Kurt Vonnegut, Sr.
Kurt Vonnegut, Sr.(1884-1956) attended School No. 10, a grammar school, from 1890 to 1898. He then attended Shortridge High School
in Indianapolis for somewhat over a year. He was subsequently sent to the American College in Strasbourg, Germany, for three years.
He followed his father Bernard as an architect - At the age of nineteen he was well prepared in a solid foundation of secondary
education, attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied architecture and took his degree of
Bachelor of Science in 1908. With his widowed mother and his sister, Irma, he went to Berlin, and continued his architectural
studies with the best masters. He returned to Indianapolis in 1910, and joined his father's surviving partner, Arthur Bohn, and took
over the well-established firm of Vonnegut & Bohn. He joined the University Club He taught
lettering at the Herron Art Institute from 1912-13 and architectural history from 1913-15, and headed the Art Association
of Indianapolis Art School Committee from 1915-27. Among his architectural accomplishments was the first building of
All So uls Unitarian Church (1453 N. Alabama St) and the Anderson Bank building in Anderson. He also designed signature Art Deco
buildings for Indiana Bell throughout the state and new buildings for Hooks Drug stores prior to World War II. His graphic design
skills res ulted in, among other things, the original logo for the Indianapolis Children's Museum.
Edith and Kurt's wedding celebration was one long remembered in Indianapolis. It was probably the biggest and most costly party
which the town had ever seen or is likely ever to witness again because the by the next year came the First World War and then
Prohibition. The curtain fell on such extravagance.
On Nov. 22, 1913, Kurt married Edith Sophia Lieber, the daughter of millionaire Indianapolis brewer Albert Lieber.
and Alice Barus who had died of pneumonia when Edith was six. Soon afterward, her father Albert married
a very attractive but extremely eccentric woman, Ora D. Lane, who was never accepted by Albert's family or close
friends. She seemed to be resentf ul and chastising them in subtle ways that they all suffered a distinctive psychic trauma
from which they never fully recovered. Where formerly they had known nothing but loving and tender care, now
they were subjected to every sort of indignity, humiliation, and neglect. Albert's third wife was a
nondescript widow named Meda Langtry, much younger than Albert, about the same age as his daughter Edith.
As a young woman, Edith had been engaged to other men but had each time broken her engagement. These suitors
were all Europeans as during the years from 1907 to 1913 Edith lived mostly abroad. As an extremely handsome
woman and the daughter of an American millionaire she was much courted. She first became engaged to Kenneth Do ulton,
an Englishman, a grandson of Sir Henry Doulton Edith's first serious German suitor was Lieutenant Paul Genth of
the Uhlans. Soon afterward Captain Otto Voigt of the regiment proposed to her, and was accepted by her with the
consent of her family and of his commanding officer, the engagement was broken by mutual consent.
Edith Lieber got along well enough with her father,his third wife Meda and their two young children, and so returned to
Indianapolis. By then Albert Lieber was one of the city's rich men. He he had a large residence on a beautiful hunting
estate, Vellamada, of 400-acres just to the northwest of the city, which he had recently constructed. It built with ‘ice”
money and overlooking the White River.
On this estate he built for Edith a small cottage very attractively situated on a bluff overlooking White River. It was furnished
to her taste; had a grand piano in the living room, a fireplace, comfortable lounge chairs and couches; and it was her own
retreat when she wanted privacy-which was most of the time.
Edith, a very beautiful woman, tall and statuesque - about five feet eight inches, with a fine graceful figure.
She was auburn-haired and blue-green eyes; had very fair and clear skin; and finely modeled features. She had a
lively sense of humor and laughed easily. She resumed contact with her old friends, went about in the social
life of the city, and had plenty of suitors.
Kurt Vonnegut always admired her beauty and was very proud of her. They fell in love, became engaged. They were a
charming and extremely attractive couple. The marriage was approved by both families; but the Schnull-Vonnegut
clan was slightly condescending. In the pecking order in the social hierarchy of the community, and partic ularly
in the German group it was generally understood that the Schnull-Vonnegut clan ranked ahead of the Lieber-Barus clan.
And at her father's death, all she got out of the Peter Lieber fortune was her portion of a small remnant from Albert's
estate and a trust fund which Peter had established for the grandchildren in Merchants Bank stock.
||The couple had three children, Bernard, born in 1914; Alice, in 1917; and, Kurt Jr.,
who came into the world on Nov. 11, 1922. |
At the beginning of their marriage they were comfortable affluent: having servants, governesses for their children. They lived
well tending to be extravagant, traveling and entertaining rather lavishly. When they needed money, they sold securities or
borrowed. After Prohibition in 1921 Edith's father was no longer able to help them as he had done in the past.
Kurt's income from his profession, saw them through the twenties. Kurt's mother, Nannie Schnull Vonnegut, died in 1929 and left
Kurt his share of her then modest fortune derived from her father, Henry Schnull. They soon used this up.
