Ephraim H. Niess

The Obituary:

The Church Advocate, Harrisburg, PA.,
February 16, 1916
NIESS –Ephraim H. Niess was born October 21, 1841 and died November 25, 1915, aged 74 years, 1 month and 14 days.
Brother Niess was a faithful member and a loyal supporter of the Nagle Street Church of God, Harrisburg. His life for Christ was earnest and consistent. The church honored it. He was for a number of years an elder and the treasurer of the church. In 1862-63 he served in Company E., 122nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He was a member of Post 58 G.A.R., Harrisburg, and had attended the national encampment at Washington, D.C.  During the illness which caused his death he suffered intensely, and often expressed the desire to go home. Like Abraham, “he looked for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God.” The end came peacefully. God had led “through the valley and the shadow.” He is survived by his wife, three sons, a daughter, four brothers, two sisters and many relatives and friends.
The funeral services were conducted by Rev. G.R. Hoverter, assisted by Rev. Wm. N. Yates, Rev. Jay C. Forncrook, Rev. E. A. Mell and the pastor. Interment in the Harrisburg cemetery.

Albert L. Kriner

The Story:

Ephraim was my great-great-grandfather and there is a lot that is not said in this obituary.  I’ll attempt to tell just a little of it.

Ephraim H. Niess and Catharine L. Auxer Niess, 50th Anniversary, 1914

Ephraim H. Niess and Catharine L. Auxer Niess, 50th Anniversary, 1914

Ephraim and Catharine L. Auxer were married in May of 1864, a year after he was discharged from the service in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Their life was a struggle, but full of faith and the promise of a better life to come. They lost six children and four lived to have families of their own.

Although he was only 5’6″ his hard work supported his family.  What type of work did he do? Picture this:  Huge brick furnaces at an Iron Works.  Hot?  Well, somebody has to change the bricks inside of them when they start going, and Ephraim was the guy!  Since it was not efficient to let the coals burn out, they kept the coals going, and Ephraim would wear six layers of clothes, summer and/or winter, and enter the furnace to change the bricks!  Now whether the story is exaggerated a bit is unknown.  The “family legend” is in a letter my aunt had written as relayed by my great-grandfather, son of Ephraim.  I do know that he worked at Bailey Iron Works (when he would work) and would walk to work, so the story is plausible.

Ephraim did carry his demons.  Whether they were a result of the Civil War or whether they were a result of something else is unknown.  You see, there were no “Focus Groups” or “Therapy Sessions” for Civil War veterans, and Ephraim turned to the age old medication found in a bottle.  The 122nd had seen action at Chancellorsville, among other places, and perhaps he carried this with him.

His wife kept a journal in the late 1800’s and I have transcribed a copy of it.  Money was always a problem.  He lost his wallet with his pay in it, they were behind on their bills, Christmas was meager, etc., etc., etc.  The couple owned a farm “west of the River” and had a Farmer on it who brought them produce from it.  Ephraim is the man in the middle with Catharine standing next to him.  My great-grandfather is the oldest child in the picture.  I believe the young man in the picture may be his farmer.

During the years of journal keeping, his wife prayed constantly for her husband.  She wanted him to attend Church with her and get rid of “his devils,” so if the obituary above is accurate, it looks like her prayers were answered.

My favorite part of the obituary is the fact that he “had attended the national encampment at Washington, D.C.”  Why?  The Encampment had been held from September 27th to October 3rd and Ephraim while attending the Encampment was able to see his first great grandchild.  My father was born in Washington D.C. on September 4th of that very year!  I wish there had been a picture taken of this, and if one had been taken, I wish it had been saved!

Harrisburg Cemetery, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Cemetery, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania

Ephraim was laid to rest in the Harrisburg Cemetery, along with his six young children who did not get to enjoy more than a few months of life.  Catharine joined her husband in glory six years later.

Rest in Peace, Ephraim.  Your’s was not an easy life.

