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1895-1978 | Sonora, California
Hendrik Willem Merema was born on 21 November 1895 in Hardegarijp, a small village in Friesland, The Netherlands. He was the youngest son of Jurrien Bartelds Merema and Meintje Hendriks Walda.
"Henny", as he was called by his family, had one brother, called Barteld, and three sisters: Hendrika, Anna Martje and Evalina Maria Margaretha. Another brother, also called Barteld, died when he was only 10 months old.
In 1913, when he was 18 years old, he left home after a big argument with his father. Henny didn't want to become a teacher, like his brother and two of his sisters, but instead preferred to find employment as an electrician. After leaving home, he first moved to Borculo (in the province of Gelderland) and then to Amsterdam, where he got a job as an electrician with "Groeneveld, Ruempol & Co.".
He must have had quite an adventurous nature though, because on 16 March 1915 Henny and his friend Evert Vinkes (a bookkeeper) were sailing from Rotterdam, on the S.S. Rotterdam, to New York, where they arrived on the 25 March of that year. Henny was 19 and Evert was 25 years old at the time. According to the ship manifest, their final destination was Chicago, Illinois, where a sister of Evert's and her husband, a mr. J. Schenkel, was living.
Henny now called himself Henry, and via postcards sent to his youngest sister Evelina in The Netherlands, we can trace his whereabouts from Chicago ( Illinois) in 1915, to Inwood (Iowa) in 1916, Mt. Shasta (California) in 1917 and Ogden (Utah) in 1918. I could find no record of him in the 1920 census, but in 1924 his eldest sister Hendrika made a will, in which she mentions that her brother was a salesman in Colville, Washington.
On 10 April 1930 Henry applied to become a citizen of the United States (see newspaper article: Sierra Hermit Asks Citizenship Papers). A few weeks later, on 29 April 1930 he is recorded in the census as being a caretaker at Relief Dam and living in Township Two, Stanislaus National Forest (see copy of the 1930 census). Living near him is Irwin Burgess (see the story about the Nightingale rescue).
On 30 April 1932 he married Estelle Juanita Freitas in Reno, Nevada, even though they were both living in California. Henry was 17 years older than Estelle, which could be the reason they got married in Nevada: maybe Estelle's parents weren't too happy with the age difference.
Estelle was born in California on 28 April 1912. She was a daughter of Antone Joseph Freitas and Mary B. Brista.
Henry was working as a lineman and caretaker for the Pacific, Gas and Electric company. A job that would take him all over California, living at different power houses, like Relief Dam, Stanislaus, Dobbins and Spalding.
Henry and Estelle didn't have any children.
They loved going on holiday with their caravan, especially to the National Parks. But they also travelled (by cruise ship or plane) to the Carribean, Venezuela, Martinique, the Virgin Islands, Alaska, and the Bahamas, among others . Henry's hobbies included photography and gardening. Before he retired from the Pacific, Gas and Electric company, whom he worked for for 31 years, he build his own house at Shaws Flat, Jamestown, Sonora. It had beautiful pine-panelled walls and lots of Native American art.
Henry kept in contact by letter with his mother and his brother Barteld until they died. No correspondence between his two eldest sisters survived, but he also kept in touch with Evelyn, and later her son and his family, until he passed away on 15 June 1978.
He never went back to The Netherlands to see his family again ...
Estelle survived him by 8 years, passing away on 31 August 1986.
Both Henry and Estelle were cremated, and a memorial plaque can be found at Shaws Flat Cemetery, Shaws Flat, Tuolumne County, California (see the link for the Find A Grave website).
The Nightingale family rescue
10 January 1930 | Tuolumne County, California, U.S.A.
Promising his son a "snow party", John Nightingale, his son Stanley (7) and his bride of four months Evelyn (Wood) Nightingale, set out in their car from their house in Stockton to make a trip to the Nightingale's summer cabin at Niagara, on Saturday 4 January 1930.
Late Saturday afternoon they reached Strawberry, where they were warned by two linesmen from Pacific, Gas & Electric not to go on, because it was snowing heavily. They had already been warned at Sonora and Longbarn, but John had laughed at the cautions.
