20 July 1898 — 24 July 1915
This article was researched and written for the Eastland Disaster Historical Society and was originally posted on their Facebook page. Please see the informational page and the Eastland Disaster category on this site for more articles and information on this topic. This version has been edited from the original to integrate additional information.
Anna was the third of nine children born to Antoni and Frances (Branecki) Kubiak. Antoni was born in Germany and Frances in Poland, and they met and married in the Old Country in 1890 before emigrating to the United States in 1891. Frances was most likely already pregnant with their oldest child, Mary, when they arrived, and by the time Mary was born in June of 1891, the couple had settled in the Chicago area.
Between Mary’s birth and 1900, the couple had three more children: Frances Jr (1894), William (1896), and Anna (1898); and the family had settled in Cicero on Linden (now 49th) Street. This was very close to the Hawthorne factory location of the Western Electric Company, though Antoni doesn’t appear to have worked there himself.
It’s possible, however, that Mary worked there for a time, but if she did, that employment fell between the census years. In 1908, she married Joseph Zielinski who was a Western Electric Company employee. Based on the fact that multiple Kubiak daughters worked at the factory, I suspect Mary and Joe met while both were working there.
Together they had at least four children, two of whom survived infancy (Helen and Stanley). The identity of the father of Mary’s oldest child, son Joseph, is less clear. Public records for 1910 and 1920 indicate he was a Zielinski, specifically Joe Jr, but later in life, he took the surname O’Malley. It seems likely his mother’s husband Joseph Zielinski was not his biological father, and it’s possible that he was the child of a brief first marriage, was born out of wedlock, or that his mother was pregnant with him from a relationship with this mysterious O’Malley when she married Joe Sr.
By 1910, the rest of the Kubiak family, now including four more children, had moved to 31st Street, still in Cicero. Frances Jr was working at Western Electric as a coil winder — the same work Anna would be doing just a few years later. Antoni worked on the streetcar. All seems to have been going well for the family and, according to Frances Sr’s census answers, the family had lost no children in infancy or to later illness or accident. The younger four were son Joseph Anton (1901), Antonia (1903), Agnieska (1905 — called Agnes), and Clara (1910).
According to the Red Cross Relief Committee Report that was filed following Anna’s death, the Kubiak family moved to western Indiana near Laporte due to Antoni’s failing health: “…The family had just moved to a suburb and bought a little plot of ground where the husband might raise vegetables to supply the family.” Frances and Anna, both of whom were working at Western Electric in 1915, reportedly sent about 20 – 25 dollars to their parents every month “…which was their only income.”
Having already left home and married, Mary stayed in Chicago when her parents and siblings moved to Indiana, and one can infer she was someone Frances and Anna relied on after this family parting of ways. The curious blank space in the story is what oldest brother William was doing at the time. He would have been 16 or 17 when the family moved — an age at which one would expect him to have been in the workforce for a couple of years already — but it’s unclear where he was at the time or what he was doing. His military records indicate he moved to Indiana in 1915 but there is no mention in any records that he’d stayed in Chicago when the family moved initially or that he was contributing to his family’s support.
In November 1912, the last Kubiak child, Katherine, was born. As she was born in Cicero, it’s most likely the family moved to Indiana either in December of 1912 or at some point in 1913. The timing of the move is unclear — some records saying 1912; others placing it later; the Red Cross report describing the move as having “just” taken place. Clara and Katherine were both younger than their oldest nephew Joe (born around 1908) and Katherine was several months younger than her niece Helen (born July 1912).
Whatever the timing, the Kubiaks had not lived for very long in Indiana before tragedy struck. On her eighth birthday, 15 October 1913, little Agnes died of a gunshot to the head. There are various (and in some instances wildly conflicting) accounts in the papers of what happened, but all agree that one of her siblings accidentally shot her. One report that placed blame on a nonexistent 4-year-old brother also gave Agnes’ age as 5 and claimed the two children were playing with the gun when it went off accidentally, and I initially speculated as to why the reports gave such different accounts, but a family member clarified that the Laporte paper had the correct story, and that the brother who had returned from a hunting trip (Joseph) was the one who accidentally shot Agnes. (Which means the more sensational, inaccurate report was likely garbled hearsay reported as fact).
The tragedy of this is unimaginable, every detail making the story worse. After safely raising nine children at a time of very high infant mortality, Antoni and Frances Sr’s escape to the country seems to have almost led directly to this death. Rabbit-hunting expeditions and shotguns left lying about seem dangers far less likely to have come up in Cicero where children went off to work at 14 and rabbits were less common. I initially thought Agnes was buried at Saint Stanislaus Cemetery with her parents, but a family member told me she was interred at St. Mary’s near where the family lived at the time and that they moved after Anna’s death closer to Saint Stanislaus (which is where her parents and two of her siblings were later interred).
Less than two years later, the family endured another terrible loss with Anna’s death on the Eastland. According to Kubiak family stories, Frances Sr had come to visit her daughters in Chicago, and she, Frances Jr, and presumably Mary, her husband Joe, and her children, decided to stay in Chicago the day of the picnic. Frances Jr had been working at Western Electric for several years and likely had gone on picnics in the past. Other reports indicate the girls visited their family near Michigan City often enough to be known in that area, so unlike their coworkers, there was little novelty in shuttling across the lake to that town for them.
Anna, who worked in the Wire Department #2327, was set to be crowned Queen of Coils at the picnic, and one wonders if this honor was the main reason she decided to go. The local Michigan City paper claimed she was planning to visit her parents for the weekend, which adds some confusion to the chain of events. But whatever the case, only Anna of all her family — including those also employed by Western Electric — boarded the Eastland that day. The Michigan City paper claimed she was one of the first to board.
