Sunday, October 5, 2014

No Wonder She Never Spoke of Her People

Herself, c. 1930
The picture of my mother was taken when she was about 19. In her day, she was considered quite a beauty, and she liked the picture well enough that she had it enlarged and mounted into one of those photo folders that people had in those day. I don't know what happened to the original one as I no longer have it, but I can recall seeing it on the mantle or on a bookshelf from a very early age. I've seen pictures of her taken in the 1930s posing by her snazzy '34 Dodge roadster or in a garden filled with flowers, and to my eyes, she was stunning. She must have turned a lot of heads. In this photo, though, she appears to be so... sad.

She sometimes hesitated to speak of her people, who she came from, but she did speak of them now and then. She wasn't entirely silent. It's just that I don't think she really knew very much, especially about her biological father. She was told about him, but she said she never knew him and didn't remember what he looked like. She had no pictures of him. And I don't think she even knew his first name.

She knew his last name. She used it on some official documents, but most of the time, she used her step-father's last name as her maiden name.  It was much easier to do so, but I don't think he ever adopted her legally. I'm not entirely sure that her mother was legally married to her biological father, either.

What I've found in the records -- and I'm surprised at how much there is online -- is a pretty tangled up story, so this may run long as I try to unravel it.

My mother's father's first name was Lawrence or Laurence (he used both) and he was probably called "Larry" as that's what one of the references I found said he was known as. He was born in September of 1878 in Lebanon, Indiana, a little burg outside of Indianapolis. His father, David, was a Civil War veteran with the Indiana Volunteers who had a civil service position with the federal pension office, and later became a land agent with the state of Indiana. He had six sons.

Larry was the second youngest. He apparently showed a great deal of promise when he was a boy. He was on his elementary school honor roll time and again for perfect attendance and scholarship, and he was engaged in all kinds of activities including appearing in a school pageant recreating a battle in the Civil War when he was 8 or 9 years old.

His family moved to Indianapolis not too long afterwards, around 1889. Larry's oldest brother, Harold, went to St. Louis around 1890 where he worked as a printer and later as a linotype operator for the big circulation daily, the Globe-Democrat. Larry's other brothers, George, Edgar, Clyde and Frank became distinguished in their own way.

Well, except for Clyde. Clyde was working on the railroad, as an up and coming engineer for the CW&M RR out of Wabash when he went hunting with some friends in November of 1898. He'd been married for less than a year and had a six week old son. According to newspaper reports, he accidentally shot himself in the shoulder with his shotgun. The wound was apparently frightful, the only answer being to amputate his left arm at the shoulder, but it wasn't enough to save him. He died at the age of 26, barely settled in as a husband and father.

David's other sons, however, went on and did very well for themselves indeed.

George founded and operated a prominent accounting firm in Indiana which later merged with one of the largest national firms.

Edgar became a distinguished botanist who traveled all over the country and the world. Later he would join his brother's accounting firm, and later still, he would become a real estate investor in Florida where he died at the ripe old age of 101.

Frank was a lawyer who founded a respected legal firm in Indianapolis, the very belly of the beast as it were. He was apparently quite well known for his tenacity in court and in life. Frank and his wife Edna were the ones I found a record of years ago, and because my mother's mother's name was Edna, too, I thought maybe Frank was my mother's biological father.

But I was wrong.

Her father was Larry -- or Lawrence or Laurence -- the black sheep of the family. Larry was practically the definition of Black Sheep.

After doing very well in school in Lebanon, Larry embarked on the life of a rowdy in Indianapolis, the Big City. The first record of arrest I found for him was in 1893 when he was 15. He was arrested with an accomplice named Lyle Justice (oh, the irony) for a string of burglaries in Indianapolis. I don't know how that case was decided as I found no record of followup.

Larry married for the first -- and possibly the only legal -- time in 1896 or 1897 (accounts vary as they will do in this kind of research) to a young woman named Maud who would later -- after her divorce from Larry -- live with the Justice family, and still later she would move to St. Louis and marry Larry's oldest brother Harold, or at least live as his wife. As I said, it's a tangled web.

Maud was the mother of three of Larry's six children. That is, three of the six that I've found so far. There may be more. Who knows? He got around, Larry did. Maud gave birth to Larry's sons George and David, both of whom would eventually move to California, and one of whom, George, would come visit my mother in Los Angeles after she tracked him down somehow. I have no idea how she found him, as he'd changed his name "professionally" and I believe was calling himself Frank King at the time, but officially, he still went by his birth name. At any rate, I recall him coming to visit when I was seven or eight, and for hours and hours he and my mother chatted away about all the things they didn't know about their father.

