“Almost certainly a wedding portrait, this is a reasonably well-to-do couple, since they are dressed in formal day wear.”
This is another of my daguerreotypes, formerly of the Ralph Bova collection, which was published in Joan Severa’s My Likeness Taken. Severa wrote of the image: “Almost certainly a wedding portrait, this is a reasonably well-to-do couple, since they are dressed in formal day wear.
“The wife has done her hair in the bandeau style, in the longer, deeper roll that was one of the choices at mid-decade. Her hairdo is finished with ribbon ends hanging from a bow at the back of the crown. She wears what is probably a black velvet bodice over a black silk shirt. The fine whitework collar is large, and the white undersleeve cuffs are deeply frilled. The unusually wide silk ribbon is an expensive luxury; it flares prettily from the folds under the collar to spread over the bosom. A gold chain for a pencil hangs at the waistline.
“The young man wears a morning suit: a cutaway coat over striped trousers. His black vest matches the coat, and the high, standing collar of his starched shirt is held by a wide, horizontal necktie.”
When I first uploaded this image to my photostream at Flickr, a number of commentors suggested the sitters were siblings rather than man and wife. I agree there is a definite resemblance. Severna felt strongly that this image had the hallmarks of a wedding photograph and I also agree with her assessment. The two positions may be reconciled if the subjects are married cousins—a common occurrence until the second half of the 20th Century. Ω
The daguerreotype may have been taken to mark Pressey’s official coming of age in 1856.
This gorgeous and all-but-pristine daguerreotype portrays Charles Wilber Pressey, most likely at the age of 21. Handsome, jaunty, and possessed of a fetching chapeau, the image may have been taken to reflect Pressey’s official coming of age. He was born in 7 June, 1835, in Sandown, New Hampshire. If my supposition is correct, this image can be dated to the summer of 1856.
The Presseys were New Hampshire natives, having descended from the immigrant John Pressey who arrived in Hampton, New Hampshire, in about 1650. Charles Pressey’s birthplace is in the southeast of Rockingham County, named for Sandown on England’s Isle of Wight. Today’s population is about 6,000. It was smaller in Pressey’s time, although the tranquility and introspection was most likely the same.
The most prominent structure in Sandown was the Meeting House, built by the first minister of Sandown, the Reverend Josiah Cotton, in 1774, and was a focal point for both civic and religious activities. Today, this simple, sturdy building is preserved on the National Register of Historic Places.
“While the town as a whole has been largely ignored by the outside world, its meetinghouse has gained a marked degree of notoriety. Sandown is credited by many with possessing the finest meetinghouse in New Hampshire—and there are those who would go so far as to say the finest in America,” wrote Richard Holmes in A View from Meeting House Hill. “The praise of outsiders, while always appreciated, is not the chief reason that the townspeople honor this building. To the residents of Sandown, this old building is the encapsulation of their town’s entire history, for within its walls has passed the pageant of the community’s past. For 155 years, the good men and women of Sandown gathered at this building to set their own taxes and to draft their own laws. This building was, to a great extent, the capitol of a small, semi-autonomous republic operating inside New Hampshire.”
Little is known of Charles Pressey’s father, Henry Moulton Pressey, save the barest bones. He was born 7 August, 1806, in Sandown, to Peter Pressey and Bettey Moulton. Peter Pressey died insolvent in October 1823, with debts to a long list of local citizens. Settling the estate included the sale of $280 in real estate to satistfy Peter’s creditors.
On 25 November, 1830, in Freemont, Rockingham County, Henry Pressey married Mary Ingalls (1805-1858), called “Polly.” Their first child was Mary Eliza, born in about 1833 with Charles Wilber following two years after. Another son, Albert A., was born in 1844.
Henry Pressey died 28 April, 1848, at the age of 41, likely of Tuberculosis (TB). Two years later, when the 1850 Census was enumerated, Charles and Albert, along with their mother, dwelt with maternal grandparents Samuel and Betsy Ingalls—both born in 1775 in New Hampshire—on a farm in Sandown. The location in 1850 of Charles’s sister Mary is not known, but neither she nor his mother Polly lived out the decade. Their lives were eaten away by TB, known then as the “White Death” and “Consumption.” Mary died 11 October, 1855, and Polly passed away 17 October, 1858. Sandwiched between those two deaths was 7 June, 1856—Charles’s 21st birthday. It is possible that the daguerreotype in my collection marks this attainment and may have been made as a gift for Polly.
To sit for his picture, Charles likely traveled to Exeter, where John Plumbe, Jr., set up a studio and school in the early 1840s. Barbara Rimkunas wrote in the “Historically Speaking” column of the Exeter News-Letter of 17 September, 2013, “In 1841, advertisements for ‘Mr. Plumbe, Professor of Photography’ began running in the Exeter News-Letter. Mr. Plumbe ‘proposes to instruct a limited number of Ladies and gentlemen in this beautiful and valuable art, who will be furnished with complete sets of the improved patent apparatus, by means of which any one may be enabled to take a likeness in an ordinary room without requiring any peculiar adjustment of the light.’ The technology must have seemed near-miraculous to many people, since Mr. Plumbe had to explain that ‘the process is simple; it requires no acquaintance with chemistry and no knowledge of drawing or painting, for the light engraves itself upon the prepared plate.’…. Exeter’s early photographers—Thomas Boutelle, George Sawyer, the Davis Brothers, and William Hobbs—set up shops all along Water Street.”
Pressey chose as his bride Clementine Wood Sleeper, a cousin and a widow one year older, who brought a young son to the marriage.
The 1860 Census, taken in July, placed Charles Pressey at a Sandown box mill, while his 16-year-old younger brother dwelt with his Ingalls grandparents on their farm. If Charles was living away from his remaining family, he would not be alone for long. His eye had alighted on a pretty cousin who had suffered a tragic blow and Charles was resolved to marry her.
Clementine Wood Sleeper was a young widow one year older. Called “Clemmie” by her family, she was born 3 April, 1834, the daughter of Joseph Gardner and Polly Pressey Wood, a paternal relation of Charles Pressey—and one of those to whom his grandfather Peter had once owed money.
In 1855, Clementine married as her first husband Joseph C. Sleeper, son of James and Sally Sleeper of Sandown. The young couple had a child, Edwin Sidney Sleeper, born in Freemont, New Hampshire, 12 November, 1856. Clementine’s husband committed suicide at the Matteson House, a high-class hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on 9 January, 1858. Why he was in that city and what drove him to his desperate act is unknown.
It is likely that Charles and Clementine had known each other all their lives—they were related and their hometown was small. Whether Charles had feelings for Clementine before or during her marriage to Joseph Sleeper is speculation, as is that a man like Charles, who had lost so many of his own family so tragically, might be drawn to comfort a grieving widow, then woo her.
However it came to pass, Clementine Sleeper married Charles Pressey on 28 November, 1860, in the town of Hampstead, which borders Sandown. Charles adopted little Edwin Sleeper as his own. For the rest of Edwin’s life he used the surname Pressey and Charles was always stated as his father, not his stepfather. Many years later, he would be listed in the 1916 Who’s Who in New England as Edwin Sidney Pressey.
“A reference to the roster of the regiment will show that it included many men who were too young to enter the service at the outbreak of hostilities, but who had since become of military age.”
Although a Charles A. Pressey served as sergeant in Company A, Regular Army 19th Infantry, a Charles O. Pressey joined Company I, Indiana 9th Infantry, and a plain Charles Pressey of Company G, 10th Maine Infantry, died during the Battle of Antietam, our Charles Wilber Pressey did not join up during the U.S. Civil War. For a Union man, conscription did not exist until the Draft Act of 1863, but even then single men were conscripted before husbands. Moreover, all drafted men could hire a substitute or pay $300 in lieu of service.
However, Charles’s brother Albert did enlist. On 26 September, 1862, at Concord, the 19-near-old became a private in Company K, 15th New Hampshire Infantry, headed by Colonel John W. Kingman, which mustered for a nine-month stint of service. Charles McGregor, company historian, noted in his Regimental History of the Fifteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, “This was the very darkest period of the war. It was the first regiment of New Hampshire’s quota in response to President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 nine months’ men. A reference to the roster of the regiment will show that it included many men who were too young to enter the service at the outbreak of hostilities, but who had since become of military age…. It is understood that the nine months’ men were raised for a special purpose—as an auxiliary to our struggling armies already in the field, and to enable them to strike the rebellion a staggering and fatal blow.”
Company K went south to Louisiana—probably as foreign a place to Sandown as Albert Pressey could have imagined. The company became part of Sherman’s Division, Department of the Gulf, and participated in the 48-day siege and military assault on Port Hudson in the the summer of 1863, which was the Union’s final engagement in the campaign to recapture the Mississippi.
After Port Hudson surrendered, the men of the 15th New Hampshire “boarded the steamer City of Madison for Cairo, Illinois, thence to Chicago,” wrote McGregor. “From Chicago and through New York, the regiment enjoyed a continuous ovation. Arrived at Concord at about noon of Saturday, the 8th, and was mustered out on the 13th of August.”
A few months later, on 26 November, Albert wed Amelia A. Moore, daughter of John and Alice Moore, in the town of Derry, near Sandown, and would spend the first part of their married lives there. The couple had a farm and a baby daughter, Mary Ann, by 1870. They would have at least five more children, but only three survived infancy—Lyndall E. (1872-1964), William M. (1874-1942), and Bertha M. (b. 1882). Later, Albert Pressey worked as a stableman in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and eventually moved to a Hampstead farm established by his son William. He received a Civil War veteran’s pension and died aged 77 on 9 August, 1920.
“The child is restless at first, but later becomes listless; the features are drawn and shrunken and the face often has the appearance of extreme age.”
