15 September 1883 – 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.
Lulu was born in Ohio to German immigrants Ralph and Hannah (Levine) Cierer in 1883. The family moved to Chicago at some point after that, and sadly, her mother died at the start of 1888. It’s unclear where in the birth order of siblings Lulu came as there isn’t enough information to trace the surviving siblings mentioned in her obituary, but her sister Hattie was five years her senior. She also had a sister named Rose, a brother Mitchell, and another sister who is listed only as “Mrs. T. Reens” in both Lulu and their father’s obituaries.
Ralph was 50 years old when Lulu was born and evidence suggests he arrived in the US in the early 1850s and worked as a cigar maker and dry goods salesman in Tennessee for several years. Prior to 1881, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and prior to that he and Hannah married though it’s unclear where in the timeline this took place, possibly the mid-1870s.
Ralph remarried in 1889 to Eva Schloss, herself a widow and mother of two, but the couple had no children of their own.
Lulu married Charles Wolf, a German immigrant, in 1904. In 1900 she’d been living with her sister Hattie and her brother-in-law Ike Nussbaum and working as a clerk in a dry goods store – possibly her father’s. She continued to work after she wed Charles (called Charley on their marriage certificate) though with the gap between census records, it’s unclear if she did at some point stop before returning by 1910 to working, this time as a hotel clerk. That same year, Charles was working as a cutter in the garment industry and the couple had three lodgers. They had no children together.
According to the Red Cross records, by 1915, the couple were living with one of Lulu’s sisters again, it appears back with Hattie and Ike Nussbaum, and were contributing to the household. Hattie’s only child would have been 13 in 1915, and I like to think Lulu was a fond aunt. Charley had by that time, too, gotten a job at Western Electric. Both were on the Eastland when the disaster struck, but Charley suffered only minor injuries. Ike was the one who had the sad task of identifying Lulu’s body.
Charley’s life after Lulu was a bit wild – he remained a widower for about five years, but in early 1920 – just two weeks after she and her children were listed living with her first husband on the census, Charley ran off to Jefferson County, Alabama, and married May Lando Cohen, she styling herself as “Miss May Cohan” on the certificate. Her ex-husband (or still-husband) remarried one year later himself, so whatever the situation was with that relationship, something dramatic definitely took place.
In 1930, five of May’s six Cohen children (along with her and Charley’s only child, born in 1921) were living together, so one suspects that perhaps the 1920 census listed Mr. Cohen at home in error, and he had abandoned the family earlier. Whatever the case, the family seems to have taken May’s side in the breakup. Charley worked as a salesman (sometimes traveling) and supported a large household that included his stepchildren (some of whom were adults and also contributing to the household); step-son-in-law, sister-in-law, biological son, and his own sister. By 1940, only his son and youngest step-daughter were still at home. Charley died in 1949 and in spite of the placeholder inscription on Lulu’s headstone, he was buried elsewhere at Waldheim with May joining him 11 years later.
Lulu’s father died in 1922, mentioning all his children in the obituary. I cannot trace Lulu’s other three siblings, but Hattie lived into her 80s, outliving Ike by 22 years, dying in 1960 at which time, only sister Rose survived of the Cierer siblings.
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Thank you to the Eastland Disaster Historical Society for providing additional documentation in support of this project.