One of the benefits of working at Duke University is an amazing library with great online resources. Earlier this year, I went searching for my family in the archives of the Chicago Tribune, and found a number of articles that mentioned my grandfather and father, but also two about relatives I wasn’t expecting to see.
My grandparents, Louis and Virginia Sisco, had a daughter named Judy, and I’ve known all my life about her tragic story: she was killed as a young girl as she darted into the street, and that my grandparents missed her painfully every day thereafter.
The July 24, 1939 edition of the Chicago Tribune included an entry — part of a series titled The Massacre: Chicago’s 1939 Traffic Toll that was recording traffic deaths across the city — with the headline “GIRL, 2 ½, KILLED BY CAR AS SHE DARTS IN STREET”:
Judith Sisco, 2 ½ years old, was fatally injured by an automobile yesterday before the eyes of her mother, Mrs. Louis Sisco, 3132 South Highland avenue, Berwyn. The girl was struck when she darted into the street from her mother’s side. She died in the Berwyn hospital. The accident occurred in the 6500 block of Roosevelt road. The car was driven by Albert Ivanjack, 1707 Morgan street.
I sent a PDF of that article to my mother, and she texted me this:
The lady across the street saw it happen and tried to yell but it all happened too fast. Mom refused to charge the young man who was 18 years old, I think. He felt so bad. He came to the funeral. Judy darted between two cars that were parked. She ran after a gum wrapper or something like that. After that my mom used the halter and leash that somebody had started selling. People used to say terrible things to mom but she didn’t care because she didn’t want another child killed.
That’s why, anytime we were near a street or in a parking lot, I had a firm grip on the hands of my children.
The December 4, 1936 edition of the Chicago Tribune reported that a “girl and father” (21-year-old Miss Mary Schmidt and John, 60 years old) were fatally injured when their automobile skidded in slippery car tracks and crashed head on into a street car.
Further down, there is a report of another street car accident:
Nine persons, seven of them street car passengers, were injured last night in a spectacular crash between a street car and a truck and trailer at 48th and State streets. The tank of the truck exploded, setting fire to the truck and the car. No was was seriously hurt.
A list of the nine individuals and their home addresses follows, and includes “Mrs. Francis Zuiker, 51 years old, 137 East 115th street.”
I was confused. Francis Zuiker is my grandfather, he was 26 in 1936, and he didn’t get married to Clarice until the next year. I also had never heard of one of my relatives being involved in a street car crash. I asked my father, and then the family mailing list, and no one else remembered such an incident. But then one of the uncles confirmed that my great-grandparents had lived on East 115th Street, and another uncle reminded me that my great-grandmother was named Frances (Link) Zuiker.
So, my great-grandmother Frances was on a street car that crashed into a truck. That’s interesting.
At the end of the list of names, though, is this added line: “All the passengers but Mrs. Zuiker are colored.” My grandmother was white. I never met my great-grandmother, and I don’t know how she reacted if and when she read that line in that 1936 report. If she were alive today, how would she feel about the racism and inequality that is still so ingrained in American society? Would she, like me, want desperately to find some way to help make our nation more just? I don’t know why Frances was on that street car, where she was coming from or going to. One of my uncles told me that my grandfather, Francis, “had no trouble relating to and being friends with anyone and everyone.” Did he learn that from his mother, Frances?
Frances’s husband, my great-grandfather, was named Cornelius Zuiker. I’ve been looking through the Census records and learned that he immigrated to the United States of America from Holland in 1892. Peter Sisco, another great-grandfather, came to the U.S. from Italy in 1899. I’ll continue to search for my other ancestors, and update my online genealogy.
© Anton Zuiker