Amelia Farrell

Amelia Louise Albertina Hering Farrell
16 December 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.

Amelia Farrell
Amelia Farrell, mislabeled both as Mildred and Miss, Chicago Tribune, 26 July 1914, p5.

Amelia was the youngest daughter and third youngest child in a large, blended family. Her father Carl had come over to the US in the early 1880s with his two oldest children, Otto and Elizabeth (called Kate). At least four more children were born in Illinois to Carl prior to his marriage to Pauline. I could not find the name of his first wife or what happened to her, though his oldest six children were from this first marriage (or possibly marriages).

Amelia’s mother Pauline was also born in Germany and was 22 years younger than her husband and only nine years older than her oldest stepson. She came to the US at some point in 1890 or early 1891 and married Carl in March of 1891. Though Carl claimed Amelia’s brother Henry and the public records list him as Henry’s father, due to the timing and the fact that Henry was born in Germany in April of 1890, it is most likely that he was born out of wedlock. This might also explain Pauline’s arrival as a young mother with a babe-in-arms apparently immediately marrying a much older man. It seems likely transcontinental arrangements were made by relatives or friends to help Pauline escape scandal and possibly also help Carl deal with his six motherless children.

Whether it was a good marriage or not is impossible to determine from public records, but it doesn’t appear that her stepchildren saw Pauline as anything other than their mother. She and Carl had four more children together — Emma, Amelia, Ernest, and Herman, for a total of 11 Hering children who survived childhood.

Of the six Hering children who survived Pauline, only Ernest was her biological child, but the other five are listed as her own and she as their beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother.

The research into Amelia’s life beyond the saga of her parents turned up some surprises. Her obituary is riddled with inaccuracies at a level unusual even for the hastily-assembled January 31st special edition. Her listing on the Western Electric roster of employee victims also has errors, giving her name as Mildred Farrell. She is also listed on two separate lists of identified dead under both names — Amelia on July 26th and Mildred on July 27th. A photo of her ran on the 26th in a separate section, but there she was called Mildred. I checked the full list of Eastland victims on the Eastland Disaster Historical website to make sure two 19-year-old Farrell girls weren’t being conflated, but Amelia is the only Farrell victim listed.

Amelia's Obituary
Amelia’s Obituary, Chicago Tribune, 31 July 1915, p14

Due to that being the name used on her WE paperwork, it seems possible she went by Mildred at work which maybe led to confusion with coworkers providing one name and family another. It doesn’t seem to have been one of her given names, so I wonder if it was some in-joke or an attempt at a self-reimagining.

Aside from the name confusion, the Red Cross citation documenting the relief they paid out to her family explains the confusing and sad situation that led to many of the wrong assumptions about Amelia, but let’s back up a bit to 1913 first.

In Feburary 1913, Amelia married Oliver Farrell. Just five months later in July, their only child, son Oliver Jr, was born so it seems likely the couple “had to” marry by the standards of the time. Sadly, just three months later, Amelia’s nearest-in-age sister Emma died, also at just 19 years old. She had been working as a Machine Hand which seems likely to mean she worked at Western Electric though that is not specified in her death record.

Amelia’s husband was Catholic of Irish descent (though his parents were both born in Illinois), and that also was a likely obstacle they had to deal with. Based on the fact that Amelia had been working for a year and two months at WE at the time of her death, it looks like she went to work when baby Oliver was only about 10 months old. She made about $10/week which wasn’t great but was within the range of usual wages for women employees of her age and experience.

The Red Cross document explains this unusual situation of young working mother Amelia: “…The illness of the husband had compelled the couple to separate, and the wife was living with her parents and supporting herself and the child…” Though we don’t know his cause of death, Oliver Sr died just two years later, so tuberculosis is a strong possibility given this additional context. It is also entirely possible that he had some issue such as alcoholism.

Red Cross documentation
Red Cross listing of relief paid out to Amelia’s survivors

Their separation explains why her obituary implied she was single. No mention was made of her son, either — just a vague wave toward many surviving siblings (which is true; there were nine at the time). One wonders how the information was gathered about the victims for that special edition. If Amelia had rebranded herself at work as Mildred Farrell, the single girl without a care in the world and oh, the last name being different from my siblings who also work at WE? Well that’s because she was adopted by her parents — and coworkers gave information to the reporters, it could explain why she was inaccurately implied to be single, childless, and also to be the stepdaughter of her biological parents.

Western Electric paid out $157 in funeral expenses along with $25 in relief funds. The Red Cross reports that along with this, $93 in insurance money was paid to Pauline. The Eastland Fund gift paid to Amelia’s family was $1,575 and if I’m reading the report correctly, this was put in trust for Oliver Jr and paid out $10/month in child support to the Herings with whom he continued to live.

By 1917, Oliver Jr was orphaned entirely when his father also passed away, and his father and later his paternal grandparents were buried together at Mount Olivet in Chicago. Though he was raised by his Lutheran grandparents, Oliver at some point (possibly even then due to family agreement?) chose Catholicism as his religion, and he is buried at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Justice, Illinois.

Amelia’s oldest brother Otto and her mother’s oldest biological son Henry died less than ten years after their sister, both relatively young men and both buried at Concordia. Papa Carl died in 1933 at the great old age of 86 and is also buried at Concordia. Most of his sons served in WWI and — surprisingly — youngest Herman signed up and served in WWII in his 40s. He never married and died just a few years later in 1953. He was the last child to predecease Pauline, and when she died in 1961 at the very great old age of 91, she left behind five stepchildren (Kate, Meta, Leo, Charles, and Marie) and her second youngest biological son Ernest.

From there, the siblings are mostly trackable via their own obituaries and their mentions in each others’ obituaries. Though I couldn’t find death records for Kate, Meta, or Charles, it appears from who disappears from the survivor lists that Kate, the oldest daughter, outlived all of her siblings and lived to be more than 100 years old. As this is from context clues, that conclusion may be in error, but I’m pretty sure she is the last surviving sister mentioned in her sister Marie’s (d 1983) obituary.

Amelia’s grave has no headstone. There is an entire, two-lot row that is empty of markers, and it’s possible this is where her parents and siblings are buried as well. I plan to check in with the office to see where the Herings who are buried at Concordia (several are) are interred to confirm or invalidate this conclusion and complete the documentation on for her family members. As there are markers all around this row, including that of fellow Eastland victims and star-crossed lovebirds James Justin and Emily Manthey just a row behind Amelia’s, it doesn’t seem likely that an existing marker was destroyed; it looks as if there was no marker placed. As the family received so much relief money compared to others I’ve investigated, it seems likely this was a financial decision.

Amelia’s son Oliver married around 1935 and had four children (2 sons and then 2 daughters), all of whom outlived him as did his wife. He died at 72 years old and he, his wife, and son Dennis are all buried together at Resurrection.

RIP Amelia and family

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