Frank Reting – Santen

Family historyIn my search for information about ‘Aunt Mamie’, I found reference to another family secret.  A newspaper article from February 1902 quoted Mamie on the disappearance of her father, Fire Company Captain Frank Reting.  She said that he had been depressed and threatening suicide in recent days, and further searching for him would probably be fruitless.


Frank Reting was born to German immigrants in Cincinnati, Ohio on December 21, 1855.  He married Alice Eyler, another child of German immigrants, in 1875, and they proceeded to have 6 daughters, five of whom survived to adulthood.  After early struggles as a laborer and driver, Frank joined the Cincinnati Fire Department in the early 1880s, becoming a Captain in 1893 at the age of 37.  He was still Captain in 1899 when his second-oldest daughter Mamie shot Edward Grafe, the father of her child, killing him in what became a very public case.  Mamie was acquitted in 1900.

Reting continued to serve as Captain of Fire Company #1 through 1901.  On February 7, 1902, he called Assistant Fire Marshall Bunker and requested a leave of absence, which was granted. He spent the next day at home, telling his daughter Mamie that he was thinking about throwing himself in the Ohio River.  He left the house that evening, and that was the last that the family saw of him.  His friends at the fire station were optimistic that Reting would return, but he did not.

His wife Alice died a year later in January of 1903.  “Pneumonia; exhaustion due to worry & grief,” was the cause of death, according to her entry in Cincinnati Health Department Birth and Death Records. An article in the Cincinnati Post about her death indicates that by that time Frank Reting is assumed to have disappeared, not died.  The family was left poverty-stricken by his departure, and the Fire Department paid for Alice Reting’s funeral.

Where did Frank go?  The record is murky for several years, until he turns up in 1905 as Frank Santen, married to 27-year-old Lillie Mueller, in East St. Louis, Illinois. (I am grateful to Michelle Diane Vardiman Fansler for posting her genealogy of the Reting-Santen family, and her detailed account of her search for information about Frank and Lillie.)  It is unclear how Frank and Lillie met, but, perhaps significantly, Lillie had endured a family tragedy of her own.

At the age of 16 in 1894, Lillie had witnessed the murder of her mother, Mary Mueller, by her father Louis, who then committed suicide. Lillie was at that time married to John King, who died of pneumonia in 1897.  In 1899 she married Frank Hughes and is listed as having had a child, who did not survive. (There is very little information about Frank Hughes before or after his marriage to Lillie. Could ‘Frank Hughes’ be another alias of Frank Reting?)

Frank Reting and Lillie Mueller had experienced very public family tragedies, both in Cincinnati, which perhaps drew them to each other.  What possessed Frank to abandon his family we will never know, but the estrangement was not permanent. There are photographs of an elderly Frank and Lillie with his daughters by Alice—Mamie, Nellie, Gertie, Alice and Kitty.  Lillie died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, and Frank lived as a widower until his death in 1937 at the age of 81. He did not move back to Cincinnati.


Old newspapers are a fascinating source of information–about ancestors (if they got themselves in the paper), how historic events were experienced by people living at the time, and everyday life–food, entertainment, cost of living, etc. Many old local papers have been digitized, but by no means all. For example, the newspapers of Ketchikan, Alaska are only available on microfilm and are not indexed.  What stories are hidden within these and other papers, documents and records?


About Pat Tully

Librarian exploring effective leadership, local history and community service.
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