When you buy an antique or vintage or collectible item, people often speak of the “provenance” of the item. Provenance (from the French provenir, “to come from”), is the chronology of the ownership of an object. The term was originally mostly used in relation to works of art, but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of things and fields.
I like to know the provenance of things I buy, even if it isn’t an antique or true collectible. These things all have a story, and sometimes the back story or journey is more wonderful than the item.
Today, I had that happen.
I went to an estate sale in Malvern, but in Charlestown Township. It was magical.
I drove up this beautiful little road that was deeply wooded, and so quiet save for the early morning song birds. I parked and walked down the driveway. It was a pretty house. Modest in size, it was lovely in its surroundings in the woods.
I greeted the estate sale people whom I like a great deal and have dealt with several times before – Caring Transitions of Chester County. When they run a sale or an auction they are so wonderful to deal with. They research what they are selling, price fairly if they are doing an estate sale, and the sales are neat and organized and easy to navigate with items priced clearly. They have staff in the majority of the rooms and it is always just a pleasure to deal with them.
And they are legitimately estate sales when they hold them, as not all sales that call themselves that are. And while some estate sale companies seem to create states of chaos where people are just grabbing and often stealing things while nearly destroying the homes, Caring Transitions doesn’t operate in that manner. They are nice, knowledgable professionals. They run a nice, tight ship.
I walked into the house and the first thing I noticed was how happy the house felt if that makes any sense. It was spotlessly clean, but just had a nice vibe. I had come for nutcrackers and Christmas ornaments I had seen advertised but found other things.
The woman who had lived there had been an amazing embroidery and needlepoint and petit point artist. The needlework took my breath away. An estate sale professional in an upstairs room told me the lady of the house had been German. I asked her if she had been a war bride. “How did you know?” said the employee. I pointed to some of the World War II uniforms hanging in a closet.
I have been to estate sales where old military uniforms were sort of tossed in piles in corners. Not these. Lovingly hung in closets, and neatly folded in opened footlockers or trucks. These uniforms meant something. Looking at them was like a history lesson.
I wandered into what had been the master bedroom and saw this completely lovely framed sampler, just lying displayed on the bed. I love vintage samplers. To me they are the ultimate in folk art. I have several little ones scattered around my house.
I bought the sampler.
I drove home thinking how warm and happy the house had felt. When I got home I hung up the sampler. The woman who made it in 1988 had stitched her name in it. Annaliese Nagel.
I decided to Google her obituary to learn more about this needlework magician to give my sampler more of a provenance. I found it and learned more about Annaliese Nagel:
ANNELIESE NAGEL OF CHARLESTOWN Anneliese Nagel, 89, of Charlestown, was taken by her Lord on Friday, September 7, 2012. She was the wife of Harry W. Nagel, with whom she shared 66 years of marriage. Born in Heddesheim Germany, she was the youngest child of the late Katharine and Johannes Scherb. She moved with her family to Westtown where she lived for 17 years before moving to Charlestown. She attended schools in the Heidelberg area of Germany and later took courses at the Technical University in
Hannover, Germany where her husband was studying under a Fulbright grant.
She was a homemaker in the fullest sense of the word, an expert cook, baker and a gracious hostess who truly enjoyed people. She was also expert in many forms of needlework, through which her memory will live on in many of the homes of friends and family .
Now I wanted to know about her husband. So I Googled again. I found her beloved husband, Harry Nagel. I hope his family is not upset, but I am sharing a big chunk of his obituary. He wrote it himself, and he was part of the Greatest Generation and theirs was such a love story, and what a life he lived!
Obituary for Harry W. Nagel
Hi everyone! It’s me, Harry. I’ve decided to create my obit myself prior to the actual event. I thought this might make for more interesting reading. The two photos illustrate the toll time takes on all of us. One was Harry at 20, the other is Harry at 82.
I had hoped to survive until stem cell technology or some other medical procedure might enable once vital organs to be reproduced, therefore, extending life. However, should dementia or Alzheimer’s intervene, life extension would be a questionable goal.
I was born in Union City, NJ on 21 January 1925, the first child of Anne Elise Christine Nagel (nee Von Spreckelsen) and Harry Conrad Nagel. I grew up during the ‘Great Depression” in, strangely named, West New York , NJ . Upon graduation from Memorial High School in 1942, I was accepted at Columbia College (Columbia University), class of 1946. However, December 7, 19 41 changed America’s and my destiny. As most of my former classmates were already in the armed forces, I volunteered for the Army on my 18th birthday.
