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O.W. Johnson’s Humorous Poetry, 1916

O.W. Johnson, the author of the following poem, was one of the Johnson Boys, sons of Johnson, all of whom were lumbermen. They may have all spent time in the woods, as O.W. mentions here, but the family made their money speculating and trading lumber, as opposed to cutting it themselves.

O.W.’s untitled poem is a humorous little ditty, written by an amateur poet  (at least, we did not find anywhere that he had been published.) It was recently rediscovered among the working papers of the Johnson family in the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection by our good volunteer, Marlas Hanson, and we simply found it too fun not to publish!

Untitled Poem by O.W. Johnson

There was a well known lumberman who bought a Willys Knight
He thought his car was just about the only thing in sight.
And after work was finished and the stars were shining bright
He’d steal away from Sam’s Cafe into the Silent Night.

Now as I said before this man was just a lumberjack
And had a little office up along the railway track.
But now he was a city man, a guy who had the goods
Said he “With this new Willys Knight I’ll steer clear of the woods.”

Advertisement for 1960s Willys-Knight Model 84 Limousine. Image courtesy of Alden Jewell, made available through license CC BY 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/autohistorian/31890309712.

He stood before the shining car and thought she was a dandy
Electric lights and left hand drive would make it pretty handy;
So on one fine October day he thought he would decide
To take a Traverse City friend out for a little ride.

The question was where would they go — Old Mission would be nice
Said W.E. “I think that we have both been out there twice,”
She turned and looked into his eyes and said, “I guess you’re right,
We did go to Old Mission, but it wasn’t in the Knight.”

“It’s erysipelas to me just where we drive,” said he
“There’s gasoline and oil enough to run to Tennessee,”
“It that’s the case” said she “I think we could run out to Empire,
I have the latest style in hats and wish to find a buyer.”

They dined and had a pleasant time, to leave it seemed a pity
But soon were on the winding road that leads to Traverse City,
The stars came twinkling out above, the occupants were merry
The purring of the engine showed the load it had to carry.

Upon a hill ahead of them two glaring head-lights shown
The steering-gear was turned at once into a safety zone,
The other car came coasting down and after it had passed
The Lumberjack exclaimed “Good-night, I think we must be fast.”

He pushed the throttle higher and the tires spun round and round
‘Twas 15 miles to Empire and 10 to Traverse town,
He heard a crushing, grinding sound that made him have his fears
But then he never dreamed that he had ripped and stripped the gears

Frank Haden & sister Miriam, with Frank attempting to repair their auto. From the Hanley Wilhelm Photograph Album of pictures taken by Wilhelm and his friends in the early to mid 1910s.

He sat there thinking what to do and then began to scold
The lady said “I’ll stand it if I do not get too cold,”
The hint was plain enough alright, but Johnson was too sore
Said he “These damn Knight cars are punk I’ll not buy any more.”

The time was flying fast, and the moon was getting higher
The hero thought he’d warm her up by building her a fire
“Perhaps you wouldn’t be so cold if you’d sit on the hood,
Don’t be afraid I’m only going off to carry wood.

But wood was scarce expect a little just around the car
And Mr. Johnson didn’t like to carry things too far,
He hurried to a farm house and called up Mr. Dutt,
A Traverse City auto man, quite small around the gut.

And soon this brave mechanic was flying to the scene
He glided up to Johnson just like a submarine,
“What in Hell’s the matter?” Dutt yelled out as he stopped,
But Johnson was dumfounded and very nearly dropped.

“Holy Moses Johnson, I thought you were alone.”
“Never mind that Dutt, I want to get back home.”
“Have I hurt the car” said Mr. J. His eyes were full of tears.
“Oh no” smiled Dutt “not at all, you only stripped the gears.”

SIGNED

O.W. Johnson
11-20-16

Where would you end up if you followed these Marker Trees?

A plaque near this white oak, by the Grand Traverse County Civic Center, tells the story of a number of trail marker trees found in Michigan. This tree was part of a navigational aid to assist travelers on a trail that ran from one point in Michigan to another, likely used by Anishinaabe or Anishinabek Indians. Some of the trees used on the trail were shaped deliberately as young saplings, while others were made notable by disease and storms.

So, where did the trail take you? We’re talking across the whole State, not just in our neck of the woods. Hint: If you go and see the tree, the marker plaque next to it will give you the answer! History Road Trip!

