Temporary Derangement – Literary Nonfiction?

For Christmas last month, my daughter gave me a copy of Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. As most biographers do these days, Ms Goodwin writes in a genre called creative nonfiction, also known as literary or narrative nonfiction. [1] This genre describes real events in an entertaining way, using the craft of writers of fiction, especially the technique of point of view.

For instance, this is how Ms Goodwin begins the first chapter of Team of Rivals:

On May 18, 1860, the day when the Republican Party would nominate its candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln was up early. As he climbed the stairs to his plainly furnished law office on the south side of the public square in Springfield, Illinois, breakfast was being served at the 130-room Chenery House of Fourth Street. [2]

Ms Goodwin continues to describe Lincoln’s morning as she imagines he would have experienced it.

So, how did Ms Goodwin know what Lincoln saw and did that spring morning in 1860? From a variety of sources: newspapers, diaries and journals, letters, other document and accounts; and by personal observation, going to the square herself to get a sense of what it looked like that day.

I have used this genre (although not as skillfully as Doris Kearns Goodwin, of course) in the “Sufferers’ Land” story on this website, and more recently in last week’s post “Temporary Derangement.”

What did I use for sources for the latter story about the suicide of Calista Harris? Let’s take a look:

  • The title “Temporary Derangement” came from an obituary in the temporary-derangementNorwalk Daily Reflector article for April 24, 1906, the day after Mrs. Harris committed suicide.

  • The weather? I learned that from the Daily Reflector‘s April 23rd issue.

  • How about the address? Obituaries and other articles reported that Laura Joslin lived on Main Street, but I surmised the house number by consulting 1900 and 1910 Census records. Both had the Joslin’s living at 117 Main Street. I got an idea of what the house probably looked like in 1906 by looking at Google Maps. [3]

  • I learned what people in Norwalk were saying about the San Francisco earthquake from the Norwalk Daily Reflector and the Norwalk Evening Herald, and used the obituaries in those newspapers and the Sandusky Daily Register to piece together and account of how Laura Joslin found her mother’s body and her reaction (she fainted).

Is it a good idea to write nonfiction with the craft of fiction writers? It can get one in trouble if one plays too fast with the truth (David McCullough, for instance, has come under criticism for certain passages in his biographies: Truman and John Adams. And who can forget James Frey?).

What do you think of the literary nonfiction genre? Let me know in the comments below.


The “Temporary Derangement” post generated the most traffic to my blog since the “Sufferers’ Land” days. In future posts, I’ll do what my best to make this site as entertaining–and as accurate–as possible. If you think I’m going to far, call me out for it in the comments.

Thanks for visiting. I am thrilled when people actually read what I write.

This is the last of the Sarah Barnett posts. Here are the previous posts about her and her Tuttle, Joslin, Barnett and Harris heritage:

Next up: The story of how Myrtle Woodruff‘s pioneer family were among the first settlers of the Firelands.


[1] I prefer narrative or literary fiction. Creative nonfiction recalls to my mind that unfortunate term: creative accounting!

[2] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2006, page 5.

[3] The house now standing on that lot is not the one the Joslins owned, it is too modern. But I can get an idea of the style by looking at the houses on neighboring lots from that era. When in doubt about the age of homes, I consult the tax records.

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Temporary Derangement

Laura Joslin went up the walk to her home at 117 Main Street, Norwalk, Ohio, after running errands uptown on a chilly Monday afternoon, April 23, 1906. Everyone uptown, it seemed, was still talking about the earthquake that had struck San Francisco last week. Fires still burned in that city, and the toll of death and injured continued to mount. Survivors, including some citizens of Norwalk, had been evacuated to Colorado Springs and Denver, Colorado.

It is likely that Laura’s thoughts were not on that tragedy as she mounted the porch steps, but were on her mother Calista Harris. Ever since her mother had arrived from Clyde last year, Laura had not thought of much else. Although Calista was only sixty-eight years old, she had had a rough life, growing up on a farm, raising two children, and then losing her first husband. All that had taken a toll on her health, and she now suffered from various aliments, including blinding headaches. Last year she had come to Norwalk so Laura, her eldest daughter, could nurse her.

Laura’s life had not been a bed of roses, either. She had suffered the loss of her first husband at an even a younger age than her mother. Faced with raising two young girls on her own after his death, she had married Augustus Joslin, a well-off widower over thirty years her senior. Although that marriage had given her the financial security she needed, it also saddled her with the responsibility of nursing him as his health became progressively worse. Augustus had died last year, relieving Laura of that responsibility. But soon after he passed, her mother came to live with her–and forced her once again into the role of a nurse.

She crossed the porch and went in the front door. Quiet met her. Where was her mother? Laura passed through the front room to the kitchen  and stopped short. A knife and a length of clothesline lay on the table.

The image of the outhouse came into her mind.  She darted out the back door and ran across the yard to the little building, jerked open the door–and screamed. Her mother dangled from the rafter, a noose tight around her neck.

Laura grew faint, and, as the ground seemed to rise to greet her, the whole world went dark.