In 1867, Charles and Clementine welcomed their first child, a son named Henry Mahlon Pressey, but the boy died aged one year, five months, and 17 days on 15 September, 1868. It was a horrible and heartbreaking twist of fate, and for Charles, it may have painfully echoed the death of the baby’s namesake. Little Henry’s death record states that he perished of Cholera Infantum, an acuteinfectiousenteritis where death comes after severediarrheaand vomiting leads toextremefluidandelectrolytedepletion.
The disease’s progress was described in The Eclectic Practice of Medicine with Especial Reference to the Treatment of Disease, written in 1910 by Dr. Finley Ellingwood: “The diarrhea is at first muco-purulent, soon becoming watery, and amounts to purging. The stools are voided with force, and vary in number from ten to fifty in twenty-four hours, and are alkaline in reaction. Vomiting occurs, and may soon become nearly incessant.
“The pulse is rapid and weak; the temperature taken in the rectum may be found to be as high as 105° to 106° F., while the peripheral temperature may be low. The tongue becomes red and dry; there is intense thirst. The urine is scanty or it may be suppressed. The skin has a mottled appearance from poor capillary circulation; the extremities are usually cold. The child is restless at first, but later becomes listless; the features are drawn and shrunken and the face has often the appearance of extreme age. The eyelids are but partly closed, the mouth is open, and the fontanels are depressed. Not only is prostration present from the beginning, but signs of profound toxemia are are marked. Toward the end of fatal cases the breathing is irregular and the head retracted; the temperature is sub-normal, or there may be hyperpyrexia. Death may occur in twenty-four hours.”
Their baby was gone, but the theme of resurgence strongly marked the chapters of Charles Pressey’s life. By the 8 June enumeration of the 1870 Census there was a new son, Charles Park Pressey (b. 25 November, 1869). In 1872, the Presseys—a unit of four again—moved the short distance to Hampstead where their boy, known as Park, would thrive, where they took up farming, and where they would become established as well-respected and noted citizens.
In 1880, the census enumerated Charles and Clementine on their farm with Edwin, aged 23, and Park, aged 10. Also living with them was Clementine’s father Joseph A. Wood, aged 77; her mother Polly, aged 76; and her brother Clarence, who was aged 28 and a commercial miller.
In February 1880, there was a rare glimpse of Clementine Pressey chaperoning the town youth at a meeting of The Ladies’ Sociable where there were “various games, charades, recitations, readings, and singing,” according to A Memorial of the Town of Hampstead, New Hampshire, Vol. II, by Harriette Noyes.
During the years 1880 to 1900, Pressey was elected a member of the Trustees of Hampstead High School and after his election on 31 December, 1884, became a deacon of the Congregational Church. His company, C. W. Pressey & Co.,was a general lumber business and manufactured wooden boxes in the town from about 1872 to 1892. In 1900, he was elected a Rockingham County commissioner.
Charles made an appearance in a June 1890 court case concerning the town of Hampstead’s ability to establish a new cemetery. The New Hampshire Reports, Vol. LXVI’ssummary of Eastman v. Hampstead reveals that a four-acre lot was purchased and the deed delivered to the town. However, when the selectmen went to lay out the new cemetery they found that “across the highway, on land owned by Charles W. Pressey, one of the cemetery committee, was a dwelling-house occupied by George Wyman. Wyman had a contract with Pressey for the purchase of the house and land, and objected to the laying out of the cemetery within 20 rods [110 yards] of it. At this time, Pressey notified the selectmen of Wyman’s objection, and informed them that he could not consent to laying out the cemetery within 20 rods of the dwelling-house.”
The issue was resolved by paying Pressey and Wyman $100 for a release to build the graveyard no closer than ten rods to the house and the laying out progressed with lots no closer than 20 rods. The money was fronted by Selectman Josiah Eastman on behalf of the cemetery committee, but the bad blood this created became evident when the town refused to reimburse Eastman for his expense. The court ruled in Eastman’s favor, writing, “It is noted that Pressey was estopped to withhold his consent to use the land as a cemetery, and therefore the release was without consideration. This objection is not tenable. Wyman had a contract for the purchase of the Pressey land and was the equitable owner. It was Wyman, not Pressey, who objected…. There was no estoppel. The plaintiff is entitled to judgement for $100 and interest from the date of the writ.”
It is possible that the fine photo of the Pressey home was taken by Park, who was fascinated by old houses all his life.
Both Charles and Clementine’s sons were exceedingly well educated—so much so it seems Charles wanted to give them the underpinings for success he’d lost when his own father died.
Park Pressey was schooled in the public and high schools of Hampstead, as well as the Exeter Phillips Academy, a residential school founded in 1781 known for academic excellence and a distinguished faculty. Park also attended Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1893. Later in life, he became the manager of the Boston Branch of the Educational Register Company. He was the author of The Vocational Reader (Beacon Vocational Series) and a regular contributor to Youth’s Companion and St. Nicholas Magazine. Park was also an avid photographer.
It is probable that the fine photograph of the Pressey home above was taken by Park, who was fascinated with old houses all his life. A local architecture scrapbook compiled by Park between 1896 and 1910 exists in the Historic Society of New England containing “well-illustrated news clippings relating to architectural and historical subjects pertaining to Boston, with some coverage of Andover, Amesbury, Salem, Bedford, Marblehead, Malden, Portsmouth, NH and other communities.”
Park also obtained the Halliday Historic Photograph Company Collection, lauded as an “unrivaled” documentary source of old New England homes by The Bulletin of the Society for the Preservation of New England, December 1916. “Sometime after Mr. Halliday’s death in 1904 the collection of negatives came to the possession of Mr. C. Park Pressey, who has still further enlarged it. It would be difficult to overestimate the value of such a collection as this, as an astonishing number of the houses represented have been destroyed and many of these photographs are the best or only record.” The society eventually purchased the collection.
Park married late in life—in 1926 in Belmont, Massachusetts. The 1930 Census enumerated him back in Hampstead, aged 60, with his wife Anne D., aged 39, and daughter Carol Anne (1928-11 Sept. 2011), aged 1. His occupation was given as publisher and photographer.
By the late 1950s, Park devoted himself to preserving old houses and other structures, writing tracts such as Have you seen this Old House? Or Priscilla’s Quest for a Family Roof-Tree, and articles such as “Old New England Canals” in Old Time New England in 1956.
He would die in 1963 in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Park’s daughter Carol married Anthony P. DiPesa (d. 11 Nov. 2007) and had five children. She was buried in Puritan Lawn Memorial Park, Peabody, Massachusetts.
Edwin Pressey attended district and Hampstead High schools, graduated from Williams College in 1885, and from Union Theological Seminary, New York, in 1888. He earned a Ph.D. from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1904. He authored the book History, Philosophy and Practical Use of Mental Healing in 1910. (Did his interest spring from a need to understand the suicide of his biological father?) Edwin also lectured on Biblical archeological developments. His chief recreation, he told Who’s Who, was tramping.
On 23 August, 1887, Edwin married Orrie Belle, daughter of William C. Little and Julia Harris Haseltine. The bride was a music teacher. The couple had had two children—Sidney Leavitt (b. 1888) and Julia Clementine Pressey (b. 1895).
During his early years in the ministry, Edwin served as pastor of Congregational churches at Brooklyn, New York; Springfield, Vermont; and Glenwood, Illinois. Next, he became pastor of the St. Anthony Park Congregational Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. The 3 March, 1897, St. Paul Globe contained an article on Edwin’s installation, as well as a sketched portrait. “Last night marked an epoch in the history of [the church], which will long be remembered by the members…. The church interior was ablaze with light in honor of the occasion, and was very prettily decorated with festoons of smilax and cut flowers,” the newspaper noted. After the official service was concluded, “the evening was spent in a social way, and Rev. Pressey was given an informal welcome to his new charge.”
The years that followed were crowded with sermons, weddings, christenings, funerals, and conferences. Orrie Pressey was also deeply involved in her husband’s work. The 4 April, 1905, issue of the Minneapolis Journal noted, for example, that when the Congregational Missionary Society next met, “Mrs. Edwin Pressey and Mrs. W. Hays will speak on ‘The Ancient Religions of Japan,’ and ‘Why America is Interested in Japan.’”
“Education was the one major activity to which the country has thus far not systematically applied ingenuity to the solution of its problems.”
As Charles and Clementine had done for Edwin and Park—doubtless recognizing the brilliance of both boys—so Edwin and Orrie did for Sidney and Julia. The children were incredibly gifted. By 1910, Sidney was training to become a psychologist. (Were these the continued ripples of Joseph Sleeper’s long-ago suicide?) His 1918 draft registration stated he was a “mental test expert” in a psychiatric hospital in Boston.
Sidney Pressey was a noted professor of psychology at Ohio State University from 1921 to 1959. A cognitive psychologist, he is credited with inventing in the mid-1920s the first teaching machine, which presented students with multiple-choice questions. Sidney is quoted in a 1932 article in School and Society, “Education was the one major activity to which the country has thus far not systematically applied ingenuity to the solution of its problems;” his teaching machine was an attempt at doing so. After retiring, he continued to publish on the topic of cognitive psychology. He wrote several books, including a influential textbook Psychology and the New Education in 1937. Sidney Pressey died 1 July, 1979.
Edwin, Orrie, and Julia Pressey were enumerated in Orange, Massachusetts, in 1910 and in Belmont, Massachusetts in 1920, at which time Edwin served as pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church. Julia graduated from Smith College, Northampton, Massachussetts, in 1918 then enrolled in the Wisconsin Library School, where she did field work in Harry Houdini’s home town of Appleton in the winter of 1922 and graduated in May of that year. On 14 October, 1924, Kansas’s Emporia Gazette noted, “A demonstration of the use of the catalog will be given by Miss Julia Pressey, head cataloguer at the Kellogg Library.”
Sometime between 1925 and 1930, Julia received a post as assistant professor of library science at the Atlanta Library School, Atlanta, Georgia. Edwin Pressey had retired and both parents moved with her there. (Later Julia would become a faculty member at Emory University.) Orrie Pressey died sometime between late 1930 and 1940 in Atlanta.