Rats and Sparrows, Poplar and Ragweed: Traverse City versus Nature

Close to the railroad trestle across the Boardman River at Eighth Street, a large patch of ragweed grows tall, some plants reaching five feet high. It covers disturbed ground with a dense tangle of leaves and stems, never gracing the landscape with a hint of color. Not particular to good soil or poor, it grows wherever the soil has been disturbed, only reaching gigantic proportions under the best conditions. Though an annual, it comes up year after year unless attention is paid to its control.

Green ragweed, growing near Boardman River and Eighth Street, Traverse City, September 2017. Image courtesy of the author.

Ragweed will eventually go away as other plants move in to squeeze it out, but its retreat is often slow and uneven. Uprooting the plant gets rid of it for a scant year or two, but as long as the ground is bare of other plants, it will come back. The only real solution is to seed an area with something more desirable- grass or shrubs, for example. That, of course, involves a plan, disciplined labor, and money for seed. In the past Traverse City applied a simpler remedy: paying children to eradicate ragweed. While spreading wealth among the youth, it never quite did the job. Ragweed flourishes now as it always has.

With the building of the homes, railroads, farms, docks, and factories that replaced the great pine forests of the Traverse area came the pests that survive and thrive on the leavings of humankind: spilled grain from a mill, garbage left beside a house, a dump sited near residences, the river with its flowing cargo of waste and dead fish, horse manure that nourished clouds of floes. Rat and sparrows, locusts and flies- even unwanted plants like ragweed- arrived in our town and, like their fellow human immigrants, settled down to make decent homes for themselves. Seeing no future in the Old World, Norway rats fled to America, obtaining free transportation aboard boats shipping seed corn and food to the New World. Invited by certain misguided individuals who missed the birds of Europe, house sparrows were set free on the East Coast of the United States in 1852. It did not take them long to find Traverse City for it is noted in a Record-Eagle article of 1923 that a bounty of two cents was offered for every sparrow carcass brought in to the examiners.

Firearm control of animals was not confined to sparrows. Rats brought a richer reward than sparrows to young marksmen: ten cents per rat, the tail being sufficient evidence of a corpse. Of course, a wiser, and less violent approach would have been to make food unavailable to rodents and birds, but that simple idea would require time to take root in people’s consciousness. After all, shooting pests provides a certain satisfaction since success is easily measured by body counts, while eliminating food sources does not carry the same panache. Besides, the hunter’s instinct is never far from the surface in small towns of the American Middle West.

Undeserving of compassion, these hapless creatures were classified as “vermin” and were hated because they spread disease and filth about the city. More than the threat to public health they posed was the appearance of poverty and ugliness. They represented an insult to the civilization of a fine city: Traverse City, Michigan. To affronted townspeople, the only good sparrow was a dead sparrow; the only good rat was a dead rat.

The Record-Eagle joined the battle against vermin in 1924. Fresh from victories over the rat populations of Manistee and Muskegon, one Helen Caldwell became the field general for a local rat extermination campaign. Beneath a picture of Caldwell, the newspaper waxed poetic about the campaign:

Rodents and such were gathering fast,
When through the village street they passed
A youth [Caldwell] whose banner bore that strange device,
“Rat Poison!”

Straightaway unto Bill Hobbs she turned,
And he it was who firstly learned,
The power behind those magic words,
“Rat Poison!”

And he took her to the paper place,
Where the Record-Eagle entered the race
To shout and cry from the top of the page,
“Rat Poison!”

Then to the mayor she hied her way,
And with him also she had her say,
Which was and is and will be, too
“Rat Poison!”

The board of health sat on the case,
And a smile beamed over Doc Holliday’s face,
As he decreed for the city’s pests
“Rat Poison!”

Witherite, Barium carbonate, BaCO3; Hexham, Northumberland, U.K.; Collection of the Institute of Mineralogy, University Tübingen, 2009.

Barium carbonate was the poison of choice. It was to be mixed with meat, cheese, cereals and cake- even fresh fruit like bananas and cantaloupe (apparently, rat insisted on a smorgasbord of delicacies). Care would be taken to keep the poison bait away from pets (and children, one would presume). In case an accident should occur, the sufferer should ingest Rochelle or Epson salts as an emetic.

The mayor of Traverse City, James T. Milliken, issued a proclamation in support of the rat extermination program:

Inasmuch as every person in the city is supporting two rats at a cost of $1.82 each and inasmuch as this expense can be eliminated, it is with considerable enthusiasm that I endorse the rat extermination campaign which is now being waged in Traverse City.

In endorsing this campaign I also designate the dates from July 31 to August 9 as “Rat Killing Week” and urge every citizen, including every boy and every girl, to join this movement and make Traverse City a ratless city.

