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.

Hermine Roschen: A Baltimore Life

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

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

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

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

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The reverse of the Roschen postcard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hermine saw operatic tenor Caruso perform in March 1909.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Kissing Cousins?

“Almost certainly a wedding portrait, this is a reasonably well-to-do couple, since they are dressed in formal day wear.”

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Unknown couple, 6th-plate daguerreotype, circa 1854. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This is another of my daguerreotypes, formerly of the Ralph Bova collection, which was published in Joan Severa’s My Likeness Taken. Severa wrote of the image: “Almost certainly a wedding portrait, this is a reasonably well-to-do couple, since they are dressed in formal day wear.

“The wife has done her hair in the bandeau style, in the longer, deeper roll that was one of the choices at mid-decade. Her hairdo is finished with ribbon ends hanging from a bow at the back of the crown. She wears what is probably a black velvet bodice over a black silk shirt. The fine whitework collar is large, and the white undersleeve cuffs are deeply frilled. The unusually wide silk ribbon is an expensive luxury; it flares prettily from the folds under the collar to spread over the bosom. A gold chain for a pencil hangs at the waistline.

“The young man wears a morning suit: a cutaway coat over striped trousers. His black vest matches the coat, and the high, standing collar of his starched shirt is held by a wide, horizontal necktie.”

When I first uploaded this image to my photostream at Flickr, a number of commentors suggested the sitters were siblings rather than man and wife. I agree there is a definite resemblance. Severna felt strongly that this image had the hallmarks of a wedding photograph and I also agree with her assessment. The two positions may be reconciled if the subjects are married cousins—a common occurrence until the second half of the 20th Century. Ω