After her mother’s passing, Julia donated a quilt made by Orrie in the late 1800s to the National Museum of American History, which describes it thus: “Crazy-patched square and rectangular blocks were assembled to make Orrie Little’s Parlor Throw. The four corner blocks are made entirely of ribbons. A variety of silks, satins and velvets were used for the other blocks. The lining is a brown-and-black stripe printed fabric. The binding is made of 12 different ¾-inch ribbons, seamed to the lining and whip-stitched to the front. Embroidery is used to embellish the edges of the patches and along the bound edge.”
During the war years and through the end of the decade, Julia was head of the Decimal Classification Section of the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Various University of Illinois alumni newsletters highlight her activities—for example, lecturing to students at a Catholic University evening class on cataloging and classification and serving as a committee member to resolve classification problems at the a national gathering of the Assembly of Librarians of the Americas.
From the end of the Second World War to the close of the 1940s, Edwin Pressey lived with his son Sidney in Columbus, Ohio, near to the university where Sidney taught. Edwin’s passing was noted in this tiny obituary that ran in the 29 November Mansfield, Ohio, News-Journal.
As for Julia, I can find little about her life during the 1950s and 1960s. She never married and died 1 July, 1976, in Pomona, California, at the age of 81.
Clementine Pressey lived long enough to see her husband’s coffin carried from their parlour to his newly dug grave in Lakeview Cemetery.
Back to the beginning now—or at least the end of the beginning.
By 1910, Charles Pressey had largely retired—the census of that year noted he performed odd jobs. His last census appearance was in 1920, when he was enumerated with Clementine in their home on Main Street in Hampstead. Charles died there 26 April, 1927, of pneumonia ten days in duration that began from a cold. He was 92.
Clementine Pressey lived long enough to see her husband’s coffin carried from their parlour to his newly dug grave in Lakeview Cemetery. She would soon join him there—surviving her husband by only three days. Clementine died 29 April, age 93, of a heart attack brought on by cold and bronchitis. She was buried beside him on 1 May.
Just as I finished this article, I located a second photo of Charles Wilber Pressey that dates to about 1903. I freely admit that my eyes filled with tears. He is older, weathered, but recognizably that handsome young man of the summer of ’56. Ω
It provides a glimpse of both history and sentiment that is both breathtaking and soul-shattering.
I purchased this mourning brooch from an eBay seller in 2008—I was the only interested party. Granted, it is not a particularly attractive brooch and has seen rough handling. However, it provides a glimpse of both history and sentiment that is both breathtaking and soul-shattering.
The key to its power is the reverse inscription, which reads: “In memory of Ernest. Died 4.30 AM, 11 January 1862. Latitude 31° degrees 30′ South, Longitude 14° degrees 40′ East. Aged 2 Years and 11 Months.” Whilst holding the brooch in my hand, I plugged the coordinates into Google Earth, which took me not to a point on land, but the inky dark sea. This confluence of coordinates placed the baby Ernest off the African coast, about 500 miles west of modern Bitterfontein, South Africa. Ernest had died aboard a ship.
Did the boy die soon after leaving or just miss the end of a long voyage? This brooch was located in England until I purchased it, so was more likely that the ship sailed toward Europe, rather than Australia or Cape Town, then a part of the rapidly expanding British Cape Colony.
I’m burningly curious why this baby has no inscribed last name, yet someone loved him so much that they noted the exact time and longitude and latitude of his death. Why not just inscribe “died at sea”? I want to know whether Ernest’s mother was there with him. Did he pass away in her arms? Was she a passenger or a convict? (The last transport to Australia wasn’t until 1868.) Was she a ship’s cook or perhaps a missionary’s wife?
To slip into death at half-past four a.m. surely indicates it was disease that took Ernest, as it often does, deep in the darkness. I can imagine the dim light of a lantern, a weeping but resigned mother pressing a cool cloth to the child’s forehead, the gentle creak of the ship’s timbers, and the waves rocking him to sleep.
Ernest was likely buried at sea; if so, his small bones are long dissolved on the ocean floor. All that is left of his little life is a lock of fair hair curled into a plume that was fixed by gum arabic to a piece of milk glass, decorated with a few sprigs of gold wire, and encased in black enamel over pinchbeck.
If Ernest’s family had recorded his last name on the brooch, I might be able to find him in public records to flesh out the story of his short existence. As it is, the only hope of knowing more about Ernest is to find a record of the ship he died on by narrowing down vessels in the area at the time—a mammoth task, albeit one that might be possible online someday. Challenges like this are more conquerable now than it ever before, and with each passing year, newly digitized historic data comes online to the joy of historians and genealogists everywhere. Ω
The photographer may have told the children to hold hands and grab the waist belts to keep their arms still during the exposure.
This ambrotype is not only endearing, but raises several points of interest: First, both children were stood atop chairs and with that placement came the possibility that either could topple—especially the younger child who looks about age two or three. The belts around the siblings’ waists were not part of their costumes—it is likely they were both strapped to metal stands that photographers used to provide stability for their subjects, as well as to keep young sitters like these from wandering out of the frame. (That this was sometimes necessary is illustrated the adorable image below. How refreshing it is to see a mother cracking up at the antics of her toddler whilst Daddy or a studio assistant tries to keep the child from escaping.) The photographer may also have told the siblings to hold hands and grab the waist belts to keep their arms still during the exposure.
Both children may also have been head clamped, as can be seen in the Victorian cartoon below. Contrary to what duplicitous eBay sellers and 14-year-old goth bloggers might propose, these metal stands were not used to hold up dead bodies. The cartoon below clearly shows how posing stands worked to help keep sitters still.
Secondly, it is unclear whether the child on the right of the ambrotype is a boy or a girl. The center-parted hair argues female, but the rest of the outfit says boy despite the floral top and long cotton bloomers under a buoyant checked skirt.
Also tantalizing are the partial words visible at the edges of the image. At one point, the sticky back of the ambrotype was covered by newspaper. If still intact, this may have yielded a clue about this image’s precise date and location of origin. Ω
The sap of another generation,
fingering through a broken tree
to push fresh branches
towards a further light,
a different identity.
—John Montague, “The Living and The Dead”
This wonderful outdoor image, circa 1910, shows a bonneted babe sitting in a wicker pram on an early spring day in the eastern United States. The child’s pudgy hand appears lightly pinched, rather than held, by the arthritic fingers of his or her grandmother—perhaps great-grandmother. The old woman, who was probably born in the 1830s, is magnificent with her weathered face and carefully coiffed, almost ruched white hair in contrast to her elaborate dark clothing. She seems quite elderly, but sturdy and strong. A house, possibly the family home, can be glimpsed through the leafless trees behind her.
The next image is of a multigenerational British family posed on a ground-floor window ledge on a pleasant day during the mid-1860s. Grandmother, who is dressed in black-and-white widow’s clothing, sits in wicker chair, whilst Father and Mother lean into the picture from inside the home. Mum’s hand rests possessively on the shoulder of her youngest son, whilst the eldest brother perches on the sill and the middle son sits cross-legged below him. The daughter of the house, a tween in a jaunty summer dress, looks very much a mini-me of her mother.
The third image, which is marked “J. McCornick, Photographer, 3 The Bridges, Walsall,” is more somber. One subject is a young girl of about 12 years beside an elderly gentleman who is likely her grandfather. The seated female may be the girl’s mother or her grandmother—it is hard to be sure, although they are clearly related.
The members of this family group are dressed in mourning, but nothing more of the nature of their loss can be supposed, except that the mother or grandmother was not mourning for her husband. The prevailing custom for widows’ bonnets was to include a white inset to frame the face.
Grandfather, whose hand appears to rest protectively on the small of his granddaughter’s back, holds in his other hand some type of folded document or wallet. The message he conveyed with this prop is now inscrutable, but it would have been understood by the carte de visite’s viewers.
The final image is a four-generation portrait, identified on the reverse as “Elizabeth Stokesbury, age 79 years; Clarissa Stokesbury, age 51 years; Extonetta Book, age 29 years; Esther Cook Book, age 3 years.”
At the far left is Elizabeth Clark (11 April 1824-5 Oct. 1910), born in Fayette County, Ohio, to Welsh native Joshua Clark (1795-29 March 1830) and his wife Mary Blaugher (1795-16 March 1879).
Elizabeth Clark married farmer John S. Stokesbury (7 Sept. 1819-12 May 1867), the son of Robert Stokesbury (1790–1839) and Anna Baughman (1794–1870). In 1850, the Stokesburys farmed in Jefferson, Green County, Iowa; by 1860 they had moved to a new farm in the county of Wayne. The couple had eleven children to assist them: Robert (b. abt. 1842); Angeline (b. abt. 1844); Mary Ann (b. abt. 1846); Joseph (b. abt. 1848); Sarah (b. abt. 1850); Clarissa (12 Sept. 1851-8 March 1935); Harvey (b. abt. 1853); John (b. abt. 1859); Elizabeth Ann (28 June 1861-9 Aug 1946); Clark D. (b. abt. 1863); and Launa (1865-1939).
At age 16, Clarissa, second from left, married a cousin, Jesse Bush Stokesbury (24 Jan. 1843-18 Dec. 1918), the son of James Madison Stokesbury (1813–1869) and Phoebe Painter (1819–1902). By 1870, Clarissa and Jesse had migrated to Chariton, Iowa, where, the family farm was enumerated on the 1870 Census. However, their days on the land were ended by 1880, when Jesse was recorded on the census as a laundry man, and on the 1900 Census he was enumerated as a day laborer. His widowed mother-in-law, Elizabeth Stokesbury, was also in residence, along with her youngest children.
Clarissa and John had the following sons and daughters: Bryant W. (b. abt. 1868); Hillary Edwin (13 April 1870-8 Feb. 1950); Theodosia (b. abt 1872); and Extonetta (b. Dec. 1873), second from right in the photograph, who was known as “Nettie.”