The Red Cross report indicating that she and Frances Jr were their family’s sole support adds some context as to why Anna was buried in Chicago rather than in Indiana with her little sister Agnes as well as to why she had no headstone. My theory is that Anna may have been buried with Mary’s lost babies — Anna’s two nieces who died in infancy. The Diocese cemetery index does not list either girl, though, so this isn’t a theory I can prove. Only their death records document them and indicate their place of burial as Resurrection Catholic Cemetery.
If Mary already had a burial plot, though, and money was tight, burying Anna on that plot makes sense and not going to the expense of having her body transported to Indiana to be buried closer to her parents also makes sense. Her Western Electric benefit was $144.60 — a fairly standard amount that seems to have been about enough to cover burial expenses; the Red Cross gave the family $800 from the Eastland Fund. I did not find a probate claim in Anna’s name, so it’s unclear if they ever saw any additional financial compensation though it seems unlikely that they did.
More tragedy lay in store for the family after Anna’s loss. William enlisted on 6 October 1917 and went off to war. Just over a year later, on 25 October 1918, he was killed in action in France. His body would be repatriated three years later, and he was buried at Saint Stanislaus in 1921.
Antoni — who started styling himself Anton after the move to Indiana — and Frances Sr would not outlive anymore of their children, and both lived to good old ages. Frances died in Indiana in 1954; Anton died at Oak Park Hospital (IL) in 1960. It’s unclear if he’d moved back after his wife’s death to live with one of his adult children, or if they’d brought him to a hospital closer to them when he fell ill, but according to his obituary in The Life (Berwyn, IL), he had “…lived to see a fifth generation born to his family” and was survived by Mary, Frances Jr, Antonia, Clara, Katherine, and Joseph, “…10 grandchildren, 9 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.”
Though she was just 13 when Anna died, at some point before 1920, Antonia moved back to Cicero to live with Frances Jr and work at Western Electric. In the wake of the tragedy, the Company made hiring relatives of the disaster victims a priority. Frances Jr, too, continued to work at Western Electric for several years, it seems up until she married in March 1919. Her husband was a die maker for a shoe company as well as serving in the navy and later in the naval reserve through 1921, though it appears he was not on active duty after his marriage.
In 1920, he, Frances Jr, and Antonia were living on W. 30th Place, just down a few houses from where Frances and Anna had lived at the time of Anna’s death.
At the same time, brother Joseph was still living at home in Indiana and not apparently working (no occupation was listed on the census for him), but as Anton was listed as a farmer, it’s likely that Joseph (and in earlier years, William) had been needed there to help his father.
The surviving Kubiak children all lived long lives. The evidence suggests that Mary’s husband Joseph Zielinski died around 1921 but there were many, many Joseph Zielinskis in Chicago at the time, three of whom died in 1921 and were buried at Resurrection. The death record of the most likely of these to have been Mary’s husband doesn’t list a wife’s name or street address so it’s impossible to verify the connection. The plot information listed by the Diocese also gives no clues as to any connection to Mary or the Kubiaks, so what ultimately became of Mary’s Joe is a mystery.
Joe Jr, originally Zielinski and later O’Malley, also was impossible to track past 1920 beyond mentions in his relatives’ obituaries, Joseph O’Malley being an even more common name than Joseph Zielinski.
In any case, Mary remarried in 1923 to Joseph Dufour, and while they had no children together, he was a beloved stepfather to Mary’s three children. They had 42 years together before he died in 1965. Mary lived to be 90 years old and died in 1983. She and Joseph Dufour are buried together alongside daughter Helen and Helen’s husband in Queen of Angels cemetery near Chicago.
Frances Jr and her husband had a daughter and two sons. Sadly, their oldest child, daughter Eleanor (b 1920), died at just fifteen years old and is buried with her parents at Resurrection.
Joseph came back to the Chicago area as an adult, married, and had a son. He died at 89 years old in Berwyn and is also buried at Resurrection with his wife.
Antonia was the most difficult to track after 1920. At some point before 1930, she met and married a Greek immigrant named Steven Keros who was more than 12 years her senior and appears to have been in the hospitality business and served briefly in WWI. I couldn’t find Antonia on the 1930 census, but Steven was living and working at a hotel at that time. By 1940, they were both living in Thornton, Illinois, at another hotel, while Steven’s occupation was listed as proprietor (though not apparently of the hotel where they’re living; I’m presuming of a restaurant in Thornton). Steven died in 1967 and was buried at Homewood Memorial Gardens; Antonia lived another 20 years, dying in 1987 and was buried with her husband. They did not have any children.
Clara ended up in Chicago, too, marrying Joseph Kruszynski in 1927 and having one son. She and Joe lived in various locations around Cook County for many years, ending up in Calumet City which is fairly close to the Indiana border and fairly close to Homewood where Antonia also lived. Clara sadly outlived both her husband, who died in 1972, and her son Frank who died in 1994. She died in Hammond, Indiana, just across the state line and was buried at Holy Cross in Calumet City with her husband.
Katherine, who was not yet one year old when her sister Agnes died and was not yet three when her sister Anna died, lived most of her life in LaPorte County. She married Anthony Levendouski in 1938 and had three children. She died at the age of 80 in 1993 on the 78th anniversary of Anna’s death. Her husband died two years later, and they are buried at Saint Stanislaus near her parents and brother William.
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