Oakwood Resident’s Connection to a Grim History

by Michelle Ann Kratts

 

Sometimes the stories come by sheer accident. They are unexpected guests. I see a name etched onto a tombstone and bells go off. Sometimes a missing fact nags at me. Or it stands beside my desk, pulling at my sleeves, begging and begging for me to have a look. How can I refuse? Curiosity always gets the best of me.

This particular story came to me, like the summer, at the end of June. But it was a miserable day, dark and stormy. I was working diligently on my daily search for information regarding veterans buried at Oakwood Cemetery when it flashed before me. The rain fell and a story most brutal and horrifying dropped into my lap.

I didn’t know what to do with it at first. In fact, it made me sick. And if you are faint of heart…do not read further, for if you have any human decency you will feel sick, too. I wished I could tie this story up in a box and throw it over Niagara Falls. No one should know these things…but then…I saw her face. Mary Turner. She held onto her baby and she whispered…please, don’t let anyone forget.  And then I had no choice but to accept her story.

 

 Because there was no grave site or headstone, several "Mary Turner" headstones started mysteriously showing up in various cemeteries throughout the U.S. beginning as early as 1925

It was Turner B. Bryant who brought Mary to me. He was on a list of names given to me by my friend, Jeff Manning, who is the fearless leader of our most honorable veterans’ project. Our mission is to fill in some details concerning the lives of more than 950 veterans who lie in rest at Oakwood Cemetery. Which branch of service were they in? What was their rank? Where were they born? Ideally, we find their obituary. We learn so much more about these men and women. From what I could find, Turner B. Bryant was born on November 1, 1921, at Quitman, Brooks County, Georgia, to Samuel Bryant and Jennie Manning. He died at St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston on March 17, 1981.

Bryant served valiantly in the US Navy during WWII. He saw action in six major naval engagements in the South Pacific. He was honored by the Niagara Community Center when he returned home to Niagara Falls on his first leave in over two years of active duty service. He was well known in Niagara Falls, even before the war, for his involvement in the local community, according to the Niagara Falls Gazette.

August 3, 1945 Niagara Falls Gazette

August 3, 1945

Niagara Falls Gazette

The connection to Mary Turner came because of a mistake in Bryant’s Social Security Death Index record. His place of birth was written as “Quitman Broo, Georgia.”  Something seemed off to me so I looked into “Quitman Broo” and found that his correct birthplace is the city of Quitman, located in Brooks County, Georgia. A little googling around Quitman led me to Mary Turner, another and most famous resident of Quitman, Brooks County, Georgia.

 

It was busy in the library. The phone was ringing and there were many other responsibilities. Time was moving fast. But I could not stop reading about this particular even that occurred in Brooks County in May of 1918.

According to an article published by the Georgia Historical Society in 2006 (“Killing them Wholesale: a Lynching Rampage in South Georgia,” by Christopher C. Meyers) Brooks County, Georgia, had “a dubious reputation for mob violence on an unprecedented scale…there were more lynchings in Brooks County than any county in Georgia.” This racially inspired violence indicated that the hardships for African Americans continued for many –even decades after slavery had been abolished. In fact, most African American men and women worked the very same fields and plantations that their parents and grandparents had worked on decades before…as slaves. Some were even treated with the same cruelty.

Laura Nelson is the only woman of whom a photograph is known to exist who was lynched in America.

Laura Nelson is the only woman of whom a photograph is known to exist who was lynched in America.

One particular farmer, noted for his cruelty, was Hamp Smith. He was known to be a harsh boss who frequently and brutally beat his workers. As a result, no one would willfully work for him. So he found another way to get workers and resorted to Georgia’s debt peonage system. In this system, Smith would troll the county courthouse and pay a convicted criminal’s fine. Once this fine was paid the individual had to work for Smith until it was satisfactorily paid off. Most of these men were African Americans. Basically, they were slaves to Hamp Smith…and he treated them as such.

But just once, he went too far. Nineteen year old Sydney Johnson, after suffering a brutal beating at the hands of Hamp Smith, directed a plot to murder Smith. In May of 1918, the deed was carried out and Smith was shot dead. His wife was also shot but not killed. Mrs. Smith identified all of the assailants. Lynch mobs formed almost immediately. In the end, following a brutal rampage, thirteen individuals were murdered. Including Mary Turner and her unborn child.

Haze Turner, who had been captured by the police and imprisoned, was being transported by the Brooks County Sheriff when they were waylaid a few miles outside of Quitman near a bridge by about 40 masked men. Haze was hanged at the corner of Morven and Barney roads and his body left hanging for days so that hundreds of residents could view the remains.

Haze’s wife, Mary, was eight months pregnant when she was lynched on May 19, 1918. She was found guilty of “unwise remarks” concerning her husband’s killing. She stated, among other things, that her husband’s hanging was unjust, and that if she discovered the identities of the members of the mob she would “swear out warrants against them.” Inflamed by her words, the mob apprehended Mary on a Sunday afternoon and took her to Folsom’s Bridge over the little River, just outside of Barney on the Brooks-Lowndes border. Reports from witnesses reveal the gruesome details of Mary and her child’s death. She was first strung upside down, her ankles tied together, and then doused with gasoline. They burned her clothing off her body. When onlookers witnessed her stomach quiver with life, they decided to rip out the unborn child, who was said to have cried before they crushed its skull with their boots.

Mary and her child’s bodies were buried about ten feet from the tree in which they had been hanged.  Their grave was marked by a whiskey bottle with a cigar placed in the neck.

 

May 20, 1918 New York Times

May 20, 1918

New York Times

Following these weeks of terror, hundreds of African Americans fled the county. The years following the deaths saw even more leave. And one man, the uncle of Turner B. Bryant, also called Turner B. Bryant, came to Niagara Falls in 1921.  My Oakwood veteran was born three years after this incident. I can’t help but wonder if the first name, Turner, which shows up often in this family, reveals a family tie to the Haze and Mary Turner family. The US Federal Census of 1900 for Quitman (Morven) reveals Haze Turner only a few pages from the Bryant family. It is likely they were familiar, at the least, and members of the same community.

Bryant’s parents stayed in Quitman and died in Quitman. It is possible that our veteran followed his namesake, his uncle, to a fresh start in Niagara Falls. These men were a part of the Great Migration of African Americans who left great hardship, and often violence, behind to seek a new life in northern states. Of course, it was inevitable that many would experience prejudice and uncertainty…but times were changing and new movements were on the horizon.

I am not sure if I will ever know much more about Mr. Turner B. Bryant. He is only one of about 950 men and women we are researching at this time. Everyone has a story and sometimes our stories meet up with historic events. And then we go quietly into the night.

 

 

 

A Plague Upon Us; the Niagara Falls Smallpox Epidemic of 1914

By Michelle Ann Kratts  

It must have seemed like the end of the world--the Apocalypse--when smallpox came to Niagara Falls, New York, in January of 1914.  Luckily, the city pulled through...although it was quite a harrowing journey to the end. 

It wasn't exactly a topic I wanted to dive into after a refreshing vacation at Saranac Lake, but there it was on my desk:  a dusty, decrepit scrapbook filled with tattered news clippings on one subject, smallpox.

 

I try and imagine the person who cut these news articles from the Niagara Falls Gazette and Buffalo News.  Each day the paper arrived he (I am "assuming" our smallpox enthusiast was a "he") would sit at his reading desk, scissors in hand.  He would look at the glaring headlines and wonder… who would be next?  What would become of the city?

 

Newspapers around the state issued warnings.  The Buffalo health authorities suggested that "the entire city of Niagara Falls be quarantined against the world."  Sixteen cases of smallpox in the town of Holland were traced to Niagara Falls, thanks to a “Holy Roller,” or religious zealot who had visited Niagara Falls and did not believe in doctors, modern medicine or vaccination.  With the onset of the new year, 1914, 223 cities and towns throughout the United States were infected. For Niagara Falls was not the only city to suffer through this epidemic.  There were other cities inflicted, as well—although most not as severely as our city.   

In Niagara Falls, the plague began in the spring of 1913.    Libraries, theaters, churches, and places of business were shut down until further notice by order of the Health Department.  The New York Sun reported on February 15, 1914, that the city of Niagara Falls was experiencing such a virulent outbreak of the disease because so few of its citizens were vaccinated.  In fact, Niagara Falls was said to be "an anti-vaccination center"--which, unfortunately resulted in 200 official cases of smallpox and 79 house quarantines at one time. In January of 1914, there were only three cities in the state of New York that did not require vaccination:  Olean, Newburg and Niagara Falls.    The situation at Niagara  was so grim that the Dominion of Canada Department of Public Works "instructed its inspectors to prevent any resident of this city (Niagara Falls, NY) boarding a train for Canada unless he is able to show a certificate of recent vaccination."  

Throughout the articles I looked upon, one thing became very clear.  The city of Niagara Falls had been very lax concerning vaccination.   Perhaps much of the blame could be levied at the Board of Education.  However, the Board of Education in the city of Niagara Falls explained that its attitude merely "reflected the sentiment of the people of the city."  Dr. Linsley R. Williams, State Department of Health and Dr. Edward Clark, of Buffalo, consulted with the city health officer, Dr. Gillick, before confronting the Board of Education.  Their conclusion was that the schools must comply with the State law which requires "the vaccination of all children before they are admitted to the public schools."  Unfortunately, the Board "tabled any action relative to enforcing the vaccination law as related to the public schools."  Even as the epidemic raged—there were those who were very fearful of vaccination and felt it was their personal right to vaccinate or not. 

Throughout the month of January the city of Niagara Falls was on the brink of devastation.  Each new day brought forth fresh cases.  Hotels were shut down.   When smallpox was found in a location all known residents were supposed to comply with quarantine rules and become vaccinated immediately.   But this was not always the case.   In the North End two Polish servant girls disappeared out the back door of a hotel after someone on the premises was taken to the quarantine hospital.    John Scarupa, the proprietor of the location, was told he must remain closed until he could produce the “girls” for vaccination.  Here is an example of the extent of the work of the Health Department:

Fifteen persons were found in the hotel and were immediately vaccinated by Dr. McDowell.  A laborer dropped in for a drink just before the arrival of the health authorities.  He was standing at the bar when Dr. McDowell entered the place and ordered everyone to bare his left arm.  The laborer protested, but he was made to submit to the vaccination with the others in the place.

Niagara Falls Gazette

January 28, 1914

According to Dr. Clark, the dim truth was that there were most likely hundreds of smallpox cases in Niagara Falls that were NOT reported.  

"I went to the Dotter home at 346 Sixth Street this morning to inquire into the case of Alice Dotter, one of four children.  Alice was sent home from the Third Street School by a nurse today when smallpox developed in her.  I found that the other five members of the family had had the disease and recovered without even calling a physician.  This same state of affairs has likely existed in many more homes...Everyone in this city needs to be vaccinated."

A terrible situation arose when a small boy, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast, of 2305 Highland Avenue, was diagnosed with smallpox.  The city health officials demanded that the child be placed immediately at the city quarantine hospital (in a building located at the corner of Sugar Street and Niagara).  As was the case in some other households, Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast refused to allow their child to be taken away.  Police Chief Lyons was called upon to assist in forcibly removing the child to the quarantine hospital...but he refused.  When asked how many of his officers had been vaccinated, he answered: none that I know of.  

 

On January 26, 1914, the only reported death due to smallpox occurred at the quarantine hospital in Niagara Falls.  Philip Wagner, age 55, had first taken ill on January 6th.  He remained at his home on Pierce Avenue until the rash appeared on January 12th and was removed to the quarantine hospital where he remained until his death.  Ultimately, the cause of death was blood poisoning, or strepticosis.  Apparently smallpox causes holes to open in your skin and scab over.  However the holes that form in the mouth and throat do not scab over.  Mr. Wagner developed large holes in the inside of his mouth and throat "and through them the poisoning was undoubtedly received into his system which caused his death."  Poor Mr. Wagner was not even allowed the luxury of a proper funeral.  Due to his diagnosis of smallpox, his body was immediately removed from the hospital and hermetically sealed in a steel coffin which was transported to Oakwood Cemetery and deposited into the vault.  Following this unfortunate death Dr. Gillick and Dr. Clark declared two new rules of quarantine.  One made it mandatory for every person contracting the disease to be taken to the quarantine hospitals instead of being quarantined in their homes.  The other new regulation provided that no one be released from a quarantine house until three weeks after the last case of smallpox therein has been pronounced cured and the place fumigated. 

 



  

Many unscrupulous and dangerous happenings occurred during the outbreak.  The quarantine rules were often broken.   Complaints were made against a business man, a resident of Chilton Avenue, whose son was ill with smallpox.  It was said that "he had gone in and out of the house unmolested, though a quarantine guard stood in front of the place."      

The only way to eliminate smallpox and to end this plague upon the city of Niagara Falls was to vaccinate every single person.  During an emergency meeting, Rev. David Weeks, pastor of the Church of the Epiphany, stated that vaccination should have been insisted upon last October when there were only sixteen cases of smallpox in the quarantine hospital.  The Niagara Falls Business Men's Association adopted special resolutions in support of the local and state authorities in their efforts to stamp out the epidemic.  Fred Mason of the Shredded Wheat Company announced that they would employ only vaccinated persons.  Things began to brighten as the Board of Education resolved that as of February 2, 1914, "the schools of our city will be directed to refuse admission to all un-vaccinated persons unless they have had smallpox."

Finally by the middle of March, after the vaccination of thousands of Niagarans, the smallpox epidemic was over...and the plague, otherwise known as smallpox, never returned to this city. 


 

Hopefully, our friend, the newspaper clipper was finally able to set his mind at ease when the Niagara Gazette reported:  

QUARANTINE IS LIFTED; NORMAL CONDITIONS SOON TO PREVAIL


 

Hearts of War Part One: The War of 1812 at Oakwood Cemetery

By Michelle Ann Kratts

 

[1814] Plan of Niagara Frontier 

 Showing the portage and Fort Schlosser
Map source: Library and Archives Canada, NMC 26862.

Oakwood Cemetery’s brush with the War of 1812 is manifold.  First of all, located alongside the famous Portage Road, Oakwood lies on a path of historical significance.  The ancient portage, a route between the lower and upper Niagara River, had first been laid out by the Native Americans as a clearing through the woods.  The French found it a very convenient route to utilize for their fur trading operations.  John Stedman enlarged the clearing at the upper end and made another clearing on the mainland opposite Goat Island.  The English built blockade houses along the pathway and enlarged the road which allowed for their wagons to get through.  Many famous men and women from our history have gone down this road.  They often ended up at the Stedman house—warming their hands before the Old Stone Chimney.  Soldiers came through this road quite often as it linked up Fort Niagara and Fort Schlosser—two very important sites during the War of 1812. 

                                                  

Sketch by Col. Peter A. Porter  of the Old Stone Chimney, one of the only structures to remain after the burning of Manchester and Schlosser

PICTORIAL FIELD-BOOK OF THE WAR OF 1812, BY BENSON J. LOSSING, 1869

And, of course, Oakwood carries the remains of many veterans of the War of 1812, including the man who reported the actual resolutions for the declaration of war to Congress, General Peter B. Porter.    But also entombed within Oakwood’s gates are the souls of countless individuals who experienced the great suffering of this period first-hand—men and women from both sides of the conflict.  Oakwood will celebrate the lives of these men and women in a series of stories beginning this week with the commemoration of the burning of the Niagara frontier which began on December 19, 1813.  This year marks two hundred years since one of the most violent assaults upon this area was delivered. 

 

 

General Peter B. Porter

The present city of Niagara Falls was along the path of destruction—which passed right before what is now Oakwood Cemetery.  It is unknown if there was any sort of structure during this time on the cemetery grounds—however it is undeniable that the road outside the gates was much travelled upon during the war.   Most of the area from the top of the mountain (which is now the borderlands of Niagara Falls and Lewiston) from the area known as Manchester to the upper landing at Fort Schlosser was devastated.  Dozens of buildings were razed and men, women and children left to flee the fires and the violence in the bitter winter elements.  The following list contains “the sufferers” or those who lost property or family members on the Niagara Frontier during the War and filed claims with the government.  Many fled to Genesee County or other areas close-by. Some returned around 1816 to rebuild.  This list provides names of individuals and families as well as a description of dwellings that had been standing prior to the burning.  These are the losses experienced in the present city of Niagara Falls—when all of the world seemed to be on fire.  Many of these individuals are buried in Oakwood Cemetery. 

 

 

List of Sufferers on the Niagara Frontier from Fort Niagara to the Tonewanta Creek
and from Lewiston on the Ridge Road to the Widow Forsythe’s

Courtesy Buffalo History Museum

New York Heritage Digital Collections

 

From the top of the mountain to Manchester

Abiather Buck—Himself a prisoner; wife and child on the road for Ontario; no property; they are objects of prudent charity

Joseph Hewitt—House and barn burnt, not in want

Mrs. March-- Hired house burnt; husband killed; herself and family on the way to Ontario; poor; objects of prudent charity

Isaac Colt—Innkeeper; house, shed and barn burnt; not in want

Henry Brother—Himself absent; family in Ontario and in want

Benjamin Hopkins—Hired house burnt and with it his whole property destroyed; himself and wife in a sad state of health; two small children; in Seneca County, in urgent want

Silas Hopkins—House and barn burnt; not in want

Ephraim Hopkins—Hired house burnt; supposed to have lost nothing; not in want

Dr. Park—Elderly infirm man; large family; house and barn burnt; himself and family now in Newtown; supposed to be in urgent want

James Murray—Hired house burnt; wife and small family in Utica, himself in Niagara County; supposed to be in want

Jacob Hovey—Small family; house, etc. burnt; carpenter

Ebenezer Hovey—House etc. burnt; also carpenter; both with their families supposed to be in Canandaigua; present circumstances not actually known; worthy men

Gad Pierce—House etc. burnt; large family in Genesee County; not in want

 

Manchester

Mrs. Armington—House burnt; husband died about a year since; in Ontario presumed to be in want

--Raymond—Blacksmith; lived in part of a hired house; had been there but a short time, could not have lost much; present circumstances and residence unknown; family himself and wife

John Davids—Wheelwright; hired house etc. burnt; circumstances as to residence etc. much the same as Raymond’s

Ralph Coffin—Lost everything or nearly so; respectable family, five children; moved two or three times in consequence of the war; now near Batavia; people that have seen better times; presumed to be in urgent want (a bookkeeper for Judge Porter)

Joshua Fairchild—Innkeeper; house etc. burnt; residence unknown; an object of prudent charity

Oliver Udall—Hired house burnt; saved all his property—so much so as to be supposed not to have lost a dollar’s worth; in Ontario County

Parkhurst Whitney—Hired house burnt; small family presumed to be in want; residence Cayuga or Seneca County

John W. Stoughton—House, tailor’s-shop, fulling-mill and carding machine burnt; lost his all; a worthy man, presumed to be in want; residence Batavia

John Sims—Hired house burn; poor and presumed to be in want; residence in Genesee county

Augustus Porter—A great sufferer

William Chapman—Rope maker; house burnt, lost his all; worthy man, formerly of New York; present residence of himself and family unknown

 

Schlosser

Asa Fuller—Innkeeper; hired house etc., burnt; small family; presumed not to be in want

Warren Sadler—Loss unknown; presumed not to be in want

 

From Schlosser to Tonewanta

Mrs. Evingham—Lost her husband about a year since; house and barn burnt; three children; presumed to be in want

James Field—Innkeeper; house and barn burnt; a large family; presumed to be in want; residence Genesee County

Jacob Gilbert—House etc. burnt; not in want

--Hayford, --Rogers—Loss unknown, wants and residence unknown; had lately come from Canada

George Burgar—House etc. burnt; presumed to be in want

--Vanslyck—At Tonewanta Bridge; log house, etc. destroyed 

“If it Doesn’t look like a duck. . .” or there’s no “linkin” Lolly and Mary

Despite the many fascinating nuances of documentable history, would-be researchers still need to be extremely wary of skewing their research, consciously or unconsciously, to fit a conclusion they wish to be true.  And when it comes to topics which are near and dear to one’s interests—or worse yet, one’s family—this can be very difficult indeed.  Yet the serious historian must strive to be objective in their research, regardless of their personal connection to any topic.

Such is the case with the story of one “Lolly” (or Lowly) “Todd” Childs—or whatever her maiden name really was.  The nation’s century-and-a-half obsession with Lincolniana makes the temptation to believe a series of tertiary source newspaper articles from the early 20th century almost overpowering.  Those articles—seemingly instigated by her 60- to 70-something-year-old granddaughter, Ann Jane (“Jennie”) Elshiemer—claim that “Lolly” was, in fact, the aunt of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

Cherished pieces of folklore and family history are very delicate things indeed, and historians take them on at their peril.  The fact is that people want to believe the things which have been passed down over and over, and often take very personally any attempt to debunk them.  Historians often get a very negative reputation while simply trying to ferret out myth from verifiable fact.  To be true to their profession, however, it is important for historians to not be swayed by the “slings and arrows” of folklore’s caretakers, nor by the tendency to “want” something to be true, but rather to attempt, as much as possible, to base their conclusions on reliable—and verifiable—evidence.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the historical craft for professional historians is the fact that it is often very difficult to prove that something is incontrovertibly true or false.  That being said, in spite of this difficulty, it is often possible to make one’s point through, shall we say, the “back door.”  In other words, instead of proving something is absolutely true or false, one sets about proving that it is either very likely false, or that the opposite is very likely true.  It has been said that “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.”  By extension, then, the opposite should be true: if it does NOT look, swim, nor quack like a duck, chances are it IS NOT a duck.  Sadly, I believe such to be the case with “Lolly” Childs.

 

The Claim

            Perhaps the best place to begin a discussion of Mrs. Childs is with the claim itself.  The claim is that “Lolly” (Todd?) Childs (1776-1854), wife of one Stephen Childs and grandmother to Ann Jane (“Jennie”) Ortt Elsheimer, was an aunt to Mary Ann Todd Lincoln. For this to be true, this would logically make her a sister to Robert Smith Todd, Mary’s father. It would also make her (presumably) the child, like Robert Smith, of Levi Todd and Jane Briggs.

            Now let’s look at the evidence supporting that claim.  With all due respect to those who hold this claim dear, from a professional historian’s point of view, the evidence is virtually transparent.  In essence there are but two sets of “documentation” for this claim:

            1)-A series of three (3) brief newspaper articles, which appeared in the Niagara Gazette on April 7, 1924, July 28, 1926 and February 12, 1935, respectively.  All of these make casual mention of one Jennie Elsheimer being the descendant of a Lolly Todd Childs, who was, in turn, purported to be an aunt of Mary Todd Lincoln. The dates, I think, are not coincidental.  The first article appeared on the occasion of the Presbyterian Church completing their centennial celebration.  Included in this celebration, not surprisingly, was a retrospective profile of notable members over the years, including one Mrs. Stephen Childs.  The second article appeared only two days following the death of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln.  And the third appeared on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, 70 years following his assassination.  It is not surprising that such occasions would result in the “digging up” of bits of folklore, particularly stories that tied local residents—accurately or not—to the great and famous.  As noted above, each of these articles took pains to mention that one Jennie Elsheimer, of 1018 South Avenue in Niagara Falls, NY, was a descendant of Mrs. Stephen Childs, and thus a relative of Mary Todd Lincoln.

