Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Strange Valentine's Day Tale

The following article was published in The Franklin Times on 22 January 1904 about the remarriage of Felix Von Briesen and Daisy Penland. They were first married in 1893, divorced in 1902 and remarried in 1904. Their love story was also published in several other newspapers around the country.

Won Fortune and Wife Who Had Divorced Him

"The mountain city of Asheville is the beginning and end of a romance in real life which is as full of incident and interest as any theme of a novelist.

A dozen years ago Felix Von Briesen, a talented young German went there to work in carving the stone for the quaint gargoyles and other ornaments of George Vanderbilt's magnificent chateau at Biltmore. He was born in Macon, Ga., but no native German has more sentimentalism, with a leaning toward the tenderest love, and so it happened that when he saw Miss Daisy Penland it was a case of love at first sight.

One of the "quaint gargoyles and other ornaments" on the
exterior of the Biltmore; personal collection

Marriage quickly followed and for five years they lived in Asheville, Von Briesen all that time working at the chateau.

When the latter was completed the sculptor had to go elsewhere for employment, and he went to Arizona and New Mexico, but found no work sufficiently permanent to justify him in sending for his wife. He wrote her from time to time, sending money, but the periods between the letters grew longer and finally the letters ceased entirely.

His wife spent two years without a word from him. Then she secured a divorce on the grounds of desertion. Two children had been the fruit of the union, but one, a boy had died, leaving a little girl with all her mother's beauty. Mrs. Von Briesen became a trained nurse and so supported herself and daughter, seeking no pity and putting aside the memory of her husband, who it was thought by her family and friends had tired of his love and deserted her.

One day last October a letter came from Santa Fe, N. Mex., assuring her that his love had never failed, but that failure to secure profitable employment had disheartened him and he feared to write, but sunshine had come by the death of a relative, who had left him $25,000, and he was prepared to take care of his family.

So startling was this letter that the wife could hardly credit it, but replied and correspondence was resumed. Von Briesen wrote that he would give his wife and child a large portion of his inheritance. The wife wrote him to lose no time in coming to Asheville. He came a few days ago and complete understanding was effected. He gave his wife a certificate for a large sum of money and on Monday of last week they were re-married by the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Asheville."

Biographical Sketch of Felix Von Briesen

Felix Von Briesen was the third known son of Oscar and Susannah (Wagner) Von Briesen. He maintained on various documents he was born on 10 June 1870; however, he appeared on the 1870 census as a three-year old boy. So my assumption is he was born on 10 June 1867 in Macon, Georgia. His family had lived in Macon earlier in the decade when his father taught music at Wesleyan Female College, now Wesleyan College. His father was thought to have been of German heritage and immigrated to the United States about 1846 from the area of eastern Europe that was variously under Polish, Prussian, and Russian rule. His mother consistently stated on source documents that she had been born in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.

In 1870, Felix's family lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where is father taught school -- perhaps at another college -- but by 1880, his family had been torn apart. His father, Oscar, lived in Austin, Texas, making pianos. His mother and brothers, Edward and Robert, lived in Baltimore, boarding with the William F. Schwarze family. Susannah was a dressmaker and Edward worked as a bartender. The whereabouts of Felix's younger brother, William, is unknown to me at this time. Twelve-year-old Felix was an inmate at the Home of the Friendless.

The Home of the Friendless was a private social services organization, which began its work in Baltimore in 1854 when the Home of Friendless Vagrant Girls was chartered. Its purpose was to provide a "refuge and Christian home for homeless, friendless, and worse than friendless vagrant girls with the objective of preparing their residents for service in Christian homes." A boys' home was constructed in 1871.

In 1888 Felix lived in Baltimore and worked as a stonecutter. The next year George Vanderbilt, a grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, began constructing a 250-room French Renaissance chateau, known as the Biltmore, in the Blue Ridge mountains near Asheville. Felix moved to Asheville and worked on the Biltmore for five years before the mansion was opened to Vanderbilt's friends and family for Christmas in 1895.

Biltmore mansion in Asheville, North Carolina; personal collection

He married Daisy Penland, daughter of Noble and Nancy (Stevens) Penland, in 1893 in Buncombe County and they had two children, Oscar A. and Felicia Nancy, though Oscar died on 24 November 1895 just days after his first birthday.

Soon after their son died, Felix went west to look for work. In 1900 he lived in Holbrook, Arizona, which was then a territory, in a large boarding house along with several other stonecutters and day laborers. I suspect the craftsmen had gathered there to build the now historic Navajo County Courthouse. Holbrook was known as "the town too tough for women and churches." In 1902, Felix was registered to vote in Graham County, Arizona.

Historic Navajo County, Arizona, courthouse; courtesy of Wikipedia

Meanwhile back home his wife filed for and received a divorce in 1902 in Buncombe County. Felix returned to Asheville and the couple remarried on 14 December 1903. A few days after their second marriage, they moved to Washington, DC, where Felix had secured, what the local newspaper described as  "a good position."

While in Washington, Felix pursued a civil suit against Congressional and Mexican Mining Company to recover $10,500. It appears judged ruled against him and his attorney filed a motion for a new trial. What happened to this motion is not clear. Then on 7 August 1906 a creditor of the mining company sued several stockholders, including Felix for not making their installment payments for stock. The outcome of this lawsuit is also unknown.

He and Daisy purchased a 140-acre farm in Clifton Station, Virginia, and took in boarders during the summer months. Felix's mother, Susannah died on the farm on 28 October 1905. Daisy had a son in 1907 while they lived in Virginia. Felix sold the farm in 1910 and by 1912 he and his family had moved to El Paso, Texas.

Felix and Daisy's love story did not last. They divorced in January 1916. Both of them remained in El Paso. Daisy worked as a nurse and Felix worked at various jobs with the Army, a milling company, and a mining concern. In 1921 he went to Sinaloa, Mexico, on a prospecting trip for a mining company.

Felix died of heart problems on 26 July 1928 in El Paso. Daisy never remarried and died on 25 April 1964, also in El Paso.

Their children:
  • Oscar A. Von Briesen, born 11 November 1894 in Buncombe County, North Carolina; died 24 November 1895; interred at the Newton Academy Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina.
  • Felicia Nancy Von Briesen, born 18 July 1896 in Buncombe County; died 3 March 1984 in El Paso County, Texas; interred at Restlawn Memorial Park in El Paso; married 1) Walter Vernon Haggard (1893-1927) and 2) John Graham Melton (1897-1972).
  • Delphin Von Briesen, born 4 June 1907 in Clifton, Virginia; died 28 January 1970 in El Paso, Texas; interred at Restlawn Memorial Park; married Mary Emma Luckett (1912-1986).
Felix Von Briesen, was the brother-in-law from 1913-1916 of the first wife of my second cousin three times removed, James Taylor. When Rose Etta (Poole) Von Briesen married my cousin, she was a widow. Her first husband was Felix's brother, Robert Von Briesen.

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