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Tin, cradle and family

Last New Year’s Eve, I wrote about the mother and father who placed an unusual wooden “cradle” around the grave of their 15-day-old daughter, Bessie Sprague.

Usually these symbolic cradles, marking the graves of babies and young children, are formed from carved marble or concrete, and not wood, but not always.

There is another cradle in the Jacksonville Cemetery. Like Bessie’s, this cradle was an unmarked mystery for well over 100 years. No one knew what child was buried there until recently, when family members came forward.

On a corner, barely visible from a dirt road, is a tiny, wire-frame cradle that marks the resting place of Johannes Biede. Johannes was born June 1, 1891, and died just 2 months and 15 days later. Johannes was the only son and youngest child of German immigrants Otto and Marie Biede. Otto was a tinsmith and fashioned the wire cradle himself.

We don’t know how or why Johannes died at such a young age, however, in the 1800s and earlier, it wasn’t unusual for children to die young. Accidents, disease and lack of adequate medical care and medical understanding were the primary culprits. The possibility of losing one or even all of their children was never far from a parent’s mind. They were used to it and lived with their unspoken fear that their children would die.

Otto and Marie Biede were born near Hanover, Germany, Otto in 1853, and Marie Helene in 1858. Both emigrated to the United States in 1884, but whether they came together or with family members isn’t known. Staying with friends, they married Oct. 17, 1885, in Chicago.

By 1886, they had arrived in Jackson County, and daughter Helene was born there. Three years later, in 1889, daughter Gertrude joined the family.

Otto set up his tinsmith business in Phoenix and soon was well known throughout the county. Before Johannes was born in 1891, Otto moved again, bringing his family and business to Jacksonville, where he bought a house on South Oregon Street.

The only known location of Otto’s tin shop and hardware store is the small brick building on the corner of South Oregon and California streets. He leased the store in May 1899 and had an advertisement for his business painted on the brick wall that is still visible today. It reads, “O. Biede, Tinshop. New and Second Hand Stoves.”

The family moved to Ashland in 1902, and a few weeks later, Nov. 25, Otto died of a sudden heart attack and was buried in the Ashland Cemetery. His wife, Marie, who later married Herman Stock, an Ashland undertaker, would join Otto in 1948.

Daughter Helene received her state diploma as a licensed embalmer in 1917 and worked with her stepfather, Stock, until her death in 1935.

Daughter Gertrude worked as a clerk for Ashland until 1918, when she was appointed and then reelected city recorder until 1933. From 1937 until her retirement in 1954, she was Ashland city treasurer. She died in 1998, two and a half months before her 109th birthday.

A story of a tinsmith and his family — that’s what history’s made of.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.