Category Archives: History

Articles on local history for the Grand Traverse Region. Local histories reveal the social and cultural conditions that shaped a community. Articles in this feature can range from topics as diverse as the construction of transportation systems and buildings to the operation of businesses and social clubs.

“How the Good Times Rolled” provides insight, evidence for leisure activities of the past

Sheet music cover, from Liz Bannister Music Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

“Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” is the phrase the old folks tell me is appropriate for the morning attitude (ugh), but despite how you tackle the day, each of us has our hours to fill. Perhaps you will accomplish some daily chores, get in a little of your paying gig, and generally let the time go to waste. Or, you can take a cue from the new book, How the Good Times Rolled by author and Grand Traverse Journal editor Richard Fidler, and live it up like we once did.

Nostalgia is a driving force behind this work, as well as Fidler’s typical curiosity for the things we take for granted. Fingering modern technology as the culprit, Fidler discusses briefly in the introduction a common lament that is heard on the street, that people seem to have lost the ability to engage in conversation, to have spontaneous fun, or to make time for new activities.

This lament begs the questions, “How were things different ‘way back when’? How did people enjoy themselves?”

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show on parade, Traverse City, 1898. Image from the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

Using a variety of sources, including diaries and other personal accounts, contemporary newspapers, and the archives of various clubs and social groups, Fidler sought to answer these questions. Each chapter provides some brief history about the given subject, from outdoor sports to celebrations. I found his writing to be read easily with children as well, rather lively and engaging. Interestingly, Fidler found “the Traverse region does mirror the social milieu of America generally,” despite the region’s relative isolation and lack of diversity.

The real beauty of this volume is the quality and quantity of photographs used to illustrate this social history. A passing familiarity with photographs taken in the late 1800s to the early 1900s leaves one with the impression that people Just. Didn’t. Smile. But Fidler has plumbed the depths of several amazing collections, from the Benzie Museum and Historical Society, the Leelanau Museum and Historical Society, and the Traverse Area Historical Society collection held at Traverse Area District Library, to reveal a significant truth: people of the past loved having fun!

Ladies drinkin’. Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

Some especially notable images are those of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, a traveling attraction that visited Traverse City in 1898; images of people enjoying libations and other vices (even during Prohibition); sheet music covers from the famed Liz Bannister collection, depicting popular dances; and amazing action images of horse racing, bicycling, and sailing (and ice boats, too!)

“Speedboat Race” at Grand Traverse Bay, Orson W. Peck colored photographic postcard. From the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

I recommend treating yourself to the hardcover edition, which contains both color and black-and-white images. Again, this is fun to read with others or alone, and any age group will find something within to marvel at. If you have a summer home around these parts, this would be especially nice to take back to your winter residence as a coffee table book.

Whether you want to learn more about the past, or reminisce about how it was “way back when,” How the Good Times Rolled: What We Did for Fun Before the Digitial Age is the book for you! Available at local booksellers and Amazon.

One-Room Schools a Hundred Years Ago: Of Study Time, Recitations, and Recess

In the early years of the twentieth century rural students attended one-room schools from kindergarten through eighth grade.   A single classroom teacher would teach as many as forty-five children beginning in September and extending until May or June, with only a few weeks of vacation at Christmas, spring break, and a few holidays such as Christmas and New Years.  Through the 1950’s such schools continued to educate children in this manner, and many persons remember them to this day, often with fond recollections of their school days.  Only after the passage of legislation to consolidate rural schools in 1965 did they disappear in Michigan—as they did nearly simultaneously elsewhere (with exceptions for isolated communities).  Now, as memorials to the past, they grace the countryside as unoccupied or transformed buildings, each with a school bell tower presiding over an abandoned schoolyard.

As a former secondary teacher, I became fascinated with the education conducted in one-room schools.   If I felt overwhelmed preparing lessons for five classes of 14-15 year-olds every day with only two different preparations, then how could a single teacher prepare lessons for eight different grades (plus kindergarten) for as many as six different subjects?  What magic would she–the feminine pronoun is intended since most primary teachers were young women–work to keep such a diverse group of children on task for six hours of instructional time every day?  Can modern teachers learn something from practices long abandoned and nearly forgotten?  I resolved to find out.

I identified sources that would help me learn about one-room schools. One of them–oral histories of both students and teachers preserved online–provided glimpses into the way distant memories were recorded and remembered today.  Students would remember the pot-bellied stove, the ringing of the school bell, the outhouses, the games played at recess, patriotic pictures that adorned the walls, and the teacher’s manner of dealing with students.  Teachers remembered starting the fire early in the morning, walking or riding to school on wintry days, the clean-up chores at the end of the day, and interactions with individual students.  Both groups felt a strong sense of belongingness, solidarity, a family-like atmosphere inside the classroom.  Older students would help younger ones, and the teacher as well when it came to doing school chores.  Certainly there were exceptions—it was not a perfect family after all, but in general, it worked: children received an education and the teacher administered the process.

What kind of education was it these children—our grandparents and great-grandparents—received?  In one-room schoolhouses, students were busy doing two things when they were not enjoying an hour’s lunch and two recesses, morning and afternoon: they studied at their desks or they were called forward to recite.  Recitation has a peculiar meaning in school jargon: it is not simply reciting something memorized (such as a poem), but has to do more with demonstrating proficiency in a task given by the teacher.  Recitations could involve reciting a poem, but more often they were about reading aloud, answering questions posed by the teacher or the textbook, working arithmetic problems, displaying an example of good penmanship, or copying out a list of state capitols from a geography book.  Study time was just that: the time spent between recitations in reading, working arithmetic problems, answering questions based on written passages, or practicing penmanship.  Classrooms, while not stony silent, were relatively quiet places with the teacher up front with a group that was doing their recitations, while the rest of the class engaged in the tasks laid out for them.

For the most part, those tasks depended on written passages in textbook readers as well as problems and drills given in arithmetic texts, one for each level.  Some schools were divided up into eight separate grades, a nightmare of organization for the teacher who had to keep each child busy during study time.  Other classes had three levels, beginners, middle, and high level, the highest being for older students who were preparing the eighth grade graduation examination that was required as a salutary end to one’s schooling or else for entry into high school.  For a time the eighth grade tests were written by officials at the county level, but later they came from the State Department of Education in Lansing.  By today’s standards, they were not easy.  Readers will find a comparison of modern and early eighth grade tests here.

How were recitations scheduled during the school day?  Albert Salisbury in his 1911 book School Management proposes 22 of them covering all subjects, each lasting ten minutes.   Beginners receive more recitations than older students because of the urgency of getting them up to speed in reading.  The most difficult subjects come early in the day when the mind is fresh, the less demanding ones later in the afternoon.  A regular tide-like alternation of recitation and study was preferred to create a sense of order.   So it was that groups of students circulated in the classroom, often in response to a verbal or nonverbal cue to call children up to the front for recitation.  It is a wonder that the system worked with such precision and military-like discipline.  Sometimes, no doubt, it did not.

Another source of information about teaching and learning in one-room schools comes from teacher grade books.  I have looked at two of them from Kingsley, Michigan, one recording student attendance and achievement between 1894 and 1902, and another containing records from 1908 to 1912.  In each of them, the elegant handwriting of several teachers tells of pupils’ names, ages, deportment (behavior), and attendance over the course of the year, sometimes giving the reasons for absence.  The later one gives the grade levels of each student as well as her/his academic achievement in each subject,  presented through monthly grades.  Teacher recommendations about promotion to the next grade are recorded in the last entry for the spring term.  These registers provide a rare glimpse into education conducted in one-room schools at the turn of the century.

Examining them carefully, several facts stand out from the outset: students vary in age from 5 to as old as 18; age is not always connected to grade level as it is nowadays—a thirteen-year old can be working at a fifth or sixth grade level, for example; class sizes vary both from year to year and by time of the year; attendance can be erratic with some students missing many days over the course of the year.  With regard to the last point, October and the spring months had the most absences—perhaps because of harvest in the fall and planting duties in the spring.  Some students—especially those 14 and older–tended to leave school in April and May, sometimes never to return.  No doubt they were working, or else had given up on their plan to finish eighth grade.  At a time when work was plentiful for those who had not finished primary school, quitting school was a reasonable decision.

Academic information is not given in the traditional A-F format, but is displayed as monthly scores for each subject.  In general, they indicate fair to high achievement; it is nearly impossible to find scores less than 70.  Younger children—five and six years old—are given assessments through descriptions: “excellent,” “very good,” or “good.”  When deportment is noted in the registers, it is described similarly: it is very difficult to find deportment grades less than “good”—most were “excellent.”  Evidently, teachers were satisfied with the behavior of their students, though an occasional comment such as “Moved away—much to the relief of all” indicates that the children were not all perfect in deportment.

Other comments shine a light on what life in a one-room school was like at this time in our history: “Very bright and faithful student.”  “Exceptionally bright but irregular in attendance because of lameness.”  “Very slow to learn or do anything else.”  “A downright bad girl.”  “Quarantined –typhoid fever.”  “Has St. Vitus dance.”  “This boy was 16 years old the day school opened.  He does not need to go to school anymore.” “Will not come in cold weather—has to walk 3 ½ miles.”  The diversity of pupils stands out from this selection of comments.

What was taught in one-room schools?  For one thing, the curriculum depended on the age of the student—younger ones concentrating on the usual Reading, Spelling, Writing, and Arithmetic—with older ones adding Geography, Grammar, and Physiology to that list.   Physiology was not just about the human body: it discussed various topics relating to health, especially focusing on abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.  Students preparing for the eighth grade examinations knew they would be tested on these subjects, and spent study time in class reading from appropriate textbooks. Their success on the examinations would be great source of pride for them and their parents.  In some schools, there were graduation ceremonies from eighth grade that underlined the importance of finishing primary school.

From a modern point of view, it is impossible to deny the advantages of one-room schools, just as it is impossible to deny their shortcomings.  Above all, school is a social enterprise: it informs children as to what things count the most in society, reinforces the socializing influences of the family, and teaches right and wrong.  Moral education, while sounding quaint in modern parlance, underlines the role of the school in this regard.  Even now, while often unexpressed in mission statements, it is seen as an important—some would say the most important function of schools.  For many citizens, it may overshadow the expressed mission of schools–which often has to with academic achievement.

Based upon the memories of those who experienced it, one-room schooling was extraordinarily successful in children’s moral education.  Former students remember older students helping younger ones, the strict rules laid down for conduct, the sharing of resources when resources were scarce, the fun times during recess and holiday celebrations, the strong arms of older boys in loading a potbelly stove that kept the room warm in winter.  The classroom was a family, not always perfect in conduct or in effort, but a family nevertheless, a body of individuals that cared about each other.   By contrast, modern elementary schools consist of a body of students brought by school buses to a location not necessarily close to where children live.  Parental contact is limited to occasional parent-teacher conferences, email exchanges, and rare phone calls.  Teachers do not know families in the same manner they did a hundred years ago.

This is not to say that one-room schooling is a good model for education.  A hundred years ago, academic training was largely built upon memorization and the mastery of skills.  Now we know that children can do more than write neatly, learn to spell correctly, read textbooks, and do arithmetic problems that do not require understanding of mathematical principles.  By eighth grade we ask students to answer questions inquiring about the evidence used to back up an argument, demonstrate the scientific method, and work math problems that go beyond rote performance of skills such as long division.  Schoolwork is not easier than it used to be—in some ways more demands are placed on young people.  Memorizing lists of spelling words during class time is an easier task than identifying the theme of a written passage.

One-room schooling placed inordinate demands on teachers.  Few of them stayed in a position for longer than two or three years.  Not only was the salary inadequate, but the work demanded a commitment to the job few people are able to give.  Relying on young, bright women to staff schools between their high school graduation and marriage was a practice that could not be sustained.  As soon as other jobs opened up for them, they took them, leaving the low salaries, lack of respect, and overwork behind.  In part, the era of one-room schooling ended because of this change in values in society.

Still, we think of the one-room school as a delightful artifact of a bygone age.  We imagine it reflected values that underlie a fair and decent society–caring for the young, fostering independence, sharing resources, accepting discipline, and mastering reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Indeed, in some ways it did, but at a cost of students filling countless hours with exercises in drudgery.  Harried teachers as young as eighteen or twenty rarely reached the high standards demanded today—a few months in normal school would qualify them to teach.  Shoddy buildings and poorly designed instructional materials were hardly sufficient for a fine education.  No provision was made for students that were different—physically, mentally, or emotionally.  Attendance could be sporadic due to the weather, work required at the farm, disinterest in studies, illness and disability.  The United States left one-room schools behind for good reason: they failed to satisfy the need of society for better-educated young people. We should look upon them as but one step along a pathway that leads to a well-educated citizenry, a pathway we are still following.

Schools of the Past and Schools of Today: Which is Better? Comparing old and modern eighth grade tests

Looking at examinations given a hundred years ago or more, most people gasp at the complexity of the questions and wonder how present-day students would do if presented with the same challenges.  At the same time, they wonder how children a hundred years ago would fare on modern assessments.  Below are samples of test items from eighth grade tests in mathematics and reading, the questions taken from a graduation test administered in 1919 and from a recent set of practice questions offered by the Michigan Department of Education in the second decade of the 21st century.

Here is a segment of a test in 8th grade arithmetic, given to all eighth graders in Michigan in 1919.


Here are three sample items from the current Michigan Department of Education (MDE) assessment in 8th grade mathematics.

  1. Joe solved this linear system correctly.
    6x +3y = 6
    y = -2x + 2
    These are the last two steps of his work.
    6x – 6x + 6 = 6
    6 = 6
    Which statement about this linear system must be true?
    A. x must equal 6
    B. y must equal 6
    C. There is no solution to this system.
    D. There are infinitely many solutions to this system.
  2. Write one number on each space to create an equation that has no solution.

8x – 3x + 22  –  x =  ___x + ___

  1. Segment FG begins at point F (-2, 4) and ends at point G (-2, -3). The segment is translated by <x – 3, y + 2).> and then reflected across the y axis to form a segment F’G’.
    How many units long is segment F’G’?
    A. 0
    B. 2
    C. 3
    D. 7

What follows is the 1919 test in reading given to all Michigan eighth graders.

Columbus
by Joaquin Miller

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores,
Before him only shoreless seas.

