KORENY Winter 1999

In 1912, the Kalendar, one of the many Czech language publications of August Geringer, Chicago, Illinois, printed a very detailed story of Jan Haisman.  The article had information told by Jan Haisman himself.  Jan died in 1913.

The Winter 1999 issue of the Czech and Slovak Genealogy Society of Illinois published a translation of that article.  The translation was done by Robert O. Uher, who did several translation articles for the society.

The translation article is below.

Comments: In 1898 Jan Haisman was awarded a gold medal as the oldest member in the Czech Old Settlers Club of Chicago (along with Mrs. Marie Pech). This was on the occasion of the first annual picnic celebration of the club, held at Antonin Pregler's picnic grove located on the site where the Czech Old Peoples Home and Orphanage was later built. Jan I-laisman's life was full of changes, rich with experiences. Although for the greater part his experiences were unhappy ones, the eventual outcome was a contented old settler. His story follows.

I was born on March 20, 1832 at Maly Trebetin, county of Prestice, in the Plzen district of Bohemia. I attended school until the age of 12 years and then my father entered me into training for tailoring. After two years I became a journeyman and traveled to Austria. When a revolt broke out in Hungary I returned home. At that time a number of families prepared to emigrate to America and I decided to go with them. My mother gave me some funds and I left without a passport and happily reached New Orleans on August 20, 1848. We were still on the ship when some businessmen came looking for workers. One offered me a job for eight dollars a month, including food and clothing. I was satisfied but my comrades convinced me that in the city I would find better work. I soon found out I made a mistake and worked in a variety of places until 1853. Dtu•ing this time I devoted three years to fire fighting and was almost suffocated once in a fire.

In the year 1853 yellow fever broke out and I met with its effects. People died by the thousands so that even though grave diggers were paid ten dollars an hour they couldn't keep up with the burials. There was no recourse other than to carry the dead outside the city and burn them. During this time the economy was weak. When things improved my boss sent me to a businessman where I was to manage a shop. The boss was considering a move to California and taking me with him. It was a long time getting the business started and in the interim I found employment in the town of Blegumin. I was there only a short time when the fever caught up with me and I missed going to California with my new boss.

I returned to New Orleans and began a small business which I kept until 1858 when I decided to return to Bohemia. My mother, an unmarried brother, and a sister lived there. I intended to bring them back with me to America. I sold my business and went to buy my passage ticket. There I met an acquaintance and he immediately was ready to go with me. I agreed to pay for him because he had no money and he satisfied me with the promise that when we arrived at Bremen his mother would send the

money to him. We also tried to obtain a passport from the Austrian Consul but were told we didn't need one as the captain would provide us with a pass which could be used in Bohemia. In Bremen, my friend wrote to his mother for funds

and she wrote that she would send some. This continued for ten days and one morning he took my coat and shoes and told me he was going to see a certain Bedecker where a letter was awaiting him. I waited but he did not return. I went to my trunk for my money but it too was missing.

I searched for him but learned he had returned to Bremerhaven and embarked on a ship for America. I went to Mr. Kares, a travel agent, and after telling him my story he gave me a ticket to Leipzig. There a Mr. Hadrava gave me a ticket to Dresden where I left the train. It was evening so I went to a hotel. When it was time to retire the attendant asked for my passport and I gave him the pass from the ship captain. He took it to the proprietor of the hotel and later returned with a policeman who arrested and jailed me. The police wrote down the details and a report was sent to my home town. When the reply came back I was released and told I must be home within ten days. I returned home and stayed there through the winter and spring, awaiting my return to America.

I joined a group of people preparing to leave for America when one of them fainted at the train station. I ran for water but before I returned the train had left and I had to take another train. When I arrived at Leipzig a policeman awaited me and again jailed me until information arrived from Bohemia. At home they sent me to Plzen for a hearing. While home I was married and with my wife set out again for America.

Here in America the civil war was breaking out and times had changed. Work was at full speed at the arms factory and the ammunition plant. Uniforms were being sewed and orders for war supplies were being taken. I worked so I would have some savings before the war broke out and saved up one hundred dollars. However I became sick and again lost the money. Then came the command that all able-bodied young men must be trained with arms. When they came to me I promised to go but never did. My brother-in-law Vojta Vaska was in a regiment and his captain gave me a delay of 14 days. After a short time, Gen. Ben Butler (Union) came up the Mississippi and captured Fort Jackson and Fort St. Phillip, which were guarding New Orleans.

