The Charles Uthman Page

Prepared by his nephew, Edward Otto Uthman (b. 4 Mar 1952)

First posted 8 Feb 2006; last updated 9 May 2007

This page is dedicated to the memory of (Frederick) Charles Uthman (24 Oct 1915 - 30 May 1996) of Nashville, Tennessee. I would love to hear from any of Uncle Charles's friends and anyone doing genealogical research on my family.

Charles Uthman, 1984

Charles Uthman, 1984. This is the last picture I have of Uncle Charles, taken twelve years before his death. He is seated at the showroom desk at Uthmanor Shops, 1208 Murfreesboro Rd, Nashville, Tennessee. Charles and his second wife, Beth Tanksley Uthman (3 Sep 1911 - Sep 1998), lived in an apartment in the same building as the shop.

Charles owned Uthmanor Shops in partnership with his brother, Gert, after the retirement of their father, Otto. While Gert built the furniture, Charles did the finishing work, handled the books, and waited on customers in the showroom.

The operation of Uthmanor Shops was influenced by some of Charles's peculiar views. Sometime in the 1970s, he developed a morbid fear that gypsies would enter the shop and steal valuables. Accordingly, he decreed that the shop would be kept locked at all times, an unusual practice for a retail establishment. I myself never saw any gypsies until I was over 50 years old, and that was in Florence, Italy. They were in fact pretty scary, so perhaps Uncle Charles's paranoia was not without some basis in reality. I guess they will make it to Nashville eventually. Everyone does, sooner or later.

Charles had a very brief political career when he ran for Nashville City Council in 1962 (8th Ward, 1st District). The family dutifully supported him, and I recall getting into at least one shoving match in school over the campaign. Gert showed his support by painting professional-looking white signs with neat red lettering. Charles lost the election, and that was enough politics for him. A civic-minded individual, Charles was highly visible in the local chapter of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and served a term as its Exalted Ruler. My memory of the Elks Club was that was that of a venue featuring an enormous amount of smoking and drinking, as well as gambling on slot machines, which were kept behind a roll-away cover for quick concealment in the event of a raid, which never came.


Charles Uthman, 1984

Charles Uthman, May 15, 1983.This is from a dated album with photos taken at a birthday party for my father, Gert Otto Uthman (16 May 1911 - 27 Nov 1992), hosted by Charles and my dad at the latter's home, 4428 Alcott Dr., Nashville.


Charles Uthman, Edward Uthman, and Otto Uthman, 1952

Charles, with nephew Edward, and father Otto Uthman, 1952. Easily dated by my apparent age and the holiday decor, this was taken at Charles's and Beth's apartment. Charles was the first Uthman to own a television and the first to purchase a color TV when they became available the next decade. When they got the color TV, it was a special treat for me to go over there on Sunday afternoon and watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom in color. Unfortunately, Charles, for whom electronics was never a strong suit, could not adjust the set very well, so the picture was either a monochromatic magenta or green.


Charles Uthman, navy

Charles Uthman during World War II. Charles served in the United States Navy during World War II. I was never clear on what his job was or what rank he reached. He often spoke of Hawaii, so I presume he spent most of his time stationed there. I don't have a date for this photo, but I am reasonably sure it was taken by my father while stationed in Hawaii, prior to deploying to Okinawa, so it would have to be in the range of 1942 to 1945.

At six-foot-even, Charles was the tallest Uthman. Slender his entire adult life, he always looked nice in his attire, as you can see from this shot of him in a government-issue uniform.


Uthman wedding, 1939

Uthman wedding party, 25 Nov 1939. This a detail of the group photo taken following the wedding of my parents, Charline (13 Feb 1918 - 22 Nov 1982) and Gert Uthman. From left to right: sister-of-the bride Margaret Herrod (b. 1919), Charles, Gert, and Charline.


The Uthman Family

Otto and Edward Uthman, 1953

Otto Uthman (1887 - 1955) and Edward Otto Uthman, 1953. Although obviously very young in this photo, I do remember the shooting session, including the photographer's big press camera. This was for a cover-page feature article in the Sunday Tennessean magazine section, about Uthmanor Shops and furniture reproduction. My memories of my grandfather are few but quite distinct. In addition to this scene, I recall him bouncing me on his knee and singing a song in German, which began, "Hup, hup, hup..."

Otto was a multitalented individual. He built and tuned pianos, repaired pneumatic systems (including pipe organs and the orchestrions that were used to provide music in silent cinemas), built telescopes, and ultimately made and restored furniture. Otto served in the Kaiser's army before leaving Germany. He went first to Argentina but ultimately immigrated to the US through Ellis Island in 1911. In New York City, he established himself by working for Mr. Steinway building pianos. After saving enough money, he returned to Germany and brought back his young wife, then pregnant with my father, Gert, who was born in Brooklyn. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Nashville and remained there for most of the 20th century. Charles and Evelene were both born in Nashville.

