About PetersPioneersThe Bergers and Sol Smith Russell

By Peter Biggins

Coni Calligaro contributed to this family history.

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My Great grandfather, Crescenz Joseph Smith, later known as Cris J. Smith, was born March 21, 1852, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Cris was the second of three children of John and Mary Augusta Schickell Schmitt, both born in Bavaria.

Cris' mother Mary Augusta Schickell had come over from Bremen to Baltimore with her parents, John Adam and Maria Eva Schumm Schickell, on the sailing ship Johannes in 1834. They settled in Tiffin, Ohio. Cris' grandfather, John Adam Schickell was a music teacher.

Cris' father John Schmitt came from the same area in Germany as the Schickell's and settled in Tiffin, Ohio.

John Schmitt, 27, and Mary Augusta Schickell, 19, were married in Tiffin, Ohio, on September 13, 1847.

A page for special events in John and Mary Schickell Schmitt's family Bible states that "in the year 1849 on February 2nd Johann Schmitt traveled to California from where he returned in the year 1851 on April 7th." The dates coincide with the greatest migration of people to California for the gold rush. It is likely that John was a "Forty-Niner."

Sometime between 1849 and 1852, the Schmitts moved from Tiffin to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In the 1860 census, the family was living in the 4th Ward of Grand Rapids, and Cris' father was listed as a saloonkeeper.

In 1861, Cris' father John died at age 41. Cris was only 9. His mother was 33. His sisters were 12 and 7.

In the 1870 census, Cris, 18, was listed as a photographer. In the 1872 Grand Rapids directory, at 20, he was listed a musician living on Front Street. In the 1873 and 1874 directories, he was listed as a clerk at the grocery store of his uncle, Peter Schickell, on Front Street. He also was listed as living on Front Street. His uncle Peter was a musician as well as a grocer. In the 1875 directory, Cris again was listed as a musician. He continued to work as a musician for the rest of his career.

The Bergers and Sol Smith Russell

Cris traveled with the Bergers and Sol Smith Russell (1848-1902). Sol Smith Russell was an actor, comedy star, playwright, composer, singer, and friend of James Whitcomb Riley. Russell was from Brunswick, Missouri and had run away from home to be a drummer boy in the Civil War. In the 1870's he became famous and entertained large audiences in many American cities until he was paralyzed in 1900. An evening at an "opera house" in those days might include band music, instrumental and vocal solos, and Sol Smith Russell, in his comic songs and character sketches.

Sol Smith Russell was closely associated with the Berger Family from 1869 to 1880. Sol Smith Russell married Louisa Berger. Her brother Fred G. Berger was manager of the group. Cris probably did not join the group until later in that period. His cousin Louis F. Boos was a cornetist with the group near the end of the period.

Louisa and Anna
Louisa and Anna Berger. Source: York County Heritage Trust. See June Lloyd's Blog 2007.
Anna, Fred, Louisa, and Henry
Anna, Fred, Louisa, and Henry Berger. Source: York County Heritage Trust. See June Lloyd's Blog 2009.

The Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library has Berger Family photos and Sol Smith Russell photos.

Grass Valley, California Poster

In April 2010, Coni Calligaro found a number of family items in a box in a crawlspace in the home of her inlaws. It turned out to be the former home of my aunt and uncle Marian and John Ederer on Ederer Road in Saginaw, Michigan. She found me because I had my family tree up on Ancestry.com. Among the items were two posters for The Bergers and Sol Smith Russell that included the name of my great grandfather, Cris J. Smith. The posters were folded up and in ragged condition, so we had them restored at Poster Conservation Incorporated.

The first poster (27.5" x 10.5") promotes the celebrated Berger Family Troupe and Sol Smith Russell in a new programme at Hamilton Hall in the mining town of Grass Valley in Nevada County, California--the triumphal return east of an electric and unparalleled success in San Francisco and throughout California and Oregon. (See: Hamilton Hall.)

The date of the performance is Saturday, June 21st. The year is not given, but June 21 fell on a Saturday in 1873, 1879, and 1884.

The entire company comprises 15 talented artists of vocalists and instrumental soloists:

  • Miss Anna Teresa Berger, the most accomplished cornet soloist in America
  • Miss Etta Morgan, saxophone soloist (wife of Fred G. Berger)
  • Miss Emma Anderson, flute
  • Miss Josie Maddock, french horn
  • Miss Marie Roller, violinist
  • Miss Bertha Capern, cornet
  • Miss Jennie Titus, trombone
  • Miss Louise Kemlo, contralto vocalist
  • Mr. Sol Smith Russell, the most marvelous living artist in comedy
  • Mr. Fred G. Berger, cornet and viola
  • Mr. Henry G. Berger, flute and tuba
  • Mr. Bert G. Berger, clarionet
  • Mr. Albert Anderson, violin
  • Mr. C. J. Smith, double bass
  • Mr. Wm. Warmington, snare drum
Berger Family
Photo of the Concert Troupe consisting of the Berger Family and Sol Smith Russell. (See: Berger Family photos.)
Berger Family
Photo on which the poster engraving below may have been based. (See: Berger Family photos.)
Sol Smith Russell
Photo-Electro Company engraving from the poster (27.5" x 10.5") for the performance of the Bergers and Sol Smith Russell at Hamilton Hall in Grass Valley, a mining town in Nevada County, California. (See: Hamilton Hall.)