 

            2)-As our second piece of documentation we have a handwritten “family tree” from the Elsheimer family, brought to Oakwood Cemetery by a family member in 2013, in response to a call for information regarding the claim.  The chart traces “Jennie” Elsheimer to a Steven [sic] and Lola [sic] Childs.  “Lola,” in turn, is listed as the daughter simply of “Mr. Todd” and “Mrs. Todd.”  A line suggests a sibling of “Mr. Robert Todd” who is shown as the father of Mary Todd Lincoln.  There is no further documentation accompanying this family tree whatsoever.  This includes any specific details about the individuals listed on it, such as place of birth (though birth and death years are often shown elsewhere on the tree, though not in every case).

 

            These two sets of “evidence” (the 3 newspaper stories and the handwritten genealogy), along with a few likewise undocumented oral accounts of similar family histories, conclude the materials bolstering the argument that “Lolly” Childs was the aunt of Mary Todd Lincoln.  Taken together, there is not a shred of primary documentation shown in these documents, or accompanying them, to verify any of the statements or relationships, relative to Mrs. Childs and Mrs. Lincoln.

            Despite the lack of any verifiable documentation to support this purported relationship, as mentioned above it may be possible to prove that one conclusion or another is “plausible,” by examining what verifiable information does exist regarding these two women.  So let’s take a look at what we “know” to be true and see where it leads:

 

What we KNOW to be true, part I- The Childs Family

 

-One “Lolly” (actually listed as “Loly”) Childs was buried in lot 231 at Oakwood Cemetery, NF,

NY on November 26, 1854.[1] 

-The same “Lolly” Childs is the grandmother of one Ann Jane (“Jennie”) Ortt Elsheimer.  So far,

so good…..

 

Following these truths with a backward lineage, we find the following:

-Ann Jane Ortt Elsheimer (1860-1950) was the 8th child of David Phillip Ortt (1823-1903) and

Mary Ann Tufford (1818-1906)

-Mary Ann Tufford (1818-1906) was the second child of Phillip Tufford (1795-1870) and

Harriet Childs.

-Harriet Childs (1798-1879) was the eldest child of Stephen Childs (1769-?) and “Lolly” (some

say Sally, which would make sense with Lolly/Loly as a nickname) ______(Todd?!?)

(1776-1854)[2]

 

This genealogical information also coincides with what is known, independently, about “Lolly,” ie. that she was the wife of one Stephen Childs.  It should be noted, however, that nowhere in any of the above documentation does the maiden name of Todd exist in reference to Lolly.  It is only in the abovementioned newspaper and genealogical accounts that this name appears.

 

Following, then, the genealogy and travels of Stephen Childs, Lolly’s husband, we find the following:

-Stephen was born in or about 1769 in Woodstock, Windham County, Connecticut[3]

            According to official U.S. Census records, we know the following:

            -By 1800 he had moved to Fairfield, Franklin County, VT, but probably by 1798 or

earlier.

            -In 1810 he is listed at Stephen “Child” (no “s”) in Montgomery County, NY

            -In 1820, he is listed again as “Childs” in Lewiston, Niagara County, NY

            -In 1830, he is listed as “Child” again, this time in Niagara, Niagara County, NY

            -In 1840, it would seem that he is found in China, Genesee County, NY, as the numbers

match.  Something could be mislabeled here…..

            -In 1850, he is back in Niagara, Niagara County, NY, at age 84, with a wife “Lolly.”

            -In 1860, he is listed in Macoupin County, Illinois at the age of 93, but with no wife.[4]

 

Following the sparse path of “Lolly” Childs, then, we get the following clues:

-According to the 1850 U.S. Census listing for Stephen Childs, she was born around 1776 in

Connecticut

            -This compares favorably with other indirect evidence:

                        -In the 1860 census she fails to appear—this makes sense since she died in 1854,

according to the burial records at Oakwood.

                        -“Lolly” is listed as being 74 years old in the 1850 census; 1850-74= 1776

                        -the abovementioned 1840 census listing for China, NY has one female

age 60-69 (“Lolly’s” likely age= 64)

                        -the abovementioned 1830 census listing for Niagara Cty. has one female

listed age 50-59 (“Lolly’s” likely age= 54)

                        - the abovementioned 1820 census listing for Lewiston has one female

listed age 26-44. (“Lolly’s” likely age= 44)

                        - the abovementioned 1810 census listing for Mont. Cty., NY has one

female listed age 26-44 (“Lolly’s” likely age= 34)

                        - the abovementioned 1800 census listing for Fairfield, VT has one female

listed age 16-25. (“Lolly’s” likely age= 24)[5]

 

Due to the nature of the census information gathered during those years, “Lolly” is unfortunately not listed by name in any of the census records from 1800-1840.  However, having her name and age listed in the entry for Stephen Childs in 1850, and following the statistical data for the prior census listings, presents a highly plausible argument for “Lolly’s” nameless presence in these records.

Conclusions for Part I

Thus, based on the above direct and indirect documentation, the following conclusions may be made:

            1)-One Stephen Childs, born about 1769 in Woodstock, CT, married one “Lolly” (maiden

name unconfirmed) prior to the year 1798, when their first child (Harriet) was

born.  The marriage location is unknown, but was likely Fairfield, VT.  All

secondary references to this marriage, show his wife as “Sally (maiden name

unknown).”

2)-This same Stephen Childs, and his wife, “Lolly” were living in Franklin

County, Vermont in 1798 when Harriet was born.

            3)-The movement of the family of Stephen Childs is well-documented through the U.S.

Census returns as having passed from Connecticut to Vermont to New York.

            4) While no independent verification of the place of “Lolly’s” birth has been found,

evidence provided by the census documents regarding Stephen Childs supports

the claim of Connecticut as her birth state and approximately 1776 as her birth

year.  With no evidence to the contrary, it is reasonably safe to take these two

statements as true.

5) Comparing the information on “Lolly” with that known of Mary Todd Lincoln, in the

year of Mrs. Lincoln’s birth (1818) “Lolly” would have been about 42 years old

and living in either Montgomery or Niagara County, New York.  “Lolly’s” age is

thus plausible for an aunt of Mary Todd Lincoln.  This alone, perhaps, makes it

worth the trouble to take the next step in our evaluation, an examination of the family history of Mary Todd Lincoln.

What we KNOW to be true, part II: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln

 

Having established, with some degree of certainty, a paper trail for Stephen Childs and his wife, let’s take a look at the other side of things: the paper trail for Mary Ann Todd, better known as Mrs. Abraham Lincoln.  For better or worse, the Todd family from whence Mary Lincoln hailed is considered by most to be one of the First Families of Kentucky, and thus one of the best-documented families in early America.  This makes the task of determining who was where when (and related to whom) a fairly easy task.

The following ancestry of Mary Ann Todd is well known….and well-documented:

            -She was born in 1818 to Robert Smith Todd (1791-1849) and Elizabeth (Eliza) Ann

Parker (1794-1825)

            -Robert Smith Todd, in turn, was the son of Levi David Todd (1756-1807) and Jane

Briggs (1761-1800), who were married on 25 February, 1779 and had 11 children

including, of course, Robert Smith.  When Jane died in 1800, Levi married Jane

Holmes-Tatum (widowed) about 1802, and had one son, James, with this second

wife.[6]

            -The typically listed children of Levi Todd are as follows (with their birth dates):

                        Hannah B. (1781)

                        Elizabeth (1782)

                        David (1786)

                        John (1787)

                        Nancy (c. 1788…or 1785??)

                        Ann Maria (1778?!?!?)

                        Robert Smith (1791)

                        Jane Briggs (1796)

                        Margaret (1799)

                        Roger North (1797)

                        Samuel (1793)

James (with second wife) (1802/07)[7]

 

As an added bit of data, David Levi Todd (father of Levi) was born in Longford County Ireland, and moved to Pennsylvania, where Levi was born.[8]

The life of Levi Todd (son of David Levi Todd and purported father of “Lolly”), a significant pioneer, is also well-documented.  Here are a few of the more relevant factoids: As mentioned above, he was born in 1756 in Lancaster or Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and raised in Louisa County, Virginia.  He followed his brothers to Kentucky in the summer of 1775, and was stationed at St. Asaphs (now Stanford, KY) in 1779 when he married Jane Briggs.  Levi served under George Rogers Clark in the American Revolution in the Illinois Country and went on to an illustrious (and well-documented) career in Kentucky politics, etc.

 

The Claim and the Conclusions

With the documentable facts and relationships established for both the Childs family and that of Mary Todd Lincoln, we can begin to draw some extremely solid conclusions.  But first let’s review the claim:

The claim is that “Lolly” Childs, wife of Stephen Childs and grandmother to “Jennie” Ortt Elsheimer, was an aunt to Mary Todd Lincoln.  This would logically make “Lolly” the sister of Robert Smith Todd and a daughter of Levi David Todd and Jane Briggs. 

Now, with all due respect to cherished family folklore, let’s take a look at the Swiss-cheese-like holes in that theory:

First, and perhaps foremost, is the rather glaring fact that none of the well-documented children of Levi Todd and Jane Briggs happen to be named “Lolly.”  Obviously Lolly is a nickname, but absent from the list of children is also any name that might possibly take Lolly as a nickname or pet name.  In several genealogies consulted, “Lolly” is listed as “Sally”—a logical possibility, but no Sally exists among the children of Levi Todd either.  Nor do we find a Polly, a Molly, a Laura, a Lillian or any other Christian name with a possible nickname link to “Lolly.”

Sidestepping this rather glaring issue with the claim for the moment, and assuming that one of the children of Levi Todd could have taken the nickname of “Lolly,” we find that all of Levi’s female children are well accounted for in their marriages and subsequent progeny by verifiable sources.  None of these ladies ever married a Stephen Childs—in Vermont or anywhere else.  Strike Two…..

For those who would still not be convinced by these rather large bits of evidence against the claim, there is the issue of geography.  Levi Todd is well-documented as having moved to Kentucky around the year of “Lolly’s” birth (more specifically the summer of 1775).  If Levi was in Kentucky, how was “Lolly” born in Connecticut?  Added to this is the fact that there is absolutely no documentation for Levi (nor his parents) ever residing in Connecticut.  Perhaps the listing of Connecticut on the 1850 census is not accurate, you say?  This is a possibility, but in light of the other verifiable evidence submitted in “what we know to be true, part I” this would seem to be a remote possibility at best.  Connecticut certainly rings true, given the other documentable information we have available, while not being from Connecticut poses more issues with what we know as facts.  But “Aha!!” you say—Kentucky wasn’t a state in 1776, so perhaps the nomenclature is simply wrong.  Not so—the area which became the State of Kentucky was previously claimed by Virginia, not Connecticut (though Connecticut did claim portions of Ohio….but northern Ohio, nowhere near Kentucky).

But to be fair, let’s say “Lolly” and Stephen lied about her birth location on the 1850 census (or that the poor benighted census taker got the information horribly wrong).  This exposes a whole new set of problems with the claim.  If we take the likely birth year of “Lolly” as 1776, then she would have been born about 3 years before Levi Todd was married to Jane Briggs (February 25, 1779) and four to five years before the documented birth of the eldest Todd child, Hannah, in 1780 or 1781.  Before we dismiss the year 1776 as another “mistake,” let’s remember that this year is corroborated by 60 years of official U.S. Census information.  “Lolly” is not only listed as being 74 years old in 1850, she also falls within the appropriate age brackets in the census returns for Stephen Childs from 1800 onward….and disappears in 1860, as she should if she died in 1854, which we know to be true.  No—give or take a year—1776 is very probably correct.

The obvious argument to be made by those still supporting the claim at this point, in the face of the above-listed chronological realities, is that perhaps “Lolly” was mistakenly left off the well-documented lists of Levi Todd’s children—every time. Perhaps, they may say, this was because she was born before his marriage to Jane Briggs.  A reasonably keen viewer of the list of Todd children in “what we know to be true, part II” will notice the highlighted possible birth year of one Ann Maria Todd—1778, one year before Levi’s marriage to Jane Briggs.  Considering where Ann Maria appears in published lists of Levi Todd’s children, it is very possible that the date is a typo or mis-transcription, and should actually read “1788.”   However, if the year 1778 is accurate, it demonstrates that Mr. Todd was capable of having children out of wedlock.  So, if he had one, perhaps there was another.  But if Ann Maria is routinely listed among his children, despite her being born prior to the marriage to Jane Briggs, then why wouldn’t a second pre-marital daughter also find her way onto a list somewhere—at least once??  It has been speculated that Ann Maria may, in fact, be our “Lolly.”  If so, the year is still wrong and the ages don’t match up.  Plus Ann Maria is documented frequently as being born in Kentucky, not Connecticut.  Oh—and there’s also the annoying little fact that she died in the 1860s—in Indiana! (I have a photo of her tombstone.). So much for that theory. Ok, then ….perhaps “Lolly” was born to a mother other than Jane Briggs?  Yeah…..maybe…..but not likely.

Adding to the chronological woes with this claim is the additional fact that, having been born in 1761, Jane Briggs (the wife of Levi Todd and most logical mother for “Lolly” under the claim) would only have been 15 or 16 years old in 1776—the year “Lolly” was born.  Yes, women bore children at a younger age than we typically see today, but even in the late 18th century, a 15-year-old mother would have been unusual.  So ok…..what about a 15-year-old unwed mother?  Sure…..maybe…..but not likely.

So, to be “over-the-top” fair to those who would poke holes in all of this verifiable documentation, or produce counter arguments of “what if this or that information is incorrect?” I should point out that, indeed, there is a possibility (albeit very, very slight) that any of this information could be inaccurate to some degree.  Nonetheless, the only “plausible” story (if it can be called that) we see emerging from all the documented evidence, that would still allow for the truth of the claim—assuming we still want to demonstrate the truth of the claim—is the following ridiculous speculation.  If nothing else, it makes for entertaining reading: 

One Levi Todd, somehow takes an undocumented trip from central Kentucky to some undisclosed location in Connecticut sometime probably in late 1775—perhaps just after he helped found Lexington, KY in June, 1775 (sarcasm, as well as emphasis, added)—and in the middle of the American Revolution, let’s not forget.  And let’s not forget, too, that New York City and nearby Connecticut are on the front lines of that conflict for most of 1775/1776.  However, undaunted by geography, enemy soldiers, and/or his civil and military calendar, Levi makes it to Connecticut, where he meets a woman lost to history and manages to get her pregnant.  Running late for his next documentable date in history, he rushes back from Connecticut in time to be elected as a Gentleman Trustee at a town meeting in Lexington on March 29, 1776. (I am sure there are more documented “Levi sightings” in Kentucky between June ’75 and March ’76, but you get the point.)  The return to Kentucky and his civic and military responsibilities bring young Levi to his senses, and he decides to keep forever secret his illicit foray into New England.  Yet, in spite of his efforts to repress the incident and thus thwart future would-be genealogists, an aging woman in early 20th century Niagara Falls deciphers the truth, and thus the true lineage of the unhappy child born of this ill-advised northern jaunt appears in several small stories in a local newspaper.  But instead of revealing the full facts of the child’s illicit heritage, the stories instead focus on her accidental (and illegitimate) relationship to the wife of the 16th President of the United States…

Given the verifiable facts of Levi Todd’s life, that’s about what would have had to happen to make the claim true.  As fantastic as this story may seem, the alternative path to proving the claim to be true is perhaps even more fantastic.  This second path would have to argue the following, despite significant evidence to the contrary:

            -That the names of Levi Todd’s 11 children, though substantiated by numerous other

documents, are incorrect—or at least incomplete.

            -That the birth year of “Lolly” as 1776, though demonstrated as plausible by other

documents, is incorrect, and perhaps falsified on a government document.

            -That the birthplace of “Lolly” as Connecticut, though demonstrated as plausible by other

documents, is incorrect, and perhaps falsified on a government document.

            -That the documentation for the marriage of Levi Todd to Jane Briggs, though

substantiated by numerous other documents, is likely incorrect, assuming “Lolly”

was born in wedlock.

For ALL of these statements to be false or somehow incorrect seems unlikely in the extreme.  Certainly, historical “facts” can vary from source to source and are sometimes completely erroneous, but for such a string of otherwise-plausible or verifiable statements to be universally false seems to be really stretching things.

Perhaps the final and most damning argument of all against the claim having even a grain of truth to it is the fact that there is absolutely no known documentation, thus far, which states that the maiden name of one “Lolly” Childs was even Todd in the first place!  Most, if not all genealogical records that list this woman at all, list her as either “Lolly,” “Lowly” “Loly” or “Sally” but never with a maiden name.  The exceptions to this are the abovementioned newspaper articles and the Elsheimer family tree, but as mentioned earlier, there is no evidence to support these documents.

But wait!!!!  The Genealogical Society of Utah possesses a roll of microfilm containing marriage records from Vermont during the years 1786-1858.  As it is likely that Stephen Childs was married to “Lolly” in Vermont at some point prior to 1798, it seemed possible that a record of this marriage exists.  Oakwood’s Michelle Kratts ordered a copy of the microfilm in order to investigate this tantalizing big of potential evidence.  Alas, there was no record of the marriage of Stephen Childs, and thus no record of any maiden name attached to our poor Lolly.

Even taking as a given that “Lolly’s” maiden name was Todd, however, this in no way would prove that she was any relation to the wife of the 16th President, given the other glaring flaws in the documentation relative to the claim.  As the saying goes, being born in a stable does not make one a horse.

As mentioned at the very beginning of this piece, it is often very difficult for historians to conclusively prove that anything is 100% true or false.  Be that as it may, as of this writing there is not a shred of known verifiable documentation to support the claim that “Lolly,” Mrs. Stephen Childs, was the aunt of Mary Ann Todd, better known as Mary Todd Lincoln.  By contrast, though there are still many gaps in the documentation that is known, there is an overwhelming amount of plausible, as well as verifiable, evidence that suggests Mrs. “Lolly” Childs was not related to Mary Todd Lincoln.  In light of this overwhelming evidence, it is my considered opinion that the claim of relation to Mrs. Lincoln is but another piece of folklore that has failed to hold up to the test of historic scrutiny:  If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.  But if it does NOT look, swim, nor quack like a duck, chances are it IS NOT a duck.  Simply put, given the evidence available, there is no “linkin” Lolly and Mary Todd.

It should be duly noted, in case some readers would conclude that this exposition is simply out to criticize a cherished family story, that the author is a native of the great state of Illinois-- whose license plates still bear the motto: “Land of Lincoln,” and grew up in the shadow of Lincoln’s home, tomb, law offices and the capitol in which he delivered his “House Divided” speech.  Thus the author would have liked nothing better than to be able to claim yet another connection between his home state and his adopted home of Western New York.  Sadly, the evidence just didn’t turn up.

 


[1] Oakwood Cemetery burial register.

[2] All of this genealogical information is given on www.myoakwoodcemetery.com but is also substantiated in the Stephen Childs genealogy on www.werelate.org, www.ancestry.com  and other locations.

[3] Stephen Childs genealogy on www.werelate.org. and other locations

[4] All census information taken from digitized original U.S. Census return documents, National Archives & Records Administration.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Thomas Marshall Green, Historic Families of Kentucky, 1889

[7] Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, Vol. 59, No. 5 (May 1925), p. 313

[8] National First Ladies Library, www.firstladies.org

When there is Hope….

by Michelle Ann Kratts 

 

We had our lunch under a blazing canopy of oak trees.  It was hot in Rochester, but they spread their wings above us and we were suddenly part of the circle they made around the murky green and ancient kettle lake.  Peter and I were meeting with Marilyn Nolte, a member of the Friends of Mt. Hope Cemetery, tour guide and historian, at noon, and there were a few minutes to waste.  So when we were finished we wandered around the ranks of monuments that filled the grounds.  Unbelievably, our happy steps led us down a path that led directly to the grave of Frederick Douglass. 

 

Thundering before us, there he stood.  His grave is not very modest.  In fact he has two monuments;  one upright and one lying down (placed there after Douglass’s children found a more accurate year for his birth—being born into slavery, Douglass, himself, was never quite sure of the date).  There were many stones and little planters left behind and young flowers reaching toward heaven on top of his memorial.  We stood in awe before this great American and probably both of us couldn’t help but wonder if Frederick Douglass, himself, had stood before the modest grave we had come to Rochester to see—the grave of Niagara’s own soldier for human rights, John Morrison. 

John Morrison’s name, though not well known, should be mentioned alongside men like Frederick Douglass.  He was one of the unsung heroes who vanished with time.  There were probably many other African American men and women who did the kinds of things that John Morrison did—and they, too have been forgotten.   In Niagara Falls, careful research turned the name of John Morrison up over and over again.  Finally it became quite apparent that he was someone special.  For the longest time we knew of his deeds, but we did not know what had become of the man.  It wasn’t until a few months ago that Peter Ames tracked him down in Rochester.  He found this brave warrior’s last stop…an unmarked grave at Rochester’s, Mt. Hope Cemetery.  And we planned a trip as soon as was possible.    

There was some new information that popped up, too.  Information that continued to lead us to the probability that both John and his wife, Flora, were indeed active in the Underground Railroad movement.  Flora A. Morrison died in 1900 and left an estate worth a whopping $20,000.  It is hard to believe that an African American woman, who had worked in Rochester as a nurse, could have amassed such an incredible sum of money at the turn of the century.   This is yet another mystery to be solved.  Interestingly enough the executor of Flora’s will was Henry Quinby—a relation of Rev. Henry Quinby, a Hicksite Quaker who was also a founder of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Society.  The Quinby’s were also personally attached to Frederick Douglass.  

We finally met up with Marilyn, who was a beacon of historical knowledge concerning the residents of Mt. Hope Cemetery, and she proceeded to take us on a private tour of the grounds.  Mount Hope is a gigantic cemetery, one of the original cemeteries created during the period of the Rural Cemetery Movement.  There are up to 375,000 residents lying beneath the beautiful romantic and hilly grounds.  There are angels reaching toward heaven, giant obelisks, over eighty private mausoleums.  There are gardens, fountains and gazebos.  Gorgeous Victorian chapels and a bell tower.  Unfortunately, Marilyn had forgotten her key, or we may have been able to go into the bell tower.  How wonderful it would have been to ring the bell! 

Finally we came to Morrison’s grave.  It was quite a walk on a hot spring day.  Marilyn led us to the open site that held three graves:  John W. Morrison, Flora A. Morrison and Flora’s brother, John Peiper.  