The good mate said: “Now we must pray,
For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Admiral, speak, what shall I say?”
“Why, say, ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ ”

“My men grow mutinous day by day;
My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.

“What shall I say, brave Admiral, say,
If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day,
‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ ”

They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
Should I and all my men fall dead.

These very winds forget their way,
For God from these dead seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Admiral, speak and say” —
He said, “Sail on! sail on! and on!”

They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
“This mad sea shows his teeth tonight.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
With lifted teeth, as if to bite!

Brave Admiral, say but one good word:
What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
“Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”

Then pale and worn, he kept his deck,
And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck —
A light! a light! at last a light!

It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”

Below is a sample item from the current MDE test in reading, given to all Michigan eighth graders .

One obvious difference between old and modern tests is the format.  Older tests ask students to write out answers, while modern ones ask them to choose the right answer from four choices.   A hundred years ago, students were asked to write and calculate on test paper, while today they are primarily tasked with filling in bubbles on machine-graded tests.

Another difference, not apparent here, is the way the tests are administered.  Until recently, students had to give answers with pencils and on paper.  Now, they do the tests online, though they are allowed paper for figuring and planning.  In a recent year, ninety-eight percent of students taking Michigan assessments read items on screens rather than on paper.  The change-over from paper-and-pencil is nearly complete.

Lest we imagine that modern tests demand less in thinking and reasoning, it is the older tests that require students to memorize such facts as the number of yards in rod, for example.  Memorization plays a small role in modern mathematics tests.

Both mathematics tests are skills-based: that is, they both ask students to DO something, rather than produce a right answer through memorization.  The skills required are different, however.  The early test asks students to demonstrate mastery of practical problems through calculation and reasoning, while the later test asks them to demonstrate a mastery of mathematical principles together with the jargon associated with them: a system of linear equations, translation and reflection, an infinite number of solutions.  Modern mathematics education is about addressing the foundations of mathematics with a certain amount of rigor.

A modern reading test shows a similar emphasis on mastering reading skills that go beyond understanding basic content.  Not reprinted here, one example set of questions begins with a 1000 word excerpt from a published biography of Ansel Adams, the photographer.  After reading it, students are asked broad questions about the theme of the piece and the author’s purpose, asking them to supply evidence to support their answer choices.  In the question printed above, students are not simply asked to define words, but are required to insert rough synonyms into a sentence to see if they express the same meaning.  Always, an effort is made to avoid memorization.

By contrast, the old reading test, requires less reading in the first place.  It apparently allows students to work on questions on their own, since they are told to give a biographical sketch of the author of the poem, Columbus, and to locate geographical places mentioned in the poem.  Such a thing would not be permitted in a modern test.

Subjects tested in eighth grade have changed, too.  The Michigan Department of Education tests mathematics and reading every year, and science and social studies on alternate years.  Unlike in former times, an emphasis is placed on extracting information from graphs, interpreting text, identifying supporting evidence for conclusions, and applying concepts to new situations.  Older tests value content and memorization: the directive to write from memory a stanza of the poem Columbus reminds us of this fact.

A class at the old Central Grade School ca. 1911. Louis Petertyl is identified on the back of the image as being the second boy from the left.

The 1919 test administered to eighth graders in Michigan examined far more areas than modern tests do. Sections of the test included agriculture, arithmetic, mental arithmetic, civil government (county, state, and local), geography (world and national), grammar, orthography (word usage), spelling, penmanship, physiology (mostly health and the human body), and history (national).  To be fair, modern reading tests do not neglect grammar, orthography, or spelling, though less emphasis may be placed on any of these areas.  Also, a section of the present MDE assessment includes a writing sample to be graded on elements of style, grammar, spelling, and composition.

In recent years the writing portion has been greatly reduced in an effort to shorten the time spent in testing.   Teachers felt the test took too much time to administer, five and three-quarters hours.  We do not know how long it took for students in 1919 to finish all components of their exam, but it is likely it took considerably more time than that.  Then as now, questions would be asked over the course of several days.

In summary, what are the fundamental differences between the tests of today and those of a hundred years ago?  First, older tests emphasized practical learning—learning that helped students get along in the world they occupied.  For the majority, eighth would be the last grade they would complete.  They needed to know how to grow carrots, how to find percentages, how to do mental math, how to participate in local, state, and national government.  At the same time, they were tasked with memorizing the nations that bordered the Atlantic Ocean, the bad effects of brushing your teeth in the wrong way, and identifying parts of speech in complex sentences.  The curriculum was a tangle of questions that prepared students for the “real world” to come as well as those that had little discernable value in later life.

Modern tests in both English and Mathematics focus on skills that are supposed to be related to those asked for in the “real world”, though students may rightfully ask whose “real world” they are being prepared for.  Tests with questions about solving equations with an infinite number of solutions do not connect with the lived experience of most people.  Analysis of a reading passage designed to get students to provide evidence that the author was attempting to accomplish a certain goal in her writing does not connect to the reading many of them will do in their lives.  An investigation in science could have “real world” relevance to students, but the jargon that accompanies it—testing hypotheses, forming models—may not be necessary for explorations they engage in later on in life.

Which test is harder?  It is impossible to say.  Today’s students would not be prepared to memorize items that everyone years ago expected them to know.  On the other hand, students from long ago would be confused by the questions asked now and by the way tests are administered.  A modern test requires hours of work teaching children how to take the test.  Indeed, state assessments have been criticized for the reason that they warp the educational process such that schools end up serving assessment goals, rather than providing learning experiences that broaden and enrich the lives of students.   What gets tested gets done in the classroom; what is not—often those enriching experiences that exist outside of formal instruction and textbooks—is sacrificed on the altar of higher test scores.

That is not to say we should return to testing as it was done in 1919.  Neither students nor educators were entirely pleased with that program—witness the move to make changes in the decades to come.  For a time, beginning in the thirties and continuing through the nineties, summative testing, the kind that makes final judgments about how much a student has learned, fell out of favor.  The purpose of testing was primarily to help teachers and schools figure out how to educate students better.  It was not used as a means to rank students, teacher performance, schools, districts, states or countries.  Perhaps that is the biggest change in school testing: the purpose of testing has changed.  It is still a question whether that change has been good for students, schools, and the wider community.


Take the full 1919 8th grade examination, just download the document here: 1919 8th Grade Exam

One Hundred Years Ago: Lake Ann Devastated by Fire, 1918

by Richard Leary, Historian of Lake Ann

April 11th is the anniversary of Lake Ann’s third and final “big fire.”  Like many of the logging towns in northern Michigan, fire was a constant threat in Lake Ann. Piles of logs, stacks of lumber, sparks from steam engines and fires associated with saw mills, added to closely spaced homes and businesses of wood frame almost invited disastrous conflagrations.

The village of Lake Ann suffered three major fires in its early history. The first, and most disastrous, struck on July 4th, 1897 and burned nearly the entire city. This fire began in the large saw mill, owned by William Habbeler, on the lake shore.

The mill was rebuilt but much of the city was not. Lake Ann’s population prior to the fire was about a thousand. After the fire it was merely in the hundreds.

The second fire, in 1902, burned the business district which was much smaller than it was in 1897. Businesses occupied an area much like that of today.

Lake Ann Congregational Church
Dedicated 1883, burned 1918. Image courtesy of the author.

The third fire, April 11, 1918, burned the Congregational Church, several nearby homes and William Habbeler’s mill. This mill was smaller than the original mill on the lake shore and apparently made barrel staves and headers, which would explain the designation “the old cooperage” in the account of the fire.

Plat of Lake Ann, 1901. Map enhanced by the author, shows location of the “old cooperage,” and the three major fires.

A dramatic account of the 1918 fire was published in the April 12th edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle. The article began, “Half the village of Lake Ann lies in charred ruins today, the result of a fire yesterday afternoon, that swept its course, leveling ten dwellings, the Congregational Church, three barns and the old cooperage.”

In 1889, following the first big fire, William Habbeler purchased a second mill, located just northwest of the village. Perhaps he reasoned that this mill, located far from town, in a large open field, would not start another disastrous fire.

Revised map of homes burned in the 1918 fire, complied by the author.

The third fire started in the Alex Frazer residence, apparently from a defective chimney. A high northeast wind was howling and sparks and flames from the dwelling were carried to the next. Dwellings of the following residents were destroyed: Alex Frazer, Mrs. O. Morton, William Habbeler, Dave Henry, Mrs. George Tyler, L.O. McFann, Charles Warner, and three homes belonging to M. L. Lake. This was the third time the home of William Habbeler was destroyed by fire.

Two endangered other nearby structures were saved by heroic action of the village residents. The Schneider home was in the direct path of the westward spreading fire. Men climbed on the roof and poured buckets of water, passed up to them, on the roof. They were able to keep it wet and safe from blowing sparks and embers.

Likewise, across the main road, Kate Decker Dohm, resident housekeeper for many years, kept the roof of the Dohm Resort wet. Kate was related to Merrill Lake, who built the Lake Hotel about 1892, and served as his housekeeper. She inherited the hotel, married Henry Dohm and continued to work at the new resort.

Because the business district was spared this time, life in the village continued much as before. The Habbeler store, rebuilt after the 1897 fire, is now the Lake Ann Grocery. The Burnett store and the Huelmantle store, rebuilt after the 1902 fire, are today the B & M Party Store (which closed in early 2017) and the Stone Oven restaurant respectively.

The saw mills and grist mill are long gone but today the village of Lake Ann is a vibrant, thriving place. New businesses include a brewery and a coffee shop. As generations pass, memories of the three serious fires are fading but Lake Ann certainly is not.

Appendices:

Revised map of homes burned in the 1918 fire, complied by the author.

Revised Map of Buildings Destroyed in the 1918 Fire:

Alec Frazer (where the fire began) – lot 3
William Habbeler – lot 2
Charles Warner – lot 25
David Henry – lot 27
Mrs. George Tyler – lot 29
Congregational church – lot 31
L.D. McFann – lot 52
Mrs. O. Morton – lot 36
M.L. Lake owned many lots in Lake’s Addition (the area where the fire took place) so it is not known where his three houses that burned were located.
The Schneider home (lot 43) did not burn.

Article on 1918 Fire from Traverse City Record-Eagle:

TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE
TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN   Friday April 12, 1918 Price – two cents

 Conflagration Destroys Half of Lake Ann Village

BENZIE COUNTY VILLAGE
SUFFERS THIRD DISAS-
TER IN ITS HISTORY

—-

Ten  Dwellings,  a Church
Three Barns and a Coop-
erage Laid Low

—-

    Half  the  village  of  Lake  Ann  lies In charred ruins today, the result of a fire yesterday afternoon,  that swept its course, leveling ten dwellings, the Congregational Church, three barns and the old cooperage.  Nor did the flames stop their ravaging  work until

every particle of inflammable material in their path had been consumed.

The fire started in the A. Frazer residence, apparently from a defective chimney.  Flames were not discovered until the fire was too well under-way that the roof was ready to fall in.

A high northeast wind was howling and sparks and flames from the dwelling were carried to the next, and from that, on westward  through  the town.

Bucket brigades were formed, and farmers, who drove in from miles

around, lent their assistance in battling the fire, but to no avail. The fire did not stop until it had exhausted the material, and the balance of the city was spared only because the wild wind did not change.

Loss, as a result of yesterday’s fire, Is estimated at $10,000.  Dwellings of the following were destroyed: A. Frazer, Mrs. O. Forton, William Habbler, Dave Hempey, Mrs. George Tyler,  L. O. McFann, Charles Warner, and three homes belonging to F. L. Lake.

The Congregational Church was completely destroyed, along with the old cooperage and three barns. Portions of furniture and household goods were saved from some of the dwellings,

being removed when it became apparent that the houses were doomed. The C. L. Foster store was saved.

Whether or not Lake Ann will be rebuilt is unknown. This is the third time the town has been virtually destroyed by fire, one about 20 years ago, once in 1907 (sic – 1902). Each time the place has come up out of the ruins, smaller than before being ravaged by fire.

William Habbler, one of Lake Ann’s substantial citizens, whose home was lost, is in Ohio on business and nothing will be known as to his plans for the future until his return.

Richard Leary is an active volunteer at the Almira Historical Museum in Lake Ann. Leary is passionate about exploring and documenting the history of Almira Township, and finds inspiration equally in studying written records and in traversing the fields.

Restoring Fish Populations on the Boardman, 1920 to the Present

Image of The Shack on the Boardman River, surrounded by a landscape devastated by human influence., ca. 1915. Image courtesy of the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection (3315).

by S.A. McFerran, B.A. Environmental Studies, Antioch University

A cognoscenti of fishers met at “The Shack” that was located on the Boardman River near the community of Keystone. Operated by Traverse City Fly Club founder and barber, Art Winnie, and frequented by nine of his friends, The Shack was a fishing camp that encourage anglers to fish stretches of the Boardman River, South of Boardman Lake. There was much to discuss at The Shack meetings because the grayling were disappearing and the banks of the river were in tatters due to logging and dams.

A diary of activities at The Shack was kept. The first entry was March 3, 1913.  Visitors such as conservationist Harold Oswald Titus and Remington Kellogg of the United States Biological Survey joined members for fishing trips on the Boardman River. Also noted in the Shack Diary was the planting of fish in the Boardman River and its tributaries. (1)

The milk cans that were dropped off at the Keystone train station each contained 2000 trout. The water in the cans had to be changed hourly until the fish were released into the Boardman and its tributaries. Creeks flowing into the Boardman River such as Beitner, Thorpe, Bonath, Jaxon, Sleight and Hogsback all received trout raised in the state fish hatchery.

With the forest gone, erosion washed sand into the Boardman and the sun warmed the water. Dams also warmed the water and blocked the movement of fish up and down the river. The elegant structure of the Grand Traverse ecosystem was reduced to a shack, and the grayling died. Self-appointed architects of the ecosystem at The Shack did the one thing they could think of: add fish to the water so that they could catch fish.

The Shack Diary entry dated April 3 – 4, 1920: “Planting Liberty Brown trout as follows: Thorpe Creek,10,000. Shack below the bridge, 10,000. Shack Creek above the bridge, 10,000. From Umlor down in Hogsback Creek, 4,000. Boardman River, 20,000. Between Summit City and Keystone there were planted 294,000 trout of which 112,000 were brook and 182,000 were Liberty Brown.” (The name “German Brown” was changed to “Liberty Brown” in response to anti-German sentiment related to World War I.)