My grandfather was known for his sense of humor. Charles said that Otto could fart in time to Strauss's Blue Danube Waltz. At other times, his humor was more subtle: A lovely maple-top desk he built for me in 1953 is signed, "Built by Otto Uthman for Edward Otto Uthman (his first piece)"

In contrast to his devout Lutheran wife, Otto was an unabashed nonbeliever. At the behest of my grandmother, the local pastor had a standing invitation for dinner at the Uthman home. It is said that living-room discussions between the two well-read but good-humored gentlemen were entertaining and informative.

Otto had a few physical peculiarities: 1) He was missing parts of two fingers on his left hand, the result of an unfortunate encounter with some power tool. 2) He was ambidextrous. 3) He had one green eye and one blue eye.

Otto was known to all his family members as "Poppy." The Uthmans spoke German at home until some time during World War I, in which anti-German sentiments crescendoed, and the German-American children in East Nashville were harassed by locals. Accordingly, the Uthmans determined to speak only English among themselves. Additionally, the original spelling, Uthmann, was changed to the current form. I do not know the exact date of this change, but I suspect it was in 1917, when the US entered the War. All three of Otto's children forgot their German and as adults sounded no different from other Tennesseans, twang and all. Family members of my own generation (born 1940s and 50s) learned no German as children; my only exposure to the language was a year of college study.


Gert Uthman

Gert Uthman in Europe, 1929-31. My father, Charles's elder brother, grew up in East Nashville. The address he referred to most frequently was 810 Russell Street. His first job was peddling newspapers in the street at age five. One of his early memories was accompanying his father to buy the family's first automobile, a new Model T Ford. Otto paid the sales price in full, counting it out in twenty-dollar gold pieces. Gert attended Hume-Fogg High School in downtown Nashville but did not graduate. He made something of a Faustian deal with Otto, that if the latter sponsored him for two years of study in Europe, Gert would return to the family business. Gert's time in Europe was well documented in photographs, drawings, and paintings, but there is little explanatory text. I do know that he studied art at Schule Reimann in Berlin and interior design in Paris. He also made quite a few friends, as the many group photos of smiling young adults attest. The picture above has him looking very European in a bowler. I'm not sure if he would be better cast in The Avengers or A Clockwork Orange. As I remember him in later life, he was effusive and avuncular, but he looks somewhat menacing here.

Gert was a proficient artist and illustrator. His watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings are especially notable. He enjoyed photography, and as a result he is seen in few family pictures; he was inevitably the one behind the camera. I learned the basics of photography from him, and I have carried an interest in this hobby to the present day.

As a furniture builder, Dad was arguably one of the best American craftsmen of his time. He built almost exclusively in Honduran mahogany and limited himself to reproductions of 18th century museum pieces, including the Chippendale, Heppelwhite, Queen Anne, Louis XIV, and Louis XVI styles. I still have some of his pieces that are up to 60 years old, and they are essentially flawless in their fit and finish. Unfortunately, I inherited none of his talent and had to find another area in which to make a living. If he was ever disappointed that I did not carry on the family business, he never showed it, and he was never anything short of enthusiastic in my pursuing a medical career.

Gert was an accomplished outdoorsman and naturalist, able to identify innumerable species of plants and wildlife in the lush woods of Tennessee. He never fished much, but he liked to hunt ducks, quail, and doves. Later in life he took up bowhunting, but he never got a good shot at a deer. I think he just enjoyed being outdoors and drinking beer with his hunting plans, including Sam Koellein and Shorty Pruitt. In his elder years, he enjoyed visiting old homes and studying vintage construction techniques, about which he was extremely knowledgeable. I have long suspected that my dad would have preferred a career in construction, but, dutiful son that he was, he honored the promise he made to his dad and fully applied himself to the furniture business.

Physically, Gert was shorter than Charles, 5'10.5", but more powerfully built. From his life of work as a craftsman, he had huge bear paws for hands (size 13 wedding band) and immense upper body strength, which he enjoyed well into his seventies.

Gert and Charles were an unlikely pair. Gert, the responsible elder brother, firmly grounded in reality, often expressed bewilderment at his younger brother's imaginative flights of fancy. At the same time he admired Charles's creativity. Any encounter between the two brothers was likely to be marked by a litany of sarcastic barbs, which had been exchanged for so long that it resembled more a perfunctory ceremony than a sincere quarrel. There was no doubt that they loved each other. When one was sick, the other was beside himself with concern. As an only child who grew up with more gentle, forgiving parents than Otto's boys had, I will never be able to gain a first-hand appreciation of the type of relationship that existed between these two sons of stern German immigrants.


