The Hulman Dynasty
Introduction Coming to America Building a Dynasty Legacy lives on

Coming to America

In September 1858, Francis and Eleanora Hulman and their 3-year-old daughter died aboard the ship Austria which was destroyed by fire on its way to New York.
North Atlantic Seaway, Vol. 1 by N.R.P. Bonsor

A tragedy at sea; Herman takes charge

Francis, Eleanora and their 3-year-old daughter were returning from their summerlong tour of Europe and extended family visit in Germany.

As the Hamburg American Line ship ``Austria'' steamed toward New York on Sept. 13, 1858, passengers finished dinner and headed on deck for shuttlecock and storytelling. Shortly after 2 p.m., a boatswain prepared to fumigate the ship. He and the fourth officer descended to the crowded steerage to heat a heavy chain until it glowed, then dip it in a bucket of tar to create clouds of smoke.

But the daydreaming boatswain heated the entire chain white-hot. He screamed and dropped the chain, setting fire to the deck. As the orderly day rapidly descended into chaos, passenger Charles Brews tried to help as others crowded a small lifeboat, unintentionally holding it motionless. After they reluctantly disembarked and it swung out over the steamship's side, they jumped in, their weight tipping screaming passengers into the depths.

Panic rolled through the crowd, gaining power.

``Passengers were rushing frantically to and fro -- husbands seeking their wives, wives in search of their husbands, relatives looking after relatives, mothers lamenting the loss of their children, some wholly paralyzed with fear, others madly crying to be saved, but a few perfectly calm and collected,'' Brews recalled.

Flames raced through the mahogany veneer and varnished bulkheads. Passengers jumped into the ocean. A passing ship rescued most survivors; another picked up more the next morning. As the blackened hulk was left to sink, 65 of 538 passengers survived.

``It seems to be pretty certain that Mr. F.T. Hulman, of this city, and also his wife and child, are among the lost. His brothers residing here [have] telegraphed to learn the truth of the matter but [have] been unable to learn anything consoling,'' reported The Daily Union of Oct. 4.

``[Their] brother's name does not appear among the rescued,'' the paper reported.

So at 27 -- Francis' age when he began his partnership with Ludowici -- Herman, with 18-year-old Theodore, headed a prosperous business. Having served a three-year apprenticeship by age 18, Herman was more than ready. His experience would prove a steadying quality in the rough seas of commerce to come, for «MDNM»a couple years later, Herman and Theodore watched as their adopted homeland began to pull apart.

The coming Civil War troubled Herman for personal as well as business reasons; in a stream of pleading letters to Germany, to a dark-haired, dark-eyed young woman, Antonia Riefenstahl, he poured out his worry that the rush toward war might keep them apart for years.

She hesitated, afraid to leave her family, cross the Atlantic and travel into the frontier.

He kept writing.

Herman finally persuaded her, and he married the 29-year-old in New York in October 1862; they enjoyed the sights from a borrowed buggy. By then, the Civil War consumed the nation, and shopkeepers faced their own battle ¤ keeping shelves stocked. Through his well-entrenched dealings with suppliers throughout the Midwest and East, Herman kept his store stocked with paper, plus such exotic offerings as fresh lemons and limes, oranges and pineapples.

Faced with the double stress of operating a store during war, Herman worked more than ever, but Theodore took time off to marry Sophia Roderus, a Bavarian, in 1863.

A little more than two months later, Herman and Antonia celebrated the birth of their first child, Maria. The arrival didn't temper Herman's devotion to the store, but, not long after Theodore married, he briefly left the family business to serve in the Indiana Home Guards.

As the war ended, Herman had a more personal reason to celebrate -- his first son, Anton, arrived. Theodore returned, too; and, in 1866, he moved his family into a house at Sixth and Park. That home, occupied by family members until youngest daughter Gertrude Hulman died in 1967, was demolished in March 1968 to make way for apartments.

By the time Herman's second son, Herman Jr., was born, in 1867, Herman and Antonia had mourned the death of their daughter and moved to 657 Ohio St., on ``Mansion Row.''

As his sons toddled around the 16 rooms, in and out of the four bathrooms and around the marble fireplace mantles, Herman had already taken steps into a more public realm. A devout Catholic, he'd volunteered in 1864 to head one of the committees planning a church at Ninth and Ohio, Markle says. He and Theodore and their families gathered in 1865, to dedicate the church.


1997 Copyright Tribune-Star Publishing Co. Inc. / Credits