Mostly Void, Partly Father

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Image courtesy of the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.

This mid-1850s, whole-plate daguerreotype of a woman and three children is from the collection of Beverly Wilgus, another of the antique photo collectors of Flickr who has graciously allowed me to present her images. Of it, she writes, “[W]e have had the glass replaced by a conservator. It is our only whole plate daguerreotype (6 ½” X 8 ½”), which is the largest size that was in common production…. I have been asked why there is not father with the family. While it is possible that the father is deceased, I like to think that the photograph was a gift for him.”

If this image was a gift for Father, it was almost certainly purposefully posed to remind him, or any viewer, of his absence—the blank space in the middle the group screams to be filled. It is reminiscent of the portrait of the Bronte sisters, now known as the “Pillar Portrait,” which hangs in the National Gallery in London.

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From left: Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte by their brother Branwell. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Painted in 1834 by the sisters’ talented, ego-driven, and alcohol-fueled brother who was then attempting to become a portrait artist, Branwell Bronte chose to eliminate himself and insert a column instead. It has been argued that he felt the composition was too crowded or that it was done in high dudgeon—we may never know which for sure. Charlotte died in 1855, at about the same time as Beverly’s daguerreotype was taken. After the death of Charlotte’s father in 1861, her husband, the Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls, cut the painting from its frame, folded it up, and took it with him to his native Ireland, where it languished for many years. During that time, the “ghost” of Branwell began to appear through the paint—part spectral bogeyman, part prodigal son.

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Image courtesy of the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.

Another of Beverly’s images—this one an ambrotype also taken in the mid-1850s—again makes use of empty space to convey the message of loss. And in this image, it is indisputably death that has struck twice, leaving two pointed shapes like stab wounds between the three young people. A “reader” of this portrait, and it was yet very much a time of encoded meanings in art and photography, would know immediately that the teenage girls wore mourning gowns: the dark, wide lace collars of their dresses leave no doubt that the entirety of their costume is black. Between them is their younger brother, now the man of the family, reassuringly touching his elder sister’s arm. He seems stoic but unprepared for the task.

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Albumen cabinet Card, circa 1883. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This final image used props to fill the void caused by death. Whilst the husband and wife focused on a point stage left (she almost certainly dressed in mourning), between them sat a plant stand covered by what must have been a colorful, almost childish string doily, upon which an elaborate picture frame was placed. It contains an image a girl and possibly a boy. The message can be taken no other way: “These were our children; now they are no more.” Ω

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The Potent Pen: Augustus Snell and His Family

“The invaluable and delightful art of stenography, taught by the aid of mnemonics, in the most interesting and amusing manner, by which its principles may be indelibly fixed upon the most treacherous mind.”

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Augustus and Jane Pullan Snell, cabinet card copy of an 1857 daguerreotype. It is most fitting that the photographer’s imprint is in beautiful script. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Augustus Frederick Snell was born 19 January, 1833. Almost a month later, on 17 February, 1833, he was christened at St. Michael, Headingley, West Yorkshire, England, which is today a suburb of Leeds. When Augustus was born, Headingley was still very much a village, but one that had begun to lure the affluent who wished to escape the industrial city’s smoke and bother.

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The Lord’s Prayer in various forms of 19th Century shorthand, a method of rapid transcription via symbolic writing.

Augustus’s parents, William (1791-1847) and Maria Calvert Snell (1803-1873), were respectable, educated late Georgians. On their marriage record of 9 July, 1825, William’s occupation was given as “professor of handwriting.” Later, he became a teacher of stenography and a shorthand writer for the company of Lewis & Snell on Board Lane, opposite Albion Street. The company’s advert in the 14 July, 1825, issue of the Leeds Intelligencer states that “the invaluable and delightful art of stenography, taught by the aid of mnemonics, in the most interesting and amusing manner, by which its principles may be indelibly fixed upon the most treacherous mind.” The price was 25s for the six lessons of the course, and separate apartments were set aside for ladies and those who wished to take their lessons alone.

Maria Calvert ran the Ladies’ Seminary in Headingley before her marriage, and after a brief honeymoon, reopened the school on 14 July, 1825. An Intelligencer advert that ran on that day noted the cost per student per annum as 20 Guineas, for which the girl would be instructed in reading, grammar, geography, plain and fancy needlework, writing, and arithmetic. Additionally, “Mrs. S. has made arrangements for instructing her Pupils in Music, Dancing, Drawing, and every fashionable Accomplishment.”

