I don’t have many memories of my grandfather, Frank Anton Maschka. He died before my 5th birthday, and in my vague recollections of him, he’s either helping me learn to turn backwards somersaults, or I’m sitting on his lap in his Victorian platform rocker. I also recall that he played the violin and wore suspenders and string ties.
Born in Witków, Poland, on April 14, 1882, Frank was the first child of August Maschka, who had been a soldier in the Prussian army, and his wife, Rosalia Wesierski. August emigrated to the US in 1881, and Rosalia arrived with the newborn Frank in 1882. They went first to Ohio before settling along with numerous other Polish immigrants at Ashton, in Sherman County, Nebraska, five years later. There they built a sod house (soon replaced with a large frame structure), began farming, and raised a large family. I remember visiting the old homestead many years later, by that time long abandoned.
The Maschkas were musical and had a family band that enjoyed regional success. Frank played violin, and when he married my grandmother, Helen Jamrog, in 1913, she joined the band as pianist. Frank and Helen adopted their only child, my dad, Richard, in 1923. (Naturally, they provided Richard with music lessons from early childhood; he became an accomplished saxophonist and pianist, earned a music degree, and played with both Artie Shaw and Claude Thornhill.)
Frank owned and operated a grocery/general merchandise store in the small, largely Polish community of Ashton, and with his brother, Alfonzo (Uncle Ollie), ran a successful sausage shop. Maschka’s Sausage is still in operation today in its original location. Ashton reached its peak population of 488 in 1940, before declining to fewer than 200 today. Some of my fondest childhood memories are set in that tiny Nebraska town.
I’ve always loved this photograph of my grandfather, taken c. 1910 when he was about 28 years old. He chose to have his portrait taken holding what was undoubtedly his most valued possession, his 1907 Johann Dressel violin. I haven’t been able to find much information on Johann Dressel beyond that he was a violin maker in Berlin, Germany, and that his violins were imported between 1890 and 1925 by the Chicago music business, Lyon & Healy. It is my understanding that these instruments were considered to be of fairly high quality and were relatively expensive for their time. Lyon & Healy advertised them as having “graceful outlines, workmanship of high order, [and] a tone of unsurpassed volume, great beauty and richness.”
A hundred years after the photo was taken, the violin came into my possession, along with the bow my Grandpa Maschka holds in the photo. It hasn’t been played since he died in 1959, and it needs some work to return it to a playable condition. I hope to have the instrument restored so I can listen to it once again.