Marilyn and Peter on the site of the Morrison burials

Excited to finally be at the final resting spot, Peter went ahead, while Marilyn and I lingered over another grave.  But I could see from Peter’s expression that something incredible was just ahead of me.  He only smiled and said that I would not believe what I would see when I made it to the site.  So I walked toward him and there it was.

Beside him was another grave, one that, for over one hundred years, has looked down upon the Morrison site.  I was struck as if by lightening when I saw the words that were etched upon the stone:  BARTHEL. 

 

That was all the front of the stone read but a part of me shivered.   Barthel is my maiden name, my father’s name passed down to me.  As far as I know, this is the only site in the cemetery with that name and it stands before the grave we had come many miles to see.  I looked at the backside and there were two names clearly etched:  Emilie and Bernhardt Barthel. 

 

Even more stunned, I stood there and wondered what the chances could be that my great great grandmother’s exact name would be etched upon this grave.  This was not the site of my ancestors’ graves (they are buried in Wheeling, West Virginia) but my great great grandmother (who died at a tragically young age) was also named Emilie Barthel and her husband named a similar, Reinhardt.  They had emigrated from Switzerland during the early 1880’s.  According to their passenger list, their first stop was somewhere in New York.  Perhaps it was Rochester?  Perhaps they came here before they went their merry way?  Perhaps they visited or lived with these relatives?    My Barthel ancestors, Emilie and Reinhardt, were of the same generation as these Barthels.  Later on, I researched these people and found that they were two of only a handful of Barthels in Rochester during this time period.  Bernhardt was a fresco painter.  Perhaps, one day I will have enough evidence to prove a family relation.  But for now, it is just a name that I call my own—a name, inextricably attached to the man that I have marveled at for so many years. 

Our day was not over.  There was still so much to see and one last little stop I needed to make.  Mt. Hope also contains the grave of yet another American hero, actually, heroine—Susan B. Anthony.  Her grave is located in one of the most beautiful sections of the cemetery.  We found her in a little row of whitewashed stones.  Very austere, Marilyn announced…for the Anthony’s were Quakers.  I stood so close beside her and touched the simple stone—imagining the wonderful woman who made so many of us free.  She stood for equality and human rights for each and every American. 

 

 Visitors had planted flowers to honor this simple spot and laid little stones on top of the grave—that typical calling card.  I did nothing but marveled at the woman who slept below me.  I wanted to stay there the rest of the day.  I wanted to sit down and to tell her a few things.  And I wanted to listen to what she would have to say to me.     

 

 

 

Bringing Lost Souls Home: John Morrison, a hero of Niagara

by Michelle Ann Kratts

There are men who part the wildest waters.  Waters that rush like Niagara.  They are awake when we are asleep.  Rowing modest crafts through the blackest of nights.  Under moon and stars.  Bringing light and life to the hopeless.  Bringing lost souls home.

 

The Greeks first called them “hērōs.”  We define them as “ones who show great courage.”  We admire them for their achievements and noble qualities.  They usually do their work secretly, quietly, modestly.  They seek nothing in return.  Unfortunately, these are the ones who disappear into the nothingness of time. 

John Morrison-- a man of color, a warrior during the Underground Railroad days in Niagara Falls, a hero in every sense of the word-- had virtually disappeared.   Little bits and pieces left behind have resurfaced through the years like sparkling shards of sea glass.  Stories of courageous death-defying acts.  Brief mentions in books and newspapers. 

We have collected what we have found.  Stored them and labeled them in folders.  We have waited for the day the story would become more complete.  Hoping it would come.  And it did come.  It broke with spring.  It was a gray and miserable day in Niagara Falls.  Snow fell from unrelenting skies.  I opened an email and there it was…

I may have found John W. Morrison. I will let you know once I get the details.

It was hard to focus on other things when I realized that I would soon know the fate of someone who had been lost for over 150 years.  I waited and in a few days Peter Ames, historian for Oakwood Cemetery and inveterate researcher, was sitting at my desk with a pile of papers.  In a few moments time he laid out his discoveries.  Unfolding before my eyes was a veritable treasure map of the story of one man’s life.

Of course, Peter had things well organized.    My mind filled the empty spaces with these new puzzle pieces.  In the end a more substantial picture emerged of the man, himself.  The research is far from complete, but John Morrison is more real than he ever was thanks to Peter’s relentless research.

So who was this new-found man…this John Morrison?  Why is he so important? 

As historians are finding that the true heroes of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls were more than likely not benevolent white individuals but the black and mulatto cooks and waiters at the local hotels (especially the beautiful Cataract House that stood perilously close to the river’s edge and the brink of the falls)—John Morrison is being revealed as the possible leader of the movement.

 

 

The southerners who visited Niagara Falls in large numbers often brought along their servants/slaves.  Inevitably, this led to various situations.  Some stories mention that the hotel employees regularly enticed these slaves to run to Canada and to freedom.  Other stories claim that the hotel employees “abducted” and “forcibly” removed the “southerner’s rightful property” to Canada.  Regardless, the stories implicate the workers—specifically at the Cataract House—and their part in releasing slaves from bondage.  Of course, the southern slave owners were not too fond of this practice and on one occasion one gentleman wrote about it in New Orleans’ Picayune.

 

John Morrison was head waiter at the Cataract House in Niagara Falls during the most turbulent years of the Underground Railroad.  Stories abound of his selfless acts of heroism.  One exciting account of his escapades was written in a History of the Underground railroad in Chester and the neighboring counties of Pennsylvania," by Robert Clemens Smedley, in 1883.  John Morrison’s activities were immortalized in a few lines concerning a trip the daughter of a well-known abolitionist made to the Cataract House back in October of 1859.  The following is taken directly from the book:

 

  

 

 

 

We found the actual reference to this encounter in the Cataract Register.  Rachael Smith was indeed a guest at the Cataract House in October of 1859.  This is the where Rachel signed her name and where Morrison noted that she may be connected to the Underground Railroad.

Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

 

 This is below the American Falls where John Morrison may have kept his boat docked.   John Bornet. "Niagara Falls, American Side." New York: Goupil & Co., 1855.

 

His works did not go unnoticed.  On August 5, 1856 he was presented with a gold headed cane upon the anniversary of the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies, denoting a “mark of respect from his associates.” This Emancipation day was very meaningful to the former slaves in our area.  It is still celebrated in Canada. 

  

 

Niagara Falls Gazette

 

So our question has been--whatever became of this mythical man?  Still so many mysteries remain.   However, we are closer to the truth now that Peter has finally tracked the final years of his life.  Although he shows up intermittently between the Niagara Falls and Rochester, New York, censuses, he has finally been located and some interesting facts added to his story.  The 1850 Federal Census of Niagara Falls is quite meager—but it was all we had for the longest time.  There he was a 40 year old black waiter at the Cataract House. According to Peter, John Morrison shows up in both Rochester and Niagara Falls sporadically.  The African-American Head of Household census reveals that from 1851-1852 our Mr. Morrison was a table waiter who lived at 32 Vine in Rochester.  The 1865 census of Rochester, New York, (recently uncovered by Peter) reveals that, though living in Rochester, Morrison was a waiter at the Cataract House in Niagara Falls. So through the first half of the 1860’s, he was still at the Cataract House. The railroad made it quite easy for swift travel even during these times.    The 1865 census also says he was born around 1819 in Illinois and that he was half-Cherokee.  This is most interesting as a drawing of the head waiter of the Cataract House from 1853 was recently discovered by the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Commission and was described as being “full blood Indian.” Perhaps if a photograph ever surfaces we will be able to ascertain if this pencil drawing is actually John Morrison.  It does make more sense now that Peter found him listed as “1/2 Cherokee” on the census record.   

 

 

Could this be an impression of John Morrison?

From:  http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/230699

 

From the censuses, Peter ventured into Rochester’s old directories and found John W. Morrison during the 1850’s as a waiter, a butler and a barber at 32 Vine Street.  During the 1860’s--1864, 1865 1866, 1868 and 1869, he is living at 8 Vine Street in the city of Rochester. In 1863, John Morrison had registered for the draft out of Monroe County, New York.  There is no further evidence that he fought during the war, but he did register. 

There were more intriguing pieces of information that Peter dug up during his search to find John Morrison.   According to the Rochester directories (by 1863) he is employed as a “nurse” and that is his occupation for the rest of his short life.  How John Morrison came to work as a nurse may be a story in itself (that is yet to be discovered).  Peter also found that he was married to Flora A. Morrison, who was also a nurse, and a feisty one at that!  In 1897, she happened to notice that the adults who lived in the rear of her home on Vine Street were abusive to their children.  She reported their crimes to the authorities and explained that these people “were not proper guardians for their children” and the “little ones were committed to the care of the Children’s Aid Society.” Apparently she looked out for the helpless, as did her husband. 

Unfortunately the trail ends quite suddenly with John Morrison’s death, from paralysis, on November 21, 1869, in Rochester, New York.  He was only in his fifties.  He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.  Although we had hoped he had been in Oakwood Cemetery (in Niagara Falls), as so much of his work was accomplished here, we were happy to learn of the location of his final resting place.  Incidentally, it is the burial ground for some of our greatest American heroes as this cemetery also contains the remains of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. We are planning on taking a trip there, soon.   

 

 

Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester

Courtesy:  Anne Supsic’s Blog

Although Peter has found from John Morrison’s will that there were no children that survived him, some family members were listed as survivors in his wife, Flora’s, will.  That research is ongoing and hopefully he can find some living family members.  How exciting it will be to tell them of their family and what went on in Niagara Falls—if they don’t know!  And how exciting--if it is possible--that more of the story of John Morrison will unfold for all of us through family members (and through further research)!  What about his earliest years?  What brought him to Rochester?  Did he ever work alongside Frederick Douglass? Still so many questions.  Always questions, but thanks to Peter Ames we finally have some answers.  And thanks to Peter another lost soul is home. 

 

John Morrison’s obituary

Niagara Falls Gazette

November 24, 1869

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Things of the Spirit Come First, Part Five: The Story of Dr. Henry Hardwick

by Michelle Ann Kratts

 

 

Perhaps some of the most intriguing stories concerning Niagara’s Spiritual past involved an obscure physician and psychologist named Dr. Henry Hardwicke.  Born in Niagara Falls to Major Alan H. G. Hardwicke (a native of England and the only thirty-third degree Mason in Niagara Falls at the time of his death and burial at Oakwood Cemetery) and Henrietta Ware (a descendant of a Revolutionary War veteran who also lies buried in Oakwood Cemetery), Dr. Hardwicke’s serious inclinations toward the paranormal may have begun to fully awaken during his service as an Army Medical Officer in the first World War.  World War I, with its catastrophic bloodshed, inspired yet another generation to seek communication with their newly deceased loved ones.  It is possible that it was during his service in the war that Dr. Hardwicke came into contact with another physician (Dr. Le Roy Crandon) who was said to have had a “morbid obsession with mortality” and a certain charming and enigmatic civilian volunteer ambulance driver, from Ontario, (Mina Stinson Crandon, Dr. Crandon’s notorious wife, also known in Spiritualist circles as Margery the Medium). 

 

Mina Stinson Crandon, also known as “Margery the Medium”

Another source describes the fact that Dr. Hardwicke and Dr. Crandon had a history of practicing together as physicians “in the same neighborhood” (in Niagara Falls?) or possibly there had been some connection through Mina, “well known here…,” (in Niagara Falls) and a cousin of a prominent Niagara Falls resident, the attorney, A. W. Gray.  Regardless of how these three individuals were originally connected, they met here in Niagara Falls and they gained worldwide attention for their investigations into the spirit realms and for stumping Harry Houdini.  Together, they would shake the very foundation of Spiritualism.

 

Niagara Falls Gazette, 1925 

Dr. Harkwicke’s destiny was to ultimately play a special part in the Spiritual history of Niagara Falls.  It would not be the first time his family made local history.  The great great grandson of Jesse Ware, noted as the first American born white settler of Niagara Falls, Dr. Hardwicke’s family was quite respected in these parts.  Just a young man, Henry Hardwicke may have been present that day in September of 1903 when his mother provided the carriages to convey guests to Oakwood Cemetery where the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a tombstone to commemorate his grandfather’s service in the Revolutionary War. Jesse Ware, a native of New Braintree, Massachusetts, had “shouldered a gun with the Minute Men and went forth to battle at the sound of the alarm from Lexington” and then some years later was summoned to Niagara by a friend (or relative), John Stedman, who had been the master of the very important portage.  Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Dr. Hardwicke found himself a traveler on a new frontier.  One that was just as mystical and unknown as Niagara. 

 As a boy, young Henry was already making the headlines in Niagara Falls.  In 1894, he and his friend, Richard Carey, organized a “well-managed affair” on Jefferson Avenue.  The bicycle race, which began on Jefferson Avenue in front of St. Peter’s Church followed a course down Jefferson Avenue to Quay Street, down Quay to Erie Avenue, down Erie to First Street and then back to Jefferson Avenue.  Boys from all corners of the city “flocked to the spot” and had a thoroughly enjoyable time of it.  John O’Donnell was first place winner.  Henry presented him with a “handsome silver medal”.  His father, A.G.H. Hardwicke, quite possibly had provided the prize which may have come from his hardware store, Hardwicke and Co., located on Falls Street. 

As an adult Henry received a medical degree from Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia and served in the Army Medical Services during World War I.  He practiced as a physician for a time in both Niagara Falls and Erie, Pennsylvania.  He was a member of the Niagara Players and portrayed interesting and psychologically complex personalities for productions at the Capitol Theatre.  In December of 1917, he was elected Worshipful Master of Niagara Frontier Lodge, No. 132, F. & A. M. Like his father, he had obtained high and mystical ranking as a devoted member of the local chapter of the Free Masons.  During the 1920’s he worked as the manager of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, located in an office building on Falls Street, and frequently gave talks on various insurance related matters.   

By the 1930’s, however, Dr. Hardwicke had become a full fledged Spiritualist.  He had written at least one book, Voices From Beyond, which was published in 1930 by the Harkell Co., in Niagara Falls, and had travelled extensively on the lecturing circuit. 

 

 

His subjects included things such as “The Lure of Adventure to the Fourth Dimensional Realms,” use of the camera in psychic research, the direct voice, levitation and cross correspondence.  He believed he was sensitive to a disembodied spirit named Walter—a very popular spirit at the time as he was known to show up at Mina Crandon’s séances, too.   Walter, the ghostly guide, was supposedly Walter Stinson, a young man who died at Onset Station after being crushed on board the railroad cars near Boston on August 6, 1911. He was also Mina Stinson’s brother.

 

 Walter Stinson died shortly after this photograph was taken

 

 Walter’s horrific death cited on his death certificate, 1911

The spirit of Walter was the driving force behind several very famous experiments which took place concurrently between groups of Spiritualists in both Boston (at 10 Lyme Street—the home of Dr. Le Roy and Mina Crandon) and in Niagara Falls (the home of Dr. Henry and Katherine Hardwicke). 

An experiment in cross-correspondence between Dr. H.S.W. Hardwicke, …Fifty-seventh Street, well known Niagara Falls medium, and Margery, the Boston medium, was reported by Dr. L.R.G. Crandon, husband of Margery, at the meeting of the New York section of the American Society for Psychical Research in Boston.  Dr. Crandon reported that séances had been held simultaneously by Dr. Hardwicke in Niagara Falls and Margery in Boston and that an identical thumbprint was made in wax at both places almost simultaneously by Walter, the spirit control of Margery…

 

One of the “messages” from the séance at Niagara Falls to the Crandon’s in Boston

Other events involving Walter took place at Dr. Hardwicke’s home, as well.  Dr. Crandon had been visiting and as they were sitting in chairs about the room they suddenly heard Walter’s voice….”Hello, Henry! Think I’m dead, do you?”  In no time, Dr. Hardwicke fell fast asleep and his wife, Kate, began to talk to Walter about such things as ectoplasm.  It was said that Walter took ectoplasm from Dr. Hardwicke’s slumbering body and created a bird, a small sparrow hawk, which was at the top of the piano and then after swooping through the room, finally landed on Kate’s right ankle, where it proceeded to claw through her silk stockings and draw blood. 

The stories that came from Dr. Hardwicke’s home bordered on the absurd. A gargantuan Victorian, with turrets that twisted and turned into the sky, the beautiful Fifty-Seventh Street home became the center point of activity in the city of Niagara Falls. Not too far from the banks of the Niagara River and the original landmark of an ancient fortress, Dr. Hardwicke and his wife made their abode into an assembly hall for those who sought an entrance into another world.  Séance circles were held regularly and experiments were constantly in the works to prove that there is no death.  It is possible that Dr. Hardwicke stopped practicing as a physician quite early on in order to have more time for the paranormal stage he had set up within his own home. 

During the 1920’s, magic and daredevil routines were steadily becoming America’s most favorite form of entertainment.  Even Annie Edson Taylor, Niagara’s favorite daredevil and the first woman to survive the trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel, spent the last days of her life as “a medium,” telling people’s fortunes from her apartment on Thomas Street.  Harry Houdini, the famed magician and escape artist revealed that he was making over $200,000 a year for his strange work.  He had been to Niagara on several occasions.  Around 1896, he appeared at the old Lyceum Theater on Main Street where he performed his straight jacket and manacle routine to a packed house.  By 1921, the temperamental magician came to Niagara, yet again, to film a movie for the Houdini Picture Corporation.  People had hoped he would perform amazing and daring stunts at Niagara.  Instead, from the Prospect House Hotel, he told reporters that he had been warned by the police that he would be promptly arrested if he attempted any such thing.  He admitted that he was not in Niagara to “flirt with the Fates.” By 1923, Houdini’s moving picture, “The Man From Beyond,” was showing at the Bellevue Theatre in Niagara Falls.  In the movie, Houdini’s character re-emerges from a block of ice and falls in love with his girlfriends’ descendant.  In the most famous scene, filmed during his stay at Niagara Falls, he swims perilously close to the brink of the falls as he saves the heroine, Nita Naldi, from certain death.  And it was noted that he had, indeed, swum perilously close to the brink of the falls while making this movie.  Obviously, what he had said to the reporters at the Prospect House in 1921 had been only partly true.   

 

Houdini

As popular as Houdini was, it was no secret that Dr. Hardwicke had nothing but contempt for him.  Greatly interested in Spiritualism following the death of his beloved mother, Houdini’s later years were spent furiously debunking fraudulent mediums.  He traveled the globe uncovering wicked schemes, yet in the end there was no one who haunted him quite so much as the lovely Mina Crandon.  Beautiful, intelligent, Mina would greet her visitors in a flimsy nightgown and silk stockings…attire which left very little to the imagination and bewitched many of the men.  She made no financial gain from her gatherings.  She was an enigma to many, especially Houdini, and quite possibly to Dr. Hardwicke, as well.  She was pursued on every level; by men, women by Spiritualists, by fans and by enemies alike.   

 “You want to know what it feels like to be a witch?  You know that’s what they would have called me in Boston 150 years ago.  And they would have hauled me before the General Court and executed me for consorting with the devil but now they send committees of Professors from Harvard to study me.  That represents progress, doesn’t it?”

 

The story of “Margery” told by J. Malcolm Bird, one of the investigators

All attempts to debunk her had been countered successfully and she was often considered to be the most extraordinary medium in the world.   She had her supporters and they were the most influential names in the field.   Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the well known author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, became deeply involved in Spiritualism following the death of his son in World War I, and was one of her most enthusiastic proponents.  It was Conan Doyle who had recommended her to enter a $2,500 contest to prove psychic ability to the Scientific American and it was this action that introduced Mina to Houdini, one of the judges.  Houdini found himself completely stumped, though he believed her to be the slickest ruse he had ever encountered.  He stopped at nothing to prove she was a fraud though over and over again he was unable to prove it.   In 1924, he created a special “Anti-Medium’s” cabinet so as to infringe upon all of her body’s movements so that there would be no possible way for her to commit any sort of false moves.  Houdini, himself, held onto one of her hands while his assistant held her other.  Walter exclaimed suddenly that Houdini had meddled with the bell-box and upon investigation there was indeed an item inserted so as to make it difficult to have the bell ring (an exercise that Walter would accomplish during a sitting).  The next occasion involving Houdini and Mina involved Walter, again, communicating that Houdini had attempted once more to tamper with the investigation by placing a rule within the cabinet.  Houdini denied it yet he would have been the only one with access to the area.  Years later, Houdini’s assistant, Jimmy Collins, actually admitted to having been directed by his boss to secretly sabotage the investigation.  “I chucked it in the box myself.  The Boss told me to do it.  ‘E wanted to fix her good.”  Henry Hardwicke proclaimed his own pride in Mina’s continued success to a group of Niagara’s Spiritualists who met a few years later at the Unitarian Church for a lecture sponsored by the Survival League of America.  It was to his great satisfaction that Walter had contemptuously “showed up Houdini…”  

 

Diagram of the séance room at Lime Street

In the end, the investigators from Scientific American denied her the prize she had been seeking, mostly due to Houdini’s disagreements.  However, Houdini could never actually present proof that she was fraudulent.  Although, shortly after, he published an expose of the well known Boston medium, he “failed to satisfy those who were looking for final proof, which was, impossible to give because, logically, he couldn’t prove a negative—that spiritualism does not exist and that the dead do not survive…”    On February 11, 1925, Scientific American issued their final report which explained that “…we have observed phenomena the method of production of which we cannot in every case claim to have discovered.  But we have observed no phenomena of which we can assert that they could not have been produced by normal means…” 

 

Houdini died on October 31, 1926, Halloween, supposedly from complications of appendicitis.   Mina publicly revealed her sorrow at his passing and complimented the tenacity of his attacks upon her, although some ultimately feel she may have had something to do with his death.  A few years later, Conan Doyle also died.  Mina, who lost much of her credibility after it was found that the wax impressions were not of her brother, Walter’s, ghostly thumbprint, but of her dentist’s, continued to work at her mediumship, however from time to time found herself depressed and suicidal, at one occasion leaving a séance and hovering about her roof top where she threatened to jump.

Dr. Hardwicke continued with his work in the spiritual realm and took a job as an instructor at the newly conceived Galahad College in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1932, where he held most of the teaching duties under the infamous founder, William Dudley Pelley.  The purpose of the college was “to overcome a general breakdown in religious conviction; to inspire psychical research; to help combat the menacing crime wave; and to instill the principle of Christ in the American industrial sphere…” A Fascist, anti-Semite and supporter of Hitler, Pelley used his college as a means of publishing his treatises blending spirituality with right wing extremism.   Monte Hardwicke, Dr. Henry Hardwicke’s son, worked for Pelley, as well, as a printer. The college was short lived as it was in the midst of the Depression and Pelley was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and imprisoned until the 1950’s.  Things had not turned out as planned for the Hardwicke’s and on May 11, 1939, only 58 years of age, Dr. Henry Hardwicke was dead.   Strangely, Mina Crandon died not too long after, on November 1, 1941, All Saints Day, the day that western theology commemorates those who have obtained the beatific vision of heaven.

