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Houghton-Piderit Family

By May 31, 2020No Comments

Piderit-Houghton Family Circles

 

Our weekly visits to Dad’s parents on 87th Street in Woodhaven were filled with mystery, interest, and sharply observed social rules of behavior. I recall vividly the vestibule with its black and white tiled floor and double door, the screened-in front porch where we sat during summer visits, the basement into which we were permitted the occasional guided tour, the carefully tended, walled, back garden with its wooden stairs descending from the kitchen, and the first floor TV room from which Boppie would invariably produce some surprise to entertain us from the treasure trove of his private closet. In the first floor living room, John remembers “the signed photo of Franz Liszt that was usually kept on the top of the piano against the wall that separated the living room from the dining room. Boppie told us that his father or grandfather had taken one or more piano lessons from the virtuoso pianist.”

We had occasional holiday visits with the relatives next door, but the relationships seemed vague to us: I remember Aunt Dolly (Mrs. Anne Dunn), Grandma’s sister.  I do not recall any references to relatives in New Jersey, much less meeting anyone from New Jersey, until we were much older. The comfortable familiarity of the McGinty/Menahan families with cousins whom we saw regularly, Mother’s sisters and brothers, her aunts and uncles, that sense of a populated, familiar family were not qualities of our Woodhaven experience.

 

We knew the “basics” of Boppie Piderit’s life—he was a New York State bank examiner, and Treasurer of the NYAC for more years than we could imagine. He liked puzzles, had a grand mahogany desk with many secret drawers, and the biggest TV we had ever seen.

 

John recalls the special interest that Boppie had in native Americans. “This may have been why he wanted Dad to go to Dartmouth since Dartmouth was founded for the conversion of the American Indian. Dad often explained to us that the motto on the Dartmouth coat of arms was Vox Clamantis in Deserto (the voice of one crying in the wilderness). Apparently, Dad and his classmates considered each of themselves, at times, as a voice crying in the wilderness of Hanover, New Hampshire!”

 

My curiosity about our Piderit grandparents has been spurred recently, especially concerning Grandma Piderit about whom we knew so little. She always seemed like a kind, shy person. I have spent some time trying retrospectively to know her better, and I thought that I would summarize what I have discovered. I am hoping that you may be able to add to, or correct my information, and I am always hoping that someone will happen upon a few dusty, brittle cardboard boxes of memoirs and memorabilia in the 110th Street basement that might enrich our appreciation of Dad’s family.

 

Grandma Piderit was born Julia Theresa Houghton in September 1881 in Brooklyn and was one of seven surviving brothers and sisters. Her father was John J. Houghton, who was born in about 1840, in England[1]. Her mother was Julia Farnan, who was born in October 1852 probably in Ireland. The Houghtons immigrated to America sometime before 1870 since each of the surviving children was born in Brooklyn. The children’s names were Amelia (Emily) (b 1868 / d 1891), George (b 1874), Charles Frederick, aka Freddy[2], (b 1876 / d 1926) Anna (Annie) (b 1879), Grandma (1881-1967), Edwin (b 1884 / d 1903), and Mary V (Mae) (b 1886 / d 1938).

 

A defining date of the Julia’s younger years was the early death of her father at the age of 46, perhaps from injuries suffered while working at Fred Scholes’ Sulphur Factory at Kent Avenue and Rodney Street on 23 December 1886. For many years, the family had been living at 55 Heyward Street close to the Navy Yard in South Williamsburg. The 43-year-old widow was suddenly faced with the daunting task of raising seven children between the ages of eighteen and less than a year. Grandma was five at the time of her father’s death, and Mary V had been born ten months before he died.

 

In 1891, Amelia died at the age of 23. I do not know what caused her death, but it must have been yet another cruel blow for the family.

 

By 1900, all the children were working to help support the family except for young Mary who was attending school. After completing compulsory schooling, George worked as a stonecutter, and Freddy as a motorman. During her adolescence, Grandma was working as a bookbinder at Jenkins Trust Bank. After work, she attended the Williamsburg Evening High School for Women: she graduated in 1906. In that same year, she attended a dinner reception for Jenkins, after whom the Jenkins Trust Bank was named. The Houghton family was still living at the Heyward Street tenement.

 

Grandma’s sister, Annie had married Thomas Dunn in 1904, and they lived for several years at 55 Bainbridge along with their daughter Julia, who was born in 1905.

