Finding Martin (my search for The Man with the Revolving Head)

Martin Emmerling

After completing my research into Ella Harper I stumbled upon Martin Emmerling’s story.  Here was another performer that precious little was known about, and like Ella, he had many question marks in his life story. I had already started working on Ruth Mignon not too long after I started Ella’s research. Ruth was for when I needed to take a break from Ella. I had recently reached an impasse with Ruth so Martin seemed made to order for me.

The info available online about him included the facts that he was born in Bavaria, Germany and had trained himself day-by-day over a three year period to turn his head around 180 degrees. After doing this he performed in Europe for a while before coming to the U.S. around 1921 and performing here until not long before his death about 1955.

There were stories about his being a Nazi sympathizer and of his wife having him arrested in 1931 for desertion. He had performed with many shows, most notably Dreamland Circus at Coney Island, Ringling Brothers and Ripley’s Odditorium. 

I knew from the start that this guy was going to be tougher researching than Ella was because he was not local to me like she was. He would probably be more difficult like Ruth was. So for what it’s worth I will give you what I found out and hopefully someone else that has local ties can carry on the search.

After creating his tree on Ancestry my search brought up his arrival record from 1921. I love the passenger lists from the early to mid 1900s because they are two pages of info, not just the normal one. Note the name of the ship at the top. It was the Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic.

On the first page it shows that he is a 35 year old married male and lists his occupation as an artist. It also shows that he speaks German and resided in Nuremberg, Germany. On the far right it lists his wife, Emelia and that she lives in Nuremberg. Page One

Before you read the 2nd page of these passenger lists you need to get the passenger number from the first page that is assigned to the person you’re researching because the 2nd page lists them by their number only.  Martin’s number is 16.  Looking at this page shows that his employer paid his fare. Column 19 shows that he and several others were going to Dreamland at Coney Island.  This would be the employer that paid their way.

Further to the right his height is listed as 5 feet 5 inches. Other documents I found list his height anywhere from 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 6 inches. Photos of him appear to back this up. The column at the far right shows his birthplace as Nuremberg, Germany. Page Two

I also found the passenger lists from his departures from Hamburg, Germany and Southampton, England but neither really divulged anything useful. My next bit of searching yielded them on the 1940 Census. They were living at 2861 W 17th Street in Brooklyn, just a few blocks from Coney Island. Martin is still considered an alien immigrant and his wife has submitted her paperwork to begin the process to citizenship. Also, Martin states he earned $1200 during the year 1939, which is about 25 dollars a week. Living with them is an 18 year old son named Albert, born in New York and in his 3rd year of high school and a 13 year old son named Walter. With these children now in the family tree I had higher hopes of finding more information on the family or even talking to living descendants. 1940 Census

Unable to find them in the 1930 Census I decided to dive into Martin’s wife. Pretty quickly I found her on a passenger list for her arrival to the U.S. aboard the SS Manchuria on 13 August 1921, just five months after Martin’s arrival. Emelia is number 3 on the passenger list. It shows her as a 27 year old married female who reads, writes and speaks German. Her previous residence is Nuremberg.  She lists her mother, Barbatta Wittl, as her closest relative in the country she came from. It even gives her mother’s address there: Danistrasse 58, Nuremberg, Germany.  Lastly, her destination is given as Coney Island.  Page One

Page two of the manifest shows that her husband paid Emelia’s fare and also lists Martin as the person she is going to see, with his address being Dreamland City in Coney Island.  The odd thing about her entries on the manifest is that where Martin had said he was coming here for an indefinite stay, she put herself as going to stay for two years. The rest shows her as 5 foot 8 inches, fair complexion with brown hair and blue eyes.  Lastly, she listed her birthplace as Nuremberg, Germany.  Page Two

The next thing I found in my searches was an arrival manifest for Martin coming back from what I assume to be a performance in Havana, Cuba on 24 January 1923. There isn’t that much to note on either page except on page two where it lists his address as 2983 30th Street, Coney Island, New York.  Page One   Page Two

I did find Martin’s WWII draft card from 1942. He and Amelia are living at 2861 W 17th Street in Coney Island and he is working at the Hubert’s Museum. He verifies the correct birth date and birthplace also. WW2 Draft Front   WW2 Draft Back

Speaking of WWII, it was at this point that I came across the 21 October 1942 enlistment into the U.S. Army of Martin’s son, Albert. It was almost immediately afterwards that I found out that he had died in Europe on 14 April 1945,  just three weeks before the end of the war.  When I found his U.S. National Cemetery Interment Form, it gave his birthday as 4 May 1922. He had apparently been buried in a cemetery in Luynes-Aix-En-Provence in France and his body had been brought back home three years later and re-interred in the Long Island National Cemetery, which is in East Farmingdale, New York. 

