Collection: Raster Family Letters

Author: Hermann Raster

Recipient: Sophie Raster

Description: Letter from Hermann Raster to his sister, Sophie Raster, October 31, 1871.

Hermann Raster to Sophie Raster, October 31, 1871

English Text

Chicago, 31. 0ctober, 1871

My dear sister,

While I was looking at the picture of our brother Askan today, on his birthday, (the picture I rescued, together with the pictures of you, Marie and Mathilde, the ones which hung over the piano), it seems like a sin on my conscience that I cannot give Mathilde the large portrait of her mother which hung in the front parlor over the fireplace when she returns. – When the searing flames, which had already consumed thousands of buildings, were nearing our house and we were throwing the bundles of silverware, clothes, linens, and bedding that we had quicky packed onto the wagon sent to us by Gustorf (from Hesing’s mill ), I also tore Mathilde’s picture off the wall and wanted to load it onto the wagon; but Schönberg stopped me, said it seemed a shame, the picture would be wrecked;

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he would carry it to Vocke’s himself (this was 3/4 of a mile north of us facing Lincoln Park, where we fled first). There was no time to wait and think, for burning beams and shingles from Hucke’s brewery were already flying through the air like meteorites, landing among the dead Catholics and setting the railings of their burial plots aflame; they could have hit our house any minute and then we would have had to flee for our lives. So we marched off – Gretchen and the children had already left; Schönberg took me by the arm, carrying the picture under his other arm, and so we wandered off, not without me shedding bitter tears when I looked back at our home, where we had spent many happy hours and toward which the fire, satan, was now racing. Of what happened later during that day I remember little, except that Schönberg half dragged me like an invalid or a drunkard to Vocke,

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from where we were again driven away four or five hours further [out of the city] – until we found ourselves in a mean cottage far north at Fullerton Avenue that evening – and that the picture of Mathilde’s mother was gone. Whether Schönberg had already dropped it on the way to Vocke’s or had taken it there and it was burned: – no one knows. Schönberg himself traveled to New York after the fire and does not remember anything.

Now I have a favor to ask of you. The portrait was not an original, but was a copy made posthumously from a daguerreotype, which also was burned. Of the daguerreotype I had had several smaller photographs made and, if I recall correctly you have a copy in your album. Could you perhaps have this copy enlarged and let Friedrich do it in oils or watercolor? This would be the best Christmas present for Mathilde. I will gladly pay whatever it costs; because even though

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all my possessions were lost in the fire and I’m not able to live quite as comfortably as I used to, I am not wanting for anything essential. You can give the artist the necessary suggestions for trying to recreate the portrait from your own recollections – which would be hard to achieve otherwise. It would be the greatest joy for me at Christmas if you could tell me that the portrait has been successfully completed. All the other losses the fire has caused me I have almost gotten over.

Everything I had acquired over 16 years in New York is gone, of course, but my share of an eighth in the paper will be worth 15000 again within two years and my lot will be worth about 5000 dollars. All letters and other written memories of my youth are gone. It doesn't matter, I will simply start a new youth with Gretchen. Grete has been up and getting around for several days now and seems to feel as comfortable, happy and lively in our small cottage as she ever was in our big house on Dearborn – so what more can I wish for?

Your faithful brother H Raster

Original text