 

At some point before 1909, Julia Houghton moved the family residence to 55 Bainbridge Street[3].  Grandma was 29 in 1909 and many of her siblings had moved away from the family home.[4] Only Freddy and Mary remained at home along with the Dunn family. Grandma was working as a stenographer and switchboard operator in a Williamsburg bank.

Our grandfather, Frederick W. Piderit, was born on May 2 1882 in East Orange, NJ. He was the third child of William Carl Piderit, who was born in Hanau, Germany, about 25 miles east of Frankfurt and had married Agnes Sunkel in 1875 in Hersfeld, Germany. William and Agnes had immigrated to America in 1881 with two infants, Emily (1878) and Agnes (1880). After Boppie was born, two other children were born in America, Caroline (Sena) (1885) and Marie Katherine (1891). I wish to highlight that Boppie grew up in a bilingual household. His parents and older sisters were German mother tongue speakers. Clearly, his father, and probably his mother as well, learned English quickly: his father taught in English. We were never aware that Boppie must have had some knowledge of German—it certainly would have been a help at Xavier where German was my weakest subject.

 

William Piderit was the son of Karl Wilhelm Piderit and Emilie Bretthauer who had nine children (I do not know how many survived childhood). Karl was a renowned educator and writer who served as the high school principal of Hanau for many years. He also authored books about Cicero’s writings: a copy of one text has been handed down and survives in rather feeble condition at 110 Street.

 

That our Piderit grandparents emigrated from Alsace seems to have been euphemistic and false: Mother understood that Jewel was convinced that the Piderits were of French origin. Anti-German xenophobia was felt on the East Coast and across the country during both WW 1 and 2.

 

Reverend Professor Piderit worked at the German Theological College of Bloomfield teaching German literature, history, and Hebrew from 1882-1888. His German theological qualifications did not permit him to teach theology or work as a pastor. From 1890, he appears to have supported his family by giving piano and organ lessons.

 

Boppie attended elementary and secondary school in East Orange. His obituary mentions that he was a graduate of Columbia University: Mother thought he may have attended night school for a BA from Columbia. Another tradition has Boppie attending NYU, but we have no documentation for either of these possibilities.

 

In 1902, at the age of 20, Boppie was working at the People’s Bank of East Orange. A colleague at this bank was John A. Collyer, who was head bookkeeper and also happened to be a boarder in the Piderit home for the previous three years. On 26 September 1902,  the Piderit household was astonished to discover that Collier and Agnes had been married on 20 September 1901 by the Rev J. A. Cole in Newark. Agnes gave birth to William Collier in Dec 1902. More problems followed. In October 1902, John A. Collier embezzled $885 from the People’s Bank and absconded with the money: I do not know if he was ever caught. The marriage was annulled. This is an ironic detail in the context of Boppie’s subsequent career as a state bank examiner. In 1914, Agnes married William Len Schanbacher after her first husband died, and their daughter, Helen Schanbacher, was born in 1917.

 

1908 proved to be a turning point for Boppie. He had been working for the Jenkins Trust Company as the manager of the newly opened Ridgewood office. During the same year, Jenkins Trust began experiencing financial difficulties, and Boppie started working for the State Bank Examiners office in Manhattan and rented an apartment, coincidently, on Bainbridge Street. We now have a reason to think that Boppie and Grandma met through their working lives and the proximity of their housing. Although we do not know when or where their romance began, we do know the essential that they fell and loved and planned to wed.

 

Boppie, who loved surprises, undertook Catholic religious instruction and surprised his fiancé by inviting her to his baptism into the Catholic Church before their wedding. On 29 June 1910, Boppie and Grandma married at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Ozone Park. Her sister May was the bridesmaid and Charles “Freddy” Houghton was the best man.  Miss Julia Dunn was the flower girl and young William Collier, the ring bearer. Boppie’s father played the wedding march from Lohengrin. Following their wedding, Grandma and Boppie enjoyed the first of many voyages at home and abroad: their honeymoon took them to Niagara Falls, Washington D.C., and Atlantic City.

For a few years, they lived at 55 Bainbridge, the Houghton residence. Auntie Jewel, officially Julia Mae, was born there in 1911. In 1915, they probably moved into their new house at 88-22 87th Street in Woodhaven. Fred Jr was born in September 1916.

