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John Kauffer: McKnight Kauffer's father

John Kauffer

b. 21 October 1854 Evansville, Indiana

d. 17 February 1913 Cincinnati, Ohio

Part Three: E McKnight Kauffer born 14 December 1890

John Kauffer and Anna arrived in Great Falls in the late summer or early autumn of 1890. They rented rooms situated on the main street next to the town’s principal provision stores. The two-room accommodation had a bed, dresser, washstand, and a couple of rocking chairs in one room, and a simply equipped kitchen with a door leading to a covered porch. Winters in this part of Montana are harsh and bitingly cold and the winter of 1890 / 1891 was no exception. Anna remembers thick ice forming on the inside of the windows. The shows put on by Gerin and Davenport were given good notices in the local and regional newspapers. Novelty acts were constantly changed, but regular entertainers such as the comedian Fred Gottlob were core members of the Park Theatre company. Occasionally the orchestra, “under the leadership of Mr John Kauffer” gained a mention in press reviews.

Edward Kauffer was born in Great Falls, Montana, on 14 December 1890

At the time of Edward’s birth there was no requirement to register births in Montana. It was not until 1925, as a successful designer living in London, that he found it necessary to acquire a birth certificate, when, according to a report in the Daily Chronicle newspaper, he considered taking out British citizenship. The article which carried a photograph of him working on a poster design for the London Underground was captioned: ‘A Briton-to-be E. McKnight Kauffer, the clever American artist who is shortly changing his nationality…’. As he was now known as ‘Edward McKnight Kauffer’ – this is how his name is recorded on the birth certificate. Inexplicably, he did not go ahead with applying for British citizenship.

Anna recalled (letter 1940) that to celebrate Edward’s birth John Kauffer opened a bottle of champagne supplied by the proprietors of the Park Theatre. For the first three days of his life Edward was kept in darkness as Anna thought that any exposure to light could harm a baby’s eyesight. It was only after this time that she realised he had red hair. When the weather improved Edward was placed outside in his buggy where he became something of a novelty to a crowd of Native Americans (probably Blackfeet or a group of nomadic Chippewa who were camped on the outer environs of Great Falls). They would bring their children, taking them off their backs “all naked”, as Anna recalled, to look at him, possibly intrigued by his red hair. Anna gave them pieces of calico in exchange for buffalo meat. At a later date the Kauffer family were able to move to a bigger house which had a back yard for Edward to play in.

John Kauffer continued working at the Park Theatre, even when a change of management took place The popular comedian Fred Gottlob became a co-manager alongside John Gerin. In February 1891 the contribution made by the orchestra received a glowing review in the Great Falls Tribune. “The orchestra at the Park Theatre seems to be surpassing itself of late in the excellence of the music it is rendering…. Truly the performance of the orchestra at the Park are as much of a feature as are any of the excellent things put upon the stage.” He was well paid as the leader of the orchestra but as I’ve stated previously, he was a notorious philanderer and a heavy drinker. Very little money came Anna’s way but she was able to make some money dressmaking, one of the skills she learned early in her life. This press cutting from the Great Falls Tribune newspaper, dated 28 October 1891, mentions “Koeffer’s [sic] unrivalled orchestra” performing at a farewell benefit event for Fred Gottlob, the theatre’s co-manager. This probably marked John Kauffer’s last appearance too returning to Evansville in November 1891.

Almost immediately John Kauffer abandoned his family leaving Anna to fend for herself. They were reconciled on a number of subsequent occasions. She followed him when he was working in theatres in Indianapolis, Lafayette, and Nashville, but each time he treated her badly by having affairs with chorus girls and spending his money on alcohol. Anna finally left him for good but was left destitute.

Family Theatre,
Layfayette, Indiana c.1900

Family Theatre,
Layfayette, Indiana 1910

At a later date I will write the story of Anna before she met John Kauffer, and how she survived

those years following her separation from him - her desperate bid to bring up Edward Kauffer.

John Kauffer meanwhile continued his career. Settling at this time in Chicago, he married again in 1895 to Lillian Leslie [or Lilly Lesley]. She died in 1902 at the age of 32. His final marriage was to a vaudeville singer and actress, Rhea Lummis [or Dollie Loumis], in 1905. Whilst married to Lillian Lesley he received the warmest review of his career, commenting on his “genial disposition and polished manners” and praising his musical abilities, in fact referring to him as a “Musical Prodigy”.

Florence Bulletin, November 1896. The Salisbury Theatre, Florence, Kansas

In the 1910 Chicago census he was still listed as “leader of orchestra”, but I imagine his latter years were desperate and sad. He died on the 17 February 1913, a “widower” living in the Merchants Hotel in Cincinnati. I do not know exactly when he left Chicago to live in the Cincinnati hotel, but it is sad to think that his son too was living in Chicago from 1912 – 1913 [see my Blog post 21 October 2021].

John Kauffer was buried in an unmarked mass grave in the Forest Cemetery, Toledo, Ohio. There is no personal marker.



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