Welcome to the Firelands History Website

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Front Row: Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff. Second Row: Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Harriott Wickham, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt. Third Row: Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French. Fourth Row: Homer Beattie, Florence Bascom, Alice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Cleo Collins.

How many times have you come across an old family photo, but have no idea of the identity of the people in it? Unfortunately, too often our ancestors neglected to scrawl identifying information on the backs of their photos. Fortunately for me, my grandmother Harriott Wickham (second row, third from left in the photo above) understood how important it is to record names of people in her photos for future generations. She not only preserved this photo of her graduating class, she also recorded her classmates’ names on an accompanying scrap of paper.

The members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 are no more. But in their day, at the beginning of their adult lives, they were full of enthusiasm and hope for the future. As I gazed at their faces, so serious, yet so full of life, I wondered who they were and how they lived their lives? I decided to find out.

Not only had my grandmother recorded the names of her classmates, she kept diaries during those years that describe many of them and tell of her interactions with them. Unfortunately, the diary for her senior year is missing, but she did preserve one for May 1908 to May 1909. From it, and from information I gleaned from research, I began to form a picture of these young people and their families; of where they came from and how they spent their senior year–and the rest of their lives.

What did they do? In small town America of the early 20th Century, young people went to balls, hung out at the library, formed societies, performed in plays and concerts, and played basketball (both boys and girls). They had séances and house parties and spent their summers in cottages on Lake Erie, lazing away the days and dancing at “The Grove” at Ruggles Beach at night.

Who were they and their families? What stock did they come from and how did they spend their lives after graduation? Because I have their names, I’ve answered some of those questions. One of the young men in the photo became a U.S. Senator, but the rest of the class led ordinary lives: some did not do well, some of them had successful careers. But each one of them has a story I want to tell.

Using my grandma’s diaries and research on the internet, I’m continuing to flesh out the stories behind these faces. Over the next year, I’ll post what I’ve learned–and what I don’t know. I ask your help as I take this journey: to correct my mistakes, and to add your stories to the tale of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907.

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About The Firelands History Website

“Sufferers’ Land.”
“Firelands.”

These evocative and descriptive phrases refer to a region in northern Ohio set aside by the state of Connecticut for “Sufferers” burned out of their homes by the British during the American Revolution. Part of the Western Reserve, it covered present-day Huron and Erie counties.

After the War of 1812, a flood of emigration erupted out of crowded New England, the result of a pent up desire for new land that had been held in check by the threat of Native Americans defending their homes, and the spur of economic hardship engendered by the catastrophic “Year without Summer” of 1816. Most of these pioneers were bound for the Firelands.

Thus began one of the great migrations of American history; a flood of humanity that poured out of New England and settled lands stretching along the southern shores of the Great Lakes from upstate New York to Illinois and across the Mississippi River into Iowa.

These settlers greatly impacted the history of the United States. In the 1850’s, some of them entered Kansas and clashed with the leading edge of another great migration that had settled the South — a tragic foreshadowing of the Civil War. The grandchildren of the settlers of the Old Northwest formed the backbone of the Union Army of the West during that war and made possible the Republican majority that ruled the nation the remainder of the century.

This website presents histories of the Firelands and genealogies of families that settled there.

  1. “Sufferers’ Land” is a history of the settlement of the Firelands from the founding of the town of Norwalk in 1817 by Platt Benedict to the final Pioneers Reunion and founding of The Firelands Historical Society in 1857. This story may be read by selecting any of the 53 episodes in the Sufferers’ Land Index of Posts.
  2. Genealogical information of families who settled in the Firelands is also included on this website. These include the Benedict, Wickham, Preston, Taylor, BuckinghamDeForest, Deaver, and Lockwood families.
  3. Little Doctor on the Black Horse is a memoir of Doctor David DeForest Benedict of Norwalk, Ohio, a Union Surgeon during the Civil War. It was written by his granddaughter Harriott Benedict Wickham, who included in the story excerpts of letters he wrote to his wife from the field and from Libby Prison, where he was a prisoner of war. See the Little Doctor on the Black Horse Index of Posts to read the entire memoir.
  4. The Norwalk High School Class of 1907: Ninety years after Platt Benedict founded Norwalk, Ohio, his descendant Harriott Benedict Wickham, graduated from Norwalk High School. Now, one hundred ten years after the latter event, we follow the Class of 1907 through their senior year.

