April 1912 was a black month, not just in Brooklyn, but across the country, not just for the rich and powerful, but for ordinary families as well. Long before the Titanic began her maiden voyage on 10 April from Southampton, England to New York, Americans had been continuously informed about the astonishing qualities of the new ship of the White Star Line. From 15 April until well past the end of the month, news about the ship’s fatal voyage dominated the newspapers. From the initial fake news, to the continuous stream of horror, luck and tragedy, readers across the country felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the Titanic’s loss.
For most, life went on normally during the spring and summer. William Fuchs Sr. agreed to attend an October meeting of his company Johnson Brothers, a subsidiary of S.S. White Dental. His eldest son, William J. Fuchs announced that he wished to marry Irene Conway in September. On 30 April, John Menahan died at his home on Bleecker Street, leaving his three daughters, Maymi aged 27, Kathleen aged 26, and Anne aged 21 to fend for themselves with the support of their uncle, P.J. Menahan. John Menahan was only 60 at the time of his death. He had lost his wife sixteen years before to pernicious anemia. These difficult times resulted in close, lifelong relationships among the three daughters and Kathleen, the middle sister, would become the centering force among them. More of the Menahan “little women” later.
William Fuchs was born in Brooklyn in November 1858. He was the second of the five children of William and Sophia Fuchs who had immigrated to America sometime between 1851 and 1855. After their marriage in 1853, they lived at 22 Monroe Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where each of the their children was born. William, therefore, like Boppie Piderit, grew up in a German speaking family. His German fluency would influence the course of his career. In 1912, William was a top administrator in the New York office of Johnson Brothers dental supply, a Staten Island based subsidiary of S.S. Smith dental. He had married Mary Barbara Mueller in 1884 at Our Lady of Sorrows Church.
After the wedding William and Mary lived at 599 Grand Street in Manhattan where their two sons, William Jr. and Peter were born. When Peter was two years old in 1889, the family moved to 48 Penn Street, Williamsburg, and attended St Patrick’s Parish, an Irish and English speaking parish where Mae and Edith were born. William wanted his children to speak proper English. In 1896, the family again moved to a new house nearby at 14 Spencer Court, Williamsburg.
Both William Jr, or Will as he was called, and Peter attended Boys High School in Brooklyn, the prestigious public school located on Marcy and Putnam Avenues. After graduating Will attended the University of Pennsylvania and was awarded his doctorate in dental medicine in 1906.
In this same year, Peter graduated from Yale University and began his professional business career. In 1912, Peter was promoted to a managerial post at the American Felt Company on East 13th Street in Manhattan. Peter, like John Menahan, was an enterprising and energetic young man who tried different areas of endeavor, some less successfully, for example his cigar business, than others. He earned a teaching certificate and took evening graduate courses in business management at Columbia University.
Will’s marriage to Irene Conway had been planned within the context of a death in the family and, as was the custom, the celebrations were limited to family and close friends. Irene, the only child of Patrick and Fanny Conway, had lived with her mother at 793 Monroe Street since her father’s premature death in 1895. Their parish was Our Lady of Good Counsel. The wedding took place on Wednesday, 11 September 1912, on a fine, mild day. Peter Fuchs served as his brother’s best man. The wedding reception was held at the Hotel Bossert.
Several weeks after the wedding, William Sr. returned from a corporate meeting in Philadelphia of SS White Dental Manufacturing Co. to announce that the new president, S. S White Jr. had appointed him to travel to Germany to manage an important personnel crisis at their Berlin branch. The excitement within the family may easily be imagined. Mother Mary had been assured that the transfer was only for a year. Peter and his sisters must have been thrilled anticipating the adventure. At the time, Peter was 25, Edith 22, Mae 20. Will Jr would remain in Brooklyn with his new bride.
The family sailed on the Konprinz Wilhelm of the North German Lloyd Line on November 11, 1912. They enjoyed first class accommodations as the shipping company had been good customers of SS White for many years. Soon after arriving in Berlin, the family found a furnished apartment several blocks away from the Zoological Gardens in Tiergarten and close to St. Ludwig’s Catholic Church, one of the few in Berlin at the time.
Although Will and Mary had no difficulty with their German language environment, the textbook German of the three children proved immediately inadequate. All three attended the Boettinger Studenhaus to learn the German language and culture.
Will’s official responsibilities with the SS White Berlin office were not burdensome, and the family took advantage of the many opportunities that Berlin offered. By the spring of 1913, however, Mary Fuchs began to feel anxious about the children’s careers and began thinking of their return to New York. Will was fully confident that he would make the necessary replacement by September, and a European tour by Mary and the children was planned for the summer. They booked passage to New York on the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship, to sail from Southampton on 23 July.
Their travels began on June 20ieth and the family toured Germany, Switzerland, and Paris, France. Will accompanied them to Southampton and then returned to Berlin to complete his assignment.
During their absence, Will Jr. had sold the Spencer Court house, and the Fuchs took up temporary housing on Union Street. Peter took a trainee position with Yale & Towne, the hardware company. Mae returned to her teaching job, and Edith continued her education at Mrs. Lynch’s School for Secretaries. His parents eventually found a newly constructed house at 1603 President Street and moved there in August 1914.
The second wedding of 1912 also had occurred within the context of the death of a close family member. Following the death of John Menahan, John J. McGinty and Kathleen Menahan decided to marry. Kathleen had continued to live with her two sisters at the Menahan home at 25 Bleecker St and was a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish. Her betrothed was living at 875 Putnam Avenue—a short walk down the block–with his mother and siblings. Mother told of Grandmother recalling at least one social meeting at the parish community center during which Grandma and Grandpa McGinty played “pitching pennies” together.
