Lightning Struck Suddenly

There are several reasons today’s post will be different than most. First of all, the main character of this story does not live long. In fact, he still hadn’t made it past his teenage years when he died, and that also means that he never married. Therefore, I do not have many documents to share with you that include this person. However, I think there is a story here that I want to share with you. I must tell you, though, in many ways, it is a tragic tale.

Ernst Theobald Oetjen was born on October 24, 1895, the son of Friedrich and Margaretha (Dreyer) Oetjen. But before I go on with the story of Ernst, I need to backtrack to let you know a little bit about his father’s past. Friedrich had been married once before. His first wife was Anna Rathjen. That couple had 3 sons, one that died right away. Then, Anna died in January of 1889 from pneumonia. Friedrich then married Margaretha Dreyer in November of 1889. That couple began having children, but the first 3 children born to them all died before rather early in life. First, Arthur Friedrich Oetjen was born in 1890, but died in 1892. Here is his death record from the books of Christ Lutheran Church in Jacob, Illinois.

Arthur Friedrich Oetjen death record – Christ, Jacob, IL

Then, in 1893, Rudolph Arthur Friedrich Oetjen was born, but died in a matter of days after birth. Here is that infant’s death record.

Rudolph Arthur Friedrich Oetjen death record – Christ, Jacob, IL

Next, Herman Johann Oetjen, born in 1894, was followed by Ernst Theobald Oetjen, who was born on this day in 1895. I will display Ernst’s baptism record from Christ, Jacob below. It takes two images to show it all.

Ernst Oetjen baptism record – Christ, Jacob, IL

Not long after Ernst’s birth, Herman Johann died in 1896. Here is his death record.

Herman Johann Oetjen death record – Christ, Jacob, IL

The 1900 census shows the Oetjen household living in the Fountain Bluff Township. Ernst was 4 years old, and his father was a farmer. The two older siblings were sons from the first marriage.

1900 census – Fountain Bluff Township, IL

Six more children were born to Friedrich and Margaretha, the last one in 1908 and not all of them lived. It must have been satisfying to Friedrich and Margaretha that finally a son from that marriage made it to his teenage years. Ernst was confirmed in 1909 as part of a class of 16 confirmands. I have highlighted his name on this list of students from that confirmation class.

1909 confirmation class – Christ, Jacob, IL

Another death occurred in 1910. Ernst’s mother, Margaretha, died at the age of 40. Her death record says she died from bleeding after an operation at the Lutheran Hospital in St. Louis.

Margaretha Oetjen death record – Christ, Jacob, IL

1910 was the first year that the state of Missouri kept death certificates, but I could not find one for Margaretha’s death. She was buried in the Christ Lutheran Cemetery in Jacob.

Margaretha Oetjen gravestone – Christ, Jacob, IL

The 1910 census shows Friedrich as a widower with 7 children. A 17 year-old girl named Martha Wahlers was a hired girl helping with household work. Martha was born and raised in the Farrar area of Perry County, Missouri.

1910 census – Fountain Bluff Township, IL

Friedrich Oetjen married a third time in March of 1911. Believe it or not, his third wife was named Anna Margaretha, a combination of each of his first two wives’ names. Her name was Anna Margaretha Luedemann.

Perhaps, you could say that it may have been a blessing for Friedrich’s second wife, Margaretha, to have died in 1910. That is because another tragic event took place in 1911 that she would not have to experience. On June 17, 1911, Ernst Oetjen was struck by lightning and killed while harvesting wheat on a selfbinder. Below is his death record from the Christ, Jacob books.

Ernst Oetjen death record – Christ, Jacob, IL

I have no experience in farming, so I had to do some research. I found out that winter wheat grown in southern Illinois gets ready for harvest in mid-June.

Also, I found evidence that thunderstorms are most likely in southern Illinois from June through August.

Both the harvesting of winter wheat and the increasing chances of lightning strikes came together to contribute to Ernst’s tragic death in 1911. Working on a binder drawn by horses like the one shown below, Ernst lost his life trying to help his family get in a crop of wheat.

Wheat binder

I discussed this matter with an old-timer after church this morning. He said that when horses sweat, there is a larger chance of lightning strikes, and it was not uncommon for horses to be struck by lightning when working in fields like the one pictured above. Several weeks ago, on a trip to Jacob, Illinois, I took the picture below of fields that can be viewed from the church in that town. It may have been on a field such as this that Ernst lost his life.

Ernst Oetjen was buried in the Christ Lutheran Cemetery in Jacob.

Ernst Oetjen gravestone – Christ, Jacob, IL

Suddenly and early in his life, Ernst Oetjen died tragically in 1911, adding yet another death in the family of Friedrich Oetjen. On a more positive note, his family ended up to be quite large, and many Oetjen descendants can point to Ernst’s story as one that took place in their family tree.

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