“I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it.”
To: Miss Anna M. Ramsey Richborough P.D. Bucks County Pennsylvania C/O Mr. Ed Ramsey Please forward
High Point April 27th ‘84
Dear Cousin Anna,
Yours of April 4 received. Was so glad to hear from you. I had looked for a letter for some time from Aunty. But have treasured up my last one from her. Anna, I sympathize deeply with your in your affliction. Your loss is her gain. But it is so hard to part with those we love so dearly but Aunty has only passed from this wicked world to a brighter and better one beyond. But oh the loneliness and sadness in the home without a mother or father. My heart aches for you, well I do remember the bitter pangs of suffering I passed through when I had to give up my dear mother. It seemed as though all the sunshine had gone out of the world. To this day I grieve for her. But time changes all things and we must be reconciled.
I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it. But felt very sad indeed. I wanted to come east last fall to see you all once more but Jeff was sick so long and so bad that we could not leave him. I think from what you tell me about Aunty she must have been (in her sickness) very much like cos Kate Hume (McNair). She did not suffer pain but had that distress feeling and sick at her stomach. She had a cancerous tumor.
In about 1849, a mother and child were photographed in a New York town where visionaries struggled to change the world.
A long inscription is penciled inside the case of this daguerreotype: “The picture of Flora and her mother, taken when she was three years old at McGrawville, Cortland Co., NY.
“I’ll think of thee at eventide/ When shines the star of love/ When Earth is garnished like a bride/ and all is joy a-bove/ and when the moon’s pale genial face/ is shed or [sic] land & sea/ and throughs [sic] around her soft light/ t’is then I think of thee. EM
“Flora & I are in the parlor as I write this, talking of the war, etc. etc. Henry …?… is buried Thursday Oct. 30th, ’62.”
The sentimental verse is likely based on “Better Moments,” by poet Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867), printed in 7 July, 1827’s New-York Mirror and Ladies Literary Gazette, Volume IV, as well as and in the New Mirror’s Poems of Passion in 1843. Willis’s poem includes the lines: “I have been out at eventide/ Beneath a moonlit sky of spring/ When Earth was garnished like a bride/ And night had on her silver wing.” It is uncertain whether variants of Willis’s poem existed that included the stanza scriven in the case, or whether the writer “borrowed” a few lines of it for his or her own poetic creation.
“Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and they will love us.”—Megan Mayhew Bergman
I wish all mothers a happy day of love and peace. For all you have done and will do, you are saluted.
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately I became aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure.
Within eBay’s vintage and antique photo subcategory, every slightly odd-looking baby is a dead baby. I confess that when I saw the listing for the carte de visite (CDV) above, I thought this was an infant gone, never to grow up, forever to sleep, dressed in angelic white and buried in a tiny coffin so unfairly made-to-fit, her grave topped by a small stone lamb. This was cruel fate; this was a Victorian postmortem. But those who explore the Victorian propensity to mark gut-wrenching loss via photography should take this story as a cautionary tale, not unlike the one I featured last November, “To Be, or Not to Be, a Victorian Postmortem.”
The CDV’s backstamp is that of “John Davies, Portrait & Landscape photographer, BelleVue High Street, Weston-super-Mare. Formerly with the late T. R. Williams, London, Photographer to the Queen and Royal Family.” There is also a handwritten inscription: “Alice Maud Culley, 8 weeks old, Aug. 1879.”
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately, I was aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure. Alice Maud Culley wasn’t dead. I could then plow into the public records because of the fortuitous identification upon the reverse.
The posing of mother and child may also deliberately highlight the loss of her long and well-cared for hair.
This stunning tintype, circa 1875, of an American mother and infant, is owned by collector and Your Dying Charlotte contributor Beverly Wilgus, who notes, “This little tintype is not as much a ‘hidden mother’ as a mother who chose to put the emphasis on the baby. I do wonder about her very short hair. One explanation could be that she has been very ill, maybe after a difficult birth, and her hair was cut short for comfort.”
It is possible that the woman pictured suffered from puerperal sepsis (called childbed fever) in the aftermath of delivery, which had been combatted, in part, by hair cropping. If true, this mother surely thought the tintype image celebratory—even triumphant: She had survived; her magnificent reward was the healthy infant draped over her shoulder, offered visually to posterity.
The sitter was lucky—a scarce survivor of a bitter scourge. “Childbed fever killed at the cruelest moments. It was described as a ‘desecration,’ an aspect of the natural world that felt almost deliberately evil. What caused it? Some thought ‘a failure of uterine discharge;’ others, a little later, called it ‘milk metastasis,’ noting that the internal organs of the women who died seemed covered in milk. Eventually, it was accepted that the fluid was not milk at all. It was pus,” wrote Druin Burch in a Live Science article, “When Childbirth Was Natural, and Deadly.” When obstetricians and midwives talked of “delivering women,” he explained, they meant delivering them from the deadly perils of childbirth.
“It was the purpose of the author to describe a number of novel and curious effects that can be obtained by the aid of the camera, together with some instructive and interesting photographic experiments.”—F. R. Fraprie, 1922
By Beverly Wilgus
In 1893, H. P. Ranger was granted Patent No. 505,127 for a “Mirror For Use In Photography.” This was a device comprised of two adjustable mirrors set at an angle. When a subject was placed in front of it, his or her image was reflected in each mirror and that reflection was again reflected, resulting in five or more figures—the number of figures determined by the angle of the mirrors.
The above schema is from an article published in Scientific American in the 1890s that was included in the 1896 book Photographic Amusements by Frank R. Fraprie and Walter E. Woodbury. My husband and I own a copy of the 1931 edition that still contains the original illustrations.
Also from the book is the illustration above: “Diagram Showing The Method Of Production Of Five Views of One Subject By Multiphotography.”
“Because I feel that in the heavens above
The angels, whispering one to another,
Can find among their burning tears of love,
None so devotional as that of ‘Mother,’
Therefore, by that dear name I have long called you,
You who are more than mother unto me.” — Edgar Allan Poe
A quick note: I will be having surgery on Tuesday, 4 April, and will be taking at least a four- or five-day hiatus to recover. I will return as soon as possible. Promise.
“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The above daguerreotype, which includes a 20th-Century handwritten note indicating it was once held in the collection of the Ossining, New York Historical Society, shows Avis Burr Wooster in about the fifty-fifth year of her life.
Avis was born on 26 May, 1796, in Southbury, New Haven County, Connecticut, in the ember glow of a hot century that had seen Connecticut change from a British colony to a sovereign state inside a new nation. By the time the Revolution exploded, Southbury was already a venerable place, having been established on land bought from the Paugusset tribe in 1659. The area remains much as it was in Avis’s day: rural, agricultural, quiet.
The Burr family’s transplantation to the New World was courtesy of Jehue Burr, born in about 1605, who sailed with Governor Winthrop to Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1630. Jehue eventually removed to Fairfield, Connecticut, and planted the seeds of a lineage that would include the noted vice president and unfortunate dualist Aaron Burr. Avis’s line was through Jehue’s son Nathaniel (1635-1712) to Avis’s great-great-grandfather Colonel John Burr (1673-1750) to her great-grandfather Captain John Burr (1698-1752) to her grandfather of the same name and rank (1728-1771), who married Eunice Booth (abt. 1728-bef. 1786) circa 1750.
Avis’s father, William Burr (23 June, 1762-28 Jan., 1841), lost his own father tragically when he was less than ten years old. According to the parish record of Stratfield, on 28 July, 1771, “Capt. John Burr, a farmer, son of…John Burr, was killed by lightning at the old Pequonnock meeting-house…. The congregation was standing in prayer. Parson Rose stopped praying, and after a pause he uttered the following words, ‘Are we all here?’ When the congregation moved out it was found that David Sherman and John Burr were dead. They were both in the prime of life, with families (the very pick of the flock). There was no rod on the steeple at that time.”
A mere five years thereafter, when the Revolution began, teenaged William Burr joined the Connecticut Militia, enlisting on 1 April, 1776. His pension files, included in the tome Revolutionary War Records of Fairfield, Connecticut, indicate that his postings were many and varied, and that he served for a time as a substitute for another man, Andrew Curtiss. One of Burr’s postings was to the “Battery at Black Rock,” or Black Rock Fort in New Haven, later Fort Nathan Hale. The Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution note, “Fort Hale is situated upon an insulated rock, two miles from the end of Long Wharf, New Haven…. The Americans [had] a battery of three guns upon this point, which greatly annoyed the enemy when landing.” Many years later, Aaron Turney of Fairfield attested that in 1779, Burr was 1st sergeant at the battery and second-in-command under Captain Jarvis. Burr appears to have left military service sometime in 1780.
“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?”
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.”
On 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.”
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.”
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.
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).
While 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Nellie 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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?