Will the Circle be Unbroken: The History of the Heltons

“I was standing by my window,
On one cold and cloudy day
When I saw that hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away
Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, lord, by and by?
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, lord, in the sky?”

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From left: Silas, Milo, and Nellie Fay Helton, a modern copy of a vintage albumen print, circa November 1902. Print: Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

I do not own the original of this photograph, but I purchased this copy from the purported owner, so I reproduce it here with the caveat that the original is not in my collection copyright, but the research is solely my own.

According to the seller, the photo, taken in Monticello, Indiana, bears the inscription “Nellie Fay, Milo, and Silas.” It shows a trio of children stood before a late 1880s or early 1890s cabinet card that almost certainly portrayed their parents. The photograph was propped against a desiccated funeral floral arrangement of a broken wheel, which signified that the family circle was compromised. There was a note attached to the arrangement, but the writing is too small to read.

A search through public records led me to Nellie Fay Helton (b. April, 1891), Milo Charles Helton (b. 24 June, 1895), and Silas Warren Helton (b. June 1893), the children of farmer Charles Milo Helton, born 19 November, 1859, in Whittier, Indiana, and his wife Emma Florence Hart, born November 1867 in Cass County, Indiana. The pair married 20 March, 1887.

Charles’s parents were John Helton (b. 18 Nov., 1825)—also recorded as Hilton—and Susan Vernon (b. 1828). Both originally from Ohio, they married in Indiana 2 March, 1848. Charles, who was the third son and fifth of seven children, grew up on the family farm in the township of Washington.

Charles’s father died at age 40 on 10 June, 1865, but he does not appear to be a Civil War casualty. He was laid to rest in Miller Cemetery, Deacon, Indiana. By the enumeration of the 1870 census, Charles’s brother William had assumed the family patriarchy. The situation remained unchanged in 1880.

Silas W. Hart was 5’10”, blue-eyed, and white-haired. He was of the Protestant faith, could supposedly neither read nor write, and received an annual Civil War pension of $72.

Emma Hart Helton was the daughter of Silas W. Hart and South Carolina-born America Rodabaugh (1838-1880). Silas Hart came into life in Fayette County, Indiana, 6 November, 1836, the son of John Hart and Indiana R. Baldwin (13 June, 1815-18 Dec., 1880).

At age 26, on 16 August, 1862, Hart enlisted as a private in Company G, 73rd Indiana Infantry. “The [regiment] was mustered in at South Bend on 16 August 1862, with Gilbert Hathaway as colonel. Its men came from all over the northern part of the state, with sizable contingents from LaPorte, Valparaiso, Crown Point, Michigan City, Plymouth, Calumet, and Logansport,” wrote W. H. H. Terrell, in the Report of Adjutant General, Indiana, Vols. II and VI. “The regiment went immediately to Kentucky, where its first assignment was to chase Bragg’s forces south into Tennessee. By 20 November the regiment was at Nashville. For several days at the end of December 1862 and the beginning of January 1863 [there] was in heavy fighting at Stone River.

“In April 1863 the 73rd was assigned to Colonel A. D. Streight’s Independent Provisional Brigade, which had the mission of penetrating the enemy’s territory and cutting its communications. Embarking at Nashville, the regiment sailed down the Cumberland and up the Tennessee, landing at Eastport, Mississippi. From 30 April to 2 May they were in heavy engagements at Day’s Gap, Crooked Creek, and Blount’s Farm, all in Alabama. Colonel Hathaway was killed at this last engagement, and five days later Colonel Streight himself surrendered. The enlisted men in the regiment were soon paroled and returned to Nashville while the officers were sent to Confederate prison camps.”

In 1864, the regiment served picket duty along the Tennessee River. “In September they were ordered to Decatur, Alabama, where they held off an attack on 1 October. On 26 October, Hood with 35,000 men besieged Decatur, but was held off. In the winter of 1864-1865 the 73rd moved to Stevenson, Alabama, then to Huntsville, then to guard the Mobile and Charleston Railroad with headquarters at Larkinsville.”

img-3On 1 July, 1865, the regiment was mustered out at Nashville. Silas Hart left the infantry as a full corporal and returned his wife America and his children in Indiana. After America’s death on 4 December, 1880, Silas married twice more. A 2 August, 1911, Richmond Item story about his third and very “winter marriage” to Ellen Donhower is left.

Silas served as post master in Galveston, Indiana, and later was a jeweler in Richmond, Indiana. He ended his days in the National Military Home in Dayton, Ohio. From the admission records of 20 April, 1922, we know that at age 86, Silas was 5’10”, blue-eyed, and white-haired. He was of the Protestant faith, supposedly could neither read nor write, received an annual Civil War pension of $72, and was suffering from severe dementia. His stay at the home was brief: Silas Hart died 24 May, 1922, of chronic cardiac dilation. This is not the last time readers of this article will encounter fatal medical conditions of the heart.

“Mrs. Helton suddenly sank on the shoulders of her husband and expired before she could be gotten out of the vehicle.”

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The Helton children’s parents can be seen in this closeup.

