“Life asked death, ‘Why do people love me but hate you?’ Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie and I am a painful truth.’”—Author Unknown
Lavada May Dermott, seen above laid out in her parents’ home, surrounded by funeral flowers, was born 9 May, 1888, in Goshen, Belmont County, Ohio, to Charles Evans Dermott (1849-1907) and his wife, Sarah Jane Stewart (1853-1936). Sarah was the daughter of Eleazar Evan Stewart (1834-1910) and Honor Brown (1835-1914).
Lavada’s parents married in Goshen 26 January, 1871. They first make an appearance as a family unit on the 1880 Census of that township. Evans Dermott—he went by his middle name—listed his occupation as “huxter.” His father, Irish-born farmer William Dermott (1811-1896) was also a part of the household—his wife, Eliza Kelly (1813-1879), having died the year before.
Evans and Sarah had together four children: William Wilber (1871-1947), Charles E. Dermott (19 June, 1881-23 September, 1944), Lavada, and Lillie F. Dermott (1895-1987). On 20 May, 1900, the eldest son, William, married Grace Stanley King. William spelled the family name as Der Mott and is buried thusly in Forest Rose Cemetery, Lancaster, Ohio. By 1910, the Der Motts lived in Cleveland, Ohio. William became a garment cutter for a clothing company and eventually was the manager of a clothing store. He worked in that position as late as 1940. They had two children: Neil (b. 1902) and William P. (b. 1903).
Son Charles wed Edna Grace Porterfield (1878-1975). They had one son, Charles Lloyd (1919-2004). All three are buried together in Ebenezer Cemetery, Bethesda, Ohio. Lillie Dermott married Walter Earl Secrest (1892-1956). They had seven children: Chester Lowell (1913-1961), Frances Allen (1916-1942), Carl E. (1920-1976), Charles Edward (1922-2007), Walter Glenn (1925-2005), Robert Warren (1927-2005), and an unnamed infant son who was born and died in 1932. The couple are buried in Chestnut Level Church, Belmont, Ohio.
Because the 1890 Census was destroyed by fire, Lavada makes only one appearance, in 1900. Until now her name was recorded as “Savada”—an error that I have corrected at Ancestry.com that will hopefully help anyone else searching for her.
In 1900, her father, Evans, gave his occupation as produce merchant. During the first decade of the new century, Evans tried actively to enter local government. According to the 13 August, 1891, Belmont Chronicle, Evans mounted a losing attempt to join the Democratic ballot for county commissioner. In June of the following year, he lost a place on the ballot for the post of infirmary director. In September 1893, the Wheeling Intelligencer reported, “Evans Dermott, the Democratic candidate for county treasurer, was here yesterday, seeking comfort from disappointed Republicans.”
I am unable to locate a death record or obituary for Lavada. She was only 16 and unwed, so her death was not associated with pregnancy or childbirth. She appears very thin, but does not have the wasted look of death by consumption; nothing visible hints at accidental death. What killed Lavada probably was some other form of hard-striking illness or epidemic, or other, rarer options that are mere speculation. What we do know is that Lavada is buried with her family in Chestnut Level Church Cemetery. Perhaps more information on Lavada will surface as old records and newspapers continue to be digitized. Ω
“Warm the palette by placing it on the hob, or before the fire for a few minutes, and you will soon find that the curl becomes loose and may be lifted off with the edge of a knife.”
I purchased this mourning brooch in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1993. It was the foundation of my collection and, at the time, was actually was my second choice—the first being a smaller, plainer piece with a simply coiled blond lock, probably dating from the 1820s or 1830s. The brooch looked more “human” to me, but the shop owner enticed me toward a different brooch, assuring me it was unusual. It dates from the late 1840s to early 1850s.
The body is 14-karat gold or higher with a tube hinge, C-clasp, and a pin that is longer than the length of the brooch—all evidence that an item that was indeed crafted in the 18th or 19th centuries. The hair memento compartment is set amidst a tempestuous lovers’ knot untamed by the somber black enamel embellishment. Inside the glass-capped compartment is a piece of black cloth on which palette-worked gray hair has been affixed. The design is known as Prince of Wales feathers and is decorated with a pearl band, as well as a stalk of barley and ribbon made from gold wire thread.
