are also buried at Concordia, so it seems the family remained at least geographically close throughout their lives. Sister Louise died next youngest at only 52 years old in 1957, the year after her mother (who lived to the great old age of 87). Sister Lillian died in 1972 at 70; the following year brother Edward also passed away at age 73. Youngest sister Alma also lived longest, dying in 1994 at the age of 84.

Clara Will in Section 2 at Concordia.Clara is buried up in Section 2 near the front of the cemetery, apparently alone. All the rest of the family are together back in section 11 which is nearly as far away from Section 2 as it’s possible to be in the cemetery. It’s possible her infant siblings are buried with her or that the family was simply too distraught to do any long-term thinking about purchasing a family plot at that time and bought an available single with the money received from Western Electric for funeral expenses, but it is curious. I tried to find a connection between the Wills and the Anders family beside which Clara is buried, but if there was one, it doesn’t show up in the public records.

Clara was only mentioned in her closest-in-age sister Lillian’s obituary. I couldn’t find one for her father, but her omission from her mother’s obituary makes me sad as it always makes me sad when those who died after childhood are seemingly forgotten by their survivors. It was bittersweet and moving, though to see her name in Lillian’s obituary, 57 years after her death. I like to think Lillian would tell her sons about their Aunt Clara and that when they wrote her obituary, they included this long-lost sister with fondness.

RIP Will Family

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