In the end, they took all of their secrets to their graves.

Interestingly enough, Dr. Hardwicke ends his little book with a scene at Fort Niagara where he wonders about the end of life. 

Why does not science, to which the way is now open,--science, that traces the life of the smallest insets through their various stages of existence, show man the answer to his most persistent question?

“After the grave---what?”

 

Last page of “Voices from Beyond” by Dr. Henry Hardwicke,
Niagara Falls, New York

 

Whatever the answer, so ends the story of Niagara’s, Dr. Henry Hardwicke.  Perhaps. 

 

 

When Things of the Spirit Come First, Part Four: The Organization of Spiritualist Churches in Niagara Falls

by Michelle Ann Kratts

By the dawn of the 20th century, Spiritualist churches were steadily organizing throughout the United States and especially within the city of Niagara Falls.  The National Spiritualist Association, founded in 1893 by Cora L.V. Scott, a medium and trance lecturer (as well as an abolitionist in earlier years) who lived in Buffalo for a time, was established in Niagara Falls as the First Spiritualist Association. 

  

Cora L. V. Scott 

 

 In January of 1903 the Niagara Falls Gazette advertised that a Spiritualist medium and adviser from Buffalo, “Mrs. Atcheson,” would be “at the home of Mrs. Onan, cor. Pine and 29th all day Wednesday, January 7th, for personal readings.” Proceeds would benefit the Spiritualist Association of Niagara Falls.  It went on to read that a Séance Circle would also be held that same evening at the Maccabees Hall, 2207 Main Street.  It is believed that this event may have represented the birth of the first officially organized Spiritual Church in Niagara Falls.   Previous to the inception of the First Spiritualist Church, most practiced privately within their homes and even following the creation of organized churches a great majority of Spiritualists preferred to practice in such a manner (particularly, the new immigrants who continued to read tea leaves and interpret dreams at their own kitchen tables).

Mrs. Ellen Onan, the hostess of the day-long event in 1903, had come to Niagara Falls “to take advantage of the job opportunities created by the expanding electrical industry following her husband’s death in 1900.” She was the mother of three young boys, as well as a nurse.  Descendants today are more than curious as to the true reasons for the young widow’s sudden move to Niagara Falls.  Family records reveal, among other tidbits, that she had at one time “taught school in Cuba, NY, which was not far from (her husband’s hometown of) Allegany.” It is just conjecture, but it is possible that it may have been at this point that Ellen became infused with Spiritualism for the founder of the National Spiritualist Association, Cora L.V. Scott, one of the most prominent and influential women in the Spiritualist movement, a woman who had revealed her craft as medium at the White House for President Lincoln, was born in Cuba.  This section of New York was aflutter with Spiritualism during this time period.   Lily Dale Assembly, established in 1879, was only about 50 miles away from where a 20 year old Ellen would have been teaching.  It is also possible that Ellen had become interested in Spiritualism as a comfort following the grief of the loss of loved ones.   She, herself, may have been witness to great human tragedy as a child, as well, for she had been born in 1858 in Richmond, Virginia, just a few short years before the onset of the Civil War.  For southerners, the Civil War had been a horror not too far from home. 

 

Ellen Morris Onan

 (Courtesy www.onanfamily.org)

 

Niagara Falls had clearly become an important location for the national Spiritualist community. In January, the New York State Spiritualist Association gathered at the Maccabees Hall for a “most important” meeting.  Vine H. Hickox, a pioneer of Niagara Falls, wrote several lengthy pieces that were published in the newspaper about Spiritualism, the spirit messages and concerning Mrs. Atcheson’s discourses.  Ella Atcheson, the wife of a Buffalo baker, was Niagara’s First Spiritualist Church’s founding minister. People came from quite the distance to hear her speak and to benefit from her mediumship.  Hickox often gave specific and emotional examples of her incredible work.  He wrote of the large crowds of desperate Niagarans longing to reconnect with their deceased loved ones.  He described the ideals of Spiritualism through Rev. Atcheson’s own words…”Spiritualism not only has opened the door between the mortal and the immortal…it has spread the truth…it is freeing the minds of men and women from doubt and error…

 

May 3, 1924 

 

Mr. Hickox, himself a follower of a form of Christian Spiritualism, wrote of the “whispers of dear departed friends…of mortals touched by their loved ones who are ministering angels…”  He explained the basic tenets of Spiritualism to the general public as follows:

Spiritualism asserts that the soul spirit is the real man;  the natural body is but the medium through which the soul of man interprets itself to its fellows….

His family believes that the loss of his own dear wife, while still quite young, may have been the catalyst for his fervent embracing of Spiritualism.  He also wrote in an article, dated February 6, 1907, “The Benefit of Spiritualism,” that his own father, Thomas B. Hickox, had been a “strong adherent to the Methodist Church, fond of reading the old family bible and having prayers in his home…”  However, his mother, Mercia Harrington Hickox, “did not have so much interest in those exercises, in fact she seemed to feel glad when the family prayers were over….”  He also went on to say that she “could read people seemingly in a Psychic way and prophesy.” 

On a sultry summer’s evening in July of 1907, less than a year before Mr. Hickox became one of the departed, a large audience attended a gathering at the Maccabees Hall in order to receive a message “from some loved one in the spirit land.”  He went on to add that “this phrase of mediumship is becoming very interesting to many in this city….they begin to realize the truth of the continuity of life, after the death of the mortal body.” On April 21, 1908, Vine H. Hickox entered the spirit land, himself. 

 

Vine H. Hickox

 

Other Spiritualist churches grew out of the First Spiritualist Church of Niagara Falls.  Some adhered to a more Christian sort of Spiritualism, whereas others focused on the more titillating aspects of mediumship.  The Progressive Spiritual Church of Truth began meeting at Whirlpool Street, at No. 933 Main Street opposite the Armory and eventually at the Unitarian Church at 639 Main Street.  The Spiritual Tabernacle met at the IOOF Hall on South Avenue, near Main Street.  The Trinity Spiritualist Church met at the corner of Ashland and Main Street and at 320 6th Street.  The Unity Spiritualist Church met at Silberberg’s Hall, between Main Street and Niagara Avenue.  The Center of Psychic Spiritualists met at the Hotel Niagara in Room A, and the White Rose Center of Free Psychic Truth which had been active throughout the 1940’s held their services in the basement of the Unitarian Church.  These churches opened their doors to people of all faiths and backgrounds.  All are welcome, was commonly added to the advertisements.  They offered lectures such as “Angel Ministrations,” ”The Force of Spirit,” and “Psychic Teaching for Adults and Children.”  Messages were given, as well as the reading of sealed ballots, clairvoyance, healing services, worship, psychic classes, unfoldment (meditation) classes and much more.  Message, or séance, circles were usually held afterwards or at various mediums’ homes.  Often prominent psychics and mediums came to Niagara Falls for ballot reading sessions. T. John Kelly, a noted Spiritualist medium associated with Lily Dale, came to the Spiritualist Tabernacle at the IOOF Temple, on South Avenue, near Main Street, Niagara Falls in 1932.    He was considered the “premier in this phase of psychic phenomenon” and his presence in Niagara Falls would “open the door (to) the spirit world, where… loved ones are anxiously waiting to communicate…

 

 

When Things of the Spirit Come First Part Three: Paving the Way

by Michelle Ann Kratts

With the advent of modern science, so came the need for the scientific explanation, or the cause and subsequent investigation of a paranormal event.  The scientists who first discovered the unseen worlds of radio waves and other new technologies began to find themselves wondering about other unseen worlds, as well, for their discoveries revealed that they had proven there are, indeed, invisible layers of existence.    Thus the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded in England in 1882. 

  

 

It was the first society formed for the purpose of investigating “that large body of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical and "spiritualistic”, and to do so “in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled Science to solve so many problems.” Its founders and members included an illustrious list of Cambridge and Oxford philosophers, physicists, chemists, psychologists, criminologists and physicians.  There were Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the League of Nations, and even a man who would one day become the prime minister of England.   Some of the more popular members included C.J. Jung, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Oliver Lodge, a pioneer of wireless technology and radio, who would ultimately forge a unique tie, himself, to Niagara Falls and Oakwood Cemetery (story forthcoming).  


  

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and a well-known Spiritualist

 Spiritualism seemed to have struck a chord within the heart of its strongest enemy—the scientist--and things would never be the same. It wouldn’t be long before one of the world’s most brilliant scientists made his mark upon Niagara and changed the way we live.  His name was Nikola Tesla and everyone who has been to Niagara Falls knows how great a man he was for his figure alone has been memorialized into a bronze statue at the State Park. 

Tesla was most unusual for in some strange way the spirit of Niagara seemed to reach across the world and into a little Croatian town, where as a precocious young boy, he had a dream that would change the course of history.  “I was fascinated by a description of Niagara Falls…and pictured in my imagination a big wheel run by the falls…” His obsessions with Niagara would one day electrify the world. In 1895, the first great hydroelectric power plant in the world was built with patents for generators for polyphase currents from Nikola Tesla, in Niagara Falls, New York.  The great power, the spirit of Niagara Falls, was harnessed to create electricity that could light up places near and far and the basic idea had been conceived from a boyhood dream. 

 

Nikola Tesla

There are many other stories about Tesla’s peculiar character and his belief that Niagara was indeed a power point of energy and communication with other realms of life forces.  In the early 1900’s Mr. Tesla was reportedly “preparing to hail Mars with Niagara’s voice.” Niagara’s power companies would cooperate by projecting an 800 million horse power message over the 100 million mile gulf between the earth and Mars. It is believed that as he, indeed, received responses to these communications, they were the sound waves emitted from a distant planet though not actually an intelligent communication.  But who knows for sure?

 

 

November 19, 1907, Niagara Falls Gazette

While Niagara was paving the world with light and energy, simultaneously the most massive movement of people to the Niagara area was taking place.   Thousands of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and from lands as far off as Lebanon, Turkey and Armenia flooded every entrance into Niagara Falls.  The author William Feder wrote in his landmark work that “Niagara Falls became known for having the highest percentage of immigrants of any city in New York State outside of New York City.” Many of these immigrants brought alongside their suitcases a bit of the darkness, the shadows, from an old and ancient world.  They brought their own intense spiritual folklore and superstitions; stories that became forever enmeshed into the history of Niagara.  The southern Italians in Niagara Falls brought their ghosts, their fortune tellers and their great fear of "mal occhio" or the Evil Eye.  They consulted one another about dream visions, premonitions and demonic possessions.  Roman Catholic priests conducted “exorcisms.”  And there were those “special women” that I had marveled at; those who had magical powers.  Born on Christmas Eve, they were said to have “special gifts.”  Girls could also learn how to become “witches” on Christmas Eve—but they could only be taught the craft by another Italian woman who had been taught the craft, herself, on Christmas Eve. 

 

 

As a young girl, I sat wide-eyed, when a dear family friend told me the story, many times over, of a well known priest who was found to have horns like the devil hidden within his curls.  My friend had been a student at a local Roman Catholic school many years ago and said she had walked into the church at an unusual hour to pray and instead she walked into what seemed to be a satanic ritual.  The altar was red with blood and crosses inverted.  The statue of the Blessed Mother was in a disturbing position.  Only the school children had known the truth, that the priest, himself was possessed.  Was it a story she made up?  I have never heard anything like it.  There were other stories my great grandmother and aunts had remembered from Italy; stories of strange and non-human births, of curses and rituals.  And one must always wear a crucifix in a cemetery so as to not open yourself to wanton and restless spirits looking for an entryway. 

The Armenians, who had faced intolerable death and misery before coming to America, had similar traditions.  They often wore blue beads to protect against the “Evil Eye,” and had various spell and curse breaking phrases such as “God be with you,” or “Mashalah.”  The Armenians were also proficient at reading the tea leaves at the bottom of their Turkish coffee.  For them, the loss had been so recent and so great that perhaps the space between living and dead was ever smaller.  Many of the other immigrant groups who made Niagara their home had similar superstitions and it was not too far of a stretch for them to comprehend the basic ideas of Spiritualism, for their own indigenous cultures had cultivated similar beliefs for hundreds of years. 

 

When Things of the Spirit Come First Part Two: Niagara’s Fascination with Death

by Michelle Ann Kratts

 

 

By the 1850’s and 1860’s, well known psychics, such as Emma Hardinge Britten, were coming to Niagara. 

By spirit direction we visited Niagara Falls and Rochester, at both these places our spirit friends made important declarations.”

In 1850, the Spiritual Philosopher pondered the idea of the “fascination with a sense of danger.”  “Persons may be fascinated with beauty, music, gold or the love of money; and also by the sense of dangers.” It went on to tell of a young lady, who had been so “fascinated” looking over the precipice at Niagara Falls that she lost her self control and was “dashed to pieces on the rocks below.” Persons in this state should be “Pathetized, and thus the spell may be broken…”  And over the years this “fascination” continued to ignite many desperate souls.  We find the same story in our papers, over and over again.  Different names, different walks of life, but the same sentiment of death.

 

  “Over the FallsNiagara Falls has another victim.  Nina W. Phillips, employed in the city of that name as a domestic, fascinated by the rushing waters, jumped from the Goat Island bridge on Tuesday and was carried over the cataract.”

An event in December of 1855 brought the Spiritualism debate to the forefront in Niagara Falls.  A popular lecture series held at the Odd Fellows Hall included a Spiritualist speaker “and the subject was handled without gloves.”  The debate grew to such proportions that another series of lectures was held just about a month later “against Modern Spiritualism” at the Clarendon Hotel.  Professor Grimes, the “father of the humbug,” discussed “the rise and progress of Spiritualism,” and went onto other topics such as “how mediums are made” and “how the so-called spiritual manifestations were produced.” Interestingly, the editors at the Niagara Falls Gazette did not seem to completely approve of Dr. Grimes’ rebuttal of the Spiritualists.  “Professor Grimes has only partially explained the humbug…it only proves that the day may not be far…when science will dispel any other clouds which may now apparently surround the subject.”  Ironically, it would not be too far into the future when science, itself, would begin to tap into a whole new set of inquiries and when the scientists, themselves, would become the leaders of the Spiritualist movement. 

Perhaps the Civil War had one of the greatest effects upon the Spiritual history of Niagara Falls.  It was the largest mass loss of life that the United States had ever experienced and Niagara was not immune.  Many of her sons were lost on the battlefield.  Spiritualism filled the void for some as it proclaimed that death was not the end; there is survival for man.  Even Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s wife, and a frequent visitor who spent much time at the Cataract House in Niagara Falls, was known to have held séances at the White House. 

 

 Mary Todd Lincoln also had a liking for Spirit Photography

It had finally become mainstream and fashionable to contact the dead.  The Victorian era also brought forth a romantification of death.   A front page obituary from the Daily Gazette reveals more of a ghost story than a death notice as it describes a striking graveside incident. It was written that, as the minister began to read the passage “… “I heard a voice from Heaven,” a roll of thunder from the gathering clouds hushed his voice and added an impressive solemnity to the occasion, which was the more notable as it was the only time the clouds gave forth their voice.” It was during this time that Lily Dale Assembly, the world’s largest and most popular Spiritualist community, was founded in the Town of Pomfret, just a short distance from Niagara Falls. 

                              

By the summer of 1866, people were beginning to see the world through different eyes.   It seemed that maybe, yes, some things could be possible….In July of 1866, a most strange and event occurred in the yards of the Central Railroad, near the Suspension Bridge, which caused much excitement and certainly piqued the wild imagination of Niagara’s residents.  Newspapers across the nation became interested in the reports that 60-70 sheep had been found killed, in most unusual circumstances over a few days time near Niagara Falls.  Even as these animals commonly roamed freely throughout the village an occurrence such as this was most startling for the fact that “the sheep were merely bitten in the neck and the blood sucked from the carcass.” No other damage had been done to their bodies.  A posse was formed and men with torches were sent out to search for the guilty varmints.  Outwardly, it was supposed that a wolf had been the culprit, although it had been believed that the last remnants of wolves had been eradicated years before.    The reporting of the incident clearly implied that a supernatural event may have taken place.  The general public, at the time, was well aware of vampires and their proclivities.  Even as Bram Stoker’s, Dracula, had yet to be written, the short story, “The Vampyre”, conceived by John Polidori, Lord Byron’s physician, in 1819, was popular literature throughout  the United States.  As Spiritualism grew, many Niagarans seemed to reach into their imaginations for explanations of the unknown.  In December of 1880, the Niagara Falls Gazette, under a column titled “Neighboring Counties,” noted that “…a real life vampire, measuring 18 inches from tip to tip, was captured at Silver Creek, Chautauqua County, the other day…”  (It may be interesting to note that although vampire bats feed off of slumbering animals such as sheep and goats, they are native to Mexico, Central America, South America and two Caribbean islands and “contrary to what people may think, do not occur in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.)” Whatever the reason for the mutilation of the sheep, it was perceived to be an unusual happening.



 

Another shocking story appeared several years later when the Niagara Gazette reported in bold headlines…”MAID OF THE MIST CREW SAW GHOSTS.” 

 

 

Sailors from the famous steamboat company had become “greatly concerned” as each evening they were witness to a most unusual scene involving “weird lights” around the eddies of the river near the Canadian wharfs.   The sailors began to believe it “must be the ghosts of the drowned haunting the scene of their dissolution.” After Captain R.F. Carter, commander of the boat, saw the weird lights and was, himself, puzzled, he decided to investigate. 

                                                                  

Captain R. F. Carter

 

He came up with an extremely complex explanation involving a wooden tub filled with phosphorescent paint in which drift wood would come into contact with and coincidentally catch fire if the driftwood would happen to toss upon another object, float around, dry in the sun, and break open.  It is likely that the sailors stuck with their original theory of ghosts—as it, quite frankly, made more sense.  (It may be interesting to note that a news article printed alongside the above “MAID OF THE MIST CREW SAW GHOSTS” contained a report stating that the very same day, July 11th, the crew of the Maid of the Mist secured “a most ghastly object” from the shore of Lake Ontario…a human leg that had been torn from the body at the hip, still wearing a stocking and shoe.)   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Things of the Spirit Come First Part One: In the Beginning

by Michelle A. Kratts

Many of the residents of Oakwood Cemetery were deeply connected in some way to the history of Spiritualism in Niagara Falls. In fact some of the great leaders of Spiritualism believed that Niagara Falls, itself, was the source of the Spiritualist movement.  At a celebration of the Jubilee of Spiritualism in 1898, Carrie E. S. Twing, a spiritualist author, said: 

Some years ago the great Niagara caused those living within sound of the roar of its waters to awake, not because of its noise, but because of its silence…

These next few installments will tell you the most unusual story of Spiritualism in Niagara Falls and about the “silence” that awakened another world to life. 

          

Some believe there is no death, only rebirth, and there are places where there is a communion between these two worlds.  Niagara is said to be one of these locations, for there is a phenomenon here that is peculiar to all places of intense beauty. Peter A. Porter said it was the presence of Deity, or Spirit.  Others find Niagara a “power point” of energy.   Amy Koban, a practicing Spiritualist from Niagara Falls, describes falling water as a natural root cause for paranormal activity.    Regardless of our combinations of language, it seems undeniable that the veil between the living and the dead is very thin here.  This strange duality of forces—at once divinely beautiful, yet at the same time terrifyingly violent and the embodiment of our greatest fears—has intrigued people for centuries.  There is a hypnotic effect that Niagara stamps upon the soul.  Some have to tear away from the brink as they feel themselves becoming helpless to their urges.  It was inevitable that Niagara would become a haven for the poet, the artist and the mystic.  They were the “Sky Holders”, the Medicine Men, the translators of the Divine. 

Ever since the very beginning when Father Louis Hennepin, a Recollect missionary who had accompanied LaSalle on the expedition of 1678, wrote the first lengthy account of the falls—“that dreadful gulf (where) one is seized with horror,” people have understood there would be  hazards associated with a trip to Niagara.  However, it was not only the cataract itself that presented horrific dangers.  Early travelers’ accounts describe a rugged and ancient wilderness where Nature and her beasts ruled supreme.  There were wolves that roamed in packs of 20 or 30 at a time and “were so fierce as to attack men in the middle of the day.” In the summer months it was said that one may “meet with rattlesnakes at every step and Musquitoes swarm so thickly in the air…that you might cut them with a knife… A Herefordshire man and guide told one traveler that the rattlesnakes were of such an enormous girth that he had once killed one containing twenty four rattles.  It was truly a nightmarish landscape. 

  

And yet, there were also rainbows that spread across the daytime skies in Biblical proportions and moon visions that glimmered through the mist.  At one time, rainbows were present each morning from ten until noon.  John Quincy Adams remarked that “it takes away all language as well as thought, and in this raptured condition one is almost capable of prophesying—standing as it were in a trance, unable to speak.” The moon was a bedtime story, in itself, as it hovered wonderful and curious, above the Niagara River.  One hot summer evening in 1787, an English captain who had been visiting Fort Schlosser and the Stedman’s, stopped before the gates of the Fort upon noticing the moon.  He had never in his travels seen such a sight as the magic that seemed to unfold around the setting moon over Niagara.  It appeared “to rise to a very uncommon height in likeness to a very dark column.” He had witnessed a moon bow, or a lunar bow, a rare phenomenon produced when light reflects off the surface of the moon and shines upon the mist created by the water falls.  They are unlikely to occur today because there is less water and therefore less mist due to the diversion of water for electrical purposes and because of the many city lights that crowd up the night sky.  At one time, the Maid of the Mist would make moonlight trips for the sole purpose of allowing travelers the opportunity to view the lunar bows.  It is not hard to understand how Niagara's unusual and remarkable landscape captivated the early travelers.  

  

Print by Godfrey N. Frankenstein. From "Niagara," in Harper's New Monthly Magazine. August, 1853. 

One special visitor, who will forever be connected with Niagara’s mystical past, was Francis Abbott, the Hermit of Niagara.  Tall and handsome, wearing a loose gown or cloak of chocolate brown, he was first seen passing through Niagara Falls on the afternoon of June 18, 1829.  His singular appearance caught the eye of all who had looked upon him.  Carrying only a roll of blankets, a flute, a portfolio, a large book and a small stick, he walked into the hotel and asked the landlady the usual questions about the falls and then about where he might find a library.  Immediately, he found his way to the library where he proceeded to borrow some music books and purchase a violin.  The librarian was informed that his name was Francis Abbott…and the rest is local folklore and history.  Increasingly, he became completely and utterly bewitched by the falls.  He found his way to the library often and each time he spoke with the librarian he informed him that he would be staying a little longer than he had originally planned.  Eventually, as time wore on and he remained, he built himself a rustic hut upon Goat Island.  He revealed that it was his plan to live as a solitary hermit.  The proprietor of the island allowed him to stay at the only dwelling then on the island where a family lived.  He ate very little and lived the life of an ascetic monk.  He lived such as this for about 20 months and would often be seen with his guitar, supported with a silken sash, walking the banks of the whirlpool.  His music was strange to the ears of those who listened.  They came from their homes and he would just as soon walk away. 

