JACOB CONRAD

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 88-89

JACOB CONRAD.  the spirit of heroism sometimes slumbers within the breasts of people who would be least suspected of possessing it.  Few persons can realize, when acquiring an accomplishment, in what way it may become useful to themselves or others, and no one can foresee at what moment the Almighty may require the exercise of the gifts which He has bestowed upon them.  Some sudden catastrophe or unusual circumstance is often necessary to arouse the latent powers of individuals, which might otherwise never have been called into action.  The opportunity does not often find an individual ready to grasp it, however, and all due honor and reverence should be meted out to him who proves himself equal to the great emergency which is unexpectedly thrust upon him.

Jacob Conrad was born in Schwarzenbach, province of Oldenburg, Germany, April 22, 1838, and died in Winnetka, April 15, 1894.   His parents, Matthias and Elizabeth (Zar) Conrad, were natives of the same place as himself.  In 1851 they left the Fatherland and came to the United States.  They first settled in Chicago, but finally located upon a farm at Niles Center, Cook County.  Here the father died at the age of eighty-one years, the mother having previously passed away at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Mary Rose, in Chicago.  After her death Mr. Conrad was married a second time, this union being with Mrs. Hammer, who yet survives.  She is the mother of Mrs. Frances Conrad, wife of M. C. Conrad.  Matthias Conrad was the father of two sons and three daughters, as follows:  Jacob, the subject proper of this notice; Mrs. Katie Schmidt, Mrs. Mary Rose, Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson and Matt C. Conrad.

Jacob Conrad was about thirteen years old when the family came to America.  While a young man he was engaged in lumbering, and during his dangerous logging and rafting operations he became an expert swimmer, and this accomplishment was destined to be of incalculable benefit to himself and his fellow-beings.  His first independent business venture was that of a merchant, and he became the first dealer in meats at Winnetka.  His last occupation was that of a dealer in hay.  In all his business affairs he aimed to do exact justice to all, and he became widely known through his veracity and unswerving integrity.  He was a devout member of the Catholic Church, and politically was an independent Democrat.  He filled many local offices, including that of Township Supervisor, and enjoyed the highest respect of his fellow-citizens.  His habits were plain and his dress simple, and few would recognize a hero in so plain a garb.  However, all that constitutes valor and heroism was locked in his faithful heart, and he was destined to save the lives of many people.  His name ought to go down to posterity, and the memory of his daring deeds be an everlasting, precious heirloom to his descendants.

The name of the “Lady Elgin” brings many sad recollections to thousands of people along Lake Michigan, and her collision with another vessel and immediate wrecking is fresh in the minds of the citizens of Winnetka.  the collision took place Friday, September 7, 1860, and the steamer, which was bound on an excursion from Milwaukee to Chicago, went to pieces in a heavy sea.  On that memorable morning Mr. Conrad had come from his father’s home at Niles Center to attend communion and mass at the Gross Point Catholic Church.   As he had fasted from the night before, he was hardly in a physical condition to perform the work which Providence had mapped out for him.   While still at church, word was received at that place that a boat had gone down and many people were battling with the waves.  Mr. Conrad jumped into a wagon and rapidly rode towards the shore near the scene of the disaster, where considerable wreckage had already drifted upon the beach.  He saw at a glance that unless help was extended to those in the water they would never reach shore, as the waves, which were running very high, would throw them back again into the sea.  He procured a long rope, said to have been a new clothesline, and fastening the same under his arms, he swam into the water, and grasping those who were still alive, was drawn to shore by willing hands and immediately taken good care of.  As soon as he was able, he would return to the water and rescue another victim, and these excursions were continued until late in the afternoon, though he received no nourishment during all this time.  He rescued twenty-eight people in all, the first being a colored man, who thanked him profusely for his delivery.  Many stirring incidents and heart-rending scenes occurred that day.  One in particular made a lasting impression on the mind of Mr. Conrad.  A woman wearing hoopskirts came near him, and he grasped the skirts and had almost succeeded in bringing her to the beach, when an immense wave wrenched the woman away, leaving only a part of the broken skirt in his hands.  She arose to the surface with another wave, but out of his reach, and, throwing up her hands, she exclaimed, “O Lord, do take me!” and when next seen she was dead.  That cry went through the hero’s heart like a knife, but it nerved him to continue his daring deeds till no more people could be seen afloat on the waves.

Mr. Conrad was married, in Cook County, to Mary Stuben, a native of Germany.  She survives him and has been the mother of five children, of whom the following reached maturity: Peter, Jacob (deceased), Louis C., Minnie and Mary.  Of these, Louis C. was born November 27, 1873, in Winnetka. He was married, at Gross Point, to Miss Anna M. Brandl.  They have one son, Joseph J. Conrad.

                                -- Submitted on 11/25/99 by Sherri Hessick ( slhessick@crosswinds.net )