The loss of the 1890 Census to a 1921 conflagration prevents a glimpse of the young Helton family in the first years after Charles and Emma wed. (A comprehensive article on the 1890 census and its near total destruction can be read at Prologue.) The enumeration would have shown Charles and Emma’s firstborn children, twins Earl Dick and Pearl, who arrived safely on 21 June, 1888. Next came Flossie Fern, born in January 1890.

(An interesting aside: according to Isaac Blickenstein and Louis G. Keith’s book Multiple Pregnancy: Epidemiology, Gestation, and Perinatal Outcome, “One recently reviewed historical account from a rural German community during the 18th and 19th centuries showed that maternal mortality during the first 42 days postpartum was not significantly different among mothers of twins compared with mothers of singletons. On the other hand, mothers of twins who delivered twins a second time were almost four times more likely to die, compared with mothers of twins who later delivered singletons.” Other more recent studies show multiple gestations associated with a two-fold increase of risk of death.)

Charles and Emma would have seven children in total including Silas, Nellie Fay, Milo, and a final boy, Harold, who arrived in March 1898. The farm on which all were born was six miles southwest of Logansport, rented from E. G. Wilson. Years later, the Logansport Pharos-Tribune would note that Charles Helton was “one of the most successful farmers and well-known residents of the county.” (Backing up this claim, the 12 November, 1891, Logansport Reporter stated that an expensive horse was stolen from Charles.)

Unexpectedly, stunningly, the children lost their mother on 2 November, 1901. The Elwood Daily Record of 11 November describes what happened: “Mrs. Charles Helton, a sister of C. N. Hart of [Kokomo, Indiana], died in a buggy while coming here on a visit from her home near Monticello. She was accompanied by her husband, and when about half way here, and while they were eating a cold lunch, Mrs. Helton suddenly sank on the shoulders of her husband and expired before she could be gotten out of the vehicle. Heart trouble was the cause…. Mr. Helton turned around and returned home with the corpse of his wife.”

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Marshall County Independent (Plymouth, Indiana), 15 November, 1901.

The Marshall County Independent reported a slightly different tale: “Her husband, thinking she had fallen asleep, drove several miles not knowing she was dead.”

The eldest children’s shock and horror at the sight of their dead mother in the buggy may have left lasting scars. Conversely, the youngest children, Milo and Harold, probably could not recall the incident, or even their mother, in later years. But no matter how much they remembered, did not care to remember, or could not remember about their mother and her death, the Helton children had inherited from her a genetic propensity toward heart disease, attacks, and failure. As the decades went by, many clan members would die from these medical causes.

On 4 November, Emma Hart Helton was buried, according to her death certificate, in the “IOOF cem,”—presumably the International Order of Odd Fellows Lodge 107 Riverview Cemetery in Monticello, although her grave is unmarked. I think it highly likely that three of the youngest Heltons—Nelly, Milo, and Silas—posed for the photo with their mother’s dried funeral flowers on the first anniversary of her passing in November 1902.

Unlike many widowers with young children, Charles Helton did not remarry and the eldest daughters, Pearl and Flossie, probably took on the mother’s role vacated by Emma’s death. However, Pearl and Flossie did not abandon their education to care for younger siblings. The two girls and brother Earl graduated from Monticello High School in 1908 and Pearl would eventually leave the family farm to study in Chicago.

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The White County Court House, Monticello, Indiana, as the Heltons would have known it. Colored postcard, circa 1910.

The Helton family can be found on the 1910 Census of White County, with all surviving members accounted for. On Christmas Eve of that year, Earl married Hazel Vera Eads (1888-1960). Their first child, a boy named after his paternal grandfather, was born in 1911.

Death blighted the family circle once again in 1914. Pearl Helton died in Chicago on 13 January. I cannot locate her death certificate, but it is highly likely she died of a fatal heart condition such as myocardial insufficiency. Her body was returned to her family and she was buried in Monticello, perhaps beside her mother at Riverview. Her grave is also unmarked.

In the Pharos-Tribune of 21 November, 1918, reported that “Charles Helton, with his daughter, Miss Flossie Helton, left Tuesday for Wausaukee, Wisconsin, where they will reside permanently. A son, Milo Helton, is already there and they will be joined at Hammond by another son, Earl Helton, who with his family will also go there to make it his home…. They will live on a large farm which they have purchased near Wausaukee.”

Earl and Hazel did not pull up roots and follow. They would settle in Hammond, Lake County, Indiana, where Earl worked as a crane operator in a car shop and later as a machinist. Earl and Hazel and had six children after Charles Milo: Harry Thomas (b. 1914); Robert James (b. 1917); Joy Mae (b. 1918), George Dick (b. 1922), Gladys Dee (b. 1926) and Richard Earl (b. 1929).

img-4While searching for newspaper articles that mentioned Earl and Hazel, I came across the one at right, from the 28 December, 1935, issue of the Hammond Times, and other issues throughout the 1930s. Hazel Helton was a Spiritualist, as is my own father and are my own paternal grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents. I was both christened and married at the Spiritualist Church of Two Worlds in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

There is much misunderstanding of Spiritualism, but the clearest explanation is that its adherents believe in life after death and that the dead can contact the living in numerous ways. One way is through mediums such as Fred Sundling and Ruth Coyle, mentioned in the article. At the end of every Spiritualist service several mediums take turns giving messages from departed loved ones and spirit guides. If Earl attended the church with Hazel, he may have received regular communications from his long-lost mother and sister Pearl. To hear more from their dear departed, the Heltons may also have visited Camp Chesterfield, Indiana, a Spiritualist summer retreat that opened in 1891 and is still in service today. There, the messages, readings, table-tipping, and séances were a comfort and an assurance that, to quote the famous hymn, the circle would be unbroken, by and by.