In future adverts, the school  was described as “commodious, in a remarkably pleasant and airy situation, and has two playgrounds.”

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An advert for the Snells’ boarding school that also offers William Snell’s ability to teach “a correct, elegant, and emphatic Pronunciation with natural and graceful Style.”

In the years ahead, Maria advertised for male day students who would be instructed by William Snell. They needed increased income as babies began to arrive. The Snells produced eight children, most of whom survived childhood: William Mortimer (1826-1835), Adolphus (1828-1832), Maria Ruthetta (1831-1832), Augustus, Edmond Garforth (1834-1871), William (1837-1918), Walter (1838-1902), and Maria (1840-1898).

Another advertisement in the Leeds Mercury of 6 July, 1837, revealed the Snells were clearing out ahead of a move to London. Up for sale were “the household furniture; books; pictures; Mahogany dining, card, and Pembroke tables; carpets; sets of Moreen window curtains and appendages; looking glasses; camp bedsteads and hangings; feather and flock beds and bedding; cane seated chairs; chests of drawers; a small select library of books; Mahogany and painted press bedsteads; mirror, kitchen, and other requisite effects. In lots to suit purchasers, and without the least reserve.”

“Springing from his bed, he possessed himself of a pair of pistols, which with some difficulty were wrested from him.”

The great city of London was William Snell’s birthplace. His father, Augustus’s grandfather Richard Snell (1759-1831), operated canal carriers from the nation’s metropolis to Yorkshire, Manchester, Liverpool, and the north of England. According to the 20 December, 1819, Intelligencer, “Goods are daily forwarded per Fly-Boats, on the most approved System, with the utmost care and dispatch. Should the Canal Conveyance be stopped by Frost or Accident, Goods will be forwarded by Land, if required, at the lowest possible expense to the owners.” Those wishing to use these services were told to find Snell, Robins, and Snell of London at their warehouse, White Bear Yard, Basinghall Street. It also appears that the group kept the White Bear Inn, presumably also of that place.

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This Old Bailey record details a theft against  Snell, Robins, and Snell, which was a partnership between Augustus’s father, grandfather, uncle, and John Robins, the husband of his aunt, Mary Ann.

Richard Snell died 18 January, 1831, in Edgeware Road, Paddington, leaving the majority of his estate to his son Adolphus, including all his wearing apparel, household furniture, utensils, wine, beer, liquor, and fuel. William Snell inherited 1/5th of his father’s estate, as did his other uncles—all of them colorful characters.

Take, for example, Richard Snell the younger (b. 1789) who died when Augustus was two. “MELANCHOLY OCCURRENCE!” screamed the Manchester Courier on 2 February, 1839. “We are sorry to announce the death of Mr. R. Snell, wine and spirit merchant…. He had been laboring under considerable mental irritability for some days, although free from violent or dangerous symptoms.” Whilst his doctor was with him one evening, “He was suddenly seized with an impression that his life was in danger. Springing from his bed, he possessed himself of a pair of pistols, which with some difficulty were wrested from him.”

After being pacified by his doctor and wife, Snell thought he heard the front door open. “He again became excited, rushed downstairs, and finding the door to the house locked, he seized a poker, broke the windows and succeeded in getting out into the yard. He thence crossed an orchard, and proceeded into Mr. Seddon’s premises adjoining, where he sank down exhausted,” reported the Courier. Shortly thereafter, his doctor found Snell “quite dead.” An inquest decided that “the deceased had died from the effect of excessive excitement, under the influence of temporary derangement.”

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Shorthand writer George Blagrave Snell, uncle of Augustus Snell.

Another Uncle, George Blagrave Snell, was lauded in memoriam by the London Daily Telegraph after his sudden death from a heart attack in Brighton in 1874. Under the title “Death of a Well-Known Shorthand Writer,” it was reported, “Mr. Snell was the father of his profession, having followed it actively for upwards of a half century…. He was retained by the Government, often at much risk to his life, to report the speeches made by various agitators at public meetings during the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1831, and he was known at that time as ‘The Recording Angel of the Marquess of Anglesey’…. He has since on many important occasions been engaged  by the Government, and his presence will not fail to be missed, not only in the courts of law, but in both Houses of Parliament.”

