The J & W Koebler Co., 1922

For decades, all I knew about John Jacobs came from funeral and cemetery receipts (left).

James Broggini & Brothers, 1926

Grandpa was only one year old when his great uncle died, so he could only tell me that his grandmother (Rosa, 1865-1905) had three siblings: oldest brother John, then Louise (1855-1920), and Anna (1859-1929).

I do not know if Grandpa or his mother [Nellie] attended John’s funeral. Nellie had given birth to her other son, Cliff, only two months earlier.

You can see by the receipts on the left that John’s headstone was replaced in 1926.

Clearly, he was loved dearly.

James Broggini & Brothers, 1926

During our “genealogical dig” in Cleveland last September, Cousin Ginny and I found a 1920 census that indicated  John arrived in the United States in 1900 and became a naturalized citizen in 1905.

He lived with his sister, Louise, and his occupation was listed as “Laborer.”

There is no record of John ever having married or had children.

Prior to this, we didn’t have specific dates associated with him and so we used this to find his grave.

Find A Grave gave us quite a shock.


We emailed “l byers” who had created John’s profile on the site; we were pleasantly surprised to hear back from her quickly, but the additional documentation she provided continued to surprise and sadden us.

Credit: "l byers" from the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH) December 14, 1921.
Credit: “l byers” from the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH) December 14, 1921.
Credit: "l byers" Certificate of Death of John Jacobs
Credit: “l byers” Certificate of Death of John Jacobs

“Cause of death was as follows: Found hanging by neck by a rope to a tree [indecipherable] woods [indecipherable] 125th Street [indecipherable]. Suicide after escaping from Mt. Sinai.”

Interesting to note (bottom left) that the nationality of John’s father is identified (Switzerland), but his name is not known; also nothing is known of his mother. Also interesting that the “informant” is listed as P. W. [Paul] Frohmberg, Nellie’s husband at the time (John was Nellie’s uncle). I have no idea what an “informant” is on a death certificate (the one who identifies the body?).

Portrait of John Jacobs, possibly from the late 1890s?
Portrait of John Jacobs, possibly from the late 1890s?

We believe that Anna Martin (John’s sister) was widowed around or just prior to 1920 and that was when she returned permanently to the United States. The 1920 census referred to earlier was before Louise passed; it listed Louise as “Head” of household, her profession as “Dressmaker” and her citizenship status as “Alien.” John was listed as a resident, but Anna was listed as a “boarder”, which may indicate that she had just recently arrived. I believe she may have originally immigrated to the U.S. in 1890 and become naturalized in 1901.

More on Anna’s story later, but I bring these details up because it is curious to me that, with Anna still alive and present at the time of her brother’s death and burial, his paperwork would be so incomplete. You would think that Anna would know the names and nationalities of their parents!

And then, a bigger bombshell.

Credit: "l byers" Newspaper Article regarding John Jacobs' suicide.
Credit: “l byers” Newspaper Article regarding John Jacobs’ suicide.

They got John’s age wrong, but the address matches the one on his death certificate and the “escape” from Mount Sinai matches, as well.

I don’t have any information about why he was committed to Mount Sinai, though the article indicates he was there “for some time.” Ginny and I did look into what kind of hospital Mount Sinai was at the time.

From the Cleveland Historical:

The history of Mount Sinai Hospital began in 1892, as the Young Ladies’ Hebrew Association started collecting funds to “care for the needy and sick.” In 1903 it was decided that those funds would be used to establish a hospital catering to the needs of Cleveland’s east side Jewish population. Mount Sinai Hospital opened on East 32nd Street, later moving to a larger facility on East 105th Street in 1916. Despite its inception as a Jewish hospital, Mount Sinai quickly became the primary healthcare provider to Cleveland’s urban poor population – regardless of race or religion. The hospital pioneered in many areas of research and education and is known for accomplishing the first ever separation of conjoined twins.

The high cost of providing care to uninsured patients, as well as the competitive healthcare economy in Cleveland, led to the hospital’s closure in 1996. The hospital’s legacy lives on in the Mount Sinai Healthcare Foundation, a non-profit funding agency dedicated to research, education, and continuing service to Cleveland’s Jewish and urban poor communities.

Harvard Grove Cemetery, John is buried near that closest tree.
John is buried near that closest tree.

John and Louise are buried in Harvard Grove Cemetery, Cleveland. Ginny and I could only find John’s grave (pictured at top).

So many of the headstones at Harvard Grove and the other cemeteries we visited were eroded, knocked over, or completely missing (due to weather, accident, or vandalism).

Credit: Western Reserve Historical Society
Credit: Western Reserve Historical Society

Incidentally, Louise also “passed away suddenly.” It could have been from an illness, I haven’t uncovered anything to indicate otherwise, but in light of the manner of her brother’s death, it does give one pause for thought.

Updated: July 1, 2016–Added portrait of John Jacobs from Ginny Frohmberg