The Prince of Wales feathers for the Edinburgh brooch were carefully crafted by a professional hairworker. For an exploration of how it was made, one can turn to no better source than the Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewelry: Identification and Values by C. Jeanenne Bell, which contains a full reprint of Alexanna Speight’s 1877 booklet, A Lock of Hair. The booklet contains instructions for palette work that were aimed at the Victorian lady who aspired to a new and noble handwork. Taking up the hobby, as Bell notes, would not only give her “the satisfaction of working with the hair of her loved ones, but it also assured her that the precious locks would not be substituted for, or augmented with, another’s”—an ignoble deed undertaken by unscrupulous memorial jewelry makers and feared to occur with regularity.
Speight instructed her readers to first dissolve one small piece of borax and one of soda in a half a teacup of hot water, and to soak the lock of hair for several minutes to remove “oil and impurities” before the hair could “take its place among the fine arts.” The cleaned hair was spread on a palette and scraped with a knife then the cleaning process was repeated with fresh borax and warm water. The hair was then spread on the palette again and the ragged ends chopped off.
Next, a curling iron heated by a candle flame or spirit lamp was used to shape lengths of hair into feather shapes, with Speight coaching her aspiring artists to hold the irons in position until the hair began to steam then allow it to cool before removal. The twist of the curl and the ends were then affixed with gum and these were then left under a small weight for an hour. Afterward, the curls were slightly moistened with water to touch up the shape, if needed, then remoistened with gum and left to dry. The process was repeated for a second and usually third curl.
To remove a curl from the palette, writes Speight, “warm the palette by placing it on the hob, or before the fire for a few minutes, and you will soon find that the curl becomes loose and may be lifted off with the edge of a knife.” The curls were then arranged on an ivory, bone, or milk glass, cloth, or even a paper tablet. Speight goes on to teach her readers how to make the delicate gold-wire band and ribbons by twisting the wire around a needle, and the barley stalk by cutting the wire and using gum applied with a camel-hair brush to cement the shape. Similarly, the decorative band was constructed, using gummed paper as a ground, by carefully arranging the gold-wire band and split seed pearls. Finally, the decorative elements were carefully arranged amidst the curls. After drying, any extra gum was removed using spirits of wine.
The design thus assembled, the tablet would be inserted into the selected brooch setting by the jeweler. The final step, in some cases, was the engraving of a memorial or other inscription. Sometimes the entire process was handled by a single skilled artisan—such as the one who placed this advert in the London Illustrated News: “Hair jewellery, Artist in Hair. Dewdney begs to inform Ladies or Gentlemen that he beautifully makes, and elegantly mounts in gold, Hair Bracelets, Chains, Brooches, Rings, Pins, Studs, etc., and forwards the same, at about one-half the usual charge. A beautiful collection of specimens handsomely mounted kept for inspection. An illustrated book sent free. Dewdney, 172 Fenchurch St., London.” Ω
Long before the London Eye there was the Earls Court Gigantic Wheel, which gave passengers a bird’s eye view of the capital city and beyond.
This British postcard was mailed to Mr. W. Roberts, 3302 Lindell Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri on 22 January, 1904. The unknown sender posted it from what is today an upscale area of South Kensington, London. The message reads, “34 Brechin Place. Received yours today the 22nd. Thanks so much, am delighted with them. This is a little of Earls Court exhibition. Will write.”
The wheel at Earls Court, London, was built by Maudslay, Sons, and Field, for the Empire of India Exhibition, and opened to the public 17 July, 1895. The project’s engineer was H. Cecil Booth, who recalled, “One morning in 1894, W. B. Bassett, a retired naval officer, one of the managing directors of the firm, entered the drawing office and called out ‘Is there anyone here who can design a great wheel?’ There was dead silence, whereupon I put up my hand and replied, ‘Yes, I can, sir.’ Basset’s answer was ‘Very well, get on with it at once. It is a very urgent matter!’” (Ferris Wheels: An Illustrated History by Norman D. Anderson.)
The design and build process resulted in a 440-ton wheel that reached a height of 220 feet. It had 40 cars, each of which carried up to 40 passengers. On a clear day, from the apex, riders could see out across London and as far as Windsor Castle. At night, the wheel was a sight in itself, with a spotlight affixed to it and the entire structure and passenger cars decorated with incandescent lamps.