Fisheries meeting are always contentious. Image from the Hanley Wilhelm album, Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

The Shack members had a shortsighted view: If the fishing was good, all was well. The State of Michigan provided the fish to support the efforts of these sportsmen, but not to create an environment in which these fish would naturally thrive. In retrospect the answer is: river restoration. The answer still is river restoration that takes an ecosystem view and includes fish stocking as one measure of the restoration.  If the river ecosystem is functioning and habitat cared for the fishing will be good.

River restoration seeks to link ecosystems. The Grand Traverse Bay once teemed with fish and some moved from the Boardman to the open water. Coregonids, a very important and numerous mid-tropic level fish that were preyed on by the trout spawned in the open water of the Bay. The Shack cognoscenti were well aware that the elegant structure of the ecosystem had been lost. Art Winnie: “But here’s where we always put the conservationists…let the perch spawn . . . once every two or three years. Let them spawn and get a new breed in. Then they’d be comin’ pretty good. Look how they used to come up the river.” (2)

Looking downstream from one of the Boardman River Electric Light & Power dams, undated. Image from the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

Captain Boardman built his dam in 1847, and the electric power Boardman Dam was built in 1894. The Sabin dam was built in 1907. The Keystone dam was built in 1909. In 1921 the Brown Bridge dam was built. The Boardman dam was rebuilt in 1931. Each of these actions were major disruptions to the ecology of the Boardman River. Dams were also built on the upper reaches of the Boardman River in Kalkaska, South Boardman and Mayfield’s Swainston Creek. (3)

There was disruption of the river ecosystem and disruption of the large Grand Traverse Bay that once teamed with whitefish, herring and cisco. The bay was host to “pound nets” that devastated corigonids.  The State of Michigan managed the river and open water separately. Progress is now being made in raising coregonids in the state hatcheries. There will be another attempt to re-introduce grayling.

With the removal of the Boardman Dam and the Sabin Dam the only barrier that will remain to upper stretches of the Boardman is the Union Street Dam. The restoration of the Boardman River could mean the restoration of fish populations in the Grand Traverse Bay.

A fisherman of The Shack. Image from the Hanley Wilhelm album, Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

A cognoscenti of fishers will meet January 18, 2018 to consider the passing of fish from the Bay to the River and River to Bay. Restoration of the elegant structure that once rested on both streams where small fish were hatched and the big bay where fish grew big will be considered. Architects of the ecosystem now have access to resources that Art Winnie and the boys who built The Shack could only dream of.

But will an elegant structure that resembles the ecosystem that once stood be able to be built? I think not.

For more information on the FishPass Project, visit the Great Lakes Fishery Commission website. The next meeting of the Boardman River Implementation Team will take place on January 18th,  from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at the Traverse City Governmental Center, Commission Chambers, 400 Boardman Avenue, Traverse City, MI. Meetings are open to the public.

Stewart. A. McFerran teaches a class on the Natural History of Michigan Rivers at NMC and is a frequent contributor to the Grand Traverse JournalMany of his contributions, including this piece, are written as a direct result of interviewing people with stories to tell.

References

(1) Grand Traverse County Historical Society. Currents of the Boardman.

(2) Art Winnie interview

(3) https://gtjournal.tadl.org/2017/jack-robbins-and-the-tortured-landscape-of-the-boardman-river-valley/

Jack Robbins and the Tortured Landscape of the Boardman River Valley

Partial image of Jack Robbin’s copy of a 1915-1916 map of the Boardman River property owned by the Boardman River Electric Light & Power Company.

by S.A. McFerran, B.A. Environmental Studies, Antioch University

The new theology has borrowed, without credit, one of the fundamental planks in the old religion: despite his disclaimers, man stands at the center of the universe. It was made for him to use, and the best and wisest men are those who use it most lavishly. They destroy pine forests, dig copper from beneath the cold northern lakes, and run the open pits across the iron ranges, impoverishing themselves at the same time they are enriching themselves: creating wealth, in short by the act of destroying it, is one of the most baffling mysteries of the new gospel. ~Bruce Catton (1)

Boardman River Valley, November 2017. Image courtesy of the author.

From the front window of his farmhouse Jack Robbins has borne witness to the lavish use of the Boardman River. The Robbins farm is in the Boardman Valley on Cass road near the site of the Boardman dam.

Captain Harry Boardman first dammed the river for his mill before the turn of the last century, around 1847. Many subsequent dams have either washed out or been removed. The most recent dam removal is almost complete and is restoring the river to its natural state. The river restoration effort was aided by a historic map that Mr. Robbins had tucked away in his farmhouse.

Partial image of Jack Robbin’s copy of a 1915-1916 map of the Boardman River property owned by the Boardman River Electric Light & Power Company.

The map took two years to make (1915-1916) and was drawn on a special fabric by surveyor E.P. Waterman. The detail on the large map includes the location and elevation of bench marks that assisted in the removal of the original dam built  in 1894. The Sabin dam is also included on the map.

Over one hundred years later Mr. Robbins shared the map with the Army Corps of Engineers Manager Alec Higgins (2). The map was used to locate the historic channel of the Boardman River while the 1931 dam was removed this year.

Jack Robbins bought his farm in 1951 and fished the deep holes above the Boardman dam until October 1961 when the Keystone dam washed out and filled in the holes with sediment. He showed me the location of the original Boardman River Electric Light and Power dam from his front window. His map reveals the points of interest such as the grade of a carriage road that lead to a wooden bridge just across from his farm.

Photographic postcard of Boardman River Light & Power Plant Dam under construction, 1894. Image from the Local History Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

In November 1894 Boardman River Electric Light and Power completed construction of its first dam and turned on the electricity. This original dam was just downstream and twenty feet lower than the Boardman dam that was just removed. The powerhouse was right across the road from the Robbins farm.

Boardman River Electric Light and Power Company. Crew working on the Cass Street dam, 1903.

More power was needed and so the Sabin dam was built in 1907. The Keystone dam was built in 1909. In 1921 the Brown Bridge dam was built. The Boardman dam was rebuilt in 1931. Each of these actions represent major disruptions to the ecology of the Boardman River. Dams were also built on the upper reaches of the Boardman river in Kalkaska, South Boardman and Mayfield’s Swainston Creek. (3)

The dam on Swainston Creek washed out in 1961. That large slug of floodwater washed out the Keystone dam during a rainstorm. Jack Robbins remembers this event well and has stories to tell about how the dam operators attempted to avoid disaster.

Boardman River Valley. Image courtesy of the author, November 2017.

9.5 million dollars was spent in 1979 to renovate the dams on the Boardman River. It will cost $2,834,535.60 to remove the Boardman and Sabin dams, return the river to its original channel and restore the banks. (4)

River restoration is an art and a science. River restoration is taking place in watersheds across the country and represents a change in the “new gospel”. It would be approved by Bruce Catton. Mr. Robbins is well aware of the environmental destruction that has taken place in the Boardman Valley which began in the logging era, and he approves of the Boardman River restoration project.

Stewart. A. McFerran teaches a class on the Natural History of Michigan Rivers at NMC and is a frequent contributor to the Grand Traverse JournalMany of his contributions, including this piece, are written as a direct result of interviewing people with stories to tell.

References:

  1. Catton, Bruce. Waiting for the Morning Train: An American Boyhood.
  2. Higgins, Alec. Email interview with the author.
  3. Grand Traverse County Historical Society. Currents of the Boardman. 
  4. FINAL CONCEPT DESIGN REPORT, Boardman and Sabin Dam Removals, BOARDMAN RIVER DAMS IMPLEMENTATION TEAM December 2014; 301 S. Livingston St., Suite 200, Madison, WI 53703 | 608-441-0342 | interfluve.com; 10850 Traverse Highway, Suite 3365, Traverse City MI 49684 | 231-922-4290 | urs.com

“What a Tangled Web We Weave, When We Practice to Deceive”: A Researcher Exposes an Early-Twentieth-Century Con Man

by Julie Schopieray, author of Jens C. Petersen: From bricklayer to architect: the life and works of a visionary Michigan architect

INTRODUCTION

Genealogists and historical researchers are detectives.  They untangle complicated relationships, some of them hidden from the view of the societies of yesterday and today.  Sometimes confusion occurs because of missing documents, unclear handwriting, mistakes in spelling names and places, and sometimes—rarely—it occurs because of outright deception.  In this piece Julie Schopieray uses all of the tools of the trade of genealogical research to reveal how a local man, Glenn W. Curtis, deceived women all over the United States, convincing them to marry him, and eventually absconding with their wealth, jewelry, and, no doubt, their self-respect.  It is a detective story in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie.

—Richard Fidler, editor, the Grand Traverse Journal

As a research volunteer for the historical society, I respond to incoming emails which occasionally include requests for help with finding obituaries or other genealogical data on family members who lived in the Traverse City area. A request came from a woman who was hoping to discover what had happened to her grandfather, Glenn W. Curtis, and  to confirm the true identity of her grandmother.  She told me that for  over 35 years she has tried to find out where Curtis ended up and that very little was found for the whereabouts of her grandfather. Not one to back down from a good research challenge, I took on the search for this mysterious man and his wife.

Using the names and dates provided by my email correspondent, I started my search by familiarizing myself with the Curtis family. I followed their life using online biographies, census and marriage records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org and learned  that they settled in Traverse City in 1894. Because the family had already exhausted traditional genealogy resources, I  started an online newspaper search. As it turned out, searching newspapers was the best tool I could have used for this quest.  Because the scope of this story ended up being so widespread, finding any results would have been impossible without digitized newspapers from across the nation.

I started by searching in the local paper, looking for any mention of Glenn Curtis. My first clue was a small notice which stated that he had gotten married:   “The friends of Glen W Curtis will be surprised to learn that he is married, his wedding occurred last month in Florida.”  [Grand Traverse Herald 3-28- 1907]  To back this up, I checked the Florida marriage records on Ancestry.com. There I found Glenn W. Curtis of Traverse City marrying Emma Tillack on Feb. 8, 1907 in Volusia Co., Florida. That is all fine and dandy, except that the woman who asked for my help had a completely different name for her grandmother– Catherine Flusch. For forty years, she had assumed that was her grandmother’s name. That information came from her father’s birth certificate acquired from the county clerk in 1976.

Because the name was nothing like the 1907 marriage information, I decided to try to find the original birth record, which was on microfilm at our local LDS Family History Center, and discovered that there was a spelling mistake on the last name. The 1976 clerk then misspelled the name from the 1908 record resulting in the name FLUSCH.

Image courtesy of the author.

I asked the LDS volunteer how she thought the information would have been given to the county clerk in 1908. She said the midwife likely would have provided the information to the city clerk by keeping her notes in a personal ledger, that information shared with the city or county to be written in the official liber. In 1908, the name was interpreted by the clerk as Fulsch but was likely just human error in transcribing the name Tillack– which easily could be misinterpreted depending on penmanship of the midwife. (See the photo of signatures, left,  and visualize how TILLACK would look in cursive.)

Another strange twist in this name mystery which confused me even more, is an article I found from 1909 telling of a visit from the father of Mrs. Glenn W. Curtis. The article stated that he had come from Berlin, Germany along with her brother Earl and gave his name as August Ponsaning. That surname does not match ANY of the names associated with the first wife of Glenn W. Curtis.  There will be more on this later.

Glenn W. Curtis, palmist.

Glenn Willis Curtis was the only surviving child of George Washington Curtis and Etta Smith Curtis, born March 20, 1882 in Wheeler, Gratiot, Co., MI.  Geo. W. Curtis was a highly respected and successful man. Well educated, he first started out his professional life as a physician, but turned to law, passing the bar exam in 1891. The family settled in Traverse City in 1894 where he set up a law practice, sold real estate and served as judge and Justice of the Peace for many years. Their son Glenn was described in the History of Roscommon County (1895) as “a bright lad of twelve years. He is receiving a good education, and as he has displayed musical ability, is receiving instruction in that line as well.

It wasn’t until around 1903, when in his early twenties, that there was any indication that Glenn was of questionable character. Small, curious snippets of information start around 1900 when Glenn was eighteen, mentioning him coming to visit his parents from various places– Grand Rapids and Louisville, Kentucky. At first, I assumed his travels were job-related. I was soon to learn it was a job, but not what I had expected. I expanded my newspaper search from only Traverse City, to all states to see what I could find.

Starting in January 1903, articles from out of the state began to appear. The earliest one I found which explained his occupation was in the Grand Rapids Press, dated May 5, 1903.

Palm Reading Artist in Jail.  From a Professorof palmistry to a vagabond, and thence to a cell in the county jail– that is the sad fall of Professor Robert T. Glenn, alias Glenn W. Curtis. Curtis was arrested, together with Fred Broughton, by Deputy Sheriff Gates at Pettis near Alpine Station yesterday afternoon. It was reported that they had been making a business of living off the people of the community. The Professor’sbelongings give evidence that however much the palmistry business may have gone to the dogs of late, yet it was once well worth his trouble. The officials at the county jail hold a large number of hand prints made upon smoked paper, by the use of which he was enabled to read the hands of people far away. There were a number of hand prints which had come from Traverse City, which Curtis gives as his home, as well as from Lansing and some from distant cities.

This major clue directed me back to the Traverse City papers which had several more small articles about Curtis and his surprising profession as a palm reader. Curtis came back to Traverse City after being released from the Grand Rapids jail and set up shop on Front Street. His ad in the Evening Record says “PROF. GLENN, PALMIST, 225 East Front Street.  Come and learn what science says in regard to your life.”  Less than year later he was in trouble again. He had taken his business to the nearby village of Kalkaska, where he was accused of not paying for his boarding house and scamming people who came to him for a palm reading.

