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We were sitting at my kitchen table when I told my friend, Dale Reeves, that he was allowing me a rare opportunity. Dale had placed a small photo album in front of me containing pictures taken by the late Edith Hausmann that he had purchased at an antique store.
Many of the blue-tinted pictures in the book were of Vandalia street scenes, businesses and homes.
One picture, in particular, caught my attention. The undated photo was labeled in pencil, "Funeral of Grace Henning Kurtz," and was taken inside the deceased’s Vandalia home.
Holding the funeral in the home, along with hand-delivered funeral notices, were common practices in the horse and buggy days. What was uncommon was to have a photo of the flower-bedecked funeral bier.
From past research, I knew that Grace was the wife of Vandalia merchant, George Kurtz, and that their Queen Anne home, on the southeast corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Madison Street, was built around 1900.
Among my collection, I found a funeral notice for Grace, and learned that she died at noon, Thursday, Nov. 29, 1900, at the age of 37. Three pastors officiated at her funeral, which was held in her home on Dec. 2 – the Rev. J.G. Tucker, assisted by the Rev. H.W. Todd and Montgomery May.
Having the date of death, I was then able to locate an obituary in the microfilmed back issues of The Vandalia Union. From this, I learned that Grace Lee Henning Kurtz was born on Aug. 23, 1863, in Henning Mills, near Cincinnati, Ohio, her father’s town, and that she came to Vandalia with her family in 1880.
Grace attended secondary school here, graduating from Vandalia High School in 1882. Surviving with her husband were her father and three brothers. Burial was in South Hill Cemetery.
The Fayette County marriage records provided June 12, 1893, as the date of her marriage to George A. Kurtz. It also indicated that she was a daughter of J.W. and Harriet C. Patton Henning. Census records showed that her father’s name was James and that he was born in West Virginia, as were his parents. Her mother, Harriet, was a native of Ohio.
Grace Lee Henning was 27 years old when she married George Kurtz. He was 33, the son of George F. Kurtz and Louisa Buser. His father died when George was very small, and his mother remarried Christian Thees, an early Vandalia resident.
The family was already here and living on Gallatin Street in June 1880, where they are listed on the federal census for that year. Grace’s father, James, was superintendent of a chair factory, and her oldest brother, Ferdinand C., worked with him.
The Henning factory stood where the Vandalia Furniture Store was located on Kennedy Boulevard, just east of the Vandalia Statehouse.
George Kurtz was born in Vandalia and worked for the firm of T.N. Pitkin for 20 years, as manager of the clothing department before going out on his own and opening up a men’s clothing store.
At the time of her death, Grace held a place in Vandalia’s social hierarchy, and the floral tributes surrounding her coffin attest to her popularity, as does the notice of her funeral.
This is how it was done in the horse-and-buggy days.