After training in lesser known vacation destinations in Alabama and Louisiana and having been introduced to such denizens as coral snakes, armadillos, wild boar, chiggers, heat rash and fellow Americans who could neither read nor write, we embarked for England on the army transport, George Washington, in the midst of a 100+ ship convoy.
While in England, we engaged in the same type of exciting training which we had done in Louisiana, substituting cool rain for heat and humidity. Then, that mysterious hand of fate loaded us onto ships, and, the next we knew, we were stepping off of LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) into the mud and wreckage of Omaha Beach , France. The beach landing was required as all of the French ports were still incapable of accepting ships.
Life as a PFC (Private First Class), rifleman, infantry, was about as grim as it got. During WWI we were called ‘Cannon Fodder!’ Our division was employed in combat in Holland , Belgium and Germany . The Battle of the Bulge began on 16 Dec. 1944 . We were there on 17 December. It was there I earned my first Purple Heart medal (first of two). This got me out of the snow and a happy stay at a huge hospital in LeMans, France. There I was patched up and returned to my rifle company as ‘fit for duty’.
After crossing the Rhine we fought our way across Germany (Purple Heart #2) to link up with our Soviet comrades on the Elbe River . Shortly thereafter, as the territory we had bled for was to become the Soviet Zone of Occupation (later East Germany ), we were moved to the Heidelberg area. It was there I was to meet my future wife, Anneliese. As Americans were prohibited from marrying Germans at the time, I was returned to the US in November 1945 and discharged from the army in December 1945.
Resolved to return to Anneliese, I joined the Merchant Marines, signing on the George Washington (the ship which took me to England as an infantryman) as an engine room oiler. The ship was being used to return German soldiers who had been US prisoners of war to Europe. On one voyage to LeHavre , France , I jumped ship and, disguised as a German POW, made my way into the city of LeHavre , dressed as a seaman. From there I traveled by train to Strasburg via Paris. There, disguised as a French soldier, I was able to cross the Rhine back into Germany and back to Anneliese.
After a couple romantic months, with me disguised as a German civilian with a German ID card, I decided to turn myself in to the US authorities and try a legally approved approach to remain in Germany. This approach saw me incarcerated in the 19th century Bermen City prison. After my trial I was permitted to re-enlist in the US Army. I was assigned to third Army Hq. (General Patton) in the intelligence section in Heidelberg . Anneliese could not believe our good luck! As I was fluent in German, one of my more interesting assignments was to interrogate ex-SS personnel and war crimes suspects at the former concentration camp, Dachau . While there I also sat in on the trial of Ilsa Koch who had been the wife of the commandant of the concentration camp, Buchenwald. Ilsa, known as ‘The Bitch of Buchenwald ,” was accused of having inmates with interesting tattoos killed and skinned. She allegedly then made lamp shades of these skins.
In December 1948, Anneliese, our two children and I left Bremen on a tramp steamer bound for Mobile AL , and then on to Leonia, NJ to stay with my dad and two younger brothers. From there I commuted daily to Columbia where I had been re-admitted. Motivated by my family I earned three degrees in five years, receiving an AB, BS and MS in Chemical Engineering, topped off by a Fulbright Grant to do post-graduate work at the West German Petroleum Institute in Hanover , West Germany . While there Anneliese and I traveled widely and the children stayed with relatives and went to German schools. Upon returning to the US, I resumed work at Sunoco where I had already worked summers while at Columbia, retiring in 1983.
My second career! While at Columbia, the Cold War with the Soviet Union was intensifying. Having been an NCO (Non-commissioned Officer) in the Infantry, I was convinced, should war break out, I’d be right back at my old WWII job. As a result, I took advantage of an existing law and applied for a direct commission as a second lieutenant as I knew my family would be better off if something happened to me. At this time I had no further interest in the Army. Fate intervened! I met a fellow officer at Columbia who convinced me to attend an Army Reserve meeting with a group of ex-WWII infantrymen. I was hooked!
At this writing I am a retired colonel, having completed the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Army War College at Carlisle, PA , with over 36 years of combined active and reserve service.
What a life they had! What quite literally, a love story. My sampler has its provenance. And I learned the happy house I visited today had as part of it’s history, it’s provenance, and amazing love story.
Thank you Annaliese for my sampler. I will treasure it and remember your story.