I would appreciate comments about this website. Please click on the comments button below and let me know what you think. Thank you.

The Firelands History Website had a great 2015. Thanks to all who visited the site this past year. Please see the stats at the 2015 in Review post.

© 2011 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

1906 Basketball Season! Intramural Play

1906 Basketball!

I am not a big basketball fan. Football, yes–baseball, sometimes (especially when the Indians go to the Series–and then disappoint)–but basketball, meh!

Until this year, that is, when hometown hero Lebron James took the Cavs to the first Cleveland major league sports championship in over 60 years. The final game was the first one I watched in its entirety in decades.

All of this brings us to the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. On this day in 1906, Norwalk High School kicked off its basketball season with two intramural games between senior and junior teams, one match between boys’ teams and the other between the girls.

Basketball today is a national pastime and a multi-billion-dollar industry. The NBA playoffs and “March Madness” are eagerly followed by millions. In 1906, the sport was in its infancy. It had been invented fifteen years before by Dr. James Naismith at the YMCA Training School in Springfield Massachusetts (now Springfield College). That first game was a sedate affair compared from today’s fast paced play. Only one point was scored. A soccer ball with laces was used, which made dribbling impossible, and bounce passes erratic. The object of the game was to get the ball into a peach basket fastened nailed to a vertical track.

The sport spread quickly, and by 1906 college, high school, and community teams had been established around the nation. In that year, the peach basked was finally replaced with a metal ring, much like what is used today.

In 1906, Norwalk had at least three teams that had been around for several years: one made up of members of Company G of the Ohio National Guard, and at the high school a boys and girls team. The first Norwalk High School basketball games I can find a record of were on December 1903 for boys’ and girls’ teams.

 

The Boy’s Game – Exciting!

These first games of the season were well reported in both The Daily Reflector and The Evening Herald. The boys’ game provided plenty of thrills. The Daily Reflector called the match “the most exciting ever played in School Hall.” The juniors were favored, but the seniors proved to be their match. At the end of regulation play, the score was tied 9 to 9 and went into overtime. Finally, the seniors pulled off an upset, winning 11-9.

From the Class of 1907 on the boys’ seniors team were Arthur Young at forward, Homer Beattie at center, and Robert Venus and Harry Holiday as guards. The junior squad only had one center, Homer played alone at center, but John Wickham, a sophomore, was brought in to play alongside Arthur Young at forward.

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Arthur Young, forward for the game, was 17 years old and lived with his parents, Ed and Carrie Young at 55 South Linwood Avenue, near downtown. Both parents were in their forties, so Arthur was either an only child (unlikely) or his siblings had already left home.

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Homer Beattie, also 17 years old, played at center. He lived at 137 Benedict homer-beattie-commencement-photoAvenue, south of Main Street, in the better part of town, with his father, Albert, a successful lawyer, his mother Dora, two brothers, two sisters, and perhaps his maternal grandfather.

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robert-venus-commencement-photo-1907In 1906, Robert Venus, a guard on the boys’ basketball team, was recovering from a series of recent tragedies. He lived at 45 Seminary Street with his father, Carl,and his sister Louise. According to the 1900 Census, in addition to these three, Robert’s mother Wilhelmina, elder brothers Frederick and Carl and and another sister, Blanche also lived in the house. But Wihelmina died in 1904 and Frederick and Blanche passed away the following year. The Norwalk City Directory dated 1909 does not have Robert’s brother Carl living in the house, so I assume he moved out. In the midst of all this tragedy, there was good news: Robert’s father Carl was elected Mayor of Norwalk.