Eventually, as time went on, he built a cottage of his own near the high bank of the river—in full view of the falls.  He lived here about 2 months with only his pet dog.  Much of his time was spent in quiet solitude and meditation.  Many grew accustomed to his peculiarities—how he loved to bathe in the cascades between Goat Island and the Three Sisters Islands, even in the coldest weather, and how he made a daily practice of walking over a piece of timber that extended over the Terrapin Rocks and 12-15 feet over the precipice of the falls—sometimes hanging over the chasm by his hands and feet for 15 minute intervals.  He was known to write quite often, mostly in Latin, but destroyed his works just as fast as he created them. 

  

Francis Abbott disappeared on June 10, 1831.  The last anyone saw of him was the ferryman at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Only his clothes were found on the rocks.  On June 21, his body was identified at Fort Niagara.  The next day he was interred in the burial ground at Niagara Falls.  He was eventually removed to Oakwood Cemetery and his gravesite remains one of the most popular sites.    Following his death, the following inscription was found chiseled upon a rock on Luna Island and believed to have been written by Abbott, himself: All is Change, Eternal Progress, No Death.  He was about 28 years of age at the time of his death and a most spectacular curiosity and precursor to the spiritual history of Niagara Falls.

 

Grave of Francis Abbott in Oakwood Cemetery  

 

Another most singular individual who found his way to Niagara was Godfrey N. Frankenstein.    Born in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, in 1820, he would become “the painter of Niagara Falls.”  It was said that as a child he was so strange as to gleefully await the slaughter of the pigs on his father’s farm so that he might “collect a quantity of blood for paint.” And just as Francis Abbott had been enamored of Niagara, young Frankenstein found himself “so charmed with their grandeur and beauty” that he spent much of his life in Niagara Falls and painting the scenery.  He developed a growing fascination, or “almost an obsession with Niagara Falls.  He “made the study of the great cataract a labor of love.” He summered and wintered by it; painted it by day and by night; capturing every angle and each nuance.  He was well known even to paint as “the grey rocks wore an icy robe and the spray congealed into icicles upon his stiffened garments.” Although he painted over one hundred easel paintings of the falls, he is most well known for his panorama, “Niagara.”  “Niagara” was painted upon a strip of canvas that was over 1,000 feet long and nine feet high.  It rolled from one wooden spindle to the next, with the assistance of Frankenstein’s siblings who had helped to arrange the panels systematically.  It was first exhibited in the old City Hall in Springfield, Ohio, before touring much of the country.  Some historians believe that Frankenstein’s panorama of Niagara was the very first inception of a motion picture.  The panorama was unique as it provided a sort of “cinematic” effect as its size and portrayals made viewers feel as if they were swallowed up into the giant cataract, themselves.  There was music and drama to accompany its viewing. It grew to intense popularity. “Owing to the increased desire to see this remarkable work of art and to enable ladies and children to see it, Frankenstein’s Moving Panorama of Niagara will hereafter be exhibited both morning and night…admission 50 cents.”

Print by Godfrey N. Frankenstein. From "Niagara," in Harper's New Monthly Magazine. August, 1853.

Frankenstein had also included inserts of terror, such as the collapse of the Table Rock and a boatman’s fatal plunge—which horrified, as well as entertained, the viewers.  Commentators were well aware of the strong theme of death which prevailed throughout much of Frankenstein’s work on Niagara.  “The spectre of death seemed implicated in the medium’s own mode of representation; like a cadaver…the canvas resembles a living being…and yet there is a paradox in the close resemblance to death…”

Truly, a panorama such as “Niagara” was a giant among works of art and Niagara was the perfect subject.  The artist at Niagara had become not unlike the “Sky Holder,” or interpreter of the divine.

I have also personally experienced the translation of Niagara’s beauty into art a few years ago when Thomas Asklar, a renowned artist of today’s Niagara, a modern day “Sky Holder,” spent a great deal of time unloading his massive renderings of the cataract into the community room at the Lewiston Public Library for a display.  Some pieces were so large they could only be propped against the wall.  When everyone had gone and I was left to myself, I sat in a room filled from the floor to the ceiling with Niagara and I had the unmistakable feeling rush through me—it was as if I were really there and I could almost hear the water and then that familiar fear and trepidation took my breath away. 

 

 

Western Front, by Thomas Paul Asklar

 

 

Whispering Wind, by Thomas Paul Asklar

 

Frankenstein died from a cold on February 24, 1873.  He is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.  Unfortunately the behemoth panorama, “Niagara,” is also gone.  It is believed that he had stored it in Black’s Opera House in Springfield which burned to the ground in 1903.  “Whatever its merit, it no doubt long ago passed into the limbo of the forgotten.”

 

Print by Godfrey N. Frankenstein. From "Niagara," in Harper's New Monthly Magazine. August, 1853.

The mid 19th century swept through western New York with a frenzy that had never been seen before.  There were new emotions arising as the dust settled from the late wars and as a new nation sought to create a persona.  The Frankenstein panorama was noted as being a true representation of our nationhood.  It portrayed the indomitable and reckless spirit—the passion and pathos of the American-- in its panels of Niagara Falls.  There was an incessant longing in the American for an understanding of this strange new position, an identity, among the nations of the world.  Much of western New York was still frontier and spiritual needs were often left unanswered as clergy were scarce.  Folk movements grew at an alarming pace.  The grounds were fertile for an awakening.  Niagara was a part of what became known as the “Burned Over District.”  This term referred to the section of the country where new religions were founded and it was tied in closely with other movements such as the Women’s Rights Movement and Abolitionism. It was not too far from Niagara, in Palmyra, New York, where Joseph Smith was said to have been visited by the angel, Moroni, and the Latter Day Saint religion was born.  The Millerites, the Shakers and various Utopian experiments were coming to life and gaining a stronghold in this region.  Most importantly, on March 31, 1848, the modern Spiritualist movement was born when the Fox sisters in Hydesville, New York, began communicating with “Mr. Splitfoot,” the spirit of a peddler who had been murdered and buried under their home.  Perhaps it was merely a coincidence that the day before the event in Hydesville, on March 30, 1848, the great Falls at Niagara were silenced because of a natural phenomenon that sent many panicking that the end of the world was coming.  An ice jam had temporarily cut the flow of the water.  Eventually a crack formed and the water was flowing again, but not before hundreds of fascinated people ventured out in the riverbed.

 

The Fox Sisters of Hydesville, New York

And Niagara did fascinate.  Here, the space between heaven and earth was quite visibly smaller.  Niagara was a symbol for the fugitive slave of the great power of the promise of freedom.   Thousands made their way to this border-land with Canada and found new life just a stone’s throw across the water.  However, it was also a point of energetic conflict as Niagara was the location at which bounty hunters sought their rewards. There were local men and women within the community who assisted in the Underground Railroad, and there were those who profited from assisting the bounty hunters.  It was no secret that the Abolitionist movement was deeply embedded in Spiritualism.  Prominent leaders such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison and Thomas Garrett were professed Spiritualists.  Many fugitives were brought to freedom through Niagara by Harriet Tubman, an intensely spiritual woman, herself.  She was known to have been led by dream visions, to have spoken to God, Himself.  Many knew her to be a “firm believer in spiritual manifestations.” In fact, her biographer, Sarah Bradford, had a difficult time portraying her character as she tried desperately to limit revealing her strange behaviors and beliefs for she was certain that its mere mention could possibly discredit her. 

 

Look for Part 2 of “When Things of the Spirit Come First”…Learn about the famous psychics who found Niagara Falls “fascinating,” debates over the survival of man held in local establishments, a most unusual occurrence in the yards of the Central Railroad near the Suspension Bridge,  and ghosts on the Maid of the Mist….

Tu scendi dalle stelle (You Come Down from the Heavens)

By Michelle Ann Kratts

When I think of my great grandmother, Clementina Fortuna, during the holidays my memories are always framed in wonderful food and song.  Of course, food…but there was also music.  Tears would come to her eyes when one particular song would play and forever I will see her when I hear it.  And in Niagara Falls, one does hear this song at Christmastime.  It’s called “Tu scendi dalle stelle,” and it’s one of the most beautiful Christmas songs ever composed.  I never really thought of the significance of the words until now. It is clear why the Italians loved this song.  This song celebrates the story of a king born of the stars into dire poverty.  Of a child who gives his life as a result of his great love for the world. 

Perhaps for the Italians of Niagara Falls, this song held some other significance, as well.  For in the spring of 1920, one poor Italian child opened the gates of heaven.  Literally.

The story probably began over the holidays in 1919/1920.  Tomaso and Addolorata DiCamillo’s infant son, Antonio, would not live.  Suffering from pneumonia, he barely made it through La Festa dell'Epifania - the Feast of the Epiphany.  He breathed his last on January 14, 1920.  There must have been much heartache from the little house at 565 14th Street.  The Dicamillo family, an immigrant family that eventually would found a baking empire in the Niagara region, did not have much during these early years.  A funeral was held from the home on January 15 and the child was moved to the vault at Oakwood Cemetery for a charge of $2.50.  It was winter and the ground was probably frozen over so a burial was not likely at this time.  It was customary to keep bodies in the vault until the ground was ready for burial in a plot.  However, a plot in Oakwood was never chosen for little Antonio.  Instead, there was another plan that would make history. 

I had never heard about this other “plan” until a DiCamillo descendant approached me one afternoon in Oakwood Cemetery.  He asked me if I knew anything about the baby who had founded a cemetery.  I was ashamed to tell him that I knew nothing about this—but I would definitely look into it.  After looking into his “story” it quickly became apparent that Mr. DiCamillo was correct.  A child from his family had been the first burial at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Niagara Falls.  

In fact it might be said that St. Joseph’s Cemetery was born in Oakwood Cemetery one starlit evening in April when Father Augustine Billerio took the child’s body from the vault and secretly buried it in the land that had been purchased by the Church—the eleven acres that is now St. Joseph’s Cemetery. 

It’s hard to imagine today that the world was such a different place back in 1920.  During this period there was a great amount of prejudice leveled at the Italian immigrants who had taken Niagara Falls by storm.  Their dress and customs were strange and wild, they were full of passion and independence, they sang and they danced in the streets. They were outspoken and their superstitions and religious customs were seen as unusual.   They were impoverished.    By 1920, one of the most prominent of the Italian leaders, Father Billerio, purchased land for the purpose of consecrating a special ground for Roman Catholic burials.  The Niagara Falls City Council responded by saying:  absolutely not a chance and washed their hands of the situation.  But Father Billerio was not about to accept defeat.  For him, the establishment of a Roman Catholic Cemetery within the city of Niagara Falls was an integral part of his service to his people.  So he took matters into his own hands. 

It was recorded that on April 22, 1920 (some accounts say April 21) the body of little Antonio DiCamillo was removed from the vault at Oakwood Cemetery and secretly buried that evening in the “new Italeon cemetery.” Father Billerio believed that in burying little Antonio on the property the nearby property owners who were against the establishment of an Italian cemetery, and the city fathers, would be left without an argument as it would be impossible to disinter the child’s body.     When called upon by the City Council, Mr. Angelo Scalzo, Father Billerio and others revealed the history of the land they had recently purchased—including the story of the burial of Antonio DiCamillo-- and again, insisted upon being granted the right to turn it into a Roman Catholic burial ground.   The City Manager reported that the sanitary code had been violated with DiCamillo’s illegal burial and a permit would be necessary from the health officer—which would not be allowed.  It was continually stated that the land was ill suited for a cemetery because of drainage issues, that the illegal burial would be a health risk to the community and that it should immediately be removed and reinterred at another location. 

Finally, miraculously, on May 3, 1920, after much debate, the health officer, the corporation counsel and the city manager had a sudden change of heart.  They had inspected the location, and after being informed of the manner in which the sanitary code would be met, finally agreed to allow for the establishment of a Roman Catholic burial ground within the city of Niagara Falls.  St. Joseph’s Cemetery was officially established.

 

On Memorial Day in 1920, the opening of the cemetery was formally observed and the ground consecrated.  All of the Italian societies marched from St. Joseph’s church on Pine Avenue to the new cemetery and were led by Scalzo’s band.  The men from Niagara Falls (of Italian heritage) who had given their lives in the First World War were memorialized.  By May 29, there were twenty five bodies buried at St. Joseph’s cemetery. 

I have read that there is a stone in St. Joseph’s that commemorates the life and death of Antonio DiCamillo.  My daughter and I tried to find him one autumn afternoon but no one seemed to know the location.  One of the grounds workers told me where the oldest part of the cemetery is and that I might find him there.  Luckily, it was near the area where my own great great grandparents are buried.  We walked along the fence and marveled at the beautiful angels that paved our way.  There are many graves from the 1920’s and 1930’s in this section.  Graves with beautiful Italian engravings and ceramic photographs offering the passer by a glimpse into the soul of the dead. 

We never did find little Antonio.   I snapped a few pictures of tombstones that caught my eye.  Some belonging to beautiful Italian children that left the earth too early.   They probably keep our little Antonio company and honor him for opening the gates and letting everyone else in. 

An Update on Our Local “Titanic” Story ; The Magic of Historical Research

By Michelle Kratts

Although, assuredly, Mrs. Emily S. Douton (Downton) Hyde Biondi rests quietly in the Mausoleum at Oakwood Cemetery, her story refuses to sleep.  Recently posted on both Niagara Hub and on the Oakwood Cemetery website the story somehow ended up everywhere else including the other side of the world and luck would have it that another researcher was able to add so much more to what we already knew of Emily S. Douton (Downton) Hyde Biondi’s life. 

I always think that there is no other way to describe the connections that are made between people, living and dead, while in the midst of historical research,  than to admit that there must be a tincture of MAGIC involved.   The internet has made it possible to do the impossible.  I am sometimes so in awe of those who came before me—because they found a way to do so much without our modern day “magic.”  Those researchers who had to type up letters, lick a stamp and send it off in hopes that maybe in a few weeks (or months) there would be a response.  Or those who took buses, cars, trains, horse and buggies to get to that repository of information.  Today from the comfort of our homes we can meet with the most incredible history.  In an instant a birth record is scanned, photographs are sent across time and space.  And this is the story of Emily.  When you invest so much while researching one person, when you are into their personal records and you feel like God because you know their beginning and their end…it is quite disappointing when you have no idea about such simple things as what they looked like.  After all that, they have pretty much become a sort of invisible friend. 

Courtesy of Robin DeBrita William Douton worked as a stone cutter in Holley. He was among the 1,514 who died on the Titanic 100 years ago.But today, thanks to a few people, Emily’s story is so much more complete and I can finally look into her eyes. It all started a few weeks ago with an incredible email from a Titanic researcher, named Lindsay, from Australia.  Among other things, he knew about Emily before she had come to Niagara Falls.  He had documentation of a whole other world.  Because of his very thorough research it is most likely that her maiden name was Le Monnier and that she had been born to French nationals on the Channel Island of Guernsey.  In fact, that is the place her poor husband, William Douton (Downton), was visiting when he embarked on his trip back to New York on that ill fated ship, the Titanic.  There is even a memorial marker on Guernsey “in commemoration of the Guernsey men and women who lost their lives when the R.M.S. Titanic sank on the 15th of April 1912.”  W.J. Downton, Emily’s husband, is on this plaque. 

As for Emily’s eyes, that is thanks to my friend, Peter Ames.  Forever showering me with the most unusual “gifts”—he popped into the library this fine rain-swept morning with Emily packed away into a little see-through sleeve.   He had contacted the Holley historian and apparently someone had recently cleaned an attic and found the picture.  So here she is.  Emily S. Le Monnier Douton (Downton) Hyde Biondi.  A long strand of pearls, black lace, round glasses.  Her image, kindly and sweet, like someone’s grandmother. 

Tom Rivers/Daily News The Independent Order of Old Fellows erected this memorial for Holley residents William Douton and Peter MacKain, who perished with the sinking of the Titanic. (Douton's and MacKain's last names are spelled in several different ways, according to published reports from a century ago. The community newspaper spelled their names as Douton and MacKain.)In the end, it might be said that historical research is a bit like raising the dead—or the carcass of an old shipwreck.   There is always new life, new stories and adventure.  Over and over again.  

Gone but not forgotten: Myron H. and Sarah E. Whitney A continuation of the Whitney stories

Day #2: August 19, 2012

Sister and Brother:  Myron Holly and Sarah Eliza (Sally) Whitney 
Forgotten children of General Parkhurst and Celinda Whitney

There are the little ones in Oakwood.  The ones who were put to sleep one last time under soft blankets of grass.  Today was for the little ones.  Specifically two babies--Myron and Sarah—for today their little common grave was uncovered.  Almost two hundred years old, it was in beautiful condition.  Lying flat on its back and covered in a neat layer of dirt and grass, the single stone commemorating the lives of two of the Whitney children, has been nestled under the watchful eyes of their older sister, Asenath, for a very long time.   

Unlike their esteemed sisters and their brother, Solon, these two Whitney children had no islands named for them.  They didn’t live long enough to make it across the water that fateful day in 1816 when the ice jam encasing the raging Niagara River made it possible to cross to those magical islands at the edge of the world.   However, they lived long enough to leave their names etched onto a stone at Oakwood Cemetery. 

Dorothy Rolling was here again today—our historian and the energy behind many of the new discoveries within the Town of Niagara section of the cemetery—Dorothy always has a special fondness for the babies that she finds.  It wasn’t uncommon for children to die young and many were buried hastily in single graves.  She is often sidetracked from her work as she seeks out more information on “her babies.”  Perhaps they didn’t grow to adulthood but their spirits tug at her heartstrings more than any of the others. 

And it was all an accident that they were found today.  Pete Ames brought his shovel in the Edsonmobile as we drove to the site of Asenath’s grave.  He likes to tie up loose ends and thought maybe the little piece of stone peeking out beside her grave could possibly belong to Asenath’s dashing husband, Count Kowalewska (who died in Havana, Cuba). It was all to be a little “happily ever after” for us if we had indeed found the count’s grave.   But as Pete sliced away the blanket of grass that had encroached upon the marble (there was only a small block viewable) it was immediately evident that this grave belonged to someone else.   Dorothy’s interest was further heightened when she saw those fateful words:   children of Parkhurst and Celinda Whitney.  This was the grave of other lesser known, forgotten children. 

The grave of Myron H. and Sarah E. Whitney

At this time we are not exactly sure how these children died.  According to a genealogy record little Sally (Sarah Eliza) was born on March 10, 1814, and died on July 31, 1815.  Her older brother, Myron Holley Whitney, was born September 10, 1810, and died on August 12, 1815.  With deaths just a few weeks apart it might be surmised they both died from the same illness.   Their brother (the namesake of Little Brother island) was born only a few months later on October 7.  Poor Celinda was heavy with child as she buried her only living son and her baby daughter.   It must have been the most tragic time of her life.  For no matter how many children women lost, it was never something to be taken lightly—as many modern people seem to think.  Diaries and notes and histories from times past reveal women screaming over their children’s graves.  Grieving the rest of their lives.  Refusing to carry on.  Filled with sadness until the peace of their own deaths.  The loss of a loved one is always tragic.  Interestingly, Solon Myron Napoleon Whitney, born a few months later had “Myron” added to his name probably in honor of the little brother he would never know. 

The sad and broken grave of Celinda (Cowing) Whitney is not too far from her little children’s graves.

And so we left the little grave today, uncovered, warming in the sun.    A whole city of ants had made their home in the mounds of dirt that hid little Myron and Sally from the world.  They dashed about, busy and confused, as Pete removed the layers of grass.  I’m sure by now they have found another happy home.  Life goes on.  And thanks to a man with a shovel and a local historian,  passersby can stop and pause at the grave of two little children from Niagara who had been forgotten for far too long.  

The Cemetery Stone Investigators (CSI) at Oakwood Cemetery: Mission #1: Locate the Whitney Sisters and Little Brother

It’s a most sacred task, but someone has to do it.  About a year ago, two young boys from Niagara Falls uncovered the grave of Willie Richardson.  Just a little fist-sized section had surfaced and it bothered the boys that a person was being swallowed up into the earth.  So they used whatever makeshift tools they could find and peeled back the earth and grass until Willie was revealed.  He died in 1864.  Not much is known about Willie to this day.  We know his father was a guide on the river.  We know he was buried in Oakwood.  That’s about it.  But he will always be Brendan Kratts’s and Jason Hake’s favorite resident at Oakwood Cemetery.  They feel that, in a way, they resurrected someone.  For one person who had lived a very long time ago had almost disappeared but now he is remembered. 

The story of Willie Richardson hit the newspapers and the boys decided to make uncovering lost souls their sacred task and the Cemetery Stone Investigators (CSI) were born.   They have found other missing persons, too, including Rachel Preston Parsons—who was born in 1765, and Lolly Todd Childs who may be a relative to Mary Todd Lincoln!  

Brendan Kratts and Anthony Conghi from Channel 4 Jason Hake and Anthony Conghi from Channel 4

On Sunday, July 22, 2012, the CSI (Cemetery Stone Investigators) at Oakwood Cemetery set out on Day #1 of a very important mission:  locate the graves of The Three Sisters and Little BrotherThe Three Sisters and Little Brother, refer to the Whitney children—the real people behind the names of the world famous islands at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls.  Local lore reveals that back in 1816, General Parkhurst Whitney, a founder of Niagara Falls and a hero of the War of 1812, ventured out to the little islands as an ice bridge had formed during that infamous “year without a summer.”  Because of their precarious position the islands that teetered at the edge of the cataract were virtually impossible to get to until the ice created a natural bridge that one year.  The Whitney girls were the first white girls to ever step foot on those islands and somewhere along the line it was decided to name the islands after them:  Asenath, Celinda Eliza and Angeline.  The smallest island on the outskirts eventually became known as “Little Brother,” after their little brother, Solon Whitney. 

A vintage postcard showing the Three Sisters IslandsUnfortunately the Whitney graves have experienced the same fate as many other 150 year old graves.  Time has not been kind and they have not easily weathered the storms of three centuries.  Asenath, born in 1809, faired the best of the sisters.  Her tombstone, though modest for her place in society, still stands.  Jillian Kratts, who portrays Asenath in our Stunters Tours, was more than happy to pose for a picture beside her grave. She helped her brother, Brendan, and his best friend, Jason, as they gathered their shovels and buckets and set out to uncover the latest history mystery in Oakwood Cemetery.  Luckily, Asenath is quite readable, though she stands unprotected in Lot #62 under a hot sun with not a tree in the general vicinity.

Jillian Kratts, who portrays “Asenath Whitney” in Oakwood’s, Where the Stunters Rest tour, poses beside the grave of Asenath Whitney.