That was the last time they were seen. Five days later, on Thursday 9 January, they were still missing, lost in a blizzard east of Sonora.
The alarm was spread on Monday night, when they were 24 hours overdue on their return trip. Dr. C.C. Wood, mayor of Oakdale and the father of Evelyn, and Mr. M.J. Nightingale, father of John, organized a search party.
John's first wife, Eva Wren Nightingale, Stanley's mother, went looking for her son by plane, flown by Jack Elliot and Tommy Symons, a good friend of John, who was also an aviator by profession. Two earlier airplane hunts over the Niagara Creek vicinity had failed to reveal any trace of the missing party.
Leading the search on the ground, were three linemen from Pacific, Gas & Electric (PG & E): Irwin Burgess, Jasper Miley and Henry Merema, my great-uncle, headed by the manager of PG & E in Sonora, Charles Noack.
By Thursday, there were increased fears for the safety of two of the linemen, Irwin Burgess and Henry Merema, as silence met all attempts to get information as to their progress.
A new blizzard was raging in the district 40 miles east of Sonora, where the search was going on, and all communication was cut off from Strawberry and Cow Creek.
Burgess, who left Longbarn for Strawberry on Wednesday, was feared not to have arrived there. Merema, described in the newspapers as "the fastest man in the Sierra on snowshoes", was thought to be somewhere between Cow Creek and Niagara Creek, the spot for which the Nightingales were headed when they disappeared on Saturday.
What happened to Merema was a mystery. He carried a portable telephone, with which he had planned to tap the PG & E line and report on his progress. This he had failed to do.
The third lineman, Miley, lay safe but exhaused in a cabin at Cow Creek, after a gruelling three-day battle against soft snowdrifts and howling winds.
Later it turned out that Merema, noted as one of the strongest men in the mountains, had rushed to his side to aid him.
At last, on Friday 10 January, word finally reached the outside world that the party had been found safe and sound on Wednesday night, by Jasper Miley and Henry Merema in a PG & E cabin at Niagara.
The rescuers had to stagger through snow drifts 10 feet deep in the face of a new blizzard. They finally got to a little clearing at Niagara Creek, which was the end of the trail. It was thought almost inconceivable that the Nightingales had reached Niagara, but nothing had been found of them on the snow-filled road below. If they were not there, there would be nothing left but to retrace their weary footsteps and search for frozen bodies.
Merema, described as a veritable giant, lifted his voice and shouted ... and even as he did so, Miley spotted a thin wisp of smoke, filtering from a smoke stack which popped out of the snow. A moment later, the Nightingales clambered out of the tunnel they had made from the doorstep, far beneath the surface of the snow.
Then came a surprise for the rescuers: Mrs. Nightingale had a hot dinner ready for them, cooked from provisions left in the cabin for just such an emergency !
There was no need for the food and restoratives that Miley and Merema had packed up those torturous, hardwon miles at the risk of their own strength.
However, what was needed, were the extra pairs of skies and snowshoes they had carried.
After a night of rest, the party set off for the trek home, through the blizzard. They reached Cow Creek, 11 miles away, by nightfall, where they found a working telephone line to tell the world that they had been rescued. They spent the night at Cow Creek and set out for Strawberry, another 4 miles away, in the morning. Then it was another 13 miles to Longbarn and to safety.
They finally reached civilization at 1 p.m. on 11 January, where they were met by members of their family and newspapermen. John greeted his aging parents, Mr. and Mrs. Miles Nightingale of Oakdale, who met him with tears of thankfulness in their eyes.
His wife, in answer to her mother's question: "my dear, how are you?" replied: "I am fine. How is my canary ?" which caused some laughter, for Mrs. Nightingale was more worried about her pet, left in their Stockton apartment, than about any of the tribulations of the adventure !
Stanley, looking a bit pale and talking hysterically at first, calmed down after being in his mother's arms for an hour.
After the first exitement died away, Stanley and his mother left for dinner at the elder Nightingales house at Oakdale, while John Nightingale and his wife went to his wife's parents house, also in Oakdale, for a seperate reunion.
Their adventure was over.