July 25, 2017

Flashback: Former German princess made her home in Redmond

Note: The July 26 Spokesman features a story on the Greater Redmond Historical Society looking to save the house once owned by Trudy Bray, a former German princess and niece of Queen Victoria, who spent more than 50 years in Redmond. Here is the complete story on Bray that ran in the Feb. 21, 1966, Spokesman:

Trudy and Gus Bray Spokesman file photo
By Mary Brown

 A royal princess of old Germany was laid at rest Monday in the cemetery of the Oregon town in which she had lived for more than 50 years.

She was Mrs. Gus Bray, who died last Thursday morning at her Redmond home, where she had been cared for with unremitting faithfulness by her 90 year-old husband.

Trudy” as she was known to her friends, was buried Monday at Redmond Memorial Cemetery, with part of the rites conducted by Redmond Chapter of the Eastern Star, of which she was a charter member and holder of a 50 year pin. Funeral services were conducted at 11 o’clock Morning at Zacher Chapel, with her long-time friend, Rev. D. L. Penhollow, officiating. Casket bearers were C. B. Adams, Howard Mayfield, Joe McMurry, Henry Durfee, J. W. McClay and George Hofstetter. She was a member of the German Lutheran Church.

BEGINNINGS ANOTHER STORY- That was the end of the story. What about the beginnings? Perhaps these would not be known had it not been for a series of special articles The Spokesman carried a number of years ago. These were entitled “Mr. or Mrs X”, Each week incidents from the past life of a Redmond citizen were recounted and the next week the person was identified.

Mrs. Bray spent several days then describing her girl-hood in Germany, but the story was withheld from publication at the family’s request. Now it can be told—a decade later.

She was born Princess Helen Augusta Victoria Beatrice Buckner Von Gotha Sep. 15, 1885, at Castle Liebenstein in Thuringen. The place was a huge estate, one of a great many the family owned. The Castle, Trudy said, had 300 rooms, all of which were kept open. There were seven kitchens and as many as 13 cooks. Just how many servants were in the castle, she never knew exactly. Some worked inside; others had various duties, such as gardening or looking after the stables.

The House of Saxe—Coburg—Gotha, to which she belonged, is one of the oldest and noblest in all history, and at the time the princess was growing up, the family was among the wealthiest in Europe. Her father, Prince Oscar, held the position of Prime Minister of the state and was also a field marshal. Thus the family visited nobility in many lands.

An especial favorite of her father was his uncle, Prince Albert, who married Queen Victoria of England, a cousin. The family often visited at Buckingham Palace and the young princess liked the friendly, old-fashioned lady who reigned over the British Empire.

The last time the princess saw Queen Victoria was in 1896, when the family went to England after having attended the Worlds Fair in France. She always had pleasant memories of the kindly woman who wore a shawl and lace headdress and she loved to crawl on Victoria’s lap and play with the lace and the locket containing her husband’s picture, which the Queen always wore.

Gertrude, the name she used because she liked it, was the oldest child, there being two other daughters and two sons. One sister, Frieda, who died in 1914, was married to the ruler of the sovereign state of Liechtenstein. He was Furst Franz Josef and she was Fursten von Liechtenberg.

The other sister, Ellen, who survives Mrs. Bray, now lives in Wiesbaden, Germany. She married Count Kurt von Schwerin of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He was head of the German underseas fleet in World War I and a member of one of Germany’s greatest families. Count Von Schwerin died last year; it has been learned from a funeral notice found in Mrs. Bray’s effects. The count, Trudy said, was a cousin of Queen Juliana of Holland.

IN CONCENTRATION CAMP- When the Second World War broke out, Count von Schwerin and his wife were bitterly opposed to Hitler and were thrown into a concentration camp. They escaped to Switzerland, where they had estates, and lived there during the war. Returning, they found their property demolished, everything stolen.

Her two brothers Arthur and Alfred, died some years ago it is believed. Alfred, a scientist and astronomer, married the Grand Duchess Amalie of Austria.