In the days before audio and film recording, shorthand writers like Snell played an important role in the workings of justice. It was their job to faithfully transcribe interviews with the various parties in court cases, civil and criminal. Traces of Snell’s normal daily work (when not busy in his superhero role of “Recording Angel”) can be found in the records of the Old Bailey, such as a case against one George Sherborne, who was charged with “Unlawfully within four months of his bankruptcy obtaining from Samuel Brewer and others certain pianos, and disposing of them otherwise than in the ordinary course of his trade,” which sounds ridiculous, and frankly was (the defendant was found not guilty), but shows how seriously bankruptcy was taken in Victorian Britain.

Snell describes his part of the process in the trial transcript, “I am one of the official shorthand writers to the London Court of Bankruptcy, and attended the examination of the prisoner on 15th January, 1879, before Mr. Registrar Pepys, and took down the questions put to him and his answers—the transcript on the file of proceedings is correct.”

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Henry Saxon Snell

George Blagrave Snell married at age 20 Harriet Saxon (1802-1885) on 15 January, 1825, at St. Marylebone, Westminster. Snell and his wife had eight children, all of whom lived to adulthood. One of their sons, for whom it is worth pausing, was Henry Saxon Snell (1831-1904). He was Augustus’s first cousin and became an architect of some note.

Henry Snell attended University College London and was inducted as a fellow into the Royal Institute of British Architects. He specialized in designing public buildings and amongst his works were the Montrose Asylum, the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, the Leancholi Hospital, and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada.

Another son, George Blagrave Snell, Jr. (1829-1910), also became a shorthand writer and his father’s business partner until the older man’s demise. His story shall be told farther along.

“I have a printing press and types for printing within Newcastle Place in the Parish of Paddington.”

When Augustus’s Uncle Adolphus Snell’s life ended on 6 September, 1872, he was a civil engineer’s clerk in Baker Street, but earlier, he was a printer. A surviving letter in the British National Archives of 5 April, 1834, to the Clerk of the Peace in the county of Middlesex reads, “I, Adolphus Snell, of 13 St. Alban’s Place, Edgeware Road, Paddington, do humbly declare that I have a printing press and types for printing…within Newcastle Place in the Parish of Paddington, for which I desire to be entered for that purpose in pursuance of an act passed in the 39th year of His Majesty George the Third, entitled ‘An Act for the More Effective Suppression of Societies Established for Seditious and Treasonable Purposes and for Better Preventing Treasonable and Seditious Practices.’”

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Augustus’s uncle Adolphus Snell, circa 1865.

(Inscrutably, Adolphus’s death certificate indicates that he expired of “disease of ankle & exhaustion” while at Westminster Hospital.)

Next we come to Augustus’s Uncle James Snell, born 13 March, 1798, in St. Marylebone, Paddington, London. His daughter Emma Harriet Norwood Snell was baptized 26 December, 1822, at Paddington, St. James. This church record notes the occupation of James Snell as dentist.

James Snell invented the first mechanical reclining dental chair with an adjustable seat and back in 1832. James Snell was also a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and the author of A Practical Guide to Operations on the Teeth, in which he made the design of his dental chair design public.

“There is no part of the apparatus of the dentist of more importance to his success, than a good operating chair. To this particular, the professors of this country have not paid sufficient attention, most of them having nothing but a common arm-chair, the use of which must, in many cases, be alike inconvenient to the operator, and fatiguing to the patient,” he wrote. “For some years I used nothing but a common arm chair, but I was so constantly encountering proofs of its inconvenience, both to myself and the patient, that I felt it my duty to construct a chair, better, adapted to the purpose. Having done so, I can say with sincerity, that I have never ceased to blame myself for having so long neglected it.”

At some point afterward, James Snell emigrated to the West Indies. He was memorialized in the London Standard of 9 August, 1850, in two simple lines: “On the 6th…at Kingston, St. Vincent’s, West Indies, James Snell, Esq., in this 55th year.”

Newcastle Place, as the Snells knew it, is long erased, but it was then and is today a literal stroll to Paddington Station.

It is unclear why the Snells left Headingley for London in 1837, but the relocation was likely tied to Uncle Adolphus’s press. When Augustus’s brother Walter was born 20 September, 1838, and christened on 3 November, the baptismal entry records that William and Maria lived in Bayswater and that William was a printer.