PALMIST IN TROUBLE  Professor Glenn Curtis Said to Have Been Mixed Up in His Financial Matters– Prof. Glenn Curtis, the palmist has been arrested and taken to Kalkaska where he will account for some money he is alleged to have secured possession of without giving anything in return as well as jumping a board bill. It is claimed he played this game late last fall and left for parts unknown. About a week ago he strolled back into this city, which is his home, and the local officers spotted him and notified the Kalkaska authorities who came here and got him. He had a companion with him who was also wanted by the Kalkaska officers but upon Prof.Glenn, as he is called, agreeing to make good or all, they did not take his companion back with him. The only thing the professor is lamenting over is the fact that he is billed for a lecture in St. Louis in about a month and is afraid that this little trouble will prevent him reaching there in time.[Traverse City Evening Record  22 April,1904]

After a few more nation-wide newspaper searches, I was able to find an article in the April 8, 1907 Live Oak (Florida) Democrat which confirmed his marriage in Florida, and matches the description given by the father of the woman I am helping, of how his parents had met, which was this: “He said that his father courted his mother pretending not to be able to speak.” It also accounts for Curtis’s whereabouts between April and November 1907.

THE DUMB MAN SPEAKS

Madison, April 6.– Last Monday night a man registered at the Lines house as Prof. G. Willis Curtis, and with his wife was assigned a room. The next morning he was found to be a deaf and dumb palmist, who was desiring to pull aside the veil from the future for $1.00 per head. His business was not prosperous, principally for the reason that some traveling men at the hotel had heard him talking in Live Oak the day before. After supper, about a dozen travelling men in the hotel office sent for the palmist to come down, which he did at once. With his ready pencil and tablet he wrote out the fortunes, past and future, of several. The men knowing his deaf and dumb nature to be only assumed, were anxious to find out his reason for travelling in this manner.  Then finally, by threats, got him to talk. He said in explanation of his assumed role, that he was under an oath to support himself for two years as a deaf and dumb man, and to report to Chicago August 17, 1907, with a wife whom he had won as a deaf and dumb man. His stories conflicted in several details, yet those present decided to leave him alone, provided he leave the state.

He left for Valdosta on the 6:40 train the next morning, and nothing was thought of the man until the clerk of the hotel reported that a suit of new clothes and a pair of shoes belonging to a guest of the house had been taken from the room which the palmist and his wife had occupied.

The train on which they had gone was not yet to Valdosta yet, so Prof. W.B. Date wired the chief of police at Valdosta to arrest the man. In an hour of so Sheriff Stanton received a message to come and get the man woman and clothes. This he did, returning to Madison on the late train last night

The woman explained the matter by saying she thought the clothes belonged to her husband, as he had referred to them as being some new clothes he had bought.

The couple claim to have been married recently in DeLand, where the woman has been teaching German, she says.

Curtis pleaded guilty at his trial this morning before Judge Martin. The court then fined him $150, or six months in jail. Curtis gave notice that he would file motion for a new trial and went back to jail.

Six months later, the exact length of his sentence, “G. Willis Curtis” is back in Traverse City and advertising- “Consult G. Willis Curtis, Palmist, Phrenologist, Astrologer, 217 East Front, up stairs.”   Going against the warnings of the men at the hotel, on Dec. 5, 1907, Curtis  headed back to Florida “where he will spend some time traveling over the state, and will also travel in other states, carrying on his profession of palmistry”  It is believed he left his wife behind in Traverse City. It was after his release from the Florida jail when she became pregnant with his son. It seems this was the last time Curtis was in Traverse City.

According to a 1909 article, Emma resided in a boarding house a block from Glenn’s father and step-mother. With her husband out of town, his parents paid her board and helped her during her pregnancy.  According to later recollections of Emma and Glenn’s son, George, Judge Curtis referred to Emma as “his little black kitten”. The birth of George A. Curtis was noted in the paper in late August 1908. Emma stayed in town at least until mid-1909 when the paper announced the visit of her father and a brother.  It is this article in which the name given for her father is August Ponsaning. It is confusing because PONSANING does not match the surname on her marriage license or the name on the son’s birth certificate. The only possibility is that it was a mistake made by the reporter. Even after hours of searching, I came up with nothing even close to this name.

Searching newspapers for more on Glenn and Emma Curtis, I found nothing for about the next four years.  The only solid clue for this time period is a 1913 divorce record found on Ancestry.com in Wayne Co., Michigan, but because the last name of the woman is left off the document, it only complicated the mystery.  It had to be “our Glenn” because the marriage date and location match the Florida record exactly. The divorce was granted– the reason was stated as desertion. It seems he just plain abandoned her and his son.

The family believed Mrs. Curtis took her son to Hartford, CT, to stay with Emma’s aunt, Ida (Enders) Langdon, on and off between his birth and 1915.  Mrs. Langdon was mentioned in a 1909 article which described the Traverse City visit of Emma’s father. Ida Langdon, came on that trip as well. The article states that Emma’s father had taken ill with typhoid fever when he arrived in the country and a sister-in-law took him to her home in Hartford for a month until he recovered.

Mrs. Emma (Tillack) Curtis and her son George can not be conclusively located anywhere in the 1910 census. George himself stated in a 1971 Social Security document that he lived with his grandfather in Traverse City until he was 5 1/2 but he is not listed in the household of Judge George Curtis in 1910 or anywhere else that can be determined.  An Emma Curtis is found working as a servant for a family in Arenac County, MI  in 1910 and is about the same age, but her birth place is listed as Michigan, so it’s not positive she is the right person. A Louise Curtis is found in a 1912 Detroit directory working as a waiter, but again, there is no evidence it is her even though according to the 1913 obituary for her brother, Emma Curtis was living in Detroit. Around this time she started using the first name Louise or Louisa instead of Emma which added to the confusion.  We know it was there where she filed for divorce and officially ended her relationship with Glenn W. Curtis.

She isn’t conclusively found until the 1920 census where she and her son George are in Philadelphia, where she is married to George Fisher. A 1971 Social Security document backs up the theory that young George Curtis seemingly spent more time in Hartford than with his own mother. “When my grandfather died [in 1914] I went to live with my aunt. I lived with my mother again when I was about 10 yrs old until I was 12 yrs old. [1918-1920] I then went back to my Aunt to live again.

Nothing much is found of palm-reader Curtis between 1907-1914, but it is believed he was in New York City by 1914. Searching the 1910 census resulted in nothing. He is not  found in any census record after 1900 because he rarely used his real name or stayed in any one place very long.

As it is obvious he left Traverse City for good, likely at the urging of his own father, the next step was to continue the search in out of state newspapers. Several more articles were found by using keywords such as “palmist”, “clairvoyant”,  “Glenn”, “Glen”,  “Willis” and “Curtis”  in various arrangements. What was found is fascinating.

It seems he took his business all across the country.  Little is found between 1908-1917 but it is possible he was in Joplin, Missouri the first half of 1910 then, in New York City between June and December where ads are found for “Prof. Curtis and Mme. Astro” on W. 38th St.  Similar advertisements are found for “Prof. Curtis” in Arkansas City, Kansas in 1912. Whether this is him or not is not certain. The only definite location I found him during this period in was St. Joseph, Missouri where he was arrested in 1913. “Glenn Curtis, a palmist and clairvoyant, was on Thursday sent to jail for fifty days by Judge Allee for practicing without a license.” [St. Joseph [MO] Observer 22 Feb, 1913]

In 1914, Glenn’s father, George W. Curtis, died at the State Hospital in Traverse City, of “organic brain disease”, what is now called dementia, possibly caused by a stroke or other physical illness. He had continued to practice until about a year before his death.  His obituary stated that his son Glenn was in New York City and his grandson in Hartford. What makes finding documentation for these statements difficult is that they fall in between census years. Children are not listed in city directories, so no other sources are available to confirm where young George and his mother were living during these years.

It appears that Glenn Curtis was in New York City as stated in his father’s 1914 obituary. A marriage record was discovered which shows that on 30 Dec, 1915, Glenn married Mary Josephine Glynn.  Her story is interesting too. She was the daughter of an Irish immigrant father who worked in the coal mines of east-central Pennsylvania.  Her parents made the news in 1889 when Mary was just a toddler: they were accused of poisoning several family members in order to profit from life insurance policies. Several of their close relatives mysteriously died, each with similar symptoms as a result of arsenic poisoning, including Edward Glynn’s own parents. Each of these people had insurance policies to be paid to Edward.  Six months after her first husband mysteriously died, Edward married Mary Halpin, his first cousin. Together they had several children, one being Mary Josephine.

After their arrest, the couple spent several months in jail, but were acquitted due to lack of solid evidence.

Mrs. Glynn died suddenly in 1890, which looked suspicious, but her death was from heart troubles, not poisoning. Edward Glynn was arrested again in 1904 for arson and sent to prison.

Obviously, Mary J. Glynn had a difficult childhood. She likely left home as soon as she was old enough and headed to New York City to find work. How she met Glenn Curtis is unknown. Did he fool her with his deaf-mute palmist act too? Where she ended up isn’t certain, but it is probable she returned to Pittston, PA and lived with two of her brothers because by 1916, Glenn Curtis had abandoned her too.

In 1916 Glenn Curtis left New York and headed to the west coast. As pieces fall together from newspaper searches, it seems he was on a mission to marry as many women as he could. Over the next three years, Curtis would marry at least three women—using false names—then take their money and disappear.

He was working under several aliases during this period:  Rodney S. Stone,  Frederick Z. Jackson and Frederick George Carrington.  As Rodney S. Stone, in January 1917, the “deaf-dumb fortune-teller” is found in Roseberg, Oregon for a few days before someone became suspicious and caught on to his act. The “gentlemanly appearing fellow…he was about as near perfect–physically, mentally and otherwise…he was smooth, sleek and cunning…He fakeda nice living and among his customers he counted many of our prominent and leading citizens. They fellfor him just like a baby would fall for a stick of barber-polecandy– and realized not until today that they had been touched upby a very clever mute.The fellow registered as Rodney Stone…”  “He purchased a ticket south– to where– well, to where he can ply his vocation just as successfully as he did in Roseburg…[Roseberg News-Review, 21 Jan, 1917]

Later that year, he was practicing  “Phrenology and Applied Psychology” in Los Angeles as Rodney S. Stone.

In 1918 I found him in Alameda, Oakland Co. California, where he registered for the  World War One draft. The day of birth he lists on the registration matches perfectly, though is one year off from his Michigan birth record.  He lists his occupation as “accountant” and his contact as Marion Curtis in Pittston, PA. His second wife Mary was from Pittston, and it’s possible that even though by this time he had moved on and left her behind as he did with his previous wife, he twisted her name a bit just to have someone to put on this registration form. His physical description was that he was of slender build, 5’10” tall, with blue eyes and blonde hair. Here in California, having perfected his time-tested ploy to win a wife—he struck again, this time one winning one with money. His actual name comes up in this amusing article from the Sept. 27, 1919 Oakland Tribune. You can tell the reporter thoroughly enjoyed writing this article.

Plays Mute to Win Bride, Charge- Husband and Money are Missing–

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 27– Alleging that her husband had pretended that he was a deaf mute in order to marry her and gain from her a small fortune, Mrs. Leona Jackson, San Diego bookstore proprietor and business woman, is on her way to the southern city today in an endeavor to procure a warrant for her spouse, Fred Jackson, otherwise known as Glen Curtis, after consulting with Attorneys Albert Roche and Peter Ibos here as to the status on which she might obtain a divorce and $7000 which, she said, her mate possesses in bad faith.

Mrs. Jackson told the local lawyers that she went to a local contracting firm, where she found her husband had once worked, and, after exhibiting his photograph, found that fellow employees and employers recognized him as Glen Curtis who had lost his position there because he talked too much. During four months of courtship in San Diego, she avers, Jackson or Curtis never uttered a  word– exclaiming once in a while, Ah-h-h!but nothing more.

The novelty of having ones fortune told by a deaf mute palmist appealed to San Diegans, according to Mrs. Jackson, and the man built up a brisk business, advising commercial men and housewives on certain problems close to their hearts. At last he prevailed upon the wealthy woman to marry him, she said, also getting from her consent to sell out the bookstore business and leave the southern city.

That they were going on the stage together Jackson told her, is Mrs. Jacksons statement, and they left for New York shortly afterward. Her suspicions were first aroused, it is alleged, when a man on the train came from the smoking car and told her that her husband had given the best talk on the League of Nations that he had ever heard. In New York they purchased an automobile, the woman told her attorneys, and started overland to San Francisco. Three weeks ago they arrived, following which Jackson silently bade goodbye to his wife and left for the south, pleading business. He never returned, the woman says, and now she is looking for her money and her husband or a long explanatory speech.

Using the names in this 1919 article, I started searching available California newspapers online. Several more articles connected to this story added yet more questions and resulted in further searches with the various alias names Curtis was using. Keeping the newspaper keyword searches limited to the years 1919-1922, but open to all locations, I discovered  that, after he left Mrs. “Jackson” in 1919, he fled to Texas where he met Miss Sammie Lane Tate, who, at the time, was in her mid-40s and from a prominent Waco family. A small newspaper article was found stating that the friends of Miss Tate would be surprised to know that she was quietly married in New Orleans on Dec. 6 to Rodney S. Stone of Washington D.C. None of her friends were aware of any relationship and definitely not one with Mr. “Stone”.

Mrs. Tate-Stone returned to Waco within a month and is listed in the city directories as “widow of” Rodney Stone. No Rodney S. Stone can be found in any records for Texas or Washington D.C., or anywhere else for that matter.  Also, no official marriage record can be found. After contacting a family member who had Miss Tate in her Ancestry.com family tree, I was told that the marriage by Miss Tate and the mysterious Mr. Stone was rarely discussed. She came back to Waco and told everyone that he had died. It must have been an embarrassing situation for a Baylor-educated woman to fall for a suave con man.

When Mrs. Cleora/Cora (Lane) Jackson’s fraudulent marriage and desire for divorce made the California newspapers in 1921, another woman came forward with a similar tale. Mrs. Ida Trost, a widow from Galveston, Texas had met the deaf-mute Frederick George Carrington through a friend.  “Carrington…through correspondence, told [Mrs Trost] of a proposed vaudeville act he was considering, stated that he was a war correspondent for the Associated Press, and eventually proposed marriage…They were married in El Paso and his wishhe told her, was that he would regain his hearing and speech. He was able to speak English, Spanish and German on the day of their marriage.” [Riverside Independent Enterprise,1921] They were married on February 26,1921 just a few months after his marriage to Miss Tate.  They took a short honeymoon, then moved to Riverside, California where after a short time he took $1200, diamonds, a gold watch, and then vanished.