These marriages Show, Mrs. Bray explained, how all the various houses of Europe are related and how many inter-marriages there have been. “All the same people,” she remarked a bit sadly, and still they fight, when they should be living in peace.”

DINES WITH CZAR- She recounted a trip to Russia when the family dined with Czar Nicholas. That was when she narrowly escaped being poisoned. A cook apparently was out to get the czar and his family. He served poisoned mushrooms. Trudy didn’t take any when the dish was offered, but another princess, Elizabeth Hesse-Darmstadt, niece of Queen Marie of Rumania, ate the mushrooms. She died. Trudy learned that the czar and his family had been in perpetual fear of eating what the cooks served. One could only guess what happened to that particular cook. Trudy remarked.

The life of a German noblewoman at the beginning of the century was one of tremendous luxury and of restrictions just as great. Until Gertrude and her sisters were about 10, they had a governess; then they had a governor.

GIRLS STUDY, TRAVEL- They studied languages—French, Spanish, English—as well as music and art. Every summer was spent traveling all over Europe, as this was considered part of a young noble-woman’s education.

“We were taught to ‘cook’,” Mrs. Bray laughed, in telling of that part of her education. “No, it wasn’t the way you think. We’d watch someone peel a potato or prepare a simple dish, perhaps. Then we’d write down the recipe and take notes. Actually, we never touched the food being prepared.”

She rebelled against the three-month course in cooking because it didn’t seem reasonable to her that she ever would need to know about it. “Learn it,” the girl’s grandmother said. “Servants can quit. Anything might happen to you—you never know. Someday you might even need to be able to cook.”

LIFE VERY RESTRICTED- Never did Gertrude do anything for herself. It was not permitted, nor was she allowed to associate with commoners. Everywhere the princesses of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha went, guards were with them. The girls liked to ride horseback. They played tennis, attended operas and concerts, enjoyed ice skating. Trudy recalled that when they were skating, a separate place was cleared for them, away from commoners.

Wealth was so much a matter of course; gorgeous clothes so much the ordinary thing, that all of it meant nothing. No concept of money entered into their lives, because there was more than they ever could need. The family owned vast estates, besides its porcelain and glass factories.

In 1902, Gertrude was presented at court before the Kaiser. She also was presented in other countries.
ATTENDS SCHOOLS- Her education was nearing its completion. She studied at the Weimar Higher Daughters’ Institute, went to Leipzig Academy, and to Konigliche University in Berlin.

Marriage—the right sort of marriage—always has been a specialty of the House of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha, and its princes and princesses are noted for marrying correctly. Most famous, of course was Albert, prince consort of Queen Victoria. There were many others who married well. Princess Sibylle, another noblewoman from the family, married Crown Prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden, who was killed in an airplane crash near Copenhagen, Denmark, in January 1947.

Gertrude’s union with Count Erick von Ludendorff and had been considered by the family almost before she was born. Her marriage had been arranged with the man who later became Germany’s famous field marshal. The count was sent on a trip to the colonies in Africa, and when he returned, Gertrude was married and in America—eventually in Redmond. Von Ludendorff never forgave her, she said.

MEETS SWISS-AMERICAN- Gertrude used to say that never would she forget her first meeting in 1903 with Alfred Munz, the man for whom she was to relinquish all she had known. He was a Swiss who had gone to America a number of years previously and had established himself in the hardware business in Princeton, MN. His sister was married to an officer in the prince’s regiment.

It so happened that Gertrude was attending a ball at the Casino. All the men were in uniform or full dress and the women were wearing evening gowns, ermine and jewels. The Swiss-American came in a business suit and was refused admittance. Finally, his card was presented to the officer who had married his sister. He then was received and welcomed graciously as the man from America. The princess was introduced to him and their courtship began.

STATE IN UPROAR- When she made up her mind to marry Alfred Munz, the whole state was in an uproar. According to the traditions of her house, no member could consort with a commoner. It was impossible for the girl to be married in Germany to the man she loved.