Harry Holiday lived on his family’s farm on Woodlawn Avenue. Today this harry-holiday-commencement-photo-1907area is a mix of residential and light industry, but at that time was all farmland. His father, William Holiday, age 61, had just retired, or was about to retire, from farming. His mother, Alzina, was 59 years old and kept house for her husband, four children, two males and two females, and her widowed mother, Altha Spurrier.  Harry’s brother and sisters were all working folk. His elder brother Frank was a mechanic at Wheeling in Huron. One sister, Myrtle, was a school teacher and the other, Blanche, was deputy recorder at the county courthouse.

The Girl’s Game – Not so Exciting

The girls team had six members,Harriott Wickham and Florence Bascom were forwards, Ruth Jenkins and Ruby Hoyt were guards, and Florence Davidson and Sara Joslin played center

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Harriott Wickham will be familiar to readers of the Firelands History Website: she was my grandmother and a descendant of Platt and Sarah Benedict, and of another pioneer couple, Frederick and Lucy Wickham. These two couples played major roles in the settlement of Norwalk as described in the “Sufferers’ Land” series of posts on this website.Platt and Sarah founded Norwalk in 1817. Lucy Preston came to Norwalk with her father, Samuel Preston, who started the Norwalk Reflector. Her husband, Frederick Wickham, left a career as a schooner Captain on the Great Lakes for one in publishing at the Reflector.

Harriott’s father, Frank Wickham, who was editor of the Reflector in 1906, was the youngest of thirteen children (twelve who survived to adulthood). Her mother, Agnes Wickham, nee Benedict, was the second daughter of David and Harriott Benedict. David was grandson of Platt and Sarah Benedict and was a Union Surgeon in the Civil War. His story told in the “Doctor on a Little Black Horse” on this website.

The other forward was Florence N Bascom, who lived at 90 Linwood florence-bascom-commencement-photo-1907Avenue, south of town, with her father William, a blacksmith, her mother Mana and her elder brother Harry, who had already graduated from high school.

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One of the  guards, Ruth Jenkins was, like Harriott Wickham, a member of the X, Y, Z Club, and helped with the Progressive Dinner on Halloween. She lived at 10 Norwood Avenue with her father Frank, proprietor of a grain elevator, her mother Ida Jenkins, brothers Clayton and Clifford, and her sister Dorothy.

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The two centers on the girls’ team were Sara Joslin and Florence Davidson.

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Florence Davidson

I don’t know much about Florence, but at least I know she was in the class. But what about Sara Joslin? Who was that? She is not in the Commencement photo, nor is she listed in any newspaper announcements for the class. So who is she? That problem took some time to work out. I’ll explain in tomorrow’s post.

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Norwalk, Ohio Thanksgiving – 1906

thanksgiving-1906Thanksgiving Day in 1906 fell on November 29, the last Thursday of the month, which is the day President Lincoln established in his proclamation of 1863 during the darkest days of the Civil War. It would not be until December 1941, at the beginning of another war, that President Roosevelt would sign a bill changing the day of the holiday to the fourth Thursday of the month, where it is celebrated today.

In 1906, the day of the month wasn’t the only tradition different from today. Traditions varied around the country. In many places, rowdy parades marked the day. In New York City, boys from poor families would turn out in costumes, often castoff dresses of their sisters, and beg door to door, much like children do today, trick or treating on Halloween. In New England, raffles were held for turkeys and other holiday fare.

evening-herald-friday-11-30So, what did the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 experience on Thanksgiving Day in 1906? At that time, Norwalk had two newspapers: The Daily Reflector (still published today as the Norwalk Reflector), and The Evening Herald. Neither paper published on Thanksgiving that year in honor of the holiday. Perusing both newspapers on the day before and the day after the holiday, I found no mention of members of the class. I was able, however, to sketch out what all of them would have experienced.

Thanksgiving was a day of “reunion and rejoicing,” said a New York Racket Store advertisement in The Evening Herald on Thanksgiving Eve. “Black Friday was not a tradition, but there were sales the day before the maydole-hammer-ad-27-07holiday. The Racket Store ad offered customers corsets marked down sixty per cent to four pennies. “Genuine” Maydole hammers were on sale for thirty-nine cents. The department store Steins not only had similar discounts for “Fancy Linens” and “Table Damasks,” they promised “Red Trading Stamps with every purchase.”