Is this little story an accurate account of what happened that April afternoon in 1906? I believe it is close to the mark, and will tell you why I think that in a post next week. But next up–New Year’s Eve, 1906 in Norwalk, Ohio.


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Laura Joslin – Tales of Tragedy

As we saw in my last post, Laura Tuttle, mother of Sarah Barnett of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, lost her father Arad Tuttle when she was around twenty years old. Her mother, Calista Tuttle, remarried soon after Arad passed away. Calista’s new husband was Daniel Harris, eight years her senior, and a constable in the town of Clyde, Ohio. This was his third marriage. In 1880, Calista and Laura lived with him at 108 Vine Street in Clyde. Laura’s sister Melissa had left home in 1877 when she had married a man named Guy North and went to live with him in Bellevue, Ohio in Huron County.

On November 3, 1886, Laura married James Barnett in Sandusky, Ohio. By this time she was twenty-nine, much older than was customary for women to marry in those days. What was she doing in Sandusky? James Barnett’s family were in the fishing industry, so there would have been no need for him to visit Clyde. It is more likely that Sarah had left Clyde sometime between 1880 and 1886 and had found employment in Sandusky.

In August of 1887, a daughter was born whom James and Laura named Lelia. She was followed two years later by another daughter, Sarah, the object of all these posts. Now that we have reached Sarah, let’s take another look at her family tree.


Most likely, Sarah never knew her father. He died within a year or two of her birth, leaving her mother Laura a single mom with two young girls to care for. What could Laura do in this situation? In those days, there were not many options for young widows with children. She could move back to Clyde and live with her mother and stepfather. Or she could look for another husband. She took a cue from her mother and chose the latter option, In 1892 she married Augustus Joslin, the superintendent of the Norwalk Waterworks (or retired superintendent, he was sixty-seven years old when he married Laura).

Augustus had lost his wife only a couple years before, so he must have been lonely. However, it seems strange (to me, at least) for a sixty-seven year old man to marry a thirty-six year old woman with two young girls. And how did it seem to Lelia and Sarah, growing up with a father who could have been their grandfather. Because they were so young when their biological father passed away, Augustus was probably the only father they had ever known. What kind of father was he? Unfortunately, I have found nothing in the records that would allow me to make a judgement.

By 1902, Augustus’s health began to fail, and after suffering for two years, nursed by his young wife, no doubt, he passed away the day after New Year’s, 1906. Laura now had a nice home at 117 West Main Street for herself and her girls, and, one would think, sufficient means to last her the rest of her life. Fortune had smiled on her, but soon she would have another ailing elder relative to care for, and in a little over a year, she would be shocked by a terrible tragedy, right in her own home. We’ll learn about that in my next post, titled “Temporary Derangement.”


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Cousins on the Frontier – Calista and Arad Tuttle

My previous post concluded with the introduction of two of Arad Tuttle’s (1766-1825) sons. In 1850, Erastus, age 60, and Wolcutt, age 58, owned farms in close proximity to each other in Green Creek Township, Ohio, near the town of Clyde. Wolcutt had the largest family with nine children and grandchildren. One of his daughters was Calista Tuttle, who in 1850 was twelve years old.

Life in the 1850s in northern Ohio was still not easy, and especially for women. The main social events remained cabin and barn raisings, log-rollings, wood-choppings, corn-huskings, and sewing and quilting parties, as I described in the “Social Life on the Frontier” post of the “Sufferers’ Land” series on this website.

As with Platt Benedict’s daughter Clarissa, it was probably during one of these social occasions that Calista Tuttle fell in love: with a cousin, Arad Tuttle, son of her uncle Erastus. Although today, many people consider this to be incestuous, it is actually consanguinity. Many people of the time married their cousins (and still do today in much of the world). Charles Darwin, for example, married his first cousin Emma.

In any event, Calista and Arad married in 1855 and set up housekeeping on a farm near their families. They were both seventeen years old. The year following their marriage, their first child was born, whom they christened Laura. Four years later, they had a second daughter Melissa.

We’ve now come to Sarah Barnett’s mother, Laura, so before we go further, let’s take a look at Sarah’s family tree.


As you see, we still have a death and a marriage to get through before we get to Laura, so let’s continue with Calista’s story.

In 1860, Arad was farming land worth $2,000. But by 1870, he had left the farm and was working as a railroad conductor. The family’s net worth had also fallen by half during that period. What was the cause of this financial decline? Was Arad not a good farmer? Or was it because he had no sons to help him on the farm?

Arad did not have a long life. I don’t know how he died, or even when, but by 1880, Calista was married to Daniel Harris, a constable in Clyde, Ohio. Laura lived with her mother and stepfather at this time, but Melissa had married in 1877 and moved with her husband to Bellevue. Laura would not stay in Clyde much longer, as we’ll see in my next post, Laura Joslin – Tales of Tragedy.