Hamilton Hall was erected by Garvin Hamilton, a native of Maine, who had emigrated to Louisiana, and then to Texas, and finally to California in 1852. He was a contractor and builder in Grass Valley, and a somewhat prominent citizen. He died in Grass Valley in 1864, at the age of 69. Mark Twain entertained at Hamilton Hall on April 21, 1868. (See: Mark Twain.)

The poster was printed by Francis, Valentine & Co., theatrical printers, 517 Clay Street, San Francisco.

11th Annual Tour Poster

The second poster (32" x 12" - circa 1879) promotes the Eleventh Annual Tour of the World Famous Bergers and Sol Smith Russell. (See: Eleventh Annual Tour.) They are assisted by the Following Brilliant Array of Artists:

  • Miss Louise Kemlo, Brooklyn's beautiful and gifted contralto
  • The renowned Miss Etta Morgan, saxophone soloist (wife of Fred G. Berger)
  • The distinguished Miss Marie Roller, graduate of the conservatory at Leipsig and late leader of the Ladies Orchestras of Berlin and Vienna
  • Miss Emma Anderson, the young and talented flute soloist
  • Miss Katie Hummell, the most accomplished lady trombone soloist
  • Miss Josie Maddock, french horn
  • Miss Bertha Capern, B flat cornet
  • Mr. Louis F. Boos, cornet virtuoso, winner of the First Prize at the Michigan State Band Tournaments in 1878 & 1879 (Cris' first cousin)
  • Mr. C. H. Smith, double bass & tuba (Cris J. Smith)
  • Mr. William Warmington, snare drummer
The tour was managed by:
  • Fred G. Berger, Manager and Proprietor
  • Henry G. Berger, Treasurer
  • Albert Anderson, Musical Director
  • W. W. Fowler, General Business Agent
Sol Smith Russell
From the poster (32" x 12" - circa 1879) for the Eleventh Annual Tour of the "World Famous Bergers and Sol Smith Russell." (See: Eleventh Annual Tour.)

The poster was printed by the Forbes Co. Boston. The company was known as a producer of theatrical posters, among other items.

Cris J. Smith, 28, and Christine Koch, 19, were married in Grand Rapids in 1880. Following their marriage, they lived in Grand Rapids with Christine's parents.

Later Career of Cris J. Smith

In 1882, Cris and Christine had a daughter, Rose Viola, my grandmother.

In 1882, Cris' younger sister, Rosa Wilhelmina Smith, married Charles Andrew Hauser.

Cris continued to work as a musician. The 1882 Grand Rapids directory lists him as a musician at Smith's Opera House. Perhaps he had started his own opera house. According to Grand Rapids As It Is, published by the Board of Trade in 1888, Smith's Opera House was located at the corner of Waterloo and Louis streets and was a "model Vaudeville playhouse." It cost $40,000.

The 1883 directory shows Cris as a partner with James W. York in Smith & York, a new company that imported and sold musical instruments.

Cris was a euphonium soloist with the Patrick Gilmore Band. Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (1829-1892), a cornetist, immigrated from County Galway to Boston in 1849. Gilmore was a regimental bandleader during the Civil War and wrote "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again." In 1873, Gilmore left Boston to accept a position as director of the 22nd Regiment of New York Band, which served as one of the most famous American professional bands. Gilmore toured extensively throughout the United States until his death in 1892.

In 1887, Cris' wife Christine died. Cris and daughter Rose Viola continued to live with Christine's parents, the Kochs.

Cris continued to work as a musician. In the 1889 Grand Rapids city directory, he was listed as a musician at the Redmond Opera House. According to Grand Rapids As It Is, published by the Board of Trade in 1888, Redmond's Grand Opera House was located on Canal street, near East Bridge, and was a "handsome and modern play house with a seating capacity of 1,200." The building and furnishings cost upward of $100,000.

In 1889, Cris married Mary A. Hauser. Cris continued to work as a musician. In 1890, they had their first child, Crescenz L. Smith.

In 1893, Cris and Mary Hauser Smith moved to Chicago to further Cris' career as a musician. Rose, 11, and Crescenz, 3, stayed in Grand Rapids with the Tante and Uncle Charlie Hauser.

