Elise Marie Waldau Kiralfy
(All pictures are thumbnails - click to see full-size.)
Elise was born in Germany around 1853 and came to the US in 1867 with her mother Christina Brunke Waldau , brothers Herman and Hugo and sister Lena. Her father Henry (Heinrich) Waldau was already in NY, having arrived a year or two earlier. While in Germany Elise’s father, Heinrich Waldau, participated in the Braunchschweiger Liederkris (a musical circle), and in the US her brother Herman was in the Grau Opera Company (billed as Herman Waldo) so she came from a musical family. At some point she was a dancer, possibly with the Kiralfys. I have only this “snippet” of information from a photocopy of a letter to my grandma (I’m looking for the original so I can find out who it’s from!): “That was interesting about the Ballet girl and how Elise had to go to give her courage, etc. and ended up marrying the boss!”
Elise and Bolossy were married sometime between 1870 and 1874. Once Elise began having children, she left the stage. However, the couple still enjoyed attending the theatre. In 1876 they were attending a show when a fire broke out. There was chaos and panic as everyone tried to make their way to the exit. Bolossy kept his head and instead of cramming into the aisles, he leapt over the chairs and put down the seat in the row ahead so that Elise (in her long skirt) could step over the seats from row to row, and thus proceed up the middle of the theatre to the back. They narrowly escaped disaster, as this event came to be known as a great tragedy, the "Brooklyn Theatre Fire of 1876" where almost 300 people were trampled and burned. A folk song was even written about this tragic event.
Bolossy and Elise had five children, two of whom died young. [Evidently there was some epidemic (yellow fever?) in New York in 1879, as both daughter Eugenia and baby Henrietta died that year. Two of Imre’s children, Florrie and Lille, died that year as well]. Bolossy and Imre had adjoining townhouses on Washington Square Park in downtown Manhattan. Elise and the family traveled around the country and back and forth to Europe with Bolossy as he staged his various productions. Son Henry (Harry) and daughter Grace were born in NY. Daughter Edith was born in San Francisco. Edith said that by the time she was 13 she had crossed the ocean 13 times. Photos in those days had the photographer’s address on the front; photos of the children were taken in Dresden, San Francisco, NY, Philadelphia.
While they were young the children had a nanny and tutors. There is one picture of Grace and Harry in little costumes, but although the children had musical talent, they never took to the stage. As the children grew older, the family did not always travel with Bolossy; the children attended school in New York. In the late 1890’s Harry attended Columbia University to become a lawyer.
In 1899, Bolossy and Elise divorced. The story that came down through Elise’s side of the family is that while Bolossy was in London they heard the rumor that he was “carrying on” with a younger woman (Elise was in her 40’s), who was with child. Elise still loved him and didn’t want to divorce him – he had “dallied” before and she had always forgiven him – but son Harry was “offended” and convinced her to go through with it. He was a fledgling lawyer (not quite graduated, as I think he was the class of “naughty-naught” or 1900), but he was man of the family enough to turn the tide of this decision. The divorce went through in mid-1899. Harry was 21, Grace was 19 and Edith was 13.
After the divorce, Elise and the children fell on hard times. Elise cut Bolossy out of all the old family photographs (just that one family picture survives!) I don’t know what “arrangements” were agreed upon, but jewelry was sold and money was tight. Harry, now a working lawyer, contributed to the family, and Grace decided to go out to work. Harry helped her find a job as a secretary with a respectable law firm, but after one day she came home in tears and said she couldn’t go to work, it was too humiliating. She had been brought up to be a lady.
There is a court case listed as Kiralfy v. Kiralfy in 1901 – I have seen it mentioned but haven’t seen the actual text. However, it is cited in alimony cases and appears to be about reducing or discontinuing alimony upon the remarriage of the ex-wife, so presumably that is the year that Elise remarried. She married William Lowitz, Edith’s piano teacher and also a published composer.
Bolossy never spoke to (or of) the family again, presumably because divorce was a much “worse” thing in those days, and to protect the new family from scandal. However, Elise’s family did remain on friendly terms with Imre’s family and their cousins, who, in the early years, had lived in NY and later (after Bolossy and Imre’s split) predominantly in London. I have a photo of Grace, Edith, and cousin Edgar with an inscription to George Norris (Edith’s fiancé), which would be sometime between 1908 and 1914, so cousin relations remained cordial. In fact, Grace married her first cousin Harold, so that’s pretty cordial!
There is some confusion over when Elise died. She appears in the 1920 census (lying a few years off her age, it seems) but my mother, Marianna Norris (born in 1920, daughter of Edith) never knew her, so she must have died not long after. She died from a ruptured appendix. We think Elise is buried in Lindenhurst Cemetery in New York, with her parents and brothers (and possibly sister).
Go to Elise Photo page
Note: The Waldau family is hard to trace because of the various transcription "interpretations" of the name: for example, WALDAU has been transcribed as WALDAN, WALDEN, WALDO. But my "favorite" bizarre interpretation of fine swirly antique handwriting has the Waldau part correct, but then lists "Cleveland, Haney, Haze and Herman" with dates which would correspond with Christina, Henry, Hugo and Herman. I hope I am not too presumptuous in re-interpreting that fine antique handwriting.