Louis Henry Wagner began a diary, really a set of what turned out to be four leather-bound diaries, when he was 15 years old. The diaries document some of the milestones, good and bad, that occurred in his life. The diaries are important records of the events in the Wagner and Breithaupt families during the latter half of the 19th century as well as providing an interesting perspective on the life of a young man living in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, Canada during that pre-cable television, pre-video game era.
Louis began his diaries on December 15, 1872. His accounts of life at that time are filled with church services that were clearly at the centre of the family’s life, completing a range of chores and errands like “fetching” hides for the Breithaupt’s Eagle Tannery or loads of hen dung for use as fertilizer, and fishing with his cousins. Christmas 1872 is described as a time of for church services in the morning and the evening. In between, the family “had a splendid turkey for dinner.” Louis received a ‘cravat’ from his mother Margaret (Hailer) Bean (previously Wagner) and her sister “Aunt [Catherine (nee Hailer)] Breithaupt (pictured above right in 1907).” In addition, he received 25 cents from “Grandmother Breithaupt” [Barbara Catharina Goetze].
Louis was born in Grove, New York, USA in 1857. When he was only one year old, his father Jacob died, just a couple of months after moving the family to Berlin, Ontario. Louis’ mother, Margaret re-married in 1862, shortly after Louis’ fifth birthday. Interestingly, among all of his recording of the family member visits to his home and trips being taken by family members to neighbouring towns and villages to visit relatives, Louis always refers to his mother’s second husband, Daniel Bean, as “Mr. Bean” and never references him as his step-father. While I can’t assume that there were any problems between Louis and Daniel Bean, the references don’t suggest to me a close relationship.
By the time Louis had begun his diaries he was living with the Breithaupt family, his Uncle Louis Breithaupt and Aunt Catherine along with their children, Louis’ cousins. It is clear from many of Louis’ early diary entries that he felt a particular affection for his Aunt Breithaupt. In early December 1872, Aunt Breithaupt gave birth to her ninth child, Catherina Louise ‘Katie’ Breithaupt. Aunt Breithaupt, as Louis consistently referred to her as, experienced a tough time recovering from the childbirth. As Louis described in his January 2, 1873 entry, “I had to go along to Preston with the teams to fetch hides today. Aunt Breithaupt was very weak this evening. Johnny [cousin John Christian Breithaupt] and I had to go and fetch Doctor Bowlby. We brought Aunt Brehler [referring to Harriet Brehler (nee Hailer)] along out. When we came home Aunt Breithaupt had given them all a farewell in this world, she thought she had to die, but she got better again.”
In addition to describing the gradual recovery to good health of Aunt Breithaupt, Louis left behind a record of weather reports for his southern Ontario town and a unique glimpse into teenage life during a time long past.