An early photograph reveals an extraordinary life. The photo, circa 1893, was taken in St. Paul, Minnesota and shows Pauline Kruger Hamilton with her Arion zither. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, she performed as a zither soloist and was a well known artist. For a number of years, she was designated as the official photographer for the court of Franz Josef, former Emperor of Austria.
In a chapel, two Special Agents from the Bureau of Investigation gazed down upon the body of a woman lying in a coffin. The men from the Bureau had received a tip that papers had been secreted with the body. Near the deceased woman's right hand, a portrait of a man was observed. The agents noted how the collar had been obscured, as if to conceal something. On the photograph, the name “Hamilton” was written on the diagonal. No other papers were found.
Thus the final days of Pauline Kruger Hamilton were marked with suspicion and intrigue. A scene suitable, it seems, to fill a few frames in The Third Man movie. For weeks she had been shadowed by an investigative firm in New York City. Detectives received reports of odd behavior and the many guests she received. One entry in her now declassified file reads:
“May 18, 1918 , they received information (no name given) that a Mrs. Pauline Krueger [SIC] of 12 W. 47th Street, N. Y. formerly photographer to the Kaiser, was signalling [SIC] from her apartment overlooking the river to ships in the river. Was associating with questionable characters; was an expert at wigwagging.”
For years, Pauline was court photographer for the royal family in Vienna. How much of the rest is truth, or a product of the paranoia of the time, is hard to say. As America entered the first World War, her numerous foreign connections were a magnet for suspicion. She was, after all, well connected to nobility in Austria. Her position with the royal family in Vienna gave her access that others in her profession could only dream of. Since the onset of World War I, she was an ambassador for Austria's war orphans and made pleas for cotton in order to improve the sanitary conditions of soldiers, whether friend or foe.
In 1870, Pauline Kruger was born in Middleton, Wisconsin, to parents who were counted among the state's many German-Americans. In 1880, the family moved to Minneapolis, shortly after the sudden death of Pauline's three youngest siblings from diphtheria. The relocation was perhaps intended as a healing measure, to place the family some distance from the tragedy.
An artist by profession, she established an art studio at the Syndicate Block Building on Nicollet Avenue by 5th and 6th Street. Numerous private exhibitions of her work were held there, followed shortly thereafter by public viewings. Her studio was a workspace and social circle where guests frequently gathered for small talk and tea served from a Russian samovar.
It is the cabinet card photo shown here that drew in this author. Here we see an attractive woman, wasp-waisted in the style of the day, posing with an Arion model zither that is positioned upright and leaning against a chair. Outside of her studio, she performed zither solos at various public venues. She also enjoyed excursions to Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains, capturing nature with pencil and paper.
In 1904, Pauline was reunited with her love interest, Frank Hamilton, a newspaper writer by profession. Frank was serving time at Minnesota's Stillwater State Prison after a conviction for manslaughter. They were married on November 13, 1905, but it was to be a short marriage. Since being diagnosed with tuberculosis as a youth, Frank's health was a constant concern. The following year, in 1906, he passed away. In two more years, providing distance from yet another tragedy, she pursued her art aspirations in Vienna, Austria.
At Pauline's funeral, the agents observed the attire and features of the ten attendees, attempting to discern the nationality of each. He appears to be Austrian, and the other, is he Australian? That man is wearing a uniform, but the collar has no insignia. Where do we go from here? Fade to music.
Do you have a story of historical interest pertaining to the zither that you would like to share? If so, contact us.