Calumet Roots

Dutch family migrated to Midwest and grew in number, notoriety

2013-01-20T00:00:00Z Dutch family migrated to Midwest and grew in number, notorietyBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist nwitimes.com
January 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The present flu epidemic is about to surround us, but let us hope that it is nothing like the 1918-19 version, which killed more people than WWI, somewhere between 20 and 40 million worldwide.

Pieter Mak was born after the peak of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. He attended Burnham schools and graduated from Thornton Fractional High School in Calumet City. He worked at Youngstown, Smith Company, W.B. Conkey, Hammond Brands and Inland Steel.

On March 11, 1941, he married Grace Barron of the Twin City, shortly before becoming a corporal in the U.S. Army. Wounded in Italy on Nov. 18, 1943, he was discharged Jan. 1, 1945 and, after recovering from his wounds, joined the Hammond Fire Department as its first military veteran. He rose to deputy chief before retiring in 1968.

His family tree is interesting. The eldest Pieter Mak, a Dutch farmer born in Bergambacht on March 28, 1776, fathered nine children, including another Pieter Mak, who fathered 15 children. On April 22, 1868, he sailed for the new world, settling in Pullman and then Saxony (South Hammond).

His son, Pieter III, was born in Bergambacht on Jan. 7, 1849. He married Christina Therese Hartman on April 12, 1874, at Tolleston. He fathered 11 and lived in Hammond. After Christina died in 1896, he married Elizabeth, a former pastry cook to the queen of Romania.

He then moved his family to Sobieski (Calumet City), ran a prosperous farm and, in the early 1900s, became one of the first presidents of the village. An enterprising fellow, Pieter III deferred to local gambling and whoring, setting a region standard for wholesale corruption. In 1905, he was thrown out of office by a rump court and died in Hammond on April 6, 1923.

Pieter Mak IV was born in Hammond on Dec. 21, 1887. He helped on the farm and, along with his four brothers, worked in Hammond packing houses.

Of the brothers, Cornelius gained the greatest celebrity. When he lost a leg in an ice skating mishap, Cornelius’ father fashioned him a peg leg out of a fence post. He wore the peg leg like a medal, and at the inevitable Saturday night fights in Hammond saloons, he would brace himself in a corner, unstrap the pet, and use it as a weapon.

He later became a bootlegger in West Lafayette, selling rot-gut to Purdue University students. Through judicious payoffs, Cornelius enlarged his realm to comprise surrounding counties and became a millionaire. When he later needed to visit Mayo Clinic, he traveled in a private railroad car.

Meanwhile, an Americanized Pieter Mack IV ran away from the packing house to join the circus as an advance man. While on the road in 1918, Pieter IV met and married 14-year-old Blance Passley, a one-fourth Cherokee maiden.

He rented a farm in Burnham and raised cucumbers used by the Schrumn Pickle Works in Calumet City. He also trapped muskrats and sold their pelts to Schuber Furs in Chicago. In the winter, he cut ice at Wolf Lake for Phil Smidt.

He died in Lansing on June 22, 1952, and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Hammond. His wife, who died Feb. 5, 1976, lies beside him.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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