At age 71, from acute coronary occlusion, Hazel’s earthly chair was vacated 11 May, 1960. Earl Helton lived on for another four years, dying 30 August, 1964, of coronary myocardial infarction in Crown Point, Indiana. He is buried with his wife at Oak Hill Cemetery, Lake County.

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Earl and Hazel Helton. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Faye Helton Lane and Linda Lane Hedges.

Flossie Helton married Malvin Christ Monsen. He was born 2 June, 1890, in Marinette, Wisconsin, to Norwegan immigrants Olaf Monsen and Hansine Anderson. Malvin came to his long-time home in Dunbar, Michigan, as a child and attended the Dunbar School. His 1917 draft registration describes him as short, of a medium complexion, with blue eyes and light-brown hair, and partly bald. (We know from his 1942 draft registration that he was 5’5″ tall, 150 pounds, and was by then completely bald.) He served with the United States Army during World War I from 1917 to 1919. In France, he was shot in the thigh of his left leg and received the Purple Heart.

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Malvin and Flossie Monsen from the book “Dunbar Remembered Centennial 1888-1988.”

After the war, Malvin farmed, and in 1922, he became the first rural mail carrier for the area, a position he kept until in 1957. On September 25, 1925, he married Flossie Helton, and by the enumeration of the 1930 Census, the couple had an infant son Wayne (1929-2011), who was known throughout his life as “Swede.” Flossie’s father Charles Helton also lived with them. The old man passed away 30 July, 1934. The Pharos-Tribune of 2 August reported his last journey: “The body of Charles H. Helton, who died at his house In Goodland, Wis., was brought here this morning to the Prevo and Son funeral home, where services were held…. Burial was in Riverview Cemetery.”

Malvin died in Iron Mountain, Dickinson County, Michigan, on 15 November, 1975. Flossie lived for a little more than a year, dying on Christmas Day, 1976, in Kingsford, Michigan. Both are buried in Dunbar Memorial Gardens.

Swede Monsen “graduated from Pembine High School in 1948. After graduation, he proudly served his country in the United States Air Force as a flight engineer including missions in the Berlin Air Lift, Korean War, and Vietnam. After 23 years of service, he and [his wife] Betty moved to Peshtigo [Wisconsin] where he owned and operated Swede’s Standard Station,” recounted his obituary after his death on 20 February, 2011.

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Wayne “Swede” Monsen

“Years later, Betty and Wayne moved to Pembine, Wisconsin, and owned Swede’s Place Bar and Restaurant and Swede’s Garage. They relocated to Milwaukee and worked for Doug Rohde Grading Co. for 17 years, finally coming home to his boyhood family farm in Dunbar.”

Swede was buried in Dunbar Memorial Gardens. But this branch of the Heltons live on, with two daughters, seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren surviving him.

The informant—Nellie’s daughter Aleatha—did not know the full name of her  grandmother, filling in the blank line with “unk. Hart.”

img-2Nellie Fay Helton married Harley Ward Phebus (b. 1891) on 2 May, 1914. The 1920 Census placed the couple and their daughters, two-year-old Agatha and six-month-old Aleatha living in a lodging house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In 1930, the Phebuses had a home in North Arsenal Avenue, Indianapolis. Harley worked as a salesman and Nellie as a waitress in a restaurant. By 1936, he had changed his job career to watchman. Sometime shortly afterward, Phebus returned to an earlier career—auctioneering, eventually joining the company Ace Liquidators, as his obituary (left) detailed. Harley was sometimes referred to in newspaper advertising as “Col. Harley Phebus.” He indeed served in World War I, but I can obtain no more information on his service than his draft registration, which described him as short, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a pale complexion.

Harley Phebus was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis on 15 January, 1962. Nellie died in a retirement home in Zionsville, Indiana, in May 1972, aged 81, of cerebral arteriosclerosis. She was buried 30 May in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis.

As I read her death certificate, it saddened me to note that while the informant—Nellie’s daughter Aleatha—knew the name of her grandfather Charles Helton, she did not know the full name of her grandmother, filling in the line with “unk. Hart.” It is speculation whether this spoke of Nellie’s trauma on that long-ago November day when a buggy containing her dead mother arrived at the door.

The registrar reported Milo was missing his right eye and his left index finger at the first joint.

Milo Helton, as previously mentioned, removed to Wausaukee, Wisconsin, by 1918 when his father and Flossie joined him. The year previous, he filled out a Word War I draft registration that stated he was of medium height, a medium build, and had brown eyes and brown hair. It does not appear that he served during the war.

