Monday, November 20, 2017


[Note: My mother's birthday was November 14. She would be 106; my how time flies...]

[Further Note: This is a long one, so I've split it at what may be an inappropriate point...]

The only picture I've ever seen of my mother's father
"Larry" was my mother's father. His name was Lawrence, and in fact, I don't know that he was ever called "Larry," though there are a few hints in the record that he was known as Riley, his middle name and the maiden name of his grandmother on his father's side.

When I researched the family history, I found that his grandfather Robert (a hatter, and probably quite mad) was married twice and both wives were named Mary Riley. How odd and interesting thought I. The one was about 20 years older than the other, and it appeared that Mary Riley the Elder died about a year before Mary Riley the Younger became Mrs. Robert. But -- and this is where it became interesting -- Mary Riley the Younger had lived in the household since she was a child. I've been in touch with some of "Larry's" other descendants, and the suspicion among them is that Mary Riley the Younger was Mary Riley the Elder's daughter by another man, and she was probably illegitimate. The alternative explanation was that Mary Riley the Younger was a serving girl recently arrived from Ireland who just happened to have the same name as her household mistress.

At any rate, she was the mother of Larry's father, David, and of two other children. There were four children by Mary Riley the Elder. Big families were the norm in those days.

Larry's paternal ancestors were (according to lore) originally French. They were Huguenots driven out during one of the Intolerances, and they wound up in England in the 1670s. About a century later, a branch decamped for America, settling first in Virginia, then in Kentucky, then, finally in Indiana in the 1840s. Descendants still live there. I of course do not and would not. Perhaps it's due to too much history.

Larry was born in 1878 but he claimed to be much younger than he was. His third wife, Marie, claimed he was 32 when he died horribly in 1916. He was actually 38. The likelihood is that he lied to her about his age, just as he used a false name on his marriage license to Marie.

I suspect he used a false name on the license because he was still legally married to my mother's mother, Edna, who had sued him for divorce in 1912, but that divorce may never have been granted. The record isn't clear.

On my mother's birth certificate issued in 1911, Larry lists his age as 31, and my mother's mother is listed as age 22. Neither is correct. Larry was 33 and Edna was 21.

At any rate, Edna claimed to be a widow-woman when she remarried in 1917. And before that, she claimed that Larry was a bigamist when he married Marie and fathered their daughter Helen in 1914.

For years, my mother claimed to have been born in 1914. She knew about Helen and she told me that Helen was only two years old when she, her mother, and Larry's St. Louis wife and daughter attended Larry's funeral in 1916. My mother was herself barely five at the time.

To put it charitably, Larry lived a brief but checkered life. He was the second youngest of six sons born to Caroline E. and David H. in Lebanon, Indiana, where David swanned about as Civil War veteran and newspaper publisher. Which was the more important aspect of his life is not entirely clear, but later, when most of the family moved to Indianapolis, David's veteran status helped him to secure a number of patronage positions with the state and federal governments.

So far as I can tell, the family's status was "solid middle class" -- neither poor nor rich -- and David's government service was the reason why. He seems to have made enough money to take care of his family well if not lavishly.

This is the family home in Indianapolis:

David H and family lived here
It's substantial but far from fancy. The neighborhood now is quite run down, My mother was apparently born at home in what was a boarding house of sorts just down the street from her father's parents' house. The boarding house is no longer standing. But so far as I know, my mother and her mother moved back to Ida's place soon after my mother's birth. Ida was my grandmother's mother, and her place was about a mile away. That house burned down and "the household of women" as my mother called it moved to another house next door that Ida owned.

Of David H's six sons, Hal, the oldest, became a printer in St. Louis where he moved about the time the rest of the family moved from Lebanon to Indianapolis (c. 1890). The next oldest, Frank, became a prominent attorney in Indianapolis. Edgar became a noted botanist who taught at Yale and later ran the Brooklyn Arboretum. Clyde became a railroad engineer for the Wabash Line. He was tragically killed in a hunting accident just after his son was born in 1894.

Lawrence was next, but I'll deal with him anon.

David's youngest son, George S, was perhaps the most successful of the lot. He became an accountant whose firm, founded in 1917, became one of the largest in Indiana. The firm merged with BDK in 2001, thus becoming one of the largest in the country.

And so to "Larry." As a prelude, I should mention that we have an orange cat we named Larry after the skeleton character in the Clash of the Clans game, the one that was always getting into trouble. That is a perfect description of Larry the Cat and Larry my mother's father. Always getting into trouble is not the half of it.

It's almost as if he couldn't help himself. His first arrest I found a record of was soon after the family moved to Indianapolis. I believe Larry was 13. He was arrested for stealing a bicycle.

And so it would go throughout the rest of his life.

The record isn't completely clear, but it seems that his father used his influence to get Larry off time and again when he got into scrapes with the law.

Larry's arrest in 1912, however, seems to have been the last straw. He was accused of breaking and entering and robbing a drug store. The owner, however, said he could find nothing missing, and Larry claimed (no doubt on a stack of bibles) that he wasn't the burglar, that he was merely waiting on the corner for a streetcar home when a (plainclothes?) constable came up to him with a gun drawn. Larry thought he was about to be robbed and ran away. A chase ensued through the streets of Downtown Indianapolis, the constable firing somewhat wildly, shattering several plate glass windows and causing considerable panic until two bicycle cops who knew Larry (of course they did) brought the chase to a halt and effected the arrest.

