Charles & Salome (Siegler) Ruch

What must have been going through Salome Siegler’s mind as she boarded the Ernst Moritz Arndt[1] preparing to set sail for America? Only two years earlier she would have been looking forward to a quiet life in the sleepy village of Bouxwiller, France where she had spent her first twenty years. Now, nothing remained from that life. War had devastated her family, her village and her nation. Germany demanded she choose either to remain in what was left of her village but as a German citizen or to leave the Alsace region moving to the interior of France[2]. So, taking what little could be carried, she and so many others began a sad and frightening journey away from their beloved home.
At least, Salome didn’t have to make all of the decisions on her own. Besides various members of her family, Charles Ruch, the young man whom she loved, had opted against German citizenship as well. Theirs was an uncertain future, but the promise of a future together probably gave some solace. They made their way across the country to the port town of Le Havre where they signed the papers stating their option not to submit to German rule.
With a great scarcity of jobs, due partly to the major influx of refugees from the ceded regions of Alsace and Lorraine, a future in France must have looked dim. Perhaps that explains why the couple set their sights across the ocean or perhaps other family members or friends had gone before; whatever the reason, on March 04, 1873, Charles and Salome left from the port of Le Havre, never to see their homeland again.
Most of the passengers on the ship were French and most, like Charles and Salomé, had steerage tickets. What a long two weeks that must have been. There was plenty of time to talk about the years before the war; remembering her father, the button manufacturer, and his father, the printer. Reliving the good times when their families gathered together to celebrate holidays and special events. But, probably, fresher in their minds was the horror of the war they had just survived. The countryside overrun by marauding German soldiers who stole food and provisions from villages, leaving nothing for the people left behind. Stories shared about the terrible bloodshed of both soldiers and civilians alike. Perhaps it was good to have that time, however disturbing it may have been, to purge the past and make room for what was ahead.
At last, the port of New York!! March 20, 1873 they could see their entry point. Excitement filled the ship but, alas, there would be no disembarkation for the steerage passengers that day. Fear of the spread of cholera required all ships entering the harbor to hold their passengers onboard an additional week to ensure none of them could spread the disease. Another week of waiting but this time with the American shore in sight!
Finally, on March 29, 1873, the long voyage and tedious wait was over and Salome and Charles placed their feet on the solid ground of bustling Castle Garden with its fort-like buildings and its wide walkways. The whole area was teeming with activity. Some people were greeted by family members and friends; others were hustled away by wagon or horse-drawn carriages. Everywhere vendors were vying for the attention of the newcomers. Such confusion must have been overwhelming and thrilling at the same time!
The young couple had to scurry along because their journey was not yet over. There was still a train to catch which would take them to their final destination. The first order of business may have been to catch the ferry to the Erie Railroad terminal in New Jersey. They probably boarded the immigrant car which would take them across the state of New York. Staying in the southern part of the State, the couple would still have to change to the Erie and Northeast Railroad to finish the trip to Erie, Pennsylvania.
After such a long and wearisome journey, they must have been exhausted, not to mention dirty from the steam engine’s soot. But, they’d made it and that alone must have been exhilarating! Now they could settle down into their new home.
But first there was one important event which needed attention. Salome’s brother, Fred, who had come to Erie just a few months earlier, must have made all the preparations. Without further adieux, Charles and Salome found themselves standing before the minister of St Paul’s Evangelical & Reformed Church[3] on Palm Sunday, March 30, 1873, sealing their lives together in marriage. The witnesses were Jacob Walther, Sr. and Friedrick Siegler.
Was the wedding a mix of melancholy and joy for Salomé and Charles? Did Salomé wish her parents were there to see the rite take place or was she simply tired from the journey and eager to get on with her life? Did his new responsibilities way heavy on him or was Charles just happy to be starting life with his new bride in his new country, new home and new job? Whatever their thoughts, they must have found comfort in having Fred standing at their side and, even though it had been years since he had been in France, Walter was from their hometown of Bouxwiller. At least, they were to live where others spoke their language and followed the same customs as they.
There was no time to waste. They moved into their apartment at 1526 State Street in the heart of the city but on the edge of where many other immigrants from Germany and France had settled.
The next order of business was starting a job. While the war raged in Alsace, Charles had little chance to learn a trade at home so his work description at the age of twenty-three was laborer. Whatever he would do, he would have to start from the bottom. He and Fred found work at the Streuber & Sons Tannery on State Street only as few blocks from home.
The Streuber family had immigrated in 1861 from Bouxwiller and John Streuber had quickly established a tannery in Erie. At John’s death in 1872, the business was taken over by his son, Emil[4]. John’s children and Charles, Salomé and Fred very likely knew each other in the homeland as they were of the same age group. Between 1874 and 1884 the tannery went from 10 to 24 employees.[5] Among that number were probably Fred and Charles, both of whom went from the description of laborer to tanner by 1876.
Tanning is not for the faint of heart. Its definition is to convert (a hide) into leather, esp. by soaking or steeping in a bath prepared from tanbark or synthetically.[6] The first task is to scrape off the remaining fat, muscle and sinew from the hide; then comes the soaking and repeated stirring in a tanning agent, at the Streuber tannery this mixture was made from hemlock bark [7]. The work is strenuous and stinking to say the least. But, for Fred and Charles it meant having an occupation that would provide for themselves and their families.
Charles would soon find his family not only grow but double! While he was learning his new trade, Salomé was preparing to bring a new life into the world. She would quickly have gotten down to the business of sewing and knitting and purchasing what she must for the upcoming arrival of their first child. On September 9, 1873 Salomé gave birth to Caroline Magdalena and – surprise – Eva Salomea. Oh, my, now all the preparations must have seemed small in comparison to the needs to two babies. Double the work; double the joy! A month later, on 12 October 1873, the children’s baptism was witnessed by Salomé’s brother, Fred, and friends, Salomea Haselmeier and Fr. Obringer.

[1] N.R.P.Bonsor, North Atlantic Seaway, vol.2, p.774/ vol.3, p.1245-6.
"Habana" was the ex-"Ernst Moritz Arndt". This was built by T.B.Oswald & Co, Sunderland in 1872 for the German company, Baltischer Lloyd. She was a 2,597 gross ton ship, length 317ft x beam 38ft, one funnel, two masts, iron construction, single screw and a speed of 12 knots. Launched on 22/8/1872 as the "Ernst Moritz Arndt", she sailed from London on her maiden voyage to Havre and New York on 27/2/1873. She made 6 transatlantic voyages, the last starting on 28/5/1874 when she left Stettin for Antwerp and New York. In 1879 she was sold to Lopez of Spain and renamed "Habana"…
[2] Charles Downer Hazen, Alsace-Lorraine Under German Rule (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1917), Chapter IV, 97: “By article II of the treaty [of Frankfort], the people of Alsace-Lorraine acquired their one privilege. They were to have until October 1, 1872, to decide, individually, whether they would preserve their French citizenship or become German subjects. If they should choose the former they must by that date have actually withdrawn from Alsace or Larraine and have physically established themselves in France. This was their option….”
[3] St. Paul’s Evangelical & Reformed Church is now St. Paul’s United Church of Christ.
[4] Samuel Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: Warner, Beers and Company, 1884), Vol. I, Part III, pg. 639.
[5] Bates, , History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, 639 and William P. Atkinson, Atkinson’s Erie City Directory for 1874-75 (Erie: Atkinson, 1875), pg.129.
[6] tanning. Unabridged. Random House Inc,  (accessed May 17, 2010).
[7] William P. Atkinson, Atkinson’s Erie City Directory for 1874-75 (Erie: Atkinson, 1875), pg.129.