Many saloons in town had planned the New England tradition of raffling turkeys and geese, but the city fathers axed the event, leaving the saloon owners furiously holding the bag—a bag filled with holiday fowl instead of cash.

Thanksgiving Day in 1906 Norwalk was a family and religious holiday, just as it is today. The Evening Herald published “Lest We Forget,” a poem by Doctor T. F. Hildreth that began, “this is the Nation’s Sabbath.” The Daily Reflector ran a full column announcing family reunions and feasts, both grand and humble. Both newspapers gave readers a wide choice of church services around the town.

football-1906After church and a family dinner, residents could choose several entertainments. Football was already a Thanksgiving tradition in America dating back to the 1890s. On Thanksgiving Day, a Norwalk Men’s Team played a Cleveland squad at the Broadway Athletic Club in Cleveland to a 5-5 tie. The Daily Reflector reported that an enthusiastic crowd of 400-500 fans watched the game–and apparently took part at times. From time to time, the crowd would surge onto the field, despite the efforts of officials to keep them back. Back in Norwalk, a

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Sheldon Laning

High School Team lost their match 5-5 to the Century Club. Unfortunately, The Daily Reflector reporter covering the game neglected to inform it’s readers of the names of the Norwalk High School players. However, from reports of other games, we know that Sheldon Laning and either Arthur Young or Stephen Young also were on the team.

The Gilger Theater had a performance of “The Country Jay,” staring “the jolly comedian,” Duke Vailes as “Zeb, the Jay,” and his co-star, “the petite soubrette,” Miss Beatrice Earle, as Sally.

Charity was also a thing in 1906. The Salvation Army “looked after” nine needy families, and delivered food baskets to many more. Churches took up collections at their services.

As you enjoy your Thanksgiving with family and friends, take a moment to think of those who came before us and of Thanksgivings past. Just as they did, we have the same desires this time of year—to give thanks for what we have, and for those we love.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Halloween 1906 – A Progressive Dinner”

halloween-1906Today is Halloween, a holiday that was celebrated in 1906–but with a different twist than today. According to a recent article in The New York Times, and a post from a blog of the Smithsonian Museum, Halloween at the beginning of the 20th Century was as much about romantic love as it was about ghosts and goblins. Although boys and young men were involved in playing tricks or pranks on their neighbors, the practice of trick or treat would not become popular until the late 1920s.

Instead, most young men and women, at least those in small towns like Norwalk, would attend parties hosted by the young women in their homes. The women would treat their guests to a meal and the young people would entertain themselves with dancing and games. As with most social events of the day, activities at Halloween parties were a way for young men and women to flirt and gauge the suitability of potential romantic partners while under the watchful gaze of their parents.

The games especially were a great way to get acquainted. Some are snap-applefamiliar today, like bobbing for apples. A variation of that game popular at the time was called “Snap Apple,” where boys and girls would attempt to bite an apple suspended from the ceiling by a string. The first to succeed would be the first to marry. Another game involved the host hiding a dime, a ring and thimble in mashed potatoes or a similar food. The guest who found the ring in his portion would be destined to marry soon, the one with the thimble would spend his or her or life alone, and the lucky one to get the dime would have good fortune. Of course, one would imagine that an unwary or impatient guest could end up needing dental work.

On Halloween night in 1906, Norwalk was busy with these parties. The next day, the Norwalk Reflector reported on eleven such gatherings. One of these was a “progressive party” held by the X, Y, Z, Club, a social organization of eight or nine young women, five who were members of the Class of 1907: Carrie Spurrier, Irene Bragdon, Harriott Wickham, Inez Adams, and Ruth Jenkins. These social clubs were common in the day. Young women would plan parties at members homes and invite young men to attend. The Norwalk Reflector reported that Harriott Wickham hosted a “Cobweb Party” at her home for the “X, Y, Z Club” on Friday, September 21.