A decade after returning to London, Augustus’s father died 3 December, 1847. The 1851 Census placed the family in Paddington, living in 5a Newcastle Place, which was the site of Uncle Adolphus’s press. Maria Snell was the 67-year-old head of the house and business, with her was 18-year-old Augustus and others of his siblings, the eldest of which were working for the printery.

Newcastle Place, as the Snells knew it, is long erased, but it was then and is today a literal stroll to Paddington Station. Construction for the main terminal was completed and the facility opened to the public 29 May, 1854. Augustus would have seen and heard the trains toing and froing, and the seed was possibly placed in his mind that the railroad could provide meaningful work.

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Paddington Station as the Snells knew it.

December, 1856, banns were read at St. Mary, Paddington Green, for Augustus and Jane Pullan, who was the wan, brown-haired, and dark-eyed daughter of Thomas and Ann Pullan. The marriage was solemnized 10 February, 1857, in the parish of St. Mary, Paddington Green, Westminster.

It is probable that the original daguerreotype of my cabinet card was made to commemorate the couple’s union, as the fashions worn by Augustus and Jane date exactly to their marriage year. Some time later, probably in the late 1880s or early 1890s, the daguerreotype was duplicated by the well-known “Stereoscopic Company of 110 & 108 Regent Street W.” (Visit the company’s website to see a stereoview of the building where a Snell clan member took the wedding daguerreotype to be copied.)

Jane’s father, Yorkshireman Thomas Pullan, born in 1803, was a mason by trade. Her mother, Anne Booth, was from Spofforth, Yorkshire, born circa 1807. Jane, the eldest daughter, was born in Chapel Allerton, West Yorkshire, sometime before 12 August, 1838, when her christening occurred at St. Mary the Virgin, Hunslet.

The Pullan family appears on the 1841 and 1851 censuses of Chapel Allerton. During the latter of these censuses, Jane, then aged 18, was enumerated as a house servant at the home of a Royal Bank of England clerk and his family. At some point before 1856, Jane left this employment and moved to London.

It may be that the Snells and the Pullans knew each other. Augustus’s childhood home of Headingley is a mere two miles from Jane’s Chapel Allerton. Perhaps the couple were long-time friends—even long-time sweethearts, or perhaps they met through a chance encounter in the capital city. Whatever the case, four years after their marriage, the 1861 Census placed Augustus and Jane Snell in Christchurch, St. Marylebone, Middlesex, living at 6 Sherborne Street with their sons Thomas Edmund (b. 4 January, 1858; baptized 7 March, Paddington Green) and Charles Walter (26 November, 1859, Marylebone, London). Augustus listed his occupation as a printer and their abode was in Grove Terrace.

Two years afterward, in February 1863, Augustus, then aged 29, became employed by the Great Western Railway in the goods department at Paddington Station. He stayed in the job only a month then resigned his position. Why he did so is not known, but Augustus never again attempted to make the railroad a career.

The 1871 Census enumerated the Snells in Willesden, Middlesex, in Northwest London, about five miles from Charing Cross. The area was mostly rural then and had a population of only some 18,500. But Willesden was on the cusp of urbanization. The Metropolitan Line’s stop at the Willesden Green connected it to the city center in 1879 and just 25 years later, the population grew more than seven times to 140,000.

In 1871, Augustus stated his occupation as a shorthand clerk, no doubt drawing on skills learned from his father. By 1881, Augustus worked as a solicitor’s clerk and both his sons were clerks in an insurance agency. The Snell family lived at East End Villa, on East End Road, Finchley, some six miles further northwest, where the population was less than 12,000.

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Finchley, when photographed for this circa-1918 postcard, still possessed its quiet charm.

Ten years later, in 1891, the couple had become what we now term “empty nesters,” who lived with a servant in a terrace house at 51 Weston Park, Hornsey, Middlesex, now part of Crouch End. Augustus again stated his occupation as shorthand clerk.

As the century came to the close, Augustus and Jane left Middlesex for retirement in a cottage in the Essex countryside. Augustus died 20 December, 1906. The probate record of his Will reads “Snell, Augustus Frederick of Fairview Cottage, Ashington, Rochford, Essex….Probate London, 28 January, to Jane Snell, widow. Effects £294 12s. 6d.” Jane lived until 5 July, 1911, also dying in Ashingdon.