Kurt had acquired a plot of land on the east side of North Illinois Street at about Forty-fifth Street. Here he designed (Surprisingly, neither Kurt
onnegut's father or grandfather, Bernhard designed the house. That task instead fell to Hoosier Willard Osier) and built a large 5,907-square-foot
and very beautiful brick residence located on 4365 N. Illinois Street. Indianapolis, 4th ward Washington twp, Marion county Indiana. It's a high-end
place — four bedrooms, Arts & Crafts style, big trees, Butler-Tarkington neighborhood — house. An imprint of Vonnegut's child-size hand remains
in concrete that was poured in the 1920s. In the entry is a a leaded stained-glass window with the initials K and V. The old coal chute has been converted
to a wine cellar and The one bit of serious remodeling was done under the direction of architect Evans Woollen, who lived in the house with his
family for three decades, into the late 1980s (from 1962 to 1987). It boldly removed and raised the ceiling that separated the living room from the
master bedroom, turning the living room into a dramatic, open space and in so doing he removed the master bedroom, Kurt Sr. and Edith's bedroom;
of course, plenty of the house's original features remain. These include all of the woodwork, the floors and a goldfish pond out back. There is a hidden
room accessible from a back staircase. The room isn't legend, and very much exists, but the passageway is too small for an adult to reach it. The
Vonneguts lived in it from 1923-1930
They sent their older children in the twenties and thirties to private schools; Bernard to Park School, and Alice to Tudor Hall
School for girls. Bernard went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he took his degree of Bachelor of Science and
remained to take his Ph.D. degree in Chemistry.
The family came into financial troubles when the Great Depression hit-up until this time the Vonnegut's, were a highly successful
upper-middle class family. Edith had inherited a brewery which had went bankrupt, and Kurt Sr. father found himself unemployed as little if
any building occured during this period and the wealth of the family soon diminished as they lived off their capital.
Kurt Jr. only knew the hard times of the 1930s - being taken out of private school after the third grade, being sent to Public
School No. 43 and then Shortridge High School. When sent off to Cornell University he was not to waste time or money on `frivolous'
courses, but to give full attention to studies, of physics and chemistry and math.
By this time the family home was heavily mortgaged, was sold. From the proceeds of equity in this property and a few remaining
assets, the Vonnegut's purchased a plot of land in William's Creek - a suburban development (still one of the most exclusive and upscale
neighborhoods in Indianapolis) but there was eight miles between the suburbs of Williams Creek and the mansions of Downtown Indianapolis.
Kurt again had designed and built a smaller and less pretentious brick dwelling surrounded by a small forest of trees in 1941. It was an attractive home, well
furnished, and displayed Kurt's artistic skills. In the basement Kurt had a small shop where he installed a kiln and worked in
Kurt Vonnegut was never the architect his famous father was and, in fact, drawing from his most lasting accomplishment, moving the old Bell
Telephone Building while employees continued to work away inside, leads one to suspect he might have been happier as an engineer. It was
shortly after this lifetime achievement that Kurt Vonnegut Sr. was forced to disband his firm and work for home.
Thus the family lived here quietly and modestly; entertaining and traveling very little. Continuing to live on their declining.
Cashing in two $1,000 corporate bonds which Kurt Sr. had inherited from his mother; he and Edith took one more trip abroad to Paris
for three weeks and returning home broke.
The Second World War came in December 1941 - Bernard at twenty-four escaped the draft, but Kurt, Jr. enlisted in the army as a private
and sent to training camp.
This came as a shock to Edith and with the families finanical problems and the fear of possibly losing her son in the war she
became despondent. As their finances tumbled Edith began to become “half-cracked.” In the 1930s, after taking a class at the YWCA,
she began writing short stories and sending them out to popular magazines of the day in hopes of raising money to help support her
cash-strapped family. Desperately wanting money Edith attempted to write short stories which she could sell, but it was was never enough.
It is said that all were rejected although she kept sending them out until the time of her death. She had grown increasingly depressed over
her family's lost fortune and her inability to remake that fortune by selling fiction to popular magazines of the day.
Edith died in her sleep having committed sucide by overdosing on sleeping pills on May 14, 1944 the evening prior to Mother's Day
in Williams Creek, Indiana. Edith’s daughter Alice found her mother dead of an overdose of sleeping pills. Alice summoned her brother
Kurt ( came home on a three-day pass from his training at nearby Camp Atterbury) who went to go get their father.
All that was left of her gandfather's fortune and of her father's was $10,815.50 when the final inventory of her estate was filed for
probate at $10,815.50.
After Edith's death Kurt Sr. remained a fairly isolated man the rest of his days, in full retreat from life, content to be in
his own little world. His sister, Irma Vonnegut Lindener, came to visit - sometimes for months at a time.
Kurt aged and his fortunes waned, not being able to support this last abode of modest elegance sold it, and the reaminder
left some ten thousand dollars, Kurt bought a small cottage in the country near Nashville, Brown, Indiana.
It is here that Kurt retiring alone and living in perfect seclusion with his books and the phonograph which his sister
Suffering from emphysema, Kurt continued to smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey in moderation. His health slowly
declined and it was found that there was cancer in one of the lobes of his lungs. Refusing to have surgery, or
go into a hospital or even remain in bed at home; and having no nurses. He would get up in the morning, dress, eat and
then lie about on a couch before a comfortable fire reading or listening to his records, quite alone being totally self-reliant,
and never complaining or fearing death. Near the end Nelly an old faithf ul devoted servant came to look after him and
at the end when he had became bedfast a trained nurse was attendance.
He died quietly in his sleep on October 1, 1957 and two days later his remains were buried in the Vonnegut lot in Crown Hill
Cemetery at Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana next to his wife and his parents.
The 1930 Census record for Kurt & family: