Walter Elendt

17 July 1895 – 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.

Walter was the second youngest of five children (four surviving infancy) born to Gustav and Emma (Ritter) Elendt. Gustav had immigrated as a teen and according to all US records, Emma was born in Chicago. There is, however, a birth certificate for an Emma Ritter with her exact birthday and the same-named parents born in Berlin which may very well be a coincidence but still seems weird. In any case, her parents were German immigrants as well.

Gustav seems to have been successful at a number of things. The family moved from owned house to owned house in 1900, 1910, and 1920 and Gus switched jobs — including owning a notions shop in 1910 — a few times, all seemingly without suffering any setback that can be seen in the public records.

In 1910, all four children were still living at home, which at the time was South 41st Court, but oldest, daughter Olga, would marry just a few months later. Olga had three sons prior to Walter’s death (with one dying in infancy), and her youngest son, born in 1914, was named for both her brothers (George Walter) which implies the siblings were close.

At some point after Olga’s marriage and before 1915, the Elendts moved from South 41st Court to Kedvale where Walter, Gus, and Emma would live for the rest of their lives.

In 1910, second oldest, brother George, was already working at Western Electric as a polisher, but Walter had yet to go to work. This indicates to me that the family was doing pretty well — they didn’t rush their younger children into the workforce — and from the information in his obituary, it seems Walter didn’t go to work until he was 16 years old which was about two years later than usual for the time period.

By 1915, Walter had been working at WE for four years and George for at least five; the brothers boarded the Eastland together the morning of the picnic, but only George survived.

For whatever reason, in spite of the many years of employment, Walter isn’t listed in the company’s internal spreadsheet of victims (or if he is, he’s somewhere well out of alphabetical order, and I went through it several times). I also couldn’t find a mention of him in the Red Cross index nor did I come across any probate documents for him, so if the family received any financial aid, insurance, or recompense from any organization, I can’t find a record of it.

About a year after his brother’s death, George married Bessie Sado and in 1917, they had a son named Walter after his late uncle. In 1920, George, Bessie, and little Walter Jr, then aged 2, were living with Gus and Emma and youngest Clara. In 1921, Clara married and her husband moved in with his inlaws on Kedvale.

In 1929, Emma died and was buried with Walter Sr. At some point after 1920 and prior to 1923, George and Bessie had divorced. The 1930 census shows them both remarried. For whatever reason, though, Walter Jr continued to live with his grandparents (and later just his grandfather), Aunt Clara, and Uncle Charles on Kedvale through 1940.

By 1940, he had gone to work at Western Electric where his father was also still working. Gus died in 1941, exactly a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was buried with Emma and Walter Sr. Just two months after Pearl Harbor and three months after his grandfather’s death, Walter Jr enlisted in the army and would serve through the end of World War II. He was wounded in action in October 1944, but the hospital records show a fairly short stay, and it appears he was able to return to duty within the same month.

The last appearance in the census we have for him in 1950 shows him returned to civilian life and married to a woman named Harriet. He and his wife had no children at that time, and his father’s obituary from just over 20 years later mentions no grandchildren.

Olga (d 1980) and Clara (d 1975) and their husbands are buried at Woodlawn, near to Concordia in Forest Park. George had converted to Catholicism (possibly when he married first wife Bessie) and was buried at Queen of Heaven in Hillside, Illinois, when he died in 1972.

Walter Jr died in 2010, two years after Harriet and just a couple of months shy of his 93rd birthday. He and Harriet were also Catholic and are buried at Resurrection in Justice, IL.

In all the obituaries I found for Walter Sr’s parents and siblings, he is mentioned. As it is often the case that the long-ago lost young people of the Eastland were not so consistently remembered by their loved ones, I find this especially moving.

RIP Elendts

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