Born in Gotha, Thuringia, Germany, Paul von Nordeck immigrated to the US, travelled extensively, and eventually settled in Salt Lake City, Utah. In this article, Boyd Humpherys remembers his grandfather, Paul von Nordeck, a talented musician who enjoyed entertaining friends and family with selected songs played on his favorite instrument, the concert zither.

Paul von Nordeck in Richmond, Utah, circa 1901

The heritage of America is rich and varied, being a melting pot for the hopes, talents and dreams of a good portion of the world. An unmistakable common denominator is the gift and the love of music. Be it the somber strains of the masters, the lilting melodies of happy folk, the noble music of serious moods, or perhaps the memorable refrains of the heart that graced the hearth of many homes.

With but scant information on the early life of Paul Wilhelm Trillitz von Nordeck zur Rabenau, my grandfather, a distinct trend is seen. Born in Gotha, Thuringia, Germany on Oct 26, 1853, the youngest of nine children, he and two brothers ultimately immigrated to the United States at different times. In 1847, prior to Paul’s birth, the family headed by Georg Gustav Ferdinand Trillitz von Nordeck zur Rabenau, his wife Mathilde Hermine Adeline Kummer, and their then four children, Antonie, Louise, Gustav Georg, and Louis, made the decision to immigrate to the US, the land of opportunity and new adventure. Alas it was not to be. A shipwreck in the English Channel and the scene of all of their earthly possessions disappearing beneath the waves changed their lives forever. A brief stay in London, then Bremen, Germany, where brother Frederick was born, and finally settling in Gotha, Thuringia.

Ultimately brothers Gustav Georg and Frederick arrived in the US, subsequently urging young Paul to follow. Before doing so, Paul attended several schools, finally completing a course in the profession of pharmacy in London, and later received a certificate from a school of pharmacy in Chicago.

A partnership with brother Frederick in a drug store venture in Austin Nevada, was cut short by a fire, after which Paul traveled to California, Hawaii, and back to the states. An early Hawaiian newspaper indicates he arrived from San Francisco in August of 1883. He subsequently appeared in an impromptu musical program in which he was featured in a zither solo. The listed selection provides a clue that indicates a measure of sophistication with the instrument acquired over a great length of time and practice.

Paul von Nordeck in Ephraim, Utah

When back in California, he noticed a newspaper advertisement seeking a druggist in Ephraim, Utah. He accepted the job, moved to Ephraim and ultimately met and married a local belle by the name of Ann Alida Bean, my grandmother. Amongst the memories my mother passed along were accounts of family gatherings where Grandfather would entertain those present for hours with the sweet sounds of zither music. He became well known in the area for his musical talents with the instrument, shared willingly.

Later on in Salt Lake City, where his wife Anne passed away, he had joined a local zither club, enjoying the association and talents of club members. He met and married a Swiss immigrant, Ida Keller, who also played the zither with the club. In our family visits with the von Nordecks, we were often enthralled with special performances which kept a normally active young man, glued to his chair and quite attentive. I recall hearing many accounts of the zither group getting together regularly to enjoy each other’s company and renditions of inspiring music. Occasions not initiated by requirement, but of the sheer joy of creating a pleasant and inspiring experience.

Grandfather Paul passed away on June 10, 1943, in Salt Lake City, remembered for his noble demeanor, his interests in family history and most importantly, his ability to thrill listeners with the musical strains of the zither, a noble instrument of ancient origin.

George J. Brox (l) and Paul von Nordeck (r), Salt Lake City, Utah, ca. 1920

Our sincere thanks is extended to Boyd Humphreys for sharing the story of his grandfather, Paul von Nordeck. Do you have an ancestor that played the zither? If so, email, or use the provided contact form.