On 24 November, 1898, Nettie married harness maker and saddler John Atwater Book (Sept. 1864-17 April 1924), son of Harlan and Emmaline Book. By 1900, the Books and their first child, Esther Cook (far right—and yes, Cook Book) all lived with Jesse and Clarissa Stokesbury. Nettie and John had two more children: Sarah E. (b. 6 Feb. 1902); and Jesse H. (b. 24 Dec. 1903). Sarah married Loren L. Adams on 12 September, 1935; Jesse married Fae Arza Wicks in June 1929. He died in January 1970 in Seymour, Indiana, and was buried at Chariton Cemetery.
Nettie’s brother Edwin Stokesbury, who became a broom maker and married Ollie B. Ritter on 20 February, 1894, had set up house in Chariton by 1900. The couple had four children, but shortly thereafter the marriage failed. Ollie married as her second husband a man named Van Trump and Edwin’s children took their step-father’s surname. By 1920, widowed Clarissa and her son Edwin lived together.
In 1920, Esther Book worked as a bookkeeper in a Chariton store along with sister Sarah. On the 1930 Census, Nettie, Esther, and Sarah were enumerated in one household, with Nettie working as a sales lady in a variety store; Esther worked as a bookkeeper in a bank and Sarah was a tailoress in a dry goods store.
The Des Moines Register of 25 December, 1935, featured a testimonial advertisement by Nettie in which she was quoted, “I like the simplicity of operating the Colonial Furnace and the way it holds fire. The damper enables one to feed the fire so that no smoke, soot, or gas escapes into the rooms. And I like the draft in the feed door, which can be opened to prevent puffing.”
Extonetta Book died on 8 May, 1962, and was buried in Chariton Cemetery. It appears that her daughter Esther never married. She worked for many years as the secretary of the Farmers Mutual Insurance Association and died 25 March, 1965, three years after her mother. Esther is also buried in Chariton Cemetery. Ω
Clearly, I had to win the auction—the wishes of Mr. Guppy, whoever he had been, seemed evident.
In July 2013, I purchased this carte de visite (CDV), which I recognized as an 1860s copy of an earlier daguerreotype. The subject reminded me of the English actor Burn Gorman in his role as Mr. Guppy in the 2005 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. There was no inscription to identify the sitter, so in my Flickr photostream I titled the image “Mr. Guppy” and went on.
In January 2014, I stumbled across the auction of a 1/4-plate daguerreotype that left me gobsmacked. It was Mr. Guppy. The original image.
A conversation with the seller elucidated that the daguerreotype came from a Vermont estate, but there had been no accompanying CDV. The seller was equally surprised at the strange twist of fate.
Clearly, I had to win the auction—the wishes of Mr. Guppy, whoever he had been, seemed evident. I did not fail him; today, the daguerreotype and CDV are united in my care.
The daguerreotype’s brass mat is stamped “Jaquith, 98 Broadway.” According to Craig’s Daguerreian Registry, this was the gallery of Nathaniel Jaquith, who was active from 1848 to 1857 at that address.
Nathaniel Crosby Jaquith was born 30 April, 1816, in Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and died 24 June, 1879, in Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Jaquith was the brother-in-law Henry Earle Insley, also a daguerreian photographer, and he was the grandson of Nathan Jaquith, a private in Captain Timothy Walker’s Company, Colonel Greene’s Regiment, during the American Revolution, and the great-grandson of Benjamin Jaquith, who was also a private in that unit. Before taking up the new art of daguerrotyping in 1841, Jaquith operated a shop at 235 Greenwich Street, New York City, where he sold “Cheap and Fashionable Goods.”
When I received the daguerreotype, I found the image packet had old seals, but there were wipe marks on the plate. My supposition is that whoever wanted the daguerreotype duplicated handed it to the copyist, who broke the original seals and removed the metal plate from the packet, as the CDV shows the tarnish halo surrounding the sitter. The copyist may also have cleaned tarnish that had developed on the subject’s face during the two-plus decades since the portrait had been taken. I am likely to be only the second person to break the packet seals in some 140 years.
For an excellent description of the elements of a daguerreotype packet, visit the Library Company of Philadephia’s online exhibit, “Catching a Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia 1839-1860.” Ω
If the baby was not dead, but sleeping, why was he laid on a covered cushion or small table instead of being held in his nanny’s arms?
This is an puzzling image—and one for which I am interested in reader input. The inscription on the image, printed in pencil, reads: “Mother, Me, Duncan (died 10-19), and Nanny McFalls.”
When I purchased the cabinet card, I presumed that it was a postmortem image showing a deceased child guarded by his or her nanny, who wore a black bow on her white cap as well as a black dress with a white pin-front apron. The child’s well-heeled mother, in a proper dark dress, raised her eyes to heaven as if for angelic support, clutching her remaining offspring, who held a large china doll and looked warily at the camera.
The baby rested upon a draped piece of furniture in a position that indicated the illusion of sleeping rather than in-one’s-face death, which was a style of Victorian postmortem images that grew increasingly popular as the turn of the millennium approached.
The infant showed no visible signs of illness, rigor mortis, or decomposition. The child was not dressed for burial but wore regular clothing for an infant of his age, including little hard-soled leather walking shoes. The nanny’s hand rested on his arm while she faced the camera without any grief apparent. If the baby was not dead but sleeping, why was he laid on a covered cushion or small table instead of being held in his nanny’s arms? Also, he was old enough to be woken to have his picture taken. Why would he have been posed this way if he was just having a wee nap?
The fashions shown in this image date it, I am confident, between 1887 and 1890. This accords exactly with the presence of photographer Edmund Geering in Abderdeen, Scotland. Geering was an Englishman born in Sussex in about 1843. He was active as a photographer in Kincardineshire by 1871. He married a Scotswoman and was, according to Aberdeen city directories, operating out of 10 Union Place from the early 1880s to about 1889.
So the fashions, the type of photo, and the career of the photographer all place the image in the late 1880s. This brings me to the death date noted in the inscription: “10-19.” What does it mean? October 19? October 1919? If the latter, this is not a postmortem image at all and is instead simply a photo of an affluent woman, her children, and her servant. If the date refers only to a month and a day, why is there no year?
One possibility is that Duncan was not the baby, but the child. The baby grew up to become the writer of the inscription and Duncan was actually the child in the frilly dress holding the doll. In fact, the child’s hair was parted on the side, which was one indicator of maleness in an age where boys and girls dressed alike during the first years of life. In this scenario, it was the baby’s brother, Duncan, who died as an adult in October 1919.
My fellow Flickr historian and actual cousin, Laura Harrison, opined, “If you look at the order of names, it would seem ‘Me’ is the tot and ‘Duncan’ is the baby. With October 1919 being the date of death, and assuming the picture was taken between 1881 and 1891, the baby could have served in World War I and died in 1919 from battle injuries. A lot of soldiers died in the years after the war due to injuries.”
Good point, cousin.
After looking at the reverse inscription, Flickr user Christie Harris chimed in, “The inscription looks like it was probably written well after the photo was taken; I think the 1919 [death date] would be more likely.” I agree with Christie that the handwriting of the inscriber was quite modern and was added many years later.
And so we are left with a mystery. Actually, two: I genuinely want to know more about Nanny McFalls. I searched for her as best I could, but with so little to go on, I could not identify her. In the image, she seems a cheerful, young Scottish woman who cared about her charges and who was loved enough in return to earn a place in her employer’s family portrait. Ω
At the start of the decade, she lived in a bustling family with every indication of prosperity, as her exuberant mid-1860s teenage fashion shows.
Louisa Caroline Linebaugh was a distant cousin of mine through several of my maternal lines (Dutrow and Summers). She was born 11 September, 1846, in the small rural town of Myersville, Frederick County, Maryland, the daughter of wagonmaker, wheelwright, and farmer Jonathan Linebaugh (1807-1864) and his wife Catharine Shank (1813-1871), whom he married 10 April, 1835. Catharine was the daughter of Jacob Shank (1781-1867) and Catharine Dutrow (1785-1839).
Myersville, Maryland, has been my home for more than 20 years and was also that of my grandfather, Roy Cyrus Garnand, and many generations before him. Until the 21st Century, it was a contentedly rural place—and still remains mostly so, despite the growth of Frederick City and Myersville’s inclusion amongst the bedroom communities of both Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
An early 20th Century topographical ode says of the town: “I turn away a moment to a landscape lovelier still, Where bloom the fields that circle ’round historic Myersville, And far beyond the village fair the mountains lift again, The blue peaks rising high above the rich and fruitful plain.” (Middletown Valley in Song and Story by Thomas C. Harbaugh, 1910.)
Some of my maternal ancestors were Swiss and Germans who came to Maryland in the 1700s. In 1707, the Swiss explorer Franz-Louis Michel traveled through the area, drew up a map, then went back to Switzerland. Hard on his trail was another Swiss explorer, Christoph von Graffenreid, who also mapped parts of the region. The activities of both these adventurers and their positive descriptions of the fertile land may have directly influenced my Swiss fourth-great-grandfather Georg Gernandt to set sail in late 1737 from Rotterdam to Philadelphia on the ship St. Andrew Galley. After landing on 24 September, Georg took the oath of allegiance and made his way through Pennsylvania to what is now Myersville, knowing that Lord Baltimore had officially thrown open the area for settlement in 1732. Another Swiss fourth-great-grandfather, Johann Jacob Werenfels, was born in Basel 28 January, 1731. He came alone to Philadelphia in 1749 aboard The Crown, which docked in Philadelphia on 30 August, 1749. Werenfels lived for a while in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where he met his bride Hannah Hartman. They later came to Frederick County. Jacob and Hannah Werenfels were the parents of 11 children and are buried in the middle of a wheat field on their farm south of modern-day Wolfsville.