Exciting times. The last mention of this incident in the record is later that month (May, 1912) when Larry's case was scheduled to be presented to the Grand Jury. What happened then, I don't know, but given the fact that Edna, my mother's mother, sued him for divorce in August of the same year, and he disappears from Indianapolis altogether toward the end of 1913 (there are a few social listings for him during 1913, visiting various members of his extended family, and I think attending the wedding of one relative out of town) I suspect his father got him off one way or another.

But I also suspect his father (and probably his mother, too) told him it was his last chance and told him to get out of town. St. Louis would be good, eh? Why not? Larry's older brother Hal was there as was Larry's first wife Maud, now married to... Hal, Larry's older brother. Larry could start anew -- with family present -- and forget all the trouble he'd gotten into in Indianapolis. And forget all the other women, too.

Well, I don't know enough about that -- just that he had three kids by his first wife Maud, plus a son by the high school girl, a daughter (my mother) by Edna, and he would have another daughter by the wife he married in St. Louis in 1914, forgetting those other women in Indianapolis.

My grandmother Edna was dead by the time I was born, and my mother didn't tell me a whole lot about her. Edna's death in 1941 was traumatic for my mother, and she never really got over it. One thing she did tell me, however, was that her mother worked for a time as a servant, and she hated it. She didn't tell me the context, so I didn't know any of the details, but one day, my mother's birth certificate showed up on, and sure enough, Edna's employment is listed as "domestic." This suggests to me that she was working as a servant while she was married to Larry and while she was pregnant with my mother. No wonder she hated it. I wish I knew who she worked for. I suspect it could have been Larry's parents -- who lived just down the street from Larry's rooms.

Indianapolis, though gritty, dirty, smoky and very industrial in those days, was still in some ways a smallish town where many extended families were clustered and many residents knew one another. As it happened, the man my mother's mother would marry after Larry's death lived almost next door to the rooming house where Larry lived and my mother was born. Small world.

Larry's life in Indianapolis was chaotic and filled with trouble, at least as far as I can tell from the surviving record. That record shows he was arrested several times for burglary, and that he was notorious among his streetcar company colleagues for breaking and entering and burglarizing their homes. He worked in many capacities for the railroad as well as serving as a streetcar conductor when he wasn't doing railroad work. His father apparently got him a patronage position with the City of Indianapolis as a milk inspector which ended after less than a year when a new mayor was elected.

I was told very little about Larry, and I doubt my mother knew very much in any case. Because of his wild life and black sheep reputation, I imagine her mother told my mother little, and what she had to say about him was probably uncomplimentary at best.

My mother said she vague memories about him, and she could say little about what she remembered. She recalled his funeral rather clearly, though. Though she was only five at the time and she didn't remember it was in St. Louis, not Indianapolis, she remembered the church and the sparsely filled pews, and most of all she remembered the "scandal" of  Marie and Helen, Larry's other wife and daughter.

More than likely she knew nothing about Virgil, Larry's son by that high school girl Julia, born a few months before my mother was. Certainly, I knew nothing about him.

I have long thought that Larry was murdered, even when I knew nothing about his residence in St. Louis and his work in the Wabash rail yard as a switchman that led to his death. My mother believed that he was working in Indianapolis as a streetcar conductor when he was crushed between the cars. That was the term she used. I saw the event as a potential murder staged as an accident. It would be fairly easy to do, no? My suspicion was that Larry had been on the outs with the Company, perhaps due to his likely labor agitation (there was a big strike of Indianapolis streetcar workers in 1913 during which a number of people were killed and transportation in the upper midwest was crippled.)

But when I found out Larry was killed in the Wabash rail yard in St. Louis ("body cut in two" according to his death certificate) when a refrigerator car slammed into a freight car -- Larry caught in between -- the theory that he'd been murdered went out the window. For a while.

Then I learned that the yard boss married Marie after Larry's death. Oh. Well. Maybe....?

Maybe it wasn't an accident after all. It's clear enough that Larry made numerous enemies in his short life, and it's certainly possible that the Wabash yard boss was one of them. I don't know.  But there's more than a little likelihood...

If the rail yard incident was a staged "accident" then that would mean that both my mother's father and her grandfather on her mother's side were murder victims. That's a heavy burden to bear. The question I can't answer is whether she was aware of how her grandfather died before she was born and how ambiguous her father's death was given the fact that her father's other widow then married the man responsible for routing the rail cars in the yard.

Finally, I'd just add that around 1983, I worked briefly in a suburb of St. Louis and used my free time exploring the area. I was fascinated. During my explorations, I drove past that rail yard (it's still there) and past the cemetery where my grandfather Larry is buried -- though I didn't know anything about their significance at the time. I got a strange feeling, though. Oh yes. Ultimately, I really wanted to get out of there, and have never had a wish to return.

Genetic memory? Who knows?

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