“Those who make the ‘circular tour’ will be able to enjoy most of the advantages of being up in a balloon without any of the risks attendant upon aerial navigation,” assured the 2 February, 1894, Westminster Budget, before the public opening. Anderson reveals in his book Ferris Wheels that the first passengers were probably George, Duke of York (later King George V), and his wife, the duchess (later Queen Mary). Bassett was one of the Duke’s old shipmates and arranged the clandestine ride.
The Earls Court Wheel was based on the magnificent Ferris Wheel built for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exhibition by the eponymous George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. (1859-1896). There had been smaller “pleasure wheels” in the past, but the Ferris Wheel overshadowed them at approximately 26 stories tall. Although the wheel was a singular success, carrying an estimated 38,000 passengers daily who each paid 50 cents per 20-minute ride, Ferris was cheated of his percentage of the take and was in litigation up until the time of his death, which occurred not long after the Earls Court Wheel opened.
The 23 November, 1896, issue of the New York Times reported, “George W. G. Ferris, the inventor and builder of the Ferris wheel, died to-day at Mercy Hospital, where he had been treated for typhoid fever for a week. The disease is said to have been brought on through worry over numerous business matters. He leaves a wife in this city, and friends in mechanical and building circles all over the country.”
The Earls Court Wheel was equally moneymaking. A 19 December, 1896, Guardian newspaper article discussed its use and profitability, “From the opening of the wheel in May till [sic] it closed in October, [it] carried nearly 400,000 people, and earned from rides on the wheel alone £20,237. The bank holidays were one of the principle sources of revenue. At the August Bank Holiday last year they took over £621. This was largely composed of first-class traffic at 2s. each.”
During its years of operation, the wheel experienced only one incident of note: On the evening of 28 May, 1896, the drive mechanism broke, stranding those in the cars. “Everything possible was done to calm the trapped passengers. Seamen climbed the wheel’s framework, carrying food and drinks. When the wheel still was not repaired by midnight, Grenadier guards gathered around the wheels base and played music to entertain those who were spending the night in a way not expected. Although mechanics worked throughout the night, the wheel did not start turning again until 7 o’clock the next morning. As the weary passengers disembarked, each received a five-pound note as a benevolent gesture on the part of the management,” wrote Anderson in Ferris Wheels.
A more humorous view of the event was published in the 2 June, 1896, issue of The Journal: “At first the people in the wheel went into a panic. The crowd below knew that they were stuck, yet they could not resist confirming this impression by throwing out of the windows frantic notes and statements of their helplessness. The rapid American communicated with the crowd by putting a note in his silver cigarette case and tossing it down to become a highly prized souvenir in the pocket of a street arab. The cook used bad language, the married woman out for an innocent lark wept copiously, the mother of five bestowed her children as only a mother of five can do, and went tranquilly asleep, while her husband paced the aisle of the car and kept informing an old and aged maiden lady that he would give a sovereign for a cigarette. The servants of the Great Wheel Company scaled the outer skeleton of the frame and put ropes in the hands of those who were suffering for food, telling them they could draw up whatever they wanted. As far as I can make out from the newspaper reports, starving people in London, having an opportunity to gratify their appetites, are given to demanding beer and whiskey; for it was beer and whiskey that went up in the greatest quantities.”
Always envisioned as a temporary attraction, the Earls Court Wheel closed in October 1906 and was slowly demolished during the following year. In its lifetime, it carried an estimated 2.5 million riders. Ω
The domestic dervish who authored this letter remains unknown.
To: Mrs. Chas P Adams 334 West 124th St New York City The St Nicholas
The Windermere April 10th 1886
Just a word Nela dear to tell you what I forgot to say yesterday—that Mrs. Pomeroy has been in town for a week, and is here for her health. So I fear she did not yet get your letter, and also that Grace and Fanny are going next week to Baltimore for a visit, so their house will be closed and any steps toward getting that drawing table must be taken without delay. I am sorry to trouble your mind with my matters, indeed your face full of care haunted me all night—but I can do nothing about the Bates property which others are holding.