The Linebaughs can be traced to Germany, where they generally used the spelling Leinbach. Johannes Leinbach was born in today’s Langenselbold, Isenberg, Hessen—then the princedom of the Count of Isenburg-Birstein—on 9 March, 1674, and is believed to have emigrated to America in 1723. By his death on 27 November, 1747, he was in Oley Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania—the father of at least seven children and a respected member of the Moravian Christian sect with its five guiding principles of simplicity, happiness, unintrusiveness, fellowship, and service. Leinbach’s eldest son, Friedrich Johan, was born July 15, 1703, in Germany, before his family emigrated, and died 6 July, 1784 in Graceham, Frederick County. John Linebaugh, as he became known, was the Linebaughs’ first ancestor in Maryland.
Louisa was one of nine children, all born in Myersville. The others were Sarah Ann (1836-1908), John Henry (1837-1911), Mary Elizabeth (1839-?), Ann Rebecca (1842-1843), Catherine Magdalena (1844-1889), Charlotte Maria (1849-1938), Alice America (1852-1926), and Howard Newton (1856-1900).
The years between 1860 an 1870 altered everything Louisa knew. At the start of the decade, she lived in a bustling family with every indication of prosperity—even in wartime, as her exuberant mid-1860s teenage fashion shows. But shortly after this carte de visite (CDV) was taken, on 26 December, 1864, her father died at the age of 57, and the family in Myersville rapidly dispersed.
One of those who left Maryland behind was Louisa’s eldest brother, John Henry. When the Civil War began, the young man was attending Dickenson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in hope of becoming a teacher. He may be the Henry Linebaugh who served in the 7th Maryland Infantry. Or the truth may be that he was a reporter during the war, which was proposed by his descendant Pat Mulso, the executive director of the Freeborn County Historical Museum in Albert Lea, Minnesota.
“The story passed down is that John was a reporter during the war and unpopular in his version of journalism and his death had to be staged to save his life. Whether this is true or not, he did serve in the Civil War and he did leave his native state of Maryland after the war and moved to Ohio where he married my great-grandmother, Margaret Jane Patten. He taught school in Richmond, Ind., and walked home to Liberty, Ohio, on the weekends to be with his family,” wrote Mulso in a 10 April, 2010, article in the Albert Lea Tribune. “After getting established, he built a home in Ellerton, Ohio, located a few miles south of Liberty. He became a justice of the peace, a wagon maker, a funeral director, a steam mill sawmill owner, and operator and owned many farms in the area. He employed several workers and kept a daily journal of the daily events involving his business and life in general. I guess you could say that he was quite an entrepreneur in his time, but he had no success in collecting the debts owed him so my great-grandmother would have to hitch up the buggy and go collect the debts, of course, for a percentage of the money collected as her pay. They raised a large family with many tragedies occurring during the times, but were a very close and hard-working family.”
Back in Myersville, by 1870, only widowed mother Catharine and Louisa remained in the family home. Within a year of the 1870 census’s enumeration, her mother was dead, aged 58. Catharine Shank Linebaugh was buried beside her husband in the cemetery of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, directly across the street from my present home.
Apparently feeling no personal or financial reason to stay in Myersville, Louisa chose to emigrate to Ohio to join John Henry and his family. Once there, she met and married Henry Benton Getter (1850-1935). Henry was the son of George Getter (1805–1875) and his wife Mary Elizabeth Wertz (1808-1901). Getter was born 9 Oct 1850, in Ellerton, Ohio.
The young couple established a family farm in Jefferson, Ohio, and had the following children: Cora May (1875-1911), Florence Estella, (1877-1951), Ida Kate (1879-1964), Bessie Olive (1881-1958), Herman Cleveland (1884-1955), Carrie Effie (1888-1973), and Carl Victor (1890-1967).
After loading this CDV to my Flickr photostream, I connected with another Linebaugh relation who provided a transcript of a letter by Louisa’s son, Reverend Herman Getter of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, New Philadelphia, Ohio. It reads, in part: “Thru the kind Providence of God these two families became friends and grandfather George Getter married Mary Wertz about the year 1828. To their union were born 13 children—11 boys and two girls. Henry, being the next to the youngest, is my father. He was born on the old Getter homestead 7 miles south-west of Dayton, 4 miles South of National Soldiers home, in the year 1850…. My mother’s father [Jonathan Linebaugh] was a very pious man, having preached in the Church of the Brethren for a number of years. After the death of my mother’s parents [she came] to Ohio and made her home with her brother in Montgomery Co. not far distant from my father’s home. They afterward became acquainted and were married in the year 1874. Seven children were born to them 5 girls and two boys. I being the fifth oldest.
“My father’s people have always been a thrifty agriculture people…. Thru hard labor, they drained the swamps and cleared the forests, and made them to blossom like the rose. Surely God has given to none more noble ancestors, and finer [illegible] parents, than are mine. Happy and grateful am I that they are both living and enjoying the best of health. They reside on the old Getter homestead, having purchased it some years ago.
“It was near this place where I was born on September 18, 1884. My parents being staunch Lutherans, I was baptized in infancy by the Sainted Rev. Albright who was at that time preaching in Salem’s Lutheran Church in the village of Ellerton. Early in life, I was taught to love the church and her teachings and was a regular attendant at Sunday School and Church Services. Many a time I would rather have gone fishing and swimming than attend church on a hot Summer’s day, but knew better than even suggest going, for Father was very rigid in this respect.”
The flavor of what Louisa’s Ellerton farm life was like can be glimpsed in a letter in the collection of the University of Alabama sent in April 1895 from Ellerton resident Amanda Donatien to her sister Bell Cahill in Dayton. “We will not come over Easter. The horses has [sic] been working hard the last two weeks and besides, I think it your turn to come see me…. I have a lot of work to do right now. I am making soap this week,” Amanda noted. “Bell, I will come as soon as I can and when I do I will bring you some sewing to do. Now you must be ready to do it. Get your thimble ready. If I had any chance to send you some fresh eggs before Easter, I would do so.” Amanda concluded by saying that she must stop writing because her son was waiting to take the pencil to school.
Louisa Linebaugh Getter died 22 April, 1923, age 75 years, seven months, and 11 days, in Ellerton. She was buried 25 April, 1923, at Ellerton Cemetery. On her death certificate, the cause given is hyperthyroidism (Graves Disease), in which the thyroid kicks into overproduction causing weight loss, trembling hands, extreme tachycardia, anxiety, muscle weakness, and—worst of all—insomnia. The sufferers of Graves Disease can die, literally, of exhaustion, or can pass away suddenly from heart failure. How horrible the disease can be is something I understand, for I suffered from it when I was in my mid-twenties. Today there is a cure. In Louisa’s time, there was not.
Twelve years after his mother’s passing, the New Philadelphia Daily Times of 16 August, 1935, carried an item notifying parishioners that Rev. Getter had gone to Dayton to be at the bedside of his critically ill father. After a fortnight, on 29 August, Getter died in Dayton Hospital. Rev. Getter’s father was laid to rest beside his mother in Ellerton. Ω
In My Likeness Taken, Severna wrote of this image, “Few details testify so perfectly to the power of fashion influence as the persistent use of tight corseting. In this portrait we see a woman probably approaching forty yet still wearing the popular stiff, busked corset, and her dress is as tightly fitted over it as if she were a teenager. The corset makes for a rigid, upright posture.
“The sleeves are of the new, narrow shape, which became the preferred sleeve form by 1843. The collar is wide, in early forties style, and lappets have been laid under it and pinned with a brooch at the throat.
“The daycap is of the early forties shape, with a very deep brim that has been turned back so that its edge ruffle frames the face. The ribbon strings are tied closely under the chin and fall in lappets. Only in the later forties were the capstrings left open.
“The hair is done in short sausage curls at the crown, where it fits under the puffed back of the daycap.”
This image is also notable for its early date. The Daguerreotype process did not reach America until the end of the 1830s and was not viable for commercial use until exposure times could be cut down to a period that the sitters could bear.
“Americans began to experiment with the process almost immediately. Neck clamps limited the movement of subjects during a sitting. Mirrored systems to increase light and improved chemical techniques reduced exposure times to less than one minute. Although it is impossible to say who created the first daguerreotype portrait, all the claimants were Americans, and the daguerreotype acquired a particularly American identity. Even the leading daguerreotypists in London and Paris advertised ‘Pictures taken by the American process,’” notes the Cornell University website for the exhibition “Dawn’s Early Light: The First Fifty Years of American Photography.”
The solarization of the ribbons on the sitter’s daycap and collar is explained by M. Susan Barger and William Blaine White in The Daguerreotype: Nineteenth-Century Technology and Modern Science: “Blue usually occurs in daguerreotypes that have overexposed highlights. The frequent appearance in cheap daguerreotype portraits of blue shirtfronts on men gave these daguerreotypes the name ‘bluefronts.’”
I would postulate that given the 1842 date Severna assigned the image based on the sitter’s clothing, the photographer—who was plainly adept at posing and lighting his subject in an open and appealing manner—may not yet have mastered the technical processes of the art form. He may have been, in modern parlance, a “newbie.” Ω
When this daguerreotype image was captured, Annie and Harry Sourbeck had been fatherless for most of their lives.
Daguerreotypes were the earliest form of photography – little wood-encased miracles of light and the long exposure of silvered copper plates. Sometimes the exposures lasted more than a minute, especially in the 1840s, which were the early days of the art form. A note in the case of this image reads “Sarah Ann Sauerbeck, Henry Sauerbeck, 1850?” This guesstimate accords well with the case design, with the simple brass mat that framed the image beneath its glass cover, as well as the clothing of the Sourbeck siblings. The two would have had to be very still, looking into the empty black eye of an alien, unnerving camera for at least 30 seconds. It was almost certainly their first photograph.