The date of Milo’s marriage remains elusive, but his wife was Maud E. Woosencraft (b. 1900), the daughter of Welsh immigrants. They had four children: Thomas C. (b. 1933), Gwendolyn M. (b. 1934), Dorothy L. (b. 1935), and Donald M. (b. 1938).

In 1942, Milo Helton filled out a World War II draft registration card. At some point between the two wars, he suffered a serious accident. The registrar recorded that Milo was missing his right eye and his left index finger at the first joint. I suspect that this trauma was caused during his employment as an electrician at a lumbar mill in the 1920s. Milo died only a few years after the World War II draft, on 14 March, 1946, and is buried in Dunbar Memorial Gardens, Dunbar, Wisconsin. Maud did not follow until 25 January, 1961, but today she lies beside him.

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The headstone of Milo and Maud Helton at Dunbar Memorial Gardens. Photo by Accidental Genealogist.

Silas Helton, the other brother who would not move to Wisconsin in 1918, married Velda Scott Eldridge on 2 June, 1915. (His wife was born in August 1897 to Oregon and Bertha Scott Eldridge.) Their daughter, Pequetti Marge, arrived 11 June, 1917, and Velda was pregnant again when the United States entered into the first World War. Silas was either conscripted or voluntarily joined the fight. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he served from 8 July, 1918, to 8 February, 1919.

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Pequetti Helton in 1937. Her resemblance to her father Silas when a child is striking.

Silas returned safely to Monticello, where he met his son Paige Hart Helton, born 9 September, 1918. Silas took up work as slate cutter and later as an insurance salesman.

Wrenchingly, nine-year-old Paige died of Myocardial insufficiency at Methodist Hospital, Indianapolis, 22 August, 1927. He joined his grandmother, aunt, and others of his clan at Riverview Cemetery. Pequetti did not inherit the Heltons’ heart disease. She thrived and grew into an exceptionally beautiful and talented woman. Silas and Velda must have been both relieved and proud.

By 1930, the Heltons were decamped to Crawfordsville, Indiana, where Pequetti attended the town high school, playing the bassoon and marching in a new band uniform of “dark blue, trimmed in gold [with a] Sam Browne belt and Pershing hat,” according to the 1932 yearbook. Shortly thereafter, Pequetti won an MGM screen test and enrolled in the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music at Indianapolis’s Butler University. On 19 May, 1940, as she was about to graduate, the “blonde, blue-eyed senior from Lafayette will rule as queen on the annual Butler University Day May celebration…in the formal gardens of the fairview campus,” gushed the Indianapolis Star. The day included folk dancing, a Woman’s League ball, a concert, the play Robin Hood, and a feast.

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Pequetti Helton’s engagement announcement.

For the next several years, Pequetti’s life was a round of dramatic performances, social gatherings, and weddings in which she was maid of honor or a bride’s maid. Then on 18 July, 1943, the Star reported her engagement to U.S. Navy Ensign Anthony J. Marra with a large photo of the bride-to-be (right).

After their marriage on 7 August, 1944, the couple lived for a time in San Pedro, California, and later made their home in Indianapolis, where Anthony Marra operated a construction company. They had three sons: Ronan Scott (b. 1947), Anthony J. (b. 1949), and Steven C. Marra (b. 1954).

In 1942,  her father Silas registered for the World War II draft from Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indiana. He was 5’6″, 145 pounds, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion. From this time until the late 1960s, I can find nothing to elucidate his life. Silas passed away on Christmas Eve, 1968, of cardiac arrest, in Home Hospital, Lafayette. He was buried on 27 December with his family at Riverview Cemetery in Monticello. Velda, who worked as a clothing seamstress and fitter, died in June 1989 of an acute cerebral hemorrhage and also rests at Riverview.

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Pequetti in February 1967, pictured with the famous Dr. Joyce Brothers.

In the 1950s, Pequetti took up charitable work. She was for some time the president or other officer of the Benefe Guild, which undertook good deeds such as raising money for needy families, buying books for hospitals, and making donations causes such as restoring Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. “To raise finds for their work the guild sponsors an annual card party and a style show, and a rummage sale at the Coffee Street Branch of the Center. The membership sews an extensive doll wardrobe during the year for the Dress-a-Doll-at-Christmastime-to-Help-a-Child Project,” reported the Star on 25 October, 1959.

One must wonder, however, whether Pequetti found the life of a mid-century housewife satisfying, no matter how socially prominent she was and how much charitable work she did outside the home. She may have intended to become a Hollywood starlet, a stage actress, or something else entirely. It is tempting from my own 21st Century position to ascribe boredom and frustration to a life lived dressing dolls and holding teas or card parties. I hope she felt fulfilled and never dwelt on chances lost to her.

img-4The Marras were often mentioned in the society pages of Indianapolis newspapers, such as the article (left) on a spectacular open house during the Christmas season of 1968. Another item in the Star discussed the party the Marras threw at their golf and country club after Ronan graduated from Wabash College on 7 June, 1970.

During the 1970s, Pequetti was still frequently in the Society pages. She was a member of the Sunnyside Guild, which sponsored lectures by noted female speakers, and Pequetti was often pictured with them.

