Family project preserves legacy and shares timeless love story

Published Jun 25, 2017 at 9:00am

What started as a means to preserve a family legacy has turned into a history project honoring a true love story that started about 100 years ago.

Rome native Tom Hoehn has gathered letters and photos written by his grandfather, former Rome Mayor Alfred M. Hoehn, and has transcribed and scanned them for further protection. He has comprised a book of the World War I letters written by his grandfather to a young woman who would be the love of his life, Hoehn’s grandmother — the former Marion L. Neiss of Rome.

“We have had these letters and ephemera in our family documents,” Hoehn said. “When my dad passed away (Lawrence, one of Alfred’s sons), I spent time looking through them. At that time I thought it would be nice for others in the family to share in these as well.”

He said the documents, “were so fragile that I went about transcribing and scanning to help protect them. There was no intent to publish. It was more about preserving a piece of family history. I printed a number of copies and gave them to family members, many of which still live in Rome.”

Hoehn said he felt the preservation of his grandfather’s letters and memorabilia was done in good timing, this year being the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the War to End All Wars.

Alfred Hoehn would go from serving in the trenches in France and being awarded a Purple Heart to becoming president of Rome’s Common Council and serving as mayor for one term from 1950-51. He was alderman of the Seventh Ward from 1936-37 and again from 1944-49.

According to documents published in the Rome Daily Sentinel, Hoehn’s election as mayor in 1949 on the Democratic ticket would break a 12-year Republican tenure for the office.

Hoehn was dedicated and active in veterans’ affairs, holding national committeeships and state and local elective offices in several veterans’ organizations, including the Rome Veterans of Foreign Wars Post and Loyal Order of Moose. He was buried with military honors after his death from a heart attack in 1955 at the age of 59.

Hoehn was also a chemist for Revere Copper and Brass, Inc. in charge of the physical testing laboratory until taking office as mayor. He was also chief chemist at General Electric Co. in Utica.

What Tom Hoehn was interested in preserving was the love story that would bring about the creation of his family. His grandfather would enlist in the Army’s chemical war service on Nov. 30, 1917, and would begin writing letters to his sweetheart residing back home in Rome. Alfred Hoehn was a corporal, Company D, of the 1st Gas Regiment.

To put the time in context, this was before wars were numbered,” wrote Tom Hoehn. “Media was limited to newspaper, as radio and television did not exist. Women had not yet obtained the right to vote. The stars of the day in the motion picture industry were Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, and Mary Pickford. Motion pictures were all silent. At the beginning of this correspondence, Alfred is 21 years-old and Marion is 17.”

Tom said Marion Neiss lived at 129 Wright St., while Alfred lived with his parents, Anna and Joseph Hoehn, at 137 Wright St. Besides a lot separating the two houses, Marion was essentially “the girl next door,” he said.

Alfred’s very first letter to Marion would be while he was in basic training at Fort Slocum, New York Harbor. The letter would be postmarked Dec. 12, 1917. An excerpt from the letter:

“Dear Marion:

I hope you received my letter or card I’ve forgotten which I sent you. I don’t know whether I told you but I did not join the Medical Corps but I enlisted in the 30th Engineer as Chemist. How are you getting along? I hope you are well. I am getting along fine. I had my first drill yesterday. Also I received the rest of my uniform. But there is an awful suspense here because one doesn’t know from one day to the next when one is going to be sent away from here.”

He would later be stationed at Fort Myer, Va.

Alfred would write Marion several times, thanking her for letters, newspaper clippings and packages sent to him. He would inform her that his company was being sent overseas to France. Here is an excerpt from a letter postmarked March 21, 1918, shortly after he arrived overseas.

“Dearest Marion:

I hope you received my card telling of my safe arrival overseas. I enjoyed the trip across the Atlantic very much. Of course there were quite a number of us seasick and I was one of them. I was sick only about two or three days though. However I imagine I would have been effected longer with seasickness than I was had the ocean been rougher than it was. It was very rough only one day to speak of during the whole trip the other days being quite calm. However we experienced a few thrills and exciting times during the trip. I was a guard three times on the boat during our passage across and believe me we certainly had some time getting around the ship at night as no lights were kept lit after darkness set in.”

About two months later, Alfred would ensure Marion that he had no interest in the young ladies he encountered in Europe.

“When I fall for any of these girls over here then you can figure that I’ve lost my sense of beauty or loveliness,” Alfred wrote. “Not one of the girls that I’ve seen thus far could compare. I would rather to compare with any of the girls in the States and as far as comparing any with you I would not even commence to do such a thing. They may talk all they please about the French girls but that is as far as it goes at least as far as I am concerned and I might add the majority of the bunch of the fellows in my company think.”

One of the final letters found in Tom Hoehn’s collection was postmarked Feb. 16, 1920.

“My Angel and source of life:

I’ve been thinking of you all day long and tonight I simply had to give vent to my feelings. I just finished up another book in my studies and I was trying to finish by 8 o’clock but did not succeed. If I had I would have been tempted and in fact I was very much inclined to come and see after I got finished but now it is ten o’clock. The time seems to go so slow. Each minute seems like an hour or more like a year until I can see you again.”

Alfred and Marion Hoehn were married on Jan. 26, 1921.