Sourbeck is the correct spelling of the family name, or at least that which they used the majority of the time. Even as late as the mid-nineteenth century, spelling could be fluid with both given and surnames. Sarah Ann Sourbeck, recorded in various public records as “Annie” and sometimes “Anna” (she will be Annie within this article, to distinguish her from her mother), was born in March 1841 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Her younger brother, William Henry Harrison Sourbeck, came along four years later, on 11 August, 1845, in Harrisburg, Dauphin (now Lebanon) County, Pennsylvania, a small city located on the banks of the Susquehanna River. The boy, named after the ninth president of the United States who had died the previous April, would be known by all as Harry. They were the children of Sarah Ann Collier (1804-1886) and her second husband John Sourbeck (1786-1847). When this daguerreotype was captured, they were aged about eight and five and had been fatherless for much of their lives.
Sarah Ann’s father eventually lost the hotel after using it as collateral for the bail of a friend, who promptly fled.
Sarah Ann Collier was the daughter of Jonathan (1780-1828) and Catherine Tice Collier (d. 1809). She was born in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, to a father who was a hotelier in Upper Paxton Township. According to a descendant, he had used his children’s inheritance from their maternal grandfather to build the Millersburg Hotel, which still was operating as late as 1996. Sarah Ann’s father eventually lost the hotel after using it as collateral for the bail of a friend, who promptly fled. Collier was dead by the age of 48, passing away in March 1828 in Buffalo Township.
Sarah Collier first married Dr. Samuel Fahnestock (1803-1829). According to a letter by H. S. Bickel, pastor of the Church of God in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, which was preserved by the family, “Mrs. Ann Nicholas of Camp Hill…said that Dr. Samuel Fahnestock’s mother was a member of the Seven Day Baptist faith, and lived at Oysters Point…. She was the mother of two boys, both physicians.” Pastor Bickel noted two daughters born to Samuel and Sarah Ann: Catherine Fahnestock, who may not have survived childhood, and Susanna (1830-1915). One of the girls, “I was told was a mute,” the Pastor wrote.
Dr. Fahnestock died of unknown causes at age 26 in 1829. His widow Sarah Ann was enumerated on the 1830 Census of East Pennsboro, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, as heading a household three – two of whom females under the age of five. In his letter, Pastor Bickel wrote that Catherine and Susanna Fahnestock were raised by Fahnestock’s mother, but it is not known whether they were eventually sent to their grandmother out of duress or because their mother remarried and her new husband was not interested in raising step-children.
If the cause was the latter, Sarah Ann’s suitor, John Sourbeck, had reason enough. The widowed Sourbeck had 10 offspring by his marriage to Lydia Hemphill (b. 1791): Dorcas (1810-aft. 1840); Daniel E. (1812-1883); Margaret (1816-1852); Jane (1818-1841); Joseph S. (1822-1857); John (1823-1864); Adeline (1824-aft. 1900); James W. (1829-1873); and twins Elizabeth (1831-1889) and Mary (1831-1901), whose birth may have lead to Lydia’s death at the age of 42 years. Whilst his older children were married and established, in 1832 Sourbeck needed a mother for his infant twins, as well as three-year-old James, eight-year-old Adeline, nine-year-old John, 10-year-old Joseph, and 12-year-old Jane.
There may have been a connection between Sarah Ann’s father, Jonathan Collier, and John Sourbeck, who were close in age and both hoteliers, which drew the couple together. However they met, Sarah Ann Collier Fahnestock, age 28, married forty-six-year-old Sourbeck, on 2 August, 1832, and took up the position of mother to his brood. Pastor Bickel wrote that “Sourbeck kept a hotel in Camp Hill,” and a commodious inn would have provided the space the growing Sourbeck clan needed. The couple’s first child, Caroline, was born in 1834. Next came George Washington Sourbeck, born 26 February, 1837, then Annie in 1841.
Paster Bickel concluded his letter with an intriguing and somewhat snide side note: “Mrs. Nicholas doesn’t know anything of them after they removed from Camp Hill. She said that it is hardly likely that John Sourbeck’s children were baptized while they were in Camp Hill.” Whether Mrs. Nicholas referred to Sourbeck’s children by his first marriage, his second, or both, is unknown.
“His table shall be furnished with all the varieties of the season – his Bar, Beds, and every thing connected with the establishment, shall not be excelled by any in the borough.”
The family decamped from Camp Hill before 1842, when theHarrisburg City Directorycontained this notice from Sourbeck: “The undersigned respectfully announces to his friends and the public, that he has taken that well-known tavern stand, in the borough of Harrisburg, known as Franklin House, in Walnut-st., formerly kept by B. Hale. His table shall be furnished with all the varieties of the season – his Bar, Beds, and everything connected with the establishment, shall not be excelled by any in the borough. The Carriage house and Stabling are extensive and convenient, and sufficiently large to accommodate drovers. The house being situated in the centre of businesses, renders it a desirable stopping place for those having business at the Capitol of the State, as well as Jurors attending Courts; and having long been known as the keeper of several public houses in Cumberland County, he flatters himself that his old friends and customers will favor him with a call. No pains will be spared to minister to the comfort of his guests during their stay with him – he therefore respectfully solicits a share of public patronage.”
While John and Sarah Ann Sourbeck operated Franklin House, Matilda Georgia was born 21 February, 1843, and Harry was born in 1845. The pub and inn, sitting on the busy corner of Walnut and Raspberry Alley, seems to have been a bustling establishment, however, the 1844 tax rates list Sourbeck as tenant taverner – not an owner – who possessed one horse and cow. TheHarrisburg Business Directorynotes that in 1845, a baker named John O. Austin was either employed by or worked out of Franklin House; others listed in residence at the property were boot and shoemaker J. M. Awl and Jacob Brua, a printer.
“Mr. Sourbeck, who could not swim, immediately sank.”
The Sourbecks’ lives changed dramatically on 10 July, 1847. The 13 July issue of theHarrisburg Telegraph, tells the tale:
“On Saturday afternoon last, Messrs. John Sourbeck, Christian Kendig, Jonathan Novinger, and a Mr. Graham went fishing in the Susquehanna, at Dauphin, in a skiff. They had not got far into the river before the skiff ran upon a rock. In getting it off, three – Messrs. Sourbeck, Kendig, and Graham – got upon the rock, where Mr. Graham slipped, and in his endeavor to save himself, he caught hold of Mr. Sourbeck, and pulled him into the water. A struggle ensued to save themselves by the boat, which was upset in the attempt when all three were obliged to save themselves in the best way they could. Mr. Sourbeck, who could not swim, immediately sank. Mr. Graham could swim and made for shore, but sunk before he reached it. Mr. Novinger clung to the boat until he was rescued. Mr. Kendig remained on the rock until he was taken off the rock by a boat from shore. Two of the four were thus suddenly launched into eternity within a few moments after they had left their friends on an excursion, more of an amusement than a utility. Mr. Sourbeck was a man of over fifty years age, extensively known; he was keeping a public tavern at Dauphin at the time of his death. Mr. Graham, who was from Perry County, near Newport, we are informed and attached to the Engineer Corps engaged in locating the Pennsylvania Rail Road. They both left families to lament their loss.”
On 14 July, theDemocratic Unioncarried this item: “Two Men Drowned – On Saturday last, John Sourbeck of Dauphin, and Thomas Graham of Newport, Perry County, were drowned in the river at Dauphin, whilst on a fishing excursion. Sourbeck leaves a wife and fourteen children to mourn his untimely end. Graham has left a wife and three children to regret his loss. The bodies of the drowned men have been recovered.”
John Sourbeck was buried in Dauphin Cemetery, where his gravestone stands today. Inscribed upon it is this verse: “Ye friends that weep around my grave, Compose your minds to rest, Prepare with me for sudden death, And live forever blessed.”
“He was early in life necessitated to do for himself.”
After losing their paterfamilias, life immediately became difficult for the family. Just how difficult is evidenced within the 1881 History of Stark County, Ohio, edited by William Henry Perrin, which contains a short biography of George Washington Sourbeck (known as Washington or Wash), John and Sarah Ann’s eldest son.
“He was early in life necessitated to do for himself and began his career as a driver on the canal from Harrisburg to Nanticoke and Wilkesbarre. This he followed one season, when he went to Mechanicsburg and apprenticed himself in the boot and shoe trade, and remained there six years.” (The 1850 Census places Wash with Irish immigrant shoemaker Edward Lamant, his family, and apprentices.)
Sarah Ann and her youngest children also moved to Mechanicsburg. A document preserved by the family states, “Sarah Ann Sourbeck the bearer, has been an acceptable member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Mechanicsburg, Carlisle Circuit, Baltimore Conference. Given under my hand this 11th day of September, 1849. James Watts, Preacher in charge.” If Mrs. Nicholas of Camp Hill thought there had been an earlier issue with the Sourbecks and religion, it seems to have been rectified.
It was during the family’s years in Mechanicsburg that the daguerreotype of Annie and Harry Sourbeck was made, most likely by Andrew B. Tubbs, who was active in Harrisburg in 1850, although the velvet liner of the case is not embossed with Tubbs’ name as in other surviving examples. There is no question that John Plumbe, Jr. – who was one of the earliest daguerreotypists in America, and who established galleries bearing his name in cities such as Frederick, Maryland; Portland, Maine; Ontario, Canada; and Louisville, Kentucky – operated a daguerreotype franchise in Harrisburg in the 1840s. Tubbs may have taken over the studio late in that decade.
The rarity and wonder of photographic images, even some two decades after the introduction of the daguerreotype, is evidenced in a surviving letter of 5 February, 1865, from Sarah Ann’s nephew, Emanuel H. Salada, to his aunt. His mother was Elizabeth Collier (1831-1867). (I have lightly edited this excerpt to increase readability.)