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Arad Tuttle and the Settlement of Sandusky County, Ohio

log-cabin-image Sarah Barnett’s great-great-great-great grandfather Arad Tuttle , whom I introduced in my last post, was a contemporary of Platt Benedict, founder of Norwalk, Ohio in 1817. Their stories of settlement on the frontier of northern Ohio must have been similar. However, whereas I had an abundance of information to draw from about Platt Benedict for the series of “Sufferers’ Land” posts on this site, few details are available about the story of Arad Tuttle and his family.

Although I have found no evidence, it seems that Arad Tuttle probably was among the first pioneers who in 1820 settled twenty miles west of Norwalk in Green Creek Township, located in Sandusky County, seven miles southwest of Clyde, Ohio. Many of his family came west with him, but  records are so sparse, I have not been able to figure out how many. Two of his children are important to Sarah’s family history–Wolcutt and Erasmus Tuttle–and we’ll look at them later in this and subsequent posts.

What was life on the frontier like for the Tuttle family? You can get an idea from the “Sufferers’ Land” series of posts on this website. But if you want an account closer in location to where the Tuttles lived, Sherwood Anderson, author of the novel Winesburg, Ohio, based on his youth in Clyde, gives the best account for my money. In Winesburg, Ohio he wrote this about a fictional family of early pioneers in the area where the Tuttle’s settled:

winesburg-ohio-sherwood-anderson-paperback-cover-artThe Bentley family had been in Northern Ohio for several generations before Jesse’s time. They came from New York State and took up land when the country was new and land could be had at a low price. For a long time they, in common with all the other Middle Western people, were very poor. The land they had settled upon was heavily wooded and covered with fallen logs and underbrush. After the long hard labor of clearing these away and cutting the timber, there were still the stumps to be reckoned with. Plows run through the fields caught on hidden roots, stones lay all about, on the low places water gathered, and the young corn turned yellow, sickened and died.

When Jesse Bentley’s father and brothers had come into their ownership of the place, much of the harder part of the work of clearing had been done, but they clung to old traditions and worked like driven animals. They lived as practically all of the farming people of the time lived. In the spring and through most of the winter the highways leading into the town of Winesburg were a sea of mud. The four young men of the family worked hard all day in the fields, they ate heavily of course, greasy food, and at night slept like tired beasts on beds of straw. Into their lives came little that was not coarse and brutal and outwardly they were themselves coarse and brutal. [1]

Arad Tuttle died in 1825 at the age of fifty-nine, perhaps worn down by the travails of life on the frontier. His sons continued the work he had begun, and by 1850, they owned several prosperous farms in close proximity to each other. [2]. And what was the reason for their relative wealth? A big factor had to be that they sired many children who could help work the land. According to the 1850 Census, Erastus, age 60, still had three children living at home, and his brother Wolcutt, age 58 had ten children and grandchildren. In my next post, Cousins on the Frontier: Calista and Arad Tuttle, I’ll focus on two of these men’s children, and explain why they are important to Sarah Barnett’s story.

[1] Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio,  1976, pp. 64-65

[2] U.S. Census, Green Creek, Sandusky, Ohio, 1850.

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Who Was Sara Joslin?

In my December 7 post, I celebrated the 110th anniversary of two intramural basketball games between the junior and senior classes of Norwalk High School. Newspaper articles in The Evening Standard and The Daily Reflector gave detailed accounts of the games, and the names and exploits of members of the boys’ and girls’ teams that played. One name on the senior girls’ team stood out to me. One newspaper reported a Sara Joslin, another Laura Joslin. But neither name appears in the commencement photo of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, nor in any newspaper accounts of the class. So who was she? In this post, I’ll explain how I solved this mystery, and how what it tells us about the institution of marriage, and the status of women, over a hundred years ago.


Sara Joslin in the Junior/Senior Study Hall, Norwalk High School, Spring of 1906

I began this series on the Class of 1907 by posting a photo dated 1906 of the Norwalk High School Senior Junior study hall that I had found ten years ago, in my grandmother’s (Harriott Wickham) papers. I had assumed that this was from the 1906-1907 school year, but looking at it again, I see names I recognize from the previous year, (Sophia Harkness, President of the Class of 1906, for one), so it must have been taken in the spring of 1906. Sara Joslin is in that photo, seated in the back of the room. I zoomed in on what I think is her likeness, and have tagged it with an arrow. Who was Sara and why doesn’t she appear in the commencement photo for the class?

Ancestry.com to the rescue. it didn’t take much digging to discover


Sarah Barnett

that Sarah Joslin was actually Sarah Barnett. She lived with her mother, Laura Joslin (which explains why “Sara” became “Laura” in the Evening Standard account of the December 7 basketball game), and her sister Lelia at 117 West Main Street.

The more I dug into Sarah’s family history, the more interesting it became, especially the stories of her mother, Laura Joslin and her grandmother Calista Harris. To begin the story though, we need to go back to Sarah’s great-great-great-great grandfather Arad Tuttle, an early pioneer of northwestern Ohio. He will be the subject of my next post.


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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.


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.



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.



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


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.





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.




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


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 a later post: “Who Was Sara Joslin?”

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