Last week, I introduced you to Temple Israel Cemetery and the story of Emil Brandeis’ tragic death on the Titanic. He was one of three brothers who made the J.L. Brandeis & Sons Department a household name in Omaha.
There are more buried at Temple Israel that knew tragedy. Two families, the Rosewaters and the Heyns, are the subjects of my post today.
I photographed this simple yet handsome monument having never heard of the surname “Rosewater”. But they were once as well known in Omaha as the Brandeis family.
Originally the Rosenwassers, Herman Rosenwasser (1807-1878) and his wife, Rosemary Kohn Rosenwasser, emigrated from the Austria/Czechoslovakia (known as Bohemia) area in the 1850s with their large family. They settled in Cleveland, Ohio before they had two more children.
The Oldest and the Youngest
The first and last Rosewater children, Edward and Charles, both made a splash in Omaha. One of Edward’s claims to fame before moving west was being the telegraph operator who transmitted President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation for the first time.
Already active in Republican politics, Edward Rosewater arrived in Omaha in 1863. In 1870, he was elected to the Nebraska House of Representatives and the following year, he started the newspaper The Omaha Bee. His aggressive style won him both a number of friends and enemies. In 1876, he was nearly clubbed to death by an irate reader but survived. Omaha’s Rosewater School, built in 1910, was named after him and was converted to apartments in 1985.
Immediately before his death, Edward helped found the American Jewish Committee (AJC). He died of a heart attack in 1906 at the age of 65 and is buried in Omaha’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. His son, Victor, carried on his father’s pursuits in the years to follow, including joining the AJC.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1859, Charles Rosewater traveled to Europe to get his medical degree. Dr. Rosewater came to Omaha in the 1880s and began practicing medicine. For 15 years, he occupied the chair of obstetrics in the Creighton Medical College and later focused on general medicine. In 1893, he married Clara Schlesinger.
Death from a Broken Heart
Dr. Rosewater and Clara had only one child, Irene, in 1895. But she was the apple of her father’s eye and they were quite proud of her. After graduating from Omaha’s Central High School in 1914, Irene went to Northhampton, Mass. to attend Smith College. She graduated in 1918 and worked as a chemist for Armour (the meat packing company) in Omaha until her health took a turn. After taking a prescribed vacation, she returned to her parents’ home, supposedly much improved.
Her obituary notes that as a chemist she “diagnosed her own case”. After feeling pains, she reportedly said, “I’m going to have an abscess on the brain, Father.” Soon after, Irene was admitted to the hospital and died on May 25, 1920 of “brain fever”, which may have been meningoencephalitis.
Dr. Rosewater never got over Irene’s death and his own health faltered. He died on Nov. 23, 1921 at the age of 62 and was buried beside Irene. His wife, Clara, did not remarry and died in 1945 in Los Angeles, Calif. Her body was brought back to Omaha for burial with Charles and Irene.
Tragedy and The Photographers Heyn
Two generations of three brothers would make their mark in the photography world. But if there was a family that knew tragedy, it was the Heyns.
A native of Germany, George Heyn emigrated to Detroit in his teens and moved to Omaha to open a photography studio in the early 1880s. He returned to Detroit to marry Sabina Hirschman in 1883 and they settled into married life in Omaha. Son Lester Heyn was born in 1884, Jerome in 1886, and Frederick (Fred) in 1890.
George’s younger brother, Herman, also a photographer, came to Omaha shortly after George and Sabina’s marriage. Many photographs of Native Americans attributed to George are now thought to have been done by Herman. Herman also created portraits of President William Howard Taft and presidential candidate/orator William Jennings Bryan (the latter was involved in a court case). He moved to Chicago in the late 1920s and died there in 1949. Herman is buried in Rosehill Cemetery.
Louis Heyn, George and Herman’s brother, was also a photographer. He may have briefly worked in Omaha with George before heading to Great Falls, Mont. where he married and had a family. They moved to California in the 1930s where Louis died in 1940.
Sabina and George were were often reported about in newspapers attending parties and events around Omaha. One costume party they hosted in late January 1889 was written up in which George was dressed as Adonis, Sarah Brandeis came gowned as a Grecian lady, and the future Clara Rosewater attended costumed as a school girl.
Unfortunately, their happiness did not last. On May 26, 1892, while on a ferry going from Detroit to Canada, George Heyn committed suicide by jumping into the Detroit River. His obituary says he suffered from two incidents of “la grippe” (the flu) over the winter that affected his mind. After his remains were recovered, George was buried at Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit, Mich.
Sabina remarried in 1899 to photographer Henry Unverzagt. All three Heyn sons tried their hand at photography and were well known in Omaha’s Jewish social circles and civic organizations.
Was it Suicide?
Youngest brother Fred served in World War I, reaching the rank of captain. After the war, he gave real estate a try. In August 1926, he went to Lake Marion near Fergus Falls, Minn. with Sabina and one of his brothers (which one was not specified). His obituary states he’d recently suffered a breakdown but was doing better. He went out bass fishing by himself and the boat was later found empty.
On August 7, his body was recovered. Suicide was suspected as the cause of death. Fred’s remains were brought back to Omaha and he was buried at Temple Israel Cemetery. He had no wife or children. Sabina died in 1938 and was buried beside him.
Older brothers Jerome and Lester continued with their successful photography business. Their names appear often in the society pages attending parties and traveling. Like his brother Fred, Jerome never married. The Heyn brothers were especially talented at photographing children.
A Gunshot at Union Station
In December 1939, Jerome suffered a 25-foot fall over a stairway railing in a downtown building that fractured his skull. On Jan. 23, 1940, Jerome locked himself in the men’s restroom of Union Station in Omaha and shot himself with a .38 Colt pistol. His obituary claims he had been in a “nervous condition” in the days leading up to his death. He was 54 at the time, and was buried beside his mother and brother at Temple Israel Cemetery.
Death in the Doctor’s Office
The last Heyn brother, Lester, married Beatrice “Bebe” Nies Morris in 1918 in Chicago when he was 34. She had one child, Eugene, from a previous marriage. Lester and Beatrice had a daughter, Adelaide. But the marriage soured a few years later. In 1922, Beatrice filed for divorce and requested a restraining order against him. Their divorce proceedings played out in the newspapers. Beatrice remarried to James Pray and moved to California with the children.
UPDATE: I was recently contacted by Adelaide’s daughter, who knew little of her grandfather’s past and was delighted to learn more. She told me Bebe married a few more times before her death in California.
The tragedies took their toll. Not long after Jerome’s death, he retired and closed the studio. Lester died on Sept. 11, 1941 in his doctor’s office of a heart attack. He was buried at Temple Israel beside his mother and brothers. I didn’t get a picture of his grave, unfortunately. But I did find a photo of him in a newspaper ad. I could not trace his children after 1930.
There are probably thousands of people in Nebraska who own old photographs with the Heyn name on them. Few know the story behind that name and the heartache attached to it over the years.
I did encounter a guest while I was at Temple Israel Cemetery that I wasn’t expecting. But I’m sure he was hoping I’d just pretend he wasn’t there. It’s not often I encounter a groundhog during my cemetery hopping.
Stopping by Temple Israel Cemetery was definitely worth it, despite the sad stories I found there. You never known until you start looking behind the name and date on a stone what you might turn up.
Tom Foster said:
The Rosewater & Heyn stories in this edition, Traci, are worthy to include. These people had success & tragedy to note in their lives. I’ll take a look into the photography of the Heyn fellows.