Pequetti died of basal cell carcinoma at 3:45 a.m., 10 June, 2001, at St. Vincent Hospital. She was survived by her sons, her husband, and 10 grandchildren. She is buried in Washington Park North Cemetery, Indianapolis.

The youngest Helton, Harold, never married. In 1920, he lived in Zero, Adams County, Nebraska, working as hired hand on a farm. The 1930 census placed Harold in Alameda, California, rooming and working as a vacuum salesman. In 1940, he lived in Pittsburg, Contra Costa County, California, in a boarding house, working as a carpenter. Harold Helton died 5 September, 1967, in Napa, California. Ω


Will the Circle be Unbroken?

Lyrics written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon with music by Charles H. Gabriel. The song was later rewritten by A. P. Carter and includes the lyrics quoted at the top of this article.

There are loved ones in the glory,
Whose dear forms you often miss
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
In a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

In the joyous days of childhood,
Oft they told of wondrous love,
Pointed to the dying Savior
Now they dwell with Him above.

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
In a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

You remember songs of heaven
Which you sang with childish voice,
Do you love the hymns they taught you,
Or are songs of earth your choice?

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
In a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

You can picture happy gatherings
Round the fireside long ago,
And you think of tearful partings,
When they left you here below

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
In a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

One by one their seats were emptied,
One by one they went away;
Here the circle has been broken
Will it be complete one day?

Susan Sawin: Lost to the White Death

It is clear this portrait was taken before Susan slipped into the final downward spiral of Tuberculosis.

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Susan F. Kimball Sawin. Albumen carte de visite by the studio of A. B. Eaton, Manchester, New Hampshire. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Written on the reverse of this carte de visite, of which above is a closeup, is “Mrs. Susan F. Sawin, Died April 23rd 1863 aged 29 yrs 10 mos 23 days.” Susan, née Kimball, born 31 May, 1833, was the daughter of farmer Ruben Kimball and Abigail Spaulding. A native of Manchester, New Hampshire, she died of consumption—Tuberculosis (TB)—in Townsend, Massachusetts, only a little more than a year after her marriage.

In the United States, TB was the leading cause of death during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The University of Virginia notes, “It was estimated that at the turn of the [20th] century 450 Americans died of tuberculosis every day, most between ages 15 and 44.” Susan Kimball Sawin was just one of these. Her simple life as a New England housewife was lived long ago and cut off in its prime, but her memory—and the memories of all the White Death’s victims—should be honored.

Susan was the third of four spouses of Elisha Dana Sawin. He was 5  born January, 1824, in Sherborn, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and was the son of Bela Sawin (1789-1858) and his wife Rebecca Barber (1789-1827).

Elisha, who was as a cooper—a maker of casks and barrels—had taken as his first wife Hannah Campbell, daughter of farmer Daniel Campbell (1792-1873) and Susanna Colburn (1787-1859). Hannah was born 6 November, 1821, in Townsend. The couple married 12 November 1846—he a “bachelor” and she a “maid”—but the marriage lasted less than a year. Hannah died 12 August, 1847, in Milbury, Worcester County, Massachusetts, of an inflammation of the bowels.

Sawin’s second wife was Elmira Bartlett, born 21 May, 1826, in Townsend. Elmira was the daughter of Martin Bartlett (1786-1849) and Elmira Graham (1797-1882). The couple had a daughter, Ella F., who arrived in 1851. A second daughter, Anna M., was born in 27 August, 1853, but died of the croup aged 4 months and 9 days. It was a staggering loss, but worse was to come. As the decade waned, it became clear that Elmira had contracted the White Death and that she was waning, too.

“It is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived. That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die.”

When, in 1820, the poet John Keats (who was schooled in medicine) coughed a spot of bright red blood, he told a friend, “It is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived. That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die.” Within a year, aged 25, he did just that.

At the time of Keats, Elmira, and Susan’s deaths, TB was believed to be hereditary or arose spontaneously. By 1868, a french doctor, Jean-Antoine Villemin, ascertained that the disease was spread from one victim to another by a microorganism.

“In 1882, Robert Koch discovered a staining technique that enabled him to see Mycobacterium tuberculosis. What excited the world was not so much the scientific brilliance of Koch’s discovery, but the accompanying certainty that now the fight against humanity’s deadliest enemy could really begin,” states Rutgers Global Tuberculosis Institute at the New Jersey Medical School.

Meanwhile, the variable course of TB only served to make it more baffling and terrifying. Physicians could not easily predict whether a consumptive patient would succumb within months, linger for years, or somehow manage to overcome the disease altogether.

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A “premortem” tintype of a woman dying of consumption taken about 1870. Like postmortem images, premortems were often made to mark the moment, especially if the individual had never been photographed before. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

According to the 19th century American physician Dr. William Sweetser, the first stage of consumption was marked by a dry, persistent cough, pains in the chest, and some difficulty breathing, any of which could be symptoms of less dire illnesses. The second stage brought a cough described by Sweetser as “severe, frequent, and harassing” as well as a twice-daily “hectic fever,” an accelerated pulse, and a deceptively healthy ruddy complexion.