And I wish of course to have the rooms as attractive as possible when parties look at them. A letter from Minnie W. to Julie—who is in town for a week—says she must give up her home for a while. I fear she intends renting it, and though hers is as large as mine, with only four bedrooms, it is a formidable rival with its pretty portieres and furniture. She has “lost seven letters since Xmas,” two of them contained checks! John W. is “investigating it.” So her letters to Julie are to be accounted for in that way. Julie is going to see her and has just gone to see “Mad Young Fulton” with the fee for the deposit as her last interview was unsatisfactory being “out of hours”—with the other parties waiting, therefore hurried. She received a letter from Mrs. Boyd this AM, offering her the Junior Department, with an assistant, at $400,” the decided wish of the Bishop and Hersey—“begging her not to disappoint them.” It is pleasant to have such an ultimatum if all else fails, and she need not decide now. But she prefers New York if it is possible to get something here. Don’t speak of these things until she or someone else tells you. You know she does not like to have her plans discovered and disseminated even in the family.
Margie & Mable are here for the day. A letter from Cloë says it was more blue paper for the finish of the dining room that she wished to have sent with the package. Fortunately three rolls more were sent up with the bedroom paper, arriving yesterday, and doubtless the entire lower floor will be finished by Anderson this week. Tonight she says the pictures were never so effective on the parlor wall as now, also that she gets all the woods she wants from Burns, who says she is welcome to all she wants! Mrs. Kelly says he does not pay anything for it! Certainly they are the best neighbors I ever had. But they overwhelm me. Cloë goes up to the Stirlings for her dinner! Thus taking that walk six times each day! You will be sorry to hear that Pitt’s engagement is broken off! Clo thinks “Pitkin was a plateful.” I hope Charles is much better and at business.
I fear Grace will leave before then. Chas P can communicate with Fanny. The Woosters live at 23 East 39th—I will gladly pay your fares if you can leave home. Will it be possible for you to see Mrs. Pomeroy tomorrow?
Warmly and tenderly,
This chatty, domestic, and rather frenetic letter was written in 1886 by a woman I at first believed to be Priscilla Jones Eddy Crane, born 21 January, 1809, in Hoosick Falls, Rensselaer County, New York, to Jonathan Eddy (1774-1840) and Rebecca Rouse (1779-1846). Priscilla was the widow of lawyer and judge, the Honorable John Crane (1791-1860) of Pomfret, Chautauqua County, New York. The town is located on the picturesque shores of Lake Erie and is the ideal spot to own and rent out a summer home, as the writer appears to have done. (I vacation regularly in the Chautauqua area and recommend it heartily.)
John Crane and Priscilla were married 19 November, 1829, and had six children together: John Eddy (1830 -1861), Henry Douglas (b. 1832), Cornelia Frances (1833-1909), Mary Eliza (1835-1889), Carlton Todd (b. 1837), Clarence A. (1839-1983), and Frederick Curtis (1848 – 1887).
According to The Genealogy of the Crane Family, Vol. I, “John Crane was a graduate of Yale College, class of 1812; a lawyer by profession, having studied law at Whitestown, N. Y., with Judge Gould. In 1817, he went to Fredonia and there began the practice of his profession. He at one time having as an associate in his law practice the Hon. Daniel G. Guernsey, and subsequently the Hon. James Mullett, the partnership with the latter continuing until Crane’s appointment as County Judge, about the year 1822. He was an active and influential citizen, having for several years previous to the above appointment, held the office of Justice of the Peace and Supreme Court Commissioner, as well as being an efficient member of the Presbyterian Church at Fredonia. He was the first Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Fredonia Academy. The first institution of the kind incorporated in Chautauqua County. This office he held about 35 years and until compelled on account of the infirmities of age to resign. He died at Fredonia, much lamented, May 18, 1860.” The cause of death was “paralysis” caused by stroke.
The only hint of sadness in the text is the sender’s comment, “I am sorry to trouble your mind with my matters, indeed your face full of care haunted me all night.”
Almost without doubt, the recipient of the letter was Cornelia, the Crane family’s eldest daughter. Cornelia married Charles Palmer Adams (1825 –1912) on 31 August, 1852, in Fredonia. Adams was a merchant in Randolph, Cattaraugus County, New York, the son of Edwin Adams (1797-1881) and his wife China Celeste Phelps (1799-1881)—the latter the descendant of American Revolutionary soldier Corporal Jonathan Phelps (1764-1857). The couple had two children, Douglass E. (b. 1854) and Frances McFall (1857-1910), who may be the “Fanny” referred to in the letter.
