Catharine is always in mourning

If you read Catharine’s diary, the theme is established.  It is full of family, friends and neighbors either close to death or dying.  She seems to be obsessed with unhappiness.

Catharine Auxer Niess in mourning

Catharine Auxer Niess in mourning

This picture seems to be a theme in her life. Catharine is the one on the right. I believe the woman on the left may be her eldest sister, Anna Maria Lehman, since this picture was taken about the time Anna Maria’s husband died in 1912. Catharine’s husband died three years later, and she probably wore the same outfit. I have the head covering in my collection. The border on this scarf matches the border in the previous collection, over the years the ends have become either frayed or torn, but it is the same scarf.

Catharine's scarf in Linda's home

Catharine's scarf in Linda's home

Catharine was born in the Elizabethtown area of Lancaster County on 19th April 1844 to Philip and Maria (Leader) Auxer.  At the age of 15 she is found working as a domestic in the household of Christian Graybill in East Donegal Township.  Five years later she is married to Ephraim Niess.

By the 1870 census, she had two children and the family lived in Harrisburg. What the census doesn’t tell you is that she had already lost her first two children and her youngest would die in the next year.  She was married to an alcoholic and life was a constant struggle to make ends meet.  Her husband was a Civil War veteran who had seen battle in Chancellorsville.  Life was not easy for Ephraim as he fought his inner devils until his death.

The 1880 Census shows the family, minus the daughter on the 1870 census since she had died in 1871.  Their son Edwin (shown as Edward in 1870) is now 12 and he had a new sister, Catharine, who was nine.  There were three other children born after the 1870 census, and they had also died.  Catharine also lost her mother in this decade.

There is no 1890 census, but the family remained at 115 Dock Street in Harrisburg, Ephraim continued to drink and was still employed by Bailey Iron Works and the family grew by two boys, John Ephraim and Benjamin Franklin.  They would live to adulthood.  Sadness and grief was recorded in her diaries, a copy of which still exists in one of her descendant’s loving care.

I am fortunate to have had this shared with me and have transcribed it.  It covers the years 1888 through 1894 in her life and this is where I find the sadness and illness that plagues her life.

The 1888 diary starts out with two mentions of death in the first month:

Jan 8th
This was a blessed sabbath for me, I read a great deal, I could not go out on account of the weather and my health, this evening I feel very sad, Mrs. Fogerty is very sick, they do not think she will live until morning, I feel sorry for them all, she is a very kind Mother and a good neighbor, they keep a bakery two doors from us, I hope she is saved, how necessary to live for christ, when in health, O help me to drink deep of his sweet spirt of submission, that will enable me to meet, yea, even to welcome, the sorest cross, saying yes, Lord, all is well, just because it is they blessed will, take me, use me, chasten me, as seemeth good in thy sight,

Jan 11th
The weather has changed, is very cold – I feel better, but cannot go out much, Mrs. Fogerty was buried to day, she had a very large funeral, but this is the way we all must go, sooner or later, every day is proclaiming anew the lesson, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, O that I may seek to live, so that that (sic) time can not come upon me to soon, or too unexpectedly, Oh that I may live a dying life, how blesed to live, a dying life how blesed to die, with the consciousness that there may be but a step between me and Glory.

and then later in the month:

Jan 27th
Two years ago to day Father died I can never forget his happy death, I think of him very much he always seemed so happy, and waited patiently until he was called, to take his departure, to a home beyond the skies, where there is no sickness, nor sorrow, here he was sick a long time, but our afflictions, and our sorrows, are meted out by a tender hand, he would often request us to sing,

Mid scenes of confusion,
And creature complaints,
How sweet to my soul,
Is communion with saints.
Home, sweet Home,
They sung the piece at his funeral, O how he warned us to live, an honest christian life and be ready for this change that was soon to take place with him O how peacefully he passed away it did not seem like death,

. . . and so the years go. She had faith, but was always thinking about death.

Ephraim and Catharine Auxer Niess in Harrisburg, Penna

Ephraim and Catharine Auxer Niess on their 50th anniversary

Catharine always referred to Ephraim as “my husband,” never by his name in her diary.  They were married 51 years when he died. They had gone to Washington DC in October of 1915 where Ephraim attended the GAR National Encampment and had seen their first great-grandson who was born in September of that year.  That great-grandson was my father.

Ephraim died on 25th of November of that year.  The entry in a notebook she kept simply says:  “He took my husband.”

“He” took her six years later on 27 May 1921.


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