Sister:  Asenath B. Whitney (Kowalewska)
Island:  The First Island
Who Was Asenath? 

If you have visited the Three Sisters Islands, Asenath was the namesake for the first island you stepped foot upon.  It was also known, at different times, as First Sister Island and Moss Island.  There has always been a bit of controversy as to when the islands became officially known as the Three Sisters Islands—different historians will give you a different story.  We do know, however, that today, the first island is Asenath, and we do know that Asenath, the woman, lies in her grave at Oakwood Cemetery.  

Asenath was born on January 22, 1809, in Geneva, New York, the first surviving daughter of General Parkhurst and Celinda Whitney.  Interestingly the most unusual name “Asenath” is Egyptian in origin and means “she belongs to her father” or “gift of Isis.”  Likewise, Niagara’s Asenath was not your ordinary woman.   She was only one year old when her parents came to the wilderness that was Niagara Falls.  Her father worked as a surveyor and was the first to plot out Goat Island.  Asenath, whose father also created the first library in Niagara Falls, was a brilliant and highly educated woman.  She was a scholar and a linguist and was fluent in a number of languages.  In 1822, her father brought her a very special and historic gift—a piano.  It was the first piano in Niagara Falls and Asenath soon after became an extremely accomplished musician.  Her courtship and marriage in 1837 was something straight out of a fairy tale, for the dreamy Asenath met and fell in love with a Polish gentleman and teacher of languages named Count Piotr de Kowalewska.  An officer with the 10th Lithuanian Lancers and a noble man who was forced to flee his homeland following the Revolution when his estates were confiscated,  the count brought some new exotic and romantic flair to the family.  Four children were born to the Kowalewska’s:  Linda Alice, Olympia, Frederic, and Helena.   All of them were gifted in music, the arts and languages.  Asenath died on September 6, 1859, and was buried here, in Oakwood Cemetery.  She is beside her parents’ broken down graves; Celinda and Parkhurst Whitney languish to her right.  Her husband, the Count, died in Havana, Cuba, in May of 1854.  We are not sure at this point if he is buried in Oakwood or not.  Another history mystery for another day!

Day #1:  July 22, 2012
Sister:  Angeline Whitney Jerauld
Island:  The Second Island
Where is Angeline?

Pete Ames got things going

Although we know that all three sisters (and little brother) are buried in Oakwood, Angeline’s grave has proven to be much more of a challenge for the CSI.  A scorching sun baked the already blanched grounds this Sunday morning as Oakwood historians Pete Ames and Dorothy Rolling searched over the old yellowed maps for the grave of the second sister, Angeline.   It became apparent that all signs pointed to the fact that Angeline is buried not too far from her parents and her sisters and brother in the Dexter Jerauld Lot.  According to the books, she is buried in Lot 64 somewhere beside Louise Jerauld (who was partially hidden behind a tree and quite blanched herself) and directly in front of the monument for Harriet and Dexter Jerauld.  A penciled in note revealed a not so pretty fact:  “marker not good.”  There was no marker to be seen for our poor Angeline.  Where can it be?

CSI digging in Lot #64

Jillian looking for possible remnants of Angeline’s stoneThe CSI wasted no time at all.  They marked out the spot where she was plotted to reside and Pete began to dig.  The CSI team dug deeper and sifted thru the dirt and clay.  Red ants climbed up their legs and as they wiped the sweat from their eyes it became apparent that this was not going to be easy.  Their excitement would peak each time their shovels hit against a piece of stone.  Unfortunately they were all broken pieces of stone.  They separated the stones from the dirt and vines and grass.  Sifting through those pieces will be a job for another day.  Finally several unusual pieces of stone surfaced.  These larger chunks may in fact be pieces of Angeline’s tombstone, for there was evidence of concrete on these stones. Dorothy Rolling, town of Niagara historian and an expert on cemeteries, knew that there was no other reason for random concrete and stone that far down into the earth.  It must be part of a stone that had been pieced back together at one point.  If only a piece can be found with some lettering. 

Town of Niagara historian, Dorothy Rolling, noticed that these pieces of stone, containing cement, may be remnants of Angeline’s grave marker 

 

 

After several hours of hard work, it was time for the CSI to pack up.  Hopefully Day #2 will bring us closer to the final remains of Angeline Whitney!

 

Look for our next installation of CSI’s search for the Three Sisters and Little Brother and the story of Angeline Whitney Jerauld.    

Some of the equipment used by CSI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Went Down on Titanic” Mrs. Emily S. Douton’s Great Loss

Michelle A. Kratts

It was probably on the morning of April 15th when she first heard the horrible news.  From her glamorous apartment in The Lochiel, located on Buffalo Avenue and 3rd, well within the roar of Niagara, Mrs. Emily S. Douton must have been in a state of shock.  The newspapers had run the startling story:  the White Star Liner, Olympia, reports the Titanic has called “C.Q.D.” to the Marconi wireless station at Camp Race in Newfoundland.  The ship has struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage and immediate assistance is being requested.  It was all a miserable dream, perhaps.  Yes, Mr. Douton was indeed on his way back to New York, but perhaps plans had changed yet again.  He was meant to be on the Olympia.  He was meant to leave on March 27th.   Perhaps he wasn’t on board the Titanic after all.  Perhaps, the ship was still afloat, or perhaps he was on one of the passengers removed and safe on board another vessel--a warm cup of tea in his hands at this very moment.  Perhaps, perhaps. 

 

 

Mrs. Emily S. Douton, a native of England, was not the sort of woman who enjoyed living with “perhaps.”  Intelligent and calculating, she was the local representative and national organizer of the National Protective Legion—an insurance company.  She was prepared for all manner of things—for certainly life is known to throw in some surprises.  Of course, she knew this more than anyone as she poured over her daily work.  It was the business of death, accident and disability claims that filled her hours.  How could it be that she would be thrown into that miserable mess?  She was meant to be on the other side of the desk.  But this was reality and this was the undeniable case—Mrs. Emily S. Douton, 46 years old, resident of Niagara Falls, New York, was about to become inextricably involved with one of the worst disasters in the world’s history. 

 

 

As the days passed and the horrific details came rushing in by wire, family members were notified.  There were accounts of women losing their minds with grief—such as Mrs. Stanley Fox of Rochester. 

 

 

But Emily, though heartsick, was not to lose her mind.  She was to keep calm and to carry on hope that he was still alive.  The newspapers in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Rochester and in Holley carried the harrowing updates on Mr. Douton’s fate.  The news was nothing but grim.  His trip was meant to be a pleasant one.    He had been abroad since November replenishing his poor health and visiting his old home in England for the first time since he had come to America.  He had been travelling with Miss Lillian Bentham and Peter Mackain—both close family friends from Rochester. 

It was once Emily had collected herself that she found that she must immediately go to the home of Mrs. Bentham to await any news.  It was said that the women and children were saved first and Miss Bentham’s name was on the list released of survivors on board the Carpathia.   William Douton’s name was not on the list.  She scoured the list.  Hoping for the chance of a mistake, a misspelling, a hasty scribbler who left him out by accident.  But nothing.    By April 18th, she gathered her daughters, Mrs. Charles Cooper and Mrs. Epke, and they left for New York at midnight.  She would be there when the Carpathia rolled in.  She would gather Miss Bentham and find out the fate of her own husband.

 

 

The moment arrived late on Thursday evening as the Carpathia reached her dock.   It was said that the “saddest scene was the eager watching of the disembarking throng of survivors by relatives of those reported missing, in the vain hope that there might have been some mistake or omission in the names and that their own loved ones might after all be among the saved…and the sorrow-stricken faces as this last frail hope faded and died…”  Such was the case for Mrs. Douton and her daughters.   Mr. Douton was not among the survivors.  Their meeting with Lillian was bittersweet for it was then that they finally learned of the fate of husband and father. 

The Holley Standard reveals a touching portrayal of this historic moment as Lillian was “met at the dock by Mrs. Douton.” Lillian was the only survivor from Holley and although “suffering severely from the physical hardship and nervous shock of her experiences she was in better condition than had been feared and was able to relate of the most thrilled recitals of experiences given by any of the survivors…”  It was published on April 25, 1912, in the Holley Standard.  The story is gruesome in its details.  She describes every moment and tells the stories of the dead being “thrown overboard,” of “officers with pistols” and “scenes on the deck,” as well as the fate of Mr. Douton…

Lillian had already retired in her cabin when she was thrown from the side of the bed and clear across the stateroom.  Her roommate was an old lady and was also thrown out of her bed.  She heard a lot of running outside her door and found a boy of the steward’s force and he merely answered that the ship had hit a fisherman’s boat.  But then after a few more moments there was much alarm and shouting and it became apparent to Lillian that  it was more than a slight collision with a “fisherman’s boat.” Words such as “life boats” were thrown about and that was when she got up and dressed herself and went on deck where “the scene was an awful one” that she would never be able to “get out” of her mind.  It was at this time that she ran back and proceeded to pound upon her traveling companion and chaperone, Mr. Douton’s, stateroom door.  Screaming and yelling she waited for him to answer.  But there was no answer.  It was presumed that he was sleeping when he went “down with the ship.”  Or perhaps had been injured and left unconscious from the original jolt with the iceberg.  Perhaps….

And then all of the puzzle pieces began to fall into place and the nightmare was made more complete.  The body of an “F. Dutton” was recovered by the morgue ship Mackay-Bennett and Mrs. Douton was quite certain it was her own “W. J. Douton.”  There was no other “Dutton” on the passenger record. 

 

  

 

She remarked to the Niagara Falls Gazette that she had gone over the lists over and over again and she knew that F. Dutton was none other than “W.J. Douton,” her husband.  For there were so many wireless reports of names that had been wrong and corrections had already been sent out.  While in New York she spoke with the officials of the White Star Line who were quite convinced he had gone down with the ship.  Emily decided she would wire her brother, a Boston architect, JEL Miller, to meet the morgue ship at Halifax.  “Mr. Miller can establish the identification beyond any doubt.”

  

 

Identifying the bodies was not for the weak of heart.  Unfortunately, Mr. Douton’s body was not identifiable and Mr. Miller left the scene empty-handed.  Not unlike many other victims of the Titanic, he may have been lost at sea.  On May 9, 1912, his name appeared on the final list of those lost.  The Holley Lodge No. 42 IOOF (the Independent Order of Odd Fellows) has often honored the memories of both William Douton and Peter MacKain at Hillside Cemetery in Holley.  Both men were members.  Mr. Douton had served as noble grand at one time. 

Mrs. Douton was probably never quite satisfied with the questionable ending of her husband.  How could such a spectacular death on board the Titanic properly register itself in her mind?  She went on with her life—the frozen iceberg always in the perimeter of her day’s events.  She married again to Charles B. Hyde—well known in Niagara Falls for his work in the paper making business.  He left his estate to his beloved wife, Emily, and upon her death she left it to the city of Niagara Falls to be used in the purchase of park property that would bear the name, “Hyde Park.”  Emily married also married Dr. A. F. Biondi and died only about one year following her marriage.  She died on June 30th, 1923, of cancer of the stomach.  She was at her daughter’s home at Hilton, New York.  Her body was returned to Niagara Falls where she was buried in Oakwood Mausoleum beside her second husband, Charles B. Hyde and Niagara’s Hyde Park was born from her death.   Most women are buried beside their first husbands, but Emily (Douton) Hyde-Biondi’s family was not prepared to send her off with their father and into the frozen sea. 

Emily S. (Miller) Douton Hyde Biondi’s final resting place in a crypt in Oakwood’s Mausoleum 


 

 

 

Zozan; One Woman’s Story

By Michelle Ann Kratts

It was strange how we first met, for it isn’t everyday that a story walks into a library and then leaves for Arizona.  Ironically, it was only moments before that I had typed Pete, my colleague, an email:  We need an Armenian.  We are forever working on our Oakwood Lives, stories of the residents of Oakwood…and, then, as if we had rubbed a genie’s lamp, an Armenian had appeared.   Kathy, my coworker at the Lewiston Public Library, first noticed her.  She had been helping her make some copies and when it was revealed that the copies were of an old family history interview—she came to me thinking that I may be interested.  And so I was introduced to Nancy Gamboian—who certainly had many wonderful memories of her grandmother, Zozan.  She told me some of Zozan’s story, briefly.  Said she would only be in the area for a short time, visiting, gathering together some things that had belonged to her grandmother and then leaving again.  I told her about our book and how we had been looking for a very special Armenian story.  I asked if her grandmother happened to be buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls.  She held onto her papers, her treasures, and all of the world’s energy converged on the place where we stood.  I could feel doors opening and lights clicking on.  She smiled.  Yes, she is.  It had never been so easy to find a story…even in the library.  As if it knew it was meant to be printed and stamped and stacked within this sacred forest, made real and permanent by ink and a million reading eyes.  Unfortunately, as is usually the case, things really don’t come so easy and the doors that had been opened flew shut and the lights went off.  It seemed there was a problem.   The story of Nancy’s grandmother was a secret and many family members wished to keep it tucked away with the cobwebs and the dust…in the land where the unpleasant things live on in oblivion. 

Nancy apologized.  As much as she disagreed and felt that it was wrong to hide the past, that there are some stories that should be told in honor of those who have lived—there were those who loved her grandmother most deeply and it was still too soon and too much.  They were not ready to give a part of Zozan away.  So we did all that we could.  We exchanged email addresses.  She and Zozan were on a plane to Arizona and I was heartbroken.  But as Pete and I were set on our Armenian story, we headed back to Oakwood, the place where Zozan sleeps, for inspiration. 

 I think my earliest memories of Oakwood are of the Armenians.  They are the soldiers of Oakwood and their tombstones stand like sentinels to the passing cars.  Husanian, Stepanian, Kartalian, Aloian, Sarkissian, Ghougasian, Kazarian….They greet you in the front, they cover the flanks, they hide under the trees and inside the bushes in guerilla fashion.  They are tattooed with strange scripts and they tell you of places and wars that seem to have occurred somewhere over the edge of our history books.  But even those who have little time for history can’t help but wonder…who were these Armenians? 

Niagara Falls Gazette, April 12, 1959According to the Oakwood record books there are over 400 burials containing traditional Armenian names on the grounds.  Most certainly, the number should be higher as many of the women married men of different nationalities and although they were of Armenian ancestry, their Armenian name does not appear in the cemetery records. In fact, my research has proven that there are many, many more full-blooded Armenians masked behind non-Armenian names.  Who would ever know that Alyce Wilkinson was actually Alyce Der Arestakessian?  She married Donald Wilkinson in Hamilton, Ontario, on October 4, 1947.  Her own parents, Arshag and Eghees (Shamalian) had fled the Turks years before.   And, perhaps, even more interesting is the story of Alyce’s daughter’s husband’s family.  The Zelinsky’s who are also buried in Oakwood, had a secret of their own as their name wasn’t actually Zelinsky at all.  Somewhere in Russia, following the forced migrations, their Armenian name was exchanged for a safer sounding Russian name and they moved that name across the ocean.

But if a cemetery could tell a story—the Armenian story would begin in Oakwood’s back pocket where the crudest and earliest stones lie, toward the back right corner of the Town Ground.   Here lie the Bedrasseans, Avakians, Gorpians, Hovievians, Kekorians.   Here, also, lie heroes and heroines.  The Hagopian tombstone tells a fantastic tale of a famous battle that gave Armenia its independence.  Movses Hagopian is forever memorialized on his tombstone for fighting the Turks at Sardarabad.  He actually left his new home in the United States to return to Armenia and fight for his homeland.  Luckily, he made it back here, alive.   But as glorious as his life had been, his wife’s epitaph is even more intriguing for she is memorialized as an “unusual mother, philanthropist, business woman, civic leader who taught the love of family, ethnic pride, generosity, arts and fellow man…”  As we pass by and move onto others, the Hagopians don’t hesitate to add one more commentary and it sums up the story of so many of their lives…War is the failure of civilization and a reversion to hate which is our cruelest base emotion…

The Sun Room was in the city’s quarantine hospital Niagara Falls Gazette, May 14, 1915 Although there are great triumphs here there are also great tragedies.  Alikison Kekorian—who may be the very first Armenian buried in Oakwood, back in January of 1913—had been on his way to work when he was killed by a Le High Valley passenger train in Niagara Falls.  He was killed instantly.  His head cut off.  Armenag Ohanesian was only twenty-four when he found himself awaiting death in the sun room of the city quarantine hospital.  He had been turned out of an Armenian boarding house on the corner of Erie and Buffalo Avenue with only the very few items he called his own and an old mattress.  Finally after a friend alerted a nurse, Miss Josephine Eddy, and the city health officer, Dr. E. E.  Gillick, it was revealed that he was in the end stages of tuberculosis and he was taken to the quarantine hospital where he was “excellently fed and cared for by keeper Walton and his wife…”

 

Niagara Falls Gazette, January 14, 1916 The Mooradian family was one of the earliest and most prominent Armenian families in Niagara Falls.  A rug company still bears the family name.   It is believed that John and Altoon Mooradian came to Niagara Falls around 1906. The original Mooradians operated a restaurant on 1oth Street and young Alice became the youngest graduate of Niagara Falls High School and a great leader in the community until her death on November 23, 1992.  In fact, just recently I found Pete lingering around Alice’s grave—pretty much in the middle of the cemetery-- with a pair of hedge clippers.  This fabulous woman, now lost to time, had disappeared behind the arms of a giant and overgrown bush.  But not for long, as Pete spent the afternoon gallantly rectifying the situation. 

 

Then there were the Sarkissians.  Satenig Sarkissian was born into a noble lineage in Caesaria, Turkey, in 1883—the Matosian Der Stepanian family--that could boast historical, political and religious leadership in Caesaria for over three centuries.  Her family came to Niagara Falls around 1916 and was active in Armenian causes.   Her rug weaving had been on display at the New York World’s Fair.   The Jamgochians were also an important family in the history of the Armenians in Niagara Falls.  Arosloog came to Niagara Falls around 1920 and was a teacher of the Armenian language for children.   In 1935 she had a graduating class of 55 pupils. 

The Armenians began pouring into Niagara Falls during the late 1890’s and early 1900’s.  Mostly refugees from unspeakable horrors, they worked in the chemical factories and lived on the East Side, residents of what was known as Tunnel Town.  Some, like Sahag Aboian, operated businesses such as the aptly named, Liberty Restaurant, on the corner of Erie Avenue and Tenth Street.   Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Streets contained the greatest Armenian populations.  They came as a result of the policies of Abdul Hamid II, leader of the Ottoman Empire.  Abdul Hamid believed the woes of his empire stemmed from the endless persecutions of the Christian world.  The Ottoman Armenians, who happened to be Christians, represented a sort of extension of western hostility and they lived in the very heart of their empire.  So to prevent persecution and misery, he decided the wisest move would be to engage in a national policy of persecution and misery.  True numbers will never be known, however experts estimate that between 80-300,000 Armenians were systematically killed between the years of 1894-1896 and about 50,000 children were orphaned.   Again in 1909, the Adana Massacre resulted in more anti-Armenian pogroms and the death of close to 30,000 Armenian men, women and children. 

Lady Anne Azgapetian, the widow of General Azgapetian, spoke at the Hotel Niagara in 1929 for the Near East Relief. Courtesy Library of Congress The greatest tragedy to befall the Armenian people was yet to come, though, and brought about the mass migrations to the United States and a movement, very active in Niagara Falls, called the Near East Relief.  The Near East Relief, originally known as the American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief, was founded in 1915 in response to the massive humanitarian crisis that resulted from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire--for the period from 1915-1917 utterly devastated the Armenian population.   Americans active with the Near East Relief felt that they “bore a special burden to rescue the Armenians” as they were Christians from the Holy Land.  Huge advertisements filled the American newspapers and told a romanticized tale of the horrific conditions faced by the Armenian people.   Through public rallies, church collections, and charitable donations, millions of dollars were raised and delivered to the American embassy in Constantinople where missionaries would go deep into the ravaged country and distribute any aid.  Perhaps my own interest in the Armenian story can be linked to this singular and particularly brave woman, Ms. Mary Margaret Wright, who had left her comfortable home in sleepy Lewiston, New York, to administer aid in Turkey.  On January 25, 1919, the Department of State, Washington, D.C., received a letter from the American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief, which stated that they would be “sending a relief commission to Turkey to assist in carrying on relief work among the war sufferers in that country…Miss Mary Margaret Wright…Lewiston, NY, is one of this group and in view of the work in which she is to be engaged, the Committee earnestly requests that every possibly facility be afforded her in securing the necessary passport for the journey…the party plans to go direct from NY to Turkey on a transport furnished by the United States government…”Ms. Wright just happens to be, in a way, my own progenitor, for, as well as a writer,  she was the very first librarian at the Lewiston Public Library and how  strange that circumstances would come full circle, just around 100 years later, and a librarian from the Lewiston Public Library would find herself entangled in the story of the Armenians, yet again…

I must admit that my encounter with Zozan, with the Armenians, started with a lie.  As a genealogist, obituaries are usually the key for my research, but Zozan’s taught me that they can be carefully constructed to hide the truth.  Her obituary states that she had been born on January 30, 1910, the daughter of Ohannas and Sarah Sahagian.  In reality, she was not sure when she was born and that kind couple called the Sahagians were not her parents, at all.  I spoke with her daughter in law and I told her that I would even be willing to tell Zozan’s story without any names, if that would make it easier.    Perhaps their reluctance to give us the details of her name could impart the harsh reality of the situation more than anything I could ever write.  It was very obvious that this story, the story of Zozan’s life, was not over yet. 

And then it happened.  After many, many months, Nancy was in Lewiston again and this time she said yes.  The time was right.  She told me about the Armenian Genocide Museum of American—located just two blocks from the White House in Washington, D.C., slated to open sometime soon.  She had passed her grandmother’s story and photos onto the Museum and she was finally ready to share it with us and the people of the city that gave Zozan a home, Niagara Falls.  Nancy promised to email the file to me as soon as she made it back to Arizona. 

Unfortunately, a crazed gunman from Tucson held things up even more.  Nancy had returned to Tucson just hours before over 20 people would be shot at a Safeway Grocery Store—including a United States Congresswoman.  The nation paused and the residents of Tucson had their lives disrupted for a bit.  It seems that some things never change and violence continues to put a hold on things where Zozan is concerned. 

And so when the story finally came, it was during a snow storm and I was very, very sick.  I opened it on my phone and so much of it filled my head with nightmares.  I couldn’t believe what I had gotten myself into.  It was horrifying.  What could I do with this?  How can words alone bring peace to this family?  I had to put it down and a day later, as I was sitting in a room at Immediate Care, burning with a fever and bronchitis, so still the light sensor believed it was alone and clicked off…it all came to me.   A man and a woman chattered outside my door about a wedding and somewhere in the waiting room the complimentary water cooler bubbled and burped.  Little by little this world of mine slipped away and it was here, in this doctor’s office, with my eyes shut, that young Zozan made her appearance to me.  More bird than woman, she simply walked off the train—a certain rhythm of flight in her steps.  She said goodbye to the nurse who had stayed with her through the journey and the train left.  She had nothing but the dress she wore, a black fur collared coat, and the shoes on her feet.  She had thrown her suitcase into the water a long time before.  Its contents had become rotten. 