According to the Destination: Austin Family blog, in a “Cobweb Party” strings were routed from room to room throughout the house, crossing often to create a tangle, or web. Participants would each be given one end of a string and would follow it throughout the house, meeting other party goers where the strings crossed. At the other end of the string would be a small gift, or the name of the partner who would escort he or she to dinner.

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Carrie Spurrier

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Irene Bragdon

To begin the “Progressive Party,” on Halloween in 1906, the “X, Y, Z Club” members and their guests, a total of eighteen young men and women, met home of Carrie Spurrier on Walnut Street. Where on Walnut I don’t know. According to my research, in 1909, Carrie lived on Elm Street, but apparently had moved there from Walnut Street sometime between 1906 and then. Irene Bradgon, another senior student, helped her entertain the guests. Here the party enjoyed the first “course” of the evening’s meal followed by dancing and games.

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Sophia Harkness

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Harriott Wickham

After a suitable time had passed, the young people left the Spurrier house and walked down Norwood Avenue to the corner of Benedict and Summit, and then on Sophia Harkness’s home at 31 Hickory Street. Sophia was not in the Class of 1907; at age 18, she must have graduated the year before. Harriott Wickham, who lived catty corner behind her at 32 Summit Street, assisted.

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Inez Adams

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Ruth Jenkins

The next stop was the home of Inez Adams at 31 Oak Street, an eight minute walk of a half-mile. Inez lived with her step-father Martin Callum and her mother Estelle. She was assisted by Ruth Jenkins, who lived only three minutes away, about three blocks.

 The journey to the final two stops of the “Progressive Dinner” was a bit of a hike—a mile and a half to be exact. According to the Norwalk Reflector, the party arrived “in due time” at the home of Bessie Fox at 219 West Main Street.  The last course was at the home of Sarah Joslin at 117 West Main Street, about ten minutes back down Main Street toward downtown. (Sarah and Bessie were not members of the Class of 1907 and I assume that, like Sophia Harkness, they were Norwalk High School Alumni.) After a final course of their holiday meal, one would assume desert, the party broke up and made their way home.

Can you imagine how this evening played out? I see a large group of young men and women strolling the streets of town from home to home, chatting, teasing, laughing–perhaps quarreling at times. Then I imagine them in parlors, drawing rooms, eating, dancing and playing games, while amused parents and other family members listened from the kitchen. Can you see it, too?

 

Sources

In addition to the links to online sources, I consulted the November 1, 1906 edition of the Norwalk Reflector for accounts of the previous evening. The links to WeRelate Wiki person pages for the five members of the Class of 1907: Carrie Spurrier, Irene Bragdon, Harriott Wickham, Inez Adams, and Ruth Jenkins contain sources about them and their families.

 

 

 

 

 

Norwalk High School Class of 1907 October Birthdays

During October of 1906 three members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 celebrated their birthdays. On October 9, which fell on a Friday, Eugene Bloxham and Sheldon Laning turned seventeen, followed by Myrtle Woodruff, who had her fifteenth birthday on Thursday of the following week: October 18.

The families of two of these classmates all lived in the better part of Norwalk, and the other lived on a prosperous farm south of town, but only two were descended from the early pioneers of the Firelands. Stephen’s and Myrtle’s great-grandparents had settled in the area at the same time as Platt Benedict, founder of Norwalk–or before. But Eugene’s parents had not moved to the area until the 1880s.

In posts over the next two months, we’ll explore in detail the lives of these three young people and their families, along with their heritage. For now, here is a snapshot of who they were, where they came from, and what they were up to their senior year at Norwalk High School.

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eugene-bloxhamEugene Bloxham lived at 256 East Main Street about a mile east of the high school, with his parents, Edwin and Lovinia, sisters Maria and Edna, and his Grandmother Seamans (on his mother’s side). His father owned a shoe store, Bloxham and Meyers, with a man named Aloysius Meyers. Eugene’s elder sister, Maria, age eighteen, was a clerk in her father’s store. His mother was a homemaker (as we say these days) and his younger sister Edna, twelve years old, was a student.