With such publicity, the campaign could not but succeed. A week into the campaign the Record-Eagle reported, “Traverse City’s rat population has decreased by leaps and bounds almost overnight, the rats in their poison throes, leaping and bounding out into the open air to die by the dozens.” The mayor’s call to the boys and girls had brought in ample evidence of rat slaughter: rat tails by the dozens were turned over to the local Rotary Club and prizes and rewards were distributed to the children. The sales of barium carbonate had gone through the roof at local druggists and there was heavy traffic in rat traps in hardware stores around the area. Everyone agreed that, if the City was not entirely “rat-free,” at lease a dent had been made in the rat population. Miss Caldwell would carve another notch in her belt as she left town.

Rats were not the only pestilence afflicting the City. In some years grasshoppers increased beyond the bounds of human tolerance, their numbers soaring as they fed in scrub land that replaced the pine and hardwood forests that occupied the land in the nineteenth century. Authorities did not mess around in doing them in: Arsenic was the designated poison. To this day, land close to the City is contaminated with arsenic residue, a substance deemed so toxic by the EPA that severe restrictions have been placed upon its use.

Animals seen as predators of game birds and sport fish were dealt with sternly. Crows in particular were targeted as a nuisance since they attached young ruffed grouse whenever opportunity presented itself. Consequently, in one year (1937) 2100 of them were killed by teams of marksmen composed of members of the local Dog and Sportsman Club. Mergansers, (diving ducks) were shot in large numbers on the Bay and inland lakes because of their appetite for fish. Even fish were not immune from human prejudices: it was reported that a half ton of dogfish (bowfin) were speared in Lake Leelanau in 1930. There were called “obnoxious” by the perpetrators, presumably because they were not good to eat and competed with more desirable fish for food.

Tree root destroying underground pipe. Image courtesy of A1 Sewer.

Animals were not alone in suffering punishment for getting in the way of human desires. Poplar trees were condemned within the City limits in the early twenties. Their crime? Their roots readily invaded sewage lines, sometimes causing unsanitary back-ups into people’s basements. Dr. A.G. Holliday, city health officer, insisted on strict enforcement of an existing anti-poplar ordinance after the City was forced to expend 200 to 500 dollars for the clearing of the roots from the sewers, an expense that would not be tolerated. It was noted in the paper that some citizens- in particular certain residents living on Sixth Street- would not suffer gladly this insult to their poplars. It is not known if their trees received a reprieve from the death penalty.

Casual observation about town nowadays reveals a plentiful growth of poplars of several varieties. Perhaps the vicious nature of the plant has cooled- or else city sewer system pipes are impervious to their probing roots. In any case, poplars have gained a small measure of respect- at least from some property owners.

Ragweed was another “planta non grata”. With its abundant pollen, it was known to cause hay fever, a problem back in the twenties as now. Northern Michigan was considered to be haven from the noxious weed. Hay fever sufferers flocked here in summer to find relief from the sneezing and runny nose they experienced in Illinois, Ohio, and Southern Michigan. In 1929 the City quickly went through its ragweed control budget of one hundred dollars in dealing out direct payments to children who would get ten cents for every hundred plants they brought in. Later, in the early fifties, movie tickets were distributed for armloads of ragweed which were carefully weighed to determine the number of tickets earned. On Occassion children who had allowed their plants to dry at home overnight were disappointed at the low weight totals of the wilted plants. It did not take long for them to understand that fresh ragweed weighed more.

The battle agains pests has hardly abated. In recent years Gypsy moths were subjected to airborne application of the bacterial spray Thuricide, that treatment saving the city’s ancient oaks and maples. Skunks invaded one city neighborhood shortly afterwards and began a miniature city of their own. Only a trapping program thwarted their plans for domination.

Invasive plants have marched into town, one species after another. Purple loosestrife was poised to cover every wetland until beetles were brought in to bring it under control. Baby’s breath, an escaped garden dweller, threatened to take over abandoned land especially by the railroad tracks. Autumn olive and buckthorn covered many acres inside and outside the city. Finally, an eight-foot high grass, Phragmites (aka, the common reed), has been recently sentenced to die through applications of topical poison. It cannot be allowed to take root upon the shores of lakes, river, and the Bay or else it will crowd out the natives.

There is a pattern of our responses to Nature’s assaults. At first, we call in the Army, Navy, and Air Force and give the battle all we’ve got. After time and expense, we back off, wondering if we cannot co-exist. Finally, we forget there ever was a problem and regard the pest as another somewhat disreputable member of the neighborhood. Maybe that should have been our approach from the beginning: acceptance of the pest’s right to exist, while denying it free rein to raise havoc. Respect within firmly set bounds. For that matter, it’s not a bad plan for humans. After all, we are an invasive species, too.