Maud was also the mother of Florence who went to live with Larry's brother Frank and his wife Edna after Edna apparently had a miscarriage or stillbirth and Larry and Maud had divorced. The boys stayed with Larry for a while, and then were raised by their grandparents as far as I could find out. They didn't, so far as I know, go with Maud -- who had quite a life herownself.

My grandmother Edna (not Frank's wife, the Other Edna) enters this picture sometime around 1907, which would be around the time that Larry and Maud were divorced. Edna was about 17. She claimed to be married to Larry, but I have only found evidence of Larry's legal marriage to Maude, not to anyone else. And so far as I can tell, Edna and Larry never actually lived together, never lived as husband and wife at all. Which would explain why my mother had so few memories of him.

For example, during the time that Larry was supposedly married to my grandmother Edna, he was reported to be squiring around the countryside with his wife and son David visiting friends and relatives. Which wife he's with isn't clarified as her first name isn't mentioned in the reports, but David was Maud's son. For her part, Maud was going visiting, too. She took a trip to St. Louis around 1908 to visit Larry's older brother Harold, for example. These things were commonly noted in the papers at the time, and I keep finding more and more of them. After Larry's death, Maud would live as Harold's wife. But they would separate before Harold died, and he would marry a very young woman named Lillian who was his wife when he died in 1940. The last record of Maud I've found was also in 1940. She was living as a servant in the household of a family in Indianapolis who I otherwise have no information on but they are probably tangled up in this saga somehow as well.

My mother was born in November of 1911. According to what I have found in the research, another woman in Indianapolis gave birth to a son Virgil in March of 1911, and claimed that Larry was the boy's father. This report comes from Virgil's descendants, however, and I don't know how it was determined that Larry was Virgil's father. We'll leave that an open question for the time being, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Virgil were Larry's son by another woman, a woman he was seeing at the same time he was supposedly married to my grandmother.

Edna was living with her mother and two aunts and her brother and a cousin a mile or so from Larry's parents' home where Larry was living with his sons in 1910. Later, Larry would move down the street where he was living with another family next door to relatives of the man who would become my mother's stepfather. How tangled does it get?

In May of 1912, Larry was arrested after a foot chase through the mean streets of downtown Indianapolis. Shots were fired by Larry's pursuer, and a plate glass window at a restaurant was broken. Larry was apprehended and charged with burglary of a drugstore. He denied the charge but he was suspected in a long string of burglaries in his neighborhood, as well as other petty crimes. The case was turned over to the grand jury, and I don't know the disposition, but soon after, Larry was gone from Indianapolis.

In August of 1912, my grandmother Edna filed for divorce from Lawrence, but again, I don't know the disposition. After Larry was killed, Edna claimed to be a widow, and as far as I know, she never mentioned to my mother that she had divorced Larry before he died.

My mother believed that her father was a streetcar conductor in Indianapolis who died in a collision when he was crushed between the cars. That's the story she told me, and she said that's the way she heard it from her mother.

Only Larry wasn't in Indianapolis and he wasn't working as a streetcar conductor when he was killed. He was in St. Louis working for the Wabash RR at the St. Louis Avenue yards as a freight train switchman. According to news reports of his death, on December 19, 1916, a refrigerator car collided with another freight car in the yards. Larry was between them and died.

His death certificate states that he died from "shock and injuries" from the collision -- with the following note in parens below:

"(Body cut in two.)"
Oh my.

No wonder his then-wife Marie filled out the death certificate with a very shaky hand, and according to her statements on the certificate, she knew very little about her husband, not even his correct age.

After Larry disappeared from the records in Indianapolis, he doesn't turn up again until a daughter by Marie named Helen is born in 1914. His brother Harold had been in St. Louis since about 1890, and there are other relatives there as well, some of them working on the railroad. Larry's brother Clyde had been a railroad engineer in Wabash, Indiana, when he died, and Larry worked as a railroad switchman in St. Louis for the Wabash line. During his working life, Larry had held all kinds of jobs in Indianapolis, including that of streetcar conductor, milk inspector, railroad brakeman, and so on. He seemed to work most often as a conductor, but he's listed in many other positions in the city directories. Every year, he seemed to be doing something different.

Of course, given his tendency to burgle and womanize, and doG knows what all else he did, it's probably little wonder he didn't hold a position for very long.

I have to believe that his arrest in 1912 was a turning point in Larry's life. He wasn't a child anymore, he was 34 (though his age is reported to be 30 in the news item of his arrest.) He had several children, perhaps five or more, a couple of wives, and he hadn't settled down. Not even close. When he was arrested, he was living with a family down the street from his parents' house and next door to a family from which my mother's step-father, Edna's second husband, would come. My mother believed that her step-father had been a friend of Larry's and a working colleague on the streetcar line -- which may be true -- but Larry was also accused of burglarizing his neighbors, so I doubt that he and my mother's step-father were particularly close.

