The Disappearance of Lula Kohlasch

July 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Columnists

Lula disappeared in the summer of 1905.

Lula disappeared in the summer of 1905.

When Lula Kohlasch abandoned her husband and children in the summer of 1905, the only thing she left behind was her wheelchair.

The July 19, 1905 Ypsilanti Daily Press said, “If any question as to the metropolitan character of Ypsilanti is still entertained, it will promptly be set at rest by the discovery that the city has its sensations as well as the larger cities. All this came to light this morning by the report of Mr. Kohlasch, a respectable and hardworking man, whose wife, Mrs. Kohlasch, is and has been for some time an invalid and a cripple.”

Charles Kohlasch worked as a day laborer. In 1900, 40-year-old Kohlasch lived in Plymouth with his 24-year-old wife Lula. The Press spelled her name Lura, and on various other records it appears as Lola, Tola, Tula, and Jula. The couple lived with their 3-year-old son Walter and infant Rosella. They had married 4 years prior in nearby Northfield Township.

The family moved to Ypsilanti and by 1903 were renting a home at 438 Chidester Street, midway between Catherine and Spring streets. Two more children followed by 1905. Lula likely had a hard time caring for the 4 children ranging in age from 8 to 2.

Mr. Kohlasch, said the paper, had had difficulty securing household help. He eventually found a good candidate in Detroit, and the young woman began working in the house. Everything seemed fine until “a young fellow,” said the paper, “who makes his home on Forest Avenue at his brother’s, saw the girl for the first time, took her walking and the couple forgot to return. They claim that they expect to be married soon, although the ceremony has not yet taken place.”

Kohlasch was again without help. The Ypsilanti Daily Press said that he went to Ann Arbor to ask a young lady who’d previously worked in the house to return. He likely wanted to hire some help before leaving on a short trip that he and Lula had planned. He’d just been paid for the month–$16, or $380 today.

When Kohlasch returned home, his wife and the money were gone.

Also missing were some of her skirts, blouses, and shoes, as well as 13-year-old neighbor boy Carl Pepper, who had wheeled Lula around town in the past.

“Mr. Kohlasch has reported the matter to the police department,” said the Daily Press, “who are endeavoring to locate the couple. The husband is a hard-working man and is well liked by those who knew them. Mrs. Kohlasch has had every comfort lavished on her by her husband and no explanation of her absence can be offered.”

Lula’s wheelchair was found, said the following day’s Press, at John Schaff’s home at 113 Miles Street.

The paper continued, “Warrants which were sworn out by the father of the boy for truancy and for the woman for abandoning her children are still in the hands of the Ann Arbor officials, who have yet not been able to serve them.”

Gossip swirled around town. “Neighbors claim that Mrs. Kohlasch was not so ill as was supposed,” said the paper. “It is said that frequently on Sundays they would have a violin player at the house and dance at these times. Mr. Kohlasch would join in the merrymaking.”

The paper continued, “When asked about this the husband replied that his wife enjoyed the music as much as any one and sometimes would get up and step around to the music just as any one who is full of life.”

Lula, said her husband, “‘was getting to feel more like herself and had been able to do more than for some time.’”

Kohlasch was asked if the couple had had problems. He replied, said the Press, “‘No, we hadn’t any trouble lately; that is to say since I called her down for being too friendly with the boy, but I thought I had a perfect right to do that under the circumstances. She just laughed at me, but their actions worried me some. I hate to think of her leaving her children so and going off in that way.’”

Pepper was in his last week of summer grade school taught at the Normal College, said the paper.

The Press reported that Kohlasch had left the children with a neighbor. It continued, “When asked if he would take her back [he] replied that the matter was entirely out of his hands now, as he had gone before the prosecuting attorney and the crime for which the warrants were issued is punishable by not less than three years or more than ten.”

Town gossip intensified. “The report that Charles Kohlasch does not look after his children, which has been circulated in some quarters, is not true,” said the July 28, 1905 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “Mr. Kohlasch is a hard-working, industrious man, who bears a good reputation among his neighbors for sobriety and honesty.”

The paper continued, “Since the departure of his wife over a week ago in company with a 13-year-old boy, it has been something of a problem to the father to see how he could care for his motherless brood and at the same time earn money with which to feed and clothe them. Kindly neighbors, pitying the little family, came to the rescue and cared for them until the father could straighten out his affairs and find out what to do. At this point the usual busybodies interested themselves in the matter and applied to County Agent Childs to have them sent to the state public school at Coldwater.”

Agent Childs refused the request, said the Press, and when a local priest offered to place the children in a Catholic children’s home, Kohlasch expressed gratitude but said, as noted in the paper, that “he had made arrangements for a housekeeper to come next Monday and that he will try to keep the little family together.”

He succeeded. The couple eventually reunited.

The reasons for Lula’s disappearance remain unclear.

The family soon moved to Missouri, where son Frank was born, and then Kansas, where daughter Fern was born. Eventually Charles and Lula would return to Missouri, where a separation awaited the couple.

For the moment, however, Charles had succeeded in keeping his family together during a sad and difficult time in Ypsilanti.

Laura Bien is the author of “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Have an old-time Ypsilanti story to share? Contact her at ypsidixit@gmail.com.

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