Charles and Cornelia spent the first years of their marriage living with John and Priscilla Crane in Pomfret. They appear there on the 1855 Census, with Charles working as a clerk. The couple went on to spend their lives living in Randolph quite close to Charles’s younger brother Theodore, a dry goods merchant, and his wife Mary and children. The brothers may have begun in business together, as the 1865 census records Charles as a merchant.
On the 1875 census of Chautauqua, Charles’s occupation was banker, although by 1880, he clarified his job as a cashier in a bank; his son Douglass worked as clerk in a store—probably his brother’s. By 1900, Charles was recorded as a “retired merchant.” He made his last appearance on the 1910 census in the year after his wife’s death, aged 84, occupation, “none.” Both Charles and Cornelia are buried in Randolph Cemetery, Randolph, New York.
Although the letter does not mention a family death, it was sent in a black-bordered mourning envelope. The only hint of sadness in the text is the sender’s comment, “I am sorry to trouble your mind with my matters, indeed your face full of care haunted me all night.” This darkness passed quickly, however, and the writer returned to the domestic doings and gossip of her circle.
So who was the woman who signed “Warmly and tenderly, Mother”? Cornelia Adams mother, Priscilla Eddy Crane, died 28 December, 1878—eight years before the letter was written. Neither could it have been penned by her mother-in-law, China Phelps Adams—she passed away 10 April, 1881. Cornelia’s father died before her mother, so this letter was not written by a step-mother and both of Cordelia’s grandmothers were also long dead. Did Cordelia have a godmother who took an active role in her life? This seems the only option left to consider.
The address from which this letter was written—400-06 West 57th Street, Manhattan—was The Windermere—an early apartment building that marketed flats to “The New Woman” of the 1880s who were single, working, living alone. According to a 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, “The luxury class had yet to come to the West Side in the early 1880s, but the Windermere mimicked a rich lifestyle for its middle-class residents with its harmonious ornamented facade wrapping the corner. The 39 apartments boasted between seven and nine rooms, and the latest technology of the times: hydraulic elevators and telephone…. By the late 1890s, working women comprised nearly 80% of its 200 residents.” After decades of neglect, it was listed as a city landmark in 2005.
The St. Nicholas, at which Cordelia Adams stayed when the letter was written, was an apartment house at 334 West 124th Street, New York City. In 1912, it was an investment property of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission of the State of Minnestota. The building no longer exists. Ω
The subject of this CDV is Eliza Schuyler Kuypers, wife of Ethan Alphonso Allen (8 February, 1818-27 November, 1889). Eliza’s husband was the grandson of the American patriot, farmer, philosopher, deist, and writer Ethan Allen (1737-1789) and his second wife Frances Montressor (1770-1834), through their son Ethan Voltaire Allen (1789-1845) and wife Mary Susanna Johnson (26 Sept., 1797-1 Nov., 1818).
Eliza, born in 1820, was the great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Schuyler (1771-1801) and her husband Rev. Gerardus Arentz Kuypers of Curacao, Dutch West Indies, who had been born on the island in December 1766 and later came to Hackensack, New Jersey, then to Rhinebeck, New York, to minister to the Dutch community there. Eliza’s grandfather was their son, also named Gerardus Arentz Kuypers (1787-1833), who was educated at Hackensack, and then studied theology under his father. He was licensed to preach in 1787 and served as a collegiate pastor in Paramus, New Jersey. In 1780, he moved to New York City to preach in the Dutch language. In 1791, he earned a Master of Arts degree from the College of New Jersey, as well as a Doctor of Divinity from Rutgers in 1810. It is noted that he suffered from asthma, but died of “ossification” of the heart 28 June, 1833.
Eliza was daughter of his son, Dr. Samuel S. Kuypers (8 March, 1795-10 January, 1870) and Amelia Ann VanZant (1794-1864). Dr. Kuypers was an alumnus of Rutgers and a member of the Medical Society of the County of New York from 1820 until his death.