“Rats and Sparrows, Poplar and Ragweed: Traverse City versus Nature,” was originally published in Richard Fidler’s book, Gateways to Grand Traverse Past, recently republished under Mission Point Press in July 2017. Gateways is for sale at Horizon Books, Traverse City, and on Amazon.

The Perils of Personal Remembrances as Sources of Historical Information

by Richard Leary, Historian of Lake Ann

After a dozen years researching the history of Lake Ann, Michigan, it has quite evident that people’s memories are not always accurate. People can be very certain of a date or name or event and be quite wrong.

The first instance of this in my research on the village of Lake Ann were the dates of the three major fires that burned significant portions of the village. The first and by far the greatest was on the fourth of July, 1897. That date is well known to village residents.

The second fire, that burned the business district, is known far and wide to have occurred in 1914. That date was established in a newspaper story many years ago and the date 1914 has been repeated ever since. Unfortunately, a check of old newspapers proves that the fire was in 1902.

The third fire, known widely as the 1917 fire was in April 1918 and we mark its anniversary next year.

A grist mill, but not owned by a Thompson, in Lake Ann, undated. Image courtesy of the author.

Another erroneous fact is the identification of the grist mill in Lake Ann as the Thompson grist mill. People have said for many decades the Harvey Thompson built and ran the grist mill.

However, a search of tax records and deeds shows that no Thompson ever owned or ran the grist mill. Harvey Thompson and a partner, Mr. Elton, started a saw mill about a hundred yards from the grist mill about the same time (1896 and 1893 respectively). After just a few years, the mill was sold to William Habbeler who built, owned and ran the first and biggest saw mill in Lake Ann.

It would appear the proximity of the mills, the passage of time and the vagaries of memory combined to mix the mills.

Now I am on anther quest, trying to unravel memories, written account and sketchy facts. Once again I rely on tax records, land records, village minutes and newspaper mentions to find the truth.

The story begins with more “well known” information. About 1900, two houses were moved from along Ransom Creek, site of the first settlement in the Lake Ann area.  At the time it seemed houses and even large buildings were moved from place to place, usually on sleds over frozen ground or ice covered lakes.

Elijah Ransom owned the saw mill operating beside the creek and later a grist mill. There was a cluster of shanties, a couple of houses and a large store close by.

We know from contemporary newspaper accounts that Addison Wheelock, first settler in the Lake Ann area, had a home in that settlement. His home was large enough that the planning session for creating Almira Township and the first meeting of the elected township officials took place in his home.

I assume that Elijah Ransom, being the most prosperous person around, had a decent home there as well. Because this all took place in the early 1860s, tax and land records are rather limited. People didn’t always own the land they were occupying.

Having prowled the woods along Ransom Creek, I know of three depressions where the village must have stood. The largest is surely the site of the store. The two smaller are, I believe, the sites of the two real houses in the early settlement.

Believing that the accounts of two houses being moved from near Ransom Creek to the southeast corner of the village, it made a good story that these house belonged to Elijah Ransom and Addison Wheelock. 

The “well known” story was that these two houses were later occupied by the Dr. Shilliday family (now the Shilliday House B&B) and the Burnett house just to the south, also on South Lake Ann Road. The latter once occupied by S. S. (Sam) Burnett, local businessman and family and later by the Bryan family.

It was such a great story. I had located a house once lived in by Addison Wheelock, my wife’s great-great-grandfather. I thought I was finally through my Lake Ann research.

Ah, but questions arose. Not everyone was certain the Burnett house had been moved. Or perhaps not in 1902 as the village minutes had led me to believe. The village minutes did say the Ransom store and A dwelling were moved from along Ransom Creek in 1902. Back to the Benzie County Court House.

The tax records indicate several owners of lot 4, block 29, site of the Burnett house, in the years between 1895 and 1903. For all but 1895, the value of the property suggests a house was on the lot. But, of course, there is no information about the house, certainly not its history.

Mr. Degan, an early owner of the lot on which the Burnett house stands (1899-1903), served on the village board and was active in moving mill machinery, water works pumps and water pipes off the Ransom Creek site. Degan and Huelmantel bought “the entire water works machinery and wheel and the mill machinery in the old mill” for the sum of $250 in 1900. Could Mr. Degan have moved a small house without a mention in the minutes? Oh yes, in 1901 a “wagon shed or house” on the creek was sold to someone for $4.00.

Ah, but there is more.

