Emma loved to tell stories to her children and her grandchildren. She recounted tales about Cornelius sailing ‘around the horn’ in a family-owned ship, and about her own experiences as a young person camping in the park after the Fire and Quake of 1906. She was thrilled to have been saved by a handsome mounted policeman when Nellie (see photo below) bolted in Golden Gate Park.
Can any of her grandchildren forget being instructed not to eat too many dried apricots because she saw “the man on the ferryboat” die from prunes bursting his stomach? We were lectured on the value of thrift (“waste not, want not”) as she explained how she made her mottled kitchen soap out of saved cooking fats. Emma could also be very kind, preparing my favorite dinner when I stayed overnight or inviting me to play outside when she saw me fidgeting while the adults held boring conversations.
Traditionally, respectable women were supposed to be mentioned in the newspaper only at life events: at birth, marriage, childbirth and death. Emma Marie DeBoom Witzel was born in Napa, California on April 16, 1885. She married Claus Franz Emil Witzel (December 6, 1882 – June 12, 1951) on June 22, 1907 at her father’s home on 1777 Page St. She raised three sons, Frederick DeBoom Witzel, Claude Romaine Witzel, and Everett Marsily Witzel at the house at 576 17th Avenue. Emma lived to see eight grandchildren before she died on February 27, 1965 in San Francisco. Emma and CFE are buried in Olivet Memorial Park, Colma, CA in the Witzel-Spaar-Wreden-Veen plot.
Her husband, CFE, was an enthusiastic sailor who owned several sail boats over the years (Siren, Thelma, et al.). Emma saved many family photos showing the family sailing, but one clipping tells of CFE’s misadventure on the sloop Aloha six years before they were married. A day sail turned into 30 chilly hours without food or water when the wind died and the Aloha was pulled out to sea on an ebb tide. See 93_30hours_1901.
A Life in Photos
The pictures below span from 1889, when Emma was four years old, to a few months before her death in 1965. The first is a photo taken in front of their home in Napa where her father had gone into the wine and real estate business. According to Emma’s son Everett, the family moved back to San Francisco because “Bonmaman” found the summer heat too oppressive. In the formal portrait Emma is about seventeen years old and in the next she is posed upon Nellie (the dog’s name has been forgotten). Emma is sitting next to her boyfriend or fiance “Fred” in 1905 on the Siren which he kept moored in Paradise Cove. Emma’s wedding photo of 1907 follows, then Emma with her husband Fred (aka CFE) and their three sons, Everett (aka “Mo”), Claude and Frederick about 1925. Sometime after WWII, probably the summer of 1946, Emma is shown surrounded by her family (Claude, Ev, Emma, Fred, Virgilia, CFE, Claire, Jane holding Ken, Joanna, Terry, Ron). Finally, the last photo shows her expressive face most clearly.