March 27, 2012

"Joy Unrestrained" - A New Home on the Heights

ADWandNewHomeR.jpg100 years ago, my grandfather wasn't just the happiest man in Cleveland. To hear him tell it, he was the happiest man on earth. Winning a new house the same week he becomes a father for the first time can do that for a man.

That's him in the front yard, pointing to the new bungalow he had just won as first prize in a local newspaper contest. He was grateful for his good fortune, but then again, they say luck is where preparedness and opportunity meet.

In June of 1912, Albert D. ("Bert") Wismar was a married 29-year old, and the proud father of a newborn baby girl. He worked as an accountant at the Struthers Furnace company in their downtown Cleveland offices. By all accounts, Wismar was a hard worker, and he and his wife Sadie tried to save all they could, with an eye toward eventually buying a home of their own.

Wismar had moved to Cleveland from the family farm near Bowling Green, Ohio. The small town of Custar was the location his grandfather had chosen to buy land when he came to America from Germany in 1866. Bert's dad Fred was a teenager when the family arrived from the old country to farm in Ohio, and Bert was the fifth of Fred's ten children.

Uphill Both Ways

Bert was the only one of Fred Wismar's kids to pursue higher education, and to do it he had to regularly bicycle the 80 miles from Custar to Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana for his teacher training. After working as a teacher in Wood County for a couple years, Bert came to the big city around the turn of the century, and took up accounting, eventually working his way into a lead accounting position with the furnace company.

The family shared a double house on Preston Rd. in East Cleveland, but the baby meant they needed more room, and the couple talked often of their dream house, maybe even one "on the Heights". In what spare time he did have, Wismar was an avid participant in contests of all sorts. He and an uncle in Detroit engaged in a friendly competition, taking each other on in ventures like the "booklovers' contest" sponsored that year by The Cleveland News

Bert's Big Week

All that practice paid off in June of 1912, when Wismar was notified that he had won the first prize in the News' contest...a $6,000 bungalow in what they were then calling "Mayfield Heights". Actually, that meant near the top of Mayfield Road hill in what is now Cleveland Heights, in the neighborhood where Superior, Euclid Heights Blvd, Mayfield and Lee Road all converge near Cumberland Park.

The cascade of blessings in the same week was overwhelming to the young man. "Joy unrestrained fairly shone in the eyes and the whole being of the happy man," said the News' reporter of Wismar's reaction to his good fortune. "What haven't I now?" he wondered. "I believe I am the happiest man on earth."

Happy, but not lucky. Winning this house was something Wismar had decided not to leave to hope. He and Sadie had even walked up to the heights to scope out the house on Somerton Rd. they knew was the top prize in the newspaper's contest. And the young accountant was diligent and meticulous in his pursuit of the prize.

The Contest

The Cleveland News furnished readers with a 32-page booklet containing a list of over 4,000 books with authors' names. Over a three month period beginning in December, 1911, they published 77 different cartoon-style drawings in the paper, each one representing one of the book titles in the booklet.

They started out with an easy one to get people interested. The most famous American book of the just-finished century is depicted by a girl saying "Bye, Uncle Tom" to a man standing in the doorway of a small dwelling. Number Two wasn't much tougher...a drawing of a house with seven gables. After that though, most of the titles become unfamiliar to the average 21st century observer.

Readers were encouraged to submit more than one guess for each rendering, which, in the days before Xerox, let alone email, meant buying more than one copy of the paper. In Wismar's case, that often meant acquiring as many as six or eight copies of the paper every day during the contest. He won by getting 75 right answers out of 77 possible, but he submitted 425 entries to get there.

To say that Bert Wismar took the booklovers' contest seriously is to understate the case. He studied the puzzles in his off-work hours, and carried his contest entries with him during the work day. He kept notes of his shorthand no less..(you never know who could be looking over your shoulder)...on his employer's stationery, and typed up lists of his multiple guesses for all 77 puzzles, complete with carbon copies (look it up, kids).

That all of this documentation survives him a century later is ample evidence of his record-keeping preoccupation. Included in his personal effects was a bundle of blank copies of all 77 contest entry forms, clipped from the paper and neatly stacked, in order.  No...Bert Wismar's first prize bungalow was not a function of luck.

Contest organizers suggested that readers send additional copies of the puzzles to friends (Buy more papers!), asking for their help, and if the list of prize-winners is any indication, there was lots of out-of-town participation. Second prize, a 1912 Garford Touring Car valued at $3,750, was won by a reader from Indiana, and Chicago area residents won 3rd Prize (a $900 Steinway grand piano) and 4th Prize (an $800 Miller player piano).