After reading in the newspaper account of what Mrs. Jackson had gone through, and seeing similarities, Ida Trost Carrington contacted the police.  “If I get a chance I shall surely go to Los Angeles to identify him,said Mrs. Carrington last night. If he is the same man who married Mrs. Jackson Ill press a charge of bigamy in addition to the other charges. If he treated both of us in that way theres no telling how many women he may have deceived. I will press every possible charge against the man…If I had not been interested in spiritualism I dont suppose I should have believed everything he told me. Nothing can make me believe he did not have some sort of power over me. I believed him implicitly.” [Riverside Independent Enterprise, 17 April, 1921]

What is interesting is that so many seemingly well-educated and intelligent women fell for the deaf-mute palmist routine.   At least, four or more women succumbed to Curtis’s charms using this method. Whether he fathered more children is also unknown.

It is also interesting that he used the name Carrington. He was well aware of a man named Hereward Carrington who, during this time, was a well-known investigator of psychics, mediums and spiritualism, writing over 100 books on the subject and was known for exposing fraudulent mediums. Perhaps Curtis had read some of his books and picked up tips for his own business.

An article in the Riverside (CA) Enterprise  dated  March 20, 1921 gives  some details about the relationship between “Carrington” and Ida Trost.  It reveals that Curtis knew of the famous Carrington.  In fact, he had told Ida that he could be reached in New York by sending mail to him care of Hereward Carrington– that the man was an uncle. However, it is just another of many fibs he told the women he married. The most telling detail in the article which solidly ties “Carrington” to Glenn W. Curtis of Traverse City is taken from a letter he wrote to Ida which, in the article, includes his birth date where he claims he will inherit a fortune on his 40th birthday, March 20, 1922. The chances of  this being a coincidence is slim– Michigan birth records show that Glenn W. Curtis was born in Wheeler, Gratiot Co., on March 20, 1882. The same article gives a physical description as well, which matches the 1918 draft registration form he filled out in Oakland, California as Glenn Willis Curtis– “Carrington is described as follows: age 39, but looks 48: height, 5 feet, 10 inches; weight, 125 pounds; blue eyes; light hair and bald; walks with slight stoop; claims to have heart trouble and is subject to hemorrhages.” [Riverside Independent Enterprise 20 March, 1921]

One more piece of solid evidence was discovered once I learned the previous surname of Cleona Jackson and located the 1919 marriage record. On the marriage license, “Jackson” lists his father’s real first and middle names, his mother’s real name (Etta Smith) and listing his place of birth as Michigan. This to me, is the clincher– Frederick Z. Jackson was  Glenn W. Curtis.

An article in the Los Angeles Times included a photograph of Mr. & Mrs Frederick Z. Jackson but unfortunately, the microfilmed image of the man is terribly blurry. It is our only clue as to what he looked like.

Even though he was sought for several years, there is no evidence that Curtis/Stone/Jackson/Carrington was ever found and charged for these particular crimes. It is believed he headed back east and to New York after this flurry of activity.

It wouldn’t be the last time Curtis would use a fake name and woo a wealthy wife. The next known incident is all the way across the country in New York state five years later. The “modus operandi” once again fits. A 1926 Rochester, New York newspaper article tells of Glenn W. Curtis being arrested– charges brought by his wife Edith F. Sturdevant, a well-to-do widow.

This time he had been posing as a Congregational minister using the name James Alexander Waterhouse and somehow charmed her into marrying him.  He used mostly made up family names on the marriage license, lied about his age (added ten years– because she was ten years older), but did give a birth place of Owosso, Michigan (where his father’s relatives were from) and again used his father’s real first name, George. Searches of census, vital statistic and city directories prove that no James Waterhouse of Owosso existed, or the people with the other names he listed on the marriage license.

Two months after they married, Mr. “Waterhouse” took $600 in cash, jewelry worth over $500 and on May 15, disappeared. He was “traced to New York, Philadelphia, Boston and back to Utica” and arrested. Charged with second degree grand larceny, he was held without bail.

I next contacted the Monroe Co., NY county clerk’s office to request a search for court records but there was nothing found under Waterhouse or Curtis for the years 1927-27. It is very likely that he spend a few months to a few years in jail.

It is here that the trail dropped off. Nothing further came up after 1926 using the same keywords in searches.  Having exhausted all the online records I could find,  I decided to contact a researcher in Rochester to see if she could help.

She first searched the New York state death records and quickly discovered one for a Glenn Curtis who died in 1936. She sent for a copy which ended up being our man. It revealed the sad end to Glenn Curtis’s life.

His death occurred at a state institution in Marcy, NY. He had contracted syphilis, which left untreated, causes a condition called general paresis—an inflammation of the brain in the later stages of syphilis, causing progressive dementia and paralysis. He had suffered from the disease for over two years.  The death record also revealed that he had again married (#7 that we know of) to a woman named Evelyn. Nothing has been found about her or when/where they married.

Curtis was buried in Syracuse, NY though it is thought he may have resided in Buffalo, NY before he was institutionalized.  The record listed his occupation as “palmist” so he continued this practice right up to his death. It is a sad ending to this story, but the family now knows what happened to their grandfather. Even though he was quite a cad and conman, at least there is the satisfaction of knowing what became of him after their long search. It is doubtful that there is a grave marker for Glenn Curtis, but more research will be done to locate the exact cemetery and perhaps his grave.

—————————————————————————————————————–

A FINAL NOTE

As a researcher, my goal was to answer the questions of the family as best as I could. One of the biggest desires for them was confirming the real name of Glenn Curtis’s first wife– their grandmother. After receiving a typed copy of his birth certificate in 1976, with the name Catherine Flusch as mother, they thought perhaps Glenn Curtis had fathered a child with another woman. However, no such person could be found. When I discovered the 1907 Florida marriage record, even before knowing the real story of Glenn Curtis, I realized that “Emma Tillack” would have had no reason to lie about her name, but after she became pregnant and was ultimately abandoned by this con man, a theory  considered was that perhaps she temporarily used a false name to alienate herself from the cad Glenn Curtis.  But after seeing the actual birth record with the clerk’s misinterpretation of the mother’s name, and again, a misspelling on the 1976 certificate, in my opinion, the name FLUSCH could be eliminated from this story.

Where “Catherine” came from is still uncertain. Emma/Louisa Tillack-Curtis married twice more, the first, in 1915, to George Fisher in Philadelphia, where she and son George are found in the 1920 census, and then again around 1925 to John H. Guise of Harrisburg, PA. The clues to her real name are also evident on her 1936 death certificate. Her father is listed as August Tillack. August– as stated in the 1909 article of him visiting, and Tillack as her last name on her  first marriage license.

 

In an effort to confirm the Tillack name, a search using various spellings was conducted in immigration records and the jackpot document was located. A passenger list for the ship Lessing, arriving in New York City in Sept. 1902 shows 11-year-old Emma TILLAK traveling with an aunt, Wilhelmina Gley. On the record it states that Emma would be in care of her aunt Ida Langdon of Hartford, Connecticut.

 

Ida’s exact relationship to Mrs. Curtis remained unclear until the discovery of an obituary and death record for a Max Tillack of Connecticut, who turned out to be Emma’s older brother. The obituary and death record for Max also solidifies the Tillack name. His death certificate lists his father as August Tillack and mother Augusta Enders, making their mother a sister to Ida Enders-Langdon of Hartford, Ct. The Social Security document discovered late in this research process also confirmed the name Louisa Tillack.  With all of these facts–the ship record, marriage, obituaries and death records, the family is now convinced that Glenn Curtis and Emma (Louise) Tillack were their grandparents.

 

The most important question that went unresolved for my patron family was what became of Glenn W. Curtis after 1905, the last Traverse City city directory he is listed in.  What is found in the newspaper accounts is better than fiction.

 

I ask myself—how likely it is that all of the characters in the ads and articles are about our Traverse City man? I say you’d have to go with the odds:  Even though there were hundreds of people working as palmists and clairvoyants during this time–in fact, every town seemed to have at least one and sometimes several–how many men in the country practiced palm reading and had/used the last name Glenn and Curtis? Not many.

 

Early on, he used some version of his real name though later he changed to completely different names. However, the name Glen Curtis was associated with the California episodes in several articles along with alias names which connects him to the articles using those names, and the fact that he repeatedly used the same method to fool people. This ties them all together and to the identity Glenn W. Curtis.

 

He traveled the country conning people–especially vulnerable, older, single or widowed women–his entire adult life.  Constantly on the run—changing his identity over and over—he disappears but only until another article appears describing once again, a con man with the same M. O., the deception and fraud perpetrated by a deaf-mute palmist in yet another town. How likely is it that others repeatedly used this same kind of trickery?  Not likely at all.

 

The lack of evidence for certain periods is a combination of gaps in digitized newspapers, unknown aliases and possibly time spent in jail. His descendants ask what ultimately happened to him? Where and when did he die?  The family had heard various rumors for his demise– one

“What a Tangled Web We Weave, When We Practice to Deceive”

A Researcher Exposes an Early-Twentieth-Century Con Man

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Genealogists and historical researchers are detectives.  They untangle complicated relationships, some of them hidden from the view of the societies of yesterday and today.  Sometimes confusion occurs because of missing documents, unclear handwriting, mistakes in spelling names and places, and sometimes—rarely—it occurs because of outright deception.  In this piece Julie Schopieray uses all of the tools of the trade of genealogical research to reveal how a local man, Glenn W. Curtis, deceived women all over the United States, convincing them to marry him, and eventually absconding with their wealth, jewelry, and, no doubt, their self-respect.  It is a detective story in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie.

—Richard Fidler, editor, the Grand Traverse Journal

 

As a research volunteer for the historical society, I respond to incoming emails which occasionally include requests for help with finding obituaries or other genealogical data on family members who lived in the Traverse City area. A request came from a woman who was hoping to discover what had happened to her grandfather, Glenn W. Curtis, and  to confirm the true identity of her grandmother.  She told me that for  over 35 years she has tried to find out where Curtis ended up and that very little was found for the whereabouts of her grandfather. Not one to back down from a good research challenge, I took on the search for this mysterious man and his wife.

 

Using the names and dates provided by my email correspondent, I started my search by familiarizing myself with the Curtis family. I followed their life using online biographies, census and marriage records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org and learned  that they settled in Traverse City in 1894. Because the family had already exhausted traditional genealogy resources, I  started an online newspaper search. As it turned out, searching newspapers was the best tool I could have used for this quest.  Because the scope of this story ended up being so widespread, finding any results would have been impossible without digitized newspapers from across the nation.

 

I started by searching in the local paper, looking for any mention of Glenn Curtis. My first clue was a small notice which stated that he had gotten married:   “The friends of Glen W Curtis will be surprised to learn that he is married, his wedding occurred last month in Florida.”  [Grand Traverse Herald 3-28- 1907]  To back this up, I checked the Florida marriage records on Ancestry.com. There I found Glenn W. Curtis of Traverse City marrying Emma Tillack on Feb. 8, 1907 in Volusia Co., Florida. That is all fine and dandy, except that the woman who asked for my help had a completely different name for her grandmother– Catherine Flusch. For forty years, she had assumed that was her grandmother’s name. That information came from her father’s birth certificate acquired from the county clerk in 1976.

 

Because the name was nothing like the 1907 marriage information, I decided to try to find the original birth record, which was on microfilm at our local LDS Family History Center, and discovered that there was a spelling mistake on the last name. The 1976 clerk then misspelled the name from the 1908 record resulting in the name FLUSCH.

 

I asked the LDS volunteer how she thought the information would have been given to the county clerk in 1908. She said the midwife likely would have provided the information to the city clerk by keeping her notes in a personal ledger, that information shared with the city or county to be written in the official liber. In 1908, the name was interpreted by the clerk as Fulsch but was likely just human error in transcribing the name Tillack– which easily could be misinterpreted depending on penmanship of the midwife. [see photo  and visualize how TILLACK would look in cursive]

 

Another strange twist in this name mystery which confused me even more, is an article I found from 1909 telling of a visit from the father of Mrs. Glenn W. Curtis. The article stated that he had come from Berlin, Germany along with her brother Earl and gave his name as August Ponsaning. That surname does not match ANY of the names associated with the first wife of Glenn W. Curtis.  There will be more on this later.

 

 

Glenn Willis Curtis was the only surviving child of George Washington Curtis and Etta Smith Curtis, born March 20, 1882 in Wheeler, Gratiot, Co., MI.  Geo. W. Curtis was a highly respected and successful man. Well educated, he first started out his professional life as a physician, but turned to law, passing the bar exam in 1891. The family settled in Traverse City in 1894 where he set up a law practice, sold real estate and served as judge and Justice of the Peace for many years. Their son Glenn was described in the History of Roscommon County (1895) as “a bright lad of twelve years. He is receiving a good education, and as he has displayed musical ability, is receiving instruction in that line as well.

 

It wasn’t until around 1903, when in his early twenties, that there was any indication that Glenn was of questionable character. Small, curious snippets of information start around 1900 when Glenn was eighteen, mentioning him coming to visit his parents from various places– Grand Rapids and Louisville, Kentucky. At first, I assumed his travels were job-related. I was soon to learn it was a job, but not what I had expected. I expanded my newspaper search from only Traverse City, to all states to see what I could find.

 

Starting in January 1903, articles from out of the state began to appear. The earliest one I found which explained his occupation was in the Grand Rapids Press, dated May 5, 1903.

 

Palm Reading Artist in Jail.  From a Professorof palmistry to a vagabond,         and thence to a cell in the county jail– that is the sad fall of Professor Robert T Glenn, alias Glenn W. Curtis. Curtis was arrested, together with Fred Broughton, by Deputy Sheriffs Gates at Pettis near Alpine Station yesterday afternoon. It was reported that they had been making a business of living off the people of the community. The “Professor’s” belongings give evidence that however much the palmistry business may have gone to the dogs of late, yet it was once well worth his trouble. The officials at the county jail hold a large number of hand prints made upon smoked paper, by the use of which he was enabled to read the hands of people far away. There were a number of hand prints which had come from Traverse City, which Curtis gives as his home, as well as from Lansing and some from distant cities.

 

This major clue directed me back to the Traverse City papers which had several more small articles about Curtis and his surprising profession as a palm reader. Curtis came back to Traverse City after being released from the Grand Rapids jail and set up shop on Front Street. His ad in the Evening Record says “PROF. GLENN, PALMIST, 225 East Front Street.  Come and learn what science says in regard to your life.”  Less than year later he was in trouble again. He had taken his business to the nearby village of Kalkaska, where he was accused of not paying for his boarding house and scamming people who came to him for a palm reading.