“I would inform you that I received the photograph you sent and further I was pleased very well to have it…. When I showed it to sister Amanda Hoffman, she kissed it and said, ‘She looks like mother did.’…. I would like to have my family taken and send it to you all but our place will not afford [a photographer] to stop here. But if I live till next summer I will take them to Harrisburg and have them taken. Further, I am sorry to say to you that I can’t fulfill your wish in regard of sending my mother’s picture. She never had it taken as far as I know,” Salada concluded mournfully. “I would give 20 Dollars myself for one likeness of my mother.”
“I came west with my parents in 1851 or 1852, when the Pennsylvania Railroad was not yet completed.”
Harry Sourbeck, the tow-headed boy who looks at us suspiciously through the daguerreotype’s photographic hole in time, shared an early memory with the Alliance Weekly Review, which published a biographical item about him on 3 April, 1914. “I came west with my parents in 1851 or 1852, when the Pennsylvania Railroad was not yet completed…. I remember well the conductor calling out the first through train to Pittsburgh. It was at a place where they were loading canal boats on cars to take them over the mountains by rail.”
What seems at first to be misremembering – that Harry traveled with both parents when his father was dead – resolves with the understanding that it was Daniel, Harry’s eldest brother, more than 30 years his senior, who led the party west. Their destination was a triumvirate of villages sprung up around the Cleveland & Wellsville and Ohio & Pennsylvania railroads that would later unify into a town called Alliance.
According to Amtrak’s Great American Stations website, “At Alliance, the two railroads crossed, and to this day, any map of the area prominently displays the graceful ‘X’ that the rails create upon the landscape.”
The site continues, “In 1853 the first depot in town was constructed on the north side of the rail crossing near E. Main Street and Webb Avenue; Main Street was laid out to lead directly to the station, as city leaders recognized the potential impact that the railroad would have on their community. Old photographs show it to be … an octagonal two-story central section with a low tent roof. This portion of the station was flanked by one-story wings that featured large dormer gables trimmed in fancy bargeboard. The building appeared to be wood frame and covered in clapboard, while the windows were crowned by Tudor inspired window hoods that were in keeping with the eclectic nature of the overall design. Also on the north side adjoining the depot was a hotel and dining hall.”
On 12 May, 1852, Daniel Sourbeck arrived to take charge of the latter, which “became noted for famous meals throughout the length of these great thoroughfares and their connections…. Sourbeck came here at the solicitation of members of that company especially to take charge of their house. He had been engaged up to that time, in the Dry Goods trade and hotel business for a number of years in New Brighton, Pa. To the Sourbeck House, Alliance owes greatly her early fame; for the excellent manner in which the house has been managed in all its departments from his installation therein, has caused it to be spoken of far and near, and always has it been associated with the name of Alliance,” explains Stuart McKees’ Directory of 1868.
During the years in which Daniel ran the establishment it burned down once and was rebuilt of brick, and “Many noted individuals stopped at Sourbeck House, among them Louis Kossuth, the leader of the Hungarian revolution, [who] was received with honor and made a brief address in 1852, also in the same year, Gen. Winfield Scott on his way to Cleveland where he made the historic speech which lost the presidency to the Whig party in the fall,” notes The Alliance Review, published by the Alliance Historical Society.
The Review also allows us a glimpse of an age that was ugly with racism: “Mr. J. H. Sharer in his history of early Alliance tells of listening to the speeches of these men and also relates the incident when ‘Fred Douglass in company with two hundred delegates to a Free Soil convention, had stopped at the Sourbeck House in 1852 for a dinner previously ordered. Mr. Sourbeck, seeing the colored man in the dining room and not knowing he was one of the party, took steps to eject him whereupon all present arose from their seats and marched in a body to the roundhouse which stood nearby on the north side of the track and adopted a series of stinging resolutions, rebuking Mr. Sourbeck for the indignity he had heaped upon them.’”
Daniel Sourbeck’s prospering business attracted other members of the clan such as brothers John, who would shortly move on to Youngstown; James, who died in Alliance in 1873; and Wash, who rejoined his family in 1855 after a sojourn working on the rails. “[Wash] came to Alliance, and was engaged in his brother’s dining hall at the railroad depot for about one and a half years,” notes the History of Stark County, Ohio. Afterward, “He went to Youngstown and engaged at his trade for a short time when he accepted a clerkship in the Union Hotel, where he remained for two years. He purchased the passenger dining-rooms on Liberty Street, Pittsburgh, which he conducted about a year, sold out and returned to Youngstown, Ohio.”
“I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see the rear coach leaving the track.”
In 1855, Daniel Sourbeck was nearly the victim of a horrific train wreck that was widely reported in the eastern United States. According to the Friday, 31 August, Baltimore Sun, a train of five passenger cars “left Philadelphia at 10 o’clock…reached Burlington before 11 o’clock. It then stopped, waiting for the arrival of the 8 o’clock New York train from Jersey City…. After waiting for from five to ten minutes, and the New York train not appearing, the Philadelphia train went forward slowly, watching for the approach of the downward train. It had gone forward about a mile and a quarter when the New York train came in sight.” The Philadelphia train began to back up. The engineer did so at speed, not knowing that a “light pleasure wagon driven by Dr. Hannigan of Columbus, N.J., had attempted to cross the track.” The last passenger car, which at the train’s reversal became the leading car, crashed into the wagon, jumped the track, and rolled down an embankment dragging other cars with it and crushing some together.
Sourbeck was traveling on the train with a friend named Kelly from Philadelphia to New York. The engineer, Mr. Kelly claimed years later in a Pittsburgh Daily Post article, “pulled the throttle wide open, sending the light train flying backward over the road. Mr. Sourbeck remarked about the high speed and swaying motion of the cars. I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see the rear coach leaving the track and rolling over. I was just reaching for the bell cord when our own car lurched over…. When I regained my senses, I was lying beneath the body of a dead man.”
Dozens were killed and severely injured. Daniel Sourbeck was reported by the Sun to have a scalp wound. Mr. Kelly recalled that Sourbeck was “badly hurt and suffered for some time.”
Even so, Sourbeck could count himself amongst the lucky. A female passenger, Mrs. Benjamin Harvey, described the terrible scene to the Sunbury American: “She says that portions of bodies were scattered over the ground, while wounded men and women, bleeding, and some dying, were lying upon the bank, exposed to the hot sun. The leg of a man was thrown some distance from the body, while his heart and other small particles of flesh and bones were found in other directions.”
Less than a year later, on 6 December, 1856, another tragic train accident occurred, this time, literally, too close to home. There was a “collision in which the train on the C. & P. crashed into the train on the Ohio & Penn, which had not yet cleared the crossing. It was rushing along at such speed and hit with such force that the cars were pushed into the wooden station house that stood on the north side of the track and where the platform and waiting room was filled with people. Eleven were killed and twenty seriously hurt,” reported the Alliance Weekly Review.
The 12 December issue of the Freemont Weekly Journal includes more details. “One of the passenger cars was thrown into the rotunda of the depot, and another into the sitting room of the Sourbeck Hotel, in which several persons were sitting. Both of these rooms were torn to pieces, and the inmates either killed or wounded.”
William H. Vincent, who was a clerk at Sourbeck House, later described the scene in a handwritten autobiography: “After coming into the public room we found one of the Pennsylvania cars – two trucks of it were in the room, four doorways were all broken down. On going outside, the platform was all broken and the bodies of seven persons were lying dead.” Vincent saw the dead bodies of his doctor and the doctor’s wife, as well. “The doctor’s body was found with his clothing around and between the front wheels of the locomotive, which was still on the track except for the two front wheels,” he wrote.
It does not appear that any of the Sourbecks were injured during this incident. The damage to the property was quickly repaired, and within a few years, Albert, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), would be a noted guest, as would President Abraham Lincoln whilst on his way to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration. A few years after this auspicious visit, the same rail lines would transport wounded and ill soldiers through Alliance as the Civil War raged. Amongst these soldiers would be one of the Sourbecks’ own.
“At the time of his enlistment said Sourbeck was a sound able-bodied man and free from all chills and fever.”
During the Civil War, brother John Sourbeck enlisted, fought, and ultimately died. Sourbeck joined up on 26 May, 1862, becoming a first lieutenant with the 84th Regiment, Ohio Infantry. But it was neither bullets nor cannon shot that took out John – it was tiny, hungry mosquitos.
In a pension case filed by John’s widow, Jane Griffith Sourbeck, she produced the sworn testimony of Third Sergeant Levellette Battelle of the 84th Ohio who said he was “personally acquainted with Lt. John Sourbeck when enlisted, prior to, and during his service in said organization. At the time of his enlistment said Sourbeck was a sound able-bodied man and free from all chills and fever. In Cumberland, MD, in July 1862, said Sourbeck took sick with chills and fever caused by being exposed…to a malarial climate. During the rest of his service, he had several attacks of chills and fever and was at the time disabled from service on that account.”
An affidavit filed by Dr. Frederick Whistler concludes John’s story: “[He was] discharged from service in the fall of 1862 …. He continued to suffer with chills and fever until he died of a congestive chill April 30, 1864. From the time of his discharge until his death, I saw him frequently each month, knew he suffered from said disability during that time by observing his symptoms and hearing his complaints. I was with him and saw him about two hours before he died.”
John Sourbeck was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio. Much like his father before him, John left many children behind, including an infant not yet one year old. His wife Jane never remarried. During her final years, she lived on Oak Street in Youngstown, dying 5 January, 1901.
“He was of a wandering disposition and has not been heard from since 1896.”
Unlike some of her male relatives, little exists to fill out the character of Annie Sourbeck Gray. We have a photo of her taken in the 1870s and we know the Grays would have three children together: Mary E. (b.1857); Louis Henry (1859-1945); and Margaret Anna (1864-1927). By 1861, they had left Alliance for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and remained there through the 1870 Census. They lived in Brewster, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, by 1900, when they were enumerated in the household of Annie’s sister Matilda Sourbeck Crosby. At that time, Theodore Gray stated his occupation as “day laborer” – surely a harsh job for a 65-year-old man. It was in Brewster with his wife and in-laws that Theodore died at age 67 on 2 August, 1902.