Published in: on October 24, 2008 at 12:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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I am so fortunate that Catharine kept a journal, and the family kept Catharine’s Journal


NIESS.-Mrs. Catharine L. Niess, died at her home, 117 Dock street, Harrisburg, Pa., May 27, 1921. She is survived by three sons: Edwin A., and John E. Niess, both of Washington, D.C., and B. Frank Niess, of Harrisburg, Pa.; on daughter, Mrs. Lewis (sic) J. Houseal, of Harrisburg; also by two sisters. Mrs. Niess was a charter member of the Nagle Street church of God. For many years she was deaconess of this church, and in this capacity she served with unusual efficiency. She lived an exemplary Christian life, and will be missed many days. Funeral services were held at the above address on June 1st, conducted by her pastor, assisted by the Rev. George R. Hoverter. Interment was made in the Harrisburg cemetery.


In 1844 Catharine Leader Auxer Niess was born into a family of three older sisters. Maria Leader and Philip K. Auxer had lost a son four years before she was born. A sister and a brother were born after her.
The family was a religious one and it set the stage for Catharine’s life. When she was 15 years old, she appeared on the census as a domestic in the home of Christian Graybill in East Donegal Twp, Lancaster, County. The year was 1860.
Catharine (on left) and three of her sisters.

Four years later she married Ephraim Niess in Harrisburg. They were married for over 50 years when he died in November of 1915. They buried six young children and watched four grow and have families of their own. My great-grandfather, Edwin A. Niess, was the oldest of these. She chronicles her prayers for her children, and especially for her husband.

Philip Auxer's home in Harrisburg
Home of Philip K. Auxer, Catharine’s
father in Harrisburg as it is today

I am so fortunate that Catharine kept a journal, and the family kept Catharine’s journal! It covered four years of her life in the late 1880’s and chronicles the ups and downs in the family and neighborhood. Her life was basically not a happy one. Her husband, a Civil War Veteran, was a servant to liquor and Catharine was a servant to the Gospel. She was continually praying for him and referred to him only as “my husband” in her journal. Money was in short supply and she would go around and pay the creditors.

Ephraim and Catharine Niess on their 50th Anniversary
Ephraim and Catharine Niess on their 50th Anniversary

On the plus side is the giving, caring spirit that lived within Catharine. She loved her children and missed them when they were gone. She was always caring for an ill neighbor or sharing her table with somebody. She always had guests, some for a week, some overnight.

Her journal covers historic events as well. She tells of viewing the devastation of the Jonestown flood. She tells of the flood in Harrisburg where they moved everything to the second floor and then waited weeks for rugs and floors to dry out. She wrote about a train derailment down the street from her home and the deaths caused by it. Another story was the 1893 collapse of the floors in the old Ford Theatre in Washington DC,where my great-grandfather was working. Twenty two people lost their lives, but my great grandfather, being meticulous man he was, rolled down his sleeves, put his jacket and hat one before he walked outside. After all, a well dressed man would never go outside in his shirt sleeves!

Her Church was very important in her life. She was happy when her children were baptised in the Susquehanna River and she was disappointed when they chose to join another Church. She shared her religion with her neighbors and family. Her Pastor was revered.

She took trips. She traveled to Williamsport, PA to visit her brother-in-law’s family. She traveled to Washington DC to visit her son and his family and she traveled to Altoona to visit her niece and her family. She visited her sister in Camden, New Jersey and she often went to visit her cousin in Marietta. She did not let grass grow under her feet.

Catharine experienced the death of both of her parents, her brother, two of her sisters, her grandmother, her brother-in-law, six young children and finally her husband. The home she raised her children in is now gone. The Dock Street Bridge now takes it’s place. The home was on Dock Street in the Shipoke District of Harrisburg.

Catharine and her older sister, in mourning clothes
Catharine and her older sister in their Mourning Clothes.

Catharine outlived her husband by six years. She died in May of 1921 at her home in Harrisburg. She was finally going home to join her family.

Her prayers were answered.

Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 9:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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