In this half-delirious state, somewhere between things of this world and things of another, I was ready to listen and to see.  And I saw, first, that in the beginning, there was a crime.  A crime willingly committed many years ago had precipitated all of the events leading up to that final moment when a young girl walked off a train and into a city on the other side of the world.  In the beginning, a man called Markar Atamian simply would not leave his land.  Every measure had been taken to warn him that he could not have this land anymore and yet this man stood straighter and taller and his eyes grew deeper and fierce.  It was his land and he loved his land.  Perhaps it wasn’t so much a matter of the fields and the mountains that unfurled like a flag behind his house.  Or the wheat and the beans, the peaches, plums, apples, the pear trees, the soil so rich and beautiful because of the cows, the bread that baked in the deep pit dug into the floor of the house, the tonir.  It was all a magical formula and Markar Atamian knew that his ancestors had worked on it for centuries to make it perfect.  And it was paradise.  For Erorin (Eroretzis)—a Herehan village east of Lake Van at the eastern border of Armenia--was no ordinary parcel of land.  Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the biblical mountains of Ararat—upon which Noah’s Ark is said to have come to rest.  This area is sacred to many world religions—a beginning point.  In fact, one incredible questions remains to this day:  was this the location of the Garden of Eden?

A view from Lake Van (now Turkey) Courtesy Cornell University

But it was more than the land—the physical boundaries, the parcels, hectares and miles, the buildings stacked together by men.  It was the molecules of oxygen that entered their airways, the way the mountains took in their breath and sent it back out.  It was the bread that four women kneaded and baked.  It was the mule that brought a bride to her husband.  Everything was a perfect puzzle piece that fit just right.  There was a deep pride in knowing you belonged in one place and one place alone.  The land provided the clay that fashioned its children.  The land was the mother and the father.  The grandparents and the children.  The past, the present and the future. 

So…when taken into context, it is not so hard to understand why Markar Atamian had great difficulty handing over the land of his fathers, even as he knew that by decree issued on April 24, 1915…

The men shall be taken first….

The men had plans.  They had heard what was happening in other parts.  They took the men first so the women and children would have no one to protect them.  So they made their plans.  They hid guns, prepared hideaways within the depths of the caves that dotted the mountainside.  Their armor was their land and she held them and protected them as long as she could. 

And it happened that one day came as any other.  The sun rose in the sky but the men knew it was time to go to the caves.  There was hardly any time at all to bring any food or water, but they still went.  Word had come that the Turks were on their way to cleanse the village of men. So they went and they waited.

But it wasn’t an ordinary day at all.  Little Zozan, Markar’s sweet daughter, was playing outside when they came.  There was much shouting and banging.  Her grandfather, whom she lived with, had known some of the angry men for they had drunk wine together.  But that did not stop their dismal business.  They came into the house with their horses and they beat her grandfather and her grandmother to a pulp and then put their lifeless bodies into the bread oven, the tonir. 

When night fell and soft crying could be heard throughout Hereran village, when the great killings had subsided for the moment, the men came down from the mountains and beheld the most horrific sight.  The angry ones knew the men would come back, that they would not be able to stay away for long and the Turks followed them back into the hills.  They found 25-30 men and beat and killed them, as well.  Zozan overheard this from a woman who was dressed as a Turk. 

There was a time of grieving.  Then some quiet and the little girl came out to play, again—as a little girl must.  But the men returned with their horses, and they broke down the doors.  It was on this day that they killed the children.  Two of her uncle Armenag’s children.  Gone.  The men had been away in the caves.  Waiting.  It was the end of all things she had ever known to be true.  Her mother, Iskoui,  had buried a trunk full of all of their family treasures within the dirt floor—but they were found by the Turks when they jammed their sticks and guns into every single space.  There was nothing left. 

The women and the children were taken and herded into the place set aside for darkness; a nearby home with four corners and a roof over human darkness.  The beautiful ones were chosen and sent off to keep pleasure for the Turks.  They would never be seen again.  Here, the walls and the ceilings and the floors buckled and cried out with a chorus of voices when the blood of a mother and her child fell to the ground.  They had slit open her stomach, twirled the new child on the end of a sword.  How can I forget?  How can I forget?  How can I forget?  a little girl asked herself.  She knew that she would never forget.  This was a piece of luggage—heavy and burdensome, rotten—that she would carry for many miles. 

Ankeen, who spoke Turkish, helped them to escape and they found temporary peace when they hid in the side of a mountain.  But there were other Evils who went by the names of Hunger and Thirst and they followed the children into the mountain.  The little ones cried for water most of all and their sadness travelled until it reached the place where the men had waited.  One man became mad from the crying and left the cave to fetch water for the babies and some of the women also left for water.  But they were all fooled and they were taken out of hiding one by one.  All of the men were killed and the women who were not killed were brought to another house.  This time the survivors were given one half of a fish and a small piece of bread.  It was here that they were told that it was time for them to leave for the Armenian District, an area set aside by the Turkish government for the displaced Armenians.  On September 13, 1915, the Ottoman parliament had passed the Tehcir Law, or the Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation.  The Death Marches began and Zozan took one last look at this place her ancestors had made their home for an eternity.  She would never see this place again, and her childhood—beaten and lifeless—fell somewhere into a crack between a cooking pot and the glistening edge of a sword. 

And so they walked and they walked and they walked.  They were beaten when they stopped.  Little by little their numbers were diminishing.  The babies died because they had no food and no water.  Her cousin carried her dead baby for many days.  For what does one do with a dead baby when there is all this walking?  You bury them in the air. 

Courtesy Library of Congress

There was much craziness, too. This new world was a strange horror.   Boys were dressed like girls or hidden under their mother’s skirts.  If the Turks saw a boy they slit his throat. 

I remember a beautiful boy, about fifteen years old, with blue eyes…they cut off his head…he teetered headless and then fell…we screamed…we screamed… I will never forget….

Enter.  A cold dark church.  Imagine it to be the closing scene for the mothers and the children. The light is soft and breaking through an opened window.  Iskoui  huddles her little daughters into her body, giving them whatever softness and motherwarmth she has left.   Zozan and little Siranoush listen as the world closes away.  Only words and prayers to fill the empty dark spaces.  And terrible Hunger.  But as Iskoui sees the curtain coming down upon her life a certain sense of fearlessness covers her and fills her.  She flashes her eyes at the Hunger and tells the little girls that it would be better to die than to take any bread from a Turk….

The next day the curtain did come down on Iskoui.  She knew when the sun came up that each breath was a countdown.  Each step was closer to gravesend.  Even as the women and the children cried and screamed to no avail—they marched on.  Starving, still so thirsty.  At the Turkish village they stopped and some women who were browning wheat gave them each a half a cup.  It was much like heresah—but little or no water.  Precious water.  Their thoughts were drowning in rivers of water.  Maybe their walk would end at the sea.   Cool, blue…endless.  A mirror like the sky.  They walked until they could hardly feel their legs.  And they carried their babies, sticky and wet, screaming, as far as they were told.  And still at every stop, the most beautiful ones were separated and taken into slavery.

They came to a field where Turkish women were busy threshing wheat.  But it was all a ruse.  The women disappeared and shooting began from somewhere in the mountains.  Between thirty and forty women and children were massacred here.  In this field of wheat.  The women, who had been threshing the wheat, returned with clubs and they beat any who were not yet dead.  Even the babies.  Then they searched the bodies for valuables. 

Zozan watched as her mother fell.  Just a little girl, she did as a little girl must, and she clung to her mother’s dead body. She held on and felt as the last of her warmth moved into the earth.  It was safe below the earth and far away from the madness that carried on above with the grass and the trees and the living.  She laid there with the piles of bodies and then even Saranoush was murdered and thrown upon the pile.   

Her bloody hair covered my body…

She stayed there for a time.  In the wheat field.  A strange stillness fell upon the landscape.  In this scene the paint was not dry yet and it dripped from little Saranoush’s mortal wounds and covered everything she ever was. 

Finally, some Armenians came and gathered those few who happened to be alive and took them to a small home near a grape vineyard, where the men would often hide.  Here Zozan came upon her father…who ran around like a mad fool when he saw his daughter covered in dried blood.  He threw a blanket over her as there was no water to clean her.  It was far too dangerous to go out to the well.  The blood dried into a second skin.  And then Markar—and the men-- had to leave again.  Back into the mountains.  The women and the children were told to stay and wait.  Again.  This would be the last time, Markar and Zozan, the father and his daughter, would ever lay eyes upon the other…except in the land of their dreams. 

The marching soon continued though all the women and the children were so tired and so broken.  They could not help but envy the birds with their wings.  How lucky to be able to lift away from the men who would hit you on the head with their rifles and leave you to die in a river!  To rise in flight, in curls of smoke.  They dreamed of escape. 

Zozan said it had to have been April or May because she remembered the green grass and how they tried to eat the green grass.  They were so hungry.  They imagined the rain soaking into the blades, filling little healthful thimbles of water.  But the Turks even cast them away from the grass.  They never allowed them to stop long enough.  And those who did stop for too long were killed and their bodies left along the way.  All they were given to eat was a few handfuls of fried grain.  Enough to keep them alive and to keep their legs walking.  But never enough for anything else.

Zozan was completely alone now.  Except for the kindness of a cousin, she had no one to watch out for her.  No mother left to give away her strength.  She had only the picture in her mind of a mother, now gone.  It was a picture she liked to keep framed in a sort of warm halo of light and peace.  An image from a long time ago before the men and their horses broke into their house.  But she also loved the Iskoui who held onto her and Saranoush so fiercely in the old church.

Eventually the small group—there were only twenty five left—came to a bridge.  They were so far from home.  They were told that this was the end, that they must walk across this bridge and on the other side there would be Armenians who would take them in.  But they were so afraid.  What would really be at the other side of the bridge? There had been so many tricks along the way.  The survivors did as they were told, they were too weak to do otherwise, and it turned out that there were Armenians who took them to a house and gave them little cans of meat and raisins.  Zozan’s cousin, Nano, warned her not to eat too much, though, as her stomach would not take such heavy food so soon. 

For a time this group of homeless people lived in an open field.  There was a wall that separated them from a field of potatoes and cabbage and sometimes in the night they would steal whatever they could and cook over a fire. A miserable rain came down for three days straight.  Their only shelter was one tree and it opened up its arms and took in everyone that could fit. 

Finally the sun came out and dried everything….

An Armenian man came one day and asked if he could take Zozan to live with him and his daughter.  He had probably lost much of his family, as well.  Nano encouraged her to go with this family and she did.  For a few months she pretended she was someone else.  That she had never been Zozan Atamian.  She had never seen the house in Erorin.  Nor the people.  When they filled the landscape of her dreams she imagined they were just faces and places she had somehow come across one time or another.  She played with the daughter and watched as they made piles of thin bread, called lavash.  But the shouting and the shooting and the fighting picked up once again and the Turks were back.  The family who had taken her in told her that they would be leaving and that she must find her way herself.  She cried and she didn’t know what to do.  She followed behind the family for awhile and tried to keep up with them—though they tried just as hard to lose her in the crowds.  She was lost.  She found herself in a field where a man picked up this lost and miserable little thing, no longer a little girl.    He gave her food and most importantly she met up with Nano once again.  Then the man who had found her took her to an Armenian orphanage.  Before she left, Nano’s wife made her a dress out of potato sacks. 

The orphanage was in Leninakan, Russia, and it was not immune to random and brutal attacks by the Turks, for at night they would break through the doors and steal the beautiful girls.  The Armenian woman in charge could only stand back and watch as they took what they wanted.  It was here where cots lined the cold spaces.  Where the children who broke the rules were beaten, almost to death.  Zozan recalled the menu, even years later…

Breakfast, we ate bread dipped in syrup

For lunch, a piece of bread

At night, some cabbage soup, if available

Luckily, the dreaded Leninaken was not a permanent residence.  Strangely, a young man on the other side of the world, Zozan’s uncle, who had made it to America, to Niagara Falls,  had heard of her plight and sent his sister money and orders to retrieve Zozan from the orphanage.    His goal became to find a way to get Zozan to America.  It took a very long time as there were rules and laws involved with immigration.  No matter how he looked at it, only immediate family members were allowed to immigrate.  The fact became apparent:  according to the law, Zozan would never be able to come.  It took Harry Atamian close to five years, but in that time he conceived of an ingenious  illegal operation that would bring a young girl out of an inexplicable nightmare and into a new world of freedom.  He offered his friend, Ohannes Sahagian, $200 to be a part of the scheme.  He would make believe Zozan was his own daughter, Aghavni, who had actually died in Armenia.  In the end it worked.  Zozan buried herself deep inside those quiet spaces and with a miracle brought another girl back to life. 

Zozan Gamboian and Harry Atamian. Courtesy Nancy Gamboian On August 23, 1929, a letter was posted to Mr. Ohannes Sahagian, of 126 12th Street, Niagara Falls, New York, from General Agent, Staley F. LaVey.  

Dear Sir:  We have just been advised by our Moscow office that Miss Zozan Sahagian will probably receive her Russian passport at the beginning of next month.  As soon as she is in possession of same, she will be sent to Riga.  Further information from abroad will be transmitted to you without delay.  Yours very truly…. 

Before Zozan left, her aunt bought her a heavy black coat.  A neighbor made her a dress, for she hadn’t even had one.  She stayed at a hotel for one week where she waited with strangers for the ship to take all of them to America.  And then she boarded the ship.  She was given a small room on the second floor.  She had the top bunk and an old woman slept on the bottom.  The boat left and she felt herself drift helplessly into the emptiness that lived between two worlds.   Seasickness enveloped every inch of her body.  She refused to eat anything at all. She thought her life was over and that she was near death.   Finally four people held her down and forced her to swallow some pills.  Sweating and kicking and crying, she fought them with all of her might.  In the end, out of sea water and endless sky, with her feet scratching against the wood of the tossing ship, a new girl was born. And the first thing she did was rid herself of her luggage.  There were things she didn’t want to carry anymore.  The stinking things.

There was a smell from my suitcase so I threw my suitcase and the food, cheese, garlic, and bread into the sea….

Throughout the journey she hadn’t spoken to anyone at all, nor eaten anything but a few black grapes.  Now an Armenian woman brought her tea and crackers and she ate and she spoke.  Soon she was in the new world.  New York. 

I saw the beautiful Statue of Liberty.

She was surprised to find a bit of home here at Ellis Island, in this new world.  There were kind Armenian faces, voices, all around her.  An Armenian man looked over her papers.  Through the crowded room she saw there were nurses taking care of the sick and elderly while paperwork was being furiously processed.  Zozan was so ill that a nurse stayed on the train with her all the way to Niagara Falls.  On the trip her eye had been swollen with infection and then subsided just in time for the train to pull into the station at 3rd and Falls St.  She moved down the steps.  Weak, frightened.  Incredulous.  She said goodbye to the nurse and the nurse left on the train.  She was here.  Finally here at this new chapter of her life.  This place, where the trains disembarked thousands of people to a new chapter, new life, is long gone.  There are only ghosts now who greet you at the corner of 3rd and Falls St. Many, many ghosts. 

Zozan hugged and kissed her uncle.  It was really him!  But, Mr. Sahagian, her “father,” she shook his hand. 

She lived with the Sahagian family on lower 12th Street for six weeks.  Food was plentiful.  Uncle Harry spoiled her.  He would give Mr. Sahagian money for her keep.  And Mr. Sahagian would make eggs with tomatoes.  It was not paradise, though.  There was always loneliness and emptiness. 

It was 1930.  I was twenty years old when I came to this country. I couldn’t work.  I did not know the language.  I had no one.   

When the six weeks were up, on May 18, 1930, Zozan was married to Arshag Gamboian.   Arshag was much older than her.  He had come from her old village in Armenia and had lost his wife and children to the Turks.  He was the sole survivor of a large family.  He had taken part in the battles of Erorin and Lim where, along with the combined forces of Ovan, they were able to liberate 12,000 people.  Arshag was very jealous.  She had no choice but to marry him.   Her bridal attire was a hodge podge of borrowed articles…the dress, from Alice Hatchigian…the veil, which desperately needed to be cut down, from Mamie, an Italian woman.   After a beautiful wedding at St. Peter’s Church a reception was held in a big and long room upstairs at the Old Veteran’s Hall on East Falls and 12th Street.  There was a lot of food—Arshag insisted—even things such as oranges from Mr. Toorigian’s grocery store—though Michael Aloian insisted oranges were not suitable for a wedding. 

Zozan and Arshag Gamboian, circa 1930. Courtesy Nancy Gamboian The Gamboians lived on the East Side all of their life.   Arshag worked for the Aluminum Company of America and the city water department.   Zozan gave birth to six children:  Varantat (David), Lolizar/Lalazar (Lollie), Durtat/Drtad (Samuel, Smile), Mary, Anaheet/Anahid (Margie), and Michael. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Mary Gamboian died as a result of her burns. Courtesy Nancy Gamboian In November of 1938, tragedy fell upon Zozan once again when her beloved little girl, Mary, just four years old, fell into a bonfire near Buffalo Avenue and 12th Street.  She had been playing near the fire, roasting potatoes on a stick when her dress caught fire.  An unidentified youth tried to save her but it was too late.  A neighbor had just come home with a huge barrel of cooking oil and he pierced it and smothered her in the oil---hoping to save her, as well.  Instead, it prevented her body from cooling.  She was burned from her ankles to the top of her head.  After being rushed to the hospital Dr. John V. Hogan worked over her for hours but he could not save her.  Little Mary Gamboian is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, toward the front of the Town Ground area.  Pete and I like to stop by her sad little grave.  I imagine Zozan spent much time at this corner of earth and stone. 

 Zozan lived in Niagara Falls most of her life.  She missed the orchards back in Armenia most of all and she transferred her love for her homeland to her own garden.  A special garden of Eden  fashioned by the work of her hands, fresh water, new earth.  But the same sun.    Many of the immigrants to Niagara found much pleasure in their special gardens.  My great grandfather, Francesco Fortuna, was said to have smuggled special seeds in the rim of his hat when he entered the United States.   My lingering memories of him carry me back to his gardens, as well.  And, most of the back yards downtown have the remnants of grapevines, little skeletons, crawling up a paint-chipped trellis.  Little bridges to other worlds…


The Gamboian Family 1945

Zozan’s granddaughter, Nancy, was always curious about her grandmother’s other world.  She would ask about Armenia and Zozan would hush her.

Oh, Nancy, it’s too sad.  I can’t….

But there were some stories and memories that inevitably fell from her lips.  And on December 8, 1988, Nancy’s mother, Shirley Markarian Gamboian, found her in a story-telling mood.   For some reason, she talked and she talked.  Shirley pulled out a tape recorder.  In her native tongue, Zozan lost herself and Shirley went on a trip back in time.  She kept the tape, cherished the tape, and translated the words into English.  In 2011, these words, this story, were reborn once again.  An international lawyer, who flies between the US and Yerevan, packed them in her suitcase and hand delivered them to the Genocide Museum in Yerevan, Armenia. It was an emotional moment for the family. 

A piece of her is finally back home!

Arshag died on December 18, 1961.  Zozan died on April 1, 1999.  April Fool’s Day had always been her favorite holiday and her family likes to think she had the last laugh.  It was believed that she was about ninety years old.  Did she even know, herself? 

Zozan and Arshag Gamboian

I don’t know if Zozan’s story will ever come to an end.   There will always be mysteries surrounding her life.  I tried to discover the true meaning of her interesting and unique name, Zozan.  It does not appear in Shirak’s Dictionary of Armenian names.  Nancy remarked that her friend, the international lawyer, believes that it is derived from “Susan.”  Susan, or Shoshan, is an ancient and sacred name in Hebrew scripture meaning lily or rose.  The verdict is not out as to which flower it may be, but I believe that in Zozan’s case, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.   

 

 


 

   

 

Flowers for Zozan

The Poetry of Peter A. Porter

by Michelle Ann Kratts

April 2012

Photograph of a portrait of Peter A. Porter, courtesy Peter B. CoffinThere is something else about Niagara…beyond the great cascade of water and the daredevils and the lovers that inevitably come to celebrate at her altar.  Something that overcomes us and swallows us whole.  Something that makes us attempt the unthinkable.  We stand at the edge and in those frantic skips of our heart we know what it is:  poetry.

Poetry is a lot of things.  Maybe it’s a rhyme for you.  Maybe it’s something caught beneath your breath and then it’s gone forever.  It may be a smudge from a little hand on a window.   Or the last time you saw your father.  It could be a mirror.  Or something endless and beautiful like water.

One of Niagara’s first native poets was Peter A. Porter.  He is most well known as “the colonel”—as opposed to his father, who was “the general”.  He died a hero on a battlefield in Cold Harbor, Virginia, on June 3, 1864.  Five men crawled upon their bellies in the stench and heat of that southern battlefield to retrieve his body.  It rained on them and they said that the rain brought on a vaporous steam that made it all the more unbearable.  They tied a cord to his sword belt and dragged him over the damp and bloody clay until they reached Union lines.    Peter’s sister, Elizabeth, who was serving as a nurse in Baltimore, brought her brother’s body back to Niagara Falls—for services at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (of which their father was the founding member) and on to Oakwood Cemetery (where Peter was a trustee) for burial. 

Often sandwiched in between his father and his son, Colonel Peter A. Porter, is usually mentioned merely as a footnote to their more “interesting” and “longer” lives…until now.   Little by little I have been accumulating bits and pieces of a man who was much more than a father and a son and a soldier.   And interestingly enough it has come to me through his poetry. 

Apparently, Peter (whom we won’t refer to as “colonel” anymore for the purposes of this sketch) never wanted to be a military man. Born in Black Rock (Buffalo) on July 14, 1827, he came to Niagara Falls with his father and his sister. His mother, Letitia, had died when he was only four years old.  He studied at Harvard and then at the universities of Heidelberg, Berlin and Breslau.  He returned to Niagara in 1852 but probably not without bringing some of that revolutionary fervor that had swept through Europe while he was abroad back home with him.  In fact, it was said that his home (razed in the 1930’s) --which had been quite unusually built with German plans-- was the equivalent of a European style salon—complete with interesting guests and lively conversation.   It was the heart of all culture in Niagara Falls.  He brought his new wife, the love of his life, Kentucky-born, Mary Breckinridge, and their newborn son, Peter, to live in this magnificent house on Buffalo Avenue.  It was located between the area that is now the ghost yards of the Shredded Wheat plant and the Niagara River.  Sadly, Mary died a young woman in just two years during the terrible cholera epidemic that swept through the country.  Peter, despondent and out of his mind with grief,  buried her in Oakwood Cemetery and then ran off once again to Europe in order to heal his fledgling soul.  He returned a few years later, refreshed, and married another southerner, Josephine Morris—who would outlive him and raise his son, Peter, as her own.  

