When Joseph M. Coale III, who worked for William Donald Schaefer when he was mayor in the 1970s, first proposed exploring his ancestry two years ago, Coale was greeted with the famous blue-eyed Schaefer stare and a sense of profound indifference.
"He told me, 'I don't look back, I always look forward,' " said Coale, who was sitting in the garden of his Ruxton home the other day, recalling his friendship with the colorful political figure that goes back nearly 40 years.
Coale smiled when remembering the night he met then-Mayor Schaefer. It was 1975, and he was setting up chairs by himself for a father-son Roland Park Little League dinner at St. David's Episcopal Church on Roland Avenue.
"I looked up and thought, 'That's Mayor Schaefer.' He walked over and said, 'I'm here to meet the Roland Park Civic League,' and I told him that they didn't meet until 7 p.m., and that he was an hour early," Coale said. "The next thing I knew, I was working for him."
Coale, who later managed Gov. Harry R. Hughes' two gubernatorial campaigns and served as a close adviser, brought up the subject of Schaefer's ancestry while visiting him at the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville.
"I told him I had just had gotten connected to Ancestry.com in order to do genealogical research, and Schaefer said, 'I know who my parents are and remember when my grandfather lived with us. That's all I know.'
"He then gave me his blessings and said, 'Go ahead, but if you find anything bad, I don't want to hear about it. I've got enough problems already,' " Coale said. "I told him, 'Good. I'm on the hunt.' "
Coale then decided to concentrate his search on three generations of Schaefer's paternal side, as someone had earlier researched the family background of his mother, Tulula Irene Skipper.
Coale confesses the "hunt" wasn't all that easy because of the variations of the spelling of "Schaefer," and he had to be careful the "Schaefers" he was pursuing electronically and by way of U.S. Census records and old newspaper clippings were the right ones.
Schaefer's great-grandfather was George Schaefer, who was born Aug. 29, 1821, in Hesse Darnstadt, which is in the Rhine-Main area of west-central Germany.
He married Annie Elizabeth Schmidt, who had been born and raised in the same town. They were married there and already had two sons, Philip and Charles, when they set sail for the United States.
They sailed from Liverpool aboard the American Line three-masted immigrant ship Cornelius Grinnell, arriving in New York City on Sept. 13, 1852.
"They moved on to Baltimore because there was a large German community here at the time, and their sponsor was most likely here," Coale said.
The couple arrived in Baltimore with Philip Schaefer, born in 1848, and Charles Schaefer, born in 1851, and settled in West Baltimore.
A daughter, Catherine E. Schaefer, was born in 1854, and the next year came another daughter, Caroline "Sister Carrie" Schaefer. Louis Schaefer, William Donald Schaefer's grandfather, was born in 1860.
Coale learned from records that Schaefer's great-grandfather, who had listed his occupation as "laborer" and "grocer," owned a grocery store at Saratoga and Gay streets that was damaged in the "Black Friday Flood" of 1868, according to a news account in The Baltimore Sun.
On July 24, 1868, the Jones Falls went on a rampage, with floodwaters reaching a height of 20 feet. The summer storm claimed 50 lives, damaged 2,000 homes, caused property damage in the millions of dollars and threw some 4,000 people out of work.
"The cellar of the house of George Schaefer, occupied for a grocery store, at the corner of Saratoga Street, was flooded and some damage done," reported the newspaper. "There was a quantity of liquor in the cellar, and the loss will probably be about $150."
It seems George Schaefer's travails continued. On Aug. 2, 1869, his store was robbed.
"On Saturday morning about two o'clock the grocery store of Mr. George Schaefer, corner of Gay and Saratoga streets, was robbed by burglars who effected entrance through the transom over the front door, and some three dollars in change stolen from the money drawer," reported The Sun.
Police then observed two men breaking into a "nearby public house" and arrested one, while the other escaped. Charles Henry, who was arrested, reported the newspaper, had "some $10, mostly in coppers," in his pocket.
George Schaefer died in 1869, and his son, Louis Schaefer, followed in the family grocery business.
In 1887, Louis Schaefer married a woman named Emma (her maiden name is unknown). The couple, who later became William Donald Schaefer's paternal grandparents, resided at 701 Dolphin St., where Louis had a grocery. He later became a wholesale grocer.
The couple's son, William Henry Schaefer, who became a title attorney, married Tulula Irene Skipper on Nov. 8, 1918, at Brantley Baptist Church.
William Donald Schaefer's parents were living on West Lanvale Street when he was born Nov. 2, 1921, and seven years later, moved to an Edgewood Street rowhouse where he would live for the next 70 years.
His Grandmother Schaefer died Sept. 7, 1927, and was buried in Western Cemetery, in the 3000 block of Edmondson Ave.
Several years after her death, Louis Schaefer moved into his son and daughter-in-law's home, where he lived until his death April 19, 1937, when he was interred next to his wife.
A modest stone marks the couple's grave.
William Donald Schaefer told his biographer, C. Fraser Smith, in his 1999 book "William Donald Schaefer: A Political Biography" that he recalled Grandfather Schaefer as having "shaky legs like I do" and coping with failing eyesight.
He also told Smith that his grandfather pretty much stayed in his second-floor bedroom, only coming downstairs at mealtime.
Otherwise, Schaefer said nothing more about his family, with the exception of his father and his mother, with whom he lived until her death in 1983.
Coale's detective work turned up a great-aunt who quite possibly carried the genetic seed of helping others that so ably bloomed in her great-nephew, who became a lawyer and then pursued a career in public service.
Caroline Schaefer, who was known as "Sister Carrie" Schaefer, had married William H. Taylor in 1882, and after his death in 1901, turned to charitable work.
The couple had no children.
At her death on March 11, 1943, The Sun reported that "Sister Carrie," who was 87, had been a deaconess for 42 years at Christ Lutheran Church.
"She wore no special habit, only a plain black dress, white collar and cuffs and a simple black hat with a black net veil," reported the newspaper. "She had no automobile, but made her visits to the sick and the poor on foot until ten years ago when she had an automobile and chauffeur placed at her disposal."
The Sun reported that she lived in "a small two-story house at 907 Washington Boulevard."
She also was buried in Western Cemetery.
"Schaefer was very interested in what I was doing," recalled Coale, who said he wasn't quite prepared for the former mayor and governor's reaction to the accumulated material.
One day, Coale and Deane Kenderdine, executive director of the State Retirement Agency, visited Schaefer at Charlestown.
"When I showed him the material and articles, he stopped any conversation with us. He got into the material very quickly," Coale said.
"I had found a steel engraving of the Cornelius Grinnell, and I think he held it in his hands and stared at it without saying a word for 20 minutes. It was like he was in a trance. Deane and I then just started talking to each other," he said.
"And when we left, I told him, 'I am going to leave this with you.' I don't think he really heard me. It was all very interesting," Coale said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun