This tart little valentine was sent from Battle Creek, Michigan, 8 February, 1910, to Mr. Barhite, Bellevue, Michigan, RFD No. 1. The message reads: “Well Mr. Barhite I have not heard from you in a long time and so I don’t know whether you are dead or alive. I hope you are the latter and well write. Edith Mathews.”
The addressee was Gordon Lyman Barhite, born 10 June, 1883, in Michigan, son of Everon Barhite (1837-1923) and Delia F. Root (b.1846). Gordon Barhite appeared on the 1900 census of Bellevue as a boarder on the farm of Theodore Davis, probably acting as a farm hand. By 1910, he was in Fredonia, Michigan, working the farm of Frederic Lee.
Barhite’s 1918 World War I draft registration card notes that he was of medium height, medium build, and had blue eyes and brown hair—and if the childhood picture below is any evidence, he may well have grown into a looker. The address to which bitter Edith sent this postcard was that of Gordon’s mother Delia, who was also listed on the draft registration card as his wonderfully misspelled next-of-kin “Deilicia Barhite.”
The 1920 census appears to tell the outcome of the valentine’s tale: Gordon Barhite then lived in Convis, Michigan, with his wife Edith (b. 11 June 1888). Also enumerated with Gordon and Edith were three children with the surname Patchett: Loren (1907-1925), Wayne (1910-2001), and Bernadine (b. 1912), as well as mother-in-law Frances Coutz (1847-1920).
Frances’s presence provided a vital clue: twenty years earlier, the 1900 Amboy, Michigan, census detailed the household of farmer Joseph Coutz, Jr. (1843-1911), and his wife Frances E. Oldfield Coutz, as well as their daughter Margery Edith.
On 15 January, 1905, Margery Edith Coutz married Frederick William Patchett, who was born 13 April, 1882, in Salford, Lancashire, England, and came to America in 1879. Before 1919, however, the Patchett marriage ended badly. The 1 May Battle Creek Enquirer announced that Gordon Barhite and Edith Patchett obtained a marriage license—they had actually married the day before—and the later 1930 Census placed Frederick Patchett in Hillsdale as a lodger and a divorced mill worker. He later married Edith Mackey (1889-1972). The appearance of this Edith confused me and before I realized that she was indeed a new individual, I believed for a time that Edith Barhite had returned to her first husband.
Edith’s son Loren Patchett, unmarried and working as an electrical lineman, died aged 19 on 29 June, 1925, in Battle Creek, of electrocution caused by the failure to wear protective gloves. “Without the gloves, He climbed a transformer pole on Freemont Street. While in contact with a live wire containing 5,000 volts, he forgot and took hold of another wire which a fellow workman was attempting to sever…. The result was a short circuit which went from hand to hand.” Loren was buried in Riverside Cemetery, Bellevue.
The 1930 census placed Gordon and Edith Barhite in Pennfield. Gordon was a farm laborer and stepdaughter Bernadine worked in a factory. The couple also had a daughter, Helen, born in 1923. Edith acted in a local play put on by the Willing Workers of the Base Line Church in may 1934. In December, 1939, a local newspaper article mentioned that Gordon Barhite and his family were exchanging houses with a Mr. and Mrs. Inman. The Battle Creek Enquirer of 14 March, 1941, noted that “Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Barhite have moved from the Gates apartment house on South Clark to a farm near Climax.” These are the last traces I can find of the family.
Gordon Barhite died in May 1964 and Edith Barhite died 18 June, 1972, in Hillsdale County, Michigan.
Now, the discrepancy: The woman who sent this valentine signed her name Edith Mathews. Was she really Edith Patchett? In 1910, Edith was 22 years old with two young children and an unhappy marriage. Was she already looking to leave Frederick Patchett and was casting about for a new man to provide for her children? If she was, using a false but previously agreed upon surname may have seemed a wise thing to do.
Conversely, Edith Mathews may really have been Edith Mathews. According to the 1911 Battle Creek City Directory, a woman of that name was a boarder at 16 Shepard Street. She was still there in 1912, with fuller details given: Edith G. Mathews was a packer at the Postum Cereal Company. In 1916, she was a machine operator at B.C. Paper Company. After this, she disappeared from 16 Shepard Street.
Was this Valentine from an unhappy woman looking for a way out of a bad marriage or from a single working girl who’d met a handsome farm hand somewhere, somehow? The answer remains unknown, but I shall leave you with this, from my heart to yours: “Love attracts, connects, builds and frees the beauty of humanity. Happy Valentines Day.”—Euginia Herlihy. Ω