My mother's step-father -- his name was Leo, but he went by a nickname I've forgotten -- was the nephew of Alex who headed the household next door to where Larry was living in 1912 when he was arrested. Leo's parents and siblings were living a few blocks away at the time. Leo was living with his parents in 1910, and it's likely that he was visiting his family down the street. It's just as likely that he knew Larry's relations in the neighborhood as well. My grandmother Edna and her mother and aunts were living a half-hour's walk or less from the section of town where Larry and his parents and Leo and his relations were living, and it would have been a ten minute ride on a streetcar.

I've Googled many of the addresses listed for these people and other relations in Indianapolis and other cities, and not surprisingly, many of them aren't there any more. It was a long time ago, after all. The house where Larry was living in 1912 when he was arrested is gone. The site is a vacant lot. The house where Leo's uncle and family were living is still there but it's an abandoned ruin. The house were Larry's parents were living is still there and it's currently home to a family (at least as of the latest Google street view taken in June of this year.) The house where Edna and her relations were living is gone, replaced in 1915 with fire station.  The station is not operating, but it's still there and serves the fire department's historians.

The house where Larry and his wife Marie and daughter Helen were living in St. Louis when he was killed has been replaced with a freeway off ramp. But the St. Louis Avenue railyards are still there. From the overhead view, it looks like it's a Superfund site, as I can well imagine.

Larry was killed in St. Louis in December of 1916 when my mother was five years old. She recalled that at the funeral, Larry's "other family" showed up and it was a great scandal. She said she remembered that there was a little girl named Helen with the other mother, and she felt so sorry for her. She remembered this happening in Indianapolis, but Larry's funeral was in St. Louis where he is buried. Maybe my mother and her mother went to St. Louis for the funeral, and maybe they were the "other family" and such scandal as there was was because of them. I don't know.

But within a few months of Larry's death, Edna and my mother Virginia, and Larry's friend Leo left Indianapolis for California and never looked back. I'd been told that Leo and Edna were married in Indianapolis, but I found a marriage certificate that said they were married in Santa Ana, California, in October of 1917. Edna declared herself to be a widow at that time and she used Larry's last name, which she did not do in Indianapolis. Leo had never been married.

I'm not entirely sure, but I believe they arrived in California in June of 1917, and they were already settled in Santa Maria where Leo went to work as a mechanic for the German proprietor of an automobile dealership. He would become a service station proprietor on his own account. Later he would become a mining engineer in Reno. He worked at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard as a machinist during WWII, and he owned a motor court in Willits when he died in 1945.
I found additional information about him, and the "motor court" story is not quite what I was told or remembered. I'll try to unravel it. Leo  worked in California as a mechanic for an auto dealer. Then, by 1930, he had his own service station. Then he bought a motor court and service station and moved to Willits, probably after my mother was married for the first time. In 1939, he sold the business in Willits and moved to Reno, where he claimed to be a mining engineer for an outfit that may have been just him. That venture seems not to have done well, and in 1941, he's in Vallejo working at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard as a machinist. He died in 1945 in Sonoma. How he got there or what he was doing there, I don't know.

Edna died in 1941 in Vallejo while Leo was working at Mare Island. She had cancer and could not be -- or was not -- treated in time to save her life.

On at least one occasion, Ida, Edna's mother, came out to California to visit. My sister was about seven or eight when Ida came calling sometime in the late '30s, and she remembered her as quite a character, sharp-tongued and funny. My sister thought she was British. Ida was in Chicago with her son Ralph (Edna's brother) in 1917, but she went back to Indianapolis at some point where she lived with her sisters again, and she died in Indianapolis, sometime before 1940. She had been a widow since 1904.

My mother died in 1987. It was only after her death that I became very curious about her biological father who died when she was so young. I don't know if she knew her father had been a petty and apparently habitual criminal. If she did, she never said anything about it. She knew he had another family, but I don't know if she knew how many children he sired, or how many "other families" there were. There are hints in the records I've found that he may have been a drug addict; if so, it might explain some of his behavior. His character was certainly quite different from that of his brothers. From what I can tell at this distance, his parents were very staid and were probably mortified by his actions and behavior. I expect it was their decision to send him to St. Louis to get right with himself and build a decent life and to get away from the bad habits and the bad crowd he was running with in Indianapolis. It seems he may have tried to do that, but fate intervened. I haven't been able to read the full motto on his gravestone, but the last line is "Duty called and took a life." Indeed.

His death was gruesome and I'm not sure my mother really knew how horrible it had been, that he'd died in pieces, not unlike some of the soldiers who were being slaughtered in Europe at the time.

I'm not sure my mother knew that his life was pretty wild -- apart from the "scandal" she knew about, the "scandal" of his other family, which she always thought was at the other end of the streetcar line.

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