In 1900, the village approved the rental of “the old Ransom house” to a Mr. Thatcher for $2.00 per month. Of course, they don’t say where that house is located. Still by the creek?  Surely not the Burnett house. Mr. Thatcher paid taxes on a lot on Lynwood, three blocks from South Lake Ann Road and the Burnett house. Was he living in the “old Ransom house,” now located on Lynwood Street?

Granted, knowing which house was where 117 years ago is not crucial to Michigan history. Even I don’t lie awake nights wondering. But for the sake of accuracy, and personal curiosity, I would like to know.

So, while I know with certainty that memories, and even some newspapers stories, can be inaccurate, I do not know which house is which. It is like trying to keep track for which nut shell hides the bean as they are shuffled rapidly before your eyes.

Personal “histories” or reminiscences can be very useful. even indispensable but they must be supported by facts such as deeds of tax records.

When I was young, there was a popular radio program about the FBI and crime. The lead character was Sergeant Friday and his iconic statement was, “I just want the facts, m’am, just the facts.”

At least I think his name was Sergeant Friday and I think that is what he said.

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.

“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.

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.

 

 

“Providing for Paupers”: Annual Reports by the Superintendents of the Poor, 1885-1891

Before the government social services we know today (Social Security, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc.), how did we care for people in our society in need? Using the terminology of early reports that recently surfaced at the Traverse Area District Library’s local history collection–how did we care for  “paupers” and the “indigent”? These reports, annually filed by Grand Traverse County with the state of Michigan, date from 1885, 1886, and 1891.

The records are scant, but interesting, and would merit further study using nationwide statistics. But, for our purposes, we’ll present the reports as they are, whether or not we can draw definite conclusions about them. (1)

Two unidentified adults of Irish nationality, a man and a woman, were the sole “paupers” maintained in the Grand Traverse County Poorhouse in 1885 (and 30 other people were assisted in other institutions and in their homes). Other than where they hailed from, we know nothing about them, but get this: Under the reporting section for “Food,” the Superintendents said: “No regular routine has been adopted, but the usual food found upon the table of a good wholesome farm table.” A regular routine for feeding I think would be beneficial, but at least it was all “wholesome” (as a nation, we wouldn’t start counting calories regularly until Lulu Hunt Peters, whose 1918 book on diet, exercise, and health, promised all women they could get their ideal body image through counting. “Thin is in!”)

How wholesome was the food? We don’t know what was served, but of the $1,981.51 spent on the care of persons in the poorhouse, a whopping $1,489.87 was spent on food alone. DANG, that’s a chunk of budget! But was it enough? Considering a $460 yearly income for a family of five was considered just out of poverty, spending that much on 32 people for a year seems adequate, each being fed on about $43 a year (especially since most only received a little assistance for part of the year).(2)

What did care look like? The reports provide little detail, but they did differentiate between the costs of care provided to those living at the poorhouse and the costs associated with people living on their own, but requiring some extra assistance. Deaths or illness in a family were  common reasons people living on their own sought help.

For both groups, there are expense lines for staff, medical services, funerals, food, fuel, clothing, necessary supplies, furniture, hired labor, purchasing land for a poor farm, erecting new buildings, supplies for said farm, and paid transportation. The reports written by the superintendents are short and to the point. Under “Facilities for Bathing,” a category describing the poorhouse, the answer was “Not any.” Not even a jug in the corner? Harsh.

“What is that about a poor farm?,” you say? Indeed, farmland was purchased by the County in 1885 to operate a farm, with the resulting food stuffs either being consumed by the residents, or sold at fair market value. We don’t know if a profit was ever made, as those lines on the reports are blank all three years. The initial cost of the land was $300, acreage unspecified.

The population in 1886 was much more diverse than 1885, with seven people: three Americans, one English, one German, one French, one Swedish, one Canadian/Scotch, and one “Mulatto.” The Report makes it clear, the State wanted a count of “All in whom there appears a mixture of White and Negro,” whether that was self-reported or not, we will never know.  You could also have been Indian, or, if one qualified and wished to be more specific, Half-breed, by the State’s reckoning. Yikes.

A similar mix occupied the poorhouse in 1891. In that year, the total amount spent by Grand Traverse County on the care and support of the residents was $2,994.62, about half of which was spent on maintaining the poorhouse and farm ($851.76) and the salary of the poorhouse keeper ($645.60). Only $112.75 was spent on food, so here’s hoping the poor farm was producing some supplemental vittles!