At about the same time, Annie Dunn (Aunt Dolly) and her husband, Thomas Dunn, and children, would move from Brooklyn along with Mother Mary and Mary V (Mae), Grandma’s youngest sister, and rent the adjacent house at 88-24 87th Street.  Mae had graduated from the Brooklyn Teachers’ Training School and worked as a teacher for thirty years at PS 20 in Flushing. Jewel, like Keenie, would follow the career path of her aunt.

 

Julia Farnan Houghton died on 19 July 1922 at her residence in Woodhaven.[5] She had been living with her daughter Annie and her family since about 1915. Her Requiem mass was celebrated at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

 

Boppie began working as a NY State bank examiner in 1914. During his career, he traveled to Europe at least three times in connection with his responsibilities. In 1919, he returned to NY after having visited England and France. In 1921, he again returned from a business trip to Europe. Just as we during our childhood experienced Dad’s absence on business trips, Dad and Jewel had similar experiences when they were small children. I also wish to underline that these were turbulent times both financially and politically. Perhaps Boppie’s most important assignment abroad involved a trip to Cuba in 1921 (he was then 39 years old). He served as a special deputy bank superintendent during the liquidation of the NY branch of the Bank of Cuba.

 

His most heavily publicized work occurred in New York between 1927 and 1934. His assignment as Special Deputy Superintendent involved managing the liquidation of the Bank of the United States which sparked the “bank run” of the Great Depression. The settlement of the accounts was complicated by questions arising regarding fraud and mismanagement. His name was frequently in the newspapers during the Depression years as a state bank examiner.

 

Boppie’s name was also in the news during the same period because he had been called as an expert witness in the fraud trial of Frank H. Warder, who was at the time of his trial the New York Superintendent of Banks. Warder was arrested, tried, and found guilty in November 1929.

 

In addition to his regular work, he taught bookkeeping at the NY chapter of the American Institute of Banking at Columbia University.

Dad was ten years old and Jewel sixteen when Grandmother Houghton died next door in Woodhaven in 1927. Julia Farnan Houghton died on 19 July 1922 at her residence in Woodhaven.[6] She had been living with her daughter Annie and her family since about 1915. At the time of her death, Dad was five and Jewel eleven. Her Requiem mass was celebrated at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

In June 1927, Dad, who was ten and a student at St Thomas the Apostle parochial school, won $100 as a prize for a written presentation he had made about the US presidents. He told a reporter that he wanted to use the prize money to travel. His teacher, Sister Polycarpa, also won $100! We do not know what she intended to do with the windfall.

Auntie Jewel attended Our Lady of Wisdom high school in Ozone Park and graduated in 1929. She then attended the Jamaica Teachers Training College and graduated in 1932. In June 1934, she married Thomas Costello in a civil ceremony in Greenwich, CT.

Mother spoke about her recollections of Jewel’s marriage in a conversation with Francis.[7] Costello was either in the Navy or the Merchant Marine: it is not clear which, and we do not know what his duties or responsibilities were. The fact seems to be that he was absent during most of the marriage although he seemed to have provided ample financial support.

 

A few years later, Jewel, her parents and Dad travelled to Reno, Nevada, for a family vacation. She had considered filing for an Enoch Arden divorce because she had not seen or heard from Costello for some time, but the marriage was never annulled. Following her return to Woodhaven, a reconciliation occurred between Jewel and Tommy, as mother referred to him, and they renewed their marriage with a nuptial mass at St Elizabeth’s Church in Ozone Park, the same church were Grandma and Boppie Piderit had been married. Following the wedding, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Costello rented an apartment at 85-50 Forest Parkway, the same residence where Uncle Peter and Foxy lived for many years. Mother talks about the beautiful furnishing and decorations, but recalls that Jewel only lived there, alone, for a few months. Tommy Costello gradually disappeared from Jewel’s life and our family history although Mother recalls that Tommy was “still around” when Mary Alanah was a baby.

 

Grandfather William died in East Orange in 1934 at the age of 84. He had lived in America for 53 years. Dad was 18 at the time of his grandfather’s death and must have known his grandfather well. Agnes, Boppie’s mother, had died in February 1928 when Dad was 12. Unlike Mother whose grandparents all died before she was born, Dad’s childhood included both his paternal grandparents and his maternal grandmother.

 

Boppie’s involvement with the NYAC began in 1932 when he became a member. I never knew why he had joined the NYAC, or what his interest in sports had been. In 1936, he was first elected Treasurer and served until 1938. He was again elected Treasurer of the NYAC in 1943 and served in this capacity until 1961, the year of his death and nine years after his retirement. He retired as a chief bank examiner in 1952 at the age of 68.