In the CDV image above, Eliza is most probably wearing mourning after her mother’s death in the penultimate year of the Civil War. Amelia VanZant Kuyper’s demise was announced in the New York Times of 8 January, 1864, as follows: “On Thursday, Jan. 7…in the 70th year of her age. The relatives and friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral from her late residence, No. 142 2d-av., on Sunday, Jan. 10, at 3 o’clock p.m. without further invitation.”
Ethan Alphonso came to New York City from Norfolk, Virginia, in 1837 and was a drygoods merchant with Colgate, Abbe & Company at 43 John Street. Eliza Kuypers and Ethan Alphonso wed on 25 January, 1844, at the New York City’s Eighth Street Church—the ceremony presided over by the Reverend Dr. MaCauley. The couple had four children: Ethan Allen (17 June, 1845-28 Dec., 1905); Lieutenant Samuel Kuypers Allen (17 April, 1846-18 February, 1884); Amelia Ann Allen (21 February, 1850-1900), called “Lilly;” and Joanna Allen (12 Dec., 1852-15 March, 1857).
Their son, Samuel Kuypers Allen, married Eleanor Wallace on 20 July, 1875. He lived in Greensboro, North Carolina, served in the Marines during the presidency of Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, and died childless. Lilly Allen married Reverend Mathew C. Julien on 6 November, 1872. Her husband graduated in 1869 from the College of the City of New York, and became a pastor of the Trinitarian Congregational Church of New Bedford, Massachusetts, in December 1872. Son Ethan married Harriet Ida Perkins (1847-1900) and was a business executive in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Two years after the death of her mother, on 25 February 1866, Eliza Allen died in Hyères, Var, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France, “after a long but nobly borne illness,” noted the Times. Her body was returned to the United States for burial in New York City’s Marble Cemetery, where her Kuypers relations are also interred. The Times notice read: “The remains of Mrs. Ethan A. Allen, having arrived from Europe, the funeral will take place from the residence of her father, Dr. Samuel S. Kaypers, No. 142 2d-av., on Sunday next, May 20, at 2 o’clock. The friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend.”
The widowed Ethan Alphonso never remarried and died in New York City 27 November, 1889. He is buried, not with his wife, but in an unmarked grave in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Ω
Quotes by Ethan Allen
On patriotism: “Ever since I arrived to a state of manhood, I have felt a sincere passion for liberty. The history of nations doomed to perpetual slavery, in consequence of yielding up to tyrants their natural born liberties, I read with a sort of philosophical horror; so that the first systematical and bloody attempt at Lexington, to enslave America, thoroughly electrified my mind, and fully determined me to take part with my country.”
On alien life: “It is altogether reasonable to conclude that the heavenly bodies, alias worlds, which move or are situate within the circle of our knowledge, as well all others throughout immensity, are each and every one of them possessed or inhabited by some intelligent agents or other, however different their sensations or manners of receiving or communicating their ideas may be from ours, or however different from each other.”
On the nature of God: “The idea of a God we infer from our experimental dependence on something superior to ourselves in wisdom, power and goodness, which we call God; our senses discover to us the works of God which we call nature, and which is a manifest demonstration of his invisible essence. Thus it is from the works of nature that we deduce the knowledge of a God, and not because we have, or can have any immediate knowledge of, or revelation from him.”
On reason: “Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with or without reason.”
Quotes about Ethan Allen
“Without the loss of a single life, with a casual and even comic air wholly incommensurate with the importance of the event, Ethan Allen’s expedition reduced three key British strongpoints—Ticonderoga, Crown Point, and St. Johns in the north (for the latter was impotent so long as the Americans controlled the lake)—and obtained for the American cause what was, for its time and place, an immense booty.”—Kenneth S. Davis, 1963
“There is an original something in him that commands admiration; and his long captivity and sufferings have only served to increase if possible, his enthusiastic zeal. He appears very desirous of rendering his services to the States, and of being employed; and at the same time he does not discover any ambition for high rank.”—George Washington, May 1778
“General Ethan Allen of Vermont died and went to Hell this day.”—Reverend Doctor Ezra Stiles, president of Yale College, diary entry, 12 February, 1789
“The woolen dress in this portrait has been finished with self puffing to emphasize the waist taper, the shoulder caps, and the sleeve cuffs.”