In the final, fatal stage, wrote the doctor, “The emaciation is frightful and the most mournful change is witnessed… the cheeks are hollow… rendering the expression harsh and painful. The eyes are commonly sunken in their sockets… and often look morbidly bright and staring.” At this point, throat ulcers made eating difficult and speech was limited to a hoarse whisper. Once the distinctive “graveyard cough” began, the diagnosis was certain and death was inevitable. Rarely, wrote Sweetser, “life, wasted to the most feeble spark, goes out almost insensibly.” More typically, severe stomach cramps, excessive sweating, a choking sensation, and vomiting of blood preceded the victim’s demise.

Elmira Sawin rasped her last breath on 21 August, 1860, when her daughter Ella was only four years old. The widower took almost two years to court the little girl’s new mother.

Pretty Susan Kimball, aged 27, became Ella’s stepmother on 10 June, 1862. Sadly, in short order, Susan began to exhibit the telltale signs of TB. Her fight was brief, and with the greening of Spring 1863 she joined Elisha’s previous spouses at Townsend’s Hillside Cemetery. However, unlike Hannah’s and Elmira’s graves, today Susan’s is unmarked. It is uncertain whether there was a headstone that has now vanished or whether Elisha Sawin chose not to have one made.

Elisha, now aged 40, waited only until Autumn to take as his fourth wife, Mary Jane Gilson. Born 19 May, 1830, in Brookline, she was the daughter of William Gilson (1802-1887) and Eliza Ames (1806-1841). The couple married 26 October, 1863, in Townsend. Elisha, Mary Jane, and Ella appear together on the 1865 Massachusetts State Census and the 1870 Federal Census.

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Obituary of Eliel S. Ball, Fitchburg Sentinel, 2 January, 1892.

On 4 August, 1875, Ella Sawin married the superintendent of schools in Westerly, Rhode Island, Eliel Shumway Ball (1848-1892), whose obituary (above) details his life. Together they had four children: Rose Julia Ball was born in 1876, but died in 1880 at age four; Arthur Watson Ball was born in 1878 and lived only two years; Laurence Sawin Ball was born in 1882 and Alfred Tenney Ball in 1886. The two youngest sons lived to adulthood.

After her husband’s death from acute Bright’s disease on New Year’s Day 1892, Ella lived on as a widow for another 36 years. She died 3 February, 1918, and is buried at Hillside Cemetery.

The union of Elisha and Mary Jane produced no children of its own but appears to have been a busy and happy one. By the enumeration of the 1880 Census, Elisha Sawin was no longer a cooper, but had become a peddler in Townsend. He was also deacon of the Townsend Congregational Church and his wife was involved with its mission, too. The 17 July, 1890, Fitchburg Sentinel notes that Mary Jane, in the company of other Townsend ladies, was “gone to Framingham to attend the Chautauqua meetings there.”

The couple, however, entered into serious decline in the last months of 1899. On 20 October, the Sentinel reported, “E. D. Sawin, who has been ill several weeks, was able to be out Saturday last, but has since had a relapse and is now again confined to his bed.” His sickness was almost certainly chronic cystitis, a bacterial infection of the bladder by Escherichia coli. The illness plagued him throughout the remainder of his life. On 17 November, Mary Jane Sawin died from pneumonia. Elisha outlived her by not much above a year, dying of chronic cystitis, age 77, on 7 January, 1901.

Susan Sawin’s photograph was probably trimmed for insertion into a mourning brooch.

My CDV of Susan Sawin is likely a copy of an original ambrotype or daguerreotype, as the fashions Susan wears could date to as early as about 1853, when she was about 19, or may be late in the same decade. Without seeing more of her clothing, it is hard to pinpoint, but it is clear that this portrait was taken before Susan slipped into the final downward spiral of Tuberculosis.

Susan’s albumen paper image was cut into a small circle probably meant for insertion into a mourning brooch. Multiple copies may have been made for several mourning pieces, and mine was a spare glued onto a CDV card. Ω

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The image of Susan Sawin may have been meant for a similar mourning brooch. The hand-tinted image is trimmed from a CDV dating to the early 1860s. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Happy Christmas from Four Generations of My Family

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white….

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My maternal grandparents decorate the Christmas tree, Robin Road, Silver Spring, Maryland, circa 1952. My grandfather was a Kidderminster, Worcestershire native, and his fourth wife Lillian Marie Fox, was in all likelihood the great-great granddaughter of British Prime Minister Charles James Fox through an illegitimate line. I cannot prove it, but the evidence supports this story.
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It’s Christmas 1954. My grandfather has now passed on and my parents, James Arthur Longmore and Elaine Garnand (“Sally”) have wed. Pictured with them are my grandmother and a friend called Harriet.
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December 25, 1963: I have arrived and chaos ensues as the universe becomes mine. Robin Road, Silver Spring, Maryland.
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Christmas 1965 in our new home in Linette Lane, Annandale, Virginia.
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It’s Christmas day 1968. I now have a sister, Alice, with whom I must graciously share the Yuletide spoils. Linette Lane, Annandale, Virginia.
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The newest generation, Nicholas and Emily Etheridge, with their grandfather James Longmore, in our home in Myersville, Maryland.

