When I think about the strange twists and turns life takes, I’m reminded of the strange story of my great uncle Julius Lowenbein. Although fully true, his story could have been written by O. Henry. Listen and hear it.
Gyula (Julius) Lowenbein was born on March 11, 1869, in a small Austro-Hungarian village now located on the western end of Slovakia just across the border from the Czech Republic. At the age of 20, he went into the clothing business with partners in another town but either the business didn’t do well, the partners quarreled, or he had an itch to leave. So in 1894 they wound up the business and he immigrated to New York, with a second-class ticket bought with his share from the sale.
I have a picture of the family, about 20 people, taken at some resort just before he left. He is a young handsome man with light brown hair and a serious but slightly mischievous expression. In New York, where he would soon greet his arriving sister (my great-grandmother), Julius went right back to his trade of selling clothes. By 1900 he was a boarder at a building at 1074 Lexington Avenue. He was engaged to a woman named Sophie. His future looked bright.
Then disaster struck. He didn’t feel well and the doctor diagnosed his problem as tuberculosis, a dreaded disease in those days that one could not be expected to survive long. What could he do? There were new sanitarium opening up in the beautiful little town of Asheville, North Carolina, where the air was pure and clean. Perhaps he could be saved by going there.