This circa-1851 daguerreotype, now in my collection, was published on page 126 of Joan Severa’s seminal work on nineteenth century fashion, My Likeness Taken. Of it she wrote, “The woolen dress in this portrait has been finished with self puffing to emphasize the waist taper, the shoulder caps, and the sleeve cuffs. The fitted and darted bodice has the shorter waist point of the [1850s], and the skirt is taken into the waistline by small knife pleats. It is interesting to speculate on the color of the dress, as it is not black. Cherry red is a possibility, but soft brown is more likely.
“A standing band of whitework, with lappets crossed, is worn at the neck, and fine, close undersleeves extend the somewhat shortened sleeves. The netted mitts cover the fingers to the first finger joint, a new style for the year.
“The hair is done in long curls hanging behind the ears on either side.”
The figure at bottom left of this April 1851 fashion plate wears a similar dress and can help us visualize the full length gown worn by the daguerreotype’s subject. Ω
William Parry Rees was a man who died too young, but lived long enough to view an American tragedy.
This wonderful funeral cabinet card includes a photograph of the deceased William P. Rees, as well as date of his death (4 March, 1891) and his age (“23 years and 4 months”). It also features the interesting inscription “A.O. of K.M.C and K. of G.E.” The first denotes the deceased’s membership in the fraternal society Ancient Order of Knights of the Mystic Chain. The second refers to his membership in the Knights of the Golden Eagle, a fraternal organization founded in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1872. The orders’ original objectives were to help its members find employment and aid them while unemployed. Membership was open to white males over 18, without physical or mental handicaps, who were able to write and to support themselves, were law-abiding of sound moral character, and of the Christian faith. There was a female auxiliary called the Ladies of the Golden Eagle.
A splinter group of the Knights of Pythias, the AO of KMC was founded in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1870. According to a website about the order, “Though it seems to have been quite popular in PA, it doesn’t seem to have made much headway outside of that state—it is not listed among the top forty fraternal orders in the world almanac of 1896 and probably had no more than 10,000-15,000 members at its peak. Like most small orders, it did not survive the Great Depression of the 1930s.”
Another site about the AO of KMC states that “This group was founded in 1871 in the traditions of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Amongst the founders were freemasons and Knights of Pythias. Some of the characteristics of this order can be traced to these two groups. The Knights of the Mystic Chain has three degrees: Knighthood, Mystery and Chivalry…. There was also a separate paramilitary uniform-rank and a degree for women: Naomi or the Daughters of Ruth. In 1889, the order started to work in insurance, however it never grew larger. At its top it had around 40,000 members. It disappeared in the first half of the 20th century.”
William Parry Rees, the deceased young man who belonged to both of these groups and from whom these flowers—and possibly funeral expenses—presumably came, was born in Cefn Bychan, Denbighshire, Wales, in about 1866. He was the son of Baptist minister Llewellyn Rees (b. October 1835, Glyntawe, Breconshire, Wales) and his wife Elizabeth Edwards (b. 7 June 1839, Ystradgunlais, Breconshire, Wales, daughter of Edward Edwards and Elizabeth Parry), who wed in 1861. His elder brother Henry E. had been born in August 1863 in Carmarthenshire; his younger sister, Kate W., was born in Cefn Bychan in 1869.
The 1871 Wales Census places Elizabeth Rees alone at the address 1 Cefn Bychan, with her young children. The enumerator names her as head of household, but also notes in a scribble that the missing Reverent Rees “is abroad.” Cefn Bychan (“Little Ridge” in Welsh) is part of the larger community of Cefn within the County Borough of Wrexham. The area was heavy with iron, coal, and sandstone—therefore quite industrialized, with mining, blast furnaces, forges, and stone cutting aplenty.
The Rees family had crossed the Atlantic to the United States by the early 1870s. This is made clear by the 1880 census of Millville, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, which recorded the birth another son, Llewellyn, Jr., in Texas about seven years before. Further evidence in the 1900 census narrows the emigration year to 1871, probably just after the Welsh census indicated the Reverend Rees was abroad. Chances are that he was already in America and that his wife and children followed when the way had been prepared.
