On an August day in the year 1865 a young man of 23 years arrived at a New York City port having sailed on the “Deutschland” from Bremen, Germany. He must have traveled the 250 mile trip from his hometown village in Saxony to Bremen by coach and/or boat. He was born in January 9, 1842 in Wildenfels; his father was from Glauchau, towns both situated near Zwickau in the Kingdom of Saxony.
Five years later on January 8, 1870, Carl Otto Hermann Fritzsche married sixteen year old Hermine Frederike Zutterkirch in Acquackanonk (1917 Clifton), Passaic, New Jersey. She was the only surviving child of the German immigrant and prominent Paterson jeweler, Joseph Anton Zutterkirch. Hermine’s first child, Maria Dorothea, named after her mother, died at just barely three years old. Next came Johanna, known as “Jennie”. Lastly, Ottolie Hermine, who died only eight months after her 23 year old mother died. Of young Jennie’s closer family remained merely her father and her maternal grandmother. There was also a cousin, Joseph Carl Zutterkirch, who continued the jewelry shop in Paterson.
Jennie – and Joseph – are both fourth cousins of my mother’s paternal grandmother, another Zutterkirch descendant from the same German village of Berlichingen in the Hohenlohe district.
Carl insisted on Charles, even in Dresden where he lived out the remaining two decades of his life in a kind of exile. In his correspondence with the authorities he was very keen on holding on to his American citizenship. By the way, the American consul in Dresden, T. St John Gaffney, was a controversial figure. „Gaffney’s resignation from the consular service was forced by the State Department in 1915 at President Wilson’s instance, following complaints that Gaffney was so pro-German as to offend the British at a time when this country had taken over British consular and diplomatic interests on account of the war. Gaffney is a native of Ireland and a naturalized citizen.“
Charles O. H. Fritzsche was naturalized a US citizen in 1875 in Paterson, NJ.
At the beginning of 1879 Charles was engaged as an engineering consultant for the Union Bolt Works in Paterson; he was previously with the Delaware Bridge Company (Lambertville, NJ). However, only a few months later in the same year, Charles applied for a passport and left for Germany with his five year old daughter. He had already been to Germany the previous year – his first return trip to Germany – to visit his ill mother in Kitzen (now Pegau), a village south of Leipzig. In Germany once again the following year, he remarried to the young widow, Johanne Henriette, born Sigismund, of Leipzig. Unexplained is why they married in a different German kingdom, in Dillenburg, Hessia. Hermine was left to live with her uncle, Dr. Reuther of Leipzig. The newly wed couple travelled to the United States, where Charles was faced with a lawsuit instigated by his first wife’s cousin, Joseph Zutterkirch. It was reported in the local press, but I haven’t found a final judgment on the case. The following is from The Paterson Press, February 4, 1881.
A PECULIAR CASE
A respectable German Citizen Charged With Defrauding His Own Child —The Family History of Two Prominent German Families as it Appears in Court Proceedings.—Both Sides of the Story
„Testimony is being taken at present in a case which involves two prominent German families and which promises to be a legal contest of considerable interest. It is charged on the one side that a father das defrauded his only child out of real estate valued variously at from $12,000 to $15,000, this real estate being the property situated on the corner of Market and Hotel streets mud at present occupied by John P. Mayer as a saloon. In order to fully explain this rather complicated story we will be obliged to go back a number of years to get at the source of all these complications. We will first tell the story as viewed by the complainant in the case.
„Joseph A. Zutterkirch some years ago was a prominent jeweller of this city and when he died he owned the property situated on Market and Hotel streets. Hs left an only daughter, the wife of Charles O. H. Fritsche. Mr. Zutterkirch had no great affection for his son-in-law and so in his will provided that his daughter be paid the sum of $40 monthly out of the estate and after her death this sum was to be paid to her children until they attained their majority when the property was to be divided up among them, share and share alike. The executor of the estate was Dr. Robertson. At the time of the death of Mr. Zutterkirch there was a mortgage of $2,000 on the real estate in question and it Is alleged by the complainant in the present proceedings that Mr. Fritsche did all in his power to hinder the executor from carrying out the provisions of the will and that Mr. Fritsche objected to every move made on the part of the Doctor, so much so, in fact that he was induced to resign. The court then appointed Mr. and Mrs. Fritsche administrators with the will annexed and they proceeded to manage the property to suit themselves. The first step taken by Mr. Fritsche was to pay off the mortgage on the real estate, although the person who held the mortgage did not want the money. The mortgage was then assigned to a Mrs. Krauer, the grandmother of Mrs. Fritsche, and it was proposed that she begin proceedings in foreclosure, so as to sell the property. For some reason or other this plan was abandoned, it is alleged, because the old lady did not prove as pliant as had been expected, and she was induced to assign the mortgage to two gentlemen, Ernst and Charles O. Schneider. These at once began foreclosure proceedings and the property was sold at the first time it was advertised to be sold, that is without the customary adjournments, and it was bought in for $2,200 – just the amount of the mortgage and costs – by