Grand Traverse County was not the only provider in the area, either: Traverse City also provided for the poor in its jurisdiction, as far back as 1898. They may have been offering services prior to that year, but unfortunately we do not have the City Annual Reports dating earlier. Also, 1885 is the year the Traverse City State Hospital (then known as the Northern Michigan Asylum) opened its doors to its first 43 residents, and there is every real chance some of the locals that were formerly on the “poor rolls” were committed there. We also have newspaper articles advertising various fundraising events by a number of civic-minded groups and individuals, raising funds for the care of people in need. So, care for those in need was considered a “group effort” in young Grand Traverse County.

More information on the poorhouse and its operations can be found in the “Proceedings of the Grand Traverse County Board of Supervisors, Reports of County Officers and Official Canvass,” the oldest volume of which Traverse Area District Library has is 1904. That particular volume contains a number of interesting facts about medical care to the poor. At the meeting of April 12th, the name of Dr. August L. Rosenthal Thompson pops up, one of our favorite women of young Traverse City (Thompson appears briefly in the tales of our other early female physician, Sara T. Chase-Wilson.) Thompson visited Maude and James Wheeler of 428 Garfield Avenue, who suffered from Scarlet Fever and pseudo-diptheria a total of 44 times, charging the poorhouse $1 for each visit, and $3 for medicine, a total bill of $47.

Augusta Rosenthal-Thompson, first female physician of Traverse City, photograph taken from Richard Fidler’s “Who We Were, What We Did.”

Dr. Holliday also presented a bill at the same meeting, which was at first disputed by the poorhouse supervisors, but ultimately paid in full. Perhaps in response to some ill-treatment (pun intended) Holliday had felt from that event, he and many other doctors, including Rosenthal-Thompson, submitted a “recommended” plan on October 17th: that the Board of Supervisors should take responsibility for decisions made by  county employees under their direct supervision, and that, when they hire a doctor, they would ensure the service “would be paid for at a rate based upon either the usual rates charged by reputable physicians, or, if the body deemed advisable, upon a basis of a fixed tariff of rates compiled by and agreed up, by a joint committee representing your honorable body and the physicians of said county.” Holliday, et. al., must’ve felt  quite put-out, or, as the kids today would say, “Bitter much, Doc?”

As another scholar in the field observed, responsibility for the poor in our community fell first to the family.(3) Only if the hardships were beyond the scope of the family, or in the case of tramps, there was likely no family at all, is when the state and local government would step in and provide care. Despite the  apparent racism and classism built in to the reporting, overall it appears Grand Traverse County did at least and adequate job to help those in need in the 1880s.

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. For more on Traverse City’s work with the poor, check out Richard Fidler’s Who We Were, What We Did.

(1) A brief digression: Let’s talk about the mindset of the persons providing the care to those who needed it. The nineteenth century was rife with doctors and do-gooders who saw the flaws in humanity as a product of moral failing (read more on this school of thought in the words of Dorothea Dix and other social reformers). In these reports, the handwritten notes indicate that there are people considered “deserving poor,” who were not held responsible for their lot in life, such as the deaf and disabled, the aged, etc. Then, there are the “paupers,” which included tramps, hobos, and other persons that were seen as “unwilling to work.”

(2) Hunter, Robert. Poverty. London: The Macmillan Company,  1904.

(3) Fidler, Richard. Who We Were, What We Did. Traverse City: Traverse Area Historical Society, 2009.

Midge Swarms

We have all seen them, but we haven’t given them names: a swarm of tiny insects flying in a crowded formation often looking like a column.  Certainly, it is much taller than wide, its width usually not more than a foot or two at most, its height often taller than we are.  Our fear is that the insects will bite us, or, at the very least, we might inhale them.  Unlike birds and bats, we do not relish them either for flavor or for nourishment.  We steer clear of them and go about our business.

Magnified photograph of midge emerging from chrysalis. Image courtesy of http://www.abundantnature.com/

Midge swarms form in summer and early fall.  The insects comprising them do not bite, though that passivity is often not enough to keep humans from spraying poisons on them.  They transform from aquatic larvae, tiny forms resembling segmented worms, ready to mate upon emerging from their pupal cases, but not ready to eat since they do not possess the required mouthparts.  So it is they do not harm us.

Most members of the swarm are male: they seek to mate with females that pass through the mass of flying insects.  Upon being fertilized, the female will set about to lay eggs in the waters of ponds and ditches.  Several broods are produced during the year with the last overwintering in mud underneath the ice.

“Midge Swarm near Cass Street Bridge,” Richard Fidler, pen and ink drawing.

According to Donald W. Stokes, author of A Guide to Observing Insect Lives, midge swarms are often found close to water, often above prominent features called “swarm markers.”  These can be patches of light or dark on the ground, or high points such as the upthrust branches of a shrub or tree—or even the top of your own head!  A shiny black piece of plastic will attract a certain species, if one wishes to try an experiment.