Evelene and Martha Uthman

Evelene Uthman and Helene Martha Peschang Uthman (1888 - 1971), c. 1930. Evelene was the youngest child of Otto and my grandmother, whom everyone called "Schatzi" (SHOT-see), German for "sweetheart." I rarely heard anyone call her Martha and was not even aware that Helene was her first name until years after her death. Schatzi was ethnically German but claimed Huguenot heritage. I remember her with a very thick German accent, never having mastered the "th" sound in English. She was an excellent cook but stuck with traditional German dishes, like Kartoffel Kloesse, Rotkohl, Sauerbraten, Hasenpfeffer, and my favorite, Wienerschnitzel.

As Otto's youngest child and only girl, Evelene was known as her father's "little princess," which did little to endear her to other women in the family, especially her sisters-in-law, Charline and Beth. An attractive young woman, Evelene married Claude G. Southall (3 Jan 1927 - 28 Mar 2003) and bore him three children, Marlene, Martha Kay, and Charles Greer, my first cousins. The marriage ended in divorce. Evelene never remarried, but Claude was to have two more wives, Betty and Ruby, and achieve financial success as owner of Allman Construction Company. Claude was a nice-looking hale and hearty man who played guitar and wrote songs. Evelene's later life was to be marred by what was described to me as a "bone spur in her spine" which eventually caused her to be partially paralyzed and led to her premature death.


Evelene Southall, Charline Uthman

Evelene Uthman Southall and Charline Uthman (13 Feb 1918 - 22 Nov 1982), 1940s. This is a wonderful "Rosie the Riveter" shot from the World War II era. Young, demure, productive, and optimistic, both women were at their prime, well before the the demands of parenthood and age began to take their toll. Had they remained friends, these next-door neighbors would have been a great source of mutual support. Unfortunately for both, it just didn't work out that way, and both died before their time, to the great sorrow of those who loved them.

The facade of Uthmanor Shops provides the background of this scene. The shop was built by the Uthmans' own hands, mostly Gert's, and opened in 1940. It would stay in business continuously to the mid 1990s. The name "Uthmanor Shops" was yet another product of Charles's imaginative vision. Gert accepted the name reluctantly. He preferred the no-nonsense "Otto Uthman & Sons." I myself was bothered by the plural "Shops," as clearly there was only one shop. It is ironic that I ultimately became a partner in "Brown & Associates Medical Laboratories," which, of course, consists of only one laboratory.


Karl August Peschang Caroline Helene Hennig Peschang

Karl August Peschang (9 Aug 1850 - 1 Aug 1905) and Caroline Helene Hennig Peschang (19 Aug 1856 - 3 Feb 1931). None of Otto's children had any recollection of their maternal grandparents. These pictures were kindly provided by my first cousin once removed, Ingeborg Klotz of Remda, Thueringen, Germany. The only information I have about them is that August was born in Stradow and died in Altenbrak; and Helene was born in Klozenburg and died in Luckenwalde. In his photo, August bears a strinking resemblance to Gert as I remember him in middle age.


Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Hennig, Wilhelmine Charlotte Hennig

Wilhelmine Charlotte Hennig (1 Sep 1831 - 4 Feb 1905), Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Hennig (30 Apr 1827 - ?) were Schatzi's maternal grandparents. Schatzi would have been 16 or 17 when her grandmother died, but I never heard her make any mention of them, nor do I know where they lived. I do love the photo though. Nothing else makes me so grateful for the time and place into which I was born. Whenever I have a particularly bad day at the hospital, I think to myself, "Well, I could be tending garden with a wooden rake in Kaiser Wilhelm's moribund empire!"

I know next to nothing about Otto's side of the family. I was told that he had an elder brother, Emil Uthmann, who "died fighting for the Kaiser." I'm certainly glad my grandfather dodged that bullet!


Frederick

Frederick "Buddy" Hardiman with Wanda (Mrs. Mike) Warfield, 15 May 1983. After all those old Germans, I thought it best to close with a younger American member of Charles's family, his son by his first marriage. That marriage produced two children, an older daughter and Buddy. Both took their stepfather's surname. Buddy kept in contact with Charles, but the daughter was completely estranged, and I never met her. Ironically, the most prolific branch of Otto's family was Charles's, which boasts numerous descendants, none of whom carry the Uthman surname. That chore was left to me and my only son, Andrew Edward Uthman (born 2 Jan 1985), currently a student at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Will the Uthman surname wither, languish, or bloom again? Will some future Uthman correct the spelling and return it to its German roots? Will the two American branches discover each other and reunite? Only time will tell!

Posing with Buddy is a great Uthman family friend, Wanda Warfield. Wanda's husband, Mike, worked at Uthmanor Shops for about 20 years and honed his skills there. An outstanding craftsman, of whom my dad was very proud, Mike now owns his own business, Warfield Furniture Reproductions, on Highway 100 in Nashville.


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