William Haffer

17 April 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.

William was the fourth of six children born to George and Louisa (Lueke) Haffer. According to Louisa’s census answers, all her children survived childhood. She was born in Wisconsin, and that is also where she met and married German immigrant George who came to the US as the age of 17. Their oldest child, son Arthur, was also born in Wisconsin but around 1890, the family moved to Chicago. George worked for the railroad and the family seems to have been financially pretty stable, especially as the the children grew older.

It’s interesting to see how the children’s lives changed, too, as time passed. Though Arthur went to school until he was about 10 years old, neither older daughter Martha nor Emma attended school at all. They could read and write, so it’s likely their mother taught them at home. William, George Jr, and Louise, however, all attended school and appear to have entered the workforce later than their three older siblings did. It’s possible, though unclear, that Louise — the baby of the family — graduated high school.

In 1910, William was still not working, though at 13 it would have been a bit early even in those days for him to have had a real job yet. As it falls between the censuses and his obituary makes no mention of it, we do not know if Western Electric was his first job. It seems unlikely but if the younger children were allowed more time at school, it is not impossible that he completed high school and then got the job at WE.

A quite tragic fact about his employment there is that it had not yet begun. He was meant to start work at WE the Monday after the picnic. I’m sure he had friends who worked there already and might have attended with them regardless of if he’d been hired or not, but as it’s very likely he was attending as a bit of a early welcome, that bit of information is especially poignant.

His was the first loss of a child that befell the Haffer family, and they seem to have stuck together for quite some time. Oldest daughter Martha married four months after the disaster (to William Lusthoff — an event possibly already planned prior to her brother William’s death) but the others stayed close to home for several more years. Arthur didn’t marry until 1920, George Jr married in 1925, and Emma and Louise were both at home until they married in 1930.

An unusual fact about the Haffers that underscores their stability compared to many other Eastland families at the time is that from the moment they turn up on the census as a family in 1900, they lived at the same house — 2852 S 40th Court which later became 2852 South Komensky. The house still stands to this day and is rather charming on Google Streetview.

Louisa passed away in 1934 at the good old age for the time of 69. With the events again falling between the censuses, we can’t know if George Jr. and his wife and Emma and her husband (William Haeger) had lived with their parents after they married, but by 1940, George Jr. was listed as the head of the household and Emma and her husband were living there as well, listed as lodgers.

Not listed is George Sr. who appears to have left the house to his children by that point. Though I can’t find a 1940 census record for him or his daughter Louise (married to Herbert Chastain) — though I could for all the other siblings — based on his death record and the fact that Louise was listed as the informant, it appears he went to live with her — his youngest child — after her mother’s death.

Very shortly after the 1940 census, sadly, Emma died. She and her husband had no children, and she was buried with her mother and younger brother at Concordia. Just four years later in 1944, oldest Arthur also died, leaving behind a widow and two daughters, both as yet unmarried. His wife lived another 30 years but did not remarry, and they are both buried down the road from Concordia at Woodlawn Cemetery.

George Sr. passed in 1949 and was buried with Louisa, William, and Emma. The surviving three siblings lived many more years, George and Martha having two children each and Louise having one for a total of seven Haffer nieces and nephews that William never met.

Martha died in November 1973, just 8 months after her husband, and they are at Concordia right next to her parents and siblings. George Jr died in 1983 and is also buried at Concordia with his wife, who died 2 years after he did, but I am not sure where they are located in the cemetery.

Louise was widowed in 1958 and her husband was buried in Section 11 at Concordia. She remarried at some point to George Petru and outlived him as well. He died in 1980 and is buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery with his parents; when Louise died in 1985, she was buried with Herbert under just the Chastain name.

George Sr’s surname did not survive past his grandchildren’s generation. Of his sons, only George Jr had a son and that son did not have any children of his own.

None of the obituaries I found mentioned William which is something I always find quite sad. However, I’m sure he was not forgotten. The family stayed very close throughout their lives and are all close in death as well.

RIP Haffers

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