A True Story! from an unexpected source
Christmas is here, and I thought you might enjoy this seasonal Turck family anecdote, “a true story,” as related in the pages of Correct English magazine, written, edited and published by Peter Turck’s granddaughter—and Mary (Turck) Clark’s niece—Josephine Turck Baker, and later collected with other similar tales and published as a book, Correct English in the Home, Chicago, 1909.
In the foreword to her book, the author explains:
When I was a little girl, like most children, I was very fond of listening to stories; but unlike most children, I did not care for fairy tales, my first question invariably being, ” IS IT A TRUE STORY?” I don’t want a “once upon a time” story.
This is a true story. The children, their names, the incidents narrated, are all true. Beatrice, Roschen, and the “Boitie,” are my children […]
For those who like really true stories of really true people with really true names, this little book is written. That it may instruct and entertain all readers, both little and big, young and grown up, is the earnest wish of
Yours for Correct English,
Josephine Turck Baker
Photo credits and dates: see notes below. Click gallery for larger images
Josephine Turck Baker (1858-1942)— Granddaughter of early Mequon settler Peter Turck; daughter of Mary (Turck) Clark’s younger brother James B. Turck. Author, publisher, playwright, suffragist, elocutionist, and internationally-recognized grammarian. Mother of daughters Beatrice, Roschen (and son Frederick Sherman Baker, Jr., aka “the Boite”)
Beatrice Turck Baker, aka “Dolly” (1891-1919) — eldest child of Josephine Turck Baker
Roschen Turck Baker (1894-1942) — Beatrice’s younger sister
Uncle Jimmie—James B. Turck, Jr. (1862-1933), Josephine Turck Baker’s younger brother
Grandpa — James Byron Turck (1833-1913), Josephine’s father, Peter Turck’s son
Mama’s Grandpa — Peter Turck (1798-1872), Mary (Turck) Clark’s father, Josephine Turck Baker’s grandfather
This Turck family anecdote, “Christmas-Tide,” appears on pages 7-9 of Correct English in the Home. Narrators Roschen and Beatrice spent their childhoods in Chicago and Evanston, Illinois, in the 1890s and early-1900s. The story they relate is from their mother Josephine’s childhood. It takes place during a snow-free Christmas in Milwaukee, when “Mama was a little girl,” and Uncle Jimmie (born 1862) was old enough to walk and pray. If we assume Jimmie was about 4 or 5 years old, that would set the story sometime around the mid-1860s, perhaps Christmas of 1866 or 1867.
Beatrice.—Goody ! It’s snowing! Then we’ll have snow for Christmas.
Roschen.—It always snows on Christmas; because don’t you know Santa Claus always comes in a sleigh?
Beatrice.—It don’t always snow on Christmas. I mean it doesn’t always snow, for don’t you remember that time when Mama was a little girl, it didn’t snow on Christmas? That’s why she lost Grandpa’s umbrella.
Roschen.—Yes; but she found it again.
Beatrice.—Well, she wouldn’t have found it if she and Uncle Jimmie hadn’t prayed.
Roschen.—I think that’s a lovely story-of how they found the umbrella. And just think! it’s a true story.
Beatrice.—l’ve almost forgotten it. Oh, yes! Mama said her mother was sick, and her father was away, and so they weren’t going to have a tree; but when Christmas morning came, she and her little brother felt so sad because they didn’t have a tree that they went off by themselves to get one. And it rained, so they took Grandpa’s umbrella,—his lovely silk umbrella!
Roschen.—It wasn’t Grandpa’s umbrella; it was Mama’s grandpa’s umbrella.
Beatrice.—And they hadn’t ought to have taken it; I mean, they oughtn’t to have taken it, because Grandpa said that no one must touch it.
Roschen.—But they took it to the store where they were going to buy the Christmas tree, and when they started home, they found that they had lost it; and then they went back and asked the woman for it, and she said she didn’t have it; and then they went out, and they didn’t know what to do.
Roschen.—And then Uncle Jimmie said, “Let’s pray! and then she’ll give it to us.” And so they went around the block and prayed every step of the way; and then they went back and asked the woman for the umbrella; she said she didn’t have it; and then they went around the block again and prayed again, because they said that if they prayed long enough, they would get it.
Beatrice.—And then they went back again, and the woman said she didn’t have it; but the third time they went back, they were crying, and they asked the woman for the umbrella—.
Roschen and Beatrice.—And she gave it to them!
Roschen.—Just think! that was a true story! and they got the umbrella. Did they get the tree?
Beatrice.—I don’t remember if they did.
Mrs. Baker.—You mean you don’t remember whether they did.
Jonathan Clark House, front parlor Christmas tree, December, 2022. Photo credit: Reed Perkins
Today’s Christmas tale is a true story! — at least according to the author and her daughters. Did it really happen as described? I don’t know. It certainly could have. All the genealogical details agree with the facts as far as I know them. The religious beliefs expressed in the story appear sincere, and are consistent with the religious sentiments found in many other true stories from Josephine Turck Baker’s Correct English magazine and books.
Before reading this story, I had no idea that Peter Turck—preacher, sawmill operator, legislator, pioneer-of-many-trades, and later Milwaukee lawyer—owned a silk umbrella. It’s interesting to think of the journey his life, taking him from the old family farm in Columbia Co., New York, to the wilds of 1837 Mequon, to owning a silk umbrella in mid-century Milwaukee.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.
An earlier version of this essay first appeared at Clark House Historian last December.
On the photographs:
• The photo of Josephine Turck Baker was published as the frontispiece of her 1907 book, The Art of Conversation: Twelve Golden Rules, Correct English Publishing, Evanston, Illinois. Josephine would have been about 49 years old in 1907. The photo may have been taken some years prior to publication.
• The photos of daughters Beatrice and Roschen were published on pages 4 and 10, respectively, of Josephine’s book, Correct English in the Home. When these photos and family anecdotes were published in 1909, Beatrice would have been about 18 years old, and Roschen would have been about 15. Clearly, the photos were taken before 1909. My best guess is that the photos date from, perhaps, 1901 or thereabouts, when Beatrice was about 10 and Roschen 7 years old.