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Augustus and Jane Snell ended their days in a small cottage probably like these in Canewdon View Road, Ashingdon, Esssex. Photo courtesy Rochford District Community Archives.

The couple’s elder son, Thomas, spent his working life as an insurance clerk. He married Kate Strathon, who was born in about 1860 in Plymouth, Devon, and by her had two daughters: Dorothy Strathon (1892-1971) and Winifred Mary (1894-1972).

In 1891, Thomas and Kate lived at 3 Arthur Villas, Belle Vue Road, Friern Barnet, Middlesex, but by 1894 they moved to 77 Victoria Road, Stroud Green, Hornsey, near his parents. By 1901, Thomas and family lived  in Walthamstow at 17 Avon Street; by 1911, after his parents’ deaths, the Snells moved to 71 Fishpond Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Thomas died there 12 February, 1944. His will was probated at Llandudno to his nephew Edmund (see below) on 21 March of that year, with effects of £800 16s. 7p.

The Snell’s second son Charles married Lillian Helen Miller (1866-1892), the daughter of Henry Miller, on 2 May, 1891, at St. Peter, Hammersmith. They had a son, Edmund Norie Snell (1892-1984), whose birth appears to have caused his mother’s death. Charles married again at age 35, in 1894, on the Isle of Wight, to Agnes Jefferd. With her, he had two more children: Marjorie Norah Muriel (1895-1983) and William Frederick Aubrey (1899-1962). Charles eventually became an insurance broker and died in Saltford, Somerset, 27 April, 1920. His Will was probated on 9 July, with effects of £878 15s.

“The said Elizabeth Snell lived and cohabited and frequently committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell at No. 4 Grafton Road, Holloway in the county of Middlesex.”

Augustus’s younger brother, Walter Snell, married Elizabeth Colebrook (1843-1899) on 19 June, 1864, in St. Peters, Walworth, Surrey. She was the daughter of Thomas and Eleanor Colebrook—he, an omnibus conductor according to the 1851 Census of St. Mary Paddington; a butcher according to the 1861 Census of same; and a gentleman according to the couple’s marriage record.

For a time Walter and Elizabeth lived in Aberdeen Place,  Maida Vale, then the 1871 Census placed them at 155 Holloway Road, Islington. Walter, aged 32, was an architect and surveyor. The couple had a daughter, Ellen Maria, born 13 December, 1867.

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Coverage page of the court minutes of Snell v. Snell and Snell.

What happened next was told in Walter Snell’s solicitor’s words, delivered to Her Majesty’s Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes on 16 April, 1873: “On diverse occasions in the months of July, August, September, and October One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Two, the said Elizabeth Snell committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell [Walter’s first cousin, the son of his eponymous uncle] at your petitioner’s residence No. 155 Holloway Road aforesaid. That in the month of October One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Two, the said Elizabeth Snell lived and cohabited and frequently committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell at No. 4 Grafton Road, Seven Sisters Road, Holloway in the county of Middlesex.

“That from on or about the nineteenth of October…up to the date of this petition, the said Elizabeth Snell has lived and cohabited and frequently committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell at No. 10 Vorley Terrance, Junction Road, Highgate in the County of Middlesex.” The solicitors concluded, “Your petitioner claims from the said George Blagrave Snell as damages in respect of the said adultery the sum of one thousand pounds.”

The judge ordinary in this case, after hearing from counsel on both sides, made a decision that the case would go to trial so “that the questions of fact arising from the pleadings in this cause be tried…and the damages assessed by verdict of a Common Jury…and further ordered that the respondent and corespondent be at liberty to file their answers to the petition filed in this suit.”

The trial, with all the juicy detail it would have produced, appears never to have occurred. On 28 November, 1873, Walter Snell’s solicitors filed “draft questions and questions for the jury, set the cause down for the trial and filed notice.” Early the next year, on 5 February, the solicitors issued a  subpoena ad testificandum (subpoena ad test), a court summons to appear and give oral testimony for use at a hearing or trial. Another subpoena was issued on 11 February. The next entry is for 9 June, when once again, a subpoena ad test was issued. About fortnight later, a decree nisi was made. The final divorce decree was issued 12 January, 1875.