Mr. Fritsche. The complainant avers that the property was valued at that time at $15,000, and the executor, Mr. Robertson, swears that he had that sum offered for the property. Upon cross-examination of the Doctor he could not mention the name of any person who could be found who had offered him that sum for the property, At any rate the property passed into the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Fritsche, and the deed was made out in their name. Mrs. Fritsche died shortly afterwards and the property passed absolutely into the hands of Mr. Fritsche, who owns it to this day. When matters had reached this state, Mr. Fritsche paid a visit to Germany taking his little five-year-old daughter along with him. When he returned he had left his daughter in Germany but had there married again and returned here with his second wife. It It is claimed that as matters stand now the little girl will not get a cent of the property willed to it by old Mr. Zutterkirch, but that it will alI go to the children of the second wife of Mr. Fritsche. For this reason Mr. Joseph O. Zutterkirch, a cousin of the child and a well known jeweler, has brought a suit in Chancery to have the conveyance of the real estate to Mr. Fritsche set aside and the title vested in a trustee for the child. He is doing it altogether at his own expense and because he thinks that injustice has been committed. It is claimed that when the property was sold at Sheriff’s sale it was bringing in $1,200 per year and still it was sold to Mr. Fritzsche for $2,200. Mr. Edward R. Weiss is counsel for Mr. Zutterkirch. He says that in the answer of the defendant he sets up that the sale of the property was necessary to pay the debts of the estate and that it was done in accordance with an order from the Orphans’ Court. This Mr. Weiss says is absurd, as there were to debts it the time, as sworn to by Dr. Robertson, and that besides the estate did not bring more than just the value of the mortgage.
„Of course there are two sides to every law case, and so in this case, the defendant tells an altogether different story. It is claimed on his part that the will of Mr. Zutterkirch provided for the payment of his just debts and that over and above the debts there was not near enough to pay $40 per month out of. Just here there occurs what appears a peculiar contradiction in the testimony or Dr. Robertson. The Doctor testified that there was no need of selling the property to pay any of the debts and still a document is produced from the Surrogate’s office in which the Doctor sets out that the is a deficiency of some $3,800 between the debts and personal property of the deceased. The Doctor consequently asked for an order to sell the real estate. Being shown these documents the Doctor admitted having signed them. It was than that the trouble occurred between Fritsche and Dr. Robertson and it is claimed on the part of the defendant that this trouble occurred on account of the disposition of sorne of the personal property of the testator. Dr. Robertson, himself drew up the will. After he had resigned the management of the property as executor and Mr. and Mrs. Fritsche had been appointed, the Court ordered the properly sold to pay the debts of the estate, including the $2,000 mortgage. In the meantime Mr. Fritsche had used his own money and borrowed other sums and payed off the $3,800 debts what Dr. Robertson had reported. This of course, gave Mr. Fritsche a claim of $3,800 against the estate. The sale or the property took place as any other Sheriff’s sale, openly and at auction at the Franklin House. It was shortly after the panic and real estate was being slaughtered it every sale. The property did not bring enough to pay the amount of the mortgage and costs and so Mr. Fritzsche, in order to protect the interests of his child, bought in the property. Since then Mr. Fritsche has frequently offered to place the property in any way most beneficial to his child, and it is claimed that he certainly has the interest of his child more at heart than her cousin. Mr. Fritsche bears a first-class character and it will be a hard matter to convince his friends that he intended to injure his child or any one else. Mr. Fritsche, without taking this property into consideration, is comfortably fixed, and the lady he married in Germany owns property in her own name than Mr. Fritsche himself. He left his child by his first wife in Germany to be educated and is paying her expenses out of his own pocket. It is alleged that the property of the late Mr. Zutterkirch was never worth enough to pay $40 per month out of and that the child, as matters stand at present, will fare far better pan if the strict interpretation of the will, according to young Mr. Zutterkirch, had been followed. Mr. Tuttle is counsel for Mr. Fritsche.”
Exactly when – or if Charles returned to Germany after the trial, is unknown to me. His second marriage was relatively short. A divorce was granted in 1883 in Leipzig. Before that he was most likely in the United States, having applied for a patent for a locomotive turntable design. On Oct. 31, 1882, he was granted Patent No. 266,955. In 1913 a New York newspaper reported:
“The Railroad Gazette of this week contains a long description and a number of illustrations of a new turn table invented and patented by Mr. C. O. H. Fritzsche, formerly of this city, but at present residing in New York. The turn table is a success and a number of them have been constructed for the New York, West Shore & Buffalo, the New York city & Northern, the Connecticut River, the Bangor & Portland, the Carolina Central, the Western Railroad of Cuba and other roads.”
Father and daughter must have been in Paterson, when they applied in the summer of 1889 for a passport to travel to Germany. Her cousin, Joseph, died at only 36 years of age the previous year.