Albert’s grave-site was online, along with his tombstone. Not long after finding all of this I realized that both the interment form and his tombstone gave the wrong information for the unit that he was attached to in the Army when he died.  They show that he was with the 494th Field Artillery Battalion, 12th Infantry Division. In reality, he was with the 494th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 12 Armored Division.  This may not look like much but it is very different. The 12th Infantry Division was in the Philippines. I plan to contact the Veteran’s Administration to see about getting this corrected. Albert Interment

Albert’s tombstone at the Long Island National Cemetery.

One of the things you almost always run across doing genealogy are sad stories. This is one of those. Martin is often slammed for being a Nazi sympathizer. Personally, I’ll give him a pass. He came from Germany in the 1920s when Germany was in the utter chaos that resulted from WW1 and poverty and unemployment were extreme. I am sure he loved his country and probably saw the positive changes that appeared to be taking place during Hitler’s rise and Martin probably fell under the spell, as most Germans did. Yet his own son gave his life for Martin’s adopted country.

This all made me curious as to how Albert died. I was finally able to locate the casualty lists from every unit in the 12th Armored Division and the timeline and after-action reports.  Not a single unit showed Albert as dying in action or from wounds. So did he die from non-battle reasons?  And in a sick, ironic twist (assuming I read the reports correctly) it would appear that if he was with his unit about the time he died (and not back in France in a hospital or something) he would have died in or around Nuremberg, hometown of his parents.

Eventually I came across the website for the New York Military Museum and their information confirmed that Albert died from non-battle reasons, although it does not say from what or where. Maybe if one of our readers is in the Saratoga Springs, NY area they could dig deeper at the museum. If so, Albert’s serial number is 12157194.

The next thing I did was to concentrate on Albert’s brother, Walter. Very little was out there but I did find where he passed away in Queens, NY on 1 September 1983 and is buried in the Rosedale and Rosehill Cemetery in Linden, NJ. Also buried in the same cemetery is his mother, Emelia. She had died in Brooklyn in May 1977 and was born 17 February 1895. There is also a Jean Emmerling buried there. Given that her birth date is 24 November 1928 I would assume she was Walter’s wife, although I could never find any marriage records for either son. She passed away 11 February 1990.

It was at this point that I found a newspaper story confirming Martin’s desertion of his wife in 1931. Essentially, Emelia sent a telegram to the Baltimore police to have him arrested as she knew he was down there doing some shows. They found him during a performance and did just that. Since they were still together in the 1940 Census the desertion apparently didn’t last too long.


I’ve never been able to find where he got the stage name Laurello from. Any ideas anybody? In any case, I got excited for a different reason when I saw this story. I had been unable to find them in the 1930 Census. This story took place in May of 1931. Notice at the bottom that it gives their address in Brooklyn, 1627 Mermaid Avenue. It was entirely possible that I could use this address to find them in the census now.

Many times in a census, especially if it’s a foreign surname, the enumerator taking the census can really butcher the spelling, which makes finding the person very difficult. Same problem if the person who transcribed the census for online butchers it. So off I went searching.  

When I found the address it turned out to be some entirely different family, so sometime between the census in 1930 and May 1931 the Emmerlings moved to that address. It was another dead end. This is when I remembered that New York State did a census in 1925. Maybe I could find them there.

It took some very creative searching but find them I did. The problem was exactly as I mentioned earlier. The enumerator screwed it up very badly. He had listed their last name as Emily, not Emmerling. I must admit, however, that you can hear how the two names do sound similar. What I saw though on this census really took me by surprise. 