Since the custom at the time was to limit family celebrations during the mourning period of about a year, the uncle of the bride, P.J. Menahan, arranged to have the wedding celebrated at his summer mansion at Town Hill, near New Bedford, Connecticut. The wedding mass was celebrated on 28 November 1912 by Rev. Andrew T Roche, one of P.J. Menahan’s closest friends, at the Immaculate Conception Church in New Hartford. Following the nuptial mass, the family travelled a few miles for the reception at Town Hill.
Following the wedding, Grandma and Grandpa McGinty rented a two family house located at 1610 President Street, and Maymi and Anne Menahan lived with them. This circumstance established the basis for the Fuchs-Menahan connection. As we have seen, the Fuchs family had purchased a two-family house across the street at 1903 about a year later. Being a shrewd woman, Mary Fuchs quickly noticed the two young women across the street. Introductions were made, and visits exchanged. In his memoir, Peter Fuchs recalls that his courtship of Anne Menahan began in the winter of 1916, but Peter’s wartime service would intervene, and they would not marry until he returned from Europe in 1921.
Other connections between the two families existed. Grandma McGinty had graduated from the Teacher Training School in 1906 and had been teaching at PS 21 on McKibben and Manhattan Street. Anne Menahan had also earned a teaching certification. Mae Fuchs earned her teaching certificate and graduated from the Teacher Training School in 1911. After returning from Berlin, Peter Fuchs also decided to earn a teaching certificate and begin teaching at PS 145 for less than a year until he found his first job with Childs as an office worker. Finally, they continued to share membership in Our Lady of Good Counsel parish.
Father Jack McGinty was born in the President Street house in December 1913. From 1914, the family lived on Hancock Street just a few blocks from Our Lady of Good Counsel. Uncle Jay and Edward were born at this time. During these same years, perhaps as early as the summer or fall of 1914, Grandma and Grandpa purchased the 271 Oceanside bungalow, probably with assistance from John Menahan’s estate. In 1918, the McGinty family with the Aunties moved back to the Menahan house at 25 Bleecker Street where Mother and Keen were born. Aunt Maymi had the responsibility to collect rent from tenants of the other Menahan properties. The final move of the early family history was in 1925 to the house on Putnam Avenue that Grandpa had bought for his mother and siblings many years before.
During the years following the two weddings, the shared, overlapping area of the Fuchs/McGinty family circles continued to grow in size and significance. In 1914, William and Mary Fuchs moved from President Street to 8512 85th Street in Woodhaven where they would remain for the remainder of their lives.
At about the same time, Fred and Julia Piderit moved from Brooklyn to 8822 87th Street in Woodhaven with their young son, Fred Jr, or Sonny as he came to be called by his mother, and daughter, Jewel. In 1921, the parish of St. Thomas the Apostle completed its permanent church, a block away from the Piderit house. Both Fred and Jewel would attend the St Thomas parochial school
After their wedding in 1921, Peter and Anne Fuchs moved to 246 Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven; subsequently, they moved several times before purchasing a house in 1929 at 8531 Forest Parkway. During this same period, the Fuchs family began spending their vacations at Rockaway Point, purchasing 267 Oceanside in the winter of 1924. Each of the four sons of Peter and Anne were born in Woodhaven and baptized at St. Thomas. The boys also each completed parochial school at St. Thomas.
1934 was a banner year for these intersecting family circles. In June, Mother met Dad for the first time at a party following Father Jack’s graduation from Fordham. Several days later, they met again when Fred Piderit Jr. graduated from Brooklyn Prep in the same class as Edward B McGinty. At the same time, the twin sons of William and Irene Fuchs, Adrian and William, graduated from Xavier High School on 16th Street in Manhattan.
In September 1934, Mary McGinty and Maymi Menahan attended the celebration of William and Mary Fuchs’ fiftieth wedding anniversary organized by Mrs. Irene M Fuchs. Mary McGinty was a sophomore at St. Francis Xavier Academy in Brooklyn, the same high school that Mrs. Anne Fuchs had attended. Maymi was one of at least five teachers who also celebrated the anniversary.
If you would like more information about the Menahan and Fuchs families, no richer source exists than David Fuchs’ “Family Album” (1917). This publication is a compilation of memoires and findings from many years of investigation into the history of the two families. Rich in detail and wonderful photographs, David reminds us of many experiences that we shared with him like the family visits to Putnam Avenue and Mr. Churchill the turtle who very occasionally visited us at 271. Much of the information in this monograph derives from David and Betsy’s work together. I believe that Edward and Mary Alanah have copies of David’s book.
For information about the McGinty-Menahan family history, John’s summary of conversations with Mother between 1977 and 2002 entitled “Relationships Among Mary M. Piderit Relatives” is also essential reading. Hopefully in the near future, you will have access to the audiotapes that Francis recorded with Mother between 1986 and 1989.
The strong tendons that bound these family circles were not comprised merely of dates, or special occasions, or circumstances of time and place, but were rooted in the love and caring attentions that existed amongst the family members. As children, we loved to visit Aunt “Foxy” during the summers. Often, during the winter months, she would drive over from Woodhaven to visit with mother or with her sister after 1955 when Grandma and Grandpa McGinty with Keen and Maymi moved to Richmond Hill. As children, we delighted in the antics of the older Fuchs boys in the surf. When we were older, Arthur was a frequent visitor at 86th Avenue—I recall how impressed we were when he arrived in his chauffeur driven limo for a family celebration, but he was also a very caring uncle who seemed genuinely interested in us.