In 1894, they were back again in Paterson when 20 year old Jennie filed paperwork with the county probate court concerning the family estate which she transferred to her father as executor and trustee. They then immediately returned to Germany with an intent to return “within two years”. Hermine seems not to have been in the best of health. She never returned to the United States. She no longer had relations there.
In 1908, Charles wrote to the American Consulate in Dresden:
“I spent a long time with my daughter in different parts of Germany, on account of her poor health, she died in Dresden in the year 1899; at that time my own health had become so undermined, that I did not dare to take her body to my burial plot in Paterson, N.J., as intended; she was interred in Dresden. Although a sick man yet, I went back to the U.S., the same year yet, remained in New York City for over one year. On account of poor health, and in order to see my old feeble mother – she was 83 years old – I came back to Germany in 1900. Sometime after my arrival I fell sick to such an extent, that I was not even able, to be present at the funeral of my deceased mother. I was laid up with Ischias, long standing kidney and heart troubles, accompanied by chronic catarrh, which latter was much aggravated by the climate in America. To make the cup overflowing I was run down by an electric car in the Grosse Plauensche Gasse in Dresden in 1901, which serious accident left some weak spots in my body,…”
After a short stay in New York City during the summer of 1900, he returned to Dresden and bought a villa at Zittauer Str. 27 in the 18th century residential neighborhood of Radeberger Vorstadt, also called the Prussian Quarter. He may have then sold his properties at 122-126 Greenwich Ave. in Manhattan. He did retain at least a farm property in Totowa, a town bordering Paterson. That property was later confiscated and auctioned off by the Office of Alien Property Custodian after his death in 1921, although on October 14, 1912, his US passport for the purpose of identification was affirmed. His 1917 passport application includes a photo. Interestingly, Charles was freely cooperative with Totowa municipal authorities when he readily donated a section of his property for the benefit of widening and improving the adjacent Totowa Road. He also sent donations to the local fire department and for needy children during Christmas.
During the last two decades of his life in Dresden, Charles rented out apartments in his villa, regained some health through gardening on his property, enjoying the moderate and healthy climate of the Elbe River valley, maintained his engineering profession by giving lectures and his tenuous American identity through contact with the US consulate.
“It always was and is yet my earnest intention, to return to my adopted country, where I belong.”
His unique type of patriotism was anchored in his will and caused wonderment after his death in January 1921. The Evening World (New York) of July 13, 1921 explains:
FUND IN WILL FOR U.S. CREW SINKING FIRST JAP WARSHIP
„Interest on 5,000 Marks (Present Value $84.50) Was to Aid Poor of Paterson.
„Heirs of Charles O. H. Fritzsche, civil engineer of Paterson and inventor of the modern locomotive turn table, are duly gratified of course that he remembered them in his will. But there is a certain dazed dissatisfaction among them. The last will and testament of Mr. Fritzsche, as ungodly frequenters of race tracks would say, „is a Dutch book,“ which is to say it works to the disadvantage of the persons who expected to reap the greatest benefit from it.
„It was in terms of German marks that Mr. Frltzsche distributed his $100,000 estate.
„According to Edward R. Weiss, a lawyer and banker who was the closest adviser of the late Mr. Fritzsche, the engineer was on April 19, 1910, when the will was executed, a citizen of the United States by naturalization and a good American. But he had a great and encompassing affection for his memories of the Fatherland and quaintly expressed it in the use of German financial terms in his bequests. (Quaintly isn’t quite the way some of the heirs put it on July 13, 1921, with German marks at 1.36 cents instead of at 23.8 cents as when the kindly document was penned.)
„The will has been offered for probate to Surrogate Frederick Beggs, who has deferred admitting it until the citizenship of Mr. Fritzsche shall have been established. According to Mr. Weiss, Mr. Fritzsche, who was in Dresden when the World War started, made every effort to get back to this country but was prevented. Doubt regarding his nationality was held by the Alien Property Custodian who took over many of the items included in the estate.
„One item In the will indicates that Mr. Fritzsche took a militant Interest in the fortunes of the United States. He left a trust fund of 5,000 marks (to-day $84.50), of which the interest should be expended for the purchase of firewood for the poor of Paterson until the declaration or war between the United States and Japan, when the principal should be divided among the members of the first American crew to sink a Japanese ship.
„About 133,000 marks, or now $2.281,50 instead of the $38.475 he intended, was disposed in bequests to Paterson charities. The remainder was distributed among friends.“
This past autumn (2019) I aimed to trace the footsteps of Charles Fritzsche in Dresden, except those that led to his mishap with a streetcar. The large cemetery in the Neustadt has no record of his burial, but there are other places I haven’t checked. Sadly, his villa at Zittauer Str. 27, as well as neighboring villas, were replaced by a not so pretty retirement home. The entire neighborhood appears intact, and may not have suffered under the bombing of 1945.
William Wires, 27 Oct. 2019