In 1894, Cris and Mary Hauser had their second child, Leroy A. Smith. In 1896, Cris and Mary Hauser had their third child, Karl H. Smith.

Cris' children Rose and Crescenz were included in the 1900 census twice: once with the Hauser household in Grand Rapids at ages 18 and 9 and once with Cris' household in Chicago at ages 17 and 10.

In 1906, Cris' daughter, Rose Viola, 24, married William Francis Drueke, 22 in Grand Rapids.

Cris was widowed for the second time in his life upon the death of his second wife Mary Hauser Smith in 1907. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Grand Rapids.

On February 24, 1909, Cris and his son Karl were on a trip to Brooklyn, where they were visited by Cris' sister Rose and her husband Charles Hauser. The Hausers were in New York to take a cruise to the West Indies. See 1909 Hoboken to West Indies Cruise.

Sometime between 1910 and 1920, Cris J. Smith married Mary. The 1920 census shows Cris and Mary married, Mary born in England, and Mary age 65, the same age as Cris. It also shows Cris as a theater musician.

Cris was widowed for the third time in his life upon the death of his third wife Mary sometime between 1920 and 1932.

In 1925, Cris moved from Chicago to Kansas City, Missouri, to live with his son Karl. In 1926, Cris moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to Wichita, Kansas. On Jan. 20, 1928, Cris, age 75, wrote a letter from Wichita to his cousin Mortise Smith in Alden, Michigan, a small town near Traverse City.

My Dear Cousin Mort Smith,
   I was glad to hear from you. Its a long time since we see each other. You lived near Newago the last time I see you.
   I left Chicago about 3 years ago for Kansas City. Was there about one year, then moved to Wichita, Kan. Am living with my youngest son. His family consists of 3 children, 5, 7, and 9 years old. I am not doing anything myself. Have quit the music business about 6 years ago.
   I played in the theaters in Chicago 33 years.
   My son is salesman for American Radiator Company.
   I am glad to hear that your family are all well. Do you remember when you worked in that shingle mill in Grand rapids on Front St? That's going back some, over 50 years ago. I was in Grand Rapids last summer to visit my sister, and my daughter. My daughter has quite a large family: 6 children.
   Well I will close now with my best wishes to you and your family.
            Your old cousin,
            Cris J. Smith
            3329 E. 1st St., Wichita, Kan.
Mort Smith died on November 6, 1930, in Alden, Michigan. He was 82. He was survived by his wife Margaret Jane Abrushaby Kincaid, whom he had married in 1879 in Newago, Michigan, and his daughter Mary Elizabeth (Breece). His parents were Henry S. Smith and Catherine Smith. Catherine died when Mortice was 4. He was sent to live with the Freeman Mathews family in Newago and never saw his father Henry again. The letter was provided by Barbara Lockrey, granddaughter of Mary Elizabeth Breece. Her grandmother also gave her Cris Smith's obituary and a photo with the name "Tante Hauser" written on the back. We have not been able to find records that confirm the relationship between Cris' father John Smith and Mortise's father Henry S. Smith.

Sometime between 1920 and 1930, Cris' third wife, Mary, died in Chicago or Kansas City.

Cris died November 17, 1932 in Kansas City. He was 80 years old. His body was brought back to Grand Rapids and buried in Greenwood Cemetery with his second wife, Mary Hauser Smith. He was survived by his daughter Rose Viola Smith Drueke, his sons, Crescenz, Leroy, and Karl, and his sister Rosa Wilhelmina Schmitt Hauser.

The Grand Rapids Herald, November 19, 1932
PIONEER MUSICIAN DIES IN KANSAS CITY Chris J. Smith Will Be Buried in Grand Rapids Chris J. Smith, born in Grand Rapids March 31, 1852, died Thursday night after a short illness at St. Joseph’s hospital, Kansas City. He made his home with his son, Karl Smith of that city. He was one of the partners organizing the J. W. York Music Publishing company, now the J. W. York Band Instrument company. Mr. Smith was at one time euphonium soloist with Patrick Gilmore Band, and he was one of the leading theater orchestra directors of Grand Rapids and Chicago, having traveled with such prominent actors as Sol Smith Russell and the “Berger Troupe,” big successes of their day. He is survived by one daughter, Mrs. William F. Drueke of Grand Rapids, and three sons, Crescenz L. of Grand Rapids, Leroy A. of Chicago and Karl H. of Kansas City, and 13 grandchildren. Also one sister, Mrs. Charles A. Hauser of Grand Rapids. The body arrived today and funeral services will be held Monday at 10 a. m. from the Albert Alt chapel at Turner ave. and First st. Burial in Greenwood cemetery.