Ω

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

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Snow banks on U.S. Route 40 at Keysers Ridge, Garrett County, Maryland, circa 1925. Real photo postcard.

“Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”

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Electric trollies navigate the snow-jammed streets of a U.S. city, probably Seattle, Washington, during the enormous snows of 1916. Real photo postcard.

“It doesn’t show signs of stopping
And I’ve bought some corn for popping
The lights are turned way down low
Let it snow! Let It snow! Let it snow!”

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My paternal grandfather James Albert Longmore shovels out after a winter storm in Camden, New Jersey, during the late 1930s.

“When we finally kiss good night
How I’ll hate going out in the storm!
But if you’ll really hold me tight
All the way home I’ll be warm…”

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My mother Sally Garnand Longmore outside our home in  Linette Lane, Annandale, Virginia, circa 1980.

“The fire is slowly dying
And, my dear, we’re still goodbying
But as long as you love me so
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!” Ω

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Snow-covered trees somewhere in the Western United States. Postcard by William P. Sanborn, circa 1940.

Words: Sammy Cahn; Images: Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Hermine Roschen: A Baltimore Life

There is good evidence that the marriage was kept a secret for some time.

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West Patrick Street, Frederick, Maryland, circa 1905. Postcard mailed 11 August, 1909. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

I live not far from Frederick, Maryland, which is a wonderful little city—a real Maryland gem that is more vital now than at any time in its venerable history. Frederick’s old bones have been lovingly preserved beside modern additions such as a river walk, an antiques row, and a theatre district. In fact, Patrick Street, which this postcard depicts, looks much the same today as it did when this was mailed on 11 August, 1909—just less eerie and weird.

Addressed to Mrs. H. Roschen, 838 Edmundson Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, and mailed from the summer resort community of Braddock Heights, which was only a reasonable trolly ride away, the message reads: “Dear Mamma, I wrote Uncle Henry & Uncle Ernst & grandma a postal. Please send my double heart pin with my other things. It’s in my jewelry box. I am going to see Miss Hartman of the W.H.S. now. Almost finished my hardanger. Nice & cool here. Everyone well save for a toothache. Love to all from Hermine.”

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The reverse of the Roschen postcard.

Hermine Joanna Roschen, who wrote this postcard when she was 19, was born in November 1889. No one yet knew it, but she had been married for the better part of a year.

Her father, Henry Roschen, was from Germany, having come to the United States in 1875. An extant passport application states that he was born in Bremen 23 February, 1858, to Hermann Diedrich Roschen and Adelheid Brockwehl, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1887. On this application, he is described as 5’4″, with brown eyes, a straight nose, a medium mouth, a short chin, dark hair, dark complexion, and a round face.

The 1890 Baltimore City Directory listed 838 Edmondson Avenue as the location of Edward A. Prior and Company, fancy goods and toys wholesaler, and Henry Roschen as its proprietor, so perhaps the family home was above the shop of this establishment. The 2 January, 1897 Baltimore Sun contained a notice from Louis Sinsheimer stating that he had sold his wholesale flour business to Henry Roschen and Frank Boehmer, who would operate it under the name of Boehmer & Roschen. This partnership lasted until January 1907 when Henry Roschen likely died. If not then, Roschen was certainly deceased by the enumeration of the 1910 Census.

“The girls were enticing in all that shimmering cloth, bright tinsel and dainty touches of rouge.”

The “Mamma” of this postcard missive was Roschen’s wife, Louise A. Schroeder, who was born in Maryland in November 1863. She wed Henry Roschen in about 1876. Hermine was the couple’s second child. She had an elder sister named Louisa A. (b. Aug 1888) and younger siblings called Henry Herman (b. 17 June 1892-9 April 1958), Elsa (b. June 1895), Adela (b. Oct. 1897), and Ernest Carl Henry (b. Sept. 1899), the last of whom would spend his life in exotic locations throughout the world.

The Baltimore Sun of 11 February, 1908, offered a glimpse of Hermine at Baltimore’s Lyric Theatre during a masked ball by the Germania Mænnerchor, a German male choral society. “The girls were entrancing, in all that shimmering cloth, bright tinsel and dainty touches of rouge,” salivated the Sun. The men, however, fell short in the newspaper’s eyes, being “as ludicrous and misshapen as they could possibly be while temporarily hiding their masculine grace in masks, flat shoes, and lurid colors.”

The Germania Mænnerchor ball included a tableau, a ballet of small girls, and general revelry. Prizes were given, one of which Hermine, her sister Louisa, and several other young ladies won for a performance titled “School Days.” Later that year, Hermine would experience the last of her own school days when she graduated from Baltimore’s Western High school.

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Hermine saw operatic tenor Caruso perform in March 1909.