 

PALMIST IN TROUBLE  Professor Glenn Curtis Said to Have Been Mixed Up in His Financial Matters– Prof. Glenn Curtis, the palmist has been arrested and      taken to Kalkaska where he will account for some money he is alleged to have secured possession of without giving anything in return as well as jumping a board bill. It is claimed he played this game late last fall and left for parts unknown. About a week ago he strolled back into this city, which is his home, and the local officers spotted him and notified the Kalkaska authorities who came here and got him. He had a companion with him who was also wanted by the Kalkaska officers but upon Prof.Glenn, as he is called, agreeing to make good or all, they did not take his companion back with him. The only thing the “professor” is lamenting over is the fact that he is billed for a lecture in St. Louis in about a month and is afraid that this little trouble will prevent him reaching there in time.[Traverse City Evening Record  22 April,1904]

 

 

After a few more nation-wide newspaper searches, I was able to find an article in the April 8, 1907 Live Oak (Florida) Democrat which confirmed his marriage in Florida, and matches the description given by the father of the woman I am helping, of how his parents had met, which was this: “He said that his father courted his mother pretending not to be able to speak. It also accounts for Curtis’s whereabouts between April and November, 1907.

 

THE DUMB MAN SPEAKS

                       Madison, April 6.– Last Monday night a man registered at the Lines house as Prof. G. Willis Curtis, and with his wife was assigned a room. The next morning he was found to be a deaf and dumb palmist, who was desiring to pull aside the veil from the future for $1.00 per head. His business was not prosperous, principally for the reason that some traveling men at the hotel had heard him talking in Live Oak the day before. After supper, about a dozen travelling men in the hotel office sent for the palmist to come down, which he did at once. With his ready pencil and tablet he wrote out the fortunes, past and future, of several. The men knowing his deaf and dumb nature to be only assumed, were anxious to find out his reason for travelling in this manner.  Then finally, by threats, got him to talk. He said in explanation of his assumed role, that he was under an oath to support himself for two years as a deaf and dumb man, and to report to Chicago August 17, 1907, with a wife whom he had won as a deaf and dumb man. His stories conflicted in several details, yet those present decided to leave him alone, provided he leave the state.

           He left for Valdosta on the 6:40 train the next morning, and nothing was thought of the man until the clerk of the hotel reported that a suit of new clothes and a pair of shoes belonging to a guest of the house had been taken from the room which the palmist and his wife had occupied.

           The train on which they had gone was not yet to Valdosta yet, so Prof. W.B. Date wired the chief of police at Valdosta to arrest the man. In an hour of so Sheriff Stanton received a message to come and get the man woman and clothes. This he did, returning to Madison on the late train last night

           The woman explained the matter by saying she thought the clothes belonged to her husband, as he had referred to them as being some new clothes he had bought.

           The couple claim to have been married recently in DeLand, where the woman has been teaching German, she says.

           Curtis pleaded guilty at his trial this morning before Judge Martin. The court then fined him $150, or six months in jail. Curtis gave notice that he would file motion for a new trial and went back to jail.

 

Six months later, the exact length of his sentence, “G. Willis Curtis” is back in Traverse City and advertising- “Consult G. Willis Curtis, Palmist, Phrenologist, Astrologer, 217 East Front, up stairs.”   Going against the warnings of the men at the hotel, on Dec. 5, 1907, Curtis  headed back to Florida “where he will spend some time traveling over the state, and will also travel in other states, carrying on his profession of palmistry”  It is believed he left his wife behind in Traverse City. It was after his release from the Florida jail when she became pregnant with his son. It seems this was the last time Curtis was in Traverse City.

 

According to a 1909 article, Emma resided in a boarding house a block from Glenn’s father and step-mother. With her husband out of town, his parents paid her board and helped her during her pregnancy.  According to later recollections of Emma and Glenn’s son, George, Judge Curtis referred to Emma as “his little black kitten”. The birth of George A. Curtis was noted in the paper in late August 1908. Emma stayed in town at least until mid-1909 when the paper announced the visit of her father and a brother.  It is this article in which the name given for her father is August Ponsaning. It is confusing because PONSANING does not match the surname on her marriage license or the name on the son’s birth certificate. The only possibility is that it was a mistake made by the reporter. Even after hours of searching, I came up with nothing even close to this name.

 

Searching newspapers for more on Glenn and Emma Curtis, I found nothing for about the next four years.  The only solid clue for this time period is a 1913 divorce record found on Ancestry.com in Wayne Co., Michigan, but because the last name of the woman is left off the document, it only complicated the mystery.  It had to be “our Glenn” because the marriage date and location match the Florida record exactly. The divorce was granted– the reason was stated as desertion. It seems he just plain abandoned her and his son.

 

The family believed Mrs. Curtis took her son to Hartford, CT, to stay with Emma’s aunt, Ida (Enders) Langdon, on and off between his birth and 1915.  Mrs. Langdon was mentioned in a 1909 article which described the Traverse City visit of Emma’s father. Ida Landon, came on that trip as well. The article states that Emma’s father had taken ill with typhoid fever when he arrived in the country and a sister-in-law took him to her home in Hartford for a month until he recovered.

 

Mrs. Emma (Tillack) Curtis and her son George can not be conclusively located anywhere in the 1910 census. George himself stated in a 1971 Social Security document that he lived with his grandfather in Traverse City until he was 5 1/2 but he is not listed in the household of Judge George Curtis in 1910 or anywhere else that can be determined.  An Emma Curtis is found working as a servant for a family in Arenac County, MI  in 1910 and is about the same age, but her birth place is listed as Michigan, so it’s not positive she is the right person. A Louise Curtis is found in a 1912 Detroit directory working as a waiter, but again, there is no evidence it is her even though according to the 1913 obituary for her brother, Emma Curtis was living in Detroit. Around this time she started using the first name Louise or Louisa instead of Emma which added to the confusion.  We know it was there where she filed for divorce and officially ended her relationship with Glenn W. Curtis.

 

She isn’t conclusively found until the 1920 census where she and her son George are in Philadelphia, where she is married to George Fisher. A 1971 Social Security document backs up the theory that young George Curtis seemingly spent more time in Hartford than with his own mother. “When my grandfather died [in 1914] I went to live with my aunt. I lived with my mother again when I was about 10 yrs old until I was 12 yrs old. [1918-1920] I then went back to my Aunt to live again.

 

Nothing much is found of palm-reader Curtis between 1907-1914, but it is believed he was in New York City by 1914. Searching the 1910 census resulted in nothing. He is not  found in any census record after 1900 because he rarely used his real name or stayed in any one place very long.

 

As it is obvious he left Traverse City for good, likely at the urging of his own father, the next step was to continue the search in out of state newspapers. Several more articles were found by using keywords such as “palmist”, “clairvoyant”,  “Glenn”, “Glen”,  “Willis” and “Curtis”  in various arrangements. What was found is fascinating.

 

It seems he took his business all across the country.  Little is found between 1908-1917 but it is possible he was in Joplin, Missouri the first half of 1910 then, in New York City between June and December where ads are found for “Prof. Curtis and Mme. Astro” on W. 38th St.  Similar advertisements are found for “Prof. Curtis” in Arkansas City, Kansas in 1912. Whether this is him or not is not certain.The only definite location I found him during this period in was St. Joseph, Missouri where he was arrested in 1913. “Glenn Curtis, a palmist and clairvoyant, was on Thursday sent to jail for fifty days by Judge Allee for practicing without a license.” [St. Joseph [MO] Observer 22 Feb, 1913]

 

In 1914, Glenn’s father, George W. Curtis, died at the State Hospital in Traverse City, of “organic brain disease”, what is now called dementia, possibly caused by a stroke or other physical illness. He had continued to practice until about a year before his death.  His obituary stated that his son Glenn was in New York City and his grandson in Hartford. What makes finding documentation for these statements difficult is that they fall in between census years. Children are not listed in city directories, so no other sources are available to confirm where young George and his mother were living during these years.

 

It appears that Glenn Curtis was in New York City as stated in his father’s 1914 obituary. A marriage record was discovered which shows that on 30 Dec, 1915, Glenn married Mary Josephine Glynn.  Her story is interesting too. She was the daughter of an Irish immigrant father who worked in the coal mines of east-central Pennsylvania.  Her parents made the news in 1889 when Mary was just a toddler: they were accused of poisoning several family members in order to profit from life insurance policies. Several of their close relatives mysteriously died, each with similar symptoms as a result of arsenic poisoning, including Edward Glynn’s own parents. Each of these people had insurance policies to be paid to Edward.  Six months after her first husband mysteriously died, Edward married Mary Halpin, his first cousin. Together they had several children, one being Mary Josephine.

 

After their arrest, the couple spent several months in jail, but were acquitted due to lack of solid evidence.

Mrs.Glynn died suddenly in 1890, which looked suspicious, but her death was from heart troubles, not poisoning. Edward Glynn was arrested again in 1904 for arson and sent to prison.

 

Obviously, Mary J. Glynn had a difficult childhood. She likely left home as soon as she was old enough and headed to New York City to find work. How she met Glenn Curtis is unknown. Did he fool her with his deaf-mute palmist act too? Where she ended up isn’t certain, but it is probable she returned to Pittston, PA and lived with two of her brothers because by 1916, Glenn Curtis had abandoned her too.

 

In 1916 Glenn Curtis left New York and headed to the west coast. As pieces fall together from newspaper searches, it seems he was on a mission to marry as many women as he could. Over the next three years, Curtis would marry at least three women—using false names—then take their money and disappear.

 

He was working under several aliases during this period:  Rodney S. Stone,  Frederick Z. Jackson and Frederick George Carrington.  As Rodney S. Stone, in January 1917, the “deaf-dumb fortune-teller” is found in Roseberg, Oregon for a few days before someone became suspicious and caught on to his act. The “gentlemanly appearing fellow…he was about as near perfect–physically, mentally and otherwise…he was smooth, sleek and cunning…He fakeda nice living and among his customers he counted many of our prominent and leading citizens. They fellfor him just like a baby would fall for a stick of barber-polecandy– and realized not until today that they had been touched upby a very clever mute.The fellow registered as Rodney Stone…”  “He purchased a ticket south– to where– well, to where he can ply his vocation just as successfully as he did in Roseburg…[Roseberg News-Review, 21 Jan, 1917]

 

Later that year, he was practicing  “Phrenology and Applied Psychology” in Los Angeles as Rodney S. Stone.

 

In 1918 I found him in Alameda, Oakland Co. California, where he registered for the  World War One draft. The day of birth he lists on the registration matches perfectly, though is one year off from his Michigan birth record.  He lists his occupation as “accountant” and his contact as Marion Curtis in Pittston, PA. His second wife Mary was from Pittston, and it’s possible that even though by this time he had moved on and left her behind as he did with his previous wife, he twisted her name a bit just to have someone to put on this registration form. His physical description was that he was of slender build, 5’10” tall, with blue eyes and blonde hair. Here in California, having perfected his time-tested ploy to win a wife—he struck again, this time one winning one with money. His actual name comes up in this amusing article from the Sept. 27, 1919 Oakland Tribune. You can tell the reporter thoroughly enjoyed writing this article.

 

Plays Mute to Win Bride, Charge- Husband and Money are Missing–

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 27– Alleging that her husband had pretended that he was a deaf mute in order to marry her and gain from her a small fortune, Mrs. Leona Jackson, San Diego bookstore proprietor and business woman, is on her way to the southern city today in an endeavor to procure a warrant for her spouse, Fred Jackson, otherwise known as Glen Curtis, after consulting with Attorneys Albert Roche and Peter Ibos here as to the status on which she might obtain a divorce and $7000 which, she said, her mate possesses in bad faith.

           Mrs. Jackson told the local lawyers that she went to a local contracting firm, where she found her husband had once worked, and, after exhibiting his photograph, found that fellow employees and employers recognized him as Glen Curtis who had lost his position there because he talked too much. During four months of courtship in San Diego, she avers, Jackson or Curtis never uttered a  word– exclaiming once in a while, Ah-h-h!but nothing more.

           The novelty of having ones fortune told by a deaf mute palmist appealed to San Diegans, according to Mrs. Jackson, and the man built up a brisk business, advising commercial men and housewives on certain problems close to their hearts. At last he prevailed upon the wealthy woman to marry him, she said, also getting from her consent to sell out the bookstore business and leave the southern city.

           That they were going on the stage together Jackson told her, is Mrs. Jacksons statement, and they left for New York shortly afterward. Her suspicions were first aroused, it is alleged, when a man on the train came from the smoking car and told her that her husband had given the best talk on the League of Nations that he had ever heard. In New York they purchased an automobile, the woman told her attorneys, and started overland to San Francisco. Three weeks ago they arrived, following which Jackson silently bade goodbye to his wife and left for the south, pleading business. He never returned, the woman says, and now she is looking for her money and her husband or a long explanatory speech.

 

Using the names in this 1919 article, I started searching available California newspapers online. Several more articles connected to this story added yet more questions and resulted in further searches with the various alias names Curtis was using. Keeping the newspaper keyword searches limited to the years 1919-1922, but open to all locations, I discovered  that, after he left Mrs. “Jackson” in 1919, he fled to Texas where he met Miss Sammie Lane Tate, who, at the time, was in her mid-40s and from a prominent Waco family. A small newspaper article was found stating that the friends of Miss Tate would be surprised to know that she was quietly married in New Orleans on Dec. 6 to Rodney S. Stone of Washington D.C. None of her friends were aware of any relationship and definitely not one with Mr. “Stone”.

 

Mrs. Tate-Stone returned to Waco within a month and is listed in the city directories as “widow of” Rodney Stone. No Rodney S. Stone can be found in any records for Texas or Washington D.C., or anywhere else for that matter.  Also, no official marriage record can be found. After contacting a family member who had Miss Tate in her Ancestry.com family tree, I was told that the marriage by Miss Tate and the mysterious Mr. Stone was rarely discussed. She came back to Waco and told everyone that he had died. It must have been an embarrassing situation for a Baylor-educated woman to fall for a suave con man.