On 17 February, 1887, Annie’s daughter Margaret married Edwards Cranston Brooks (8 November 1860-12 January, 1922), who was a West Point graduate and commissioned cavalry officer. In 1898, he was sent to Santiago, Cuba, for the duration of the Spanish-American War, and because of meritorious service received a brevet U.S. Army captainship. In 1900, he served as auditor for the Island of Cuba. This information comes from Genealogies of Rhode Island Families, Vol. I, which also includes this amusing comment about one of Brooks’ cousins, George Williams: “He went to Oregon with his father and other members of his family in 1851, but he was of a wandering disposition and has not been heard from since 1896.”
Annie and Theodore Gray’s son, Louis, became the president of the L. H. Gray Steamship Company and later the head of Associate Charters, a railroad freight shipping venture. He was a successful businessman who married Halcon L. Robertson on 4 October, 1893, in Cook, Illinois. In 1900, the census places him in Seattle, Washington, where he remained for the rest of his life, dying at age 85. The couple had no children.
After Theodore Gray’s death, Annie Sourbeck appears on the 1910 Census in Ward 3 of the District of Columbia, dwelling with her daughter Margaret Gray Brooks and two granddaughters. She lived until 1920, dying in East Brewster, Massachusetts, in August of that year.
“Happy, oh happy may you ever be, And be you blessed in Immortality.”
By 1870, Sarah Ann Sourbeck had moved to Chicago’s 4th Ward. A picture exists of her in taken that decade in which she appears a relatively well-heeled, silver-haired widow. That her sons and stepsons provided for her is certain if the discretionary income of Daniel Sourbeck is any evidence. The Stark County Democrat reported on 7 August, 1873, that he had gone to New York and “bought a fine Specimen of Darwin’s ancestry which came duly to hand, in a fit condition for burial, accompanied by $10.00 express charges. If [Sourbeck] were not a Christian, we would expect to hear that he had become profane. The Express Company has not got the ten dollars, but then it can have the monkey.”
Sarah Ann Sourbeck remained in Chicago until her death, 9 April, 1886, aged 82 years, one month. The funeral took place at the home of her son Wash on 11 April, followed by her burial in Alliance City Cemetery. Wash would follow her to the family plot on 26 June, 1891.
There exists an acrostic dated 23 July, 1838, which proclaims itself as “a token of respect” to Sarah Ann from soi-disant poet James Fitzpatrick of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The lines that Fitzpatrick wrote to match her first name are apt by which to bid her farewell:
“Sweetest of bliss shall thy pure bosom know; And flowers of Beauty on thy pathway grow; Refulgent jewels shall thy brow adorn, As pure and radiant as the star of morn; Happy, oh happy may you ever be, And be you blessed in Immortality, Ne’er fading flowers on thy path shall grow, Nor ever sorrow will thy bosom know….”
His wife’s surname was Reeves, and a family story says she came from a banking family, but her first name remains stubbornly unknown.
Harry Sourbeck was schooled in Alliance “until I was 14 years of age, and started firing when not quite 15,” Harry told the Alliance Review in 1913. “I was promoted to engineer at the age of 19, in the year 1864. The first thing I did was on a steam car, built on Massillion, Ohio, and the first engine I ran was an 18-ton engine, with one pair of drivers and a wood burner, the cylinders set halfway back of the boiler.”
Harry did not join up during the Civil War, possibly because his railway position was considered essential by the Union. Near the end of the war, in 1865, he told the Review, “I was transferred to New Castle, PA, to run a construction train in building the Lawrence Branch Road from New Castle to Youngstown on the Pennsylvania Lines.” According to the Locomotive Engineer’ Monthly Journal, “He ran the first engine that ever went into Youngstown of the Pennsylvania lines.”
Harry Sourbeck married for the first time in the late 1860s. His wife’s surname was Reeves, and a family story says she came from a banking family, but her first name remains stubbornly unknown. Harry had by her a son, Franklin William, born 25 September, 1869, in Sharpsville, Mercer County, Pennsylvania, and who died 21 November, 1917, in the State Epileptic Hospital in Gallipolis, Ohio, after spending a lifetime in Alliance as a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railway Company.
Frank Sourbeck married an Alliance native, Laura May Moyer (1874-1961), on 17 December, 1890, and with her, he gave his father four grandchildren: Harry Lloyd (1891-1964), Pearl Marie (1892-1983), Floyd Maurice (1897-1978), and Margaret May Sourbeck (1903-1986).
In addition to his railway career, Harry Sourbeck also co-owned several retail shops. He and his brother-in-law Thomas Clark Moore ran a business together at Irving House, located at Conneaut Lake Park, northwest of Pittsburgh. The building housed Sourbeck & Clark, probably a hardware store, according to an interview with a relative. There was also Sourbeck & Moore, also probably a hardware store, in Alliance. In addition, Harry owned the lots on what is now Wayne Street, Alliance, upon which he built homes, including his own dwelling at number 231.
After the breakup of his first marriage or the death of his spouse – we don’t know which of these occurred –Harry Sourbeck married Lydia D. Robinson (1861–1912) on 1 May, 1878, in Alliance at the home of the bride’s father, George Robinson. They went on to have three daughters: Bertha Eliza (1874 – 1963), Flora E. (1879 – 1919), and Fannie Helen Crosby Sourbeck (1895 – 1973).
Willie Donovan was frequently sent upstairs to have Mrs. Sourbeck cash large bills for the barkeep.
While this article may stand perilously close to being retitled “Daniel Sourbeck, Man Around Town,” there is one anecdote left to share about this colorful chap in his old age. In 1882, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, “The community was startled on Friday night on becoming aware that Dan Sourbeck had been robbed of $600…. Some years ago, Mr. Sourbeck lost $10,000 in the Alliance Bank, since which time he, and especially Mrs. Sourbeck, lost confidence in banks and concluded to be their own bankers, and hoarded their surplus cash in a trunk in Mrs. Sourbeck’s private room.”
A boy named Willie Donovan, who was employed by the Sourbecks, was frequently sent upstairs to have Mrs. Sourbeck cash large bills for the barkeep and thusly “became aware that there was a handsome depository in the house.” One day, Donovan was sent to Mrs. Sourbeck’s room to light a fire and stayed longer than usual. He told his employers that this was because the fire would not properly light. A few days later, the Sourbeck’s granddaughter Sophia discovered that money had been taken from the trunk. Unfortunately for Donovan, it had already been noticed that he was “quite flash with cash” and had bought a new suit, a watch, and other valuables. When questioned by the police and Sourbeck, he convinced them that he had been put up to the theft by Sourbeck’s neighbor, Olie Clark. Both Donovan and Clark were arrested for the crime.
The article concludes with Sourbeck reflecting that one of the two keys to his money drawer had gone missing some time before “and on several occasions [he] missed money from the drawer. A number of cigars were also stolen out of a case, all of which he attributes to the faithlessness of the boy in hoc.”
Sourbeck died 14 November, 1883, at 71 years of age, leaving the entirety of his estate, minus small bequeaths, to his wife Eliza, who outlived him by only a year. Both are buried at Grove Cemetery, New Brighton, Pennsylvania.
“Engineer W. H. Sourbeck was not at his post nor on the engine.”
On 6 November, 1898, a newspaper of no less gravitas than The New York Times ran the following story: “Joseph Desmond, Fireman on a Pittsburg, Fort Wayne and Chicago locomotive, drawing a fast passenger train last night near Columbiana, Ohio, suddenly discovered that Engineer W. H. Sourbeck was not at his post or on the engine. The train was running at a high rate of speed at the time. The fireman promptly shut off steam and stopped the train. Conductor Holloway ordered the train run back, and Engineer Sourbeck was found lying unconscious beside the track with his skull badly fractured. His injuries will likely prove fatal. It is thought that he climbed out on the running board and, losing his balance, fell to the ground.”
The Pittsburgh Press’s article ran on page one under the headline “He May Recover.” It reported that after Fireman Desmond had stopped the train and calmed the passengers, a search party was organized to find Sourbeck. “For several hours the mystery remained unsolved, but finally the crew of a freight train found the missing engineer among some trees, 50 yards from the railroad track.”
Sourbeck suffered a fractured skull, a broken breastbone, and an injured spine. After a period of unconsciousness, he awoke, but could not explain what happened. Later, his memory returned and he told the Press reporter that he was leaning from his cab window, oiling machinery when he lost his balance and tumbled from the train.
Years later, the Locomotive Engineer’ Monthly of January 1914 would write that the accident “did not amount to much.” It certainly did not dim his love of the railroad. The Journal noted that when Harry retired he was the oldest engineer on the lines west of Pittsburgh and that there was no one left in any department who had been there when he had begun. He received a pension in January 1914, by which time he had a permanently injured hand and impaired hearing. But when interviewed, he “still appeared fit, agile, and strong…and would like to live until he was 100 years old to see the great changes to come on the railroads.”
Harry’s wife, Lydia Robinson Sourbeck, passed away a few years before his retirement, on 6 September, 1912, in the 34th year of their marriage. Harry, now a stately silver-haired man, would live on in the city with his youngest daughter, Fanny. He continued to travel to by rail, telling the Journal that “‘By sand, it’s the happiest day of life; it’s just like going out on a lark…. [A]fter riding in the cab for over a century I’m going to ride the velvet instead of the leather.’” That publication notes that he had recently returned from a rail trip to Florida, where he had made the short crossing by boat to Havana, Cuba.
Harry Sourbeck died at Suburban General Hospital on 13 September, 1930, of pneumonia, age 85. He was buried on 15 September at Union Dale Cemetery, Allegheny County. Ω
This article would not have been possible without the research of Dale Alan Sourbeck into his family’s history. I also thank him humbly for allowing me to use the photos of the family he has has meticulously collected.