Although his parents were not wealthy or leaders in the community, they were not poor. This was not Edwin’s first marriage. His first wife had died soon after marrying him, apparently before they had children. Eugene’s grandparents had come to Norwalk around the time of the Civil War, so they were not among the early pioneers. From what I’ve been able to glean from the newspaper articles and my grandmother’s papers, Eugene was a popular student. He was a member of the basketball team (more about Norwalk High School basketball in later posts), and was involved in other school and civic activities.

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sheldon-laningSheldon Laning lived at 120 East Main Street, only a few blocks from the high school and the center of downtown. His father, Jay Laning, was a leading member of the Norwalk community. In addition to his father, the Laning household included his mother Caroline, and elder sister Joanna, age 26 and younger sister Elizabeth, age 10. As in the Bloxham household, a grandmother also lived with the Laning family: Caroline’s mother Mary Sheldon, age 90. Like Eugene Bloxham, Sheldon was active in sports and many other activities at school. He also was a member of the Laning Glee Club, with his brother, John Laning, a cousin and two other men. The group performed at civic and political events.

Jay and Caroline had moved to Norwalk in 1882 from New London, where he had been a successful attorney in 1882. He established a printing company and was involved in many civic activities. The Laning family had been in America since 1698, but did not arrive in the Firelands until Stephen’s grandfather, John Laning moved to New London in 1843. However, his wife Caroline, whom John married in 1849, was the daughter of Gilbert Wood, one of the first pioneers of the Firelands.

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myrtle-woodruffMyrtle Woodruff’s family did not live in Norwalk, but on a farm in Fairfield township, ten miles south of town. Although a streetcar line ran out to Fairfield Township from Norwalk, it is likely that Myrtle stayed in town during school weeks. I have no confirmation of this, however. I also do not know how many of her family were at home in 1906. According to the 1900 Census, in addition to Myrtle, her father Lewis and mother Addie, three of Myrtle’s brothers, a sister, and two female “boarders” lived on the farm. But by the 1910 Census, only Myrtle remained home with her parents. I do not know when Myrtle’s siblings left the farm. That is something we’ll explore in future posts. Myrtle must have been at the farm often during her school days. According to a Norwalk Reflector article, she was elected secretary of the  North Fairfield Congregational Society in April of 1907.

The Woodruff family were among the earliest pioneers to the  Firelands. Myrtle’s great, great grandfather, Chauncey Woodruff, settled in Huron County in 1815, two years before Platt Benedict founded Norwalk. He and his sons, grandsons, and great grandsons all had farmed the area down to Myrtle’s day.

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That’s what I have so far. There were no birthdays for the Class of 1907 in November or December of 1906, so during the next two months, I’ll post more information about the Bloxham, Laning and Woodruff families. Stay tuned!

Sources: I gleaned most of this information from census, birth and death records, newspaper  articles and from The Firelands Pioneer, the journal of the Firelands Historical Society. For specific sources, click on the links for Eugene Bloxham, Sheldon Laning, and Myrtle Woodruff to visit their person pages on the WeRelate Wiki.

Homer Beattie – Post # 2 – Nickname?

Class of 1907: Homer Beattie Post # 1

homer-beattie-commencement-photoIn the post on September 18 celebrating the birthday of Homer Beattie, I mentioned that he might be a “Rastus” Beattie who is mentioned in my grandmother’s 1908 diary. A pejorative term today, it was not considered so in that day and age.

But is Rastus Beattie really Homer? Below are the diary entries that mention him. Let’s see how they might match with what the record says about Homer Beattie.

 Sunday, June 7 – . . . Oh! I forgot to say that Rastus Beattie is home. I was talking to him yesterday. I’m glad he’s home, he looks all done up, although he says he’s all right.

