JOHN H. MUHLKE

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 591-592

JOHN HENRY MUHLKE.  Few of the biographies heretofore prepared of distinguished citizens of German descent within our metropolis indicate thoroughly and honorably the achievement of the first generation of foreign-born men, whose life work has been conspicuous in moulding the development of this, the greatest urban uprising of modern times, the most wonderful city in its brief career of all cities of which history has left a record.

John Henry Muhlke was born in Hesse Cassel, Germany, in the year 1826, unto Frederick and Charlotte (Gastfield) Muhlke.  That he came of good parentage is trebly vouched for by his appearance, his career and the character of his descendants.  He came to America in 1840, almost directly to his future home, Chicago, where he began an eventful life work in a humble capacity, being employed by Judge Goodrich about his home premises.

Having caught the inspiration of our free institutions, and beginning to appreciate that even the desert might be made to “blossom like the rose,” he started out upon a mercantile career, destined by a happy combination of good fortune and energetic action to lead him by easy degrees well up the ladder of municipal and state fame, until, in fact, he died with but one real regret, namely, that his imperfect knowledge of the English language did not permit his assuming the highest executive responsibilities. He was repeatedly urged by his friends to become a candidate for Mayor of Chicago.

His first experience along his real calling of merchant was obtained in a clerical capacity under J. B. Strehl, thereafter embarking in the dry-goods business for himself on East Lake Street, wherein he was unusually successful, and with the proceeds of which, about the year 1870, he started a real-estate office in the Uhlich Block (being a portion of his own considerable property).  It is well known that the fair proportioned fortune he left to his family was benefited much by judicious handling in this direction.  Anyone who has had means and a faith in the future of Chicago real estate has invariably been among those to receive ample congratulations from the Goddess of Fortune.

The latter years of life were not free from pain, and it was in some sense a relief when his Maker called him to a higher and a better home, August 26, 1879.  He passed away with resigned spirit in the German Lutheran faith, of whose St. Paul’s Parish he had long been a most valued member.  His remains were borne to Graceland, where, beneath a handsome monument, he sleeps the long rest following a just and useful life, amid the solemn beauties which grace our finest City of the Dead.

A stanch Republican his life long, he never sought the frequent honors whose donors repeatedly sought his doors, bearing their voluntary gifts, meeting more than once the unwelcome reply of non-acceptation from one who never shrank from discharging the simplest duty of citizenship, as he believed it to be.   The most pleasant and honorable of these public gifts of trust was his appointment to the constitutional Convention, along with “Long John” Wentworth and Judge Anthony.  This was a mark of esteem and confidence in his judgment which could hardly be excelled.  It is owing to the worthy work of such men that we owe the bulwarks of safeguard and personal liberty vouchsafed by our State Constitution of this day.

Among other valuable holdings, Mr. Muhlke secured a fine piece of real estate upon North State Street, which he purchased from his wife’s parents, whereon, at what is now Number 307, he built a home, which, however, was destroyed by the fearful holocaust of 1871.  It was followed by a very dignified brick mansion, which stands to this day, a most imposing landmark of this part of the city, where he dwelt until his death.  What tales could be narrated from the procession of events which throughout all these years have wended by the door in and out of the city!  Mrs. Muhlke lived on this site with her parents, who settled there about 1845.

Mr. Muhlke married, on the 20th of April, 1848, Miss Catherine Knust, of Chicago, a daughter of John A. and Maria (Kemper) Knust.  She emigrated to this country (her parents following) from Quackenbruck, in the province of Hanover, Germany, reaching this place July 4, 1845, the anniversary day of our country’s freedom, and which has fitly bestowed upon her descendants the freedom to do and become all that native talents and educated powers enable them to be and accomplish.  Mrs. Muhlke passed away Sunday, April 28, 1895, in her sixty-seventh year.  She was active in religious and charitable work, ably seconding her husband in benevolent enterprises.   Just before her demise, she presented to St. Paul’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church a chime of bells, which were rung for the first time at the celebration of the fiftieth-year jubilee of that congregation.  This was the only time Mrs. Muhlke heard their glad sound. They soon after tolled the knell at her funeral.

The large family of eleven children crowned with tender significance their long domestic happiness.  The three whose sad fates were to pass away in infancy we name not, as being unknown to history. Of the living, Louisa married Jacob H. Tiedeman, of this city, October 29, 1874. He is a successful real-estate dealer of our metropolis, who has twice served in the City Council. They have three children, Adelaide, Louisa and Anita. Anna is the wife of Philip Henrici, of Chicago, a restauranteur, to whom she has borne five children: Philip, Louise, Anna, Charles and George. Henry C., a salesman at Farwell’s, married Belle Fontaine, of Toledo, Ohio; they have as yet no children. George F., who is a cashier, is unmarried. Joseph H., a lawyer in good standing, who married Miss Ida Swissler, of this city, has thus far no children.  Catharina married Charles J. Harpel, a salesman of this city; they have no children. Walter G., a grocer, who married Miss Amelia Stracke, of this city, has a boy, John Henry. Adelaide married Frederick Hammond, a tanner of this city; they have at this writing no children.

It will thus be seen that the family to a person has been true to Chicago, the home of their father’s adoption and their own births, where have risen from decade to decade the growing fortunes and prosperity of the family, which future generations are destined to broaden out into a conspicuous family tree, bearing the fruits of many able branches; for with such a progenitor, and the promising prospects of to-day, it would be folly to predict anything but rare good fortune for the collective members of the family founded by the subject of this sketch, John Henry Muhlke.

In this record, which aims to set out with ample fullness the dignified factors of an honorable career, and wherein appears for the first time the family genealogy in full on this side the Atlantic Ocean, it is evidently highly proper that the lineaments of Mr. Muhlke should be preserved, that not alone the good deeds, but the manly features, of their ancestor may be henceforth safely open for ready reference to the unborn hundreds who are destined in the near future to trace their origin to him of whom we have altogether modestly spoken.

                -- Submitted on September 21, 2000 by Sherri Hessick ( slhessick@earthlink.net )