 

When Mrs. Cleora/Cora (Lane) Jackson’s fraudulent marriage and desire for divorce made the California newspapers in 1921, another woman came forward with a similar tale. Mrs. Ida Trost, a widow from Galveston, Texas had met the deaf-mute Frederick George Carrington through a friend.  “Carrington…through correspondence, told [Mrs Trost] of a proposed vaudeville act he was considering, stated that he was a war correspondent for the Associated Press, and eventually proposed marriage…They were married in El Paso and his wishhe told her, was that he would regain his hearing and speech. He was able to speak English, Spanish and German on the day of their marriage.” [Riverside Independent Enterprise,1921] They were married on February 26,1921 just a few months after his marriage to Miss Tate.  They took a short honeymoon, then moved to Riverside, California where after a short time he took $1200, diamonds, a gold watch, and then vanished.

 

After reading in the newspaper account of what Mrs. Jackson had gone through, and seeing similarities, Ida Trost Carrington contacted the police.  “If I get a chance I shall surely go to Los Angeles to identify him,said Mrs. Carrington last night. If he is the same man who married Mrs. Jackson Ill press a charge of bigamy in addition to the other charges. If he treated both of us in that way theres no telling how many women he may have deceived. I will press every possible charge against the man…If I had not been interested in spiritualism I dont suppose I should have believed everything he told me. Nothing can make me believe he did not have some sort of power over me. I believed him implicitly.” [Riverside Independent Enterprise, 17 April, 1921]

 

What is interesting is that so many seemingly well-educated and intelligent women fell for the deaf-mute palmist routine.   At least, four or more women succumbed to Curtis’s charms using this method. Whether he fathered more children is also unknown.

 

It is also interesting that he used the name Carrington. He was well aware of a man named Hereward Carrington who, during this time, was a well-known investigator of psychics, mediums and spiritualism, writing over 100 books on the subject and was known for exposing fraudulent mediums. Perhaps Curtis had read some of his books and picked up tips for his own business.

 

An article in the Riverside (CA) Enterprise  dated  March 20, 1921 gives  some details about the relationship between “Carrington” and Ida Trost.  It reveals that Curtis knew of the famous Carrington.  In fact, he had told Ida that he could be reached in New York by sending mail to him care of Hereward Carrington– that the man was an uncle. However, it is just another of many fibs he told the women he married. The most telling detail in the article which solidly ties “Carrington” to Glenn W. Curtis of Traverse City is taken from a letter he wrote to Ida which, in the article, includes his birth date where he claims he will inherit a fortune on his 40th birthday, March 20, 1922. The chances of  this being a coincidence is slim– Michigan birth records show that Glenn W. Curtis was born in Wheeler, Gratiot Co., on March 20, 1882. The same article gives a physical description as well, which matches the 1918 draft registration form he filled out in Oakland, California as Glenn Willis Curtis– “Carrington is described as follows: age 39, but looks 48: height, 5 feet, 10 inches; weight, 125 pounds; blue eyes; light hair and bald; walks with slight stoop; claims to have heart trouble and is subject to hemorrhages.” [Riverside Independent Enterprise 20 March, 1921]

 

One more piece of solid evidence was discovered once I learned the previous surname of Cleona Jackson and located the 1919 marriage record. On the marriage license, “Jackson” lists his father’s real first and middle names, his mother’s real name (Etta Smith) and listing his place of birth as Michigan. This to me, is the clincher– Frederick Z. Jackson was  Glenn W. Curtis.

 

An article in the Los Angeles Times included a photograph of Mr. & Mrs Frederick Z. Jackson but unfortunately, the microfilmed image of the man is terribly blurry. It is our only clue as to what he looked like.

 

Even though he was sought for several years, there is no evidence that Curtis/Stone/Jackson/Carrington was ever found and charged for these particular crimes. It is believed he headed back east and to New York after this flurry of activity.

 

It wouldn’t be the last time Curtis would use a fake name and woo a wealthy wife. The next known incident is all the way across the country in New York state five years later. The “modus operandi” once again fits. A 1926 Rochester, New York newspaper article tells of Glenn W. Curtis being arrested– charges brought by his wife Edith F. Sturdevant, a well-to-do widow.

 

This time he had been posing as a Congregational minister using the name James Alexander Waterhouse and somehow charmed her into marrying him.  He used mostly made up family names on the marriage license, lied about his age (added ten years– because she was ten years older), but did give a birth place of Owosso, Michigan (where his father’s relatives were from) and again used his father’s real first name, George. Searches of census, vital statistic and city directories prove that no James Waterhouse of Owosso existed, or the people with the other names he listed on the marriage license.

 

Two months after they married, Mr. “Waterhouse” took $600 in cash, jewelry worth over $500 and on May 15, disappeared. He was “traced to New York, Philadelphia, Boston and back to Utica” and arrested. Charged with second degree grand larceny, he was held without bail.

 

I next contacted the Monroe Co., NY county clerk’s office to request a search for court records but there was nothing found under Waterhouse or Curtis for the years 1927-27. It is very likely that he spend a few months to a few years in jail.

 

It is here that the trail dropped off. Nothing further came up after 1926 using the same keywords in searches.  Having exhausted all the online records I could find,  I decided to contact a researcher in Rochester to see if she could help.

 

She first searched the New York state death records and quickly discovered one for a Glenn Curtis who died in 1936. She sent for a copy which ended up being our man. It revealed the sad end to Glenn Curtis’s life.

 

His death occurred at a state institution in Marcy, NY. He had contracted syphilis, which left untreated, causes a condition called general paresis—an inflammation of the brain in the later stages of syphilis, causing progressive dementia and paralysis. He had suffered from the disease for over two years.  The death record also revealed that he had again married (#7 that we know of) to a woman named Evelyn. Nothing has been found about her or when/where they married.

 

Curtis was buried in Syracuse, NY though it is thought he may have resided in Buffalo, NY before he was institutionalized.  The record listed his occupation as “palmist” so he continued this practice right up to his death. It is a sad ending to this story, but the family now knows what happened to their grandfather. Even though he was quite a cad and conman, at least there is the satisfaction of knowing what became of him after their long search. It is doubtful that there is a grave marker for Glenn Curtis, but more research will be done to locate the exact cemetery and perhaps his grave.

—————————————————————————————————————–

A FINAL NOTE

 

As a researcher, my goal was to answer the questions of the family as best as I could. One of the biggest desires for them was confirming the real name of Glenn Curtis’s first wife– their grandmother. After receiving a typed copy of his birth certificate in 1976, with the name Catherine Flusch as mother, they thought perhaps Glenn Curtis had fathered a child with another woman. However, no such person could be found. When I discovered the 1907 Florida marriage record, even before knowing the real story of Glenn Curtis, I realized that “Emma Tillack” would have had no reason to lie about her name, but after she became pregnant and was ultimately abandoned by this con man, a theory  considered was that perhaps she temporarily used a false name to alienate herself from the cad Glenn Curtis.  But after seeing the actual birth record with the clerk’s misinterpretation of the mother’s name, and again, a misspelling on the 1976 certificate, in my opinion, the name FLUSCH could be eliminated from this story.

 

Where “Catherine” came from is still uncertain. Emma/Louisa Tillack-Curtis married twice more, the first, in 1915, to George Fisher in Philadelphia, where she and son George are found in the 1920 census, and then again around 1925 to John H. Guise of Harrisburg, PA. The clues to her real name are also evident on her 1936 death certificate. Her father is listed as August Tillack. August– as stated in the 1909 article of him visiting, and Tillack as her last name on her  first marriage license.

 

In an effort to confirm the Tillack name, a search using various spellings was conducted in immigration records and the jackpot document was located. A passenger list for the ship Lessing, arriving in New York City in Sept. 1902 shows 11-year-old Emma TILLAK traveling with an aunt, Wilhelmina Gley. On the record it states that Emma would be in care of her aunt Ida Langdon of Hartford, Connecticut.

 

Ida’s exact relationship to Mrs. Curtis remained unclear until the discovery of an obituary and death record for a Max Tillack of Connecticut, who turned out to be Emma’s older brother. The obituary and death record for Max also solidifies the Tillack name. His death certificate lists his father as August Tillack and mother Augusta Enders, making their mother a sister to Ida Enders-Langdon of Hartford, Ct. The Social Security document discovered late in this research process also confirmed the name Louisa Tillack.  With all of these facts–the ship record, marriage, obituaries and death records, the family is now convinced that Glenn Curtis and Emma (Louise) Tillack were their grandparents.

 

The most important question that went unresolved for my patron family was what became of Glenn W. Curtis after 1905, the last Traverse City city directory he is listed in.  What is found in the newspaper accounts is better than fiction.

 

I ask myself—how likely it is that all of the characters in the ads and articles are about our Traverse City man? I say you’d have to go with the odds:  Even though there were hundreds of people working as palmists and clairvoyants during this time–in fact, every town seemed to have at least one and sometimes several–how many men in the country practiced palm reading and had/used the last name Glenn and Curtis? Not many.

 

Early on, he used some version of his real name though later he changed to completely different names. However, the name Glen Curtis was associated with the California episodes in several articles along with alias names which connects him to the articles using those names, and the fact that he repeatedly used the same method to fool people. This ties them all together and to the identity Glenn W. Curtis.

 

He traveled the country conning people–especially vulnerable, older, single or widowed women–his entire adult life.  Constantly on the run—changing his identity over and over—he disappears but only until another article appears describing once again, a con man with the same M. O., the deception and fraud perpetrated by a deaf-mute palmist in yet another town. How likely is it that others repeatedly used this same kind of trickery?  Not likely at all.

 

The lack of evidence for certain periods is a combination of gaps in digitized newspapers, unknown aliases and possibly time spent in jail. His descendants ask what ultimately happened to him? Where and when did he die?  The family had heard various rumors for his demise– one of him falling from a train and the other that he died of a stroke or heart attack in his 40s. With the help of another researcher and her discovery of his death record, after 40 years the family has their answer.

 

With every new article discovered, the tale of this incredible con-man kept me wanting to find every possible twist and turn.  It is this kind of “truth is stranger than fiction” story that I love to research.

 

 

of him falling from a train and the other that he died of a stroke or heart attack in his 40s. With the help of another researcher and her discovery of his death record, after 40 years the family has their answer.

 

With every new article discovered, the tale of this incredible con-man kept me wanting to find every possible twist and turn.  It is this kind of “truth is stranger than fiction” story that I love to research.

 

 

History of the Wilhelm Family (Part II): Anthony J. and Kate Wilhelm, Wilhelm Dry Goods

By Robert D. Wilhelm

Part I in this series was published in the November 2016 issue of Grand Traverse Journal.

Edited by Julie Schopieray and Richard Fidler

[Editors note: This is a transcription of a manuscript Bob Wilhelm wrote over a long period of time, with updates ending in 1986. Some spelling and punctuation has been changed, and transcriber’s notes for clarity are in brackets]

CHAPTER 14: 116 East Eighth Street

When A.J. [Wilhelm] and Kate [Smith]were married in 1896, they lived above the store overlooking Union and Eighth streets. Five years earlier A.J. had purchased lots 33, 34 and the west 8 feet of Block 6 across from the store on East Eighth Street from A.V. Friederich for $700. A.J. and John Kyselka designed the house to be built on the site. Built of local pine, hemlock and birch, A.J. personally selected all the materials. The total cost for the home and the barn in the backyard was $3,000. A.J. lived in the home until his death in 1939. The Lyle Wilhelm family occupied the residence until 1974 when it was sold for use as the Northwestern Michigan Halfway House.  In 1984 this home was joined with the former A.V. Friedrich residence, and in 1985 the merged buildings became the Dakoske Hall.

CHAPTER 15: Wilhelm Brothers, 1900

Depending on the time of the year, the store employed as many as twelve people. The clerks never made change. A cashier handled all the money. Overhead conveyor belts moved all bills and money to the central location. A bell indicated that the canister was coming or going. Kate Wilhelm handled all business records.

Early each morning it would be necessary to start the wood burning furnace and activate the steam boiler. Hardwoods, usually maple or oak, were cut in four foot sections. A large double door led to the basement where the wood was stored in the summer from floor to ceiling. Outside behind the store were other wood piles.

Advertisement from Wilhelm Brothers’ Dry Goods, from the Grand Traverse Herald, 21 March 1895.

The building was illuminated by smelly kerosene lamps. At the back of the building was a double door leading to the main floor. The  freight–which was shipped by boat or railroad–was delivered by Sam Ile’s horse and wagon. Towards the back of the newer section of the building was an eight-foot-wide staircase leading to the second floor. Carpets, rugs, and linoleum were sold upstairs.  There was no elevator; everything had to be carried by hand up and down the stairs. On the street level, men’s and women’s clothing, dry goods and household goods were sold.

CHAPTER 16: A.J.—NATURAL FOODS AND ARTESIAN WATERS

Stomach disorders dating back to his youth caused A.J to develop an interest in the natural foods philosophy espoused by the Kelloggs at Battle Creek Sanitarium. Although there was no scientific evidence at the time, he became interested in the water conditions in the streets and the relation to disease. Dirty water mixed with manure was [thought to be] a breeding ground for typhoid and small pox. These diseases ran rampant through the community, but escaped the Wilhelm family. Raw sewage was dumped into the Boardman River and flowed into West Grand Traverse Bay. Untreated water was pumped through the mains into the homes.  Diseases killed many children in their early years of life. Particularly disturbing to A.J. was the family of his friend and neighbors Prokop and Antonia Kyselka. Five children died young: Antonia B. (1869-1869), Antonia (1872-1872), Edward (1873-1875), Julius (1879-1883), and Emma (1890-1890).

One of the links to the death of the young was, when breast feeding stopped at an early age, the children were not immune to the diseases in the contaminated water and raw milk. Milk stored in unsanitary conditions resulted in undulant fever.

An artesian well is one that has its water constantly flowing. There were many people in the community who thought that artesian water was poisonous. In 1895 A.J. had a four-inch pipe drilled behind the store to a depth of 382 feet. The clear, clean water was a constant 42 degrees. The fountain was purchased from J.W. Fiske, NO 21 &23 Barklay Street, New York. Enough pressure was generated to provide water to the second floor of the store. Well water went to the home across the street. He had water running through the icebox instead of ice purchased from a local iceman. Water was also provided for the homes of Prokop Kyselka, A.V. Friedrich, and John Wilhelm. For many years people from all over the south side came with their jugs to get their water.

