Random Acts of Living

Monday, April 21, 2008

OR - CA 2008 / Chapter 3

Great Grandmother's Russian Chest
This chest was brought to the United States in 1876 by Jacob and Katharine Wiebe Klassen. It contained many personal possessions of this young couple.

They had one child who was born and died in Russia before they left on June 15, 1876. Their second child was also born in Russia and landed in the U.S. with his parents on July 11, 1876. He died of measles in late 1877.

The Klassen's brought the chest with them to Kansas where they lived in Marion County for 17 years. During this time they had 10 more children (one of which died in Kansas). In 1893, they traveled by covered wagon with their 9 remaining children, taking this chest with them, to Flagler, Colorado. Due to the draught there, they took a homestead and moved to Kirk, Colorado in 1896. Here they built a 7 room adobe house, and adobe barn and a large cowshed. In the meantime they had 3 more children. In 1900 Jacob Klassen died leaving Katharine with 12 children on the homestead. This chest was one of her prized possessions.

As the family grew up and each went his or her own way, Katharine lived on the homestead with her youngest son, Henry until he married in 1927. At that time she had a new wooden structure house built and asked her daughter Helen and son-in-law Cornelius Heinrichs to come and live with her with their family. They did and so took care of her until her death in July 1941. During that time she gave the chest to Helen for caring for her.

During the 40's some time, Helen's sister Emma felt that it wasn't fair that Helen should have the chest, but Helen wasn't about to give it up. Finally, caught in the middle, Cornelius offered to "cut it in half", which they both agreed to.
He did as best he could, trying to preserve all parts of it, cut it in half lengthwise, giving each one a handle, one half had the lock and front part, and the other the inscription on the back. Using plywood he fashioned a new front for one and a new back for the other.
Each took their half with them. Finally Helen went to Oregon to live with her daughter, Katharine, and son-in-law, Gordon Fahlgren. While there, she gave Katharine her half. In the meantime, Emma gave her half to Henry's daughter Lillian back in Colorado. In August 1977, Helen died in her son Wesley and daughter-in-law, Ann Heinrichs home in Fresno, California. Emma later died in the Mennonite nursing home in Reedley, California in March 1988.
In 1985 at a family Reunion, Lillian asked Katharine if she would like to have the other half of the chest. She told her she could have it if Katharine would come to Colorado to get it.
In July 1988, Katharine and Gordon went to Topeka, Kansas for the Klassen family reunion. En route through Colorado, they stopped in Kirk and with the help of Lillian's son and daughter-in-law, found the half chest in storage in the old Kirk school house. It was loaded in their van and taken with the Fahlgrens to Kansas and on the remainder of their trip, arriving back in Oregon the last part of July. During the winter of 1988-89, the chest was rejoined and refinished by Katharine and their son Raymond. The tips of the hinges and locks had been cut off and lost when it was cut in half. Ken Fahlgren manufactured these by the pattern on the top of the chest, so as much as possible it was back to its original condition. If it could only talk, it would have many, many stories to tell. It is now in a place of honor in the home of Gordon and Katharine Fahlgren.
Written by Katharine Fahlgren
September 6, 1989

Edit 09/09/2013: Looking through "They Seek a Country" by David V. Wiebe I spot a picture of a trunk that looks very familiar. This appears to be the same trunk. At one time it had legs.


Anita said...

What an absolutely amazing story!

RecycleCindy said...

What a wonderful story. I really enjoyed reading the chest's story. A lovely piece of history!

Moonshadow said...

Sorry I'm so late in posting back, I read your comments right after you had posted, just out of energy to respond.

It pleases me no end that the trunk was put back together and that Aunt Kathy wrote it's story.

gabe said...

Thanks so much for connecting with me and letting me read about your family trunk.It's obviously in good hands. Beautiful story. My grandfather was born in Russia in 1875 - those sure were eventful years. And the women - wow - baby machines!

You've got some great blogs going here. :)