 

You will remember that John and I worked for several summers while in high school at the NYAC first in the mailroom and then in the auditor’s office. We felt quite proud of our grandfather, the Treasurer!

To return to the Friday visits with Dad, 87th Street was a one-way street in a north to south direction. The street was lined with stately, brick-faced, houses with front porches and a small stoops. David Fuchs, as did each of his older brothers, attended St. Thomas the Apostle primary school and recalls looking down 87th Street toward the Piderit house and admiring its handsome appearance. Nevertheless, late on a Friday afternoon, parking was difficult and often Dad had to drive quite a way down the block before he found a spot. Only very occasionally did were we able to park in front of the house, but this provided an occasion for general rejoicing!

 

Jewel lived alone with Lucky at the Woodhaven house for many years after Grandma’s death in 1967 until mental and physical decline required that she live in a nursing facility. I remember well that this was a particularly difficult time for Mother, who was most intent upon making the best decisions for Jewel. Barbara recalls that the final years of Jewel’s life in Woodhaven were much enriched by dog, Lucky. Jewel died in 1992 at the age of 82 and was buried in the Piderit plot at Cavalry.

 

Once Jewel was no longer using the house, Tom and Debbie lived in the house for several years (1983-91?) after their wedding. In fact each of their children was born there. I think that he and Debbie were responsible, along with Edward’s help, for considerable renewal and renovation during their stay there.

 

Clare and her young family subsequently lived in the house. I recall that Clare helped Jewel during her last years in the house with her dog. The use of the house proved very helpful to Clare who was able to complete her physiotherapy program at SUNY. She has told me about how very much she enjoyed her years living in the house. (1991-92?)

 

In addition to providing summer jobs and walking heroic distances, Boppie Piderit was keen on stimulating our curiosity, developing our appreciation for puzzles, encouraging an appreciation of music in Dad and through him us, and sharing his love of stamp collecting and his cooking skills—I suspect that Boppie was the head cook at 87th Street although I think that Grandma may have been the pastry chef! I recall with great pleasure the few times that I was invited to 87th Street for a lunch of scrambled eggs and toast. Each of his qualities has served to enrich my life for many years.

John named Colonel of Xavier High School.

L – R. Boppie Piderit, Grandma Piderit, John Piderit, Grandma McGinty, Keenie McGinty

 

Looking back, we recover and polish a few relics of their deeply rich and varied lives. In the end, we know as little or as much about them as we knew them during their lives.

 

Iconic objects often link grandparents and grandchildren. In the case of the Piderits of Woodhaven, these objects were the house, the cars, the El, and these provide stepping stones to connect disconnected shaded memories. When children consider their grandparents, their age inhibits crossing the barriers of age. Just as the grandparent cannot envisage the grandchild as an adult so too the grandchild cannot envisage the grandparent as a child or young person. Only occasionally and rarely are the barriers breached. One such happy moment occurred recently when Emily wrote me an email and asked me what I did as a teacher!

 

We embrace those fetishes that evoke our grandparents—the LaSalle, Boppie Piderit’s secret closet, 271 Oceanside—and these get entwined like some sort of DNA memory chain with other childhood treasures—the weeds, Gerry Byrne, the woods in Richmond Hill.

 

 

 

Fred Piderit III

Givrins, January 2020

[1] Even the most formal dates from this period need to be taken as approximative.

[2] In the legal papers relating to the death of her husband, Julia entered the children’s names and ages at the time of his death. On this list, we find Fred K, but in federal census lists, we find Charles F. Mother remembered him as Freddy.

[3] Coincidently, this was one block from where James and Elizabeth McGinty had lived until his death and where John J McGinty and brothers would live for some time.

[4] 55  Bainbridge St. is only 7 blocks away from the McGinty house on Putnam Avenue, and only a block or so away from Van Voorhies St, where Boppie McGinty and his brothers lived in 1897.

[5] Benedict Ave, Woodhaven, became 87th Street in 1922. Fred and Julia Piderit Sr. purchased 362 Benedict Ave in 1914 or 1915.

[6] Benedict Ave, Woodhaven, became 87th Street in 1922. Fred and Julia Piderit Sr. purchased 362 Benedict Ave in 1914 or 1915.

[7] See Tape 4 sides A & B in John Gibbs’ list.

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