Swarms may form in the morning, evening, or even mid-day, depending on the species.  Considering that the insects do not live for more than a couple of days, the observer cannot count on a week of entertainment.  New broods, though, will prolong the joy of avid midge watchers.

Stokes notes that, in a wind, the midges face in one direction and move forward to the limit of the swarm marker and back, the effect making it look like the entire swarm is dancing.  The resulting shimmy captures the interest of naturalists everywhere.  Unsurprisingly—given their awareness of nature, the Japanese haiku poets have written about the swarms (which they call “mosquito (or midge)) columns:

Across the mosquito columns
Hangs the floating bridge
Of my dreams.
–Kikaku

The mosquito columns,
Big and thick
As of a palace
–Shiki

The Capitol
Is visible through a hole
In the pillar of mosquitoes
–Issa

(translations courtesy of R. H. Blythe)

The poets often portray the fleeting lives of mosquitoes (midges) as emblematic of the fleeting existence of things we imagine to be great and eternal, things like palaces and the Capitol (Kyoto).  That is what we should take away from our experiences with midge swarms: the beauty and wonder of ephemeral things that live out lives unnoticed by us all.

“The Story of the Old Wooden Cross”: a Leelanau County Tale

This story was passed on to Lloyd “Allie” Westcott by his grandmother, Mrs. Charles (or John) Fisher. The recorder was Roy H. Steffens, a local historian operating largely in the 1960s and 1970s, known especially for his interest in Civil War and Spanish American War soldiers and grave sites. A manuscript copy of this story was found among Steffens’ papers in the Local History Collection at Traverse Area District Library. Steffens and Westcott restored the cross and fence described later in this story, in 1968.

“Summer in Northern Michigan,” by teh Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad Company, image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The lake was fairly calm that day and a couple men from the settlement of Glen Arbor were down by the lake when they noticed this small rowboat with a white sheet for a makeshift sail not far out from the shore. Word got back to the settlement of this boat with two people aboard. In a short time most of the people from the settlement gathered at the beach to welcome some strangers or newcomers to their settlement.

It was discovered that there was two people aboard the small boat, a man and a woman. There seemed to be some reluctance on the part of the couple aboard the boat to communicate with the people on shore or land their boat, not knowing where they were or if the people were friendly. It was known by the couple in the boat that there was animosity among the people on mainland and those that were from King Strang’s cult.

However in due time thru conversation the barrier of fear soon was overcome and the boat landed. The couple made themselves known as Mr. and Mrs. Fields and they had come from Beaver Island. They had explained they escaped from the island in the darkness of night as they wanted to get away from the tyranny that King Strand held over his people. They asked that they may stay a short while to rest up from their tedious trip as they wanted to get passage on steamer (propeller) that plied the Lakes to Chicago or some other port.

The men helped to unload their meager belongings from the boat and all proceeded to the settlement. The Fields knew of the consequences they might suffer from the hands of King Strang’s ruthless men should they be found. It was decided to push the empty boat out in the lake to drift so if found it might be presumed that those in it had drowned or met with some other misfortune.

After unloading the boat all the people along with Mr. and Mrs. Fields proceeded up to the settlement. The local people realizing their plight vowed they would not reveal their names, their whereabouts or that they had been there. A John Dorsey that had a sailboat he used to bring in supplies from Frankfort agreed that when the Fields were ready he would take them to South Manitou Island where they might get passage on a steamer that would stop there. South Manitou was a port of call for the steamers to load up with cord wood which was used for fuel.

Fields’ original cross and fence, in 1968. Image courtesy of Roy Steffens.

It was imminent that Mrs. Fields was about to give birth to a child and her time would be shortcoming. The women of the settlement prevailed up on them that they should stay with them until after the child was born. In a short time her time came and she gave birth to twins. Sadly enough though she should die from childbirth as well as the two babies.

Mr. Fields secured some lumber and constructed a coffin in which was placed his wife with a child in each arm. A grave was dug on the small hill in which the coffin was placed. The people of the settlement all gathered for this sad event and she was given a Christian burial.

Restored cross and fence, by Westcott and Steffens, 1968. Image courtesy of Roy Steffens.

Mr. Fields constructed a large wooden cross out of cedar which he placed on the hill. The large cross thru time had weathered badly and became broken. He also made a picket fence to surround the grave which weathered away due to time. A not of interest is that the picket fence was put together with iron cut nails. Also he placed at the head of the grave a smaller beautifully carved cross.

