TLBoehm on Family Tree Circles
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Frank "Tussy" Russell manager of Annie Taylor "First woman to survive shooting Horseshoe Falls in a Barrel"
A couple of months ago while perched on the edge of my comfy couch and watching Nick Wallenda traverse a corded cable stretched across the mighty Niagara Falls, I was reminded of one of my favorite family stories. My mother in law Margaret, family historian for her own Smith/Black relatives, first mentioned my father in law, Louis Boehm’s connection to one Frank “Tussy” Russell. Frank Russell was known as a carnival and fair promoter in Bay City, Michigan when he was hired by school teacher Annie Edson Taylor. On October 24, 1901, Annie became the first person to go over Horseshoe Fall in a barrel and survive. Unfortunately, for Annie she became involved shortly afterward in a financial dispute with Frank Russell who briefly made off with her barrel and held it for ransom. Some sources indicate that Frank made public appearances with the barrel and a beautiful young woman posing as Annie Taylor before he was eventually jailed and forced to return Annie’s barrel.
While much of the information I’ve uncovered depicts Mr. Russell as slightly nefarious, an opportunist taking advantage of an impoverished woman and ultimately contributing to her death as a pauper, I’ve found nothing regarding the family of Mr. Russell with the exception of excerpts from the Boehm family history by William Dryden Boehm. William “Bill” Boehm, an uncle of my husband spent several years compiling information on the Boehm’s from their immigration to Bay City from Marienwerder Prussia forward to present day. According to data provided by Bill’s research, Frank married Lena Boehm, daughter of immigrant Max Boehm in 1896 when Lena was 18. Bill states that Frank “reluctantly” decided to represent Annie as her manager. He says as a young man Frank got into promoting after watching kids jump from the high lumber pilings into the Saginaw River. Lena and Frank had one daughter, Lillian who eventually married and moved to California. It is not known whether Lena was perhaps the “beautiful woman” Frank was passing off as Annie or whether Lena and Frank eventually divorced. I have found evidence of Frank, Lena and Lillian on the 1930 census residing in Detroit. According to Bill Boehm, Lena moved to California and passed away in 1968. Lillian had no children, and I’ve found nothing about Frank after the 1930 census. On the 1940 census, only Lena, Lillian and Lillian’s husband are listed.
The Boehm family is a stalwart bunch, not given over to drama, intrigue or fanfare. It comes as no surprise therefore that no mention has been made of Lena Boehm Russell’s thoughts on her promoter husband and his role in history. Even the inclusion of Frank and Lena in William Boehm’s research was done simply out of deep love and respect for his family and not for outside attention. Speculation aside, I nonetheless find the story to be a fascinating moment in my family’s history.
The picture is of Lena and daughter Lillian circa 1900
The earliest information collected by William Dryden Boehm is of the parents of Max Friedrich. Friedrich Wilhelm Bohm and Wilhelmina Wollenberg. Friedrich Wilhelm was a brick mason by trade who probably moved to Gross Ottlau to work at the brick foundry sometime before 1850. Although no recorded date has been discovered, Friedrich Wilhelm was killed when a brick wall he was constructing fell over and crushed him.
F Wilhelm's son Max was born in 1851 and twin daughters Melwine and Hermine followed in 1854. Max met his future wife Elenora Nowark, daughter of Karl Nowark and Eva Janke, in Reisenberg. Max often spoke of beautiful lake Sorgen See (now lake Dzierzgon) to his children and grandchildren. Elenore spoke of visiting Marienwerder (now Kwydzyn Poland) as a young girl. She lived as an exchange student on a farm for several weeks. In 1873 at age 21 Max and Eleanore left Marienwerder Prussia and emigrated to the United States to escape the military draft. Along with Elenore's sister Louise, Max and his fiance left Germany from Bremen on the sailing vessel, Marco Polo. While en route to Baltimore the ship was forced off course to the Canary Islands by a major storm. The ship was resupplied and attempted the Atlantic crossing again. The entire voyage took a total of three months. They arrived in Baltimore, MD March 3, 1873 and were married the following April.
Max and Eleanor settled in Bay City Michigan where Max found work as a laborer in the lumber mills, eventually becoming a foreman at S McLean and Co. They attended Immanuel Lutheran church and had eight children. Eleanora died of pleurisy in 1897 at the age of 46. Three years after her death, Max married Wilhelmina Natzke who became an integral part of the Boehm childrens' lives, raising them as her own. Max died from spinal menengitis at age sixty. Only a year later, Minnie passed away.
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