In all, the newspaper gave away prizes valued at $17,500. Several readers won lots in Cleveland, and in other Ohio towns as far-flung as Ashland and Mt. Vernon. ( a 40 x 120 ft. lot in Cleveland could be had for $500 in 1912)

The headline on page eight of The Cleveland News of June 26, 1912 read: "NEW BABY WILL LIVE IN $6,000 BUNGALOW". Bert Wismar is pictured just below, pointing to the new home he had just won. The baby of the headline was my Aunt Mary, and 21 months later, my dad, also named Albert D. Wismar, was born to Bert and Sadie, and he spent his early childhood years in that first prize bungalow on the heights.

A century later, the bungalow still stands, and its gracious owner recently invited me in for a look. Newspaper contests like this have gone the way of...well, the way of $6,000 new houses and $500 lots. But 100 years ago this June, the booklovers' contest helped a young couple's dream come true, and helped put down our family's roots in Cleveland Heights for two more generations.


The full text of the portion of the News article dealing with Bert Wismar's first prize follows below:

PDF File of Cleveland News p. 8, June 26, 1912 - Scan1.pdf

The Cleveland News - June 26, 1912 -

Headline p.8 :  NEW BABY WILL LIVE IN $6,000 BUNGALOW

Albert D. Wismar  90 Bender Ave., East Cleveland - Winner

A cooing babe and The News' $6,000 home, all in the course of a week, make the family of Albert D. Wismar, 90 Bender Ave., East Cleveland, winner of the first prize in the booklovers' contest, the happiest in the whole world.

Last Friday, almost on their fourth wedding anniversary, the couple were blessed with a healthy baby girl. As the young husband was about to start Wednesday for St. Anne's hospital to see the mother and babe he was notified that he had won the house and lot. Joy unrestrained fairly shone in the eyes and the whole being of the happy man.

"Oh, I -- I don't know what to say," said Wismar. He looked as if he had just awakened and found that a wonderful dream had come true. "I believe I am the happiest man on earth. I thought I was that last Friday when the baby came. Oh, how my wife and I have longed for a home all our own. Now we have it. But it doesn't seem as if it could be true."

Home Finds Deserving Owner

Had The News scoured the entire city for a deserving family, it could not have done better. Wismar, 29 1/2 years of age, is head accountant for the Struthers Furnace Company, Citizens building. Born in a small town in Wood county, he had not the advantage of a good schooling, but by hard energetic work made a school teacher of himself. After three years of teaching he came to Cleveland and took up accounting eight years ago. Four years later he married Sadie Watt, daughter of ex-Police Lieutenant William Watt of Cleveland.  Since the wedding it has been steady conscientious work with Wismar. Every cent that could be spared was laid away. Their dream was a little home of their own. Many nights they sat and talked about it as something far off. Within a year or so they hoped to start payment on a lot somewhere on the Heights. Then came the booklovers' contest.

Work, Not Luck, Won

"I was lucky," said Wismar, simply.

It was not luck - far from it, his friends say. It was good, honest hard work, which he left only while sleeping. Wismar's training in accounting stood him in good stead, making him precise and neat. He looked at every picture from every angle and point of view. He sat up until late at night, then cut out the hard ones and stuck them up in his den, where he could always see them. During the day he carried them with him. He wrote the answers in shorthand and showed them to no one. He was doing it for his wife and the babe-to-be and he put his whole soul into it.

"Mrs. Wismar and I hoped we might win something- say the tenth or eleventh prize: possibly a lot or a Hupmobile," he said. "But when we found ourselves dreaming about the house a lot, we stopped quickly. We knew--or thought we knew--that that could never be but a dream. One day when we dreamed more than usual, we walked up through the Heights and looked at the house. I noticed a tennis court up the street a ways, and thought how nice it would be to live there."

Is a Double Victory

In winning this contest, Wismar gained a double victory. For several years he had pitted his wits in all sorts of games and contests against those of Albert A. Schueren, an uncle living at 750 Joseph Campus avenue, Detroit, Mich. Both entered this contest. Schuren missed 11 pictures, Wismar only two.

Now Wismar says he would not change places with any man on earth. "What haven't I now?," he said. "A happy wife, a child, a home all my own to live in and a chance to work for all. What else could a healthy man want? And the home came just at the right time. We are living downstairs in a double house and have only five rooms. The baby makes at least one more room necessary. Now we have all the room we want..

And the baby. Yes, the baby has been named Mary Elizabeth, and she is going to sleep with her father and mother in the new home the first night.
Posted by dan at March 27, 2012 8:49 PM