Her father and mother liked the man she had chosen, and while they grieved at her departure they allowed her to do as she wished. She signed away her rights to the titles, to the family estates, to all the wealth she had known in her 18 years of life. Every minister and official had to affix his signature to the papers permitting her to leave for America and to be married.

“My great desire was for freedom—the freedom only America can give,” Mrs. Bray declared. I have never regretted my choice. Always during my girlhood I was watched every step every move, every glance. I never could be alone, do as I liked, live as I wished.”

DECLARES HERSELF LUCKY- She used to say that when she thought of members of her family and her relatives, who were put into concentration camps, perhaps killed, that she felt lucky to be an American.

At last the young princess came to America, accompanied by her Austrian maid and the sister of her future husband. The bridegroom met them in New York and they were married June 8, 1904, at the, Little Church Around the Corner. She wanted to be like the others and gradually learned, even begging her husband to let her work in the store.

DAUGHTER BORN- When her daughter, Winifred, was born, her ties to America became firmer. At times she was homesick, but then she would look at her family and would think of her American freedom. She stayed.

“No, I must go home. I am an American,” she told her aging father. My family is there and that is where my heart lies.

“It is much harder this time than when you first left,” he replied. This time I know I shall never see you again.

And he never did. Prince Oscar died in 1938 and her mother in 1939.

MOVE HERE IN 1912- Mr. and Mrs. Munz came to Redmond in 1912 when he purchased a hardware business. No one, except a close friend or two sworn to secrecy, knew of her past life. Her husband feared it wouldn’t be good for the business.

It finally came to light because she hadn’t written for sometime to her sister, Ellen. Count von Schwerin sent a letter to the justice of the peace, the late Z. T. Gideon, asking about his wife’s sister in Redmond and giving her titles. The judge took it to a man who could read German. Thus she was identified.

Many grief’s came into her life. First her only daughter, Winifred, {who was married to Pete Wallace), died in 1930. Next she lost her parents, and then her husband on March 2 1940.

MARRIES GUS BRAY- She was alone in the land of her adoption. She could have returned to Germany, but she stayed, to meet the second man to win her love. He was Gus Bray and they were married March 17 1945.

In the nearly 21 years of their married life, most of it spent in Redmond, the Brays lived quietly, satisfied with each other’s company. About three years ago Trudy’s health began to fail. Gus took care of her and during the three years preceding her death, he was with her day and night, often with no chance to sleep.

Gus says he probably will continue to live in Redmond. He had four sons by a previous marriage, Earl of Vancouver, WA, Vernon and Roy of Oceanlake and Lawrence of Toledo. All came here to be with him when they were advised of his wife’s death.

Following the funeral, members of the Bray family were served dinner by Redmond Chapter of the Eastern Star, with Mrs. C. S. Van Buskirk in charge, assisted by Mrs. Raymond H. Jones. Fourteen were entertained at the Van Buskirk home.

In his moving tribute to Mrs. Bray, whom he had visited frequently for many years, Rev. Penhollow quoted from a devotional book, “Daily Light,” which she had owned for many years.

He read the Scripture verses for March 2, date of her first husband’s death. There in her hand-writing, he found the year, 1940, and the words: “Dear God, give me strength to live, please. My darling.”
The little book was presented to Rev. Penhollow by Gus Bray in Remembrance of Mrs. Bray.

Added November 30, 1973: Gus Bray is now 98 years old and his health is not too good, so he had reluctantly made the decision to sell the home at 404 W. Forest Ave., which he shared with his beloved Trudy.

Many of the things which were in the house were brought from Germany by Mrs. Bray when she came to America in 1904. Throughout her life, she continued to use her training in handwork, so now there are many, many items of every type of embroidery, knitting and crocheting—all beautifully and meticulously done.

The square rosewood grand piano had been sold, as well as most of the antique furniture. One item of great interest which Mr. Bray does not want to sell is a dress which was worn by Mrs. Bray’s aunt, Queen Victoria. Mr. Bray wants to present the dress to a museum, where its historic significance can be appreciated by many people.

1 comment:

Steve Eberhard said...

Who would have thought, great story!