Other south side wells were also drilled: in front of St. Francis Church in 1916 and on Pine Street next to Central School.

Wilhelm Bros. Dry Goods store, when the artesian well still ran strong. Gardner, Wait, Petrie, and Ehrenberger are in the picture but not identified.

As years passed, the flow of the well began to diminish. The water supply was cut off to all but the store and the family home. By 1955 the flow was no more than a trickle. The Record-Eagle on October 12 reported, “ The old Wilhelm well is gone…A year ago efforts were made to revive the dwindling flow of water, but to no avail. Several feet of rock had been forced up  the four inch pipe and the only cure would be to drill an entirely new well. Thus the old well without mourners, or fanfare was removed.”  [Editor’s note: The artesian well described here can be seen every year at the Buckley Old Engine Show].

Red meat was unknown at the Wilhelm dinner table. Chicken and fish were accepted and on special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey was served. A cow was kept in the barn behind the house and a neighborhood boy would take all the neighborhood cows to the outskirts of town for grazing each day. When the cow “dried out” it would be traded for another.  A.J. referred to the milk as “home-made” because the whole milk was drunk right from the cow without being processed. Cream would rise to the top and was excellent for whipping. Butter was purchased from the Wheelocks because A. J. was pleased by the sanitary conditions of their farm. He refused to purchase food products if he was dissatisfied by the lack of cleanliness.

A favorite meal of the family was a high-protein meatloaf made from roasted peanuts. Honey was used instead of sugar. Nuts of all kinds were purchased in large quantities from Butler Brothers in Chicago. Peanuts were purchased to make peanut butter. A flat grinder made the peanuts finer and it was mixed with pure butter. Postum, made with roasted chicory and barley or wheat, was used instead of coffee. Vegetables were always served. Mary Smith (Mrs. Alec Rennie) recalled when she was in high school “Auntie Kate” always had a kettle of lima beans on the stove for her boys and her niece for lunch. Scalloped potatoes was another favorite. Bananas were purchased by the stalk and oranges by the crate from Peter Menegari at wholesale prices.

When A.J. wanted a watermelon, he would send one of the boys down to Front Street to the “I-talians”. His final instruction was to let Mr. Corsilla personally pick one out because he always picked one of the best quality.

A.J.  purchased ten acres of land at the top of the hill on Silver Lake Road (across from the Junior High School [now, West Middle School]). Except for a small ramshackle shed and a well without a pump, the land was barren. He bought the land to have fresh fruits and vegetables for the family. It would also keep the boys busy and out of trouble. George and Lyle disliked the work. Ralph hated it. The boys could sell all the produce not needed by the family. Markets, usually Beemish and Nicholson, on the 500 block of South Union Street would purchase the surplus fruits and vegetables. A savings account was set up by their father at the First National Bank for each of the boys and all the farm profits were deposited. Lyle kept his money until 1929 when he sold his savings to a bank officer. The money was used to help purchase a home from the Emanuel Wilhelm estate at 425 W. Eighth street. The house was similar to A.J.’s home at 116 East Eighth. Two weeks after the sale, the bank declared insolvency. Ralph and George lost their savings in the “Great Depression”.

Every morning after finishing chores around the house, A.J. and the boys would mount the wagon, slowly pulled by the retired racehorse “Jack” and go to the farm.

A.J. was mild-mannered and never used profanity except when he was behind the plow horse and the boys learned “every word of interest”.  It is doubtful if Kate ever knew of his farm vocabulary. With the exception of “Paris Green” (copper sulfate) used to kill potato bugs, sprays were not used. Corn, potatoes, red, black and yellow raspberries were grown. A grape arbor was assembled. Apple, cherry, pear, and peach trees were planted. One of the early lessons learned by the boys was never to plant cucumbers and melons too closely together.

One day a pig got out of Ben Barnes’ pen and started exploring the Wilhelm gardens. The boys chased the pig until the animal dropped dead. A.J. went over to the Barnes’ farm and paid for the dead animal.

Around noon each day the four would return back to town. The usually slow moving “jack” would once again remember his days as a race horse.

With all boys all in their teens, the farm was sold to the Thayers in 1915.

Traverse Area District Library does not have photographs of Anthony J., Kate, Lyle, Ralph or George Wilhelm. Any assistance in filling in this gap in our collection is appreciated! Please get in touch with librarian Amy, abarritt@tadl.org

Popular Fiction, Purchased Locally: Library Purchasing Trends in the 1920s

Librarians love to keep records. Sure, we enjoy reading, assisting patrons, and honing our collections to perfection. But our true passion is in organizing, and that starts by keeping good records. From the dawn of the profession, librarians knew one thing: “If I can keep a record of it, it’s worth recording.” And Alice Wait, at the dawn of her personal professional career, swallowed this librarianish platitude hook, line, and sinker.

Alice Wait, 1915. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library.

Alice was a librarian’s librarian, to be sure. The records she kept while she was THE librarian of Traverse City Public Library (1906-1950) speaks to her recordkeeping prowess. (We know she wasn’t there for the pay. Local historian Richard Fidler’s research into the City records revealed that Alice was paid less than the building janitor (Glimpses, p. 54)).

Some of you are saying, “Prowess? Really? To keep a list of books?Phhhbt.” I’m not saying it’s a miracle of engineering, creating and maintaining a library collection (what we professionals like to call “Collection Development”), but just think of all the factors involved! Each book is carefully weighed and measured: What are patrons looking to read? Are there other books patrons need to read that I might need to foist on them? What’s the opportunity cost here (or, what can’t I purchase because I’m buying this book)? What’s the drain on my budget and shelf space? Do I already have other, similar titles (or the same title) in the collection? Have I exhausted all of my materials resources and reviews to make sure I’m getting the best of the best?

Join me in looking at the Accessions record for Traverse City Public Library (TCPL), 1919-1925. First, it’s a beautiful volume: tight spine, no leather rust, and I bet this is pre-war paper… no acid yellowing, and the lignin fibers, well, let’s just say they should probably have their own fashion line. Rowr!

That the volume is in excellent condition, and that we still have it, tells us how important these types of records are to a library. But it’s the contents, handwritten in Alice’s tight, neat script, that tells us a story of a community, not just a library in a vacuum.

So what were Traverse City folk reading in the Roaring Twenties? Taking into account the effects of the Great War in general (a dip in the young male population, rise in women in the workforce, the doubling of the nation’s total wealth), people were frankly reading a lot of popular fiction. One of Alice’s most-used wholesalers, A.C. McClurg out of Chicago, also published a lot of escapist and science fiction literature, including Edgar Rice Burroughs (of “Tarzan” and “John Carter of Mars” fame). Yes, Burroughs was definitely on the shelves at TCPL.

This is not a huge revelation, but it does speak to a trend in our local library. In 1905, the TCPL published its circulation figures in the Grand Traverse Herald, revealing that 90% of items checked out by both adults and children were fiction titles. We can’t get those figures from the Accession records, but we do know what was present in the collection, and from a cursory read, fiction and periodicals made up the bulk of purchases.  With today’s technology, Traverse Area District Library (TADL) can provide the public with up-to-the-minute stats using our Statistics Dashboard. Again, we don’t know from these stats what is fiction and nonfiction, but anecdotally, I’ll attest to the fact that Grand Traverse County still likes its fiction.

Alice did a solid job of keeping up with what was popular in the world, considering how removed Traverse City feels. She purchased the drama “All God’s Chillun Got Wings,” by Eugene O’Neill, the week it came out (January 8, 1924), even though Time magazine didn’t publish a review until March of the same year. Same with Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith, which won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1926.

She also purchased works of local interest, such as Traverse City novelist and scriptwriter Harold Titus’ 1922 novel, TimberShe purchased (and often replaced) works that would have been classics in her time, including Frances H. Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886). I do wish she had kept in these records the prices of these volumes, but alas. We do know that she supported the local economy, as a good 60 percent of her purchases were made at the City Book Store (managed by Dean E. Hobart, at 220 E. Front Street).

Entry in 1920 Accessions Record for “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”

Here’s something wild that might be unique to Alice’s recordkeeping. She may not have thought anything of it at the time, but for every author that was a married woman, Alice would give her the title “Mrs.” So, Burnett’s entry looks like “Burnett, Mrs. Frances H.” But, she excluded all other titles. Dr. Mabel Elliott’s Beginning Again at Ararat, she’s just plain old “Elliott, Mabel,” to Alice. I have no explanation for this, it’s just curious. Perhaps Alice did not have an ingrained bias for feminism.

Some of the periodicals Alice subscribed to in 1921 are still in print today (CenturyAtlantic MonthlyForumGood HousekeepingHarper’s Magazine), while others are long gone (Everybody’s Magazine, Little Folks). I can tell you with all certainty that every issue Alice purchased is long gone, as the last column for each accession indicates when the item was deaccessioned from the collection. There must’ve been a huge weed in 1944, as Alice discarded whole pages of accessions that year in periodicals. What a joy for Alice, to “close the book” on all those records at once! (Librarians like librarian puns almost as much as recordkeeping.)

Alice at her retirement, 1949-1950… still working. Image courtesy of the Al Barnes Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

Alice was probably the first and last person to write in this volume. When she retired in 1950, this volume likely went into retirement with her. How did they keep records after Alice is a mystery, as those records did not survive to the present. Unfortunately, librarians one hundred years from now will likely lament the same concerning our generation of recordkeeping. Thanks to Alice, though, that small slice of time she covered reveals a whole lot about Traverse City and its readers in the 1920s.

Transformations of Boardman Lake: A Place to Work, A Place to Play, A Place to Live

If we could take snapshots of Boardman Lake over the past 160 years, we would see not just one lake, but many of them, each serving a different purpose for the community.  In this collection of photographs taken from the Historical Society’s collection at the Traverse Area District Library, we can explore the transformations of this body of water over time right up to the present day.

Fisherman on Boardman Lake

The lake has always been fished, even before the arrival of white settlers.  One of the first accounts of ice fishing was presented in the Grand Traverse Herald nearly 150 years ago:

The Indians are now engaged in fishing for them [lake trout].  They cut a hole through the ice, cover it with evergreen boughs, throw in an artificial decoy fish attached to a line, throw themselves flat upon their faces, and, with spear in hand, watch the approach of the unsuspecting trout to the decoy, when, quick as lightning, the spear is thrust, and a ten or twenty pound trout is floundering on the ice.

Map showing Boardman Lake in relation to the city of Traverse City

The lake is not an artifact of dam building, but is a natural feature of the land.  It was drawn onto the earliest surveyors’ maps, though was somewhat smaller than it presently is today.  The Union Street dam, constructed in 1869, raised its level about three feet.  Because a river runs through it, plumb bobs don’t drop perpendicularly to the bottom to measure depth.  Perhaps that is why it was considered literally bottomless by early settlers.  In fact, at its deepest, it is only about 70 feet deep, though who can tell how much sedimentation has occurred since its depth was first measured?

The first transformation of the lake occurred with the advent of logging.  Logs were piled along the banks in winter to await the thaw.  When the ice had melted, they were rolled into the water to proceed downriver to the waiting sawmill at the river’s mouth on West Bay.  Located on the west side of the lake, this “rollaway” was one of many along northern Michigan rivers.

Rollaway for logs at Boardman Lake

 

Another view of logs at Boardman Lake. They will be sent downstream to the river’s mouth to be milled for lumber.

Next, industry transformed the lake.  The Oval Wood Dish Company was the largest factory to be located on the lake: in fact, during its existence, it was the largest employer in town, hiring more than 600 workers at its peak.  Besides oval wood dishes (used in packaging meats and other products), it made clothespins, wood flooring, and all kinds of items made from hardwood.  Because local hardwoods had mostly been logged off, it moved to the state of New York in 1917 in order to take advantage of forests in that state.  Other factories along the lake sawed wood for lumber, made chairs, fruit baskets, hardwood flooring, and, somewhat later, automobiles.  The Napolean auto company, located at the far north end, manufactured small cars and trucks for a few years in the 1920’s.  The industrial nature of the area was reinforced when the city determined that the sewage treatment plant would be located at the far north end, this facility constructed in 1931.

View of the Oval Wood Dish company, early 1900’s. The Eighth Street bridge can be seen in the distance.
The Fulghum factory, maker of hardwood flooring. In the twenties, the Napolean auto company would occupy this location.
The Beitner sawmill and chair factory was located at the north end of the lake.
A wagon load of fruit baskets manufactured by the Wells Higman company

 

Recent view of the Traverse City sewage treatment plant

At the same time industrialization was changing Boardman lake, townspeople began to see it as a place to play.  Poplar point was picnic area located well south of the present library.  It could be reached by launch on summer days in the early 1900’s, the boarding point being near the intersection of Boardman Avenue and Eighth Street.  In the winter, the lake froze solid, so that skaters could get out and enjoy the ice—which formed earlier than that on the Bay and was usually smoother, better for skating.  Bicycling, the rage in the 1890’s, still attracts hundreds of those using bike paths.  Hull Park has become a major recreation center for the area with its sailing club, children’s garden at the public library, picnic areas, and scenic spots perfect for fishing or contemplation. 

Orson W. Peck postcard of Poplar Point, popular recreation area in the early 20th century
A launch on Boardman Lake, early 20th century

 

Skaters on Boardman Lake. Note the stacks of the Oval Wood Dish company in the background.
A woman bicyclist photographed at Boardman Lake at the turn of the twentieth century
Recent photograph of the Children’s Garden, located at the Traverse Area Public Library on Woodmere Avenue

 

Pedestrian walking bridge at the outlet to Boardman Lake, 2017

Before refrigeration had caught on—and even afterwards—ice was cut out of the lake to be preserved in sawdust until summer.  Up to the 1940’s it was sawn into blocks and kept in icehouses along the shore to wait the hot days of July.

Cutting ice on Boardman Lake
Ice house on the shore of the lake

Finally, in recent years the lake has become a place to live.  Condos and assisted living facilities stand on both the east and west side of the lake.  More such developments are planned along the edge of the lake along with a walking/bike path that circles the body of water entirely.  The lake is being transformed as we watch, and will, no doubt, transform itself again–as it always has.

Newly constructed condos on the West side of Boardman Lake
Assisted living facilities are found in several locations on the lake.