From “A Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812,” by Benson J. Lossing, 1868 He credits this drawing to Peter A. Porter. It was during this time that it is possible that Peter and his sister, Elizabeth, may have spent much of their time working at their “secret charities.”  Today the evidence increasingly points to the possibility that they were in fact the mysterious leaders of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls.  We are not sure about the details as he was an uncommonly modest and humble man.  Quiet and resigned he was constantly avoiding any acknowledgement of his deeds.  We do know that it was not uncommon for him to act selflessly.  In fact, when the War of the Rebellion first broke, he consistently turned down offers to lead a regiment—preferring instead to sign up as a private.  He held glamorous parties at his home and allowed every manner of man from his regiment to join in the fun.   Finally as the war raged, it was inevitable…and he took on the 8th New York Artillery.  Even then, while he was off serving with his regiment in Baltimore, he was offered the chance to leave the military life and serve as Secretary of State of New York.  Perhaps it was that moment—when that split second decision was made—that sealed his fate and won the men in his regiment over.

“I left home in command of a regiment mainly composed of the sons of friends and neighbors committed to my care.  I can hardly ask for my discharge while theirs cannot be granted; and I have a strong desire, if alive, to carry back those whom the chances of time and war shall permit to be present, and to account in person for all…” 

It was the uncanny beauty and humanitarianism of his words that gave Peter such an esteemed place in our history.  We can infer much about the man by his actions, but we can get inside his soul because of the poetry of his words.  Not one of his men forgot these words.  They memorized them and recalled them in their moments of weakness and in the end they carried him back to Niagara Falls. 

But what of his words, his poetry?  He never purposely published his poetry so it has been extremely difficult to find his work.   Some pieces were discovered in some of the most prominent literary journals of his day (Harpers Monthly, Putnam’s Journal and the Crayon)—published anonymously.   There are five poems that we are aware of at this point and I keep them in a binder in our Robert F. Barthel and Loraine L. Baxter Niagara Poetry Collection at the Lewiston Public Library.   You are more than welcome to read his poetry along with the poetry of other Niagara area poets located in our Local History Room—just ask to have the cabinets opened and you will be surprised at what you find. 

The first, the mysterious, “Come Nearer to me, Sister,” is my favorite.    Apparently written around February of 1845, it was published posthumously in the Commercial Advertiser, Buffalo, on November 19, 1864.  The kind historians at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society found the original and Larry Steele, the administrator at Oakwood Cemetery,  made a copy and picked it up for me one day last year. I could hardly contain my excitement when he made that special delivery.   What makes this poem so unusual is that it was actually mentioned in the Memoir of Elizabeth T. Read—a young girl who died on January 20, 1847, at the Institution of the Messrs. Abbott, in New York City.  The young girl was “particularly interested in all pieces of poetry which had reference to death, and to scenes of the future world.”  It was said that a few weeks before her death she wrote to her sister that she “had met with a beautiful piece of poetry, which she copied for her sister’s perusal.”  It is unknown how Miss Read came in contact with this beautiful and tragic poem almost twenty years before it was published, however, it is possible that she had been an associate of Peter’s sister, Elizabeth, who also went to school in New York City (at Madame Conda’s).  Perhaps this touching testament to Elizabeth (Peter’s sister) was shared amongst the school girls.  I imagine Elizabeth was utterly moved by the genuine romanticism of the death imagery and by the prominent place he held for her in this tragic moment.   Here he is, just a teenager, with thoughts of death still raw (their father had died the previous year) imagining his own death—his sister at his side.  Ironically, it was as if he saw into the future, for it was Elizabeth who would bring his body back to Niagara Falls.  It’s possible that Elizabeth may have been instrumental in publishing this in the Commercial Advertiser back in November of 1864.  He was so newly gone, and her heart must have been aching for him.  They were very close throughout their lives and maybe even more soul mates than kin.  The poem is sad and fleeting and full of memories of youth and promises after death.  He even mentions their cousin, Mary, his future wife, and how although they were not married yet their “wedlock’s golden thread will run through eternity.”  He writes how he hopes she will find someone kindly but “in the world above” he would “claim her as” his “own…”  “Come Nearer to me, Sister,” is definitely the most romantic of the poetry we have found. 

Another poem, the dreamy, “Arcadia, A Medley,” was published in Putnam’s Journal in May of 1857.  Peter’s friends from New York’s famous Century Club insisted upon publishing it after he had presented it at their monthly meeting. I can’t help but wonder about this one.  Knowing now of the possibilities of Peter’s work on the Underground Railroad, it’s difficult not to read this as something more than what it seems.  On the exterior, it’s about an auctioneer selling off a painting of a mythical land known as Arcadia.  “Going…going…gone!”  Of course, the image of the auctioneer (when viewed from this perspective) could reveal the “slave auctioneer.”  And the whole idea of “Arcadia, A Medley,”  a journey to the Promised Land “that weary souls have sighed for…this the land heroic hearts have died for…,” could also lead the reader to think of the journey of the runaway slave.    He uses literary devices to map out the trip to Arcadia and even states that “here surveyors trace the way of heavenly railroads, that will pay Ethereal dividends…”   Maybe I have a little too much of the “conspiracy theorist” about me, but I invite you to have a look and tell me what you think this “Arcadia, A Medley,” is all about.  Maybe it is a secret code to one of the most amazing networks in American history.  Or perhaps it is just a poem…

A more humorous piece was published in The Crayon in February of 1859—again by Peter’s friends from the Century Club.  Thanks to the archivist at New York’s Century Club, we have some notes from the special occasion in which, “The Centurion’s Dream,” appeared.  Because of the fact that “so many hearers” during the Twelfth Night Festival at the Century Club were “delighted with the sprightly humor, the playful turn of the rhyme and the fanciful allusions” and had requested their own copy it became necessary to have “The Centurion’s Dream,” in print.  I love how the editor of The Crayon couldn’t help but compare “the modest author” to Niagara, itself, when he insists that “the iridescent hues of the poem were not caught from the spray of Niagara, but from the soberer colors of a well stocked library… and Mr. Peter A. Porter.”  This one is a dream and contains numerous allusions to literary masterpieces.  It is put together as a sort of literary potpourri (which he calls “an ollapodrida).   It’s quite fun to read aloud.    

Two other poems are frequently attributed to Peter A. Porter: “Lines in a Young Ladies Album” and “On the Early Death of Mr. George S. Emerson.”   “Lines in a Young Ladies Album” was written to accompany drawings Peter scribbled into a young relative’s album.  The drawings included a likeness of the Falls with Father Hennepin, LaSalle and an Indian Chief in the foreground…”the chief, the soldier of the sword, the  soldier of the cross…one died in battle, one in bed and one by secret foe…but let the waters fall as once they fell two hundred years ago.”  “Lines in a Young Ladies Album” is particularly beautiful and moving to those of us who know Niagara most intimately.  On July 31, 2011, Niagara Falls historian, Paul Gromosiak and Niagara Falls Public Library director, Michelle Petrazzoulo, took turns reading the lines of this poem at the opening reception of the Robert F. Barthel and Loraine L. Baxter Niagara Poetry Collection at the Lewiston Public Library. 

“On the Early Death of Mr. George S. Emerson” was often used as an accompaniment to Peter’s own obituary, however, he wrote it, himself, many years before upon hearing of the death of a young friend.  This poignant elegy reveals, once again, Peter’s preoccupation with premature death and that glorious meeting in heaven.  “Perchance we meet on heaven’s eternal shore…”

During the month of April we celebrate poetry and inevitably that leads me to think of one of my favorite Niagara poets, Peter A. Porter.  Hopefully, with time, other poems will reveal themselves and ultimately allow us a more complete picture of one of Niagara’s most fascinating men.  

The Cementation of the Dead; the story of Theodore Graves Hulett’s most curious work in Oakwood Cemetery

By Michelle Ann Kratts 

This article appeared in NiagaraHub.com

Judge Theodore Graves Hulett

He spent his boyhood by the light of tallow candles, pouring over whatever books he could get his hands on.  He was mechanical by nature.  Never satisfied.  Always seeking more knowledge and that light in the darkness.   Born into meager circumstances on June 13, 1811, in Williamsburgh, Massachusetts, Theodore Graves Hulett left home at twelve years old to apprentice with a carriage manufacturer in Pittsfield.  He taught himself law on the side and eventually made his way to Niagara Falls by 1834.  An important man, he was superintendent of the first Suspension Bridge and constructed the famous iron basket which, at one time, was the only means of transportation between the United States and Canada at this point until the bridge was created. It was suspended on a cable that ran along the American and Canadian shores.  He was so confident in its durability that he sent his own daughter across on its maiden voyage—never imagining for a moment the possibility that it could tumble down into the gorge taking little Elvira to a most violent death.    In 1849, Hulett was elected Justice of the Peace of the town of Niagara.  He was extremely active in most public matters in Niagara Falls and was one of our most prominent and respected residents.  During the Civil War he took care of the soldiers and their families.   But there was one more thing about Judge Hulett.  It was probably one of the most unusual contributions anyone ever made to Niagara Falls.  He originated the idea of and practiced (in Oakwood Cemetery) the cementation of the dead. 

 

We’re not sure exactly how many graves and individuals were cemented as records are sparse during this time period.  We do know that the “cementation of the dead” was pretty common practice after 1886—but only in Oakwood Cemetery.  It was the only cemetery in the world to carry out such an unusual manner concerning the disposal of the dead.  According to a Niagara Gazette article on August 31, 1886, “this mode of burial has become the rule in Oakwood Cemetery.”  It cost the families an additional fee of $15 “to cement a casket in a stone casing of eight inches in thickness and without a royalty as it was under a scientist’s patent.”  Apparently, “on account of the moisture in the ground…” Oakwood Cemetery was the perfect location for the cementation of the dead. 

 

It was on June 4, 1874, that Judge Hulett first obtained some frogs, prepared a cement mixture and cemented the frogs into stone blocks.  He did the same with a pear.  Five years later he sawed them open and found the most amazing thing had occurred!  The watery portions of the once living material had been absorbed by the stone, leaving the tissues intact and a perfect cast of the original. Even much of the original colors remained.   He kept these specimens on exhibition in his office for many years.  It was in 1874 that he wrote out his last will and testament in which he gave specific orders for the cementation of his own body. 

 

 

In 1886, before the Sanitary Board in Buffalo, Judge Hulett declared that “he had decided to cement all his family.”  His two daughters feeling the cementation of their bodies would be “pretty close quarters” requested that only their coffins be encased in cement to the thickness of a foot.   Each box weighed two tons.  Others would have three inches of cement placed in their coffin and allowed to harden.  At this point the embalmed nude body would be laid upon the foundation and the coffin filled with cement until the body was  three inches below the surface.  The graves dug for the cementation process would be much deeper in order to receive the casket.  More cement would be poured over the lowered casket and fine sulphur and powdered charcoal with alcohol would then be placed between the outer case and the casket and then set on fire.  The lid would then be screwed on.  This process would ensure that all liquids in the body be absorbed and the gases from the dead body neutralized.  It was believed that the cementation of the dead would secure the body from the attacks of grave robbers.  Or perhaps from something more sinister than grave robbers…

 

The first cementation of a body in Oakwood Cemetery occurred in January of 1887.  David Hulett Thomas, a relative of Judge Hulett, after having been mysteriously killed in the railroad yards, was the first to be buried by the unique process.  Representatives from the IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) and the fire companies of Niagara Falls, New York,  and Niagara Falls, Ontario, of which the deceased was a member, attended in great numbers--so did representatives of the Health Department, various scientific organizations from around the state and the general public.  Following the burial of David Thomas, many of Niagara’s dead were buried in the same fashion in Oakwood Cemetery. 

 

The cementation of the dead in Oakwood Cemetery was Judge Hulett’s one last obsession in his twilight years.  He was the founder and president of the American Cementation Society, which was established in Buffalo, and the editor of “the Cemetarian,” a monthly newsletter concerning topics relating to the “cementation of the dead.”  Upon his death, on April 13, 1907, Hulett left explicit instructions for the disposal of his own body.  He greatly preferred “Portland Cement” over all others “as long as it can be obtained at a reasonable price.”  A Unitarian, he requested that a Universalist minister be present for the service but if that was not available “any clergyman or layman” may do as long as he leads in a favorite hymn by Cowper.  Perhaps the strangest part of his Hulett’s request was the simplest.  He asked that the only “representative” of his body at the funeral be his “easy chair, empty,” his “cane and boots lying in the chair” and his “grand and great grand children standing (or sitting) around the chair and other friends standing or sitting around in an outer circle…”

 

You can visit Theodore Graves Hulett’s final resting place at Oakwood Cemetery.  I go there often and attempt to understand his obsession with making sure the dead would not rise again.  My mind reaches back into those dark Victorian times in Niagara Falls and wonders if it had to do with a strange event that occurred in July of 1866 in the yards of the Central Railroad, near the Suspension Bridge.  The event caused much excitement and certainly piqued the wild imagination of Niagara’s residents.  Newspapers across the nation became interested in the reports that 60-70 sheep had been found killed, in most unusual circumstances over a few days’ time near Niagara Falls.  Even as these animals commonly roamed freely throughout the village an occurrence such as this was most startling for the fact that “the sheep were merely bitten in the neck and the blood sucked from the carcass.” No other damage had been done to their bodies.  A posse was formed and men with torches were sent out to search for the guilty varmints.  Outwardly, it was supposed that a wolf had been the culprit, although it had been believed that the last remnants of wolves had been eradicated years before.  The culprit was never discovered although it seems possible that the villagers felt a supernatural presence had made itself known.  The general public, at the time, was well aware of vampires and their proclivities.  Even as Bram Stoker’s, Dracula, had yet to be written, the short story, “The Vampyre”, conceived by John Polidori, Lord Byron’s physician, in 1819, was popular literature throughout  the United States.  People will always be fearful of the unknown—and is it possible that this was the case in Niagara Falls?  Hulett spent the rest of his life ensuring that the dead of Niagara Falls would rest in peace.  Perhaps he knew what had happened to those sheep…perhaps he saw himself as a sort of pioneer “vampire hunter.”  Whatever the answer, we will never know for certain; he has surely taken it to his cemented grave at Oakwood Cemetery.  

Lovely Place in Winter

Michelle Ann Kratts

There were three men who came with the carriage. Their pockets filled with stones. And there was no such thing as Time since if you really think of it—Time is a completely made up notion—just a measurement contrived by humans to organize the vast mystical nothingness of the universe. The horses knew about the nothingness of the universe. They had made their way swiftly through the falling snow and in through the black iron gate. They stopped when the driver commanded them to stop and they whinnied and lifted their hooves and scratched and shook their tails of the feathery whitestuff until they were used to the calm of the scene. Yes, of course, they had been here before. They would wait, unfastened, until the men were finished.

William Pool (1825-1912), the first editor of the Niagara Falls Gazette, was a pioneer in Niagara County journalism. He was active in the Whig and Republican parties and staunch in his anti-slavery views. He is the author of Landmarks of Niagara County. William Pool is buried in Oakwood. One by one the men stepped down from the carriage to begin their task. The driver lit a cigarette, walked around a bit. Stared at the moon. It was midnight, Christmas Eve, and there was a little crack in the organization of the universe. Church bells were sounding nearby while things like snow and men and carriages with horses were seeping in through the open spaces. Mr. Childs, closest to the door, his body bent forward, a silken hat brushing against the doorframe, was the first to exit. He was followed by the newspaperman, Mr. Pool, and the gentle Mr. Clark, Practical Embalmer and Undertaker (and cabinet maker) who knew all about death and dying. They stood in silence for a moment until Pool finally broke open the icy solitude.

 --Lovely, lovely place in winter. Isn’t it so?

 --Yes…Childs whispered.

 You might think he was the quiet one (because of the whispering). But, no, you’re wrong. He was the one with the busy mind that screamed and kicked wildly behind flickering candle-eyes.

Clark knew this place well. Didn’t need to say a single word about the loveliness. Could see the underthings. The worms and the slugs that moved about unhindered in the warm spaces beneath the snow and the grass and the dirt. Little bits of unbroken life swimming among a sea of coffins. The men. The women. The children. All of them with their dusty bodies falling apart bit by bit until one with the wood and the velvet cushions. He imagined seeing so many of their sweet faces for the last time as he closed the lid on their humanity. There they were! One day picking up a book in the library. The next day… gone. So many library books never finished. Sad husbands and wives returning them in their place. Almost looking guilty about the whole affair. Strange thing death is. Hmm…yes...

William H. Childs (1807-1885), an early merchant and insurance man in Niagara Falls, was a “zealous anti-slavery man” and possibly an agent of the Underground Railroad. His son, Joel, lost his life at the Battle of Shiloh. W.H. Childs is buried in Oakwood. He let a smile unfold. A secret little smile. One that crept along the side of his frozen lip. Only he could understand. Yes, indeed, it was magnificent to close that lid. Inherently delicious to be the last one to see the curvature of a face. He coughed once into a leather glove as if to say, "Yes, fellows...I know about these things....let me lead you along."

So they moved along in their fine array of overcoats (one being marked down from $10 to a glorious $5.90 at M. Brown’s Clothier and Hatter at 106 Falls Street) through the wide expanse of cemetery on this night of nights knowing, one and all, without any sort of announcement, where they were headed and for what business. Very elegant—the three of them dashing through the snow.

--Did you see in the papers? That deer caught in Steuben County? My God…Pure white…imagine that. Wish I’d been there. Didn’t say if it was a buck. Probably…would-ah…if it was. Pool lit a cigarette and blew a few smoky rings between his night darkened lips.

Childs was suddenly thrown into the mess of it and perturbed at the thought of the white deer.

--But why capture such a thing? Just let it be, I say. Should-ah let him go. Poor thing. Must-ah been lovely, just lovely. White fur and white snow. Lovely. (He a-hemed..)

He curled his hands into fists in his pockets. Felt the cold edges of the stones cut into skin. He imagined some nimrod in Steuben County had already killed the poor deer and probably had it hanging on his fiery mantle beside the Christmas tree for all to come at gawk at. Twinkling Christmas lights. Probably Christmas carols being sung…Once Again...Father Lead MeTours Te Deum…surely not as lovely as that sung on Christmas Eve at the First Presbyterian…but nonetheless... family gathered. Blood stains on white.  Dripping onto carpets. 

No one said any more about the deer. But still Childs could not push it out of that corner it had taken up in his mind.

They continued near the front of Oakwood, ever mindful of their work. Now below the beautiful angel. The sullen angel. Arms crossed in supplication. Head bowed. Carefully carved stone folds of holy robe. All pinned together by a stone mason. Maybe an Italian with loving hands. Here they placed their first piles of stones. Utter silence and the structure of the stones and the angel glaring down at them reminded Pool of art so it was then that he mentioned Cameron’s painting, Niagara Falls in Winter.

--Bought by some HH Warner of Rochester…purchasing price $30,000! Imagine that….

--No, couldn’t be.

Clark shook his head and imagined 30,000 pieces of anything at all. Slugs crawling (earth sticking to their bellies), squirrels, twigs, dead leaves, specks of dirt, flakes of snow. Just couldn’t be possible.

--But it’s true!

--And they say it’s regarded as the finest landscape ever painted in America, said Childs with pride.

They all had seen it. Had even seen Peter Caledon Cameron. A colossal work, it was, this Niagara Falls in Winter. Like the falls, perhaps. Well, not quite…But it was one of the ones that let you hear the thunder and feel the spray on your face when you stood before it.

--Good perspective he had…ha! Pool added. His heavy boots crunching along. More smoke rings from his mouth to the sky.

Then they spoke of how Mr. Cameron had painted his studies of Niagara Falls from a point in mid-air. Had lowered himself down the precipice with a tackle.

--A lot of guts these artists have…one standing for hours on end until the icicles formed on his beard…

--Pure mania, said Clark.

Indeed, they all knew the maniacs Niagara had summoned year after year.

--Yes, quite so, said Childs, concurring with both the “guts” statement as well as the “mania” statement.

--There are some things that bring you to your knees, he thought to himself. Some things.

Their voices went on as their thoughts became more unbearable and heavy to carry. They filled the horrid blackness of the night with half laughs, coughs, with the clearing of throats. Of course, the moving on made it inevitable that they would soon pass over their wives’ graves, their chidren’s graves, their own graves. Probably the reason for all the small talk and nervousness. But how strange to be on this side of the whole thing! There was a cold pause upon coming nearer to these tender spots of earth filled with salty tears and their loved ones bodies. Childs passed beside the little one…”We’ll miss him when there is noble work to do…” Son, Joel. Reduced to an etching on some stone. 45thRegiment Illinois Volunteers. Died Battle of Shiloh. That’s it, though. There was nothing more. All comes to this.

They came. They saw. They placed the stones--for they were the most diligent of men. Never give up the ship, these ones. Even some stones for the dreary Woolson graves—that strange set from Pool’s own family. A family of horrible circumstances. Tragic ends. Flashes of newsprint. Poison. Blood. Murder. Suicide. May they rest in peace. Requiescat in pace.

Then onto Strangers Rest (for they need the stones the most). Those forgotten travelers and the lost. A little pile of stones mean the most to those left behind. Keeps them going. The tragic ones who had no names or whose names had faded from every ledger. Those too young to hold a pencil. Those without a hand. Come back from the War, pieces missing. Those with only hands. Found in the River. Just a limb with a tattoo. Annie. Stones for all of them. Little calling cards.

Almost time to go. Things are closing up. The three men have emptied their pockets. The horses know about the nothingness of the universe. About the nothingness of Time. They whinny, scratch, shake their manes of snowflakes. Almost. Time. To. Go. So short these visits. But there are other things to do. They make their way back to the carriage. The driver never says a single word. In they go. Pool puts out his cigarette, the light is gone. He is the first to lower his head, climb in. He is followed by Clark and Childs. Solemn work. Not so bad but, indeed, solemn work. Just the remembering that there is an end is the toughest part. There are always other beginnings. But there is always an end.

The driver shuts the door, steps into his seat, calls to the horses. Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? One more stop for this night of all nights. The store of Louis Ehrig is always open if you believe Time is a made up notion. It is crowded with people. Frontier Mart. Falls Street. The attraction? A great Christmas tree trimmed in the most beautiful manner. Lighted wax candles on every branch. Mr. Ehrig proclaimed this evening that this IS the headquarters of Santa Claus. It’s December 24, 1855. It always is December 24, 1855, and the store is full to capacity. A carriage is on its way. Pockets full of money for gifts. Three men exit the carriage for Santa’s headquarters. Their children can hardly wait. Tomorrow is Christmas morning.