 Wednesday, June 10, . . . After dinner, Ed and I went over home to play tennis, but Billy had gotten ornery, and said they couldn’t use his net any more, so we couldn’t play. I had a date with Rastus Beattie to play tennis too, and he called up to see about it, but as we couldn’t very well play without a net, we called it off, and Ed & I went down town. . . .

 Rastus is home, but from where? I would think it was from college. Homer did go to college; at least later on. In 1913, he was a senior at the University of Michigan and a member of the Forestry Club (his career was in Forestry). [1] But if he was a senior, this does not equate with him being in school in 1908, but in the 1909 Norwalk City Directory, Homer Beattie is listed, with occupation student. So it is possible that he started college in 1907, straight out of high school, which would put him home for summer vacation in June of that year.

Saturday, June 27: . . . We got up home in time for supper and afterwards went down to the library. We were sitting on the steps with Rastus and Fred French when the Davidson’s walked the steps. Poor Rastus, he nearly fainted, and Fred almost went into hysterics. Then we all kindly adjourned and left Rastus to make his peace. . .

Friday, July 17 – We have had a terrible storm today: thunder and lightening, and a regular cloud burst. We were glad to see it though, for our cistern gave out a few days ago, and carrying water is no fun. I got a letter from Irene today, saying that they are going to have a progressive dinner party for Meg, as she is going away so soon. She wants me to join her in giving the fourth course. She said they would find a “grand” fellow to take me. I don’t see where they would find him, I’m sure, so that isn’t much of an attraction. Probably Ernest Rudolph or Rastus Beattie, and either one doesn’t come up to my conception of grand. . .

Wednesday, Aug 12 – More arithmetic and grammar, etc., and the hall hotter than ever. We have a pretty good time though, looking at the people. It’s a regular menagerie. This evening Sara and I were going to the band concert, so I met her down at the library and we sat on the steps waiting for it to begin. Something happened however and the concert was called off, so we still sat on the steps. Quite a lot of kids had come down & we had a regular party there. About half past eight we went home and Rastus came along with me. I stayed all night at Grandma’s so we went down there and sat on the side steps. Rastus got very confidential, and we had a real “heart to heart” talk.

More encounters with “Rastus,” but nothing that indicates he is really Homer Beattie. But this is still summer vacation, so if Home were in college . . .

For the next four months, Harriott does not mention “Rastus” at all. Then, after Christmas, he reappears:

Dec. 28 – 1908 – Went shopping all this aft. I guess I am going to the dance with Charley Yanquell. Poor child, he might as well take his grandmother. Met Rastus downtown. He is looking for a partner to the dance. Hope he’ll come around my way. Went down to the Sunday School Christmas tree tonight. They always have it on this date, Holy Innocent’s Day. I got a box of candy and an orange, and had some ice cream and cake. After that we went to the play, a stock company show, – and a fair sample. Lots of Pi Kappa girls haven’t bids, even Milly Monnett. She and Harry are off, so I hear.

Dec. 29, 1908 – I have another bid and it’s about time. Rastus Beattie asked me to go with him, and I accepted. I guess Charlie Y. is going to take Edna now. Irene stayed all night with me and we have been together all day. In the afternoon we went downtown and met Rastus. He joined us and wandered around with us all the aft., even down to Grandma’s.

Dec, 30, 1908 – Well the dance is over, and I had an awfully good time, so much better than I expected that I am quite satisfied. I think almost every one had a good time. There were more boys than girls, so there weren’t a whole lot of wallflowers.

So here we are. “Rastus” Beattie, who does not exist in any source beyond this diary, only appears in the diary when colleges are not in session, then disappears when they are in session. Is this Homer Beattie? What do you think? If you have a clue, post a comment below.

Footnotes:

[1] “Forestry Club,” The Michiganensian Yearbook, 1913, p. 298

[2] Norwalk, Ohio Directory: 1909 – 1910, Page #: 8; Publisher: The Williams Directory Company, 1909

Norwalk, Ohio High School Class of 1907

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907: Front Row: Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff. Second Row: Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Harriott Wickham, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt. Third Row: Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French. Fourth Row: Homer Beattie, Florence Bascom, Alice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Cleo Collins.