After completing his work Mr. Fields sought passage on a steamer to leave and never returned as far as anyone knows.

Iron-cut nails removed from the original fence around the Fields’ grave. Text and nails courtesy of Roy Steffens.

The grave marker and picket fence described in this tale are found in Fisher Cemetery, Glen Arbor, Michigan. As James Strang ruled on Beaver Island from late 1850 until his murder in 1856, for this story to have any veracity, it must have taken place during these years, dating the graves of Mrs. Fields and her children to about the same time. This very dramatic story is widely known and repeated, but little corroborating evidence has ever come to light. Richard Fidler, editor of Grand Traverse Journal, published this piece way back in November 2015, concerning the Strang murder.

New Organization works to save Leelanau County Poor Farm Barn, and More from your Societies

Newly Formed Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society Granted 501(c)3 Status, Works to Save Leelanau Poor Farm Barn

From email correspondence:

“Our newly formed Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society (LCHPS) has been granted a nonprofit 501(c) (3) status. Board Officer/Directors are: Steve Stier, President; Barbara Siepker, Vice-President; Laurel Jeris, Secretary; Frank Siepker, Treasurer.

We are to now ready to accept donations and pledges. This effort will further assure the County Commissioners that we are able to take on and complete the barn rehabilitation project. We have attached a form you may download, for you to let us know what financial support we can count on.

We are ready to present a partnership proposal to the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners at their August 8th 9 am Executive Committee meeting. Steve Stier has gathered estimates for barn rehabilitation work and we will report on these numbers. The needed work on the barn can be done in planned stages as funding becomes available.

We look forward to hearing from you. We will report back to you soon on our progress. We are confident that a partnership with the County can be accomplished, thereby saving and rehabilitating the Poor Farm Barn. We appreciate your being a part of this partnership and will soon be notifying you of additional areas of volunteer assistance needed.”

Download a Donation form HERE

Read more about the rescue effort in the Detroit Free Press

Traverse Area Historical Society Continues Tours

Last call for last summer hurrahs! Traverse Area Historical Society is wrapping up their tour season in mid-October, but take advantage of the good weather (while you can!):

Downtown Walking Tours start at 10:30 am on each Saturday through October 14th. Participants should meet outside Horizon Books 15 minutes before the start time. Tours last approximately 1-1/2 hours. For additional information, call (231) 995-0313. Reservations not necessary, but please call for groups of over 5 people.

Walking tours of Oakwood Cemetery, starting on Sunday, June 18th, will be available at 6:00 PM every Sunday thru October 15. These tours focus on the unique history of the area and the early pioneers who founded the community we know today. Geared towards an adult audience, the tours will last about 1 ½ hours. Participants are encouraged to wear shoes suitable for hiking over uneven terrain. They should meet on the sidewalk outside the cemetery near the Eighth Street entrance, approximately 15 minutes prior to start time. For additional information, call (231) 941-8440. Reservations not necessary, but please call for groups of over 5 people.

Leelanau Historical Society Celebrates its 60th Year!

Traverse City, Leelanau & Manistique Railroad nearing Northport, 1880s.

From their website: “The Leelanau Historical Society was launched in 1957 by a group of residents dedicated to collecting and preserving Leelanau’s history. Leland, first established in 1853 and later the county seat, seemed the natural location for the Society. When the old county jail became available in 1959, the museum found its first home. Through generous donations and grants, a new museum was built in 1985 and expanded in 2005 and 2015.

Today, the collections and archives contain more than 14,000 items. Visitors to the museum learn about Leelanau life and maritime history from exhibits, educational programs and publications. Recipient of the 2014 State History Award for Outstanding Local Society, LHS continues to collect, document and preserve items relating to Leelanau history.”

Congrats to one of our favorite institutions! Check out their new website and awesome events (including a day trip to the Manitou Islands in early September), http://www.leelanauhistory.org/

Monthly Meeting of the Grand Traverse Genealogical Society on Using Court Records

Grand Traverse County Courthouse, undated. From the Grand Traverse County website.

The September Meeting will be held Thursday September 21st at 1:00pm at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 3746 Veterans Drive, Traverse City. The guest speakers will be  Jessica Harden from the State of Michigan Archives. She will speak on “Using Court Records in Genealogical Research” A number of records are kept in the county courthouse because this was the place of business. While the legalese is not the most pleasant reading, probate and court records document the lives of our ancestors. Court records include information about adoption, debt, divorce, naturalization, lawsuits, guardianships and appointments. Probate records are records related to the death of ancestor and the distribution of their estate. These records often include wills, inventories, accounts, bonds, etc.