When I joined the militia the Captain sent us to a cotton gin where we had to load cotton bales onto a steamer. I declined because of ill health so I was given guard duty. Nearby a small boat was moored so I jumped in and pushed off, reaching the opposite shore were I was able to return home. Soon on the opposite shore everything was ablaze. The cotton, the ship, the grain - with sugar, flour and molasses knee deep. The City of New Orleans was being overtaken by the union forces. I had a good supply of blue cloth in my store so I was soon able to make some money. One day a man came to me, asked my name, and then handed me a letter. He was a countryman from Chicago named Soudek who came to New Orleans to make some money. The letter was from my parents, who were in Chicago looking for my wife and me. They wrote how low priced things were in Chicago, such as eggs 5 cents a dozen, meat 3 cents a pound, and flour $7.00 a barrel. My parents thought it would be better for us to come to Chicago.

Therefore I sold everything possible and to avoid civil conflict went by sea to New York and from there to Chicago, where we arrived April 5, 1863. After a short time I met with other tailors who advised me where I could find a job. I frequently would join with Czechs who had an association called the Slovanska Lipa. It was on the corner of Canal and Van Buren but soon the group rented two lots on Clinton and Van Buren and built a hall.

It was built by the members and since I lived right on the corner I helped to pile the lumber for construction, and I helped with other work as best I could. During the construction I worked with Frantisek Barcal on the stage. Jan Raisler made frames for scenery while Josef Pech painted them, and Barcal and I set them up. When everything was ready the Slovanska Lipa moved in.

Ihe dramatic plays began and I frequently acted in them and worked for the association. The association owned two lots on Canal street and after this first hall burned (1867) that lot was sold along with the two Canal Street lots. They then bought two lots on Taylor Street and built a fine hall there in 1867. I was continually in the association even after the Slovanska Buren which I sold and bought a lot on Clinton between Van Buren and Harrison Streets where I built a two story house with a basement. After a few years I bought a lot on Canal Street and built a two story house with a store, which I rented to my brother-in-law Vojta Vaska for a tavern. Later Vaska sold the business to a German who did not do well in the business and sold it back to me. I ran it for three months and did well with it. I in turn sold it to Franticek Fukar. He sold it to some Germans and later Vojta V aska again bought the business. Then came the Great Chicago Fire and I lost everything on Canal Street.

The renters urged me to build again, offering to loan me what was needed, but I made out badly. I had borrowed at a high rate of interest and the financial panic came and the renters could not pay me. Also I had loaned $400 to the Slovanska Lipa. When they couldn't pay a certain creditor, he came after me three times daily and on Sunday morning. Because of this I had to exchange my property for land in Iowa.

For my property I received 1359 acres worth $22,000. I did not see the land before the purchase and a $4000 bond was offered to assure the land was as described. When everything was ready the lawyer told me to go to Iowa to view the land. He held the bond money in trust and told me that it would guarantee the deal and that he would send it to me later. I went to Iowa with my entire family and found the land was not exactly as described.

I wrote to the lawyer in Chicago to send me the bond money but he did not reply. Then I went to Chicago after the money and the papers but the lawyer denied I had given him any papers and I was turned away. In the meantime I wrote to my cousin Peter Brabec in Chicago advising him of my problem. After conferring with friends he wrote to the Recorder's Office in Iowa and they replied that I did own the property.

I returned to Chicago and offered my land in Iowa for sale to whomever would take it for the bond money. However no one wanted it so I finally wrote to my cousin Brabec to offer it on those terms. There were no takers but some did offer Chicago lots in exchange. I exchanged 554 acres for 24 lots in Chicago in the Englewood area. Mrs. Tomes bought 6 of those, Mr. Jenicek also took 6, my cousin Brabec took 6, a daughter of Mrs. Jakoubek took 3, and Mrs. Hautov took 3.

I began anew and bought a lot on Ewing Street on credit, and with borrowed money I built a small four room house on the lot. Later I extended it 20 feet to the front and added a floor above. After a time I sold that house and bought two lots on 12th street. There I built a four-story building and live there with my family at the present time (1912). I have eleven children. Four of my five sons are married, four daughters are married, and two single daughters are teachers.

Translator's remarks

In Rudolf Bubenicek's "History of Czechs in Chicago" a listing of Czech businessmen shows Jan Haisman as a custom tailor at 762-764-766 12th Blvd. (old numbering), Chicago. He died January 11, 1913 in Chicago.