How many times have you come across an old family photo, but have no idea of the identity of the people in it? Unfortunately, too often our ancestors neglected to scrawl identifying information on the backs of their photos. Fortunately for me, my grandmother Harriott Wickham (second row, third from left in the photo above) understood how important it is to record names of people in her photos for future generations. She not only preserved this photo of her graduating class, she also recorded her classmates’ names on an accompanying scrap of paper.

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Old Norwalk High School

The members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 are no more. But in their day, at the beginning of their adult lives, they were full of enthusiasm and hope for the future. As I gazed at their faces, so serious, yet so full of life, I wondered who they were and how they lived their lives? I decided to find out.

Not only had my grandmother recorded the names of her classmates, she kept a diaries during those years that describe many of them and tell of her interactions with them. Unfortunately, the diary for her senior year is missing, but she did preserve one for May 1908 to May 1909. From it, and from information I gleaned from research, I began to form a picture of these young people and their families; of where they came from and how they spent their senior year–and the rest of their lives.

What did they do? In small town America of the early 20th Century, young people went to balls, hung out at the library, formed societies, performed in plays and concerts, and played basketball (both boys and girls). They had séances and house parties and spent their summers in cottages on Lake Erie, lazing away the days and dancing at “The Grove” at Ruggles Beach at night.

Who were they and their families? What stock did they come from and how did they spend their lives after graduation? Because I have their names, I’ve been able to answer some of those questions. One of the young men in the photo became a U.S. Senator, but the rest of the the class led ordinary lives: some did not do well, some of them had successful careers. But each one of them has a story I want to tell.

Using my grandma’s diaries and research on the internet, I’m continuing to flesh out the stories behind these faces. Over the next year, I’ll post what I’ve learned–and what I don’t know. I ask your help as I take this journey: to correct my mistakes, and to add your stories to the tale of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907.

Class of 1907 – Cleo Collins

cleo-collins-commencement-photoToday we belatedly celebrate the birthday of Norwalk High School Class of 1907 member Cleo Collins, who, if she were alive today, would be 128 years old. But even if I would have posted in her honor last month, I would have hit the correct day only by chance. Although I know from the 1900 Census that Cleo was born in September 1888, I don’t have found no source that tells me the date—and precious little evidence about her or her family.

Cleo first appears in the 1900 Census when she and her family were living on a farm in Boston Township of Summit County, Ohio, an incredibly rugged piece of real estate. Today, Boston Township occupies the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Sometime before the 1906/07, when Cleo Collins appears in the photo of the Junior/Senior study hall for Norwalk High School, the family moved to Norwalk, and lived at 8 Huron Street, which seems to have been a farm in 1906. In the 1910 Census, Cleo’s father, William Collins, is identified as a farmer, which makes sense. I don’t know where he was born: his parents came from England, but again I do not know who they were. Cleo’s mother, Ida Collins, nee Malhalm, was born in the U.S., but her parents had immigrated from Prussia.

So what I do know about her family in 1906 is this: Cleo probably lived on a farm on the outskirts of Norwalk with her mother and father, her younger brother Jay Collins and her younger sister Dorothy Collins. Her elder brother, Ray Collins, had probably left home by then, or perhaps he had never come to Norwalk when the family moved there from Boston Township.

There is another detail that Cleo’s classmate, my grandmother Harriott Wickham, wrote in her diary on June 7, 1908:

I simply couldn’t stand Norman. Why? He said ‘Yes ma’am’ to me. Just think of it. And Cleo says he wears girls’ stockings. That’s the limit. I get a lot from Cleo, via Irene. I learned recently that poor N. sits up in the clubrooms nights when the rest are off with their ‘Lady friends,’ all alone, with the lights turned out. I am sorry for him, but – he wears girls’ stockings!”

Was it Cleo Collins my grandmother referred to here? I don’t know. There was also a Cleo Price in the Norwalk HS study hall photo.

 So here is the second mystery in this series of posts. Do you know more about Cleo and her family? If so, post a comment below and let’s investigate together.