George Blagrave Snell, Jr., was married when he began his affair with Elizabeth. Emily Maria Pile (1835-1917) had become his bride 23 years before, on 18 July, 1850. By 1873, they had six children living. After the divorce, the 1881 Census placed George and Elizabeth cohabitating as husband and wife in a respectable lodging house at 9 Cunningham Place, Marylebone, London, run by the daughters of Marmaduke R. Langdale, formerly of Madras, East Indies. Meanwhile, George’s legal wife, Emily Snell, was running a large boarding house at 32 Bedford Place, St. George, Bloomsbury. With her were two sons, Robert and Percy—the former a stock broker’s clerk and the latter a shorthand writer.

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Emily Elizabeth Wright

By 1891, Elizabeth Snell had taken over the Langdale’s Boarding house, but all was not well: Elizabeth was an alcoholic. She was either a drinker all along or became one after the divorce. Elizabeth died 6 January, 1899, in Saint Luke’s Hospital, Old Street, London, aged 54. The “wife of George Blagrove Snell…4 Portdown Road, Maida Vale,” expired of “alcoholic paralysis, heart failure confirmed by Wm. Rawes, Medical Superintendent, St. Luke’s,” stated her death certificate. (The term alcoholic paralysis covers a host of nervous system disorders directly resulting from the ingestion of toxic amounts of alcohol.)

Two years later, on 12 August, 1898, 69-year-old George had a daughter, Emma Florence Georgina Snell, by 20-year-old Emily Elizabeth Wright who hailed from Woolpit, Suffolk. They married 27 October, 1900, and lived in Fulham, London, in a small terrace house at 52 Harwood Road. George died on 31 October, 1910, aged 82, in Surrey. His small obituary read, in part, “Funeral to-day, 2.30, at Bramshott Cemetery. Friends kindly accept this, the only intimation.”

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Walter Snell near the end of his life.

On 23 November, 1911, Emily gave a birth to son who she named Herbert John Anthony Snell. I cannot see a way, if the dates of George’s death and Herbert’s birth are correct, that he could have been Snell’s son. It appears that Herbert was sent to live at a  Fegan’s Home for Boys and emigrated to Canada in the 1920s.

Walter Snell lived until 28 May, 1902, dying at Clarendon Lodge, Paignton, Devonshire, leaving his daughter Ellen £217 3s. 6d. She married brewery agent and widow William Parker Margetson 19 February, 1891. Although she had a number of stepchildren, Ellen gave her father but one grandchild, a son who grew up to be Major Sir Philip Margetson (1894-1985), assistant commissioner of Police of the Metropolis from 1946-1957. Ellen died on the Isle of Wight aged 92, on 31 March, 1962. Ω


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Although I do not believe the author is related to the above branch of the Snell family, I came across a 1712 book titled The Art of Writing in its Theory and Practice by Charles Snell. Snell was born in 1670 and died in 1733.  A font named after Snell is still in use today. Above and below are several lovely pages from the book. More can be seen here.

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When One Finds One’s Doppelgänger

In my last post “Dashing Through the Snow,” I ended with the image of a girl with her sled. Several readers commented that she resembled me. I agree. (I left out of the post that I purchased the photo because of this.) By way of comparison, I am below left in 1970 in my Scottish dress with my puppy, Kilty. A close-up of the wistful Edwardian girl is below right.

But this is not the first doppelgänger I have found. I purchased the image below right about six years ago. Left is my high school graduation photo, 1980; right is an English 1/9th-plate relievo ambrotype with the inscription “Mrs. Southam,” taken circa 1853.

Spooky, isn’t it?

In about 1974, I was queuing for a Walt Disney World ride when a mother and daughter in the snaking line began gaping at me. My mother, who was short-tempered, became ruffled. Seeing this, the other woman walked up and apologized, telling my mother that I looked like her other daughter who was not with her on this trip. She pulled from her wallet a school picture and, sure enough, her daughter and I appeared very similar indeed. The mothers talked long enough to ascertain we were not related on my father’s side, as I almost entirely favor him and his kin. Ever since, I’ve known my own double or doubles are out there somewhere, moreover having existed in eras before my own.

Those interested in doppelgängers will find Françoise Brunelle’s I am Not a Look-Alike fascinating. Ω

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Dante Gabriel Rosetti, “How They Met Themselves,” watercolor, 1864.

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.