They were living at 3036 W 2nd Street in Brooklyn and it turned out that Martin and Emelia had four more children, all born in Germany and all of whom apparently came over near the time their mother did. There was Robert, aged 11; Johann, aged 9; Emelia, aged 8; and Annie, aged 5. The census shows that the children all arrived in the U.S. in about 1922, although I have yet to find them on any passenger lists. Further research into these additional children has been a dead end, with the exception of young Emelia. 1925 Census  You’ll find them on the right page.

As far as young Emelia, the only thing concrete so far to show up was a passenger list from her arrival in New York, from Italy, on 18 March 1947 when she was 30 years old. The most striking thing about this manifest is that she is listed as single but has her apparently out-of-wedlock child with her, a one year old named Roberto Emmerling. Her son is shown as being German but born in Italy. I have found nothing further on either Emelia or Roberto. Page One  Page Two

As far as Martin is concerned, I found numerous articles about performances all across the country. The last one I could find was from 3 May 1952 in North Hollywood, California. The trail on him dies after this. Although most sites list his death as 1955 I never found any paper trail to prove it. 

In the process of this research I came to find Martin a very interesting fellow and I would love to find out whatever happened to him and the rest of his children. Any reader’s in the Brooklyn area or even living family members please feel free to contact me with any further revelations.

Update 18 July 2015:   Shortly after posting this blog online I came across a memoir (in German) that mentions his Uncle Martin. Although he gave little information on Martin’s family, he did say that Martin was the youngest son and that he later badly injured his back. It was while he was recuperating that he began the training of revolving his head. He also mentioned that Martin practiced this for four years, not three.  He provides a picture taken after WWII of Martin, his wife and youngest son, Walter. I am not posting it here as I don’t want any copyright issues but I am providing a link to the PDF file online where I got the information and where you may view the photo (4th photo down the page).  PDF File

Update 19 Aug 2015:  I had noticed while working another blog that Ancestry.Com had been putting something new online, the Social Security Applications and Claims Index. If you find someone on this list it may provide more information than just the normal Social Security Death Index. Fortunately, Martin was in it. He died 7 November 1953. It does not say where, however. His Social Security number was 528-10-3596. The odd thing about this is that it means he got this number issued by the state of Utah. I’ve never seen anything tying him to Utah. Sadly, further searches using this information didn’t reveal anything. 

Update 27 Aug 2015:  Today I discovered that Walter Emmerling’s wife’s name was Jean Elizabeth Schalling, daughter of Frederick Schalling (1894-1966) and Jean Prime (1898-1984). She was born in Brooklyn and died in Queens, New York.

Update 28 Aug 2015:  With the ongoing addition of the Social Security Application Index up on Ancestry I came across the one for Martin’s daughter, Emilia. She was born 3 February 1917 and sometime before December of 1947 she had married someone named Scovanni. Next, sometime before September of 1962 she had married a Cahill. She passed away as a Cahill 5 February 2006 and her residence at the time was listed as Smithtown, Suffolk County, New York.

Update 27 Sep 2015:  Getting flustered by not finding the family in the 1930 Census or his German children anywhere online I started going over some of the things I did already have. The newspaper clipping from his desertion arrest mentions that he abandoned his wife and TWO children at home. So where are the others, most who would still be young enough to be living at home? My theory is that the entire family went back to Germany and were there during the 1930 Census and then Martin, Amelia, Albert and Walter came back to the U.S. before his 1931 arrest. The German children probably were more comfortable back in Germany.

Update 27 Oct 2016:  It’s been a long time since I was able to find anything. Today I discovered three things up on FamilySearch. These were Martin’s and his wife’s birth info from Germany and also their marriage. Martin was definitely born on 4 May 1885 in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany. His wife was born there also on 17 February 1895. Her full name turned out to be Anna Margarete Emilie Wittl. Their marriage was in Nuremberg, Germany on 12 February 1916. Unfortunately, none of these three items gave their parents’ names.

For my other research blogs:  HOME

Thanks for stopping by! -Ray

Comments are welcome and encouraged. You’ll find them here near the bottom or a link to them near the top. Also feel free to share, like or follow this or any of my blogs.