On Monday, September 9th, 2013, we arranged for members of my Schmidt family to meet with members of the family of George Kramer, the boy who was shot by a booby-trap set by my great-great-grandfather Wilhelm Schmidt.
You can read about that here: Wilhelm Schmidt and the Orchard Booby Trap – Part II.
I guess it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but when I learned that the accident was something that really happened and that a boy had been killed, my immediate reaction was to want to do something, however symbolic, to try to make up for it in some small way. My hope was that having the two families come together in some positive way to mark the 100 year anniversary of the tragic shooting of George Kramer would be healing.
Representing the descendants of Wilhelm Schmidt there were myself and my mother who are descendants of Wilhelm’s son Edwin Schmidt, and my cousin Norma Bandock who is the grand-daughter of Wilhelm’s son Billy Schmidt. For the Kramer family, there was Alvin and David Kramer, who are both nephews of George Kramer, Monica “Todd” Kramer Blasczyk, who is a niece of George Kramer, her husband Tom, and Alvin’s son.
David Kramer surprised us all and brought a photo of George with three of his brothers. It was emotional to put a face with the name in the tragedy. George was certainly a very handsome young man.
It was hard to look at his young face and not think of what could have been… if only. If only someone else hadn’t stolen apples from the orchard earlier in the month. If only there hadn’t been a gun in the orchard. If only George had stayed away from the tripwire like his brother did. If only the shot had struck the dirt as intended. If only the wound hadn’t become infected. If only the hospital had had more time to save him from the infection.
So many little changes that could have meant the difference between his life and death. It was hard not to think about that.
We each discussed the event, and found out a lot more about the Kramer family, and some new details about the incident itself. The Kramers indicated several times that there were no hard feelings about the incident, and in fact the Kramer family sold a car to someone in the Schmidt family years later, so there were interactions between the families after the event.
We walked to George’s grave and my mother had brought red roses for everyone to place there. We each took turns placing a rose in front of George’s faded tombstone.
David Kramer gave his father’s version of the events that day, and also some other details about the shooting:
I can tell you more than Alvie [Alvin Kramer] because I’m older than he is! I’ll show ya something… [David takes out a photo from 1908 of the four oldest Kramer boys. They are all dressed in suits with hats. They appear to be about 15, 14, 12, and 8 years old.] I’m 83 years old. This is my dad [Edward Kramer], he was 13 years old when his brother was shot. This is the oldest brother, Joe. This is the next oldest brother, William. And this was… George.
You know, there’s conflicting stories over this whole thing. My dad… I’m older than Alvie… and when I grew up my dad told me certain things because he was with George when he was shot. He said that they walked through a gateway in the fence, and there was a silver wire in the grass, and he stepped over it… my dad. And he told his brother, “Look out for that wire.” But he stepped on it and that’s when he got shot. Now the article you sent with the transcripts of the hearing… my dad always told me that the fella that served the sentence, it wasn’t his fault. It was his gun, but his wife [Ottelia Zierke Schmidt], she was the one that orchestrated the whole deal. Her and one or two of her boys. My dad always said that he [Wilhelm] took the rap for his wife.
They [the Schmidts] didn’t even live there. It was an abandoned farm [court transcripts refer to the land where the orchard was as the “old Kallenberg Farm”]. My dad walked through and George got shot in the side. Then my dad had to run home… took his bicycle he said, to get his father to come with a wagon and horse to take George to the hospital. From where he got shot they went to Wausau by a team of horses and a wagon. The hospital at that time was in downtown Wausau, which is a library now. Just a big, white building. Down on Scott street by the library.
Our relations had no ill feelings against your relations. In fact, I used to work for my dad and this Uncle here. They were in a partnership in the garage business, and they sold Packard cars. They had a lot of customers in the Rothschild area that bought new cars from us. Some of ’em were old school chums of my dad and uncle. And one year, one of the Schmidts… this was in the late 40’s and early 50’s, and was talking about buying a new Packard, and he talked with a couple of his friends there who had already bought Packards from my dad. He was skeptical that my dad and Uncle would give him a good deal because of the problems they’d had years ago with their brother. But, no. My dad and uncle, they didn’t show any animosity about it. And your name in Rothschild… one of them was the head of the street department down there. Keeping the roads up and that. He was looked upon as a good citizen.
Growing up we lived on the Northeast side of Wausau, and my dad always used to say, “Don’t you go stealing anything out of the neighbor’s garden!”, you know? And that was the reason. You want anything we’ve got enough in our own yard. You don’t have to go steal anything from the neighbors.
We all chatted together for quite a while and shared family stories and conversed generally. It was quite pleasant, and I’m really glad that we got the chance to do something together to mark 100 years since those awful events took place. I hope somewhere George and Wilhelm are both happy with it. I feel like they would be.