Sadly, the Rees’s daughter, Kate was not to long enjoy her new life in America. Eleven-year-old Kate and her seven-year-old brother Llewellyn both died 11 November, 1880, certainly from infectious disease, and were buried in Johnstown’s Grandview Cemetery on 13 November. It must have been a terrible blow to Elizabeth and Reverend Rees. Like many grieving parents, they tried to replace the beloveds they had lost. The following year, 42-year-old Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter they named Edith. Elizabeth fell pregnant again in 1882, but the child died at birth. Grandview cemetery recorded the burial of a “Son of Elizabeth Rees” in the same plot as other Rees family members. Mysteriously, that interment did not take place until 1890, although the death had occurred eight years earlier, suggesting the infant was first laid to rest in another location.
Both Reverend Rees, his eldest son Henry, and second son William (whose professions were listed as railroad engineers), appeared in an 1887 city directory for Johnstown, living in Elk Street, Morrellville, a borough just outside of the town. They and the rest of the Rees clan were shortly to witness one of the most horrific disasters in U.S. history—the apocalyptic flood that devastated Johnstown on 31 May, 1889. The catastrophe resulted from the failure of the South Fork Dam of the Little Conemaugh River, 14 miles upstream from the town, killing 2,209 people.
“The South Fork dam held back Lake Conemaugh, the pleasure lake of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a prestigious club which included such famed entrepreneurs as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick on its membership rolls. Officials there feared the dam would fail…. The lake was a little over two miles long, a little over a mile wide at its widest spot, and 60 feet deep at the dam itself,” wrote Edwin Hutcheson in Floods of Johnstown.
The flood was described by Hutcheson as “a body of water which engineers at the time estimated moved into the valley with the force of Niagara Falls. [It] rolled into Johnstown with 14 miles of accumulated debris, which included houses, barns, animals and people, dead and alive.”
There are a number individuals surnamed Rees who died in the Johnstown flood, but none of these were definitively related to the Reverend Llewellyn Rees family. In fact, the 1889 Johnstown directory denoted men killed by crosses typeset beside their names. Reverend Rees is included in that directory—sans cross—as the pastor of the Baptist church in Morrellville. The same directory includes a lengthy news account of the flood and notes that “Morrellville…escaped with slight comparative loss, and the same is true of all towns farther down the river, but the people of these had the exciting and heart-rending experience of rescuing many that had floated down from Johnstown, and of seeing others go by without being able to assist them.” The reverend and his sons would almost certainly have been amongst the rescuers who tried to save people during the flood and who searched for survivors and victims in the aftermath.
On 4 March, 1891, less than two years after his town was decimated, railroad engineer William Rees died of as yet undiscovered causes—as young has he was, infectious disease or accident are surely to blame. He was buried several days later in the Grandview Cemetery Rees family plot.
In 1893, the Johnstown directory listed Reverend Rees at 234 Fairfield Avenue. His eldest son Henry, also resided in the house. The reverend and Henry were listed at the same address in 1899. With them was Elizabeth Rees and Edith, still a student.
The 1900 census of Johnstown placed the Reverend Rees and his wife alone in their home. Eldest son Henry was in Johnstown, but had a new home with his wife Esther Cole, whom he had married in 1896. Esther had been born in Wales in December 1871 and had come to America in 1897. If the marriage date of 1896 is correct, it implies that Henry had returned to Wales and there found a bride. Also living with the couple was Esther’s niece, Mary Cole (b. January. 1888, Wales), who had emigrated in 1898 or 1899. In 1901, the couple had a son whom they named Ralph E. Rees. Esther Cole Rees died 27 February, 1908.
The Reverend Rees died 15 March, 1911, and is buried at Grandview. Daughter Edith Rees, became a school teacher at the Bheam School just down the street from the family home, remained with her mother, Elizabeth, until at least 1920, when both women are recorded together on the census. Elizabeth Rees died of a cerebral hemorrhage 3 September, 1922, and was buried at Grandview three days later.
Henry Rees appears on the 1910 census of Wilkensburg, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, as a 47-year-old widower and a laborer at the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. His wife’s niece, Mary, also dwelt with Henry, probably caring for his son, and may have doing so since his birth. Ralph would eventually go west to Billings, Montana, appearing on censuses there after 1930. He married a woman named Beatrice and had at least one son and two daughters.
Daughter Edith also went west to Kirby, Big Horn County, Montana, where she married William H. Furman (24 Nov., 1874-22 May, 1955). Edith died 5 January, 1971. Ω