On 26 January, 1909, Hermine married Irvin Henry Hahn, son of Joseph Henry Ferdinand and Clara M. Hahn. I can ascertain nothing of where or how they met, but there is good evidence that the marriage was kept a secret for some time. For example, the 9 March, 1909 issue of the Sun noted that Miss Hermine Roschen—not Mrs. Irvin Hahn—had been at the Lyric again to hear the Metropolitan Opera Company with the world-renown operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. We already know from her postcard that in August 1909 Hermine was summering in Braddock Heights under her maiden name, and when the 1910 census was taken, Hermine and her siblings lived with Hermine J. Shroeder, their 71-year-old  maternal grandmother, who had emigrated from Germany in 1862 with her husband Henry Schroeder, an artist born in Prussia in about 1839.

Whatever caused the delay in announcing their marriage, it was in the open by 5 June, 1917, when Irvin Hahn filled out a World War I draft registration stating that he was born 8 May, 1887, in Baltimore, and was living with his wife and child at 1957 Edmonton Avenue—just down the road from the houses of Hermine’s mother and grandmother. Hahn noted that he worked for his father, a manufacturer of metal goods for the military who led a company that was established in 1898. Irvin was noted to be of medium height and slender, with blue eyes and brown hair.

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The Baltimore Sun of 21 October, 1925, ran this delightful article on the return of Dr. Joseph Singewald and Hermine’s brother Ernest from a visit to several tribes of South American headhunters.

In 1920, the Hahns lived in White Street, Baltimore, with their two-year-old son Irvin Henry Ferdinand, born 6 May, 1917, who went by his third name or the nickname “Ferdie.” Their situation was unchanged a decade later, save that the family moved to 708 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, a Baltimore suburb. Hahn listed his occupation as a manufacturer of metal goods. Finally, the 1940 Census placed all three family members together at the same address.

In 1942, Hahn registered for the WWII draft. Hahn was now the owner of his own business—the Irvin H. Hahn Company of 326 S. Hanover Street, Baltimore, which had been set up in direct rivalry with his father’s. (Incredibly, the company still exists today as a manufacturer of police badges and other insignias.) Hahn was described as 5’8″ with a light complexion, brown hair and brown eyes, and had a scar on his left thumb.

Ferdinand attended Reisterstown’s Franklin High School. This couplet was written about him in the 1933 yearbook: “Fun-loving, quick-tempered, white-haired Ferdie, his classmates’ joy and his teachers’ worry.” (Who else sees Draco Malfoy?) In the school’s 1946 yearbook, Hermine and Irvin were listed as boosters. This is the last trace I have found of her. She died 5 November, 1949.

After Hermine’s death, her husband took a solo journey to what was the Canal Zone, now Panama, in 1951. Two years later, he sailed from the port of New York to spend 3 months in Angola, presumably visiting his brother-in-law Ernest who lived in Loanda with his wife Augusta Fredericka Cranford.

Irvin died in October 1966. His obituary in the Sun reads: “Irvin H. Hahn is Dead at 79. Opened Metal Trimmings Company in 1928. Services for Irvin H. Hahn, retired president of a firm which produces badges and other metal trimming for uniforms, will be held at 11 a.m., Friday, at the Frank H. Newell funeral establishment, Reisterstown Road and Waldron Avenue, Pikesville.

“Mr. Hahn, 79, died Monday night at his home, 708 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville. Hahn was the president of the Irvin H. Hahn Company from 1928 to 1954…. A native of Baltimore, Mr. Hahn attended public schools here and the University of Maryland…. He opened his own firm in 1928…. His company had headquarters at 207 South Sharp Street until 1942, when the building collapsed in a snowstorm. The organization then moved to S. Hanover street. Mr. Hahn relinquished the presidency of his firm, which has 23 employees, to his son I. H. Ferdinand Hahn, in 1954, but remained as an advisor to the enterprise. He also held the posts of vice president and secretary.

“He was a member of the Masons, the Shriners, the Ames Methodist Church, and the 100 Club of Boumi Temple. Survivors include his son; a brother, Edgar F. Hahn, of Catonsville; and two sisters, Miss C. Viola Hahn and Miss Mildred E. Hahn, both of Baltimore.”

Irvin and Hermine’s son Ferdinand never married and had no children. He died in April 1987. I have not been able to ascertain where Ferdinand or his parents are buried. The intrepid Ernest Roschen died in Orange County, California, 2 August 1992, equally childless. Ω


hardanger_embroideryAs a postscript, let’s return to the postcard’s message, in which Hermine Roschen mentioned a “Hardanger” that was nearly finished. This was a piece of Hardanger embroidery, or “Hardangersøm,” using white thread on white even-weave cloth, sometimes also known as “whitework” embroidery.
Photo by Velvet-Glove at English Wikipedia.

Say “Cheese”

The photographer may have told the children to hold hands and grab the waist belts to keep their arms still during the exposure.

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Siblings, 6th-plate ambrotype, circa 1855. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.

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Smiling mother and fleeing toddler, albumen cart de visite, circa 1860. Photograph by Whipple, 96 Washington Street, Boston, Massachussetts. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.

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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

Generations

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”

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Elder and infant, albumen paper print, Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.

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British albumen carte de visite, circa 1866. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.

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Family in mourning, British albumen carte de visite, circa 1862. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.”

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The sitters were photographed circa 1902 in Chariton, Lucas County, Iowa. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.

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The west side of Chariton’s main square, real photo postcard, circa 1915. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.

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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