Joseph Woitishek & Jan Hanus, Ely merchants

John Prastka was born in 1885 in Oxford Junction but grew up in Ely.  Preceding the Ely Centennial in 1972 he hand-wrote his memories of early Ely.  He gave his writing to the Ely Legion, and they are now part of our collections.  He knew Joseph. Woitishek because his brother clerked for him in his store, which is now the building that houses the Post Office in Ely.

Following are a couple descriptions of early people in Ely.

JOSEPH WOITISHEK (Vojtisek in Czech)  
Caption: Joseph Woitishek was born in Moravia in 1837.
In 1853 he and his family arrived in Galveston, Texas and made their
way up the Mississippi, coming to Hoosier Grove (now Ely) in 1854, where
he bought land and farmed. Later he operated a general store
and was involved in the grain trade.
Mr. Prastka writes:
“Mr. Joseph Woitisek, Ely’s foremost financial success and richest person and merchant, had a lingo so much different than most people.  He wore a full beard about like Santa Claus is pictured, only his hair and beard were black or dark brown.  His talk was fanciful and he used so many phrases which differed from what an ordinary person ever uses.  He was not direct and to the point.  He beat about the bush.  .....such as “Yes, Mr. so and so, it could be just like this and how could it be otherwise?”  “For instance” was used a lot, also “that is”.  There were many fanciful words mixed and interwoven between his talk.  He also used them in his Bohemian languge.   “Ku prikadu totish” – “That is of course” was used the most.  He was nick-named by the Bohemians “Old Totish”.  ................The story goes on to tell about how Woitishek played checkers and who he played them with ...   "Woitishek lived in the house behind the store and “raised many different colored chickens and delighted in feeding them.  He would call out names he had for each one and throw the hen a few kernels of corn off the palm of his hand, and the chickens gathered all around him.

See a newer blog post about Joseph - a translation of a history about him from a publication in the Czech language.


An early ad for Jan Hanus Undertaking, Ely, Iowa.

Mr. Prastka writes:  “Mr. Hanus was an undertaker who wore chin whiskers, a small man in stature and he loved his daily nip of brandy at the saloons – a very restless type to the point of being nervous.  He had long waits between funerals and so had to raise a hog or two and kept many chickens in his barn yard.  He was good at carving walnut and finishing it, making nice bureaus and trunks, etc.  I think when Ely was new he made caskets with nice handles on and lined the inside.  (John Prastka used to hang around with a Hanus son, and tells of helping to clean the hearse before funerals.)  He also says, “When I was reported at Ely as dead at the time I got fever in the Navy, Mr. Hanus made a few trips to the train depot to see if I’d arrived there as a corpse!”  However, John was very much alive.

A copy of a translation of the Hanus ad from
 the Solon Economy newspaper, about 1895

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